After my post yesterday, I realized that I probably left the impression that Christians today are bereft of the theological resources they need. This is certainly not the case and of course I am not the only one talking about this. In fact, even though many of cradle evangelicals in America are looking for deeper roots (or, maybe cooler aesthetics) in liturgical churches, it still seems to me that a lot of evangelical churches still aren't aware of those resources or aren't interested (great reflection/diagnosis HERE). I think part of this has to do with a residue of Anti-Catholicism, but even without that, evangelicals tend to disdain "ritualism" and associate "required" Christian practices with "legalism" and "works-righteousness" even though many of their historical heroes did not feel this way. Methodist minister Gregory S. Neal has pointed out that: "In general, Methodists – like many other catholic Christians – affirm that God's grace comes to us through instrumental means; Baptists, on the other hand, tend to affirm that God's grace is either neutral toward instrumental means, or entirely independent from them." And, I personally feel that this Baptist theological distinctive is pervasive well beyond those churches that call themselves Baptist.
So, let me briefly sketch a sacramental theology of the "in-between" and then suggest some resources for further reading. Briefly, let me describe what I am calling a "theology of the in-between": recognizing or bestowing a level of sacredness or "God-presentness" on some moments, places, and objects in-between the individualistic personal encounter with God and the grand awareness of God's presence everywhere, making all creation sacred.
Two biblical principles for a theology of the in-between:
1. incarnation - the 2nd person of the Trinity becomes local, locatable, singularly present in space and time, finite and material in Jesus Christ
2. election - throughout the Bible, God chooses and uses certain places, times, material objects to reveal Himself and manifest his redemption in unique ways, thereby not choosing all times, places, objects and locations in the same way (though certainly God was and is present in all times, places and material objects in other ways).
The Christian theology of the communally practiced sacraments flows out of the perception that Jesus, in his own election of certain times, places and material objects, for use in his ministry and/or the ministry of his followers, has gifted the repetition of these practices to the church.
Resources for further inquiry (besides the links above):
Anabaptist Liturgy: Sacramental Theology by Michelle Ferguson
Mark Galli, Beyond Smells and Bells - there's a nice pdf of the intro HERE
Biola Center for Christian Thought has some great resources HERE. I especially like Reformed philosopher James K.A. Smith's work on "Cultural Liturgies" as it relates to sacramental practice.
For a clearly articulated statement/defense of Catholic sacramentalism read Alan Schreck's book Catholic and Christian.
And yet, I can't resist 1950s style religious-education images. Its my quirky sense of humor. Sorry. Sort of.