Monday, March 16, 2009

The Lord's Supper: Five Views; Book Review.

     I usually enjoy reading the "5 views on...," or "4 views on...," series, which normally display Protestant scholars debating a certain issue or doctrine. So I was delighted in seeing a Roman Catholic participant in this book, The Lord's Supper: Five Views, published by IVP Academic, 2008. 1 

     I quickly noticed however a change in direction in this book from others of this type. Gone is the strict exegesis and historical exchanges that are usually conducted in these types of multi-view presentations. This book is one that turns on ecumenical cordiality rather than swift and passionate debate. 2 So then, with this in mind let me give a brief analysis of the various views that were presented. 

The Roman Catholic View 3

     My great hope for a strong position based primarily on the evidence of the patristic testimony (i.e., history) was a great disappointment. 4 Instead what we are treated with is an exercise in ecumenical discussion, highlighting what Catholics and non-Catholics have more in common than not. Again, such a thesis has its time and place but in a polemical work such as this, it is not it. Gros' presentation is extremely weak as a defense of the real presence in the Eucharist, namely the Catholic formulation - Transubstantiation. In the eyes of the non-specialist (the target audience) focusing on ecumenical dialogue rather than strictly presenting the position is to leave your view open for criticism from many angles. 5

 The Lutheran View 6

     As much as the Roman Catholic presentation was a great disappointment, the Lutheran presentation was a great surprise. Here we had a defense of the real presence of Christ in the elements with verve and power. 7  We are also given a helpful explanation on the differences within Lutheranism on the Eucharist as well as some notable citations of the patristic fathers for support. 

 The Reformed View 8

 What we are given at the hands of Van Dyk is a succinct and able summary of Reformed thought on this doctrine (Calvin in particular.) There is no attempt at a defense of her view or an attempt at a refutation of the other views. In spirit the presentation of Van Dyk was unconvincing as it was passive. The history of interpretation on the Eucharist (patristic witness) is simply passed over save a short paraphrase of Augustine, who is misinterpreted in my opinion. 

 The Baptist View 9

     The Baptist position in my mind is glaringly self-refuting as Olson (its presenter) seems at pains to prove? He begins by straining to display the diversity and disagreement within the plethora of Baptist denominations and seems confused on whom exactly to pin the iconic example as the true Baptist understanding. Do we go with the newer wave of Baptist scholarship which has argued more for a sacramental understanding of the Eucharist? Or with the older Baptist theologians which have understood it more as a memorial ordinance? Or perhaps somewhere in the middle? Olson seems a bit lost and his ultimate choice as the representative voice seems nothing more than a hypothesis. This seems manifestly in contradiction to the clarion call of Paul, the New Testament and the early church, which is theological uniformity at all costs. 

The Pentecostal View 10

 If Olson seemed a bit disturbed at the divergences of theological thought within his tradition, Karkkainen embraces the emergent and multifaceted nature of Pentecostalism in general and its view on the Eucharist in particular. One can hardly even try to pin down a representative voice in this tradition but who cares at this point, would argue Karkkainen, pentecostalism is still in its formative infancy and much work and development needs to be done. With this underpinning in mind it is nearly futile to give a "defense" of any sort (this would apply to the Baptist presentation as well). Simple summaries of various thinkers within the Pentecostal tradition is expressed.

     In conclusion this work can be suggested as a starting point for the non-specialist seeking to find summaries and perhaps secondary literature for further reading at best. One can only dream of a better line up with exegetical rigor and spunk, including perhaps an Anglican and Eastern Orthodox contributor as well. 11


1. To my knowledge this is the first of these kind of books (Protestant / popular) with a Roman Catholic contributor. The Catholic (episcopalian) view point however has been defended by Peter Toon (admirably) on the entry on ecclesiology, Who Runs the Church?

2. While I appreciate ecumenical dialogue, I prefer strong and passionate positional defenses, especially in a work of this nature. 

3. I noticed that the views are given basically in historical order, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist, Pentecostal. The Roman Catholic position is given by Brother Jeffrey Gros, Professor of Church History, Memphis Theological Seminary. 

4. Compare Gros with Toon who uses history to his advantage in arguing for the episcopal system of church governance. The argument from history has no real retort and if correctly and fairly handled is a devastating blow to all non-Catholic positions. 

5. Besides reading the primary writings of the fathers themselves who clearly and unambiguously hold to the real presence of Jesus Christ in the elements of the Bread and Wine, I suggest among dozens and dozens of full length works and monographs defending the Catholic view of the Eucharist (Transubstantiation); David Power, The Sacrifice We Offer: The Tridentine Dogma and Its Reinterpretation. (New York: Crossroads, 1987); James T. O'Connor, The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005); Kevin Irwin, Models of the Eucharist. (New York: Paulist Press, 2005); Kenan Osborne, Community, Eucharist, and Spirituality. (Liguori: Liguori Press, 2007). 

6. Was given by John Stephenson, Professor of Historical Theology, Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, Ontario. 

7. I think Stephenson's contribution the strongest in the book in terms of style and presentation. He is first and foremost interested in defending the real presence at the cost of ecumenical dialogue (and he offends half of the other contributors in the process and interestingly attacking the Reformed position more than any other). 

8. Presented by Leanne Van Dyk, Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary, Michigan. 

9. Given by Roger Olson, Professor of Theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Texas. 

10. Is supplied by Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Professor of Systematic Theology - Fuller Seminary, Pasadena. 

11. I would nominate as a "fantasy line up" Joseph Fitzmyer or Luke Johnson for the Roman Catholic position, keep John Stephenson for the Lutherans, Robert Raymond or Ken Gentry for the Reformed, Peter Toon for the Anglicans, Millard Erickson for the Baptists and Walter Hollenweger for Pentecostalism. 



Anonymous said...

I think Gordon D. Fee would be an excellent candidate for the Pentecostal position.

I've wonder recently why the Reformed dispute the humanity of Christ being present via the Eucharist. The simple Roman argument seems convincing: the divinity and humanity cannot be separated.

Although the Baptists still need a long way to go, they have certainly come a long way. A few months ago I read D. Jeffrey Bingham's (a Baptist) paper on second-century eucharistic understandings and Luther, and I thought that although he recognized the theological significance of the connection between the Incarnation and the Eucharist, he was hesitant to recognize that for the second-century Church believed that the Eucharist communicated the Incarnate Word.

R. E. Aguirre. said...

Fee is an excellent exegete indeed from the Assemblies of God church.