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Image of birds flying. Image of birds flying.

#614 Baptism and the Atonement

January 20, 2019

Dear Dr. Craig, greetings from Rwanda. Allow me to thank you once again for your courage and intrepid approach in sharing the gospel and tackling diverse hot topics about Christianity with clarity and matter of fact persuasive argumentation. I know you are currently studying about Adam, Genesis and the scientific implication of it all, so pardon me to take you back to an older work of yours, The Atonement. I had the pleasure this year to have read both of your excellent works, 'The Son Rises' and 'The Atonement'. I would like to get some precision about your current position on Soteriology.

In 'The Son Rises', page 150, you quoted approvingly a certain gentleman, Dunn, who stated: "Men can have been for a long time in Jesus' company, can have made profession of faith and been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, can be wholly 'clean' and acceptable to God, can even be 'disciples,' and yet not be Christians because they lack and until they receive the holy spirit." You went on in the same page by adding, "A person is a christian only because he has received the Spirit of Christ and so has been born again."

Correct me if I misunderstood your point, but it seem that you did disconnect the expression 'being born again', 'receiving the Spirit of Christ' with 'baptize in the name of the Lord' in your 1978 work. However in your Atonement work produced by Cambridge (2018), you remarked, "The way in which we appropriate the benefits of Christ atoning death is by faith culminating in baptism ... we are in Christ through faith and baptism, by which we identify with his death and resurrection."

My question is simply to know if this could be an indicator that you've had an evolution on your understanding of Soteriology concerning 'baptism in the name of the Lord' for the past 40 years? Do you now by any chance link the experience of 'baptism in the name of the Lord' with the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer who is appropriating the benefit of the atonement? Voilà! May God richly bless you with your loved ones in this Christmas season in Jesus' name,


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Photo of Dr. Craig.

Dr. craig’s response


Thank you for your thoughtful question, Eric!  It’s wonderful to know that there are folks as far removed as Rwanda who are interacting with Reasonable Faith materials!

The short answer to your question is, No, there hasn’t been any change in my thinking in this regard.  The earlier statement is an expression of the view that baptism is not a sufficient condition of salvation.  One could just go through the motions of being immersed, which would have no further effect than getting wet.

That view is wholly consistent with the view that baptism is a necessary condition of salvation, which my later statement might seem to imply. Someone might maintain that faith and baptism are both necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for becoming a beneficiary of Christ’s atoning death.

But, in fact, even that statement would be too extreme in my opinion. Jesus promised the thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise, despite his not being able to be baptized. Then there were, of course, all the faithful Jews prior to Jesus’ advent who were the beneficiaries of his atoning death, despite their not being baptized.

Rather what I meant is that faith culminating in baptism is the normal way in which a person becomes a beneficiary of Christ’s atoning death. Genuine faith leads to regeneration by the Holy Spirit and should culminate in water baptism. Water baptism is the final step in one’s conversion experience, by which one means, not regeneration, but the reorientation of one’s life to become a follower of Christ.  People who have been born anew by God’s Spirit but refuse to follow with baptism have a truncated conversion experience and dishonor the Lord by their disobedience to his command.

The above understanding is, in fact, precisely J. D. G. Dunn’s view which you cited earlier. Regeneration by the Holy Spirit need not coincide with water baptism, but water baptism is the culmination of the faith that issues in regeneration. Water baptism need not be the moment at which regeneration occurs, as the Acts of the Apostles makes evident.

- William Lane Craig