I Interviewed Adam Harwood about his new book
I recently had the chance to sit down with Dr. Adam Harwood and talk about his new book, Infants and Children in the Church: Five Views on Theology and Ministry.
As a father of two kids, this is a book that immediately touched a nerve in my own heart.
Here’s our conversation:
JOE FONTENOT: What prompted you to write a book about infants and children in the church?
ADAM HARWOOD: Ten years ago, I completed a PhD in theology by writing a dissertation on the question: What is the spiritual condition of infants? It is a biblical and theological study of original sin. In November 2007, I presented a chapter from the dissertation at an academic meeting. After the presentation, Kevin Lawson introduced himself as a professor and Christian educator with an interest in children’s spirituality. He asked if I would consider writing a book with him that addressed both the theology and ministry practices with infants and children. We both knew of books that addressed either theology or ministry issues, but neither of us knew of a book that dealt with both theology and ministry with children.
In 2015, NOBTS hosted a conference to gather representatives from five Christian perspectives to answer the same four questions about theology and ministry with infants and children in the church. The speakers each held a PhD and had ministry experience in the local church. They represented the following views: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Baptist. (I represented the Baptist view.) It was a rich discussion. Kevin and I edited the conference presentations then circulated the chapters for the contributors to write brief responses to one another. Ten years (to the month) after our initial conversation about the need for this book, it is being released.
Multiple-views books are extremely helpful. Contributors state their positions then respond to one another’s chapters. That type of dialogue clarifies the similarities and differences among the views as well as explains why the differences matter.
JF: What were some of those similarities or differences you personally learned through creating this book?
AH: I was encouraged to learn of the desire among the other Christians traditions to see infants and children nurtured and instructed to love and follow the Lord. In fact, some of those groups seem to put more effort into educating children in doctrine (especially through catechism) than we do as Baptists.
But a significant difference that emerged centered on baptism. Interestingly, the other four traditions represented in the book all baptize infants—but for different reasons. It did not occur to me until I worked on this chapter that we Baptists hold a different view than all four of these Christian groups on the topic. And the difference is rooted in the Baptist distinctive known as regenerate church membership—we believe that only people who have confessed their sin and trusted Christ are proper candidates for water baptism and church membership.
JF: For a Baptist, what value is there in understanding how other denominations answer these questions?
AH: Most Baptist churches are located down the street from churches (or parishes) of other Christian denominations. Also, our children (or grandchildren) go to school and live in neighborhoods with friends of other denominations. Why is it that most Christian groups will baptize babies, but not Baptists? Also, what are the different reasons for infant baptism? What do these groups believe about original sin and infant salvation? When and how should infants and children become members and be discipled in the church? Christians should know why they believe what they believe, and it helps when they understand why their practices with children in the church sometimes differ from other Christian groups.
JF: You said, "Christians should know why they believe what they believe." What happens if they don't?
AH: Senior pastors and family or children’s ministers who work out these theological and ministry issues will be better prepared to serve children and parents in their local church. The theological issues addressed in the book will inform ministry to parents concerning baby/parent dedication or the tragic situation of the death of a child.
And this book will also inform a minister’s decision-making and analysis about programming such as children’s church, Sunday school, and various approaches to discipleship. Without assistance in thinking through these issues, we tend to follow program and curriculum choices that are already in place.
JF: How does being a parent influence this issue for you?
AH: Like other Christian groups, Baptist parents pray for our children and train them to fear and love the Lord. But we don’t make decisions for them by enrolling them as members or baptizing them apart from their own repentance of sin and confession of faith in Christ. We want to encourage our children to obey the Lord rather than to simply please their parents.
JF: How will this book help readers encourage their children to obey the Lord rather than simply pleasing their parents?
AH: When explaining how Baptists disciple children, I explain that we want children to love and follow Jesus at the earliest possible age. And I make the case that a solid foundation for a child’s spiritual nurture and growth can be laid by children hearing and reading Scripture at home and at church as well as by witnessing the ordinances of Lord’s Supper and baptism as well as witnessing the faithful examples of others following Christ. All of these actions will point children to the Lord rather than a moralistic lifestyle in which they simply obey their parents to avoid punishment or to be rewarded.
JF: What practical takeaways would a children's minister have after reading this?
AH: This book will help pastors and anyone interested in children’s ministry to clarify their theology and ministry with infants and children on four specific areas: original sin, infant salvation, entrance into the church, and discipleship in the church.
You can also download a free copy of his guide to his new book, which you can only get through his website: adamharwood.com.
“I highly recommend this book, and hope it is the beginning of long reflection of what it means for the church to be child-like in our dependence and child-friendly in our mission.”
—Russell Moore, president, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
Adam Harwood (PhD, SWBTS) is associate professor of theology at NOBTS as well as McFarland Chair of Theology, director of the Baptist Center for Theology & Ministry, and editor of the Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry.
Joe Fontenot is a writer and the marketing strategist for NOBTS. He graduated from NOBTS in 2015 with an MA in Christian Apologetics.