Tim Chester has skillfully written a short book on how baptism and communion should shape our lives. His easy communication style makes Truth We Can Touch accessible to a large audience—even to those who do not often read theological books.
In this sense, the book could easily help churches teach their congregations the meaning of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It could also be a textbook at the college level. I recommend the work to anyone interested in the topic—I had only some minor quibbles with the work.
For Chester, the modern world makes certain aspects of Christianity easy to understand. As an example, modern people (as we are) understand truth to reside in the mind—so we can hope and expect to persuade people about the Gospel. And yet due to this focus on the mind, we sometimes find it hard to understand the sheer corporeality of baptism and communion.
Baptism makes someone experience a bodily washing of water. The Supper is a feast. The feeling and experience of these two sacraments means something for us. They are visible signs of invisible realities. They are enacted truths. In the words of Chester, “baptism and Communion are God’s promise in physical form” (36).
Chester makes the expected moves for a broadly reformed view of the sacraments—he follows Calvin’s spiritual presence view of the Supper. In this sense, Christ becomes present in the Supper by the Holy Spirit. And through eating with faith, God confers grace to us.
My criticisms are admittedly mild. I agree with the book. Yet almost unavoidably Chester attempted to avoid falling into the trap of the sacraments working apart from faith—by the operation of the act itself (the Roman Catholic view).
In doing so, he occasionally understates what is true: namely, that the sacraments have an objective reality to them—but we only receive their benefits by our subjective faith. He certainly affirms this throughout the work but due, I suspect, to wanting to avoid Roman Catholicism he does not repeatedly emphasize the point.
Secondly, while Chester rightly elevates the sacraments as means of grace, he is quick to affirm that they bestow no other grace than we already have in Christ. Yes, this is true. Yet it has the potential to skew the point.
God gives us grace through ordinary means. So not partaking of the Supper or baptism would actually impede our progress in sanctification. Yes, we have it all in Christ, but our growth into Christ comes to us by way of various means: prayer, preaching, the Supper, baptism, and so on. For this reason, I wish Chester had more clearly affirmed the sanctifying and nourishing function of the Supper.
With these two entirely mundane and mild criticisms out of the way, I want to reaffirm that I highly recommend this work. It finely retrieves the reformed and biblical view of the Supper, while placing the bodily nature of the sacraments (eating, washing) into a context in which we can better understand them. Anyone interested in more should pick and read this book.
The publisher provided me with a review copy of the book.
Mark Matthias says
“…we sometimes find it hard to understand the sheer corporeality of baptism and communion.” I would say it is not hard to understand — It’s hard to understand why this receives so much attention. There’s so much more denying the use of it than supporting…it appears to be conjured rather than exegetically required — such as John 13:34 — ‘that’s the command’ whereby our salvation depends on it…no two ways about it. in contrast mankind has made this “command” in Matt. 28:19 far more important than receiving the Spirit based on Romans 10:9-10 for ex. Where else does God give a command that doesn’t bolster one’s salvation. After all, Protestants repeat the mantra “it can’t save you but you must do it”. Yet in the Greek the imperative is unmistakable — bringing the good news to the ends of the earth. Why would we need the Holy Spirit if man can ‘make’ a disciple? (John 16:7,13-14), cf. John 6:63.
Paul certainly did not feel the same way — 1 Cor. 1:17.