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Book Review: Baptism Is Not Enough by John Crawford

Book Review: Baptism Is Not Enough by John Crawford

*Note: Check out my extra Audio Notes on Baptism is Not Enough*

Author: John Crawford
Publisher: American Vision Press
Reading Level: Moderate

Contrary to popular belief, the debate over the proper recipients for baptism is relatively new in the history of the church. Though the church has not always been vocal about baptismal unity actual debate over baptism is new. The debate has raged only since the time of the Reformation. This renewed emphasis since Luther and Calvin has come to the church in an effort to clarify the role of baptism to justification by faith. Since this time, then the covenantal and Lutheran perspective on baptism have been the predominant views for Protestant practicing paedobaptism. Unfortunately the covenantal view has often been relegated to nothing more than logical proofs for the practice of infant baptism.

In Baptism Is Not Enough: How Understanding God’s Covenant Explain Everything John Crawford approaches the baptism question solely on the exegetical grounds of Biblical covenants. This approach influences the general tone and essential content of the book since as only the last few chapters even broach the subject of baptism. As is noted in the preface, even the great credobaptist Paul Jewett affirms that the covenant position, fully presumed from the paedo position, turns the infant baptism argument into a “juggernaut” (viii). It is this covenant position that Crawford seeks to provide in a relatively short primer on Covenant Theology. Along the way Baptism Is Not Enough makes application for the church in the realms of society, politics and ultimately the family.

The Communication
 Baptism Is Not Enough is written from a unique paradigm that the Bible “in fact applies to every area of life” (x). While many Christians may think they affirm this John Crawford does an exceptional job of showing the integrated nature of the covenantal reconstruction perspective.  The title and very langue of the book pushes people beyond casual Christianity: baptism and cultural Christianity is not enough.

In a similar fashion, Crawford writes from the perspective of a convert. Once a member of the Baptist church, the “impetus for writing the book” (x) was in fact his conversion from the credobaptist perspective. Though this does not dramatically affect the material of the book, it does occasionally affect the overall tone. Ultimately, those who disagree with the covenant paradigm will either accept the thesis of the book or find spots of sever disagreement.

Despite the great theological divide that Baptism Is Not Enough attempts to cover, the book is written primarily for laymen. There are certainly complicated and far-reaching ideas that encompass the whole of the book but Crawford presents the material in such a way as to bring it down to the average churchman. This does result in repetition of thoughts and ideas but for those seeking to understand Covenant Theology better it is just the type of repetition that will help with learning. Though the doctrinal level of Baptism Is Not Enough is moderate, the language utilized is within the capacity of the average church member.

The Content
In Baptism Is Not Enough, John Crawford works through the full range of covenant topics. Starting with the covenant of creation and applying it to the history of mankind sets the stage for the final covenant for the church founded in Jesus Christ. From God’s covenant with Abraham to God’s covenant through Jesus, the Bible must essentially be read as a covenant document or “the whole of the Scriptures is in the form of a covenant” (15). Standing on the shoulders of Meredith Kline and Ray Sutton (two men who would certainly find disagreement in each other), Crawford presents a strong covenant approaches that set the foundation for covenant application to the spheres of family, state and church.

The second chapter begins with an admonition and some presumptions. First a consistent covenant approach must presume “God is distinct from us and over us” (21) in order to assume that “we relate to God in time and space through a legal bond” (21). Without accepting these conditions the full breadth of Crawford’s covenant position makes little sense. It is this “legal context” of God relating to us that plays the “supreme authority to declare what is right and wrong” (21). The covenant view set forth by Crawford states that the covenants of God to man obligate man to obey God’s word.

The first sphere under this obligation is the family. Marriage is introduced, through Adam and Eve, as a creation ordinance that serves as a symbol for the rest of the Scriptures. Within the typology of the first marriage in the garden, there is a clear representative (husband), set of obligations (service to God in dominion) and covenant curses (“death” for eating from the tree). This covenant language and structure is shown by Crawford to consistently apply to the Scriptures. Israel is spoken of in marriage terms and the church is spoken of in terms of being married to Jesus Christ.

In the context of baptism, what is most important is the succession of the family (30-31). This is addressed more sufficiently later within Crawford’s work but the groundwork is laid here. The physical inheritance of God’s covenant with Abraham can be equated to the Spiritual inheritance of God’s promises. This will ultimately reveal itself in the church’s baptismal practices.

The second and third spheres of the state and church build upon the family. There are representatives before God, there are obligations and there are curses for disobedience to the covenant. The section concerning the state affirms the thesis as it is established. The particularities of the covenant reconstruction view are evident in this section. The presentation is persuasive and certainly helpful to the overall thesis. However, a rejection of the state covenant view does not ultimately bring down the thesis of covenantal obligation to God in the home and church.

The third sphere of the church is perhaps the strong point of this chapter and Crawford’s presentation. Leaning again on the presupposition “we relate to God in time and space” (21) Crawford argues that God’s covenant dealings must be with the “earthly institution” (41) and not the invisible church, which consists of solely the “elect of God” (41). This covenant dealing then is with the institutional church that stem from God’s covenant with Abraham (43). In the church the ultimate authority and representation is Jesus Christ but Christ has delegated His authority to the church (Matt 16:19; 18:15-20). These leaders are responsible for excommunication. Covenantal individuals who are unrepentant in their sin are held back from the blessings of the covenant (e.g. baptism and the Lord’s Supper).

It is in the third chapter that Baptism Is Not Enough begins to make the case for the covenant status of children. Crawford starts with the general example of Abraham and the knowledge of covenant obligations. Paying special attention to the Biblical account it is clear that God’s mark to on Abraham that he was His subject was also placed on Abraham’s entire household. From the covenant structure previously established Crawford states that “the father’s status…gave his children status as subjects as well” (53) and because of this they too receive the sign. Hence, the entire family is proclaimed to be a “covenanted corporate entity” in covenant with God (55). 

The first mark/sign of covenant that Crawford discusses is circumcision. It may have bolstered Crawford’s general thesis to discuss Noah’s covenant and sign first (e.g. Murray in The Covenant of Grace). Either way, this section presents the spiritual realities of circumcision in a decisive way that helps explain Paul’s Biblical link to baptism (Col 2:13-14). Crawford concludes a lengthy discussion on the meaning and purpose of circumcision by stating that it is a “representation of judgment” (60). This was a representative judgment that pointed to “Jesus Christ on the cross” (61).

In the fourth chapter Crawford develops a case for the new covenant inclusion of children. It is immediately noted by Crawford that no other elements of the family structure in the Old Testament has changed (65-68). Prima facie it is clear that the New Testament’s teaching does not disrupt the corporate elements of covenant participation. Crawford at this point quotes both Kline and Holstrom to demonstrate the validity of federal headship over against the “rugged individualism” (73) that has dominated the American church culture. And only because of this individualism has the church pulled away from the practice of infant baptism.

As a brief critique, the commonly quoted 1 Corinthians passage (1 Cor 7:12-16) remains a staple of application to the covenant discussion. But it has been overstressed in the covenant community. The passage is essentially a truism amongst all clear Biblical teachers. What it leads to is a multitude of Biblical interpretations. Crawford does an excellent job of providing this text at a valuable point but it ultimately provides no significant value to the argument.

In contrast to this minor critique one of the greatest portions of Baptism Is Not Enough comes when he discusses baptism as “the need for a washing or purification” (76). Whereas the Baptistic model points to baptism as something that confirms repentance and regeneration, the covenant view affirms the Biblical doctrine of total depravity. Baptism itself speaks to the need for salvation not the experience of salvation. But that is not the same as to say baptism is ineffective. Instead baptism is “is a blessed union. It is personal. We relate directly and intimately in covenant with our Creator and His people” (78). It is precisely because of this that baptism is “the instrument of both deliverance and judgment.” (81). The baptized then consist of both the saved and the unsaved: “the church is comprised of both regenerate and unregenerate people” (85). This not only stands against the Baptistic view but it shows credobaptism to be grounded in the individualistic mindset of the enlightenment.

In the fifth chapter Crawford moves to show the validity of certain New Covenant texts from this newly established position. The passages that are present the most impact on this concept stem from the book of Hebrews and Jeremiah. Any attempt to explain the book of Hebrews apart from its audience of “an early Christian assembly…living in a time of persecution and difficulty” (98) will fail to procure the most faithful understanding of these difficult texts. This audience was taught to assume corporate covenant inclusion and nothing within the book leads the audience to think otherwise. Instead, the foundation of the book of Hebrews is the danger that the Christian community might accommodate “to the regime of the former covenant” (99).

Of particular importance is the way that the book of Hebrews interprets and includes the prophetic book of Jeremiah. In many decisive ways that passage from Jeremiah 31 affirms the corporate covenant aspects of Crawford’s thesis. The former covenant was not broken by individuals but by the “covenant community of Israel” (102). Even the focus on God’s law points to the arrangement to covenant Israel and not individuals. In a similar fashion, the language of “I will be their God” (Heb 8:10) simply repeats the Old Covenant corporate promises (Gen 17:7; Exo 29:45; Deut 29:13). Everything points to the fact that the book of “Hebrews is an odd book to cite for support of the idea that the New Covenant is only comprised of the elect” (107). 

In the sixth and final chapter Crawford evaluates the gospel as a whole in relation to the covenant. It is made clear early that it is not “an expository defense of a particular eschatological position” (117). Nevertheless the proposition is asked, how would “any king would extend his rule on earth”? (118). The answer is corporate covenant. In this vein Crawford deals with the amillennial temptation of “sojourn theology” (120-126). Does the church in fact “live in that land and possess the promised Christ” (126)? Crawford’s answers and theology are clear. A pessimistic eschatology is not representative of the gospel: the church has “been preaching an abridged gospel, a reduction of Christianity” (132). The church through the covenant in the power of the Holy Spirit will be victorious.

Baptism in Not Enough is not a book on baptism. It is a book on covenants. It is a book built upon foundational arguments that lead to infant baptism and postmillennialism. A strongly covenantal view is consistent with both. John Crawford speaks in a clear manner as only a laymen can. That does not mean the book resides solely in the typical vocabulary of the church. But much of Crawford’s vocabulary is introduced and supported Biblically. Baptism In Not Enough asks the church to become more covenantal in language of the Scriptures. Though this may be confusing it is not meant to be. Crawford communicates a covenant view built upon exegesis of the Scriptures. 

Baptism is Not Enough will provide more than a few points of criticism from evangelicals and Baptists in particular. Though Crawford’s exegesis is sound there are many traditions of interpretation that could have been addressed for every given text. Crawford simply does not have the time to confront each of these interpretations. A deeper dive into the effects of the enlightenment may have supported the greater portion of the covenant thesis but the philosophical discussion would have been outside the realm of the average laymen. The advancement of Covenant Theology has hit a catch-22. It is not an obvious teaching when viewed through the lens of enlightenment. But the church is not sufficiently grounded in the Scriptures to understand the devastation of secular philosophy.

Crawford does his best in the most mundane language available. This book attempts to build the essential parts to bridge individuals to God’s covenant plans with creation and His people. It is an excellent book for people already interested in the subject and open to covenant objections to prevalent ecclesiologies. Baptism Is Not Enough is worth reading if one is already convinced of the infant baptism position. It provides insight into the formal reasons for infant baptism as well as the covenant hope contained in infant baptism.

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