Beginning with the baptism of Jesus, baptism has been an identifying practice of the Christian faith. It has also been deeply controversial and divisive. Combining careful Bible study with enlightening historical survey and practical suggestions, this book provides a rich and even-handed resource for deepening and renewing this central practice of the Christian faith.
'Baptism is more important than you think but not for the reasons you suppose', the opening statement in the preface, sums up the central thesis of the book. I think this book sets a high water mark for a clear substantive treatment of the subject of water baptism from the believers' baptism perspective. Treated as 'a line in the sand' that defines who is in and who is out, this holy sacrament has often been turned into a point of fierce, even violent contentions throughout some of the scandalous streams of church history. Written from within the Restoration movement that has often been charged for majoring in the form and minoring in the substance, this book steers us clear from all the hang-ups over the mechanics and legal technicalities, and advances instead our understanding of the transforming power of the initiation rite. It helps us revision baptism as 'a means of grace' where God's work is primary, even as it takes place through human cooperation. It helps us see baptism as not simply a one-off event that gets you saved but the distinguishing mark that sets the recurring pattern of our daily dying and rising with Christ.
John Mark Hicks and Greg Taylor take us through the historical, biblical and theological considerations of the subject and have produced a fine piece of writing that attempts to clear up much of the confusions that have muddied the water. I don't remember reading anything on baptism that is as clear, thorough, and solid on baptism as this. Reading it is like having your mind washed in the river once again and rediscovering the original intent for which the command was given. Written from a firm credo-baptist position (only believers should be baptized; babies need not apply - if I can put it that way) it may not be convincing to those from a pedobaptist persuasion but its treatment of the alternative understanding and practices in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions is even handed and respectful. As a credo baptist myself, I closed the book with a deeper appreciation of the biblical and theological basis for taking the conscious plunge of faith without delay. I also went away appreciating why other Christian traditions do it differently.
This book represents something of a twist on the traditional Church of Christ understanding on baptism. While holding to much of the NT emphasis on baptism, it also takes a decidedly theological and historical tone about its meaning while also seeking to answer some of the questions about its necessity and importance. At times it is a bit dull in its presentation, but if you're willing to take the time and the effort to consider the perspectives of the author it can be very helpful.