I had an extra spring in my step while walking to school this past May. Christian hip-hop artist FLAME’s newest album, Word and Water, had just dropped at the end of April, and I couldn’t wait to share it with my students. I am not an expert on rap or hip hop, but as a high school theology teacher, the content of FLAME’s latest offering is almost custom-made for my students. In 12 tracks, Word and Water dissects the gospel gift of baptism – a topic many of my students are not well versed in – clearly and compellingly.
Since I’m not an expert, I asked my students about the album, and regardless of their faith background, they found the beats and rhythms very enjoyable. I even asked Charles, a rapper in his own right, to listen through the entire album as we discussed the musicality and the theology. He was blown away by both the quality of the songs and the skillfully laid-out arguments. We even dug through the Bible, the Lutheran hymnal, and Luther’s Small Catechism – all resources FLAME relied on while creating the album – to pick apart the lyrics. It was wonderful to see the light bulb go off for Charles as we looked at Scripture and FLAME’s lyrics. FLAME uses Scripture and church history to argue that baptism is a gospel gift, not our work. I was able to sit down with FLAME to ask him more about his latest album: Word and Water.
Sarah: How did this project get started?
FLAME: Word and Water is part of a series. I wanted to bring clarity in the same way that I was brought clarity about some of the difficult spaces in Christianity. I’m slowly unpacking reformational ideas that really serve the church. The first project was Extra Nos, which is just a Latin phrase that means outside of us. The second was Christ For You, unpacking the Lord’s Supper. The latest installment, Word and Water, is unpacking baptism. I want people to lean in on the grace, the goodness, and the sweetness of God’s message for us.
Sarah: The title Word and Water grabbed my attention. As a Lutheran, when I talk about baptism, I’m always thinking, “water and the word.” Did you intentionally flip the phrase?
FLAME: Absolutely. I knew it would be a challenge for people like myself, who did not come up in the Lutheran framework of thinking, to think that we are highlighting water or that we are saying that there’s some type of magic or spiritual properties in the water itself. I wanted to remove that barrier and say, “this is founded upon God’s word in connection to the earthly element, which is the water.” I assumed the questions and pushback in advance and made a title that was fitting for the sake of clarity.
Sarah: Your first track was a hymn, God’s Own Child I’ll Gladly Say it, LSB 594. How does this baptismal hymn help us understand that baptism is a gift that even children can receive? Why is this biblical view so difficult to grasp?
FLAME: It’s so weighty! In the generic American church, we think about baptism as an outward sign of an inward change or an outward sign of inward grace. We’ve been coached into thinking about baptism as something that we do to demonstrate our commitment to God. With those ideas in mind, you cannot have a place in your thinking for infants because cognitively and mentally, they’re not even functioning as an adult. That’s the way we have it framed in our thinking.
We’ve been coached into thinking about baptism as something that we do to demonstrate our commitment to God.
Reapproaching the Scriptures is not only a mental exercise; it’s an emotional exercise. People feel like they’re turning on what their family or pastor told them. It feels like a betrayal. So there’s a psychological component to it that you have to overcome.
My challenge to people is to be aware of the process. It will be very difficult and mentally taxing. It can even feel spooky. You might ask yourself, “Am I being tricked or deceived?” Don’t let it hinder you from seeing what God’s word has to say on the subject.
That was my experience. I went through all those emotions. I even prayed, “Lord, am I a part of a cult? Am I being deceived?” I was literally so nervous. I was scared because it was so foreign to me. But once I gave myself permission to simply look at the Bible passages on baptism, it helped. Get a concordance, find all the Scriptures on baptism, and then read them. And that’s what I did. The concordance is a great tool. If you want to know what baptism is, see what the Bible says on baptism.
In Acts 22, we see Saul converted to Christianity, and his name was changed to Paul. Jesus told him to go and to be washed for the forgiveness of his sins. It is all over the Scriptures. When you look at the text on baptism and as it relates to infants, infants can have faith. I would invite anyone to go read Psalm 22. I would invite anyone to read Psalm 71. You’ll see specifically where it says that David was given faith at his mother’s breast. He had received faith even before he was born. The Scripture says that God had given him that gift in the womb. And then you skip to the New Testament. You see John the Baptist leap in the womb with the Holy Spirit.
There is much biblical precedent for realizing that infants can have faith. And if no one highlights those texts for us, we’re going to go with pop culture or handed down tradition about baptism, as opposed to seeing what the Bible actually says about this gift of faith that God gives infants.
We’re going to see that the work of baptism is God’s work. We’re going to see that God uses physical means. He uses water, regular water, and he couples it with his promise to save.
When those two things are joined together, the earthly element and God’s promise, it’s a sacrament. Can we have God’s word without the sacraments? Yes, but God gave us baptism for a special reason, to assure us.
We have five senses, and sometimes we need these touch points of comfort and assurance.
Sarah: That is so comforting! This teaching comes from Scripture, not from you or me. When we try to take this gift and use our logic and reasoning to make sense of it apart from Scripture, we fall into some problems, right?
FLAME: Luther helped us understand that we have to use logic and reason as a servant, not a master. If you’re placing all the weight on what makes the most sense, you’re going to get yourself into a lot of trouble. You’ll find that those are the arguments people use against Christianity in general, they say, “How can there be a God?” They’re being led by logic and reason as a master.
Luther helped us understand that we have to use logic and reason as a servant, not a master.
Logic and reason are a gift from God that we use to make sense of things. When Scripture conflicts with what makes sense, we must humble ourselves and embrace what’s revealed.
Think of something like a Virgin birth. Logic would demand that we not accept that, but the Scripture confesses it. So here we say, “All right, logic, you’ve done your job here; you must bow your knee.” That’s a helpful principle to keep in mind as you process these things.
Sarah: Word and Water does a job of showing how this concept of baptism as a gift is not a new idea in church. How did digging deep into church history help with your understanding of baptism?
FLAME: Church history was one of the things that really helped part of my skepticism. I wondered, “Is this a novel idea that Lutherans have come up with?” And as I traced this, not only in the Scriptures, I was able to trace it through those who were closer to Jesus himself. And that was important to me.
It wasn’t too far removed from Jesus himself that we had people writing about baptism as a means of grace to bring people into the faith, to keep them into faith, and to see them safely home. So when I tracked it down through church history, I said, “I have to contend with this. I can’t ignore it.”