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Book Review: Water for Your Soul, Living in Baptism Every Day

A review of Glenn Borreson’s Water for Your Soul: Living in Baptism Every Day. Available on Amazon.com

Product Description
WATER FOR YOUR SOUL is your spiritual invitation to experience how Christian baptism can give meaning, shape, and new excitement to your whole life as a believer.

  • Paperback: 110 pages
  • Publisher: Infinity Publishing (February 1, 2008)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0741444370
  • Web Page: Water and the Word

Full Disclosure: Pastor Borreson is the pastor at the church I used to work at.

Water for your Soul’s 110 page book is divided into 31 2-4 page vignettes on baptism: its purpose, its function, its significance, its importance, etc. The 31 chapter division is designed to make itself compatible for a daily devotional on baptism for the period of a month. As such, Bible study groups and book clubs might find Borreson’s book to be an accessible exploration on baptismal theology.

Pastor Borreson is a Lutheran pastor, so it should follow that the book proceeds from a distinctly Lutheran point of view. There are numerous similarities between the Lutheran and the Roman Catholic views on baptism, so presumably Catholics might appreciate the book, as well. These two denominations have a view of baptism which embraces so called ‘infant baptism’ but the book is not a treatise on ‘infant baptism,’ though in more than one place Borreson explains how what he was just talking about leads to the practice of baptizing infants. For those Christians who cannot fathom why one would baptize infants, and for nonChristians generally confused about baptism, this book could be useful in exposing the reader to ruminations on baptism as it has been understood for more than a thousand years.

Finally, I think that pastors themselves can make use of the book. They can put it into the hands of parents and members of the congregation wishing to have a deeper understanding of baptism.

To my surprise, one of the things that I enjoyed about the book were the quasi-Haiku poems that came at the end of each chapter. Poetry is not my favorite genre. I like my literature to be more functional, I guess in the same way that I don’t really go in for tulips and pretty looking plants… I want my plants to give me tomatoes, or even better, something hot and spicy like a habanero or jalapeno pepper. But I really did like the brief verses. They tied in very well with the contents of the chapter, and if you didn’t quite get the thrust of what the chapter was trying to say, the verses could help illustrated the transcending theme. I don’t want to spoil any, but they were generally clever and insightful, and coming as it does from a ‘functionalist,’ I think that means something!

One of the real strengths of the book is that it highlights how baptismal theology stands in relation to many modern trends. For example, I especially appreciated the chapter “God Gets Physical” which begins by discussing the Da Vinci Code and the Gospel of Judas, two works which rest on Gnostic belief systems. Gnosticism embraces the view that matter is evil and that a good God wanted nothing to do with it- true spirituality requires going beyond the earthly. This is contrary to Biblical theology. In the Bible, God created the heavens and the earth and said that they were good. Baptism comes later in the Bible, but is an illustration of God’s perfect willingness to condescend to use ‘earthly’ things for his own purpose. I say ‘condescend’ but in reality it is his modus operandi.

Isn’t the incarnation itself testimony of that fact?  Is not his desire to let his redeemed and sanctified, corporeal as they are, do work of the Kingdom also testimony of that fact? If God says matter is Good, and endorses that fact by incarnating and commissioning Christians, why can’t he use water to do something remarkable, too?

This is a type of argument that I think needs to be made more often but usually isn’t. Often the conversation resolves around proof texts, when in fact there are larger theological questions at stake.

Another aspect of the chapters that I think pastors will appreciate is the important connection he makes between baptism and community. I must confess to having some different ideas about community, but certainly agree that it is important and that baptism is best placed within it. In different places in the book, Pastor Borreson tackles some of the reasons why people stop attending their local (or any) congregation and attempts to respond to those reasons.

If I had to make a complaint it would be that the book assumes a general understanding and knowledge of what Lutheran, Anglican, and Catholic Christians believe about baptism. The book is not meant to be a primer but a spiritual reflection but I think one or two pages would have helped those outside of those traditions understand more easily what follows. I guess as far as complaints go, that’s a pretty weak one. It probably just means that if you’re meaning to put this into someone’s hand to better understand baptism, you’ll need to either do some explanatory work of your own or find another book to give too which expounds on some of the underlying framework.

It is not a primer, but for what it is and does I completely commend it. It is not an abstract book but it does touch on numerous themes which I think would help people understand just how robust Christian theology is, approached through the prism of the sacrament of baptism.

For example, I thoroughly appreciated Pastor Borreson’s connections between such important aspects of reality such as our naming (there is more to a name than we suppose) and the important epistemological (I assure you, he does not use the word ‘epistemology’!) implications of a God who chooses to give assurances through certain, observable and therefore objective mechanisms, such as through water, rather than confine himself to our subjective analysis about the state of our faith. In other words, baptism is about God’s promises, not our own, and the death and resurrection of Jesus is a central illustration of God’s ability to keep his promises.

In baptism, we are told (Romans 6) that we are bound up with Jesus in his death. We died with him. How? Does it matter? God makes it so. The passage continues to complete the reasoning: if we are with him in his death, we are with him in his resurrection. That’s a promise. God kept his promise concerning Jesus’ death and resurrection… he’ll keep his promise about redeeming us and delivering us into that Hope that we patiently await.

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