Book Review: Sacramental Life
Author: David A. DeSilva
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830835188
This is a book I continue to go back to again and again. My most recent foray into the Sacramental Life has lasted for over two months. I like to keep certain books on my desktop not only for reading and for reflection over their contents, but just seeing them serves as a reminder of what I’ve read from them. This is one of those “certain” books. I like to be reminded that life is sacramental; I need to be reminded that life is sacramental, and David deSilva’s writing in this work are very helpful reminders for me.
Sacramental Life uses the liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer as the framework for deSilva’s exegesis and exposition on these four sacramental acts (Baptism, Eucharist, Marriage, and Burial). I’m sure there are many Christians unfamiliar with the Book of Common Prayer, especially those Christians who are outside the Protestant tradition and many inside the Protestant tradition who come from non-liturgical denominations. I was only recently introduced to the Book of Common Prayer (about seven years ago), and I’ve been a Christian all my life… at least as long as I can remember. Regardless of what your background or faith tradition is, there is much that can be gleaned from this wonderful treatment of these aforementioned sacraments.
The outline and form of the book is rather straight-forward with these sacraments forming four major sections of the book. Each section is comprised of multiple chapters that drill deeper into the mystery of what each sacrament represents. deSilva also shares practical applications for how we, as practicing believers, might fully engage and be formed by observing and practicing the sacraments. I especially liked his inclusion of action steps at the end of each chapter that might serve as devotional practices and further expressions of the individual sacrament being articulated in the life of the practitioner.
The book is well written and most chapters are very succinct. This makes the book easy to read, in my opinion, and well-suited for group studies or classroom teaching. I found the helps at the end of the book a thoughtful addition with the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed along with Scripture Index and an index for references from the Book of Common Prayer, which were included along with the annotations and citations from the book itself.
If I have any critique of the book it would be a point mentioned by deSilva in his introduction. He mentions that he considered how many of the sacraments he should give treatment to when he started to undertake this work. Most Protestant Christians only recognize two sacraments (Baptism and Eucharist/The Lord’s Supper), while the Eastern Church recognizes eight sacraments and the Roman Church recognizes seven. deSilva chose to address four sacraments and this is what I would question. The premise of the Christian life is that all of life is sacramental when it is lived for God through Christ Jesus. Rather than continue the secularization of and compartmentalization of the various aspects of life, I would have loved to see all (or as many as could be included) aspects of life included as sacramental approaches to God as we live every moment in his presence and to his glory. Even with this one criticism, I really enjoyed this book and will continue to recommend it as a wonderful resource.