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Book Reviews > Christian Living > When a Baby Dies: Answers to Comfort Grieving Parents

Ray VanNeste

Ray VanNeste
Director of the RC Ryan Center for Biblical Studies and Assistant Professor of Christian Studies

When a Baby Dies: Answers to Comfort Grieving Parents
Ronald H. Nash
Details: 1999, Zondervan, Amazon.comISBN: 0310225566
Posted: July 3, 2002

Ronald Nash and Zondervan are to be congratulated for producing a book which addresses such an important pastoral and theological issue, and doing it in a format, cost, and level which make it accessible to church members. It is clear throughout that Nash is writing with the average church member in mind. With this audience in mind, he does a great job in driving home the point that theology is important for life, illustrated by the fact that when tragedy strikes we need to know how to make sense of it within a Scriptural framework. Nash writes, ‘it is still true that when it comes to theology, what you don’t know can hurt you’ (71). He illustrates this with some well written fictional accounts of a liberal pastor struggling to deal with the death of infants in his church by resorting to universalism and post death conversion opportunities. Nash is at his best showing the real life failure and lack of biblical basis of these positions. He lays out well the doctrine of original sin.

In Chapter 4 Nash also refutes the position of baptismal regeneration for infants, moving closer to evangelical circles since some evangelical Lutherans (eg. Luther, himself) and Anglicans, among others, hold this position. While I also reject this position, I did not find Nash’s analysis as compelling here. He seemed to glide too easily over difficult texts and his treatment was not always as thorough.

When I came to Nash’s argument for his own position my initial enthusiasm for the book waned. I was disappointed not by his position (that all those who die in infancy, or the mental state of infancy will be saved) but in how he argued for it. The first two points of his argument are:

1) ‘Infants are incapable of moral good or evil’ and

2) ‘Divine judgment is administered on the basis of sins committed in the body’ (60).

Thus, Nash concludes, ‘Infants are saved because they do not meet the conditions for divine judgment. The reason this is true is because infants lack the ability to behave in a 'morally responsible way’ (68-69). I cannot help but wonder how this squares with the doctrine of original sin which Nash has already supported. Though I am sure he does not intend it this way, that last quote from him suggests infants have no need of atonement. Nash elsewhere will talk about these infants being included in Christ’s atonement, which must be the case, but the discussion here I think is confusing and potentially misleading especially since the target audience is the average church member. (Nash also relies heavily on the parallel gospel accounts in Matt 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17. I find his handling of these texts totally unconvincing.) Surely original sin makes us all guilty before God and therefore in need of atonement. I think he would have been better to stick with a quote from Warfield which he cites later:

If all that die in infancy are saved, it can only be through the almighty operation of the Holy Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases, through whose ineffable grace the Father gathers these little ones to the home He has prepared for them. (cited on p. 84)

Nash finishes the book with an argument that only a Reformed soteriology provides a framework for infant salvation and a defense of the Reformed view in general.

The book then closes with an epilogue which was a real surprise. It is a story about a child who was born severely premature and was supposed to die or be severely impaired. However, against all expectations the baby thrives and grows in to a healthy child. Then the story recounts an incident where the now five year old child refers to ‘the smell of God when you lay your head on His chest.’ This confirms to the parents that God had been holding the child during those difficult early days. The book concludes with this story without comment. But what is the source for this dramatic story? The endnote says it comes unattributed from the internet! Having emphasized the need for theology the book ends with a fantastic story which is not even verified! If the story is true, then fine. But, to use, as a closing, a story which makes no real claims to truth smacks of sentimentality and undercuts the call for theological thinking. It also means I cannot buy copies of this to hand out to grieving parents as I had hoped I might.

(This review previously appeared in the Founders Journal, www.founders.org)