Sacramental Ontology

Materialism cannot explain the human person, and I suspect that it never will unless an extremely reductionist view of the human person becomes standard issue.

But what if materialism is equally incapable of fully explaining (choose one) matter/nature/creation? What if we need a sacramental ontology of creation?

A sacramental ontology was once assumed by virtually all Christians, says Evangelical Theologian Hans Boersma, both by book and in the current Mars Hill Audio Journal (links you to the site, but audio requires subscription). All things find their reality and identity in the eternal word of God, the Logos who became flesh to reconcile all things.

Much of Western Christianity now shares the assumption that there are barriers between heaven and earth, between the supernatural and the natural, between God and creation. The world, in effect, was independent (once the “watchmaker” had finished and wound it up), worked just fine, and was of no particular, Incarnation-prompting interest to God, until sin messed it up, and that’s why God is sort of interested now. Were it not for sin, God and creation could go their respective ways again.

[Between the writing of the preceding paragraph and its publication, I realized via a podcast (that’s how I multitask on bike rides) that the falsehood that the world is fundamentally independent of God is an echo of the primordial sin, into which the serpent tempted Eve with the the promise that she would be like God — and have no further need of Him.]

Mars Hill’s Ken Myers and Boersma acknowledge that they’re exploring a different, and historic Christian view, as they must since they’re exploring patristic writings and finding the “sacramental ontology” there.

Boersma is part of a movement of Nouvelle Théologie, which like neo-Orthodoxy before it is grasping for something its proponents sense has been lost.

This is a hopeful sign, as is Rob Bell’s questioning, in Love Wins, of whether a Hell to which an angry God consigns people who’ve never uttered the prescribed pieties, is really quite so central as Evangelicalism has “traditionally” held.

Such dabblers or deep diggers into Patristics may some day realize that they’re not discovering something that’s been lost or suppressed in Christianity, but merely discovering something that was lost in the portion of Christendom that drank deeply at Enlightenment wells and thus entered into a sort of thralldom. That’s why there are knowing winks among Orthodox (and probably Catholic) former Evangelicals when they hear that Wheaton College has opened a Patristics center. We know what tends to happen when people get deep in history.

Moliere’s Monsieur Jourdain famously discovered that he had been speaking prose all his life without knowing it. The late Church History titan, Jaroslav Pelikan, entering Holy Orthodoxy in the last decades of his life, acknowledged that (through his deep steeping in Church history) he had been thinking Orthodoxly for decades already.

Is Hans Boersma or Ken Myers next? Has Myers already made the move, but stayed with Mars Hill Audio’s format to serve as a bridge for others?

Meanwhile, I’ve got another book on my wish list, with a Kindle sample downloaded to whet my appetite.

4 thoughts on “Sacramental Ontology

  1. Your reference to “the world,” reminded me of some issues raised by Mark Twain in his short story, “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven.” Earth is such a miniscule part of the universe, do you think it is of special importance to God?

    In Captain Stormfield’s case, he ends up arriving at Heaven by the wrong gate and has a good deal of difficulty communicating to the bureaucracy where he’s from; when he references the world that Jesus came to save, that was of no help at all since there were so many.'s_Visit_to_Heaven

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