But as surely as we who read approach the book in this context of expanded interest in the Early Church, Ferguson has himself worked from within an identifiable context. That context is his active participation in a branch of the Christian tradition that, styling itself “restorationist,” has from its early nineteenth-century foundation, aimed to replicate the life and worship of the Christianity of the apostolic age. It is only fair to note that this magisterial volume discloses what may be called an “apologetic” interest which, while it stops short of commending one particular branch of the church, is nevertheless concerned to burnish restorationist themes. These themes include the following three: (1) Christian baptism from its origin invariably involved dipping or immersion (pp. 59 ff); (2) the baptism of the infant children of Christian parents is non-apostolic and occurred only as a later interpolation (pp. 138 ff.); and (3) “the modern evangelical understanding that faith effects … new life, with baptism being a subsequent human work” (p. 164) deserves to be opposed since the Christian experience of forgiveness of sins is, in both apostolic and Patristic periods, always associated with baptism. Ferguson knows his Greek; his historical researches are unparalleled; yet these restorationist loyalties are scarcely concealed throughout. Ferguson’s apologetic interest does not mean that his writing is polemical or adversarial. It is a monumental work of historical investigation, unlikely to be equaled in the foreseeable future. In its field it will prove to be the source first consulted by scholars representing a wide range of expressions of Christianity.
Kenneth J. Stewart, “Review of Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries by Everett Ferguson,” Themelios 35, no. 1 (2010): 118.
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