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Baptism: Loose Ends

PS has made an important point and raised an important question in the comments to my previous post, Where Does Baptism Go? that may require just a brief note of clarification before I go forward. First, the point:

I’m trying to follow these arguments, and from my point of view, it makes the whole thing so complicated. If God does the saving through grace, then all this is moot.

Absolutely. Salvation is by grace, through faith (Eph 2:8). Period. Please don’t confuse what I’ve been doing with elaborating a theology of salvation. My aims are far more narrow. As I explained in my introduction to this series, I’m trying to “see if I can outline a case for why Baptists ought to accept the baptisms of other Christians, even those that differ from our own practices or understandings.” In order to do that, I need to set forth a Baptist vision of water-baptism so that some of the obstacles to this acceptance become apparent. Hopefully, this will also uncover some possibilities latent in Baptist tradition that may prove helpful in the end.

This is sort of what I think I’m doing: I’ve recently had some computer problems at home, so I asked a friend from work for advice and the other night he came over to install some more RAM and just give things a good look-over. Dave came by and opened up the panel on the processing unit literally for the first time since we bought the thing so he could work his magic. Watching Dave work, I learned a wee bit about computers that I didn’t know before, but I’ll be the first to admit I’m clueless about all those wires and thingies on the inside. It’s enough for me to know the thing works.

The grace of God is how salvation “works,” and for most Christians, most of the time, that’s a completely sufficient answer. But I’m noticing a problem in Baptist pastoral theology that requires an expert opening up the panel to take a look inside.

Now to the question:

Can we believe without the Spirit (or perhaps without the Spirit’s help?) Is faith something that a person summons up from within his/herself or something given, as in “faith is a gift of God”?

The epigram makes more sense to me if it would be a picture like one of those optical illusions where there is a square with no beginning or end.

Good question! I would re-iterate that the New Testament binds faith, water-baptism, and Spirit-baptism very closely together. So no, we can’t believe without the Spirit. I would say that faith is a gift of God and evidence of the Spirit’s presence, and I think most Christians would agree.

I like the imagery of the optical illusion. Another way of thinking about it is to think of the two lenses on a camera. By adjusting the lenses, you can bring either the foreground or the background into focus, depending on what you want to look at. This model of Christian conversion-initiation has three “lenses” rather than two, but I’m sure you see my point.

It may be even better (though not as memorable) to think in terms of three distinct parties to the conversion-initiation process, each expected to make a particular contribution. The individual repents and believes. The church baptizes. God gives the Spirit. But God is behind the whole process, so that somehow it all adds up to “God saves us by his grace.”

1 Comment

  1. PS says:

    I LIKE visual metaphors!


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