Resources for Studying the Sacraments

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This article is a work in progress and may be edited by the author at any time. It provides a growing list of resources and some direction for a comprehensive study of the sacraments.

Key Questions

In Christian Theologies of the Sacraments, Justin S. Holcomb and David A. Johnson list numerous questions that arise in the study of the sacraments (numbers added): “Sacramental theology is a complex and multilayered discipline with numerous implications for both the corporate church and the individual believer, a discipline that generates a myriad of questions.

  1. How do you define ‘sacrament’?
  2. How many sacraments are there?
  3. Are sacraments necessary for salvation?
  4. What is their function?
  5. What do they do, symbolize, or represent?
  6. Do they convey grace?
  7. Strengthen faith?
  8. Enhance unity and commitment within the church?
  9. Reassure Christians of God’s promises?
  10. What are the conditions necessary for sacraments to be efficacious?
  11. Who is authorized to administer the sacraments?
  12. What is required to receive the sacraments?
  13. How does one prepare oneself to receive the sacraments?
  14. In what manner are the sacraments to be administered?
  15. In what context are the sacraments to be administered?
  16. How often are the sacraments to be administered?
  17. How do the sacraments relate to the Old Testament?
  18. How do the sacraments relate to the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ?
  19. What is the connection between Baptism and repentance, or Eucharist and sanctification?
  20. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the administration of the sacraments?
  21. Is Jesus present in some way in the Lord’s Supper?
  22. Does Baptism save?
  23. Who should/can be baptized?
  24. Under what circumstances can the sacraments be restricted or withheld?
  25. How do sacraments ‘strengthen and confirm our Faith in’ God?
  26. How are the sacraments related to other aspects of worship, like preaching, music, prayer, and confession?”

Inductive Study of Scripture

Scripture is our primary source for theology. There’s no substitute for tracking the sacraments through the entire Bible, keeping in mind the NT’s own hermeneutic. For example, the apostles saw the water events of the OT as typological of baptism: Paul referred to Israel’s Red Sea crossing as a baptism (1 Cor. 10:2), and Peter identified the passing of Noah’s family “safely through water” as a type of baptism (1 Pet. 3:20–21).

Wide-Margin Bible. Use a fresh Bible. I recommend the ESV Single-Column Journaling Bible or the ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible. For tracking the sacraments, I used the journaling Bible with the “Sanctus” cover, designed by Peter Voth for the ESV Artists Series, because it features beautiful icons of the water, bread, and cup/blood (note: one downside is that this version is smaller than the others linked above).

Pens. Use fine-point colored pens or highlighters to mark (e.g., underline, circle, star) key data, but don’t make it too complicated. For example, use a blue pen to track data related to baptism, red for the Eucharist, and black for general data.

Books on the sacraments will likely draw attention to data points that you missed. Keep your Bible handy and add new highlights and insights as you study.

Themes. Track themes related to the sacraments. For example,

  1. Water (e.g., passing through water, cleansing/washing with water)
  2. Bread (e.g., the manna)
  3. Wine/cup imagery
  4. Covenant signs and seals (e.g., circumcision, the Passover)
  5. Eating meals with God or angels
  6. God’s grace/presence mediated through physical means

Notes. Take notes in the margins. For example, here’s a few of my notes from the opening verses of Genesis:

  • 1:1–2, Bible begins w/ Spirit hovering over the face of the waters at creation (cf. Spirit descending over baptism water at Jesus’s baptism). waters of baptism are a place of (new) creation.
  • 1:3–4, God speaks “Let there be light” over all the baptized (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6). Spirit hovers over baptism waters bringing light and life from the darkness and chaos of our souls (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17).
  • 1:4, through baptism, God separates the children of the light/Day from the children of the darkness/Night (cf. 1 Thess. 5:5).
  • 1:6, waters above and waters below—significance?
  • 1:10, goodness of water is affirmed. God’s use of water in baptism as a means of new creation grace is an affirmation of the goodness of the first creation.
  • 1:20, waters are a place swarming with life; fitting for baptism.
  • 1:22, God’s desire is to “fill the waters” with creatures, and also to fill the baptismal waters w/ disciples—new creatures in Christ.

Reading Plan. Read at your own pace. Since you’ll be skim-reading, you can try David Fry’s 100-Day Bible Reading Plan. Or, if you’re a slow reader like me, you can use my 6-Month Bible Reading Plan which has two break/catch-up weeks.

Tags

In the reading list below, I occasionally use the following tags:

  • * = highly recommended for its category
  • B = beginner (difficulty)
  • I = intermediate 
  • A = advanced
  • D = recommended for local church discipleship
  • #/5 = my rating out of five stars

Note: A combination of letters indicates varying difficulty (e.g., “B/I” means “beginner to intermediate difficulty).

Introductory & Companion Guides

ON THE SACRAMENTS IN GENERAL

  1. *Justin Holcomb and David Johnson, eds., Christian Theologies of the Sacraments: A Comparative Introduction (NYU Press, 2017). 416 pages. I. 5/5.
  2. *Maxwell E. Johnson (ed.), Sacraments and Worship: The Sources of Christian Theology (Westminster John Knox Press, 2012). Scribd. 408 pages. Key selections of primary source material. I.
  3. Tim Chester, Truth We Can Touch: How Baptism and Communion Shape Our Lives (Crossway, 2020). Scribd. Scribd (audiobook). 176 pages. $18. Simple introduction with beautiful illustrations. Use it for a small group book study in a local church that is skeptical of the sacraments. B. D. 4/5.
  4. Thabiti Anyabwile and J. Ligon Duncan, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Crossway, 2011). Scribd. Scribd (audiobook). 32 pages. A short pamphlet that’s worth reading for its concise and memorable statements. B. D.
  5. Leonard J. Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Recovering the Sacraments for Evangelical Worship (IVP Academic, 2004). 249 pages. Winner of a Christianity Today 2005 Book Award.
  6. John S. Hammett, 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Kregel Academic, 2015). 336 pages.

ON BAPTISM

  1. *Peter J. Leithart, Baptism: A Guide to Life from Death (Christian Essentials) (Lexham Press, 2021). 128 pages. B/I. D.
  2. John H. Armstrong (ed.), Understanding Four Views on Baptism (Counterpoints: Church Life) (Zondervan, 2007). Scribd. 224 pages.
  3. David F. Wright (ed.), Baptism: Three Views (Spectrum Multiview Book Series) (IVP Academic, 2009). 200 pages.
  4. Stanley E. Porter and Anthony R. Cross (eds.), Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies (Sheffield Academic Press, 2003). 424 pages.

ON THE EUCHARIST

  1. Gordon T. Smith, A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church (Baker Academic, 2005). 124 pages.
  2. N. T. Wright, The Meal Jesus Gave Us: Understanding Holy Communion (Westminster John Knox Press, 2015). 96 pages.
  3. Gordon T. Smith (ed.), The Lord’s Supper: Five Views (Spectrum Multiview Book) (IVP Academic, 2008). 159 pages.
  4. John H. Armstrong (ed.), Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper (Counterpoints: Church Life) (Zondervan, 2007). 224 pages. Scribd.
  5. Guy Prentiss Waters, The Lord’s Supper as the Sign and Meal of the New Covenant (Short Studies in Biblical Theology) (Crossway, 2019). 128 pages. $15.
  6. J. Todd Billings, Remembrance, Communion, and Hope: Rediscovering the Gospel at the Lord’s Table (Eerdmans, 2018). 240 pages. $25.
  7. Paul F. Bradshaw, Eucharistic Origins (Wipf and Stock; Reprint edition, 2012). 176 pages. $22.

Patristic

PRIMARY RESOURCES

  1. The Didache, Chs. 7–10.
  2. Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chs. 61–62, 65–67.
  3. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Lectures on the Christian Sacraments (SVS Press, 2017). 138 pages. $19.
  4. St. Ambrose, Treatise on the Sacraments.
  5. Basil the Great, On Baptism.
  6. Basil the Great, Ethics, Chapters #,
  7. Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Discourse, 33-40.
  8. Augustine

SECONDARY RESOURCES

  1. John D. Zizioulas, Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2007). 288 pages. $19.
  2. Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Eerdmans, 2013). 987 pages. $36.

Medieval

PRIMARY RESOURCES

  1. The Canons of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), Canon 1. Transubstantiation is affirmed.
  2. Hugh of St. Victor (1096–1141), On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith (De Sacramentis).
  3. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), Summa Theologica,
  4. Peter Lombard, Sentences,
  5. Council of Florence, Session 8, “Bull of union with the Armenians” (1439). Declares that “there are seven sacraments” and defines them.

SECONDARY RESOURCES

Luther and the Lutheran Tradition

PRIMARY RESOURCES

  1. Augsburg Confession, Articles V–XIII; XXII; XIV.
  2. The Shorter Catechism, Parts IV; VI.
  3. The Large Catechism, Parts IV–V.
  4. Martin Luther, Babylonian Captivity of the Church“There are, strictly speaking, but two sacraments in the church of God—baptism and the bread.”
  5. Martin Luther, …
  6. Paul W. Robinson, ed., ​​The Annotated Luther: Church and Sacraments (Volume 3) (Fortress Press, 2016). 496 pages. $39. Scribd.
  7. Philip Melanchton

SECONDARY RESOURCES

  1. Brian C. Brewer, Martin Luther and the Seven Sacraments: A Contemporary Protestant Reappraisal. 272 pages. Scribd.

Calvin and the Reformed Tradition

PRIMARY RESOURCES

  1. Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapters 7; 14.1; 21.5; 23.3; 27–29; 30.4.
  2. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion,
  3. Peter Martyr Vermigli, The Oxford Treatise and Disputation On the Eucharist.

SECONDARY RESOURCES

  1. John V. Fesko, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism. Scribd.
  2. Cornelis P. Venema, Children at the Lord’s Table?: Assessing the Case for Paedocommunion. Scribd.
  3. [Audio] Scott Swain,ST5250 Ecclesiology and Sacraments,” Reformed Theological Seminary. Lectures 8–11. Approx. 40–60 minutes each. See also: Swain’s various blog posts on the sacraments.

SECONDARY RESOURCES

The Anglican Tradition

PRIMARY RESOURCES

  1. 39 Articles of Religion, Articles XIX (19); XXIII–XXXI (23–31).
  2. Thomas Cramner, …
  3. William Tyndale, A Brief Declaration of the Sacraments (1536). Scribd.

SECONDARY RESOURCES

  1. *John Stott and J. Alec Motyer, The Anglican Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism (The Latimer Trust, 2008). 60 pages. Two essays: “The Evangelical Doctrine of Baptism” (read for free here) by John Stott and “Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer” by Alec Motyer.

Arminius, Wesley, and the Methodist Tradition

PRIMARY RESOURCES: JACOB ARMINIUS

  1. Jacob Arminius, Disputations LX–LXVI.

PRIMARY RESOURCES: JOHN WESLEY

  1. 25 Articles, Articles 13, 16–20.
  2. John Wesley, Treatise on Baptism.
  3. John Wesley, “Sermon 16 – The Means of Grace.”
  4. John Wesley, “Sermon 101 – The Duty of Constant Communion.” … 
  5. A Theology of the Sacraments Interpreted by John and Charles Wesley: Including Hymns for Baptism and Holy Communion with Commentary and New Musical Settings. Scribd.

PRIMARY RESOURCES: 19TH-CENTURY METHODISTS

  1. William Burt Pope, Compendium of Christian Theology,
  2. Richard Watson, Theological Institutes,
  3. Adam Clarke, Christian Theology, Chapters 18–19.

SECONDARY RESOURCES

  1. Thomas C. Oden, John Wesley’s Teaching, Vol. 3: Pastoral Theology, “Chapter 7: The Ministry of Baptism” and “Chapter 8: The Ministry of the Lord’s Supper.”
  2. Ole E. Borgen, John Wesley on the Sacraments: A Theological Study.
  3. By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism.” Adopted by the 1996 General Conference of The United Methodist Church.
  4. This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion.” Adopted by the 2004 General Conference of The United Methodist Church.

The Baptist Tradition

PRIMARY RESOURCES

  1. The 1689 Baptist Confession (aka Second London Confession), Chapters 28–30.
  2. Baptist Faith & Message, Article VII. The doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Confession.

SECONDARY RESOURCES

  1. Michael A. G. Haykin, Amidst Us Our Belovèd Stands: Recovering Sacrament in the Baptist Tradition (Lexham Press, 2022). 136 pages.
  2. Bobby Jamieson, Why Should I Be Baptized? (Crossway, 2020). 64 pages.
  3. Bobby Jamieson, Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership (B&H Academic, 2015). 256 pages.
  4. Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, eds., Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology) (B&H Academic, 2017). Scribd. 400 pages.
  5. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, eds., The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes (New American Commentary Studies in Bible & Theology) (B&H Academic, 2011). Scribd. 432 pages.

The Roman Catholic Tradition

PRIMARY RESOURCES

  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1213–1284.

SECONDARY RESOURCES

  1. *Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Signs of New Life: Homilies on the Church’s Sacraments. Scribd. 125 pages. Beautiful homilies (short sermons). Four are on baptism and the Eucharist. “​​Through Baptism each child is inserted into a gathering of friends who never abandon him in life or in death because these companions are God’s family, which in itself bears the promise of eternity.”
  2. Lawrence Feingold, The Eucharist: Mystery of Presence, Sacrifice, and Communion (‎Emmaus Academic, 2018). 830 pages. $60.
  3. Lawrence Feingold, Touched by Christ: The Sacramental Economy (Emmaus Academic, 2021). 963 pages. $53.
  4. Louis-Marie Chauvet, Symbol and Sacrament: Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence (Liturgical Press, 1994). 592 pages. See also Chauvet, The Sacraments: The Word of God at the Mercy of the Body (Pueblo Books, 2001), a textbook version of Symbol and Sacrament.
  5. Kevin W. Irwin, Models of the Eucharist (Paulist Press, 2020). 368 pages.
  6. Enrico Mazza, The Origins of the Eucharistic Prayer (Liturgical Press, 1995). 376 pages. $40.
  7. Enrico Mazza, Celebration of the Eucharist: The Origin of the Rite and the Development of Its Interpretation (Pueblo Books, 1999). 375 pages. $40.

The Eastern Orthodox Tradition

  1. Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism (SVS Press, 1997).
  2. Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom (SVS Press, 2003). 245 pages.

Resources by Topic

INFANT BAPTISM

  1. *Scot McKnight, It Takes a Church to Baptize: What the Bible Says about Infant Baptism (Brazos Press, 2018). 144 pages. B/I. D. 4.5/5.
  2. John Stott and J. Alec Motyer, The Anglican Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism (see above).
  3. Gregg Strawbridge (ed.), The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism (P&R Publishing, 2003). 336 pages.
  4. Joachim Jeremias, Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries (Wipf and Stock, 2004). 114 pages.
  5. Joachim Jeremias, The Origins of Infant Baptism: A Further Study in Reply to Kurt Aland (Wipf and Stock; Reprint edition, 2004). 92 pages. $13.

LITURGY OF THE SACRAMENTS

  1. R. C. D. Jasper and G. J. Cuming, ed. by Paul F. Bradshaw and Maxwell E. Johnson, Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed (Liturgical Press, 2019). 384 pages.
  2. E. C. Whitaker and Maxwell E. Johnson, Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy: Revised and Expanded Edition (Liturgical Press, 2003), 332 pages.
  3. Paul F. Bradshaw and Maxwell E. Johnson, The Eucharistic Liturgies: Their Evolution and Interpretation (Liturgical Press, 2012), 384 pages.
  4. Samuel Wells and Abigail Kocher, Eucharistic Prayers (Eerdmans, 2016).

SACRAMENTS AND DISCIPLESHIP/CATECHESIS

  1. Jonathan D. Watson, In the Name of Our Lord: Four Models of the Relationship Between Baptism, Catechesis, and Communion (Lexham Press, 2021). Scribd. 192 pages.

SACRAMENTS AND CHRISTIAN UNITY

  1. George Kalantzis and Marc Cortez (eds.), Come, Let Us Eat Together: Sacraments and Christian Unity (Wheaton Theology Conference Series) (IVP Academic, 2018). 250 pages.

SACRAMENTS IN FIRST-CENTURY ROMAN CONTEXT

  1. R. Alan Streett, Caesar and the Sacrament: Baptism: A Rite of Resistance (Cascade Books, 2018). 202 pages.
  2. R. Alan Streett, Subversive Meals: An Analysis of the Lord’s Supper under Roman Domination during the First Century (James Clarke & Co, 2017). 340 pages.

OTHER

  1. John D. Rempel, Recapturing an Enchanted World: Ritual and Sacrament in the Free Church Tradition (IVP Academic, 2020). 240 pages. $30.
  2. Susan I. Bubbers, A Scriptural Theology of Eucharistic Blessings: 495 (The Library of New Testament Studies) (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015). 276 pages. A.
  3. Peter-Ben Smit, Food and Fellowship in the Kingdom: Eschatological Meals and Scenes of Utopian Abundance in the New Testament (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 2 Reihe) (Mohr Siebeck, 2008). 496 pages. A.

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

  1. Glenys Nellist, Baptized in the Water: Becoming a Member of God’s Family (Zonderkidz, 2022). 32 pages. $18. B. D.

What other resources have you found helpful? Email me at jarnold@holyjoys.org.

Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is a husband, father, and aspiring pastor-theologian, as well as the founder and president of holyjoys.org. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.