Passage into Discipleship -- Review

Passage into Discipleship: Guide to BaptismPASSAGE INTO DISCIPLESHIP: Guide to Baptism.  By Christopher W. Wilson.  St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2009.  vi + 105 pp.

    Baptism is an important rite of passage in the life of a Christian, although for some traditions this happens long before the recipient of water is able to own the rite.  In those traditions that practice infant baptism, parents and sponsors promise to help the child grow into being a member of the community of faith.  This usually happens during a rite called confirmation.  Other traditions, including mine, apply the water at a moment in which a person is able to make a profession of faith.  This was once called adult baptism, but the age at which a person is baptized in believer traditions has gotten increasingly younger – generally in late elementary and junior high age rages.    
    Whatever the age one is baptized or confirmed (in some ways, the question has to do with when do we apply the water?) , there needs to be instruction in the faith.  Christopher W. Wilson, Executive Pastor of Rush Creek Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Arlington, Texas, provides just such a resource.  Published recently by Chalice Press, Passage into Discipleship is a one-book-resource and guide for baptismal instruction of young people ages seven to 14. 

    The book provides for a twelve-session series for young people, seven of these, including an orientation session at the beginning and one focusing on the nature of the church, involve classroom-related activities, and the other five are experiential.  At the end of the sessions, the author suggests a day long retreat to draw things together.

    The series focuses on confession, contrition, covenant, community, connection, and church.  The first section, confession, focuses on providing a theological foundation for Christian faith – in the experiential component Wilson suggests a field trip – first to a rather remote spot where the young people shout out something they like to do and then a phrase from the confessional sheets provided in the classroom setting.  Then, they’re supposed to go to a more populated spot and do the same – whether you can get young people to do this, is an interesting question.  From confession, we go to contrition, which involves a conversation about sin and  repentance as a step toward faithfulness.  Covenant plays a role, perhaps in part because the term is central to Disciple self identity.  Being that we’re a non-creedal and non-hierarchical community, covenant becomes the means by which we connect with God and with each other.  It is here that the baptismal issues are discussed as well.   In the experiential session, the students recreate the Upper Room so as to get a sense of the context of the Last Supper.  From there they move onto a conversation about community, and in the experiential component the young people are invited to share in a community improvement project.  Sessions 10 and 11 focus on connection, with special attention given to spiritual gifts and the role they play in one’s service in and through the church.

    The final class session focuses on the church, and here the focus is on understanding the specific identity of the denominational tradition, and one’s place within it.  Materials in the book focus on Disciples life, but the author suggests that one can adapt quite easily for other traditions.  It is really only in this final session that the Disciple component stands out.  Otherwise it’s quite ecumenical and adaptable to any tradition – including those that practice infant baptism. 

    The author suggests the use of mentors for the candidates for baptism, and offers guidelines as to how these should be selected and how they should operate in the process.  He makes it clear that some thought should be given to this, including background checks.  He also suggests that same-gender mentors by chosen, and that meetings should take place in public.  All of which is good advice for all activities that involve children.

    At the top I mentioned that this is a one-book resource guide to baptism.  That is, the written resources for class discussions and activities are found in the appendices at the end of the book.  These can be copied and used freely.  Other items one can find easily at hand.  That means that there is no need for more than one book. 
    As a reviewer, I don’t currently have the opportunity to test the materials – I don’t have any baptism ready children to take through the process.  But, it does look like it would work well, especially in settings where you have a number of children involved. 

    One thing I do watch for in resources such as this, is the ideological/theological bent.  As I read through the resource, my sense is that the author is very centrist/moderate in theology.  At points, especially in the section on contrition you see a more evangelical slant present.  Then, in the section on connection it’s suggested that the leader read the students a brief book by Max Lucado, an evangelically inclined Church of Christ pastor.  But, there are other sections, especially regarding community that point children toward concern for social justice outreach.  If you’re looking for a specifically progressive resource, this might not fit the bill.  But, if you’re looking for something quite centrist and moderate, something that can be adapted to one’s own needs, then this looks like a good piece. 


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