The practice of the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist allow Christians to read Scripture in the context of the church and in unity with the Trinity. Charles Meeks argues here, however, that over the centuries since the Reformation, Protestant expressions of the church have often allowed the sacraments to assume a minor role that has led to a weakening of Protestant ecclesiology and a disconnection of these ancient rituals from the gospel. To unpack this reality, Meeks relies on the work of fourth-century bishop Hilary of Poitiers and modern theologian Robert W. Jenson to examine the relationship between the sacraments and Scripture, the Trinity, and the church. With Hilary, he retrieves a hermeneutic that starts from the interdependence of the sacraments with all aspects of Christian life, especially the way one reads Scripture, formulates theology, and understands what the church is and is not. With Jenson, Meeks applies this hermeneutic to the modern church in an appeal to recover a premodern sense of God’s relationship to time, and thus how the church relates to God through Word and Sacrament.
Charles Meeks is adjunct professor of theology at Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, NY.
Chapter 1: Why We Need the Sacraments, and How Hilary and Jenson Help Us
Chapter 2: How Did We Protestants Get Here?
Chapter 3: The Sacraments and Scripture
Chapter 4: The Sacraments and the Trinity
Chapter 5: The Sacraments and the Church
Chapter 6: The Theological Path Back to the Table and the Font
This book shows what would happen if Protestants were more true to their founding spirit, thinking word and sacrament together. Charles Meeks allows a constructive dialogue between Hilary and Jenson to emerge, uncovering the basis for a renewed sacramental grammar located in the body of Christ. He shows that Protestants may have something to gain by intensifying the identity between Christ and the church. In a creative reading of Jenson and Hilary together, he grounds sacramental thought in hermeneutics, and vice versa. Indeed, in taking the sacraments more seriously, one might become more profoundly Protestant.
Whatever else it is, theology, for Christians, is a conversation between friends about Jesus. The theologian’s job is to welcome us into that long, lively back-and-forth, to give us a seat at the table, introducing us to friends of Jesus we’ve never met or not known well who in turn share stories about Jesus we’ve either never heard or always misunderstood. Meeks, thankfully, is an excellent host. And in the heat of the exchange he provokes, we (Protestants, in particular, but not only Protestants by any means) have the chance to learn how we’ve misjudged Jesus, mistaken his intentions, and neglected his gifts, largely because we've underestimated his strange delight in us and his devotion to our good.
For those Free church Protestants who have always placed a high value on Scripture, Meeks provides the encouragement to see Scripture as fundamentally joined to the sacraments as an indelible part of the church’s life. His argument is informed and persuasive.