Baptism and Christian Identity

I want to take a look at Gordon S. Mikoski’s new volume, Baptism and Christian IdentityBaptism and Christian Identity: Teaching in the Triune Name (Eerdmans, 2009). This is another work in practical theology which seeks to breath fresh life in the conversation concerning practices which is either dying or else never truly came to life. This work, on the other hand, has promise. There is no doubt from the get-go that this is a work of practical theology. The author talks about his denominationally oriented point of view, the importance of looking at concrete situations and then engages in a detailed analysis of his church’s practice of baptism. In other words, not only will this volume look at Gregory of Nyssa and Calvin, nor will it simply look at theology and Christian education, though it does both. This volume will look at the theological and practical issues against the backdrop of very real conrete situations and help to ask real questions about how our theology should substantialize.

Mikoski does not choose baptism at random, as if it were simply one of many possible practices to choose from. He states, “I have since become convinced that focusing on and privileging the sacrament of baptism offers a particularly helpful way to see the inherent connections between the doctrine of the Trinity and Christian education” (xiii). This is further emphasized by his conviction, popular in the practices discussion, that the Trinity plays an effective role in the practical theological vision. He suggests three reasons that links be established between trinitarian theology and practical theology: First, he believes that trinitarian theology, channeling LaCugna, is inherently practical, and therefore believes it needs to interface with a discipline focusing on tools to make this happen. Second, he believes that practical theologians need to connect on a deeper level with churches, and by working within the inherent trinitarian grammar found in most churches, they could breath life into the ecclesial practice through the established language. Third, the Trinity can serve as a conceptual apparatus that focuses on persons “marked by diversity in unity and unity in diversity,” rather that focusing on a monadic monarch.

In order to accomplish this in the practical theology register, Mikoski follows “four ‘core intellectual opertaions,’ or moments, of practical theological method.”

The four interrelated components and the defining question associated with each moment are as follows: the descriptive-empirical moment (What is going on?); the interpretive moment (Why is this going on?); the normative moment (What ought to be going on?); and the strategic moment (What can be done to reshape what is going on?)” (xxiv).

Therefore, Mikoski offers an overview of his project: “the development of a trinitarian practical theology of Christian formation proceeds best by way of the dynamic interplay of the sacrament of baptism, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the practice of ecclesial pedagogy in which the sacrament of baptism serves as the orienting center.”

Are there any thoughts about this in terms of method? It was interesting to read through the practices of his church, and try to “get into their shoes” and think about the theology driving their practice. I think that this kind of work could prove fruitful, particularly when talking about practical issues of ecclesiology. That said, what do we think about some of his assertions concerning how this should be done?


3 thoughts on “Baptism and Christian Identity

  1. Anthropology affirms that various “rites of initiation” and “rites of passage,” help initiates bond to various organizations, by dramatically marking the moment of transition. Baptism at one time, may have been such an effective marker.

    The central dialogue on baptism, is in the Gospel of John; which is said to be by the apostle John, but focuses after all, in the beginning, on John the Baptist.

    Baptisms and annointings seem related; and both of them to attempts to give Jesus firm, official status. John for example is said to have in his own way, in effect, annointed Jesus. Thus giving him 1) a sort of authority; “Christ”ening. And a role in the Trinity, thereby, some would say.

    That was a sort of alternative annointing however; with “water” as John said. And next of course, John went on to 2) refer to Jesus’ perhaps superior baptism of/with, the Holy Spirit. While 3) Mary annoints Jesus with a more traditional oil. Though 4) Jesus did not baptise, parts of the Bible suggest; his disciples did.

    Which if any of these baptisms was particularly important? Did any of them bring Jesus into the Trinity? Were any of them absolutely necessary? Considering for example 5) Paul’s assertion that it is believing in God – or metaphorically, the “circumcision” of the “heart” – that is important.

    Southern Baptists of course, find the ritual compelling. And its tribal roots, are no doubt compelling to pre-literate peoples.

  2. Interesting volume Kyle. The method sounds intriguing and the questions are very good questions to ask. But as for the object, baptism is an awkward focus for the entire project. Joe brings up good points, and though I am not Southern Baptist, his questions regarding the vitae of Jesus ring true. A better object to apply the method seems to be the Eucharist, where there seems to be a stronger ecclesial and trinitarian tie in to the project.

    Am I wrong in is?

  3. Interestingly, this book is written from a Presbyterian perspective. I imagine that we’ll see his thought unfold when I get to the rest of the book, so I’ll hold off my thoughts until then. I’m not sure, as of yet, that Eucharist would be more appropriate than baptism, but we’ll see what he tries to do with it. Baptism, if nothing else, provides a framework for the Christian life, both mortification and vivification in a way that the body and blood does not – not to diminish it in any way.

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