Archive for the ‘Baptism’ Category

The Baptized BodyThe Baptized Body by Peter J. Leithart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For me, this book, like Leithart’s writings generally, was both a hit and a miss. Let’s take it from the top.

Chapter one, “Starting before the Beginning,” was intended to clear “enough ground to move ahead” to discuss the biblical texts about baptism. This chapter seemed a bit choppy, as Leithart’s hitting on different philosophical, ontological, and theological topics. It was intended to be controversial with section headings such as, “Why Sacraments Are Not Signs,” “Why Sacraments Are Not Means of Grace,” and “Why Sacraments Are Not Symbols.” That said, I found the concept of Sacraments as rituals to be compelling and helpful. Sacraments can, however, be signs, means of grace, symbols, AND rituals. (more…)


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For the Life of the World: Sacraments and OrthodoxyFor the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first contact with Alexander Schmemann. I am quite sure that I’ll make some time to explore him further, for I found this little book to be both gloriously illuminating and but also a bit scary.

As to the illumination, Schmemann proposes a view of the world that is enormously compelling. He sees the world “sacramentally.” I think what he means by that is that the world is God’s creation and is both to manifest his presence and also to be fellowship with us. Sin, of course, destroys the whole sacramental aspect of creation and now leads only to death. The church, however, is the sacrament to the world. It is through the church that God manifests his presence to humanity and has fellowship with creation, thus fulfilling creation. This sacramental church function is wonderfully Christ-centered and is expressed and lived in the Sacraments (do note the capital S) of the church. I found all this to be wonderful and refreshing, especially because I saw significant aspects of Postmillennialism and Van Tillian apologetics woven throughout. Not to mention that Schmemann (with his insightful attack on Secularism) would be death on RADICAL two-kingdoms theology. All this is splendid.

But not all is splendid, for the book is also scary. Schmemann did not intend this book as an apologetic for his Eastern Orthodox views of the Sacraments (all seven of them). Rather, it is more a description or an elaboration. Schmemann did not set out to “prove” anything, but rather to set forward or present his ideas. Well, ideas are dangerous things. Just because an idea (or a collection of them) is compelling does not make it correct or true. Holding, as I do, the Bible to be the final word on truth and “leitourgia,” I want to be very careful to weigh Schmemann (and everyone else for that matter) in the balance of God’s very Word. Where Schmemann has captured and articulated God’s truth, let him be our teacher. Where he has not, let God be true and every man a liar.

Finally, as I read this book, I saw Peter Leithart on about every page. Many of Pastor Leithart’s criticisms in The Baptized Body, for example, are quite clearly traceable to Schmemann’s influence (or at least so it seems to me). I mention that only in passing, not to paint Schmemann with a Leithart brush. I am quite sure that the discerning reading will benefit from Schmemann, even in he is opposed to Leithart’s thinking. However, it seems to me that if one wants to understand Leithart better, Schmemann would be a good place to start.

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Sacramental Teaching and Practice in the Reformation ChurchesSacramental Teaching and Practice in the Reformation Churches by Geoffrey W. Bromiley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure what to think when I picked up this little volume. I don’t know too much about Bromiley, but I know he is responsible for translating a whole library of books into English, including works from Karl Barth, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and (if I’m not mistaken) even some Rudolf Bultmann. I therefore had my doubts about Bromiley’s ability to fairly reproduce a summary of the sacramental teaching and practice in the reformation churches. I have found in my studies of the theology of John Calvin that many interpreters who are influenced by so-called Neo-Orthodoxy have a tendency to recast Calvin in their own image. I feared that maybe Bromiley might be cut from that unsavory cloth.

I was happily surprised, then, to find that Bromiley’s handling of the topic was quite faithful to what I have come to understand as Reformation teaching. Now, I’ll own that I didn’t read this book with scrupulous care. (I largely read it at the side of a pool during the kids’ swimming lessons.) Even so, I found the book edifying and informative. It was well-organized and brief, making it an easy entrance into an admittedly difficult subject.

One thing that I thought was odd is that Bromiley essentially did not quote the Reformers. My recollection is that all the footnotes were references to Scripture. In other words, this little work was very much Bromiley’s condensation of Reformation teaching. This book is his summary, and it is a good summary.

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Baptism Hawaiian Style

Heidelberg Catechism #43

Q: What further advantage do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?

A: Through Christ’s death our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with him, so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer rule us, but that instead we may dedicate ourselves as an offering of gratitude to him.

Theological: Do you ever find yourself marveling at the way the Bible speaks of our definitive break from sin and darkness? I do. Paul tells us that our old man has been put to death in Christ, that we are new creations. (more…)

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This post is the second (here’s the first) in a series that should provide a biblical defense of the practice of infant baptism, and I admit that it’s way too long. I hope, however, that it is very clear and compelling. Having corresponded with my friend, I have come the conclusion that he holds to the spiritual unity between the believers before Christ and those of us after him, which was the concern of the first post. Since that is so, I hoping to progress in this post and examine the question of who is in the New Covenant. That is, is the New Covenant (NC) administration peculiar in that only the faithful are a part of it, or are unfaithful hypocrites also a part of the NC? The purpose of examining this question is that a significant number of folks hold that the NC is exclusively for the faithful (and thus quite distinct from the covenants that precede it). I think that such a view of the NC is incorrect. What’s more, I think it’s easy to show that such a view of the NC is incorrect. Finally, I think that such a view of the NC tends toward a misunderstanding of both the progression of administrations of the Covenant of Grace and the place of the children of believers in that Covenant. So, I’m still laying groundwork so that we can progress toward baptism and infant baptism specifically. Anyhoo… let us now look how the Bible views the NC and who it includes in that covenant. (more…)

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The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth CenturyThe Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth Century by Hughes Oliphant Old

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book to be fascinating, greatly informative and easily accessible. Old offers a look at the development of the practice of baptism among the Reformers, but in so doing he gives us much more than that. For anytime one studies the Reformers, one necessarily studies all of church history before the Reformers. This book offers a sweeping (but detailed) view of the baptismal rite from NT times into the early Christian centuries, through the long Middle Ages into the Reformation. Old analyzes changes in the rite of baptism in light of historical, political, and theological developments in the church and the culture generally. He demonstrates how the baptismal rite developed through the centuries and what the Reformers had to work with as they set to reforming the baptismal rite in their own churches. I’ve read a good deal about the Reformed doctrine of baptism, but I was blown away by how much I didn’t know about the Reformed practice of baptism. Further, I am impressed at how conversant the Reformers were (generally, but specifically with regard to baptism) with the early and medieval church. The Reformers (and Old’s presentation of their work and thought) should encourage us to read more broadly and be less provincial. This is an excellent book and is highly recommended for anyone interested in the doctrine and practice of baptism in the Reformed churches.

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Dear child, do you wish to lead a Christian life and to live according to the will of God our heavenly Father?

Yes, dear father, for I have been baptized in the name of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit….

These are the opening words from Martin Bucer’s catechism from 1534. Note that the child’s identity is wrapped up in their baptism. “Do you want to live in a way that pleases God?” “Yes, for I am baptized.” That’s not a full answer, but it’s a fine start. We train up our children to grow up into who they are: children of God. Further, note the strong connection between discipleship and baptism, which is drawn from (among other places) Mt 28. Bucer’s commitment to Christian pedagogy also made Strasbourg a thriving center of evangelical education.

(Drawn from Hughes Oliphant Old’s The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth Century [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992], 186.)

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