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As a credobaptist (one who believes in baptizing only professing believers), I find paedobaptism (baptizing the covenant children of believers) unpersuasive for numerous reasons: (1) there is no explicit mention of or instruction for paedobaptism in the NT; (2) paedobaptists assume without warrant that “household baptisms” mean that that there must have been infants in the households and ignore the fact that Paul “spoke the word to all . . . who were in his house” (Acts 16:32); (3) the practice of baptism was routinely connected with repentance and faith; (4) the theology of baptism requires repentance and faith—as Paul says, we are “buried with [Christ] in baptism” and “raised through faith” (Col. 2:12), and  Peter virtually defines baptism as “as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Pet. 3:21); (5) entrance into the covenant people of God is by spiritual birth, not physical birth—the design of which is that all who belong to God’s covenant people truly know him (Heb. 8:11).

But that’s not the point of this post. If we assume that credobaptism is the NT understanding of baptism, then we are faced with the question of the age at which our children should be baptized.

A recent post by Julian Freeman expresses my own position. He argues that in these intra-credobaptist discussions, we are fearing the wrong thing: namely, the fear that we might be wrong. As he expresses the question: “What if we baptize someone who ends up not really being converted? Then what?’

He gives two reasons that this is the wrong question to ask:

First, we should not be afraid of getting it wrong, because even the apostles did. Have you ever noticed how many people apostasize in the New Testament? How many of Paul’s partners in ministry turned away (1 Tim 1.18-20; 2 Tim 4.10, 16)? And what of the disaster that was Simon Magus (Acts 8.9-24)? Certainly all of these had been baptized.

Second, we should not be afraid of getting it wrong because we are not charged with ‘getting it right’ in the first place. We’re never called to be the police of baptism, ensuring that only those who give good enough proof get in the pool. We’re called to baptize and disciple all who give profession of faith in Jesus as the risen Lord and Master of their lives.

Think about it; how much credible evidence could the people in Acts have given who heard one gospel message and were saved? Yet, they were baptized. Then discipled. And those who, in the process of discipleship, proved that their conversion was not genuine were disciplined out of the church. The answer is not to make sure people are converted before baptism, but after, in the context of local church membership, where they can be discipled and taught to obey King Jesus, with a strong dose of accountability, as part of a community.

This is where I think our ecclesiological paradigms can take us down the wrong path. A certain position fits the paradigm, but the exegetical evidence is completely lacking. I would put “do not baptize someone until you have years of observing fruits of repentance” in that category. I’d also put “do not share the Lord’s Table with someone who has not been baptized as a believer” in this category. In the “system,” these make sense. But they cannot be squared, in my opinion, with bigger and clearer principles in the NT (namely, baptize upon a credible profession of faith; share the Table with all who have been baptized in Jesus, that is, all true believers).

Julian goes on to identify some of the things we should be fearing in our practice of baptizing people:

Rather than a fear of ‘getting it wrong’ with someone (and then introducing somewhat arbitrary qualifications of age and genuine proof of conversion), we should be fearing suffocating baby Christians. And this is a real danger.

Here’s what I mean: The enjoyment of means of grace in the life of a Christian are like breathing and the grace itself is the believer’s oxygen. Without means of grace there will be no intake of oxygen. What we seriously need to ask ourselves is this: Is baptism a means of grace or not? Because if it is, we’re essentially telling the youngest of baby Christians (new converts of whatever age) to continue living without breathing, without taking in grace through God’s appointed means.

And it gets worse. Since proper baptist doctrine withholds participation in the Lord’s Supper, membership, and pastoral oversight to those who have already been baptized as believers, we’re withholding just about every corporate means of grace from this infant believer. And then we tell them to ‘prove’ their life in Christ, all the while denying them the oxygen their growth and life so desperately needs.

That is something we should genuinely fear.

At the end of the day, we have to remember that Jesus told his adult disciples to repent, becoming like children (Matt. 18:3). Then many of us turn around and tell our children that their faith is not worthy of baptism until they have repent like an adult.

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103 thoughts on “The Fear of Baptizing Children”

  1. Wesley says:

    Appreciate this very much Justin. Been wrestling with these issues myself and feel convinced that a credible profession of faith should be sufficient for someone to be baptized and that “credible profession” must be age appropriate as well. I don’t expect my 7 year old to describe double-imputation to me, but i do expect that she can say she is a sinner in need of saving grace from Jesus who died to pay for her sins and make her clean before God and hat she wants to live a life pleasing to God. I really balk at this – as you say – expecting someone of any age to present “proof” of regeneration before baptizing them. What scale do you use to measure. A recently converted prisoner is going to show very different “proof” than a elementary school age girl who’s grown up in the church.

  2. Denny Burk says:


    You say that we should ” share the Table with all who have been baptized in Jesus.” That’s my view as well. But doesn’t that mean that those who have not been baptized would not be allowed to the table?


    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Sorry—I knew that might sound ambiguous. I adjusted the wording slightly. I think the NT understanding baptism into Christ/baptism in the Spirit as a reference to conversion. So I might all true believers.

  3. Jim says:

    This is a step in the right direction–away from the New England Puritans who scared the daylights out of many Christians who couldn’t produce enough feeling and evidence to be considered Christians. What a dismal mess especially since they practiced infant baptism. However, infant baptism is Scriptural. The New England Puritans embraced revivalism and ditched the Reformed practice of covenant nurture. Agree, there is no evidence in the NT that individuals needed to produce evidence of repentance before they were allowed to be baptized. The Credo argument is still weak however, how can it be a “new and better” covenant and we kick out the infants? :) Jesus doesn’t. He says, let them come unto me!

    1. CMM says:

      “However, infant baptism is Scriptural.”

      Can you provide Scripture to back this statement up?

      1. Russ H says:

        Baptism = circumcision of the heart (Col.2:11-12)

        When did circumcision occur?
        As an adult for new converts (Ex.12:48; Gen.34)…
        On the 8th day for covenant children (Gen.17:12)…

        1. CMM says:

          Circumcision of the heart does not equate baptism in this passage. They are practiced separately in the NT. Circumcision was commanded by God to take place in infancy, baptism was not. The only baptisms we see performed in Scripture are performed on professing believers.

          1. CMM says:

            *”They are practiced separately…” meaning baptism and circumcision.

          2. Russ H says:

            “…you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism…” (Col.2:11-12)

            the circumcision of Christ = having been buried with him in baptism.
            baptism is the NT circumcision.

            1. CMM says:

              I can agree to disagree, but I still think that’s quite a stretch. Especially considering that this is the only scripture you’re using to defend this position.

              1. Russ H says:

                I also can agree to disagree, brother. Glad to have you as a partner in the Gospel.

                But this is not the only verse, just the one I see as most explicit. It’s the overall hermeneutic of covenant theology that convinces me of the Scriptural basis for infant baptism. Richard Pratt has a winsome (read “not contentious”) lecture on this.

              2. Justin says:

                Hey Russ H,

                I’m a baptist who is just really learning the understanding/support for infant baptism, so I am pretty ignorant here. But a quick question…

                Do paedobaptists believe that infant baptism is equivalent to “putting off the body of the flesh”?

                In the verse you quote it seems that “by putting of the body of the flesh” parallels “by the circumcision of Christ,” so that the text seems to actually say…

                putting off the body of flesh = the circumcision of Christ = buried with him in baptism.

                That sounds like conversion/regeneration language to me, and possibly a support for credobaptism.

              3. Chris Taylor says:

                Justin (not Taylor):

                “Do paedobaptists believe that infant baptism is equivalent to ‘putting off the body of the flesh’?

                No, … but … neither do most Baptists view adult baptism as ‘equivalent’ to putting off the body of the flesh.

                Both groups view rebirth as the putting off the body of the flesh. And both generally view circumcision in the OT and water baptism in the NT as pointing to this heart reality.

                In a real sense, water baptism does not equal circumcision. But both signs point to the same objective reality: faith in Christ (or regeneration).

                If “putting off the body of flesh = the circumcision of Christ = buried with him in baptism [and you take this use of the word ‘baptism’ to mean the watery ritual], then water baptism saves you. But this is why we all see this ‘baptism’ as referring to regeneration, and not the sign of regeneration.


                Chris (Taylor)

            2. Carlos says:

              It’s interesting that while quoting Col. 2:11-12, you left off the “through faith” part. Think about it. ;-)

              1. Russ H says:

                I didn’t purposefully leave a later phrase out to avoid content. I was just quoting what was most immediately germane. And I think you’re assuming that baptism only functions as an adult statement of faith (which is the whole debate), rather than as a sign of identity (that we are part of God’s covenant community). Circumcision precludes that notion (infants can’t make statements – yet they were included in the ‘faith community’ of the OT).

          3. Rochelle says:

            We don’t see women taking the Lord’s Table either… so… I should stop taking it or was it explicitly understood and inferred?

            1. CMM says:

              I don’t think your example is the same as baptising infants. I know you were being facetious, but to answer the question, yes, it is implied that women participated in the Passover seder and the later practice of the Lord’s supper because women were a part of the church body and the church body practiced these things. But the difference between this and baptism is that baptism in the NT is always presented as something that is done to a person who has professed belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the savior. An infant cannot do this, and therefore I do not believe that an infant should be baptised.

              1. Rochelle says:

                How can one old testament sacrament transfer into the New and be understood (e.g. The Passover, and The Lord’s Supper) but not the second sacrament? (e.g. circumcision and baptism)? It seems if both young and old were recognized as members of the physical community of God’s people by circumcision via the old covenant, that logically God would give us a sacrament whereby we identify who is in the physical body of Christ (e.g. baptism). And I wasn’t just being facetious ;-) it is the same argument y’all use as a reason to reject paedobaptism as biblical. My point was that just because something is not explicitly written it can be explicitly understood. I love the conversation this post has created! Great article Justin! :)

              2. CMM says:

                “My point was that just because something is not explicitly written it can be explicitly understood.”

                I agree, but the argument against infant baptism isn’t just based on its absence in Scripture; it’s also based on the fact that baptism is always performed in the same circumstances–when a person has professed their faith. I get your point that in a certain sense they both serve a similar purpose, but they are still two distinct acts. Circumcision in the OT served as more than a spiritual sign. It was THE identifying marker of a person belonging to the nation of Israel. Baptism is a different matter. As I said above, I can agree to disagree, but I don’t think that there is a good argument that circumcision and baptism are equivalent. When debates about circumcision arose in the NT, none of the apostles ever argued that baptism had replaced it. Seems to me that they, if anyone, would have understood and made that argument. I just don’t see it.

              3. Russ H says:

                CMM, I’m curious. So why do you think Paul brings circumcision up here? And not just once, but repeatedly – and at the very least, alongside baptism? What is the concept he’s expressing?

                Also: in Acts 15, the Church is still developing its understanding of circumcision in light of what Christ had done. The council’s conclusion is that circumcision is no longer necessary. What is the basis of Paul’s argument? Acts 15:8-9 sound very similar to our discussion of Col.2: God purified their hearts by giving them the Holy Spirit.

                In both cases, I find it very hard to avoid the notion that inward cleansing is not the primary thing being expressed. And I think we all agree: baptism is an outward sign of that inward cleansing.

              4. CMM says:


                At the risk of being redundant…

                Regarding Col. 2:11-12, I admit that I’ve never studied it with this subject in mind, but nothing about the passage has ever suggested to me that it had anything at all to do with infant baptism. Looking at the passage with this in mind, I understand your conclusion that there are similarities between the spiritual significance of circumcision and baptism. But still, they are not the same thing.

                I think Paul’s reference to the “circumcision of Christ” is similar to his other statements that claim Christ’s actions as our own (e.g., “buried therefore with him” [Rom. 6:4], “crucified with Christ” [Gal. 2:20])–that is, Christ’s (literal) circumicision, serves as our (figurative/spiritual) circumcision through his substiutionary atonement. He not only died in our place, but kept the law perfectly on our behalf. Paul uses the image of being “baptized with Christ” in Romans 6:4 as well, not relating it at all to circumcision. His using these two images of circumcision and baptism with Christ in Col. 2:11-12 doesn’t mean that they are the same thing. They were two ideas common in his writing that he simply, here in Colossians, mentions in the same passage.

                Again, it appears that no one, not one single person, in the NT sees circumcision and baptism as the same thing. If it were the case that these two were the same, Jesus, the apostles, and countless other believers would have had ample reason and opportunity to make the point. I know it’s not fair to make an argument from silence, but this is more than that. It’s silence when there was good reason to speak up.

                Also, I agree with your statement that “baptism is an outward sign of that inward cleansing,” but I don’t see how this helps your point. Are infants capable of the repentance, saving faith, and profession of belief that marks one as a believer? No. So if baptism is a sign that these things have taken place, what is the justification for baptizing infants?

              5. Russ H says:

                Again, I’d point you to the Pratt lecture I listed above. We’re beginning to get a bit lengthy for a comment board, and he does a great job dealing with this issue – in particular with overarching covenant hermeneutics. This whole discussion comes down to how you understand the Old Testament’s relationship to the New.

                Yes, I do not find an argument from silence compelling – and even more so on important matters (e.g., as some liberals have argued: Jesus never spoke directly to homosexuality; or the fact that there is no singular passage to which you can turn to find a comprehensive explanation of the Trinity).

                I wrote a very lengthy paragraph on your last question – but I don’t think that’s going to be helpful here. [It wound up reading as very argumentative. Text cannot convey inflection.] We’re talking about a comprehensive way of reading the Scriptures (covenant theology). Even if you disagree with such a hermeneutic, I think you’ll find Pratt helpful in understanding why Calvinists interpret the Scriptures the way we do.

                Bottom line: I do find Colossians 2 compelling (not singularly, but as an echo of the whole of Scripture), but men of good conscience can disagree on non-essentials.

  4. Clint Wagnon says:

    Except Justin, where are we told to have the faith of a child? Heard that all my life, but never seen it in Scripture. We are told to have the humility of a child (which is related, of course, but not the same) and that was in response to the disciples quarreling over who was the greatest.

    The reason I raise this is because I have often heard a defense of deplorable evangelism methods to children—”Who wants to go to heaven? Repeat this prayer after me and ask Jesus into your heart”—justified by saying all that is required is a the faith of a child. Like unicorns. And Santa. And…. well, you get my point. No gospel. No regeneration. No conversion. Just a magic prayer.

    Children are saved the same way as adults, faith (which includes repentance and belief) in the historical crucified and risen Christ and his finished atoning work alone, but not magical thinking.

    I know that is a thousand miles from the point you’re making. I just wonder if it wise to continue to use child-like faith as a descriptor. Or perhaps child-like humility (utter dependence) is better. I am open to correction here. Please help if I’m off base.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Valid point. I’ve adjusted the wording a bit.

  5. Clint Wagnon says:

    Perhaps “deplorable evangelism methods” was too strong a word choice.

  6. Might be worth a quick edit: it was Paul, not Peter, who preached to the jailer’s family. Great stuff as ever, though!

    1. Justin Taylor says:


  7. Justin,

    A lot of what you write is encouraging but many practical questions still remain – what counts as a credible profession? Could a 2 year old make one? Would it be up to individual parents to decide what counts or is there an objective, biblical-based standard? I ask this as a father of a little boy…

    Kip’ Chelashaw

    1. Dave says:

      I think Kip’s question is key here: define a “credible” profession. Too many times I see children stand in front of the church and answer 4 or 5 questions by saying “yes”. Is that a credible confession? Regarding “baptism police” (great phrase), not everyone was accepted for baptism in Jesus’ ministry (cf. Luke 3:7ff). I think the two extremes in credo-baptism are: baptize the day the profession is made (whatever the profession might consist of) and wait 2-3 years. What about a brief period to see if the seed takes root? We are not living in a time like the audience of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. Since children can be so easily persuaded/manipulated (even by accident), why not wait a few weeks/months to see if this is their decision or if they are doing it for other reasons?

      1. Jay Beerley says:

        I find that it often doesn’t even take weeks. You can tell a lot once you separate the conversation about salvation from the “decision” by just a few days. Get them out of the moment. Then allowing them to talk, avoiding yes or no questions as much as possible, you get a better sense as to what they were doing.

    2. David Zook says:

      For what is worth Kip here is what we practice in our church. When a child professes faith, we have several of our elders gently examine them with open-ended questions regarding their experience and knowledge of trusting Jesus.

      Their explanations go a long way in determining whether or not they understand the Gospel, faith, and repentance and if it has become real to them.

      If so, we trust that the Holy Spirit has regenerated them.

    3. John says:

      For what its worth, I made a profession of faith when I was 4 or so. I couldn’t have explained the two natures of Christ, nor virgin birth, etc., but I clearly understood substitution. And, I’ve never “doubted” my salvation (although looking back, perhaps I should have…). I think the biggest problem my parents went through was having boys who made an early profession of faith and then grew up like any other boy complete with all the normal sins. Redeemed? Probably. Little saints? Not hardly!

  8. Bob Turner says:

    Wow – Absolutely excellent post! I am reposting this on my blog. But first, I want you to know the timing of my reading this post in my life right now:

    I am baptizing my daughter this Sunday. She is 7 years old, proclaims a love for Jesus Christ, genuine repentance of sins (general & specific), loves to serve the church, reads her Bible, prays often, attends Bible studies & children’s church, evangelizes, and even led a bullying classmate to Christ recently.

    She has been asking (pleading) to get baptized for about a year or so now. Even with all of that good fruit, there is a whisper of doubt that I should baptize her. Yet, if this type of evidence of the Spirit’s work was going on in any adult, this person would be a prime candidate for baptism. I see nothing Scriptural for me to stand in the way of her continued obedience to her God.

    I am very excited to baptize my daughter this Sunday! She has invited all of her teachers & classmates from her public school, Good News Club, etc. She is scared to share in front of the congregation, but excited to obey & follow Jesus in baptism.

    Thank you Justin! God’s timing in having you write this wise & encouraging post is amazing!

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Bless you, brother!

  9. chris taylor says:

    As a paedo-baptist, I find that the corporate means of grace is actually more substancial than baptism. In what sense is baptism a means of grace, other than 1) your entrance into the visable church, and 2) a historical marker that you can look back on to say, ‘I’m a member of God’s church’?

    Corporate membership on the other hand comes with a superfluity of active graces, designed to spur a believer on to faith and obedience. In a real sense, all Baptists are a bit double-minded on this. They hesitate to aknowledge that their children are believers and they refuse to accept them as members, even so, at the same time they make them say their prayers, go to church, worship God, memorize the Bible, do good works, etc. Why not just admit that your children are a part of the church and embrace fully all the blessings that come with church membership?

    What does it do to the mind of a zealous young believer who passionately desires to be embraced by the church and encouraged in the faith, when the church is constantly throwing cold water on those desires, telling the child to wait five, ten, even fifteen more years? I dare say, the world doesn’t tell them to wait, rather it gladly takes them in.

    1. Preston says:

      Well said.

    2. Neal Stublen says:

      There are many credobaptists who would not hesitate to baptize a “zealous young believer.” The question comes in baptizing the child of zealous parents when the child may have difficulty expressing his faith on his own.

    3. Rob says:

      I find the NT very vague on church membership and the qualifications thereof. Hebrews mentions not giving up meeting together and you have references to the body of believer’s, but the NT isn’t really clear on the subject.

      Of course, we can assume and presume all we want. (That’s what we do anyway.)

      1. Nathan Smith says:

        Hey bro, just saw your comment here. I believe there is ample evidence for church membership, not only in the NT, but in the OT as well. When you said that you “find the NT very vague on church membership and the qualifications thereof” I assume you are speaking in terms of “local church membership” rather than membership in the universal church.
        It may or may not be convincing evidence for you, but here’s a (very) brief biblical defense for membership in a local church. (This is material from our covenant membership class)

        B. Why Join? (Part I: Biblical grounds for joining a church.) What implications for church membership can we draw from the following passages?

        1. Acts 5:11-14 – V. 13 – “join”/“kollasthai” the Greek word meaning, “to unite oneself with” or “to associate with” or “join” or “stick to” or “hold on to”. It gives the idea of purposefully gluing oneself to something. This is the idea of recognized Church Membership.

        2. I Corinthians 14:23 – Who makes up “the whole church”? Who did Paul have in mind when he spoke of “the whole church”? It seems logical that he was referring to a specific, verifiable number of persons – Church Membership!

        3. I Timothy 3:5; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17; I Peter 5:1-4 – How are leaders supposed lead, oversee, shepherd, rule over, be examples to, take care of, take heed to, etc… people whom they are not distinctly sure they are responsible for. And for whom are the leaders going to give an account to God? All who enter into the doors of the church building? Surely this is not what is meant. Is it not those who are identifiable as committed members of that church? Furthermore, just as in a family (I Timothy 3:5) there is no question who is a member and who is not, how can the leaders care for those Church family members whom they really are not sure if they are members?

        4. Acts 20:28 – FLOCK; Ephesians 2:21 – TEMPLE; I Corinthians 12:27 – BODY; I Timothy 3:15 – HOUSEHOLD! – Are any of these metaphors used for “church” a picture of a collection of loosely, informally, or arbitrarily committed members? NO! They are members recognizably, identifiably, and verifiably committed to a definite, specific whole! – Church Membership

        1. Nathan,

          This looks good – are you willing to share the full contents of this course as I could use this to teach others.


          1. Nathan Smith says:

            I appreciate your interest. I will check with my fellow elders, but I don’t foresee any objections to sharing this material. It may be of limited value to you, however, since much of the class is focused on the particular beliefs, values, distinctives, vision, and mission of our local body. Having said that, if you are still interested and will provide me with your contact info, I’ll get back to you about it. You can DM me your info on Twitter, if you like. @nlsmith127

    4. Rochelle says:

      Great post. Well said. It seems the measuring of a “credible profession” is God’s work. Not ours. God commissioned us to baptize and disciple as for faith and repentance being a prerequisite, you’d have to be God to demand such a thing!

  10. Jared Oliphint says:

    Really appreciate this, Justin. The priority of exegetical arguments is, without qualification, something we can all get behind. We have an episode on baptism (that had been planned for a while!) coming out in a couple weeks that I hope adds some categories to this discussion. Thanks for this!

  11. John L. Dagg says:

    Waiting for the bloggers at 9 Marks to respond in 3, 2, 1 …

  12. Josh Gelatt says:

    Justin, in what way can repentance be equated with “adult” behavior? I would rather think the very act of repentace is expressing the very childlike humility Christ describes.

    Also, I’m not aware of any baptist church, contemporary or historic, that does not extend pastoral oversight to children. Quite the opposite actually. Frankly, I know of only very few that refuse communion (that decision is usually left to the parents). Membership is usually only granted at 18, but in most church contexts this is generally equated with voting privileges, and hardly constitutes a “means of grace”. The padeobaptist position remains unconvincing to me, and is generally reduced to emotionalism (e.g. Would you really be so mean as deny God’s grace to a little baby?).

    1. JMH says:

      Come on, Josh. Have you read this or this or this? Are you accusing John Murray and John Calvin of emotionalism?

      It’s an important issue where smart people who love Jesus disagree. Please don’t insult the intelligence of those who take a different view.

      JT’s post is good. This issue is one all pastors have to deal with, paedobaptists included.

  13. Just a few comments on the first 5 points: 1) there is no explicit mention of or instruction for the baptism of a child of believing parents in the NT; 2) not all paedobaptists assume this—many of us are happy to ignore it completely, and it’s not necessary to our argument; 3) the practice of baptism was routinely connected with repentance and faith . . . for 1st generation converts; 4) Col. 2 is an interesting passage to use, especially since it is the main place where the NT connects circumcision and baptism; 5) the statement here was true in the OT as well, and the sign of the covenant was still administered to children of believing parents.

    1. Jay Beerley says:

      I believe Justin said that wasn’t the point of the post. But since you brought it up, I have no idea how you see Colossians 2 as advocating that position. If you were to somehow try and say circumcision of the body is the same as baptism (instead of the New Covenant circumcision of the heart), verse 11 implies you have to baptize people without using your hands. Not sure how that would go.
      The whole outward signs of the Old Covenant seem to be totally revamped in the New Covenant. Everything in inward now. That would include worship, the Law, etc.

      1. Ryan Wampler says:

        But, isn’t baptism an outward sign pointing to a spiritual or as you say inward reality just the same as the Old Testament sign of the covenant, circumcision, was?

        Deuteronomy 10:16 “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” Physical circumcision pointed to the need to be spiritually or inwardly changed.

        1 Peter 3:21 “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Physical baptism points to the need to be spiritually or inwardly changed.

        I’m not sure I see the distinction of the Old Testament being merely outward and the New Testament being inward. In both cases, those who received the physical sign are being called to believe in the promise that is offered to them in the physical sign of the covenant- whether you are a child or an adult- future faith is required in the Old Testament and New Testament.

  14. Neal Stublen says:

    While I believe churches err in delaying baptism until the late teen years, Julian’s statement that “we’re withholding just about every corporate means of grace from this infant believer” seems a bit of a stretch. Are the preached word and prayer so ineffective that our children are suffocating under them? Does fellowship with other believers count for nothing?

    I appreciate the push you’re giving to those who want to insist on sufficient – whatever that may mean – fruit from children, but there are still a lot of questions left unanswered. Is a three year old’s profession after catechism study sufficient for baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Don’t we still need to at least try to discern the difference between a child’s ability to mimic what he’s been taught and his grabbing onto those truths for himself?

    I agree we don’t want a probationary period for our children before allowing baptism, but I think we still need to establish a clear definition of “credible profession of faith.”

  15. Hello Justin:
    Many Baptist churches don’t practices the baptism to believers under 18, because they connect baptism and membership, and the membership may have some legal implication. How can you resolve that situation?

    Bless you

    Rafael (from Dominican Repulic)

  16. Andrew says:

    I hace vive children. Three-dimensional oficina them hace made at least one profession of faith. Only two have been baptized because one has shown no real evidence. I also don’t think the person dealing with her (we were at another church) did anything but tell her to “pray this prayer.”
    I enjoyed this article because I recently resigned over the issue of an adult convert who wanted to be baptized was told she had not sufficiently proved her salvation under the watchcare of the church. I liked the term “policing baptism.” I have used it concerning the Lord’s Supper. Although I believe only baptized members in good standing should partake, I have never denied anyone individually.
    So…Amen to the parts about water baptism!

  17. steve hays says:

    “Second, we should not be afraid of getting it wrong because we are not charged with ‘getting it right’ in the first place.”

    The example of mass baptism in Acts 2:41 supports that contention. Clearly the apostles didn’t screen 3000 baptismal candidates on one day.

    1. Nick Mitchell says:

      Excellent point.

    2. John says:

      Good point. But, I think our issue is that in the NT it was ok for one to “self-identify” with the church, at least until they displayed bad fruit (Simon is a good example of this). Today, it seems we have many who want to define who gets to be “in” or “out” – gatekeepers if you will. It is not just baptism that gets pressed into this kind of service.

  18. Don Nicholson says:

    as I am wrestling through this issue in my church, I appreciate the various comments. but who says we’re not charged with getting it right, at least in some sense? are we supposed to just take this persons word and not examine to see whether they have a credible testimony or not? tell that to the persecuted church.

    I REALLY wrestle with the age issue. I am not in favor of withholding baptism, but if a child does not understand the ramifications of entering into a secular contract, why do we think this same child can enter into THE most important contract of their life? Are they capable of “counting the cost” at 5,6,7 years old? what about “belief”? John 2:23–24 “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people.”

    there is “belief” that is not based on saving faith. how often have we “lead people to the Lord” by telling them the good things they can expect from God and not that they are Hell-bound sinners who need to repent. oops! sorry, forgot it is not nice to say someone is a sinner, they are just pre-churched or whatever the latest term is.

    1. Jim says:


      Think about what you are saying. What about a severely mentally handicapped child or person? They cannot understand secular contracts either and never will. Do we deny them baptism and the Lord’s supper on that basis? I’ve not heard a good answer to this question. This is where my point regarding psychological harm comes in. I know parents who have children who want to be Christians like the rest of the family and they are told NO for years. Is our answer to their tender hearts really “count the cost kid and we’ll see how you do in ten years if you are really saved?” Is salvation signing on to a contract?

      Jesus said allow the children to come to me for such is the kingdom of heaven. John 2:23-24 is a passage about Jews who were “looking for a sign” and as the story unfolds in John we see how they reject Him. I can’t imagine telling my children that Jesus looks into your heart and He may not entrust Himself to you. You are describing a frightening world for children. They MUST come to know they are sinners and they are but it is God’s kindness that leads them to repentance and the story of the Bible is the faith of Abraham, faith in Christ, is passed down by covenant nurture not by a climate of distrust.

  19. Russ says:


    We don’t know each other, but I frequent your blog often enough to notice things. I’ve noticed a pattern. One of which is extremely dissapointing (in my opinion). It seems that every few weeks, you tend to start a discussion that pits one group of Christians against another. Whether it’s Calvanists/Arminians, dispensationalists/non-dispensationalists or credo/paedobaptist.

    I’ll be the first to admit that doctrinal differences are extremely important to discuss. Extremely. But, what matters most to you? You have an awesome medium (and dare I say, awesome responsibility) to share the gospel with those who don’t know Jesus (and with many that do). It seems more often than not, you get the most comments on blog posts which are controversial and they often turn into fights between believers. Is this the point of the blog? While you’re not responsible for what other people write or say, I do think you’re responsible for what people comment on and I know you’re not naive enough to think that what you’re posting isn’t going to result into to inter-fighting between believers. It happens time and time again.

    Before you or anyone else accuses me of wanting everyone to sing “Kumbaya”, that isn’t the point of my post. I’m also not telling you how to run your blog. I frequent this blog to get pointed towards resources that can spur on my (and others like me) faith towards the Lord. When I see titles like this (and others) it makes me think about whether or not I should come back and turns me off completely.

    One man’s opinion. No hard feelings towards you as a brother in Christ, but perhaps some food for thought.

    1. MF says:


      I think if you eliminate the paragraph about his reasons for rejecting paedobaptism, the post is mostly a link to someone else and is basically a positive discussion. Perhaps he could have focused more on that positive discussion by simply linking to one of his past posts on the paedo/credo division rather than summarizing it. But all in all, I don’t find it a divisive post, even though I’m on the other side of the paedo/credo discussion.

      In any case, I don’t think his point here is to speak to non-believers in every post or shy away from distinctives because non-believers may wander by. JT’s massive audience is almost entirely Christians, I’d wager, and with perhaps a few exceptions, I think he does an excellent job of posting responsibly, given his position.

      1. Russ says:


        Thanks for your reply. Not asking Justin to change anything. As I said, it’s his blog. Just saw a pattern and commented on it.

    2. John says:

      Did you read the blog heading? It is “faith, books, culture”. Not “share the gospel”. And that’s ok. Not every blog by a Christian has to be evangelical. I personally find Justin’s “controversial” posts to be quite edifying. These are things we need to talk about. Also, I don’t think it’s fair to accuse Justin of sowing discord when he allows public comments. Just because we have collectively lost our grace and tact in public conversation does not place an ethical obligation upon Justin to stop allowing conversation altogether (although he has had to shut down some comment threads). One man’s opinion. No hard feelings towards you as a brother in Christ, but perhaps some food for thought.

      1. Russ says:


        Thanks for your reply. I in no way accused or intended to accuse Justin of “sowing discord”. I simply noticed a pattern and commented on it. Probably the last time I comment on something.

  20. Jim says:

    When we started our family we were credo. We became convinced of infant baptism just as our oldest were entering their teens. Our youngest was baptized as an infant. The older kids were baptized relatively young. When we embraced covenant nurture in our family there was an immediate change. God had chosen them within a believing family and they were more settled in their salvation and I did have to the “evidence policeman” constantly checking to see if their salvation stuck. The pressure was off. We could be a Christian family. I have a friend you goes to a church where they delay baptism until the late teens. His ten year-old said he wanted to be a Christian like the rest of the family. No such luck. You have to be a pagan until Dad and the elders say so. Realize most Baptist do not operate this way but some do.

  21. MF says:

    JT’s first reason for rejecting paedobaptism is its lack of explicit biblical support.

    John Frame is as close to a biblicist as you’re likely to find. He exalts the Bible as inerrant and supremely authoritative over tradition, creed, preaching, personal experience, etc. in his book “Doctrine of the Word of God.”

    Yet, in his “Doctrine of the Christian Life” he makes this comment on tradition and baptism: “In the early generations following the apostles, doubtless there were some reliable traditions dealing with questions not explicitly answered in the New Testament. In my view, for instance, the early church did not need to have an explicit New Testament command to baptize infants. They just did it, for that was the apostolic practice, and the church had always done it that way.”

    Indeed, we might say that, biblically speaking, baptism for the dead and head coverings have much clearer support than infant baptism, and yet that support is not definitive for most evangelicals today. There are traditions and hermeneutic issues that must be brought to bear also.

    1. CMM says:

      He doesn’t just reject it because of its absence, but because “the practice of baptism was routinely connected with repentance and faith.” I think his hermeneutic is consistent here. Infant baptism is seen nowhere in the NT, while the baptism of professed believers is seen throughout the NT.

  22. Nathan Pitchford says:

    I appreciate the concerns expressed in this article. When we see the Savior’s tender compassion for the infants and children being brought to him for blessing, and hear his stern warning against causing them to stumble, it should make us tremble to quash the earliest, tenderest sprouts of inchoate but genuine faith. We should feed, water, and nurture that faith from the very beginning, not demand that it grow strong and mature before we give it all the advantages of growth! As a paedobaptist, I see strong evidences of continuity in God’s full covenantal acceptance of his chosen people and their seed, throughout the OT, in the life of Christ, and continuing through the NT — certainly no lessening or abrogation of their privileges (although this is probably no venue for a debate on the topic). So I hope you’ll take it as a compliment when I say that, although I still disagree with you on the subject, my disagreement is without teeth, because you reflect the same heart of Christ for children that we paedobaptists also strive to emulate.

  23. Jack says:

    I find it interesting, as someone considering the baptism debate for myself, that both sides point to a lack of evidence in Scripture as a support for their position. Credobaptists look for an explicit scriptural command to include children in the New Covenant…and don’t find it. Paedobaptists look for an explicit scriptural command to exclude children from the New Covenant…and don’t find it. The question is, what are you looking for and why? Either way, it’s not as simple as saying, “Well, your position isn’t spelled out in the Bible,” because both sides can legitimately say that depending on how they define their terms.

  24. LID says:

    This post was helpful for me because I am plagued with a fear of baptizing children “too soon.”

    This also brings to mind the resulting fear of “re-baptizing” them if they profess Christ at a later time, after having made a profession as a youth (or adult for that matter)then baptized and then later determining they were not true believers. Some claim that the first was not a biblical baptism because they were not true professors.

    I feel caught in the middle of paedo/credo understandings. Where baptism is a sign of the redemption, but where one grants the privileges of the church and the other professes the faith of the individual. One would happen once, whether at birth or later at adult conversion if not raised paedobaptist. One could happen, maybe not multiple times realistically, but easily twice in someone’s life if grown up credobaptist.

    Should individuals be baptized again if they made a profession of faith but truly believe they were not saved during their first baptism, but believe now that they are saved?

    What place does an understanding of our assurance of salvation and an understanding of the free grace of the Gospel play a part in this.

  25. Jim says:

    Meant I “did not have to be the evidence policeman.” A New England Puritan innovation which led to the tremendously ill-advised “half-way covenant.” How could such a thing ever be remotely biblical? It is little wonder that New England became unitarian a generation after Jonathan Edwards.

  26. Jim says:

    Jack, that is a great insight. It’s important to carefully look for the theology in the Scriptures. It’s a dead end to look for specific practice only. Here are some points regarding the practice we do see:

    Both agree children were allowed in the covenant in the OT through circumscion.

    Many are baptized in the NT without a period of searching for evidences of salvation.

    Multiple individuals, after their conversion, are not baptized just as individuals but their “households” are included. Households including not just family members but servants and their children as well.(As paedo, I admit we have no evidence that that infants were included but credos have no evidence they were not–two arguments from silence. Given the continuity of the covenant it would have been a point of huge debate if they were excluded however. Jewish Christians made up most of the early church and it would be foreign to them to have to exclude their infants/children from the covenant with no specific Apostolic teaching. How would the Jews see this as a “new and better” covenant which excludes children? A better covenant with less people? Especially after Jesus said the kingdom belongs to them. No not hinder them.

    A great book on this which I recommend reading with an open mind is:

    1. Jack says:

      Jim, thanks for those helpful points and for the book recommendation. I greatly appreciate it.

    2. Bill B says:

      Christians need to do their homework when they critique a view they don’t agree with. Here is a very good book from the reformed view of baptism: THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINE OF INFANT BAPTISM, Pierre Charles Marcel, Westminster Publishing House.

  27. Mark says:

    How do you exegete Col. 2:11 in connection with baptism?

  28. Adrian Lomax says:

    The term “means of grace” is a term I often hear my Methodist friends use to refer to what others call sacraments, and what one considers a sacrament or means of grace varries from group to group. I am not familiar with this idea amomg Reformed, Paulinistic, theologies. Would you please help me understand what you mean by this phrase? I agree with you that baptism should not be denied to a professing believer, since according to Eph 1& 2 the whole of salvation is dependant upon God and not us.

    Thank you in advance for helping me understand your use of this concept.


  29. David Axberg says:

    I am also a Credobaptist, I did however find the best case/explanation just recently in the first couple of chapters of Joel Beeke’s newest book “Parenting by God’s Promises”. Well put and worth the read. God Bless Now!

  30. Rochelle says:

    Did any paedobaptists reading this find the language like “infant” christian and “they were baptized. Then discipled.” Ironic? I have yet to meet a paedobaptist who believes their child is guaranteed repentance and faith because their parents baptized them. It seems like we, credo and paedos believe the same thing about baptism, according to this post, that baptism primarily is an induction to the discipline of the Christian community. So, if we discipline our children and treat them as members of our community hoping God does the work of saving them in His time, then why don’t you baptize your children? Please don’t read this wrongly. I’m not trying to dissent but understand. As for the jewish converts of pal’s day, they already understood the nature of God’s covenant with their children. Were all who were circumcised sons of Abraham? Of course not. Some never were granted faith and repentance, however they were part of the community of Israel and were taught and disciplined to fear the Lord. It seems if baptism signifies one’s initiation into the physical family of Christ (not spiritual, for wheat and tares grow together) they would have included their families and servants just as they did under the old covenant. And like the old covenant, not all were redeemed. Any thoughts?

    1. Rochelle says:

      *paul’s day

  31. Rochelle says:

    If I’m understanding this correctly, both parties believe repentance and faith are connected to baptism. Where we differ is in our definition of how they connect. Paedos believe repentance and faith connect to baptism in that God giveshasn’t them at anytime in a person’s life and is not a prerequisite to baptism and church membership. And if I’m understanding y’all correctly, baptists believe the connection of faith and repentance is used in this manner, that one must be granted it before baptism proving a “credible profession”. My only question at this point is, how can we measure what is credible faith if faith is God’s work? Didn’t Jesus tell us too that the wheat and tares grow up together? So, how can we determine what is credible or not? And where is that language used in scripture?

  32. Rochelle says:

    *gives them”, sorry for the typos! They never help. Lol!

  33. Luma says:

    This is for Justin Taylor:

    Thank you for this post, it is VERY providential. I am currently wrestling heavily with covenant theology and paedobaptism. My husband knows this and we’re both wanting to go back and study these issues. We were both raised paedobaptists, he was raised in a Lutheran church and I was raised, for the most part, in Chaldean Catholic and Syriac Orthodox churches (with the exception of almost two years at Chuck Swindoll’s old church, EVFree Fullerton). We came to covenant theology eight years ago (long story). I’ve tried to find something written by Carson on these issues but I can’t find anything. The Lord has used Dr. Carson (and Tim Keller, John Piper and Tullian Tchividjian) to bring us back to the gospel.

    Do you have any books that would help us re-assess these positions. In particular, I want to study the continuation/non-continuation issue. I want to understand how the old covenant bridges over into the new covenant. When Paul says you are no longer under law but under grace (Romans 6:14), I want so much to believe him and I want to know what that means fully, deeply. Is baptism really “the sign of the covenant” equivalent to old covenant circumcision? I’m just not seeing that.

    I think the foundational issue I want/need to understand is the relationship of the old covenant to the new. I want so much to think highly of the New Testament (and the gospel) and it seems for the last eight years it (and the gospel) has/have been flattened. I have many many questions.

    I would love any book recommendations you can offer to this very theologically hungry woman.

    Many thanks,
    Luma Simms

    1. Rochelle says:

      If you’re interested in a reformed understanding of paedobaptism “word, water and spirit” by J.V. Fesko of Westminster Seminary is a fantastic read! Many blessings to you and your husband in your study! I didn’t really understand the paedobaptist position well until after reading that gem. And if you are interested in understanding more about covenant theology, Michael Horton has some great books too. Blessings!

      1. Luma says:

        Thank you, Rochelle.

    2. Justin Taylor says:


      Thanks for your encouraging note. I would highly recommend Tom Schreiner’s “40 Questions on Biblical Law,” published by Kregel. If you search on my blog, you’ll see several excerpts. Crossway will soon publish a massive study on the covenant, “Kingdom through Covenant,” by Gentry and Wellum, but this would certainly be advanced material. I’d start with Schreiner. Hope that helps!

      1. Luma says:

        Thank you, so much! I’ll add it in the morning to my Westminster Books order.

        I want you to know that tonight, in God’s providence, I started digging in Beale’s, “A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding Of The Old Testament In The New,” and ran into chapter 24 where he discusses baptism and circumcision in Colossians 2:11-13. I’ll spend some time on it tomorrow, but I have a feeling I know how he’s going to come out on that question.

  34. Jeff Wencel says:

    Thanks for this post, Justin. Great stuff. I confess I’ve wrestled with many of the baptist inconsistencies you mention, and they’ve been driving me toward the paedo position. I really appreciate your calling credobaptists to think through the practice of the position more biblically.

  35. DavidE says:

    If the case for believer’s baptism is so clear that it can be made in a couple of paragraphs then why are so many great theologians, past and present, on the other side? And if the question is too difficult to address in a couple of paragraphs then is it dishonest or disingenuous to suggest otherwise?

  36. Jim says:

    Another great resource is Presbyterian Pastor, Rich Lusk’s book, PaedoFaith. He digs into what the Reformers, Puritans and most importantly, Scripture have to say about infants and the sacraments. Though not in the book, one of my favorite Puritan quotes is a prayer from Scotish Presbyterian William Guthrie’s “The Christian’s Great Interest. John Owen’s favorite book and Thomas Chalmers wrote, “it the it as “the best book I ever read.” He has a salvation prayer in the book which begins as follows, “O Lord, I am a lost and fallen creature by nature, and by innumerable actual transgressions, which I do confess particularly before Thee this day: and although being born within the visible church, I WAS FROM THE WOMB IN COVENANT WITH THEE, AND HAD THE SAME SEALED TO ME IN BAPTISM; yet, for a long time, I have lived without God in the world.”

    It’s clear he considers baptized believers in covenant with God. However, they may break covenant and need to be brought back.

    Guthrie also writes, “Yea, the Lord doth also engage Himself to be the God of the seed and children of those who do so subject themselves to His ordinances. The covenant is said to be made between God and all the people, young and old, present and not that day [Deut. 29:10-15];and all appointed to come under the seal of that covenant, as was enjoined to Abraham. [Gen.17:10]. NOT ONLY WAS IT SO IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, BUT IT IS SO IN THE NEW TESTAMENT ALSO.”

    1. Jonathan Anderson says:

      Paedofaith is an excellent book. It addresses many of the presuppositions that are in the background of this debate.

      Also, BAPTISM, REDEMPTIVE HISTORY, AND ESCHATOLOGY: THE PARAMETERS OF DEBATE – By P. Richard Flinn is an excellent resource that seeks to deal with the presuppositions in the debate. Rich Lusk mentions it in his book, Paedofaith.

      1. Samuel Lago says:

        Might I add one more text that I think is very helpful?

        It’s a lecture/paper by Glenn Davies (evangelical Anglican Bishop in Sydney). The subject matter is NOT baptism directly, but he touches on a lot of the reasons BEHIND infant baptism (I.e. the covenantal language of salvation and so on). It is well worth the read, especially for Credobaptists.

        I really really recommend it.

  37. Jim says:

    last paragraph, third line Guthrie quote should read “present and not present that day.” Whoops.

  38. Jim says:

    Another great resource for this whole subject is John Calvin’s Institutes Book 4 section on paedobaptism.

  39. Andrew McClurg says:

    Justin, You quote Julian Freeman as saying: “Since proper baptist doctrine withholds participation in the Lord’s Supper, membership, and pastoral oversight to those who have already been baptized as believers, we’re withholding just about every corporate means of grace from this infant believer.”

    Any “proper Baptist doctrine” that withholds pastoral oversight from a church member’s child is a farce — particularly a child who is wrestling with faith issues. No pastor I know would practice this kind of neglect.

  40. Kyle Fever says:

    This is all a great discussion! I have to admit, however, that I find it frustrating to see a lot of simple proof-texting of passages about “baptism” with little or no consideration of the social contexts of the first century church.

    No one asks what baptism meant; no one inquires WHY children are not specifically mentioned; no one inquires into the possibility that perhaps we do not have much about infant baptism in the New Testament because the New Testament writings do not reflect second generation faith. The New Testament address first-time converts, and mostly adults at that (it makes references to children in a metaphorical sense to make certain points–but addressing adult believers). There is little concern in the New Testament about what to do with the new-born children of these new believers in the various communities strung across the Mediterranean basin. We have to inquire into early second century Christian writings to answer how early Christians thought about baptising the new-borns of already professing believers. But, no one is doing that. We need to move past trying to find in the Bible answers for OUR problems, when often the New Testament writers are not asking our questions.

    To put simply: I do not think that the New Testament clearly address the issue of infant-baptism vs. adult baptism in any way at all. I very much appreciate what Julian says above, but I do not think he takes if far enough. My answer to the issue: just baptize people, period–adults, children, families…..just baptize them and welcome them into the body of Christ. One problem I do have with credo-baptism is that it individualizes faith too much. I say that we grow toward Christlikeness together and stop sidetracking ourselves.

    1. Jim says:


      Here’s someone who has asked the questions you raise about the early church.

      “The Prevalence and Theology of Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries, East and West”

      Greg Johnson • Saint Louis University • Spring 1999

      1. Kyle Fever says:


        Thanks for this. I had not read this before, and I just perused it and found it very insightful. I, of course, have my own theory behind the questions I ask (mostly based on my own research while preparing for my PhD comps a while back). I commend to you also Everett Ferguson’s mammoth book on Baptism in the Early Church, released through Eerdmans in 2009. He covers almost every reference to the practice, but comes to a different conclusion than Johnson. But, I do think that the article you reference should be made available here on Justin’s blog for people to read. Thanks.

  41. Rochelle says:

    For consideration in this great conversation:
    “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all that i have commanded.” Matt. 28:19-20
    I see a lot of arguments made based on biblical silence. But here we see Jesus speaking with authority because He is God. And he is instructing the disciples to baptize EVERYONE. And to TEACH them to observe his statutes. If baptism or church membership, is only permitted to those with saving faith, why would Jesus instruct his disciples to baptize “everyone”. Furthermore, how many of us Christian parents are fulfilling the latter half of this commission by “teaching” our children to “observe all” Christ has commanded? Are we really allowed to add to Christ’s command of “baptizing everyone” with a clause like, “who repents and believes?” Also, what are we suppose to do with 1 cor. 10:1-22? It says “all” were baptized into Moses, nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased for the were overthrown in the wilderness. Remember too that it was the children passing through the cloud and the water that ended up inheriting the promised land. And their folks died in the desert. I’m only inferring that the baptism into Moses was a family affair. And to tell 1stbut century Jewish converts they can’t baptize their whole household into Christ and the new covenant would have not been received well because they understand that the community of God and His gracious gifts of discipline and teaching are for them and their children, but the gift of repentance and faith is still only given by God to whom He wills. Water doesn’t save our children. But to those who are being saved it is a sign of God’s promise to save. Those who are not being saved, it is just water.

  42. Samuel Lago says:

    I really recommend this lecture given by Glenn Davies (evangelical Anglican Bishop in Sydney). The subject matter is NOT baptism directly, but he touches on a lot of the reasons BEHIND infant baptism (I.e. the covenantal language of salvation and so on).

    I really really recommend it.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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