Tag Archives | Roman Catholic

Jesus the Christ | Thomas G. Weinandy

The cover of Weinandy's Jesus the ChristAnalogies, when the subject is God, always fall short.

One of the most common analogies for the Trinity is H20. Just as H20 can be a solid (ice), liquid (water), or gas (steam), God is Father, Son and Spirit. The analogy seems like an apt way to throw light on the inconceivable theological arithmetic where 1+1+1=1 (another analogy)! Weinandy, having thought through the details of the H20 analogy, simply states that “[i]t perfectly illustrates Modalism” (60)! This example demonstrates Weinandy’s clear-sightedness when it comes to the Christology and Soteriology.

Jesus the Christ is a refreshingly straightforward look at who Jesus is and what he accomplished. Weinandy begins with scripture before tracing the thought of the church through the patristic and medieval eras, and into the present. His chronological method is particularly helpful in explaining the multitude of heresies that confronted the church in its formative years.

In approaching this book from a pentecostal perspective, I was struck by the way in which the Spirit preserved and revealed truth throughout the centuries. The Spirit inspired people like Ignatius, Origen, and Athanasius to write, using their limited amount of light, to bring about a more complete picture of the truth.

In a field of systematic theology notorious for its difficulty, Weinandy’s book is a breath of fresh air suitable for a new theological students or thoughtful laity.

Weinandy, Thomas G. Jesus the Christ. Middletown, DE: Ex Fontibus Company, 2017.

All Is Grace | Brennan Manning

At the end of Kubric’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Commander David Bowman left the ship to explore a massive black monolith stationed between Jupiter and Io. This monolith represented mystery and higher intelligence in the universe. As he stared full into the mystery, he gave his final transmission:

My God, it’s full of stars!

In All Is Grace, a timeworn Brennan Manning, who has spent his entire life staring full in the face of the ultimate mystery of the universe, gave his final transmission:

My God, He’s full of grace!

Memoirs of Christians are important because they chronicle how God reaches people. We have scripture to read how God reached Israel and the early church. We have memoir to help discern his actions today.

Manning was very flawed man. He was a priest who got married. He was a drunk for most of his life. (Indeed, he resembles biblical heroes more than he does modern ‘saints’.) A couple things make Manning more unique than your average run-of-the-mill sinner:

  1. He recognized his sin and confessed it freely (even founding a “Notorious Sinners” club).
  2. He developed an eye to see the superabundant grace of God throughout his life.

God’s grace is more powerful than Manning’s sin or our own. That’s his message and it’s well worth reading.

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist | Brant Pitre

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist is a fascinating, meaty-yet-readable book on the Last Supper.

Pitre takes Jesus’ Jewishness seriously as he examines just what his Last Supper would look like through Jewish eyes. In a way, he reminds me of what Kenneth Bailey did in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. The Lord’s Supper (or Communion, or Eucharist) has been so ritualized, it’s difficult to see what sort of impact it would have made on a group of disciples who gathered to celebrate the feast of Passover.

Each of these ideas are explored:

  1. The Last Supper was the inauguration of the new exodus. The Jewish people were longing for freedom from Roman oppression—they longed to see the promises of the prophets realized. In order for a new exodus to happen, there had to (presumably) be a new Passover. That’s precisely what the Lord’s Supper is.
  2. The Last Supper was a new Passover. Pitre delved into the Passover story of Exodus 12, explaining how it was celebrated in Exodus, in the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day, and how it differs from today’s Seder meal. Jesus identified his body and blood with the Passover sacrifice, effectively reinterpreting Passover itself.
  3. The Bread of the Last Supper is like manna—divine food. Here’s one area where the book shines. Pitre made a number of connections between manna and the bread of the new covenant that I had never thought of before. I would challenge his understanding of “daily bread” from the Lord’s prayer (according to Eugene Peterson in Eat This Book, it’s more “Wonderbread” than “supersubstantial bread”). Still, that’s a minor quibble.
  4. The Bread of the Last Supper (and the wine) is related to the Old Testament’s Bread of the Presence. Again, Pitre makes a number of substantial connections here between the Face of God in the Showbread and the body of Jesus in the Eucharist.
  5. Perhaps the most interesting chapter (albeit confessedly the most speculative) was the idea that Jesus didn’t finish the Passover meal until he took the bitter wine just before his death on the cross. The fourth cup was drank after his sacrifice was effectively finished.

These chapters are all very well reasoned. Any pastor would do well to brush up on his Bible by reading this book in advance of Easter. Many of the points have already worked their way into my own preaching.

My only problem with the book is Pitre’s desire to defend the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. In the introduction, he relates a gripping and tragic story about being grilled on this doctrine. Then, throughout the book, there are subtle as well as not-so-subtle interjections on why a Jewish understanding of the Last Supper supports traditional Roman Catholic doctrine.

I’m sure it’s my Protestant sensibilities speaking, but understanding the Jewish roots of the Last Supper is no slam-dunk defense of transubstantiation. Pitre admits near the end that most of these thoughts have been around since the early church fathers. I don’t see any new information in this volume that would sway my understanding one way or another.

Whether you’re Protestant or Catholic, this book will inspire your Lenten reflections en route to Easter.

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided at no cost through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer’s program.

Catholicism | Robert Barron

Full disclaimer: I’m a Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada minister (to my US friends, think Assemblies of God) reviewing a book on Catholicism. Still, I read this book with an eager and generous heart. Using the boundary markers of your denomination to define your Christian faith (let alone status!) seems absurd to me. On the other hand, I take doctrine seriously and love to study. Here are my thoughts.

I was struck by the number of times, especially near the beginning of the book, that I wanted to jump out of my seat and high five Father Barron. His scholarship and passion regarding the centrality of Jesus in the life of the church was breathtaking. I also noted that he used a fair bit of the conceptual world of N. T. Wright (duly footnoted). In the end, I was delighted to share much more in common with Father Barron than I had anticipated.

Of course, there were areas that frustrated me. The role and status of Mary for one. The doctrine of Immaculate conception seems to be so far removed from scripture it’s absurd. On the other hand, I freely acknowledge that most Protestants underemphasize Mary because we like to keep the boundary markers between us and them nice and neat. (Side note: Martin Luther would have rolled over in his grave to read the title of that chapter: “Our Tainted Nature’s Solitary Boast”. Boast! Seriously?)

Father Barron takes a hard line on other denominations:

From the Roman Catholic point of view, all of the non-Catholic Christian churches have sacrificed one or more of these qualities and therefore fall short of completeness or catholicity. (164)

(It’s interesting how, instead of stating his personal view, he prefaced it with, “From the Roman Catholic point of view …”.) Father Barron goes on to suggest that apostolic succession—the idea that the current Pope is the descendant of Saint Peter—is a “guarantee” (168) that they are preserving the faith. It seems to me like Jesus’ treatment of the Pharisees rules out this sort of naïve comfort. If the Jewish religious leaders couldn’t be trusted to faithfully preserve the faith, what makes us think that we can pull of the same feat?

I could argue theology all day, but I’ll leave with one last particularly irritating argument. In discussing the afterlife, Father Barron states clearly that Protestants object that “purgatory is an unbiblical doctrine, a medieval innovation” (262). In response, he mentions misleadingly that “incarnation” and “Trinity” are also absent from scripture. I don’t know of a single person who argues that since the term “purgatory” cannot be looked up in a concordance, the doctrine is false. It’s the concept that matters. He then goes on to quote 2 Maccabees for a convoluted hint that purgatory may exist. In the first place, the reference to 2 Maccabees 12:44-46 isn’t a direct statement about purgatory. In the second place, Father Brown knows full well that the vast majority of Protestant churches view the books of Macabees as extra-canonical (or, at least, deuterocanonical).

Now that my cathartic moment has passed, I still have to say: an objective Protestant reading of Catholicism will discover far more common elements of the faith than discord. You may even, like this Protestant, be inspired.

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided at no cost through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer’s program.

He Wants Her | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

I’m going to rip the Pope’s words out of their Roman context and apply them to the church-at-large. These words are very fitting to a church trying to reinvent herself in order to survive:

This expression, “it is his Church and not ours”, is really a fork in the road for me: to acknowledge that we do not excogitate what the Church is but that we believe that He wants her and that we should try to recognize what He wants with her and place ourselves in this service.

(Excogitate: “chew over: reflect deeply on a subject” from Princeton Wordnet)

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes