Occasional Thoughts and Links of Interest

Category: Sacramental Word

On Post-Biblical Protestant Evangelicalism, Pt. 2

 

Spectator Worship

Spectator Worship

I posted a brief essay last week focusing on the obvious neglect of the Bible in many contemporary worship services. In that post I made one particular comment that was probably unclear to readers not trained in historical theology. Regarding worship services that fail to engage the Bible in a substantial way, I said:

“It is a problem of a participatory vs. a non-participatory understanding of human nature in relation to God. Classical Trinitarianism (participatory) vs. nominalism (non-participatory). Much contemporary worship seems to be nominalist at its core.”

I’d like to spend some time explaining this statement because it really is at the heart of the problem. My hope with these next few posts is to demonstrate why the current situation is a problem and also what presuppositions lie at the root of this problem. I’ll address the following questions in turn.

1. What does it mean to know God?
2. How does the Bible mediate or facilitate our knowledge of God?
3. How does worship relate to the knowledge of God?
4. What are philosophical univocity and nominalism?
5. How do these philosophical positions influence contemporary Christians, distort our understanding of God and thus our relationship with God?

The Sacramental Word: An Essay Toward the Development of a Doctrine

Introduction

My thesis is simple though two-fold. First, the doctrine of scripture remains surprisingly under-developed in Christian thinking, and while this is especially true in protestant theology, there is work to be done among Roman Catholic and Orthodox scholars as well.[1] Second the classical idea that scripture is sacramental in nature – so much so that it has been referred to as the “Sacramental Word” by reformed, catholic, and orthodox theologians – holds great promise if we want to develop the doctrine of scripture more fully in relation to the Triune God and His economy of grace.

Part I: Evidence of Underdevelopment

Protestant systematic theologians often treat scripture as prolegomena in order to establish its authority before moving on to the truly “synthetic” material. Within this paradigm, the doctrine of scripture is treated as a part of the doctrine of revelation. In the many theology texts that follow this pattern, we find in a treatment of the bible, downloaddiscussions of inspiration, inerrancy, perspicuity, necessity, and sufficiency. Thus, the bible is conceived as a relatively static body of knowledge that has been inspired by God. It contains no errors in its description of God and God’s work. Its meaning is clear, and this given, perfect, clear body of knowledge is entirely necessary for those hoping to know God in order to receive his saving grace. This view is sometimes described as foundationalism, and although I’ve offered a bit of a caricature, the description is not entirely unwarranted.

Within this reigning evangelical paradigm, Holy Scripture is affirmed as God’s Word, and its divine authority is defended with reference to biblical passages. But beyond offering an encyclopedia of proof texts, how exactly does the bible relate to the Triune God? What is it, in other words, in relation to the Triune God and his economy of grace?

Reclaiming Sacred Scripture as Sacred “Script”

images-1Without the printing press, the protestant reformation might never have gotten off the ground – at least not so quickly and with such geographical reach. This observation has been made by many scholars over many years. No doubt, the press helped to disseminate reformation ideas far and wide in a short period of time. Likewise, the ability to mass-produce new bible translations in the languages of ordinary people should be seen as one of the great, positive outcomes of the reformation era. The reformation enabled much higher levels of biblical literacy among some christians and generated a deep and rich tradition of hymnody – perhaps the surest sign of genuine reformation. These aspects of the protestant legacy should, most certainly, be celebrated.

However, the printing press transformed the way christians interact with the bible in other, perhaps more problematic, ways – ways that the original reformers would have never wanted. Namely, prior to the mass-production of bibles beginning in the 15th century, all christians encountered sacred scripture as, first and foremost, a liturgical script. They understood themselves as participants in a great drama authored and directed by the Triune God – the God in whom we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Prior to the printing press, the bible was conceived in sacramental terms – as the very fabric, so to speak, of a sacramental order where God ‘s presence (both his grace and judgment) is mediated by material things.

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