There have been numerous discussions around the blogs of late regarding the authority, inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. I’ve weighed in on plenty of those, but what I really am interested in is constructive theological reflection on a theology of Scripture. This is what I find lacking in so many discussions about the theological nature of the Bible. While the nature of the connection between the biblical text and events to which they refer is incredibly important, it is not by any means the only subject to which a Christian should attend in their attempt to theologically understand the nature of the Bible
In wanting to contribute to that end, I would like to reflect on what it might mean to think of Scripture in a sacramental way. The idea of a sacrament is utterly complex and contested, but I think most Christians can agree that a central aspect of what makes a sacrament is the fact in some way a sacrament mediates the presence of the Triune God. Two aspects are central here, first sacraments are God’s mediated presence. Second, sacraments are God’s mediated presence. The sacraments are in fact a modality of divine action whereby God makes himself present in a way that is mediate rather than im-mediate. As such sacraments are always God’s mode of being present-in-absence.
While churches stemming from the Reformation have always held that it was “Word and Sacrament” which constitutes the church, we shouldn’t take this to mean that the word of God mediated in the Scriptures is fundamentally different than the sacraments. The word of God encountered in Scripture is profoundly sacramental in that it is in and through the viva vox dei which speaks therein that we are confronted with the continuing presence of the ascended Christ. The Spirit, speaking through the Scriptures actually makes Christ present when those Scriptures are read. This is what it means when we say that the Bible ‘becomes’ the word of God. In the reading of the Scriptures, the Spirit mediates the very presence of Christ, the One to whom the Scriptures bear witness. The Bible becomes the word of God when it is read and the presence of Christ is experienced anew by the community of disciples.
Scripture is not, properly speaking the codification of “God’s word” or a narrative of human responses to God in history, though both of these concepts of Scripture are partly right. Rather, Scripture is a mode of God’s sacramental presence to his people through Christ in the Spirit. What is remarkable about this understanding of the Scriptures is the manner in which is holds together the historical and existential. The presence of Christ which is sacramentally mediated by the Spirit through the reading of the scriptures is the same Christ who is witnessed to in the historical narratives of the Bible. The sacramentally mediated Christus praesens (the present Christ) is none other than the man from Nazareth whose story is told in the Bible. A sacramental-historial theology of Scripture neither collapses Jesus into our existential encounter with God nor historicizes Jesus within an inerrant historical account from the past. Rather, the historical and the existential coinhere as the Spirit sacramentally mediates to the church the very same Christ whose story is told in the narrative of Scripture.
I submit that this sacramental-historical view of Scripture is a higher view of Scripture than the liberal view of the Bible as a collection of human experiences of the divine or the fundamentalist view of the Bible as the inerrant codification of God’s words. To understand Scripture as a sacrament is to recognizes its role in the Triune economy of salvation as a medium of God’s presence whereby we are brought, through the Spirit to be re-membered into the history of Jesus and thus to participate in the Triune life. A view such as this recognizes that we cannot countence a formalized notion of the Scriptures, but rather must encounter and understand them as the community of faith which has its being in the economy of the Triune God’s providential and gracious action in creation and redemption.