DEEPER WITH GOD THROUGH A SACRAMENTAL WORLD
In Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, Robert Webber explores how some in the free church tradition desire a more sacramental faith and can find an answer to this longing in the liturgical church, specifically in Anglicanism (Webber, 2012). As a former Baptist, Webber admits to a previous skepticism that rejected sacramentalism as mere superstition. However, as he began to see the spiritual potential of sacramentalism, he also found himself discontent with the Baptist tradition leading to what Webber considered an inevitable choice: Baptist ecclesiology or the sacramental. He chose the sacramental.
Webber is not alone in leaving his Baptist affiliation in favor of a sacramental faith. This familiar story leads to a simple yet fundamentally important question confronting Baptists. Does one have to abandon Baptist identity to accept sacramentalism? Recent scholarship on this topic by scholars like Anthony Cross and Philip Thompson indicates there is space for Christians to be both Baptist and sacramental (Baptist Sacramentalism, 2006). There are several methods that can support this conclusion, and one of these is through recovering sacramentalism by looking back to its origins in the writings of Augustine. Through a retrieval of Augustine’s sacramental theology regarding things and signs, Baptists can utilize his sacramental understanding to cultivate a more profound love of God and find spiritual aids to help through life without convictional or denominational compromise.
This paper sketches a basic view of sacramental thought in current Baptist scholarship by considering recent essays calling for greater sacramental openness, while noting criticism which they have received. It then examines the sacramental writings of Augustine through an analysis of res (things) and signum (signs) in De doctrina christiana. Finally, this paper seeks to use Augustine’s sacramental theology to encourage Baptists to consider the sacramental potentiality of creation.