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| 8.7.02
Baptism, by Martin Marty

If you're looking for a book that settles the age old debate between those who baptize infants and adults, versus those who only baptize adults, this is not the book for you. Written from a Lutheran perspective, Baptism assumes the validity of infant baptism, while not discounting adult baptism. What the book mainly does is bring out some of the major issues concerning baptism, and especially gives useful advice to one who was baptized as an infant on how to usefully appropriate that baptism in adult life, draw meaning from it, and live a life in keeping with the baptismal promise.

Surprisingly, the book is also a critque of some of the pitfalls inherent in baptizing infants in the modern age. The introductory chapter contains two fascinating and contrasting sketches of a baptism cermony. The first is drawn from Tertullian's writings, and depicts a secret ceremony fraught with superstition, performed on adults during Christianity's first century. The second is a christening of a baby boy that could have taken place in any Lutheran, Episcopal, or Catholic congregation today. Mundane, and boring, it's something to "have done" to be "on the safe side."

Drawing on the Bible, scholarship, and Luther's writings, Marty criticizes the excesses of both views while nonetheless affirming that God can work through the worst of our intentions. Marty sketches baptism thusly:

If faith means dependence --the absence of anxiety about the morrow, the active or passive repose of one in the destiny of the Other, the security of the faltering hand inside the strong hand-- then baptismal faith has already said all there is to say. The childlike becomes the model: any faith which does not share this quality cannot matter in the kingdom of God. The humble spirit is fed on the milk of the Word, on the promise connected with the water. With advancing maturity the growth in wisdom and stature brings about crises and quests for new understanding. It is the apparent contradiction within faith --at once already complete and yet in need of fulfillment --that forces evangelical Christians to speak in somewhat circular fashion. (p. 46)

I was looking for something a bit different. As one raised in the tradition of infant baptism, and as one who palpably and intuitively feels that it discloses God's grace in the most glorious way, I was looking for an author who would put what I feel into words. However, Marty goes beyond my desire by preserving something of the Mystery that surrounds this sacrament, as well as providing common-sense advice to parents and churches for making baptism more than something to be done once to an infant and dispensed with, but instead a lifelong vocation. Some of his suggestions, which I've implemented in my own family include celebrating the anniversary of the baptism. This allows us to talk about what baptism means, and how we are to live out our baptism.

PUBLISHER: Fortress Press; ISBN: 0800613171 (1977)

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