“The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical
Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Barth”
By: W. Travis McMaken
Committee: George Hunsinger (chair), Bruce McCormack, Bryan Spinks.
The question of infant baptism poses both practical and ecumenical problems within the Christian church. This dissertation‘s burden is to argue that these problems are helpfully addressed through the construction of a relatively new doctrine of baptism, within which infant baptism is considered an appropriate form of administration, on the basis of Barth‘s mature theological commitments. Such a claim is counterintuitive insofar as Barth famously rejected the practice of infant baptism in his concluding part volume of the Church Dogmatics. My argument thus contains two aspects.
First, I argue that Barth‘s doctrine of baptism – and specifically, his rejection of infant baptism – has not been given a fair hearing. Against those who would write-off Barth‘s work on this subject as a departure from his broader theological commitments, I argue that those commitments deeply inform his decisions in these matters. After laying the necessary historical groundwork in chapter one, I move on in chapters two and three to explore why Barth rejected the two primary arguments in favor of infant baptism offered by the tradition. These two chapters conclude with exegetical excurses which attempt an exegetical ground-clearing on these matters. Chapter four takes a more positive approach, explicating Barth‘s doctrine of baptism in Church Dogmatics 4.4 and showing the way in which his treatment is closely related to other prevailing aspects of his thought especially in his doctrine of reconciliation as a whole.
Second, I argue that although Barth himself rejected infant baptism, such a rejection is not necessary on the basis of the broader commitments of his mature theology. Indeed, his mature theology possesses significant resources for deploying a relatively new doctrine of baptism within which infant baptism is a fitting mode of administration. Chapter five undertakes to demonstrate this claim. Therein I reconfigure Barth‘s doctrine of baptism by taking his own insights and impulses regarding the Christian life to bear on the question of baptism in ways that he did not. Ultimately, I argue for understanding baptism as a form of the gospel proclamation by means of which the church shoulders its missionary vocation.
So if you know anyone who is attracted to Barth's theology but ultimately scared away by his rejection of infant baptism, or if you know someone who likes Barth generally but simply ignores Barth's rejection if infant baptism, the definitive answer is on the way! ;-)