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Monday, September 12, 2016

"Sacramental Preaching" (Hans Boersma)

TITLE: Sacramental Preaching: Sermons on the Hidden Presence of Christ
AUTHOR: Hans Boersma
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (240 pages).

What is "sacramental preaching?" It is essentially "incarnational storytelling" or bringing the realities of heaven down to earth; and then pointing to Christ as the greatest reality of life. Preaching Christ is not about imposing or superimposing Christ on everything we read, but finding Christ's presence as much as we can. Sermons are to be preached with a historical awareness; with an interpretive sensitivity to culture; with exegetical diligence; and with an application that moves people toward Christlikeness. Using St Gregory of Nyssa's interpretation of the beatitudes as a springboard, Boersma resisted the temptation to replace the word 'happiness' with 'blessedness', simply because the ancient fathers see a deeper connection between happiness and spirituality, in contrast to modern disdain that tends to dichotomize happiness as worldly and blessedness as more spiritual. By retaining the use of 'happiness,' he is making a statement to reclaim the word back for Christians. Boersma teaches us how to read Scripture through what it means then and now. His rhetorical strategy shows us how to move from sacramental reading to understanding reality in Christ.

The series of sermons are laid out in four parts. Part One is "Sensed Happiness" where the author explores the various human senses of touch, smell, sight, and taste, and relating that to the enjoyment of life in eating, drinking, celebrating, and many other aspects of human life. He argues strongly for the Christological reading in all Old Testament interpretation. In other words, it is to begin with Christ in mind. He uses several passages from Ecclesiastes to highlight the aesthetic and ascetic use of the spiritual senses. In the Song of Solomon, he treads initially on the love relationship between the main characters before proceeding to making applications about union with Christ. Part Two is "Pilgrim Happiness" which looks at our spiritual quest for union with God. The journey motif is strong here, with the Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land; climbing up the hill; and our journey into the presence of God according to Hebrews 3-4. Part Three on "Heavenly Happiness" looks at what it means to arrive at the new heaven and new earth. What are the implications of the resurrection of Jesus? How is heavenly happiness related to Christ-centered living? Part Four on "Unveiled Happiness" reveals a fuller extent of life in Christ in the heavenly realm. He relates Jacob's ladder as a homiletical motif for preaching Christ. He opens up Ezekiel 1's vision of heaven and God's glory using the "wheel in a wheel" relationship between the Old and New Testament. He concludes with 2 Corinthians 3, showing us the continuity between law and grace in Christ.

Author and Professor Hans Boersma has often been asked whether Christians today can read the Bible just like the early church fathers. To what extent can we allegorize what we read? In a nutshell, it is not simply about doing what the early fathers had done. It is also about knowing our audience of today, just like the early fathers had understood about their audiences then. If there is another way to title this book, it would be "Sacramental Presence of Christ" as the author is passionate about beginning with Christ in mind in every sermon, in every passage, and in every application. There will be those who are uncomfortable with this approach because the ancient authors do not necessarily know of Jesus in the manner that we know today. After all, there was no New Testament at that time for them. They can only see through the glass "darkly" but we see face to face. Having said that, modern audiences who have the privilege of having both testaments will have to deal with the responsibility of interpreting it as best as we can, based on what God has revealed to us. It is because of this, I think it is plausible to interpret it like Boersma, to begin with Christ in mind. It is not wrong when it comes to preaching simply because all Christian preaching must have Christ in mind. What we should not do is to presume that the Old Testament authors know Jesus directly. They do not, and many of them only believe in the Messiah by faith.

I really like the "Preacher's Notes" section at the end of each sermon where Boersma spells out in greater detail what he had intended to do with the sermon. This provides powerful insights about the author's approach. This is definitely the part that is worth the price of the book.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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