A String of Pearls Unstrung
A Theological Journey Into Believers’ Baptism

Book Details

Discerning Reader Editorial Review

Reviewed 11/27/2007 by Mark Tubbs.

Recommended. A brief but dense topical refutation of paedobaptist arguments.

When reading narratives of people’s doctrinal and spiritual journeys, which usually encompass years, if not decades, I usually react in two ways. One is to marvel that such a landmark journey can be condensed into the pages of a book, and the second is to take comfort in the reality that others struggle deeply with issues. It’s not just me.

In this intriguingly-titled booklet, Dr. Fred Malone has done a lifetime’s worth of theological spadework and condensed it into a mere fifty-five pages. Representing his journey into paedobaptist convictions and back again to a credobaptist perspective as a string of pearls, Malone takes the nine ‘pearls’ one by one and examines them under a hermeneutical, exegetical microscope. The nine pearls include:

  1. Covenant Theology in the Old and New Testaments
  2. The Relationship Between Circumcision and Baptism
  3. Specific Proof Texts
  4. Jesus’ Attitude Toward Children
  5. The Sanctification of Believers’ Children
  6. The Disjunction of John’s and Jesus’ Baptism With Christian Baptism
  7. The Argument of Silence
  8. The Argument of Expanded Blessings
  9. The Testimony of Tradition

After briefly recounting his own theological journey concerning baptism, Malone warns that his style in this booklet will be that of an “informal narrative.” This is not to say that the content is watered down. Quite the opposite; rather than laboring over any given point, he states his stance, cites his biblical sources, and draws his conclusion. Before he begins unthreading the pearls in earnest, he makes two important distinctions: firstly, he takes issue with what he believes to be a backward hermeneutic on the part of many paedobaptist apologists by starting with the Old Covenant instead of the New, and secondly, this booklet will be mainly concerned with the when and whom of Christian baptism and not the how.

Malone fires his first salvo across the bows of the paedobaptist dreadnought, covenant theology. A covenant theologian himself, his issue is not the discipline itself but its hyperextension of covenant into areas in which it does not belong – paedobaptism being the cardinal example. In succeeding sections Malone goes on to explore areas of scriptural continuity and discrepancy between circumcision and baptism, original language support for believers’ baptism even in texts which seem to support paedobaptism, the true implications of ‘household baptism’ texts in Acts and I Corinthians, the parental desire to bless their children to the utmost, the unity of all New Testament baptisms, and what we can and cannot infer from the silence of Scripture.

In every case (or ‘pearl’) I found Malone’s arguments to be compelling and at times even devastating. To his credit, Malone seems to go out of his way to engage with every possible paedobaptist objection, which is admirable for such a short booklet. To that end, I would encourage any interested paedobaptist, credobaptist, or undecided inquirer to invest either an hour in this booklet, or a few hours in the expanded version, The Baptism of Disciples Alone by the same author.