You know a book about baptism is going to be good when in the introduction, Kevin Adams writes a true story about a couple in his office arguing about sex. Adams, a pastor for over 30 years in Northern California, collects a myriad of stories about how the sacrament of baptism functions in a messy, broken world in desperate need of grace.
Baptism is supposed to unite Christians all over the world. In order to emphasize the unity, Adams quotes the memorable words from the book of Ephesians 4:5-6, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all,” but is then quick to point out that baptism has often been the cause of passionate theological disagreements and painful denominational rifts. Even at the mention of the word “baptism,” instant arguments ensue: infant or adult? Sprinkle or immersion? Covenant promise or declaration of faith?
Along the way, Adams engages with conversation partners from other Christian traditions that have a different understanding of baptism. He stands firmly in his own tradition (Reformed) and dialogues with others who offer alternative perspectives on the meaning and practice of the sacrament. Even in disagreement, Adams demonstrates a remarkable grace and kindness.
This book is full of stories—stories about baptism and the life-changing grace given in the sacrament of baptism. I won’t spoil the stories for you. But I will give you some teasers so you can pick up the book and read the stories for yourself. Read about a woman who was baptized in a kitchen sink. Or read about a baptism in the ocean and the monster wave that caused a spontaneous testimony in the form of an expletive. Read about Martin Luther’s favorite thing to say every morning or the story about college students baptized in a kiddie pool decorated with yellow fish on a university campus.
But if you think the stories are for mere entertainment, they are not. The stories highlight grace and gratitude, but also the complicated and difficult issues surrounding baptism. Chapter topics include renouncing evil, identity politics, racism, and forced baptism. In a chapter about baptismal hope, Adams tells his own personal story of being diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease. The story is heart-rending as Adams wrestles with the healing waters of baptism while he struggles on a daily basis with the disappointment and pain of unanswered prayers for healing.
Books about baptism are often aimed at seminary students or passionate church attenders who like to dabble in theology. This book is smart, insightful, and challenging, but written in a way that is accessible for everyone. The title and the subtitle communicate clearly how Adams understands baptism—it’s a grace that works itself out in every square inch of a person’s life. (Eerdmans)