05 January 2009

the lord's supper: five views

Gordon T. Smith (ed.), The Lord's Supper: Five Views (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008).

Kudos to InterVarsity Press for continuing to pursue the market on multiple-views books even though it has become completely saturated and they (unlike Zondervan) do not have a specific series devoted to the publishing 'genre.'  As I make this tongue-in-cheek comment I am again reminded why these books, while not without purpose or usefulness, have become rather dull in some of their effectiveness: it seems that we have developed an art form for writing and publishing in this style, tweaked it around what looks good to the average person and formatted it around what will sell in the marketplace.  This is perhaps why the last few of these types of books have been boring to navigate and slow to excite.

These books seem to have three basic types of essays: 1) the dogmatic assertion that this view is the only way to possibly understand the issue, with interaction towards the other writers which comes in slightly above name-calling; 2) the position which figures this is but one way to take this issue and the others are adding valuable insights to the discussion, there is nothing negative at all in their responses; 3) the middle-road of offering what seems to be good and then giving broad strokes as to why the other positions just to cut the mustard - never inspiring, always inviting.

This short treatment on the Lord's Supper (a brisk 143 pages) is no exception.  Five views are presented, and while the particular five could have perhaps been spread out a bit more there are a couple of perspectives that will certainly raise the interest of many (e.g. The Roman Catholic View and The Pentecostal View).  

1)  The Roman Catholic View is presented by Brother Jeffrey Gros, who is most concerned throughout the book with the unity of the Lord's Supper, at times bending over backward to envision this.  He works from the perspective: "We will know that the biblical koininoa is restored when we able, again, to partake together at the one Table of the Lord" (21).  He is certainly right in this view, but sacrifices space for dialogue with the other positions to promote his view.

2)  The Lutheran View is given by John R. Stephenson, who emphasizes the christological focus of the event and works primarily through the lens of church history (catechism and Luther abounds).  While reading Roger Olson's response I found echos of my own thinking after reading this view: that it was quite narrow in its scope and somewhat exclusive to other branches of Lutheranism.

3)  The Reformed View comes from Leanne Van Dyk, who largely presents out of Zwingli, Bullinger and Calvin.  This essay is fixed upon sacramentalism, working to explain what the commemoration of the Lord's Supper does and does not accomplish/represent.  This was a difficult challenge for any author, and Van Dyk gives a very good overview of the historical perspective on the topic (despite the 'Argh!' of the Lutheran Response).

4)  The Baptist View is given by Roger E. Olson who, as always, does a fine job in both presenting his case and interacting with the other ideas in play.  Although there are a bazillion sections of Baptist theology, he does well to find the common threads and offer them in meaningful and succinct fashion.  His approach is to emphasize the workings of the Lord's Supper in the community life of the believer: "Through the Communion service, then, God's people actually experience Christ's presence in their midst" (104).

5)  The Pentecostal View is presented by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen and seeks to discover a "Pentecostal Sacramentology" (117).  Laying out the different strands of the Pentecostal perspective, one interesting addition to his essay is his discussion on the Lord's Supper and healing.  He concludes with four areas of meaning attributed to the Lord's Supper: community edification, mutual service, evangelistic witness, worship.

While no essay is particularly bad, none is either especially inspiring.  The responses are quite short (all shorter than two pages), which leaves the reader - especially the novice - wondering why these traditions are incompatible.  They clearly are at some level, otherwise the community which Brother Jeffrey so desires would already be a reality.  And such a more in-depth discussion would be fruitful for the book in taking steps toward this ideal becoming a reality.  As with all of these books, other perspectives could have been included but there has to be a stopping point somewhere.  Yet the range of diversity looks broader on the book's cover than in the words printed inside.

With two or three other multiple-views books already in existence, I remain curious as to what would make this one stand out.  Perhaps a good read and resource, but probably not at the top of the list for the topic.

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