Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper | John H. Armstrong

The cover of Armstrong's Understanding Four Views on the Lord's SupperNo issue in church history has caused as many divisions as the Lord’s Supper.

Christians have not only done different things with the bread and wine, but have done terrible things to each other because of it. (Donald Bridge and David Phypers in Armstrong 12)

The four authors in this book are chosen for the positions they represent across the spectrum of belief:

  1. Russell D. Moore – Baptist – Memorialism
  2. I. John Hesselink – Reformed – Real (Spiritual) Presence
  3. David P. Scaer – Lutheran – Consubstantiation
  4. Thomas A. Baima – Catholic – Transubstantiation

On the Baptist side, the Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal. On the Catholic side, bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood when the Priest utters the words of institution. The Reformed and Lutheran views are somewhere in the middle, but clearly lean toward each side. The Baptist and Reformed views share much in common, as do the Lutheran and Catholic views (ironically).

Moore is the expositor of the lot. Like a good Baptist, he stays close to the text. His view is far richer than “mere” or “bare” memorialism. For Moore, the Lord’s Supper is a sign which looks back to Jesus’ death, but also forward to his return. In this sense, the Lord’s Supper is victorious proclamation. Hesselink expounds Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper. In brief, Jesus is spiritually present when the elements are taken in faith.

Scaer is the toughest writer in the book. He knows what he believes and is the most forthright in stating it. He nuances the word consubstantiation and explains how the elements are mixed with the body and blood of Jesus himself. Scaer is the most concerned with language, words, definitions, and prepositions. Baima is the philosopher of the bunch. His attitude is conciliatory, but his views are exclusive. He begins with some inspiring paragraphs about God as Trinity and the hypostatic union of the Incarnation. From there, he moves onto explaining church dogma. He does a good job at simplifying the idea of substance and accidents in Aristotelian philosophy.

One final feature of this book is worth noting. There are two appendices which contain the various church confessions concerning the Lord’s Supper as well as significant quotes from various theologians.

If you’re unsure about what all the historical fuss is about, or if you want to think through what the Lord’s Supper means in your own journey of faith, read this book. Each author is interesting and passionate in both their views and in their responses.

—Russell D. Moore, I. John Hesselink, David P. Scaer, and Thomas A. Baima. Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper. Eds. Paul E. Engle, and John H. Armstrong. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007).

Making a Meal of It | Ben Witherington III

The cover of Witherington III's Making a Meal of ItFor theologians, “The Lord’s Supper” evokes memories of old battles. Arguments about Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation, Real Presence, and Memorialism all rise to the surface. For many church-going Christians, on the other hand, “The Lord’s Supper” is a concept associated with seriousness, stale wafers, and lengthy sermons!

Witherington III challenges all these misconceptions by returning to Scripture, interpreting the few passages we have in light of cultural traditions, and tracing the threads of this understanding throughout church history. We see how the Lord’s Supper is rooted in the Passover feast (although the two are not coterminous). We see how the Last Supper that Jesus ate with his disciples became celebrated regularly as the Lord’s Supper, or Communion.

As church history progressed, the Love Feast (Jude 12) changed. The rise of asceticism (which certainly made a feast unwelcome) and clericalism (which insisted that a Priest had to conduct the ceremony) undermined the communal nature of the meal.

Some of Witherington’s ideas are unusual. For instance, he makes a case for Lazarus being the “beloved disciple” who wrote the Gospel of John (which John of Patmos fame later redacted). This explains the unusual and lengthy Last Supper account. It was a conflagration of the meals held in Bethany the week leading up to the Passover. You can choose to agree with him or not, but his detailed and carefully laid out argument demands a thoughtful response.

Witherington III ends his book with a chapter on how we should celebrate the Meal today, in light of scripture and tradition. The greatest challenge for me was his call to reclaim the unity symbolized by one loaf of bread, in contrast to the lifeless individualized wafers we serve today.

Although this book is brief (160 pages), it is jam-packed with thoughtful observations. Making it even better is Witherington III’s sense of humour and clever wordplay. Consider this closing sentence to the chapter on “Second Century Sacraments”:

The church had come a long way since the Last Supper, and much of it had involved a journey away from , and even against, its original Jewish recipe. The result was half-baked sacramental theology with too many foreign flavors overwhelming the main ingredient. (112)

Well played, Sir!

Making a Meal of It has inspired me to revisit the way I celebrate communion and has deepened my understanding of the ceremony. I highly recommend it to any thoughtful Christian.

—Ben Witherington III, Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord’s Supper (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007).

The Spirit Speaks | Dallas Willard

The Spirit who inhabits us is not mute, restricting himself to an occasional nudge, a hot flash, a brilliant image or a case of the goosebumps.

—Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984, 1993, 1999), 22.

Hidden in Christ | James Bryan Smith

The cover of Smith's Hidden in Christ

Consider some of these sentences:

You have been raised with Christ.

Your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Clothe yourselves with compassion.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.

Be thankful.

Whatever you do, … do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.

We pick and choose good scripture verses to memorize. Almost everyone knows John 3:16—far fewer know John 3:17 (I’ve never seen it painted on a sign before). When it comes to Colossians 3, however, virtually every word is worth memorizing. Once you start it’s hard to know where to stop!

Colossians 3 is about recognizing that, as Christians, we have been transferred from death to life. It’s time to live like it! Since we are raised with Christ, let’s put our hearts and minds on the things that Christ loves, not on worldly things.

In Hidden in Christ, James Bryan Smith offers 30 meditations based on Colossians 3:1-17. He dives right into the depth of this passage and brings up many profitable thoughts. Unlike some devotional works, Smith’s meditations are close and legitimate applications of the scripture. Nothing is stretched or convoluted. Colossians is powerful enough as it is!

Spend 30 days in Colossians 3, and allow God to change you.

—James Bryan Smith, Hidden in Christ: Living as God’s Beloved (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2013).

Pump Six and other Stories| Paolo Bagigalupi

The cover of Bagigalupi's Pump SixOne of the most profitable ways to interpret apocalyptic literature is to consider what the words meant to the original hearers. Revelation, for example, was a worship text for the early church which gave them the confidence to persevere in trial. In an analogous way, Bagigalupi’s collection of short dystopian fiction speaks volumes to our present reality.

I purchased this collection because two of the short stories it contains (“Yellow Card Man” and “The Calorie Man”) were precursors to The Windup Girl. These stories were nominated for the Hugo award and won the Sturgeon Award, respectively. As powerful as these stories were, I was captivated by some of the other stories just as much. Each story, regardless of the mechanics, illustrates some of the trajectories of our world, pursued ad infinitum.  “The Fluted Girl” is a story about genetic engineering and politics gone awry. “Pop Squad” explores the quest for eternal life, along with its dark corollaries.

The title story was perhaps the best of the lot. If you’re concerned at all about societal tendencies towards distraction and hedonism, “Pump Six” explores how far down that road we could go as a society, wrapped up in a compelling mystery story.

Pump Six is a disturbing but important collection of stories that describe a world left to its selfish devices—apocalypticism without the hope.

—Paolo Bagigalupi, Pump Six and Other Stories (San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2008).