Book Reviews

Book Review: Baptism (Christian Essentials), Peter Leithart

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4–6)

When you look at Christianity throughout the ages—even just today, in fact—does it seem or feel as though we have one baptism? Do we baptize infants or professing converts only? Immersion, sprinkling, pouring? Do we baptize “as a sign of God’s claim or as a convert’s public confession of faith?” (1). Peter Leithart, President of the Theopolis Institute and author of many books and commentaries (such as The Ten Commandments volume in this series), has written a short book packed with insights on baptism.

Each chapter moves through a section of Luther’s Great Flood Prayer, which Leithart uses whenever he has performed a baptism. While I’m not a Lutheran, Luther “links baptism with Adam’s sin, the flood, the exodus, and Jesus’ baptism… it separates us from the unfaithful and preserves us in the church; it washes, delivers, judges, and saves” (3).

What I enjoyed about reading Leithart is, like Luther, the connections he makes about baptism throughout the Bible. Baptism is prefigured for us in the waters of creation, Eden, Noah’s flood, Israel’s exodus through the Red Sea and their entrance into the promise land by the Jordan River, and more. Leithart asks a great question: why water? Why use the waters of baptism to announce the grand new creation? The Bible tells us God is a “fountain of living water” (Jer 2:13). God “hauls water to the sky and sets a firmament-dam to separate waters above and below (Gen 1:6–8)” (22). Living creatures fill the sea first. Leithart brings in insights from the church fathers. Reading that the waters “were commanded to bring forth living things,” it was Tertullian who asked “Is it any wonder that ‘waters already know how to make alive'”? (22).

Water floods the Bible. The righteous man is like a tree planted next to a stream (Ps 1:3). God is greater than storm god Baal. God holds back the rain and sends drought, and he “throws hail like cannonballs (Exod 9:18–25; Rev 16:17–21)” (25). God pours out his Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17; cf. Isa 32:15; 44:3). Some of Jesus’ disciples were fisherman. Jesus, like God, walks on the sea. The word of God cleanses us like water. Baptism runs over us, baptizing us into the death of Jesus that we would  walk in newness of life.  

Leithart looks at how the flood kills and saves (chap 4), shows the typological thinking of baptism by the biblical authors. Just as Noah and his family received new life on the other side of the flood—old loyalties, temptations, habits, networks having been washed away—so we receive new life on the other side of our baptisms. “Those in the ark die to the world that then was” (34).

Baptism doesn’t just tell us that we need to die. It kills, and so gives the gift of death. Baptized into the ark, we don’t die with the world, but to the world. (35)

Since Jesus commands baptism, it is an act of God. When a person if baptized, they aren’t just baptized by a pastor or elder. They are baptized “by God” (14). It “tells us we don’t belong to ourselves (1 Cor 6:19–20), but it doesn’t merely tell us. It makes it so” (16).

From chapters 7–10 Leithart looks at how in baptism we share in Jesus’ vocation of priest, king, and prophet. He does this by moving “from Leviticus to Joshua to the monarchy to the prophets,” and seamlessly to Jesus and back to the Old Testament. Baptism makes us holy. It cleanses us, and we become portable tabernacle-temples with God’s Spirit in us. Baptism places us into the conquest where our weapons are the belt of truth, sword of the Spirit, helmet of salvation, etc. Our weapons are spiritual: the “word, water, song, prayer, bread, and wine” (77). We are to demolish idols “wherever they appear—in our own hearts, in the church, at work, in the world around us” (77). As God’s heirs, “all things serve us” (77). Sickness calls us to bear our cross. Poverty matures us. Wealth gives us the chance to be generous. Death is an evil enemy, but even it leads us straight to the face of our Lord and Savior.

Recommended?

No matter what your baptismal position is, there is much here I think you will agree with. I, a credo-baptist, found myself in agreement with much of what Leithart, a Presbyterian, wrote. Leithart, in his characteristic style and wonderful prose, has made me think both about baptism and what it means to me, my family, and to other believers whom I serve one Lord and share one Spirit.

Highly recommended.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Christian Essentials
  • Author: Peter J. Leithart
  • Hardcover: 140 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (March 24, 2021)

Buy it on Amazon or from Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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