Baptism and Christian Identity: Part 3

Mikoski starts this next chapter with a quote that is worth noting here in light of some of the comments from previous posts. The quote is taken from Dykstra and Bass’ article, “A Theological Understanding of Christian Practices.” “At its heart baptism is not so much a distinct practice as it is the liturgical summation of all the Christian practices…Here all the practices are present in crystalline form – forgiveness and healing, singing and testimony, sabbath-keeping and community shaping, and all the others. Unlike each particular practice, baptism does not address a specific need, instead, it ritually sketches the contours of a whole new life, within which all human needs can be perceived in a different way.” At the heart of Mikoski’s project is to take this understanding of baptism and run it through the theological and practical mechanisms of trinitarian thought and educational theory.

The belief that the Trinity functions as a practical reality for theology is ubiquitous in theology today, but this is not necessarily the case in Christian education. Mikoski affirms this lacunae on the one hand but with the other suggests that there has been an implicit trinitarianism functioning (57). He mentioned one book that stands out as a counter-example: The Teaching Ministry of the Church: An Examination of the Basic Principles of Christian Education by James Smart. Mikoski’s own project does not simply build on Smart’s, but seeks to move beyond it by addressing key areas: First, grounding the discussion in the practice of congregations, and second, addressing the barrage of theological material written since Smart’s lectures in 1953. Of contemporary approaches to this issue, Mikoski notes Osmer’s volume, The Teaching Ministry of Congregations, Murphy’s Teaching that Transforms: Worship as the Heart of Christian Education, and Pazmino’s book God our Teacher: Theological Basics in Christian Education.

Beyond the various overlapping tendencies and differences with these other works, Mikoski notes the neglect of baptism as an ordering practice. In his words, “In some ways, this is deeply ironic given the fact that ecclesial pedagogy originally emerged in relation to the sacrament of baptism and the processes of Christian initiation. As we will see later, close ties between baptism and ecclesial pedagogy can be seen in both the early church and in the period of the Protestant Reformation.” Therefore, in light of this neglect, Mikoski seeks to use baptism as the key pedagogical practice towards a way of life. Again, in his words,

By proceeding from the concrete and corporate locus provided by the baptismal rite, I will explore the necessarily interrelated vectors of trinitarian doctrine and practices of ecclesial faith formation, which likely would be missed if one were to simply focus on the features of the doctrine of the Trinity abstracted from actual ecclesial contexts and divorced from the lives of real human beings” (66-67).

Mikoski offers three reasons why starting with baptism is the right way to address an ecclesial pedagogy: First, baptism is a core constituting practice of the Christian life; second, baptism is trinitarian in character, and third, baptism necessarily has to do with the church as a local and particular body.  So, this is the project, and he attempts to do it through Gregory of Nyssa and John Calvin. Our next two posts will look at these respectively and seek to offer some directions for how this might look.

Until then, any thoughts? I am curious about how baptism is trinitarian in character. Oftentimes, I have found that this kind of claim ends up saying little more than that there is three of something. We’ll see what Mikoski does.

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One thought on “Baptism and Christian Identity: Part 3

  1. Interesting thoughts Kyle. Historically, his understanding of early pedagogy is correct. The desire to be baptized, marked out as a member of a community, began up to a 3 year process by which he initiate was examined – both in character and in theological understanding (as much as what was known at the time). Given that, it would be interesting to know what trinitarian doctrine was woven into the event. I know that in some locations the one being baptized was naked while others added eating honey after the rite was completed. Both Justin Martyr and Tertullian offer examples of liturgy and prayers, but other than that, not much on actually theological development (outside of available scripture reading if able or discussion).

    Interestingly enough, I was baptized as an infant and am currently looking into joining a community that would require me to be baptized as a professor before being added to leadership as an educator. There is a class that they offer and I am interested to learn how they teach and prepare the initiate.

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