New book stresses worldview-shifting importance of baptism, Lord’s Supper
John Mark Hicks, professor of John Mark Hicks. Enter the Water, Come to the Table
Abilene, Texas: ACU Press, 2014. 192 pages. $14.99.theology at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., has written three books about the sacraments, and his latest, “Enter the Water, Come to the Table ” lifts away some of the theological mystery of his previous books, inviting all to participate in a worldview shift that will be reflected in our life and worship.
Hicks’ previous books, “Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper ,” “Down in the River to Pray (Revised Edition) ” (with Greg Taylor), and “A Gathered People: Revisioning the Assembly as Transforming Encounter ” (with Bobby Valentine and Johnny Melton), were important, deep and meaningful, but not entirely accessible to non-theologians. This latest book is, in part, an introduction to the theme of this year’s Pepperdine Bible Lectures, but it also serves to present the core material in his earlier books to a wider audience.
Hicks defines sacrament as “a human witness to the grace of God as well as a human pledge of allegiance to the story of God in Jesus.” In addition to the Lord’s Supper and baptism, Hicks also believes that the gathering of the Lord’s people is a sacrament.
In Hicks’ usage, sacraments are moments of encounter with God, Christ, the Spirit, each other, the faithful who have gone before us and with our future reality. They are a spiritual reality that breaks into our present time and place and, by this in-breaking, they change and challenge us.
To Hicks, the Lord’s Supper (or, more commonly in his writings, “the Table”) is not an isolated event, but a continuation of the table ministry of Jesus, which itself was a continuation of the meals Israel ate in the desert, the tabernacle and the temple.
Hicks reveals this pattern of God coming into our presence as we eat with each other throughout the first five books of the Old Testament, slowly building his case with Scripture in a way that most readers will find both fascinating and easy to follow. By the time he arrives at the Table we celebrate each week, we have seen Jesus supplying bread to thousands of the common people — the fallen, rejected and lonely — as well as those who are trying to live righteous lives. Hicks is going for nothing less than a transformational view of the Table.
In his earlier book on baptism, Hicks wrote that baptism was far more important than we had ever imagined it was.
In this book, he explains why. Here, it is part of the Exodus story, the crossing of a border, the joining the march of faith. He challenges us to make baptism a more central part of our community life, developing readings, prayers and celebrations to mark it.
Supremely helpful are the examples he then gives of how to build a service that recognizes the spiritual reality of the Table and baptism, giving guidance on ways to bring the sense of the sacred back to our gatherings. This section alone is worth the price of the book.
As our church looks for its place in the larger believing community, Hicks calls us to be the place where the sacraments are offered and the sacred lived out.
PATRICK MEAD is preaching minister for the Fourth Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin, Tenn. He earned doctorates in psychology and biology and also teaches courses in those fields.