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Saturday, June 2, 2012

"Sacraments and Worship" (Maxwell E. Johnson, ed.)

TITLE: Sacraments and Worship: The Sources of Christian Theology
AUTHOR: Maxwell E. Johnson, editor
PUBLISHER: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, (408 pages).

This book brings together many relevant sources of sacramental-liturgical traditions through the lenses of historical development, liturgical varieties, as well as its theological practices. It is an introduction to liturgy, sacraments, worship, tradition, and the theological nuances of the practice of such. Using lots of primary sources as well as ecumenical influences, Maxwell's primary conviction is that worship that shapes the church and its doctrinal stand, produces sacraments that reflect very much a tradition that results from geographical, historical, and traditional contexts. In other words, there is no single linear development of sacraments of worship. Different forms come out of different contexts, appropriated for the time-frame that let the Word shape the flesh and meaning of worship.

In worship, we understand how heresy is kept at bay, how the faith is defended and affirmed, how doctrines are shaped, and how orthodoxy and orthopraxy is done. This in turn "form people into believers and disciples." Written in seven parts, Maxwell brings together materials and resources about the meaning of sacraments, liturgical theology, rites, the Eucharist, the Word, penance, reconciliation, marriage, baptism, and even time. Each topic comes with a rich historical spread and traditions.

Part One lists some of the understanding of sacraments from the early theologians in the first 1500 years like Augustine, Hugh of St Victor, Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, and others. From the Reformation time, there is Martin Luther, the Augsburg Confession, Zwingli, Calvin, and several Catholic Reformation scholars. This is followed by the Puritan and modern era, with key figures like Edward Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner, Immanuel Kant, and James F. White among others. Key to understanding the movement through the centuries is to see the primary thrust of the Word gets continually incarnated through the sacraments, putting any efficacy or effectiveness of sacraments as a secondary concern.

Part Two talks about the relatively new area called "Liturgical Theology." It begins by stating that liturgical theology is essentially a "theological source of doctrine and faith." It gives a theological statement of the meaning of the sacraments. In the early centuries, liturgical theology is a primary instrument to battle heresy. During the Medieval times, it becomes a way to prevent clerical abuses. The final part about contemporary theologians describes an ecumenical "Who's who" of liturgical theologies. This part is rich with all kinds of perspectives. I am amazed at the many nuances modern theologians are able to come up with. It ends with a profound statement of how "worship makes us."

Part Three dives into the intricacies of sacraments and rites of initiation. Adopting the three era framework again, (the Early, the Medieval, the Modern), Maxwell compiles sources that describe rites such as baptism, the Eucharist, and ministry in the Church, like Confirmation.

Part Four is a dedicated portion to the Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper. It is called the "culmination" of rites and sacrament. It describes vividly the different views and why it comes to be held by their proponents. The history of the progression of eucharistic thought is a worthwhile read.

Part Five shines light on the way the Word has been used in worship. It describes the reverence and the detailed rituals that incarnates the Word into the worship structure. Through reading, singing, meditating, contemplating, preaching and proclamation of the Word, there is a clear call for renewed and refreshed emphasis on the Word in every era.

Part Six deals with the other four rites like penance, anointing of the sick, marriage and ordination. Offered more for completeness rather than a necessary part of sacraments in any one tradition, here we read of how intent the early Church fathers, the medieval theologians and leaders in shaping theology and doctrines through rites and sacraments.

Part Seven is an interesting portion about time. It is perhaps the most personal or devotional part in this book. There are teachings surrounding daily prayers, the annual liturgical calendar, and how increasingly privatized worship has become, moving from the old to the new age.

My Thoughts

Reading through the volume gives me a sense of how our worship and our view of the sacraments have changed over the years. In the first 1000 years, we read about how the early Church leaders battle false teachings, and as a result, instituted detailed teachings and meticulous rites to ensure that believers know what to believe and how to believe. In the Medieval period, the shifts move from external threats to internet threats like inner corruption, power abuses, and clerical disunity that leads to the Reformation both in the Protestant as well as Catholic churches. In the Modern era, there is a visible spawning and openness to multiple types of faith traditions. Moving from persecution of the Early Church, oppression by heretics, from repression in the middle ages to expression in the modern era, this book is a fascinating first hand look at the way sacraments and worship is practiced as a result of incarnating the Word according to the period's contexts. As a reference, this book is useful for teachers and students to refer back frequently when teaching about history, theology, the sacraments, and the very important area of worship. As a guide for the weekly Church service, this book can point readers to appreciate the deeper meaning behind our oft taken for granted rites. For the general layperson, this book may seem daunting at first, but if one is patient enough to appreciate the three era movement, one goes away feeling a sense of gratitude and appreciation for what our forefathers have done. In addition, readers will give thanks for Maxwell's efforts to bring together many different sources, many of them not easily accessed by the novice.

This is one of the best resources for worship and understanding the meaning behind our sacraments.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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