Faith as Initiation


In Cruciformity, Michael J. Gorman, examines the role of the cross in Paul’s writings. I found his remarks on Paul’s expression of faith to be helpful. There are two aspects of faith that should be understand as two halves of the whole. Faith involves an initial conversion-initiation response and a daily walk with God throughout life. He connects the initial response of faith with baptism.

As shorthand for conversion-initiation, “faith” is closely associated with baptism in Paul’s mind, as texts like 1 Corinthians 6:11 and Galatians 3:22-29 demonstrate (p. 122).

Since space does not permit a thorough investigation of this relationship between faith and baptism, we will simply note two things. First, for Paul private belief and public confession of it – including baptism – go hand in hand. Both are needed for salvation. That is, conversion-initiation is both personal and public; faith brings a person into a relationship with God in Christ, and also with other believers. Baptism makes public and communal that which is first of all private and individual, but cannot remain so.

Gorman’s reference to the public and private sphere of faith are important factors to discuss in an American context where faith can become so individualistic. There are many people that simply want to have Jesus in their heart without any public or corporate component to their faith. Such a picture of faith is foreign to the New Testament.

Second, baptism is a parabolic enactment of faith, a symbolic narrative. It expresses both the primary content of the faith — Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (compare Rom. 6:1-11 and 1 Cor. 15:3-4) — and the nature of faith as in sharing in, not merely an affirmation of, the narrative of Jesus. What Paul says of baptism, therefore, he would say also of faith. For instance, according to Galatians 3:27, people are “baptized into Christ,” but according to Galatians 2:16, people “believe into Christ.”

Baptism is participation and proclamation in the saving activity of the cross. The result of this initiation-conversion is a death experience, a dying with Christ. As Gorman notes, it results in a transfer of dominions and a liberation from all the evil powers.

The experience of faith, triggered by the apocalyptic event of the cross, reorients people, bringing them “into” Christ from outside (2 Cor. 5:17) and causing them to orient their lives away from self and toward the Christ in whom they live.

As faith accomplishes reorientation, liberation, and a new dominion, it also results in incorporation into Christ as lord and into his body. It is “an inauguration into a community and into a life of dying, or cruciformity.”

I think Gorman highlights the richness and fullness of baptism according to the Scripture. It is an important part of the overall picture, and it should not be diminished.

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7 Responses to Faith as Initiation

  1. luke douthitt says:

    Umm…I think I need a nap. Does anyone have a thesaurus?

  2. Patrick H. says:

    Nice post. I read (half) of Cruciformity not too long ago and was pleasantly surprised about his perspective on baptism and faith.

    Have you read Robert Stein’s article on “Baptism & Becoming a Christian in the New Testament” (http://www.sbts.edu/media/publications/sbjt/sbjt_1998spring2.pdf)? I like his approach quite a bit.

    Besides Gorman, what other non-Restorationist scholars have you encountered whose writings on baptism you’ve found helpful?

    • Jeremy says:

      Thanks for the comments Patrick. I was rather surprised to read Gorman’s remarks myself. I have not read Stein’s article, but I usually like what he has to write. I’ll check it out. If you come across any others, let me know.

      As for non-Restorationist scholars, I’m not sure I know of many. I mentioned McKnight’s Galatians commentary in a previous post. It seems like I have read some good things from N.T. Wright as well, as best as I can remember. The New Perspective folks seem more willing to consider the importance of baptism. NP represents a challenge to reading the Scripture through the lens of “Justification by Faith.” While there are true components to that doctrine, it has been taken to extremes and become an uber-test of orthodoxy, which doesn’t provide much opportunity for dialogue and questioning of the doctrine. NPers seem to have broken that mold a bit.

      • Patrick says:

        I’ve read a couple good things by Wright, too, as well as James Dunn (NP guys, like you said). G.R. Beasley-Murray’s book Baptism in the New Testament is good (though a bit thick, and engages in a lot of older stuff as it was published in the 1973). He argues that baptism is essential to conversion, though he has a chapter toward the end where he says (not unreasonably) that we shouldn’t view it as being absolutely indispensable to salvation.

        Among Reformed circles, there’s been a big controversy lately over “Federal Vision” theology whose proponents have been accused of both “baptismal regeneration” and “works-salvation” (sound like a familiar accusation?). Peter Leithart is one such scholar who has written a lot on baptism, and his views are in some ways quite similar to coc–with the twist that he believes in paedobaptism. Here’s a link to one of his articles: http://www.leithart.com/archives/003307.php

  3. Patrick says:

    And, I just remembered, I was interested to discover that Francis Chan teaches that the “sinner’s prayer” has usurped the role that baptism is supposed to hold (shorter video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=5Is8QnxviOI ; longer video: http://stoned-campbelldisciple.blogspot.com/2010/12/francis-chan-repentance-baptism-spirit.html).

    • Jeremy says:

      Great thoughts, Patrick. Thanks for the material. I’m going to have to chase some of this down. I especially like Chan’s argument.

      My “to-do” list also includes tackling Everett Ferguson’s tome on baptism, but that probably won’t happen soon.

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