Posted on January 18th, 2019
Heavenly Participation: The weaving of a sacramental tapestry
by Hans Boersma
In Heavenly Participation, theologian Hans Boersma calls for a “resacramentalized Christian ontology” (20). His aim resonates strongly with Leanne Payne’s work, urging that our whole sense of reality needs to be understood not just as a means of knowing about God, but of knowing His real presence. In part one, Boersma demonstrates how the sacramental understanding of patristic and medieval times was lost to the church through the rise of modernity. He traces the consequences of theological errors, misguided church reforms, and misdirected debates that led to the current, impoverished postmodern mindset. This historical sketch is illuminating, and his work has sharpened my discernment of theological distortions that so readily poison our hearts’ images of God, ourselves, and all reality. I’ll share this insightful quote from part one:
The fragmentation of postmodernity witnesses to the fact that once we lose this Christological foundation, natural realities end up drifting anchorless in the raging waves of history. To put it differently, the loss of the Christological thread undermines the unity of the sacramental tapestry. Culturally, therefore, we are more than ever in need of a philosophical position that allows us to maintain that universals are real, as well as a theological position that argues that they find their reality in the eternal word of God (51).
In part two of Heavenly Participation, Boersma suggests that our theology must once again become Christ-centered in order to recover the knowledge of God with us. Or as he puts it, “A retrieval of the sacramental ontology of the patristic fathers and the Middle Ages requires a focus on Christology in every area of theology” (101). He draws on the mid-twentieth-century Catholic renewal movement of nouvelle théologie in his mission to help evangelical theology recover what we in MPC would call an incarnational worldview. He dedicates chapters to looking at the particular sacramental nature of the Eucharist, Christian tradition, biblical interpretation, truth itself, and theology. There are many beautiful passages I could share, but I’ll choose one that illuminates our understanding of the healing of memories: “Augustine’s concept of time was sacramental: time participatesin the eternity of God’s life, and it is this participation that is able to gather past, present, and future together into one” (126).
I’ll close with gratitude for Dr. Boersma and the true Christian humility that shines through the pages of Heavenly Participation. I believe his work rises to the call that he articulates for our theologians today: Theology is “not there to explain God but to draw us into the very mystery of his life. The modesty that theology needs is the recognition that we cannot rationally comprehend God. Theology is based on mystery and enters into mystery” (26-27). If you are looking for a book that will draw you both thoughtfully and joyfully into the very mystery of God’s life, Heavenly Participationis a most worthwhile read.
Yours in Christ,