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Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry Paperback – February 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“Hans Boersma makes a superb contribution to evangelical theological reflection in this well-designed book, and it goes a long way to drawing us back from the brink of a fashionable evangelical tendency to reductive historicism. His re-situation of the doctrine of the Incarnation in its historic sacramental language and thought opens up the way to a deeper understanding of the truths of faith that evangelicals and Catholics alike seek to comprehend and nurture.”
— David Lyle Jeffrey
Baylor University

“Theology at its best, says Hans Boersma, is less interested in comprehending the truth than in participating in it. Skillfully marshalling passages from the church fathers and medieval theologians and drawing judiciously on contemporary evangelical and Catholic thinkers, Boersma shows that theology is not primarily an intellectual enterprise but a spiritual discipline by which one enters into the truth and is mastered by it. Though this ‘sacramental tapestry,’ as he calls it, is as old as the church, it is refreshing to have it presented anew in this engaging book.”
— Robert Louis Wilken
University of Virginia

About the Author

Hans Boersma holds the J. I. Packer Chair in Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. His other books include Nouvelle Th�ologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery and Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition, which won the 2005 Christianity Today Book Award in theology/ethics.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; First Edition edition (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802865429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802865427
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #171,242 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Father Gregory on May 12, 2011
Format: Paperback
Hans Boersma is a fellow countryman of mine and he has written an excellent and timely book. Two reasons for me to like the man without even (personally) knowing him!

The Book is basically an apologia for understanding Jesus Christ as the centre of all reality. Not a separate reality though. The way all "participates" in Jesus Christ is "sacramentaly" so that the symbolized and the symbol are not identical but related by "transcendental participation" which Boersma explains as: "sharing in something else in a small way (see p. 185)." This he does not justify by diving into Platonism (Middle, Neo-whatever) but by referencing St. Paul's speech on the Aereopagus in Acts 17, 27-29. Scripture itself orients us to appropriate Platonism to a limited extent. Platonism speaks of "ideas" in which "reality" participates in order to exist. This is what Boersma is saying allows Christianity to appropriate it in a limited sense. The world exists because it participates in Jesus Christ, that is Jesus Christ is present to us sacramentally. The word sacrament is deliberately chosen because it has a clear Christian history and use, and is capable of explaining just how Platonism is more appropriate as a philosophical framework for Christianity than "Nominalism," or "Univocity," or even "Post-modern Skepticism."

Nominalism - though often associated (and in my opinion correctly) with Protestantism - actually began with Medieval Catholics. The Reformation suggests Boersma was unable to put this genie back into the bottle. Nominalism tears the "sacramental tapestry" by denying that "universals" exist and that real beings participate in them. Rather "universals" are to be understood as mere "names" and have no ontological significance.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Milliner on June 18, 2012
Format: Paperback
Note: A version of this review originally appeared in Books & Culture (October 2011)

Evangelical lamps are sputtering. Prognostications of the movement usually announce its impending death as a threat, unless it makes the changes for which the given prophet calls. Such proposals include filling lamps with expired postmodern vinegar, or insisting they be replenished with the coagulated liquid of old-time religion. Hans Boersma's book Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry affords a different response. Boersma offers the rich, luxuriant oil of medieval metaphysics to keep evangelical lamps warmly aglow. Boersma is not a fringe figure. It's somewhat symbolic that he holds the J. I. Packer chair in theology at Regent College. Could this kind of neo-medieval evangelicalism hold the same potential for the movement as did the broadly Reformed perspective of Packer?

Boersma, of course, is not the first evangelical who has made progress by looking back. Robert Webber famously discovered the liturgical rhythms of the early church, and Thomas Oden's "paleo-orthodoxy" project, centered in Christianity's first millennium, gave rise to the Ancient Christian Commentary series. John Milbank and the Radical Orthodoxy movement do much of the heavy lifting for this perspective, telling a story of ancient richness and modern, secular decline, a story helpfully translated into an American idiom by James K. A. Smith's Introducing Radical Orthodoxy (Baker Academic, 2004).

These relatively contemporary figures, however, can themselves be situated in a much broader--I am tempted to say inevitable--trajectory of American Protestantism.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By LG on February 23, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm coming from a different theological and philosophical background than Boersma, so I actually don't agree with him on many points. This book has a different intent than most of Boersma's writing: it is an attempt to engage people outside of the ivory tower of academia, mostly evangelicals, and get them thinking about their own Christian tradition.
The book read really well; it's clear and concise, and Boersma takes the time to explain the language that might act as hangups for evangelicals. Though critical of evangelicalism, he offers benefit of the doubt of their true faith. This books really acts as a corrective. Boersma, I think, offers something far more interesting than what most of post-evangelicals are doing. Rather than pithy engagement with old mysticism, it is a reclaiming of the tradition. A sacramental ontology does not take away from what evangelicals love, but it actually builds it up!
He does a great job of dialoguing with evangelicalism and the tradition, but I do believe he does a poor job of handling the reformation. But my issue isn't his interpretation of the reformation (even if I disagree with it) but with how little space he offers it. Evangelical theology, indeed protestant theology, is rooted in the movements of Luther, Calvin, and others... I believe they deserve more time, whether viewed from a positive or negative light.

This book is really helpful for anyone trying to get their head out the new platonic movements in the academy, or any protestant wanting to engage with the tradition. It shouldn't be read as a negative commentary on protestants, but as a helpful, joyful correction of what might bolster the faith.


Not more than a year since I first read it, I have found that I actually agree with the book more and more.
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