John S. Hammett. 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015. 336 pp. $21.99.
Though baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been almost universal practices among Christians throughout the ages, disagreements about what they mean and how they are to be practiced are littered across church history and continue into our day. While there is a healthy ecumenism concerning these topics among evangelicals today, it would be unhealthy to assume that these so-called second order doctrines are not important to Christian theology and practice.
Indeed, the importance of these two topics is thankfully recognized as recent years have seen a number of books addressing them (e.g. Understanding Four Views on Baptism and Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper). One might ask why 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is necessary when there are already a handful of books that address the key issues related to these two sacraments. The author John Hammett (professor of systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) addresses this in his introduction, noting four ways this book is unique: it addresses both baptism and the Lord’s supper, whereas most books deals with just one of the two; it covers a much wider range of topics; it addresses practical issues; and the table of contents lists each of the forty questions, providing a helpful reference for readers who want to look up specific issues.
Part 1 contains four general questions that pertain to both baptism and the Lord’s Supper: whether they are sacraments or ordinances, how many sacraments/ordinances there are, who can administer them, and whether they are only for churches. In the first section it is the last question that interested me most because of how common it is for baptism and communion to be practiced outside of a local church context in our day and age (e.g. communion at weddings, baptism and communion at youth retreats and other types of conferences). Here Hammett first addresses biblical conclusions, noting that while there is good support that these sacraments should be observed by local churches, there are no explicit indication that they are only to be observed by churches. Next Hammett considers historical developments, noting the attitude toward this question for Catholics and Protestants. Finally, he notes that three underlying issues predispose one’s opinion on this matter and can also serve as a guide to making a decision: whether one subscribes to a regulative or normative principle to the Christian life, whether one’s vision of the Christian life is primarily individual or corporate, and one’s understanding of the meaning of these rites.
Part 2 covers 17 questions on baptism, separated into introductory questions, questions on denominational views, questions on theological issues, and questions on practical aspects. Part 3 contains 17 questions on the Lord’s supper broken down into the same 4 categories. The denominational questions for each topic covers the Roman Catholic view, the Lutheran view, the Reformed view, the Baptist view, and other views such as Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist, and Pentecostal. The theological sections address not only central issues such as infant baptism and the nature of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper, but also often neglected questions such as whether baptism is a divine means of grace or a human act of obedience and what God does in the Lord’s Supper. The section addressing practical question such as when a child should be baptized and how often the Lord’s Supper should be observed also makes this volume a unique contribution to the existing literature on these topics.
The final part addresses the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper for theology and for Christian life. Hammett points out baptism’s prominence in Scripture, its prominence in the history of Christian theology, and its connection to other doctrines such as the Trinity and soteriology. He notes the connection between the Lord’s Supper and Christology, highlighting the disagreements on the issue between various reformers. In relation to both of these sacraments, Hammett notes that their most crucial connection is to ecclesiology. In the final chapter on the significance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper for the Christian life, Hammett briefly summarizes his own Baptist position and notes that the answer to this last question will be answered from that perspective (but the rest of the book is not biased from his own position). As to the importance of baptism in the Christian life, Hammett points out that it is a matter of obedience, it provides an outward assurance of faith, and it initiates one into a body of believers who minister to him. Furthermore, when we witness the baptism of others, we pledge ourselves to care for this new brother or sister and we are reminded of our own baptism and pledge. Like baptism, observing the Lord’s Supper is also done in obedience to a divine command that results in blessing. Hammett notes three blessings connected with baptism: it deepens our relationship with Christ, it facilitates richer relationships among the members of the body, and it gives us another way to proclaim the gospel, helping the church fulfill its mission.
40 Questions about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper is very comprehensive in scope and addresses many theological and practical questions that are typically neglected in introductory works dealing with these sacraments. It is an excellent introduction to these second-order doctrines that have crucial implications for our theology and Christian lives.
Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!