Reviewed by: Larry Wilson
Covenantal Baptism by Jason Helopoulos. P&R, 2021. Hardcover, 160 pages, $11.50. Reviewed by OP minister Larry Wilson.
Covenantal Baptism, by PCA pastor Jason Helopoulos and from P&R’s Blessings of the Faith series, seeks to show that baptism—specifically, the baptism of the children of believers—is a great blessing from God. The author draws from his own pilgrimage as one who was converted as a young adult and embraced baptistic convictions, but who later became persuaded of the Reformed faith, with its understanding of baptism.
After a helpful introduction, this book has five chapters: (1) “The Kindness of God” (in giving sacraments to seal his Word); (2) ”The Fourfold Stream of Testimony” (the covenant of grace, the New Testament, the Bible’s overall theology, and the church’s historic practice); (3) “Blessings to the Children” (who receive baptism); (4) ”Blessings to the Parents” (who present their children for baptism); and (5) ”Blessings to the Congregation” (that welcomes and serves baptized children). These last three chapters are full of good pastoral advice. Chapter 4 explains and applies the vows parents take when their covenant children are baptized. Chapter 5 explains and applies the vow members take when a child of the church is baptized. Helopoulos uses the PCA wording of these vows, but the gist of our OPC wording is similar. These chapters are followed by a truly excellent thirty-five-page section of “Questions and Answers on Baptism,” a good annotated list of “Recommended Resources,” and a suggested “Prayer for Our Covenant Children.” The book concludes with some very helpful endnotes.
I recommend this book as a pithy and clear case for the baptism of covenant children. Don’t let its brevity or apparent simplicity deceive you. Helopoulos gives evidence of widely reading and digesting good material. He carefully defines the words he uses, clarifies what he does not mean, and elucidates what he does mean. To give you a taste, how does God grant grace through baptism? Helopoulos writes:
When we think of grace, we tend to think of it as a substance or thing in and of itself. But grace is not a thing. Rather, it is the person of Christ Jesus and all the benefits that are attached to him, which the Spirit applies. (60)
He then helpfully spells out what this does and does not mean, showing how the Reformed view contrasts with both the baptistic and the Roman Catholic views. Along similar lines, he addresses an assumption which, when left unspoken, often leaves those who hold the baptistic view and those who hold the covenantal view talking past each other. More than once, he shows that, according to the Bible, baptism is not our testimony of our faith; rather, it’s God’s testimony of his promises.
Moreover, I recommend this book as a pastoral exhortation to practice implications of the baptism of covenant children. On a cover blurb, Joel Beeke calls this book “biblically enlightening, doctrinally sound, experientially balanced, and practically helpful.” I wholeheartedly agree. It has a healthy emphasis on the corporate character of Christian faith—the importance of the church and its members—with many suggestions for practically fleshing out what we affirm to be true. It helps toward imparting a vision of congregations acting as they should—as covenant communities—with every member playing a significant role in encouraging the rising generation to follow Jesus in faith. Many of our discussions of this topic helpfully show the truth of the baptism of covenant children. This book does that as well. But by emphasizing covenantal baptism as a blessing from God with many practical implications, it also shows its beauty.
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