Once in a Lifetime Book

Scot McKnight is the author of The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, a book on hermeneutics that I’ve been building a series of lessons on here for my church’s adult classes. McKnight is also a leading voice in the emerging church movement — you know, the movement recently trashed by the Gospel Advocate. WIth that in mind, I thought the readers would find this post at his popular blog, Jesus Creed, fascinating —

Once in a Lifetime Book

EFH.jpgEvery now and then, but not very often, someone writes a book that is a once-in-a-lifetime publication. Wow! Everett Ferguson has just given us an exhaustive study of baptism in the first five centuries: Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries..

What are the most decisive arguments in the baptism debates — infant or adult? Submersion, immersion, sprinkling? What most convinced you of your view? Or, do you think the parents or person choose and that the church makes a few options available?

This master historian, well-known for his works on backgrounds to the New Testament, sketches the whole picture: from the Jewish and/or Greco-Roman backgrounds to the New Testament to infant baptism (late 2d century) to baptismal liturgies to baptismal theologies and baptistries themselves — it’s all here.

This book is not innovative; it is not an attempt to argue a brand-new theory; it’s an examination of what can be known from the ancient evidence about baptism. For years I have always gone to G.R. Beasley-Murray’s justifiably well-known book on baptism (Baptism in the New Testament). I will now go first to Ferguson’s magnum opus.

Every pastor, theologian, ecclesial thinker, and theologian needs this book.

Interesting bit of irony — and I’m sure a masterful book. I have a birthday coming and I’m kinda hoping …

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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16 Responses to Once in a Lifetime Book

  1. nick gill says:

    *muttering overheard at the GA offices*

    "Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and again."

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    I will hold my review until I have read it. If it is vintage Ferguson it will be very well documented but will have the old church of Christ slant that we have it right and others don't. I will remind everyone that Ferguson was one of the big proponents of the “A time to speak” and “foracapella.org” petitions in the Christian Chronicle. His book “a biblical ecclesiology for today” was a big letdown as it was well disguised attempt to establish the pre-supposed idea that if we find a form in the NT it must be replicated in today’s church to the enth degree to be pleasing to God. He even goes so far as to try and establish through historical record whether there were praise teams or solos. I still like the other book “A baptism of the New Testament” because it goes deeper than just trying to establish the outward form.

  3. Royce says:

    Jay, I have observed that in many cases, changed lives were/are sometimes seperated by several years from baptism. I don't think I have ever heard anyone address this.

    For example, I know two great Godly men who are leaders and great examples on our congregation. Each of them was baptised as a young man but neither even hinted at living out the Christ life until a spiritual experience years later. In view of the broad agreement on the understandig of water baptism in our coC churches what is the explanation?

    Also, once one of our elders asked those to raise their hands who had been baptised more than once, then more than twice, and I was amazed at the number of hand raised. Why, in your view is this practice so common? A friend and former missionary attended a conservative coC school in Alabama and one of his classmates was immersed 6 times in their time at that school. Wow! Something isn't right.

    Thanks for your posts.


  4. Joe Baggett says:

    My son is 8 and he already wants to be baptized so he doesn’t go to Hell. You are right Royce something is wrong. Recently I learned that there are many in my immediate family who were re-immersed as quarter life adults. When I was at ACU we did a study of over 1000 people who had been in the churches of Christ for more than one generation. Amazingly about 37% of those surveyed had been immersed at least twice. Usually once at a very young age then again in their mid to late twenties. I think all the teaching of baptism as a work and something that gets you to Heaven and is the moment of salvation must stop! I now a lot of people say that we don’t teach that. OK then how do our young children think that, and why are so many re-immersed as quarter life adults? Hmm?

  5. WesWoodell says:


    That's all I have to say. 🙂

  6. One of my most vivid memories of my years at Abilene Christian College, in the late 1960's, is my one class with Everett Ferguson, entitled, "What is the Church of Christ?" I still have my class notes.

    I learned a lot about how to think about spiritual subjects from Ferguson.

    At the time, his practice regarding the final exam was to ask one essay question from his lecture material and a second essay question about something he had never mentioned in class.

    It may have been the only final exam where I learned as much from taking the final as I did from attending the class.

    I don't know, now, if I agree with him on every point of things, but I will always deeply respect the impact he had on me.

  7. K. Rex Butts says:

    Indeed, that is an irony…and it makes me chuckles a bit.

    Grace and peace,


  8. Royce says:

    In my view there are several likely reasons. All of them arise from incorrect teaching about water baptism.

    Because all of us have been told that baptism is the new birth and at that moment in time is when you receive the Holy Spirit, people young and old, expect to "feel" differently, and most importantly they expect to live above sin. A few weeks or months go by and reality kicks in and they find they still have the same sinful urges, perhaps continue the same sinful habits, and think, something must have been faulty with my baptism. Perhaps someone forgot to say "for the remission of your sins", or maybe I didn't believe enough or understand completely.

    Many of our people are on a roller coaster ride, much like some Pentecostals who expect to live without sin after the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They have huge highs and awful lows, often doubting their salvation and falling into clinical depression. Again, bad teaching.

    I am often disappointed when I hear someone talk of a departed friend, or a distant relative, saying "I know he was baptised so he will be ok". I sometimes want to ask "Did he repent?, Did he trust Christ with all his heart?, Did he hate his sin and try to live a holy life?" Aren't these questions at least worthy of consideration?

    We (coC) say we don't trust baptism just as an act. But for all practicle purposes we at least talk as if we do. My greates fear is that many of our dear folks have staked their lives and their eternity on the act of baptism and failed to put their whole trust in Jesus.

    Since we can't "see faith" and can only observe a life lived, we can only know in a limited way if a person is truely born from above or only acting. A disciple will live a life of continual trusting Christ and trying to live in His way the best he can. Faithfulness to church is not the same as faithfulness to Christ. It can be the same, but not always. People will leave all sorts of chruches, including churches of Christ and go to hell because they have not put their trust in Jesus alone. Trusting your faithfulness, your goodness, your church membership, and yes, even your baptism is a ticket to perish. Only Christ can give a sinner eternal life.


  9. Joe Baggett says:


    You said "They have huge highs and awful lows, often doubting their salvation and falling into clinical depression." I can't tell you how many even in the churches of Christ are sufferring from clinical depression because of this same bad theology.

  10. Joe’s comments of the alleged vintage “slants” by Ferguson and his association with foracepella are typical of his usual ad hominem attacks against more conservative minded brethren, including apparently some of his own immediate family, and his assertion that many members of Churches of Christ are "sufferring from clinical depression" is laughable! Please, Joe! Get real!

    I don't know what congregations he's worked with, studied, but maybe they were from another planet of something:)!! Not been my experience with members of the church and congregations.

    I think Joe you and Royce make too much out of the some in the church having been "reimmersed" several times. I don't deny its been and may still be a problem due to a lack of poor teaching on faith and salvation and the assurance we can have in Christ and our salvation, but you overreach in your assesments of this problem.

    However, Joe, your bias against baptism having anything to do with salvation and as you said, "anything that gets you to Heaven and is the moment of salvation must stop", is so obvious and sad, and thankfully that kind of radical thinking would be opposed by most faithful preachers and congregations that I know of.

    Anyway, Dr. Ferguson, as most of us know, is professor of Church History Emeritus at Abilene Christian University. He earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University “with distinction”. As a matter of fact, his numerous academic and scholarly honors would by the envy of most people. All of the books by Everett Ferguson are written at the highest standards of scholarship. Contrary to Joe’s opinion, his works such as Backgrounds of Early Christianity and The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today are highly respected and utilized in various religious circles.

    Recently, Anthony R. Cross, who is a world-class historical scholar and is a Fellow of the
    Centre for Baptist History and Heritage, Regent's Park College, Oxford, and has a soon to be published book coming out on: "The Adoption of Believer’s Baptism and Baptist Beginnings", said in a recent interview that the three most helpful books on baptism that Baptist should read are: George R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament; Then David F. Wright, What has Infant Baptism done to Baptism? And he said he now anticipates Ferguson’s Baptism in the Early Church quote, “will be a must read as well.”

    It is so encouraging to find that outside the confines of the Restoration movement and churches of Christ, many of the “wider Christian movement” are inching towards pretty full agreement that adult believer’s baptism is the “normative baptism” of the New Testament and the Early Church.

    And many are re-examining the theology and purpose of baptism and its connection to faith and salvation.

    In the paper by Stanley K. Fowler that you have noted, he mentions the example of Wayne Grudem’s explicitly describing baptism as a „means of grace.? He speaks of Grudem writing about baptism being “used by the Holy Spirit „to increase our experiential realization of death to the power and love of sin in our lives? and „to give additional assurance of union with Christ?.

    He then reference what Grudem wrote:

    “Although we must avoid the Roman Catholic teaching that grace is imparted even apart from the faith of the person being baptized, we must not react so strongly to this error that we say that there is no spiritual benefit at all that comes from baptism, that the Holy Spirit does not work through it and that it is merely symbolic. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 953-954)

    Even Bauer-Ardnt- Gingrich, which is the most authoritative Greek lexicon in English write concerning Acts 2:38, that the grammar actually requires that Peter is saying be baptized "for" the remission of sins. The use of the preposition eis demands this meaning. Concerning this specific verse, (BAGD) say:, "to denote purpose / in order to, to . . . for forgiveness of sins, so that sins might be forgiven Mt 26:28; cf. Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3; Ac 2:38." (Walter Bauer, William Ardnt, F. Wilbur Gingrich and Fredrick Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1979)

    Robert Stein, of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who Fowler also notes in his paper, the following in his article in the school’s journal defending the following thesis:

    “In the New Testament, conversion involves five integrally related components or aspects, all of which took place at the same time, usually on the same day. These five components are repentance, faith, and confession by the individual, regeneration, or the giving of the Holy Spirit by God, and baptism by representatives of the Christian community. Robert H. Stein, „Baptism and Becoming a Christian in the New Testament?, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 2.1 (Spring 1998), p. 6.

    Stein further says:
    “Baptist theology also deviates from the New Testament pattern. Although repentance, faith, confession, and regeneration are associated with baptism, baptism is separated in time from these four components. Thus baptism is an act which witnesses to a prior experience of repentance, faith, confession, and regeneration. As a result such passages as Romans 6:4, 1 Peter 3:21, Titus 3:5, John 3:3ff., and others, which associate baptism with the experience of conversion, are embarrassing to many Baptists and often receive a strained exegesis at their hands. (Ibid p 16)

    Just a few years back, Mack Lyon reported on the Search program that the one of the biggest Baptist churches in Edmond, Oklahoma, appointed elders in their congregation and now baptizes for the remission of sins !

    The fact is that many in denominations (particular Baptists) don’t know their history in that some of the great Baptist scholars in the past were very close in their thinking to us in churches of Christ on the essentiality of baptism.

    For instance, J.W. Shepherd, in his Handbook on Baptism (1972, Gospel Advocate Company, third edition), amassed an enormous amount of information on baptism from dozens and dozens of scholars, including some of the best-known denominational scholars of all time.

    Shepherd quotes the following words from J.W. Wilmarth, a prominent Baptist scholar: “To be baptized unto Christ, as the context seems to indicate direction of mind in the act, the result being stated, ye have put on Christ, clothed yourselves with Christ (so to speak), involving the ideas of unity and conformity. And this is mentioned (as the word ‘for’ shows) to confirm the preceding statement, ‘Ye are all sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus.’ Here, then, Faith and Baptism are united (as elsewhere), and united in their relation to adoption, which results in union with Christ. All this, of course, implies Remission” (p. 398). Shepherd copied these revealing remarks from Baptism and Remission in the Baptist Quarterly, July 1877, p. 310.

    R. Beasley-Murray, the Baptist scholar who was the Principal of Spurgeon's College in London, later Senior Professor at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY, who of course contributed one of the most significant and modern classic books on the subject, Baptism In The New Testament. He gives chapters which thoroughly discuss baptism in the Gospels, in Acts, in Paul's writings, and in other apostolic writings.

    From his chapter on baptism in Acts, Beasley-Murray said:
    "Consequently, baptism is regarded in Acts as the occasion and means of receiving the blessings conferred by the Lord of the Kingdom. Admittedly, this way of reading the evidence is not characteristic of our thinking, but the intention of the author is tolerably clear. (Ibid., p. 102)

    "Whatever the relationship between baptism and the gift of the Spirit elsewhere in Acts, there appears to be no doubt as to intention of Acts 2:38; the penitent believer baptized in the name of Jesus Christ may expect to receive at once the Holy Spirit, even as he is assured of the immediate forgiveness of his sins."(Ibid., p. 108)

    Beasley-Murray stated his conclusion in a chapter entitled "Baptismal Reform and Church Relationships":

    "First, there ought to be a greater endeavor to make baptism integral to THE GOSPEL. It is taken as axiomatic amongst us that the proclamation of the Gospel consists of making the redemptive acts of God in Christ known and calling for faith in Christ as the due response; baptism is then a proper subject for exposition in the enquirers' class, along with instruction as to the nature of the Church, of worship, of Christian obligation in the Church and to the world, etc…….. Peter's response, however, to the cry of his conscience stricken hearers on the Day of Pentecost was not "Repent and believe", but "Repent and BE BAPTIZED"! (Ac 2.38). Naturally faith was presumed in repentance, but Peter's answer told the Jews how to become Christians: faith and repentance are to be expressed in baptism, and SO they are to come to the Lord. Baptism is here a part of the proclamation of Christ. In an Apostolic sermon it comes as its logical conclusion. An effort ought to be made to restore this note in our [Baptist – Robert) preaching. (Ibid., p. 393)

    Albert Barnes was, for many years, the preacher for the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1951, a reprint) are in the libraries of thousands and thousands of preachers throughout the world. I’ll note two statements from Barnes–one from his commentary on Acts 2:38 and the other on 1 Peter 3:21.

    Concerning the expression “for the remission of sins,” Barnes comments: “Not merely the sin of crucifying the Messiah, but all sins. There is nothing in baptism itself that can wash away sins. That can be done only by the pardoning mercy of God through the atonement of Christ. But baptism is expressive of a willingness to be pardoned in that way, and is a solemn declaration of our conviction there is not other way of remission. He who comes to be baptized, comes with a professed conviction that he is a sinner; and that there is not other way of mercy but in the gospel, and with the professed willingness to comply with the terms of salvation, and to receive it as it is offered through Jesus Christ” (p. 53).

    Peter affirmed that baptism now saves us (1 Pet. 3:21). Following are Albert Barnes’ comments on that teaching. “The water saved Noah and his family from perishing in the flood, to wit, by bearing up the ark. Baptism, in the proper sense of the term, as above explained, where the water used is a symbol, in like manner now saves us, that is, the water is an emblem of that purifying by which we are saved. It may be said to save us, not as the meritorious cause, but as the indispensable condition of salvation. No man can be saved without that regenerated and purified heart of which baptism is the appropriate symbol, and when it would be proper to administer that ordinance” (p. 181).

    Albert Barnes did not believe one can merit salvation by being baptized and neither do I, but he believed baptism was essential to our salvation–a fact that the Bible explicitly teaches

    Anyway, Jay, thanks for your postings and thoughts concerning the movement of the Baptist coming more in line with, as you described, “along lines that are very similar to the progressive Church of Christ view of baptism.”

    Although we still differ on the understanding that the penitent believer's faith that he must have when coming to be baptized (not because he is saved, but in order to be saved), I am still thinking and studying this subject and issue and appreicate your perspective and challenge to my current understanding. There is certainly some tremendous progress being made among the various religious groups of baptism. And to the degree you help that progress, I am thankful.

    We must resist and oppose some of our historical animosity against Baptists or any other denominational group. Admitting that we do indeed have a lot to learn from them does not take away the reality of much of their error concerning the plan of salvation, but it should cause us to be humble in the truth we believe we have on this subject.

    For many of us in the more conservative camp, we pray and hope that as Baptists and other religious groups re-study and re-think baptism and it being essential for obedience for Christ, our prayer is that some of them will also come to making the connection that baptism is therefore essential to salvation.

    That baptism is a part of initial saving faith, and not distinct and separate from the faith that saves us. That they will see baptism as nothing meritorious, and there are no pretentions of saving ourselves or adding to the finished cross-work of Jesus. Baptism is essential to salvation along with other acts of obedience (believing, repentance, confession) only because they are the means of ushering people into relationship with Him. Salvation is found “in Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3,7), and in the relationship with Him. The Bible teaches very clearly how one is to “get into Christ.” (Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:3-4) May God help those truly and sincerely seeking to the find this truth.

    Robert Prater

  11. Anonymous says:

    1 Peter 3:20 says the ark was in which eight soul were saved through water, it was the ark that saved them through water. 1 Peter 3:21 is the baptism of the Holy Spirit Jesus baptizes us with. Jesus on the Cross takes away our sins and it is He who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Peter 3:20 It was the ark that saved them not the water.

  13. Joe Baggett says:

    Nothing that I mentioned was untrue you may not like it or agree with it but it is fact. I agree that Dr. Ferguson’s works on early Christianity as historical source are used to some degree outside the churches of Christ as a reference not a doctrinal system. However his church of Christ slant to bend early Christianity to the existing churches of Christ is also widely recognized and rejected in religious circles outside the churches of Christ. Much of his book “A biblical ecclesiology for today" was widely rejected as mere religious dogma by many other religious groups. If you want I will provide you documentation showing that a significant number of regular attending churches of Christ members suffer from both clinical depression and anxiety both diagnosed and undiagnosed. My sister who is majoring in Psychology just did a paper on this at Harding University. In fact (and I will find the book that shows this) people who regularly attend church in conservative traditional evangelical churches are more inclined to suffer from mental disease such as depression/Anxiety/Codependency than the general population. This is not an ad hominem attack it is the truth whether you like it or not. This is one of the reasons that many churches even in the churches of Christ are adding staff counselors and psychologists. The significance of the re-immersion issue cannot just be explained away or ignored as you suggest. In my opinion it is strong evidence to suggest that there is a major problem with our teaching and practice of physical immersion. Notice I said it was my opinion not a fact. The results of something are the greatest tell tale sign of problems or opportunities for improvement.

  14. Jay Guin says:

    Royce and Joe,

    You're quite right about the pschological damage our perfectionism creates. I have a friend who once worked at the state mental hospital here in Tuscaloosa. It was common knowledge among the professionals there that a disproportionate number of those institutionalized came from CoC backgrounds.

    It's also interesting that many left the Churches of Christ in the 1970s to become part of the Pentecostal movement. I think it was the yearning for assurance of salvation — attained through tongues speaking — and our absent doctrine of a Holy Spirit, especially at the height of Guy N. Woods' teaching that the Spirit only operates through the word. Ironic, isn't it, that many Pentecostals suffer from the same perfectionism we do, just by a very different route.

  15. Royce says:


    I have personal knowledge of one good man, a gospel preacher for many years, a prolific writer and hard worker, whose life ended early, largely because he could not live up to what he preached to others. He became addicted to perscription meds, and lived his last several years in depression and withdrawal.

    About two years ago at a family gathering in Texas I listened as my wife's folks talked freely about former preachers, elders, and friends. I was shocked to hear how many of them had shock treatments, years of clinical help, and most died addicted to perscription medication, still in fear.

    It is very, very sad that tens of thousands of coC members who have been attending a local coC all their lives don't know for sure they have been good enough to go to heaven. Because of poor teaching, these elderly saints live in fear. What a shame!

    My deceased wife's mom was unsure of her own salvation because her preacher in Whitney, Texas taught that if you missed church and was not very sick you would go to hell. I saw it in print with my own eyes on a church mailer. The letter kills, the Spirit gives life.


  16. K. Rex Butts says:

    Once upon a time ago, when my understanding of grace and faith was much different than now, I baptized a woman because she was unsure of her salvation. Here's the caveat… This was her ninth baptism. Raised in a Baptist church, she had been baptized nine times in various churches including a Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, Bible, Community, and a few other churches and now she was being baptized in a Church of Christ. Looking back, I am not sure what she was taught but I question whether she ever had heard of the gospel that is taught in scripture. I did try to teach her as best as I understood but when a person is that driven by a gospel of fear and uncertainty, it does not change over night.

    I mention that story to also point out that there are many church denominations, including the CoC, where some people have been warped and harmed by a misunderstanding of the gospel that is being heralded as the truth. God help us all – Church of Christ, Baptist, Methodist, Bible, etc… – who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to understand the gospel better and teach it better to those who come seeking.

    Grace and peace,


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