JP: Who is Going Public for?
BJ: Pastors and church leaders, first of all, since they most directly influence how their churches approach the ordinances and membership. Also seminarians, Bible college students, and any aspiring pastors or lay leaders. And if there are any Christians who are not in leadership but who have a burning interest in ecclesiology, be my guest!
JP: Why did you decide to write this book?
BJ: The short answer is that Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman told me to. The issue seemed overdue for a book-length treatment, and my work for 9Marks afforded me the opportunity to take on a big writing project. So they basically said, “Make it so.”
But I was willing to tackle the subject because it’s both a pressing pastoral issue and it falls into a gap in many church leaders’ thinking. Not many of us have invested heavily in the theology of the ordinances or what makes a church a church. So I was eager to do what I could to fill that gap.
Also, I hope to serve as a pastor in the not-too-distant future, so I’ve got a vested interest in trying to hammer out a stance on this issue and argue it persuasively.
JP: Discuss your general academic background. What might a reader want to know about you, your research interests and expertise?
BJ: Well, I’m not sure about expertise! But I did work as assistant editor for 9Marks from 2009 through 2014, and wrote this book toward the end of that time. So my day-job all those years involved a lot of thinking and writing about ecclesiology.
Before that I was a pastoral intern at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, which jumpstarted my thinking in these areas. My time at CHBC cemented my conviction that the Bible has a lot to say about how to do church, and what it says matters for the health of the church and its witness to Christ.
In terms of academics proper, I’ve got an MDiv and a ThM (in New Testament) from SBTS. And at present I’m working on a PhD in New Testament at the University of Cambridge. My thesis is on atonement in the epistle to the Hebrews, with Simon Gathercole as my supervisor.
JP: What is your central thesis that brings cohesion to the book? And why did you call the book “Going Public”?
BJ: In a sentence: baptism binds one to many and the Lord’s Supper makes many one. The ordinances are what make a group of Christians into a church. To borrow from Oliver O’Donovan, they give a local church “institutional form and order.” And because the ordinances are community-creating, you can’t remove baptism from church membership. That’s like removing vows from marriage.
From another angle, baptism is the front door into the church and the Lord’s Supper is the family meal. The one necessarily precedes the other. That’s the basic idea I try to unpack biblically and theologically, and apply practically.
I called the book “Going Public” because one of the book’s key points is that baptism is where faith goes public. It’s how a believer formally, visibly, publicly identifies him or herself with Christ and his people. So baptism is how a new believer shows up on the church and the world’s radar as a Christian. I think that’s basic to the meaning of baptism in the New Testament, and it’s basic to the argument of the whole book.
But there’s also a slight double meaning in the title. Just as baptism is where faith goes public, so also we evangelicals, including Baptists, need to “go public” in our thinking about ecclesiology. To a large degree we have individualized and thereby privatized the ordinances, emptying them of much of their biblical meaning. So we need to recapture a public dimension to our thinking about the church.
JP: How does this book differ from other academic books on the topic? What gap does it fill? Specifically, how does it relate to Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman’s recently released volume on Baptist polity? Can you tell us a bit about your connection with Dever and Leeman?
BJ: Well, to my knowledge there hasn’t been a book offering a constructive account of the subject published in the past hundred years or so! Which was one reason for writing. The new Dever and Leeman edited book does have helpful chapters on baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and they overlap some with what I say in Going Public. But they’re focused on providing an overall survey of the subjects, whereas my whole argument aims at the question of how both ordinances intersect with church membership.
Also, my friends Ian Clary and Steve Weaver are planning to publish a reader of historic sources on the subject, which should be a helpful complement to my book. As I said, I interned at CHBC back in 2008, then worked as an editor for 9Marks for several years. So Mark and Jonathan have both been, and still are, dear friends and mentors to me. And I worked very closely with both, and learned mounds of ecclesiology from both, throughout those years.
This book also draws deeply on the account of church membership Jonathan developed in The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, his two shorter books on membership and discipline, and his soon-to-be-published PhD thesis.
9Marks isn’t primarily about promoting Baptist polity—we hope Anglican and Presbyterian and Bible church and other readers will profit from the vast majority of our writings. But there’s only so long you can talk about ecclesiology before getting around to baptism and the Lord’s Supper! And, as I try to show in the book, the ordinances are actually a crucial place to begin thinking theologically about the church.
JP: In what ways, if any, is the book interdisciplinary? That is, does it attempt intentionally to reach across the often compartmentalized disciplines of biblical and theological studies? Is there any sense in which you would call it biblical-theological?
BJ: There are no prooftexts that settle this issue, so we have to draw conclusions from the entire testimony of Scripture. What does the whole Bible teach about what baptism is, what the Lord’s Supper is, and how both relate to the relationship we call “church membership”?
Just as with the doctrine of the Trinity, or the person of Christ, or the atonement, we need to put various texts of Scripture in dialogue with each other and ask what they, together, necessarily entail. If baptism is where faith goes public, what does that mean for its relation to church membership? Is there such a thing as “church membership” apart from baptism?
In terms of the book’s main argument, I begin in a predominantly exegetical mode in chapter 3. There I try to summarize the New Testament’s teaching on baptism, highlighting much of what the texts themselves emphasize.
But as the argument progresses, I build on that foundation and gradually turn the dial from exegetical, through biblical-theological, to systematic reasoning—though all three overlap. So I use the biblical-theological lenses of covenant and kingdom (Chs. 4–5) to ask how baptism relates to the people of the kingdom, the new covenant community on earth. Chapter 6, on the Lord’s Supper, combines all these approaches. Chapter 7 is the most systematic-theology-ish chapter, asking questions like “What is church membership?” and “How does a church come into existence?”
JP: How do you envision this book being used in the academy and in the church?
BJ: In the church, I hope that not only individual pastors will read it but that some pastor teams or elder boards will read through it, and discuss it together, and wrestle with the implications for their church’s practice. I hope pastors will also be able to draw on the book in their own teaching on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church membership.
Regarding the academy, I think the book would fit nicely into seminary and college classes on theology that cover ecclesiology, or in courses on pastoral ministry. The book is in one sense a narrow case study, but the theology it explores gets right to the heart of what makes a church a church. So I think it’s relevant beyond the presenting issue.
JP: Is there anything you would have liked to address about Baptist polity that was not said in this book?
BJ: Not really. By God’s grace I feel like I said what I needed to. Congregationalism is another element of Baptist—and, I would argue, biblical—polity in need of fresh articulation, so I’m eager for Jonathan Leeman’s forthcoming book on it to be published. Related to both my book and Jonathan’s, the question “What makes a church a church?” could certainly use more work. In a way, it’s what Going Public wound up being about, but it would be useful to address the question straight-on, more systematically.
About the Author:
Bobby Jamieson is a Ph.D. student in New Testament at the University of Cambridge. He previously served as assistant editor for 9Marks, and is the author of Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God (Crossway, 2013).
Download the Table of Contents, Introduction, and first chapter here.
Request a faculty review copy here.
Request a media review copy here.
Read a short excerpt from Going Public here.