christianity culture philosophy theology


I have a serious looking book by a serious theologian on sacramental theology that has been sitting on my bookshelf for months.  I must have a look at it.   I only say this to start this point with a humbling admission that I have next to no experience of sacramental things.  Or perhaps maybe we all have more than we think?

The word ‘sacrament’ refers to a ‘-ment’ (“the result or product of the action“) of the ‘sacred’, just as an ‘achievement’ is the ‘-ment’ of ‘achieving’.  Wright defines the sacraments (Eucharist, Baptism, etc.) as:

…those occasions when the life of heaven intersects mysteriously with the life of earth, not so that the earth can control or manipulate heaven (that would be magic, not faith) but so that the story of heaven may become concrete, physical reality within the life of earth, catching up human beings within a world where all sorts of things make sense that don’t otherwise, and all sorts of things that might have appeared to make sense do so no longer. (After You Believe (U.K. title ‘Virtue Reborn’), p. 223.

All kinds of conversations come rushing into play here – or put the other way ’round, all sorts of tangents can be taken here.  But to tie it back to my opening thoughts, it occurs to me that there are competing forms of sacramentality.  There are various kinds of ‘heaven’ that are trying to achieve ‘-ments’ of their own particular kind of ‘sacred’.  For the Coca-cola corporation, purchasing and consuming one of their beverages is a sacramental act.  To use Wright’s language, Coca-cola’s ‘story of heaven’ finds concrete, physical expression when a Coke is sold and savoured.  Those who deny any kind of ‘heaven’ at all still have narratives about ultimate reality (or worldview stories) which find sacramental expression, perhaps in a new scientific discovery or achievement, bringing humanity one step forward (so goes the standard Progressivist Myth) in its march toward ever-increasing reasonableness.

One could multiply examples till the cows come home, using the implicit or explicit worldview-stories of travel agencies, pornographers, booksellers and political parties.  I only wish to focus on two points:

1) We all live sacramentally, so we’re more experienced at it than we may realise.  Indeed, the more subconscious and un-critiqued the assumptions and behaviour, the stronger the hold the ‘story of heaven’ has on you?

2) Christian sacramentality, both affirms and subverts various elements from other stories.  This is what Wright refers to when he talks about some things making sense that didn’t before, and vice versa.  The Christian ‘story of heaven’ is a story about being truly free, so it will subvert any story that enslaves in any way – physically, financially, imaginatively, relationally, psychologically, etc.  Of course, the best way to keep someone enslaved is to keep them from being aware they are enslaved, and whilst the sacraments of these enslaving stories may ‘make sense’ at one level, but the foolish wisdom (1 Corinthians 1) of the Christian story subverts them.  Slavery to Christ is true freedom.