Periodical Reviews -- By: John A. Adair

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 177:706 (Apr 2020)
Article: Periodical Reviews
Author: John A. Adair

Periodical Reviews

By The Faculty And Staff Of Dallas Theological Seminary

John A. Adair


“The Drama of Baptism: Testimony and Tradition in the Early Church,’ ” Timothy George, American Baptist Quarterly 37, no. 2 (2019): 123–41.

Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School from 1988 through June 2019, examines the practice of baptism in the early church with a view toward greater unity between the historically reform-oriented Baptist and Methodist movements. The study begins with two baptismal testimonies—one each from the third and nineteenth centuries—before moving on to examine “the confessional character of baptism” as presented in the New Testament (125). Finally, George notes the liturgical context of baptism as practiced in the early church.

After a striking comparison between the baptismal testimonies of Charles Spurgeon and Cyprian of Carthage, in which both men describe experiencing a washing away of that which hindered them from following Christ, George turns his reflection to the baptism of Jesus. Here, he sees quite clearly the work of the holy trinity. Jesus’s baptism split the heavens, revealing him as God with us. The Spirit descended upon Jesus at this moment, an event the early church commemorated with an anointing with oil, a seal of baptism. Finally, the Father identified Jesus: God’s own Son. With this text in the background, baptism in the early church took on the character of “both a personal profession of faith and a community-forming event” (129).

Understanding the danger of baptism becoming “marginalized and routinized” (129), George suggests reflection upon a twelve-step baptismal practice that reflects early Christian practice. For this process, George draws upon three ancient and geographically diverse documents: Tertullian’s early third-century De Baptismo, the third-century Apostolic Tradition possibly composed by Hipollytus of Rome, and the mid-fourth century document from Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures.

George’s twelve steps—preparation, divestiture, renunciation, association, confession, immersion, investiture, sealing, salination, illumination, pedilavium, and eucharist—reflect a reading of his three noted documents and other influential ancient texts such as the Didache and a letter of Pope Gregory the Great. Even a key text that receives no mention, Justin Martyr’s 1 Apology, seems to fit well with the overall drama of baptism in the early church as George presents it.

While George’s purpose is decidedly not to argue tha...

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