The Baptismal Regeneration/Believer’s Baptism Debate: A Theological and Historical Overview of the Most Contested Subject of the Church Age. By J. O. Hosler. Haverford, PA: Infinity Publishing.Com, 1999. 522 pp. (Paper), $22.95.
The title of this book is a bit daunting and slightly misleading. While much of the book deals with the issue of whether baptism is a condition of eternal salvation, a significant portion does not. My favorite sections of the book are Chapter 10, in which Hosler deals with the Lordship Salvation debate, and Chapter 3, in which he deals with salvation in the Old Testament.
In Chapter 10 Hosler primarily uses John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus and Faith Works as the source for the charges which he refutes. He delineates and answers 31 Lordship Salvation charges. This section (pp. 439-81) is the portion I found most profitable. It directly impinges on many gospel-related issues. This chapter is reasonably well documented. However, there were a few places where I would have liked more proof that this is what MacArthur is arguing. See, for example, Argument 13, footnote 16, p. 452. Hosler fails to show evidence that MacArthur is arguing for absolute obedience. See also Argument 21, footnote 18, p. 462 and Argument 23, pp. 464-65 (this is the only point in which no documentation at all is given).
Additionally, it would help if differences within the Lordship Salvation ranks were pointed out. Not all in the movement, for example, agree with all that MacArthur says on the subject.
JOTGES readers will likely join me in their enjoyment of Chapter 3, “One Plan of Salvation for All Ages.” In it the author shows that even in the Old Testament people believed in the coming Messiah for everlasting life. They were not saved by obedience, animal sacrifices, or a general faith in God. They specifically believed in the Messiah who was to come.
Though the title of Chapter 1 is somewhat unappealing (“The Ritual-Equals-Reality Controversy in the Apostolic Church”), this is actually a very readable section. In it Hosler shows that no one was ever saved by any ritual, whether circumcision, washings, baptism, or anything else. He shows how false teachers were trying to undermine the ministry of the apostles themselves by introducing rituals as necessary for eternal salvation.
A nice distinction is made between those who proclaim a false gospel who are unsaved versus those who are saved (that is, those who came to faith and then were later misled). See especially pages 23-25.
Chapter 9 deals examines scriptural arguments in favor of baptismal regeneration. Passages like Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Gal 3:27, Eph 5:26, and Titus 3:5 are discussed. While I don’t agree with all of the interpretations (e.g., Hosler adopts the causal use of eis in Acts 2:38), there is much excellent material here. Especially helpful is his repeated reference to “the principle of coherence.” By this he means that Scripture cannot contradict itself.
In the concluding chapter (Chapter 11), Hosler considers the question of whether this wrangling about baptism and salvation needlessly divides the Body of Christ. It is a nice section, ending with a nice invitation to the one who is not sure he has eternal life to believe in Jesus (p. 504).
Other chapters in the book cover the place of the law in Christianity (Chapter 2), whether the gospel and baptism of John the Baptist was Christian (Chapter 4), whether baptism replaces circumcision (Chapter 5), infant baptism and believer’s baptism (Chapter 6), an historical overview of the baptismal regeneration debate (Chapter 7), and subjective and extra-biblical arguments for baptismal regeneration (Chapter 8).
There is a Scripture index. The reader should beware, however, of two problems. First, some of the passages are not in sequential order. So, for example, under Acts, we find three passages from Acts 10, then Acts 16:14, 19:4, 2:38, 22:14-16, 8:15, 16.
Second, the vast majority of passages mentioned in the book are not included in the brief one-page index. For example, on page 131 alone there are 11 passages mentioned and of those 11 not one is indexed. I found similar results on many other pages (e.g., pp. 69, 161, 204, 340, 442).
I recommend this book.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society