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Holly Bird speaks to Tim Chester

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are more than just water, bread and wine, they are God’s promises to us in physical form. What is happening when someone passes through the waters of baptism? What’s the significance of eating bread and drinking wine together as a church on Sunday mornings? What’s the point of these physical substances? Tim Chester guides us through the Bible, explaining how the sacraments, embodying the promises of God in physical form, were given to us to strengthen our faith and shape our lives.

What was your purpose and motivation for writing Truth We Can Touch?

My primary concern was to explore how baptism and Communion shape our everyday lives as Christians. I think we can all too easily see the sacraments as peripheral, perhaps even optional. But they are gifts from Christ for His Church and I want readers to appreciate their power to nurture our faith.

What made the gifts of the Last Supper and baptism stand out to you as topics to write about?

The main things I wanted to think through were how the sacraments shape our shared life as local churches and how they form part of our discipleship. But I was also interested in their physicality. Why water, bread and wine? Why did Jesus say, ‘Do this in remembrance of me?’ and not ‘Think this …’ or ‘Say this …’? I was interested in the way the sacraments embody the promise, grace and presence of Christ.

What initially sparked your interest in the sacraments?

I’ve been working on these themes for over a decade now so it’s hard to remember where it all started! I think it was a recognition that many of my congregation didn’t really know what to make of the Lord’s Supper. Then I noticed how the New Testament writers often refer their readers back to their baptism – something I rarely did. The apostles clearly intended baptism and communion to shape the identity of Christians. I wanted to articulate this in a way that helped church leaders and church members fully appreciate the value of the sacraments.

What are the most common misconceptions about baptism and Holy Communion?

Many Christians see the sacraments only as memorials that don’t really ‘do’ anything other than prompt our thoughts. Others invest them with almost magical properties. Perhaps the majority of Christians are put off by these debates and choose instead to steer clear of ‘controversial matters’. But I fear that as a result we miss out in a big way. I want to explain in a Bible-based, gospel-centred way what is happening when someone is baptised and when we take Communion. What do you feel has shaped modern views of the Sacraments? The debates of the 16th-century Reformation continue to haunt us in many ways. As a result, we’re often so concerned to say what the sacraments do not do that we never really say what they do actually do. The second big factor is the Enlightenment – the intellectual movement that still dominates the modern world. The Enlightenment enthroned human reason. What matters is what I think, so the action that matters takes place in my mind. This makes it hard for us to see meaning in physical objects – like water, bread and wine.

In what way do you hope this book will impact the faith of its readers?

I would love it if readers came to appreciate baptism and Communion more. I want people to see themselves as baptised people and for this identity to shape their lives. And I want people to understand what happens in Communion so they receive grace from Christ and encounter Him in a personal, dynamic way as they eat together.

Would you describe Truth We Can Touch as an academic book or one all Christians should read and in particular those thinking of baptism?

Whenever I write, the people I’m ‘talking’ to in my head are the members of my congregation. So I’ve written with all Christians in mind. But I’ve also had in mind other pastors who want a clearer sense of how the sacraments can shape the lives of their congregations.

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Truth We Can Touch (Paperback)
Chester, Tim
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