This past week I finished reading Baptized Into Christ: A Guide to the Christian Life by Jordan Cooper. This is a wonderful little book (only 165 pages) that introduces the basics of Christian theology, Christian identity and living, the sacraments, and liturgical worship. Cooper is a Lutheran pastor in Illinois, so naturally he writes from the Lutheran perspective, but I’m of the opinion that readers from any Protestant tradition will find this book as helpful and encouraging as I did. Overall it is simple, yet well-written, and accessible to the average layperson or new Christian. Cooper does a great job of introducing bits of church history as well as fundamental Christian dogmas, so while the advanced student of the theology might find the book too entry-level, those without much theological training won’t be lost in the jargon while reading it.
As the title implies, Cooper frames his discussion on Christian living on the doctrine of baptism. He contrasts the popular view that baptism is an act of human obedience with the Lutheran (and Reformed) view that baptism is primarily God’s work. He says, “The entire life of the Christian is essentially summed up by the act of baptism. Here, God declares you to be righteous in him. He declares that you belong to him and that you are his child.” The rest of this work hinges on this concept that the Christian life is lived out of our baptized identity. While Cooper emphasizes the doctrines of total depravity, and salvation by grace through faith alone, he also teaches the Lutheran doctrine of baptismal regeneration. This is, of course, an area where the Reformed and Lutheran traditions differ, but Cooper doesn’t spend too much time on it here, so neither will I.
Having been declared righteous in Christ, we don’t have to work for our salvation or to please God, but we live in obedience to God. Cooper deftly explains the difference between passive and active righteousness. Passive righteousness is the “righteousness found in God, and is granted as a gift,” while “active righteousness, in contrast defines how we relate to other people.” He makes a clear distinction between the Lutheran and Roman Catholic understandings of righteousness and justification; we are not saved by our active righteousness, but our relationship with the world (coram mundo) flows out of our relationship with God (coram Deo). Cooper emphasizes that though we are totally righteous in Christ, we are not without responsibility in this world, we are not to be lazy Christians, rather, God has called us to serve and be a blessing to our neighbors!
These ideas, Cooper says, help us understand how to live God-honoring lives. He goes to explain purpose of the Law and Gospel in the Christian life, the purpose and work of Christ on earth, and the basics of sanctification. He does, as a good Lutheran, subtly deny the doctrine of limited atonement, but it is so brief a passage I almost missed it. Those interested in the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed positions on the scope of the atonement could check out another of Cooper’s books The Great Divide. But I digress… These three concepts build on our baptismal identity– as baptized believers we are no longer condemned by the Law, but saved by the Gospel; we see that in Christ our sins are paid for, and that by the work of the Holy Spirit we are sanctified and made to be more like Christ. Cooper gives practical wisdom drawn from the doctrine of the mystical union of God and his people, because of this union, we are holy people and should live in such a manner that reflects that reality. Things such as sexual immorality, self-harm, or even struggling with a low view of our bodies, are not reflective of our position in Christ– our union with Christ “should encourage us to refrain from sin in our bodies…. It also gives worth to our bodies.”
Cooper spends a chapter dealing with Christians and politics, another on Christians and their work, or vocations, and the last chapter touches on the topic of liturgy. For the sake of space and time I’ll just briefly touch on this last chapter Liturgical Life, which is an excellent explanation and defense of liturgical, or what some might consider “high church” worship. He talks about absolution (another practice the Reformed and Lutheran traditions view quite differently), the Lord’s Supper, and the church calendar. Those Reformed believers who hold to the Regulative Principle of Worship with a death-grip will most likely find this chapter the most difficult to agree with, some may even be repulsed by it, but those who hold the RPW more loosely will probably enjoy it and appreciate Cooper’s thoughtfulness on the matter. He says, “Through liturgy, we are able to worship together with all of God’s saints, not only in our own congregations, but with all those gathered under the Triune God through this world.” This is, hopefully, something we can all agree with and be encouraged by, regardless of our differences in practice. The necessity of corporate worship has been severely denigrated in our modern context, so much so that many evangelicals don’t find the need to go to church at all, but we are reminded here that we are baptized into a body of believers, we are not meant to do the Christian life alone, nor can we. We are not called to simply worship in whatever manner we choose, all alone, but we are called to gather with the body to worship our holy and Triune God!
Overall, this book is immensely practical– it is a “Guide to the Christian Life,” after all– and Cooper encourages believers in page after page to remember their identity in Christ. When you struggle with sin and temptation, remember your baptism. When you go through trials and suffering, remember your baptism. When you fight battles of doubt or depression, remember your baptism. This is not a high and lofty doctrine for high-minded theologians, this is a teaching for saints in every walk of life– for men and women struggling with addiction, or trying to make ends meet, for upper, middle, and lower class believers, for the Christian of twenty years and the Christian of two days, this doctrine is for all of us. Cooper reminds us that we are saints — holy ones of God — and sinners. Simul justus et peccator. While we struggle against our flesh, and though we sin against God in thought, word, and deed, we are saved by the grace of God, and in our baptism declared righteous before him so that we can truly walk in newness of life.
In conclusion, I commend this book to you. It is easy to read yet tremendously insightful. It serves as a wonderful reminder of who we are, and an easy guide for new believers. You can find Cooper’s book here and I hope you’ll purchase it and support our brother in Christ who labors in the ministry of the Gospel. Now, I’ll leave you with these closing words from this very same book: “May God grant us the grace to remain in this life of faith as we continue to receive his gifts, in light of the promise of eternal life with Christ and his Bride.”