Blog Archives

Paul’s Baptism Oopsie

I think I’m going to start using this video in my ecclesiology classes to introduce our discussions on baptism. Just don’t tell my dean. He might not like it.

(Oops, I forgot to HT Unsettled Christianity)

When is my child “ready” to get baptized?

The perennial question of the Baptist parent: when is my child ready to get baptized?

And, once you’ve asked that question, you begin to wonder, what does it even mean to be “ready” for baptism? Was I “ready” when I got baptized? Then, if your brain isn’t fried yet and you haven’t decided just to ignore the question and go watch a movie, you might even ask, What is “baptism” anyway and how does it relate to things like “faith,” “repentance,” and “salvation”? If you’re not careful, you might accidentally end up doing theology.

I can almost hear the TV calling.


Whether we should baptize small children (not infants) is the question that John Starke addressed recently. Specifically, he’s responding to Trevin Wax’s post arguing that there are good reasons for delaying the baptism of small children until they’re ready. Starke understands the concerns, but he thinks they’re misguided and offers 4 reasons for baptizing young children without delay:

  1. The regular pattern in Scripture doesn’t give any indication of a probationary period.
  2. A probationary period seems to imply that there is something more than faith we need to do in order to be a Christian.
  3. Affirming belief in the gospel is never false assurance.
  4. The New Testament pattern is reactive rather than proactive concerning conversion.

You’ll have to read the post to get his full thinking on the subject, but I think he makes some good points. I’m particularly concerned about the second point and the suggestion that we need to wait until a child “owns” her faith or has a sufficiently “mature” faith before getting baptized. The first concern seems to rise directly from our rampant individualism and the idea that if the community (or family) serves as a shaping force in a person’s faith development, their faith no longer belongs to them in some way. And the second implies that you’re not really converted until your faith reaches a certain level of maturity, as though my salvation depended ultimately on the quality of my faith.

One of these days I’ll finally get around to writing my own post (it will probably take more than one) explaining how I view baptism and how my wife and I are approaching it with our daughters. But for now, just read Starke’s post and see what he has to say.

Update: Nathan Finn also addressed the issue this morning, with an interesting reflection on how his views on the subject have changed slightly over time.

Water, spirit, and life: dry bones made new again

You’re standing by the Jordan River waiting for your turn. In the middle of the river, John the Baptist is just straightening up from baptizing your friend Joseph, water streaming down his arms and dripping from his beard onto Joseph’s head.

Suddenly John stiffens, eyes wide with surprise.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (Jn. 1:29)

Um, what now?

This is the One? Are you sure? After all this time, could it really be?

Well, if it’s actually him, then surely he’ll do something cool next—fight some Romans, make water flow from a rock, or eat a locust. Well, maybe not the locust. John does that a lot, and it’s pretty disgusting.

And then the weirdest thing happens, not what you were expecting at all.

The One gets baptized (Mt. 3:13-17).

And, as he rises from the water, what looks a bit like a dove—only more ethereal and glorious—comes down from the sky and settles around his head and shoulders. Could that really be the Spirit of God? What’s going on here? Who is this guy?

Then.…the voice.

This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

Do you see what’s happening here? Water, spirit, life. The Spirit of God descending on the Son of God to bring the life of God to the people of God. The Promised One is here!

That’s why John the Baptist gets so excited when he says that this is the one who would come and baptize people with the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:33). Without the Spirit no one can enter into the Kingdom (Jn. 3:5) because the Kingdom is all about God’s people being brought to life by God’s Spirit so that they manifest God’s glory in creation. And, Jesus is the one who gives the Spirit to God’s people without measure (Jn. 3:34) because he is the one who is full of the Spirit (Lk. 4:1). Jesus is the Promised One who brings Spirit and life into the world again.

To a woman caught in a spiral of sin and shame, Jesus offered himself as the living water who would restore her to true life eternally (Jn. 4:14). To a crowd more interested in the spectacular and the miraculous, Jesus offered himself as the bread of life who would satisfy their deepest cravings (Jn. 6:35). To a woman crushed with grief over the death of a loved one, Jesus offered himself as the resurrection and the life—the one who would defeat death and bring hope to a people lost in despair (Jn. 11:25).

Water, spirit, and life returned to a broken world.

And, Jesus brought new life for the whole person. The lame walk, the blind see, the leper is healed…broken bodies restored to life. This wasn’t just some “spiritual” life that renewed our inner selves but left the rest of us relatively untouched. No, when Jesus offers new life, it’s new life for our whole being.

Dry bones. Everywhere you look, the lifeless bones of your people. Dead. Empty. Hopeless.

Then He comes.

And everywhere he goes, spirit and life seep into the parched skin of a once-dead people. He spreads it around like an overly exuberant flower girl at a wedding, unabashedly scattering multicolored petals of joy on the surprised guests.

God promised. Jesus came. Life returns.

[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]

Flotsam and jetsam (1/26)

Do you see it? We have an immense propensity to take the gospel and turn it into law. We love to take good and turn it into chains. Why do we do that?

If election were solely based on what God wanted and not anything in us that might differentiate the chosen from the un-chosen and thus account for why this one and not another, why didn’t God choose all? If he could have, why didn’t he?

While there is more we could expand on here, the question of the hour is this: If Satan is so evil and “anti-God” why did God put Satan in the Eden? While there is no way to know what would have happened had he not been present, it is evident from the narrative and the ensuing curse that Satan played a big part in the fall.

According to Leithart, water baptism has “virtually unbelievable powers” that makes someone a member of Christ instead of Adam, turns someone into a member of Christ’s body, and brings someone into acceptance with God.

Flotsam and jetsam (11/30)

  • James McGrath had the students in his Revelation class evaluate a website and post their comments. He set up a blog for that purpose and is inviting everyone to check it out. I’ve only glanced at it so far, but it looks interesting.
  • Dane Ortlund offers a thought from Richard Baukham on why the Gospel writers thought history was so important.

Flotsam and jetsam (10/29)

It was not Luther’s intention to divide the Church, much less to start a brand new church. To the end of his life, he considered himself to be a faithful and obedient servant of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Though Luther renounced his monastic vows and married a former nun, Katarina von Bora, he never forgot that he had received a doctorate in Holy Scripture. His vocation was to teach the written Word of God and to point men and women to the Lord of Scripture, Jesus Christ.

Baptism is a secondary doctrine, but one that Baptists honestly believe is taught in the New Testament and should be embraced by other believers. To argue baptism is a primary doctrine is sectarian and smacks of a bapto-centric spirit that values the sign of the new covenant over the realities of the new covenant, even if implicitly. But to argue that baptism is unimportant or a matter of adiaphora is to disregard a doctrine that Scripture ties to the gospel (Rom. 6), missions (Matt. 28), and the church (Acts 2). Baptism is very important, but it is not of first importance.

For megapastors, platform time is the price of participation. Entrepreneurial pastors live to speak. Or perhaps more accurately and fairly, they live to influence, and they exercise much of their public influence by speaking. If they are not given a speaking slot, they are likely to conclude that their time can be better spent elsewhere.

So why does it matter?  Well, I think it was a good thing that Christian theologians (even some heretics) were public intellectuals and that theological debate was part of the larger cultural landscape.  It helped hold folk religion at bay.  Without that public theological discourse, American Christianity has by-and-large fallen into the hands of folk religion and folk theology–an anti-intellectual mix of cliches and religious urban legends and individual “spiritual” feelings.

 

Flotsam and jetsam (7/18)

Flotsam and jetsam (7/11)

  • Matt Flannagan offers some reflections on three atheist billboards in New Zealand.
  • Rod Dreher comments on the University of Illinois professor who was fired for having the audacity to teach (in a class on Catholicism and Catholic morality) that Catholics teach that homosexuality is immoral.
  • C. Michael Patton explains why he decided to baptize two of his children at home in his swimming pool. Even beyond his rather low-church approach to baptism, I found his credobaptist reflections on how to determine when a child is ready for baptism to be particularly interesting.
  • Brian LePort continues his discussion of Jon Levison’s Filled with the Spirit. And James McGrath is still working his way through The Historical Jesus: Five Views with comments on the chapters by Jimmy Dunn and Luke Timothy Johnson.
  • In a shocker, the Church of England’s recent attempt to reach a compromise on the ordination of woman was unsuccessful.
  • And, although I refused to comment on the LeBron James fiasco last week, I would like to point out that almost 10 million people watched it. Apparently they thought they had nothing better to do than invest an hour of their lives on this. Though I’m sure that if any of you watched it, you only did so because you were conducting high-level academic research.

Desiring the Kingdom 7

Chapter 5 is really the heart of the book. Here Smith walks through the embodied practices of a typical into people whose loves are directed toward the Kingdom of God: the space of worship,  gathering together, greeting one another, singing, reading the law, confession, baptism, reading the Apostles’ Creed, prayer, Scripture and sermon, eucharist, offering, and the sending out

I won’t take the time to walk you through each of the various practices that he discusses. Instead, I’ll mention just a few to give you a sense of how his argument develops.

1. The space of worship.

He begins by talking about how the physical space of worship can itself be used to create a “space of worship” that changes according to the liturgical calendar. In this way, “just the space of worship would tell a story that actually organizes time – an indication that here dwells a people with a unique sense of temporality, who inhabit a time that is out of joint with the regular, mundane ticking of commercial time or the standard shape of the academic year” (156). Such a practice would serve as a “counter-formation to the incessant 24/7-ness of our frenetic commercial culture” (157), by shaping us as a people formd by an eschatological imagination.

2. The gathering.

Smith argues that the very act of gathering together for worship is an embodied practice. At the very least, we could be at home doing something else that would be shaping us in very different ways. More importantly, gathering expresses our identity as those who have been called from the world to be constituted as the community that praises God. And, the gathering of the community expresses the conviction that this is the place in which human flourishing truly takes place – we are fully human beings insofar as we are worshipping beings.

3. Greeting one another

One of my favorite parts of the chapter was his section on the greeting as a formative practice. Looked at one way, nothing in the service is more trivial and awkward than the practice of “shaking hands with the person next to you.” But, Smith argues that we should see this is as practice that shapes us into a people that appreciates the importance of the community. We are not here as individual and isolated worshippers, but we are here as the people of God.

4. Baptism

Unsurprisingly, Smith sees this as a critical practice for the church. Indeed, “it is a microcosm of the entirety of Christian worship and the story of God, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (182). More interesting was his emphasis that because baptism serves as the constitution of the people of God, it also serves as a counter-formation to the “idolization of the family” (186). He thinks that modern, liberal society has placed too much emphasis on the family as the primary locus of human flourishing. And, thus, we’ve placed a burden on the family that it was never meant to handle. Instead, baptism reminds us that the family should be a part of the larger people of God. It thus “opens the home, liberating it from the burden of impossible self-sufficiency, while also opening it to the ‘disruptive friendships’ that are the mark of the kingdom of God” (186-7).

Through each of the different discussions, Smith wants us to understand two things. First, each of these practices serves as a counter-formation to other formative practices, directing us toward true human flourishing in the world. And, second, although it’s good for us to understand the theological significance of these practices, it is not necessary for them to have a formative influence. Indeed, the whole idea of a “practice” as he understands it is that its formative significance is pre-cognitive; it shapes us even if we don’t understand precisely how it does so. And, that’s why he argues that these are formative practices even for children or handicapped individuals who would not otherwise be able to grasp the theology embedded in the practices.

Desiring the Kingdom 7

Chapter 5 is really the heart of the book. Here Smith walks through the embodied practices of a typical into people whose loves are directed toward the Kingdom of God: the space of worship, gathering together, greeting one another, singing, reading the law, confession, baptism, reading the Apostles’ Creed, prayer, Scripture and sermon, eucharist, offering, and the sending out

I won’t take the time to walk you through each of the various practices that he discusses. Instead, I’ll mention just a few to give you a sense of how his argument develops.

1. The space of worship.

He begins by talking about how the physical space of worship can itself be used to create a “space of worship” that changes according to the liturgical calendar. In this way, “just the space of worship would tell a story that actually organizes time – an indication that here dwells a people with a unique sense of temporality, who inhabit a time that is out of joint with the regular, mundane ticking of commercial time or the standard shape of the academic year” (156). Such a practice would serve as a “counter-formation to the incessant 24/7-ness of our frenetic commercial culture” (157), by shaping us as a people formd by an eschatological imagination.

2. The gathering.

Smith argues that the very act of gathering together for worship is an embodied practice. At the very least, we could be at home doing something else that would be shaping us in very different ways. More importantly, gathering expresses our identity as those who have been called from the world to be constituted as the community that praises God. And, the gathering of the community expresses the conviction that this is the place in which human flourishing truly takes place – we are fully human beings insofar as we are worshipping beings.

3. Greeting one another

One of my favorite parts of the chapter was his section on the greeting as a formative practice. Looked at one way, nothing in the service is more trivial and awkward than the practice of “shaking hands with the person next to you.” But, Smith argues that we should see this is as practice that shapes us into a people that appreciates the importance of the community. We are not here as individual and isolated worshippers, but we are here as the people of God.

4. Baptism

Unsurprisingly, Smith sees this as a critical practice for the church. Indeed, “it is a microcosm of the entirety of Christian worship and the story of God, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (182). More interesting was his emphasis that because baptism serves as the constitution of the people of God, it also serves as a counter-formation to the “idolization of the family” (186). He thinks that modern, liberal society has placed too much emphasis on the family as the primary locus of human flourishing. And, thus, we’ve placed a burden on the family that it was never meant to handle. Instead, baptism reminds us that the family should be a part of the larger people of God. It thus “opens the home, liberating it from the burden of impossible self-sufficiency, while also opening it to the ‘disruptive friendships’ that are the mark of the kingdom of God” (186-7).

Through each of the different discussions, Smith wants us to understand two things. First, each of these practices serves as a counter-formation to other formative practices, directing us toward true human flourishing in the world. And, second, although it’s good for us to understand the theological significance of these practices, it is not necessary for them to have a formative influence. Indeed, the whole idea of a “practice” as he understands it is that its formative significance is pre-cognitive; it shapes us even if we don’t understand precisely how it does so. And, that’s why he argues that these are formative practices even for children or handicapped individuals who would not otherwise be able to grasp the theology embedded in the practices.

Flotsam and jetsam (6/5)