Living under Water: Baptism as a Way of Life
By Kevin Adams
How can the universal Christian rite of baptism become more than a brief event? In a broad pursuit of that question, Kevin Adams is not so much interested in theological distinctions as in telling diverse stories from scripture, history and the arts. He is a superb storyteller, shaped especially by his experience as a pastor for the last 30 years in a California church that has welcomed people from many Christian traditions—or none at all. His stories are diverse, compelling, even page-turning and filled with pastoral and ecumenical wisdom.
Part 1 on Baptismal Identity acknowledges that everyone lives by a script for their lives, even those who resist having a script. He weaves together sources as diverse as NT Wright on scriptural imagery; St. Patrick baptizing in 5th century Ireland as a way of “joining the suffering”; Bonhoeffer’s commitment to life together; swimming pool baptisms by stoned hippies in the 1960s; and multiple baptisms (or re-baptisms) on a college campus that reveal an “astonishingly weak link between their baptisms and their life of faith.” [p. 35]. What then does it mean to be “clothed with Christ”?
Part II, “Baptismal Liturgy for Life,” zeroes in on ancient baptismal practices that include renouncing evil, often removed from baptismal liturgies today. With the struggles of truth-telling in contemporary culture, and with so much suffering in so many parts of the world, Adams wonders about the need to resurrect those promises in our baptismal liturgies. He draws from the influential films O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000) and The Godfather, wondering how we need not only to turn from evil but towards justice as a way of seeking shalom for the earth, dying to sin, being buried in baptism, and ordained to life “wearing Christ.”
Part III, “Baptismal Abuses” are agonizingly apparent in contemporary life if recognizing God’s call on the life of the baptized. Chapter titles are Identity Politics, Forced Baptism, Widow Waters, and Race. With examples primarily from American history, Adams quotes Wille James Jennings, “A church comfortable inside its boundaries—socioeconomic, educational, racial, special—is a church… [that] has forgotten its real baptism” [p. 177]
Part IV, “Baptismal Hope,” follows as a brief but very welcome conclusion, with a few more stories and conviction that in our baptisms, we are all united in Christ.
Concluding is an epilogue on “A Baptized Imagination,” bibliography, index of subjects and of biblical texts. Adams is also author of The Gospel in a Handshake: Framing Worship for Mission (Cascade Books, 2019).
Adams, Kevin J. Living under Water: Baptism as a Way of Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans, 2022. 266 pages. $19.99. ISBN: 9780802879639.
REVIEWER: Emily Brink
Emily R Brink was the founding editor of the journal Reformed Worship and
recently retired from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship
where she was co-editor of the first edition of The Worship Sourcebook.