Christian Sacraments in a Postmodern World: A Theology for the Third Millennium by Kenan B. Osborne

(Paulist Press; NY, 1999)

I liked this guy’s methodology in developing a theology of worship in a postmodern cultural context.


1. Biblical Data – Sola Scriptura  (Not just a Reformation principle.)

2.  Seven Ritual Sacraments  (i.e. Take the whole Christian tradition as our heritage not just from sixteenth century onwards.)

3.  The History of the Sacraments  (The Modern period’s drive for accurate historical knowledge has led to unprecedented access to primary sources.)

4.  Jesus is the Primordial Sacrament and The Church is the Foundational Sacrament  (Salvation in Christ alone.)

5.  A Critique of the Onto-Theological Presuppositions of Classical Sacramental Theology and an overcoming of Onto-Theological Thought  (The connection between the ‘sign’ and it’s real referent (that which the sign refers too) is way more complex than Western Thought has previously allowed.)  If this technical language means something to you and you want to read more, check out Louis-Marie Chauvet’s postmodern critique of Thomistic Theology. Here’s a review of Chauvet’s book on the Sacraments.

6.  The Sacramentality of the Universe  (Symbolic meaning is central to understanding all language and experience.)

In the book’s conclusion he writes…

“To invoke the issues of ‘divine revelation’ or of ‘divine authority’ avoids the very challenge [of subjectivity] itself and misses the precise area of the challenge.  Postmodern thinkers in large measure do not focus on the divine aspect, the God aspect.  Rather, there is a clear focus on human receptivity, human intellection, and human communicativeness.  Theological and magisterial sacramental statements, on every level, have been made within a certain episteme.  What is challenged today is the episteme that was used and is still being used in the formulation of such theological and magisterial statements.

“In contemporary theology and magisterial statements, as we have seen, a sacramental action or event is primarily a self-disclosure of God and secondarily a human response.  When this understanding of sacramentality is taken as the basis of sacramental discourse – that God alone is the source and goal of all liturgy – then, subjectivity, individuality, temporality, and language are involved.  God is disclosing God’s own self to a subjective human individual within the coordinates of a given time-space continuum and through a linguistic communication.  This theological change from propositional revelation to personalist revelation is helped strongly by postmodern hermeneutical discussion.  Retention of an outdated hermeneutic – the hermeneutic of scholasticism, neo-scholasticism, or transcendental Thomism – can only end in hermeneutical disaster.”

My ‘take away’ challenge – let’s be clearer about what is human and what is divine, lest we worship a god in our own image.

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