Greg Taylor and I are honored that Down in the River to Pray was chosen for translation by some believers in Korea as one part of the 50th anniversary celebration of Korean Christian College. Come to the Table had been previously translated and I am grateful for its kind reception among Korean believers. As one who has taught a few classes at Korean Christian College, I am happy that the book was chosen as part of the school’s commemoration. May God continue to bless the kingdom ministry of Korean Christian College for many years to come.
I originally conceived Down in the River to Pray as a way of addressing two problematic areas of baptismal theology among Churches of Christ. On the one hand, I encountered many students in my undergraduate classes at Lipscomb University who seemed to devalue the meaning of baptism. They were adopting a more broadly evangelical understanding of baptism as a mere sign of a grace already received. Baptism had become simply figurative for some. On the other hand, many of these students were motivated by what they perceived as a legalistic emphasis in their ecclesial backgrounds that stressed baptism as a ritual that determined the destiny of millions. For some baptism had become a legal line in the sand—a watershed that divided heaven and hell. Both perspectives were also becoming increasingly present in the churches within the Stone-Campbell Movement and the different views were represented by various teachers within Churches of Christ.
Our book seeks to address this situation by highlighting the transforming nature of God’s work through baptism. Baptism is more about what God does than what we do. It is a means of grace. God acts through baptism. Consequently, we emphasize baptism as a ritual that participates in the instrumental nature of faith itself. Through faith and by the power of the Spirit, God works through baptism to accomplish his purposes. Part of what we mean by “revisioning” is that we seek to revision baptism as a divine work rather than a human work. Baptism must have a theocentric focus rather than an anthropocentric one. This reframes baptism as a sacramental act of God which we receive by faith.
The term “sacrament” essentially means that God gives grace by faith through material symbols in the power of the Spirit by whom we participate in the future. In baptism God utilizes his creation (water) as a means by which his Spirit effects forgiveness, transformation, and hope in believers. The term “sacrament” embraces the mystery of God’s action and the promises that we receive by faith.
The redemptive purposes of God in the sacrament of baptism are not simply about crossing a line from lost to saved. Baptismal theology also embraces the ultimate purpose of God—God intends to transform a people into his own likeness. Consequently, baptism is not simply about forgiveness (justification), but it also about transformation (sanctification) and hope (eschatology). Indeed, baptism serves the divine goal of transformation which, according to Romans 8:29-20, is the eschatological reality that God intends to recreate. It cannot stand alone as an independent act that serves as a mere test of loyalty or some legal prescription. Rather, God offers us the gift of baptism as a means of transforming us and empowering us for the sake of the goal for which he created and redeemed us—to become like God and share in the communion of the Triune God.
Our book, then, intends to offer a high view of baptism—it is a true means of divine grace, but to also keep baptism within a proper theological frame—it serves the divine goal. Baptism is more than a mere sign but it is less than a watershed between heaven and hell. Through baptism we experience a gracious divine work that serves the goal of transformation. Baptism is not the final step in the plan of salvation but a means of grace where we encounter the transformative work of God according to his promise. Its primary function is neither outward symbol nor legal prescription but a gracious encounter with the Triune God.
I pray that Korean readers may experience the transforming grace of God through baptism and continually remember that grace as they encounter God in their daily journey towards entire sanctification.