'Suddenly we are all trinitarians, or so it would seem' wrote Colin Gunton at the beginning of the preface to 2nd edition of his book The Promise of Trinitarian Theology. It does not seem out of place to suggest 'Suddenly all Baptists are sacramentalists, or so it would seem'. This is the second volume of essays on Baptist sacramentalism. The first volume contained essays by Stanley Grenz, Clark Pinnock, John Colwell, Stephen Holmes, Stanley Fowler, Stanley Porter, Curtis Freeman and Brian Haymes amongst others. The second volume has contributions from Paul Fiddes, Chris Ellis, Steven Harmon, Paul Sheppy, as well as a younger generation in the likes of Sean Winter, Anthony Clarke and Michael Bird. Baptist sacramentalism is alive and kicking. Philip Thompson in his introduction says a second volume is 'evidence that Baptist engagement with, and articulation of, sacramental theology is not a passing fancy, a strange aberration, something that will run a quick course and pass quietly out of sight and mind'. The last ten years have witnessed a recovery of a Baptist sacramental theology from historians (see monographs by Cross and Fowler) and theologians (see monographs from Colwell, Fiddes and forthcoming from Thompson). Increasingly these and other Baptists are happy to call themselves 'catholic' (with a small 'c') and engage wholeheartedly in ecumenical conversations.
This second volume, like the first, contains some excellent essays (see contents here). Chris Ellis' opening essay explores the sacraments as a means of embodied grace, how the sacraments relate to the whole of life: 'the God who is made known to us in the breaking of bread is the same One who is present in every meal' (p.14). This essay is a fantastic place to start in trying to understand why certain things are called sacraments, especially if you're among those Baptists who are suspicious of the word 'sacrament'. John Colwell's essay expands his argument on church as sacrament from Promise and Presence and brings it into dialogue with Miroslav Volf's influential doctrine of the church published as After Our Likeness. While Paul Fiddes' chapter is partly a critique of Colwell's sacramental theology as he argues for an ex opere operato understanding of the sacraments, demonstrating that there is a diversity of thought about a sacrmaental theology, within a commitment to it. Personally I think I still side with Colwell's take. Anthony Clarke traces the increasing openness of the table in communion amongst Baptists through liturgies produced by the Baptist Union in the last century. Paul Sheppy writes on pennance, Graham Watts on whether Baptists can believe in sacred space and Anthony Cross argues for reclaiming baptism as a conversion-baptism, and so re-generational, critiquing recent positions from Southern Baptists. Sean Winter's paper is an argument for Baptists to be more open, in this ecumenical age, to those who hold differing views on baptism (and so support the work done by Baptists and Anglicans in Pushing at the Boundaries of Unity) through a reading of Romans, including (correctly in my view) subjective readings of the phrases dikaiosune theou and pistis christou.
This a rich and diverse volume of papers, showing not all baptist thinking is becoming pragmatic. It also reveals that Baptists can contribute in major ways to sacramental theology - we have something positive and helpful to offer and not only something to learn. I wait with interest to see where baptists are in terms of sacramental theology in ten years time.