I once mentioned to a colleague that I thought I might have some new insights that could be relevant to understanding baptism. Heaving a world-weary sigh he said, ‘what possible new thing can you say about baptism?’ (Or it might have been ‘what possible new thing can you say about baptism?’) A fair question either way, to which he obviously thought the answer would be nothing – it has all been said before.
In the 1971 Monty Python film, ‘And Now for Something Completely Different’, the team combined a number of old sketches with new material to receive rave reviews. Half a century earlier, Otto Rohwedder spent over 16 years perfecting a machine to slice bread. It transformed the American baking industry and any invention thereafter had to compete with being the best thing since sliced bread. James Dyson succeeded by re-inventing the vacuum cleaner.
Coming up with something completely different does not mean discarding the old. It means thinking about the old in a new way and being prepared for a resulting fusion that means it will never be the same again.
Forty years ago, whilst at bible college, I had niggling questions about the role of John the Baptist. Jesus declared him the greatest person to have ever lived, which I took to mean (amongst other things) that he accomplished the task God had given him. But in what way did he do this: surely not as a first act warming up the audience? In what way did a message and practice centred on baptism get people ready to hear and understand and respond to the messiah?
I asked two questions. If I were a Jew standing on the banks of the Jordan, with my culture and background, what would I have grasped about Jesus from what John said and did? And, what would have been Jesus’ own understanding about baptism when He gave His followers the command to be disciple makers and baptisers? After all, He did not have Acts or Paul’s letters from which to formulate a theology of baptism.
Since that time I have (hopefully) learned how to write and I have done a great deal of study about baptism. As a result of that, three small books are available to read or buy on this site and there are at least another couple in the pipeline. If you have any interest in baptism, do have a browse.