4 Stars Out Of 5
July 13, 2012
Grace for Sinners
After requesting this book, I felt intimidated. I haven't done much reading about the sacraments but the small amount of reading I had done was surrounding standard Protestant practice. After learning more about this book, I realized it was a survey of the development of sacrament theology from the early church fathers to modern church. I wasn't sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised.
I often have said that one of the underlying issues facing evangelicalism today is a lack of historical perspective. Many evangelicals do not know from whence they came. They are not familiar with common development of key doctrines or heresies. This fact can be seen in the way wider evangelicalism rehashes the mistakes of our past. Johnson quotes Roman Catholic scholar Robert Taft who rightly remarks,
As a historian of Christian liturgical traditions, it is my unshakeable conviction that a tradition can be understood only genetically, with reference to its origins and evolution. Those ignorant of history are prisoners of the latest cliche, for they have nothing against which to test it. (p. x)
Johnson goes on to say,
Recent developments in Christian worship around the world, for example, the increasing phenomenon of megachurches, the church growth movement, the development of "seeker services," and the increasing notion across ecclesial lines that the church's liturgy is but "one" of several options for "worship," challenge the historic priority of sacramental worship. What appears to be at stake in this, I would submit, is a particular theological understanding of how God is believed to act in the world and church.
That is, the classic sacramental-liturgical tradition claims that God acts primarily vis-Ã -vis creation and humanity through means, instruments, and mediation, in ways that are described as both incarnational and sacramental. So the theologian, grounded in and formed by what today might be called the ecumenical-liturgical-sacramental tradition, can no more view that foundational understanding of how God is believed to act as one "option" among several than she or he can fly in the face of canon, creed, and confession without thereby denying his or her own identity and separating himself or herself from the historic orthodox Christian faith. (p. xiii)
Also, the point was made that our theology developed from our worship. So as the church baptized people in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit and the trinity came under attack we responded because our practice had already been proclaiming this truth for centuries.
Especially with regard to the challenges of doctrinal heresy, Christian worship was not only formed by, but also helped in forming, orthodox Christian teaching. Orthodox Trinitarian and christological doctrine developed, in part at least, from the church at prayer, as the baptismal-creedal profession of faith gave rise to the "official" creeds themselves, as prayer to Christ contributed to understanding his homoousios with the Father, as the Holy Spirit's "divine" role in baptism shaped the theology of the Spirit's divinity (xiv)
I will grant that this as long as our practice is rooted in Scripture.
The format is straightforward. Each chapter starts with a brief survey of the topic at hand and then Johnson moves us through the history of that particular teaching from the early church, medieval church, reformation, counter Catholic reformation, and modern thought. This format lends itself to easily accessing any of the section independently by topic or period.
My family history is rooted in Roman Catholicism. Both sides of my family are primarily Roman Catholic even if nominally so. I was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church but within two years my parents became Christian and turned their back on the church. I have not however taken much time to read up on Roman Catholic theology. I know some basics but I haven't spent a lot of time studying it.
Sacraments and Worship provides a nice summary of the development of Catholic thought on their sacraments. And I now feel like I have working understanding of Roman Catholic thought on the sacraments. For those with an interest in Roman Catholic, early church, or Reformation theology this book would be an easy to use and invaluable reference guide.
A free copy of this book was provided by Westminster / John Knox. If you plan on purchasing this book, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by using these links to purchase from here.