And now for something completely different
Retired Baptist minister Joe Story explains why he's set up an alternative publishing house - with several books on baptism
I once mentioned to a colleague that I thought I might have some new insights that could be relevant to understanding baptism. Heaving a world-weary sigh he said, ‘what possible new thing can you say about baptism?’ (Or it might have been ‘what possible new thing can you say about baptism?’) A fair question either way, to which he obviously thought the answer would be nothing – it has all been said before.
In the 1971 Monty Python film And Now for Something Completely Different, the team combined a number of old sketches with new material to receive rave reviews. Half a century earlier, Otto Rohwedder spent more than 16 years perfecting a machine to slice bread. It transformed the American baking industry and any invention thereafter had to compete with being the best thing since sliced bread. James Dyson succeeded by re-inventing the vacuum cleaner.
Coming up with something completely different does not mean discarding the old. It means thinking about the old in a new way and being prepared for a resulting fusion that means it will never be the same again.
Forty years ago, whilst at Bible college, I had niggling questions about the role of John the Baptist. Jesus declared him the greatest person to have ever lived, which I took to mean (amongst other things) that he accomplished the task God had given him. But in what way did he do this: surely not as a first act warming up the audience? In what way did a message and practice centred on baptism get people ready to hear and understand and respond to the messiah?
I asked two questions. If I were a Jew standing on the banks of the Jordan, with my culture and background, what would I have grasped about Jesus from what John said and did? And, what would have been Jesus’ own understanding about baptism when He gave His followers the command to be disciple makers and baptisers? After all, He did not have Acts or Paul’s letters from which to formulate a theology of baptism.
Over the past few decades, in an erratic and very mixed career, I have achieved a couple of things. I have learnt how to think (good old Socrates and C.S. Lewis) and I have learned how to write – year after year of writing courses, and dustbins (sorry, re-cycling bins) full of discarded manuscripts. In the midst of that, as well as some years in baptist ministry, I ran a Christian bookshop. In order to maintain a clear conscience, I read as many as possible of the books I was persuading people to buy. Generally a disheartening process.
The net result is that I have now thrown caution to the winds, and set up THE UNBORING BOOK COMPANY, a small alternative publishing house. Apart from being an outlet for some books on baptism – three written and more in the pipe-line - it aims to fill some other gaps in the market. The main aim is to produce some serious theological, biblical and historical material in a clear, concise, easy read style, in a maximum of 48 pages and which can be purchased for the price of a cup of coffee. In due course, there will also be one or two classic reprints with new introductions, and a couple of humorous items (to give me a bit of light relief). However, we will endeavour to have the ‘and now for something completely different’ principle permeating all of them.
Fresh Approaches to Baptism looks at the Old Testament, the Intertestamental period, the Greek background and of course John the Baptist. Taking the Lid off Re-Baptism approaches the subject through case histories of people who have been re-baptised, and Why Evangelical Anglicans Should Not Baptise Babies challenges from the basis of the Church of England’s own history and website declarations. Understanding God’s New Covenant in Jesus Christ re-states the new covenant for the average reader. All books can be read free or purchased online at unboring.network or bought from Christian bookshops.
Paul Goodliff has commented on Understanding God’s New Covenant.
“Well written, with an easy and clear style. I’d expect nothing less from Joe Story. This is a key theological concept — and Joe writes about it very well.”
And John Colwell writes:
“I’ve now read all of the booklets and enjoyed them immensely. Joe’s writing style is excellent and this stuff merits a wide circulation. Understanding God’s New Covenant… is one of the best of its kind I’ve ever read. Regarding Why Evangelical Anglicans Should Not Baptise Babies – many books and articles make the case for the baptism of believers and, by implication, the case against the baptism of babies – but I know of no work that takes such pains to draw from Anglican historical arguments and developments and to respond to them so robustly.”
On Why Evangelical Anglicans Should Not Baptise Babies, Andrew Symes, Executive Secretary, Anglican Mainstream, and Chaplain, Gafcon UK writes:
"Joe Story has successfully distilled a complex history and a wide variety of current thinking and practice on baptism into an excellent booklet, which is sharp and thoughtful, and accessible to the non-specialist. He critiques the Church of England's official policy on welcoming families and baptising babies, and questions the various justifications offered by evangelical Anglicans for their infant baptism practice. His friendly and gentle challenge to clearer thinking on this issue deserves to be widely read."
Although many, like my colleague, may feel baptism is dead in the water (if you’ll excuse the expression) even at the end of the 19th century, Bishop Westcott was suggesting the next major issue on the agenda would be baptism. Perhaps he was right; just a 120 years ahead of his time.
Joe Story launched the Unboring Book Company in September. Find out more and discover his books at unboring.network
Joe retired as minister of Church on the Heath, Kings Church Baptist Church in 2016
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