LATC 2017: Dogmatics & Systematic Theology – Scott Swain

Here are some notes on Scott Swain’s plenary lecture at LATC 2017….

Introduction

Bavinck: Dogmatic Theology is the knowledge God has revealed in his word to the church about the world and creatures as they stand in relation to him.

  • Dogmatics exists because of the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.20170112_203913

Some concerns of Systematic Theology

  • Concerns for unity – NT & OT, Theological Knowledge and other Knowledge
  • Scope – all of scripture
  • Proportion – science of everything, but not about everything
  • Relations – between different areas of Christian theology

B.B. Warfield found that it was necessary to defend the disciplines right to exist. Barth later on concluded that “nothing we are producing now can stand with the achievement of medieval, post-reformation, etc. dogmatics”

  • 20170112_203913Though it hasn’t reached its glory days, it holds some degree of prominence again today

The recent ascendency of ST hasn’t necessarily received a strong welcome from evangelicals. BB Warfield even acknowledges some think that Biblical Theology has replaced ST.

BT’s resistance to letting ST rule has grown. Evangelicals have questioned ST’s ability of ST… it tends to impose a structure not transparently given in scripture. “ST doesn’t encourage the exploration of the Bible’s plotline.”

BT seeks to seek out the rationality and genius of each genre and to ground stuff in unfolding drama of redemptive history.

More recently Missional theology also wonders whether ST needs help. Missional theology would direct ST to attend more to the missional nature of Scripture, and direct itself towards the church’s missional end.

Aim: commend a particular conception of ST as theoretical, contemplative, wisdom.

Thesis One

  • God presents himself to us in his word under the mode of a vision of glory, theological vision is therefore a wonder to be held, a truth to be known, a doctrine to be believed.
    • Vermigli – contemplative wisdom holds first place over practical wisdom
      • The end of Christian godliness is that in us should be repaired that image…. That everyday we may grown in the knowledge of God.
      • Speculative knowledge prior to action

Thesis Two

  • Dogmatic theology has a mixed character, but is still a unity
    • Some disagree – theoretical and practical
    • The unity of the object is not in the material of the object….
    • Because holy scripture speaks of doctrines and morals and describes the principle of unity
  • JI Packer’s illustration of balconeers watching people travelling below. They are onlookers….. travelers, face problems which are essentially practical. They may think over the same area, but their problems differ. The theology of travelers has a theoretical angle. Packer seems to suggest that any concern that unprocessed theory is arcane and uninteresting, engaged in the vice of curiosity.
  • Speculation… a viscous mode of contemplation.
  • We should be anti-speculative but we cannot afford to be anti-theoretical or anti-speculative.
  • Does thinking of theology as “contemplative wisdom” encourage idolatry?
    • Luther: sinful human and the God who justifies
    • Bayer – thinks that it suffers from a totalizing problem, and a de-historicizing problem.
    • With Bayer we can agree that it is susceptible to these mistakes – but the many errors of Hegel aren’t addressed by abandoning ST but modifying it (perhaps under a Pilgrim context)
    • This allows us to insist upon the limited nature of our contemplation
    • Directs us to expecet perfect contemplation only in the beatific vision
    • Some problems w/Bayer – his view undermines God’s self-presentation of his word. Yes God is the justifier, but it does not exhaust God’s action.
  • Dogmatics desrives its character from its primary object: the Triune God
  • Bavinck: God is independent, not only in his existence but in all his attributes and perfections
  • God does not exist for any reason that exists outside of himself. From him and through him and to him are all things
    • Thus while the study of God produces all kinds of practical ends, but it is not exhausted in its service towards practical ends
    • Godliness prepares us for contemplation of God
    • God is Wisdom’s goal

Thesis Three

  • Theology is not a view from nowhere
  • Dogmatic theology occupies itself with God, it is a view of God
  • Theology’s object is twofold – God’s being, wisdom, and power ALSO the unsearchable depth of God’s works
    • It is the thrice holy God almighty and all things relative to God
  • It contemplates objects contemplated by other objects as well, what distinguishes dogmatic theology is not the uniqueness of its objects or what it knows, what distinguishes it is the prespective from which it knows God, humanity and the lilies of the field…
    • From the perspective of God’s self revelation, his naming of humanity, his care for the lilies of the field
  • Dogmatic theology is a view of God from God
    • How? Cuz God has revealed himself to us as he himself is
  • This is why dogmatics does not follow the method of so many science of reasoning from effects to causes. The method of dogmatic theology is to begin from God. That is because that is how God has revealed himself in his word.
  • It is also a view of God from the presence of God
    • Our theology, ectypal, contemplates it from a humbler vantage point. To profess theology is a priestly ministration
  • It is the view of God from God in the presence of God

Thesis Four

  • It takes a systematic shape in commending its work of contemplation
  • What shape might a modest system of dogmatic theology take?
    • Astonished contemplative wonder of Paul, also John’s sketches
  • Following a brief introduction, a system of theology might first treat the depths of the riches of the triune God in his unfathomable being
    • This is not very popular in modern theology
    • “Protestant Theology for Liberals” as an example – it treats God exclusively in relation to creatures.
    • While its true of pilgrim theology that creaturely mediation is a fact, something more is required. Treating God before his relation to creatures takes seriously that God is who he is apart from anyone else. He is who he is.
    • Treating God himself before treating his relation to creatures – allows us to treat his relationship’s mixed nature. One of absolute benevolence, marvelously disinterested interest in us.
    • It may treat secondly, the works of God. Nature, Grace, Glory. Each of these three works are related. Grace restores and perfects nature.
    • Third – connect each individual topic to God as cause. It is due to the fact that strictly speaking, the nature, ends and activities of God’s creatures only exist in relation to God, and therefore creatures can only be understood in relation to God, their supreme author and end.
  • In following this method ST proves itself true to its name as Theology – God, always God from beginning to end (Bavinck)

Dogmatics is a mixed discipline…contemplative understanding of dogmatics might inform the organization of theology. How might such a conception relate to theological and academic disciplines?

Dogmatic theology has the capacity for functioning as an inclusive discipline. Because of its attention to the supreme object and its concern to order all thing in relation to him, it can provide a framework to organize the other disciplines. For these disciplines are finally ordered to the glory of the Triune God and our wellbeing in him.

LATC 2017 – Knowledge Puffs Up, But Love Builds Up

Some notes on Chris Tilling’s break out session at LATC 2017…

20170112_162633

1 Corinthians 8:1-7

  • Contains the epistemological issue
  • Paul creates the contrast that structures what follows
    • Knowledge puffs up, love builds up
    • Knowledge as possession puffs up, he is not anti-intellectual. He is against a particular way of knowing.
    • Paul articulates a relational/covenantal way of knowing, expressed in our love of God
    • The necessary knowing in 8:2 is expressed as knowing God and being known by God in 8:3 – this is a covenantal knowing
      • Monotheism = within context of covenant refers to a rigorous exclusivity of relationship.
    • In Paul’s idiom covenant and knowledge go hand in hand
  • Verse 4-6 repeat and elaborate the contrast that proceeded
    • Two propositions (Corinthians)
      • We know that no idol in the world really exists
      • There is no God but one
    • Paul’s Response
      • Even though no idol exists (as real divine beings)
      • But for us there is one God the Father, etc.
      • Corresponding w/ love for God, he uses the words of the Shema b/w God and Jesus
      • This is a love-oriented understanding of “knowing”

Paul, The Task of Dogmatics, and “Barthian” Theology

  • Barth means by revelation – a concrete relation to concrete humanity
  • For Barth the criteria and possibility of dogmatics is described in personal terms
    • The Word of God is a success word
    • Revelation is not simply over there, but includes the entire correspondence of man’s side
    • The personal word becomes a relational or participatory one

Stephen Holmes & Katherine Sonderegger

  • Sonderegger
    • If Paul claims knowledge of God is bound up in loving God, and as such cannot be a possession or abstraction
    • In the first couple of chapters of her ST, there is an imposition of non-relational abstract knowledge. She presses the distinction between the who & what of God, and narrative/metaphysics. i.e. to look beyond the genre of scripture to its subject matter
    • Problem – she deploys an abstract concept, speaking of the WHATNESS of God. In contrast to this, Pauline epistemology, ONENESS is not just a brute theological fact, it’s a relational fact explained in relational terms.
    • Sonderegger’s project lands on the wrong side of the Pauline contrast
      • Question – Can you come to know certain things on the “right side” of this contrast, but explain it in such a way that when it is articulated or communicated it looks more like the “wrong side?”
    • Certain theological facts cannot be abstracted/divorced from God’s relationship from his people.
    • “Almost every attempt to articulate a metaphysical truth, lands on the wrong side of the structural contrast.”
  • Stephen Holmes
    • The doctrine of the Trinity is necessarily and precisely “useless” – knowledge of the divine is a highest end, it is the nature of the highest end that it is of no instrumental use.
    • Knowledge of God that is not discipleship/lived is not theological knowing at all, it is a mere puffing up.
    • He is allowing an abstract concept to order his God-talk. It is a means-end schema.
    • Also problematic, Christ is talked about in Scripture as both means and end

Conclusion

  • Paul had a controversy about knowledge /w the Corinthians who had an intellectualized understanding of knowledge, Paul highlighted participations and relational nature of knowledge. Barthian theology resonates deeply with this. It locates theological knowledge in the wider grammar of faith, love, and repentance. Recent trends in theology are losing this Barthian sensibility, and are allowing abstract knowledge to drive them. If this continues unchallenged, the gap b/w Systematic Theology and Biblical studies will continue to widen.

LATC 2017: Why Should Protestants Retrieve Patristic and Medieval Theology? – Gavin Ortlund

Some notes from Gavin Ortlund’s Breakout Session….

Retrieving the Leavened Bread out of the Unleavened

  • Warfield on Augustine: Doctrine of Grace is Augustine’s greatest legacy. A new Christian piety comes from Augustine. He is the author of grace and the “Father of 20170112_144711evangelicalism.”
    • Warfield calls Augustine the found of Roman Catholicism too
    • Shows broader attitude: Evangelical doctrines and bad Catholic doctrines, two children struggling in his mind, but the REAL Augustine is the “evangelical Augustine.”
    • He was a proto-protestant who would have eventually become a “protestant” had he lived longer
  • Method: The last 500 years are the “good years”, we construct theology and see older theology through the lens Protestantism
    • Easy to take sola scriptura and make it sola reformationae
    • In Warfield’s account it never comes into view where Protestantism may be stretched and challenged by Augustine’s theology.
  • There are good reasons for including the entire 2000 years of church history, as a part of protestant’s theological community. We have a good example in the works of the Reformers
  • Reformers where engaged in a work of theological retrieval
    • Defended their cause against the charges of novelty
  • Warfield saw the church as having experienced a fall that needs to be recovered from. Luther and Calvin by contrast saw the early church as a tool to be recovered and retrieved.
  • Calvin and Luther both affirmed the continuation & preservation of the true church in every generation. The last thing they intended was a denial of the first 13 centuries. They saw themselves as attempting the establishment of a proper Catholicism.

How Patristic & Medieval Theology Can Resource Protestant Theology

  • Four ways….
  • First – P & M can help bulk up PT where it is weak and underdeveloped.
    • Metaphor: Child attending a school
    • One need not regard church tradition as infallible, simply recognize that each generation of the church has a unique gift towards the church
    • Medieval theologians saw creation, fall, relationship to angels as theological topics with important consequences
  • Second – can help shape theological sensibilities and values
    • Metaphor: visiting the grand canyon doesn’t just give you information
    • Example of sensibilities: Doctrine of God had different instincts/sensibilities in P&M, like divine simplicity or univocity/analogy or hiddenness
  • Third – can help provide perspective on modern theological debates (liberal/conservative spectrum)
    • Metaphor: Going to see a counselor to get perspective on something
    • Example: Augustine’s doctrine of creation. There are concerns he has that are very different than ours. Favored an approach to the text which provides a helpful model of humility, wants to learn from natural sciences
  • Fourth – can help bring about synthesis
    • Metaphor: A Guide
    • Example: Doctrine of Atonement. Approaching this doctrine helps you see ways of holding things together that in the modern literature seem to be at odds with one another.

Three Case Studies of Patristic & Medieval Retrieval

  • Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy
    • Philosophy functioned as a handmaiden to not a replacement for theology. Can help w/doctrine of God: creation/Creator, simplicity, foreknowledge, God’s relation to time
  • Gregory the Great’s Book of Pastoral Rule
    • Capable administrator but Gregory regarded himself primarily as a religious leader. Calvin called him the last good Pope. He lived in a Latin district of Constantinople, thus he was shaped by eastern theology. Gregory is the only Latin Father whose works were translated into Greek in his lifetime. How to benefit: practical focus – how to speak differently to different kinds of people
  • John of Damascus Writings on the Iconoclast Controversy
    • The preeminent representative of the Byzantine Tradition. Was practically unknown in the West until the 12th Protestant iconoclasm didn’t even refer to John of Damascus. The ancient eastern church included more than just Greek churches (Syriac, Coptic, Slavic, Armenian, etc.). All human thought about the divine is pictorial. As a result – they were encouraged to develop a rich theology of art. For evangelicals, his work may challenge what embodiment would mean for us.20170112_144711

LATC 2017: Can I Get a Witness? Analytics, Poetics, and the Mission of Dogmatics – Kevin Vanhoozer

 

Here are some lecture notes from Kevin Vanhoozer’s plenary session at LATC 2017kevinvanhoozer1200x1800

A-Introduction – the discourse of dogmatics: saying what is “in Christ”

  • Who God is and what God is doing – “in Christ”
  • For most of the 20th century Dogmatics is in the doghouse
  • Which comes first in dogmatics? A experience, community, language?

 

B-The issue: experiencing/thinking/speaking-of/living-to God

 

1.The Man Who Saw Infiinity

  • “The Man Who Saw Infinity” – Poetics vs. Analytics in Math
    • A feeling for form – poetic sensibility
  • What about dogmatics?
    • Where should we locate it on the spectrum? Analytic or Poetic?
      • Perfect being theology
      • Apophatic theology
      • Cataphatic theology
    • Dogmatics is a response to a prior divine communicative initiative
      • It exists under the domain of the Word
      • The communicative agency of the Triune God is what makes theological reflection possible. Christ is the human surface who mirrors the Father.

 

2.Dogmatic Discourse: the task

  • Barth: Dogmatics about how well church proclamation lines up with Revelation of the Word. The church must embody and proclaim the truth of the gospel. It was a science of the Word of God whose form and content is JC. It is scientific in the sense that it is the object that determines the practice.
  • Bavinck: Distinguishes symbolics from dogmatics (what it actually confesses and what it should confess). Dogmatic theology dogmatizes.
  • Webster: Focus is still on God’s communicative agency. Identity b/w God’s inner and outer works. Theology was under house arrest of modernity. Webster doesn’t deny the ectypal nature of human knowledge of God, yet this does not necessarily result in the deconstruction of dogmatics. Rather it acknowledges the limitations of human intellect, but places them under the sphere of God’s communicative action.

 

3.Dogmatic Discourse: The Challenge

  • Not all God talk constitutes dogmatic discourse
    • e. Jesus’ encounter w/demons. When demons speak. True, but not dogmatics.
  • Dogmatics not only involves words, but a doxastic attitude
  • The Latinization Thesis
    • Language change was crucial in refashioning the mentality of eurpoean thought process
    • Goal: have a humanist schoolboy speak and think like ciceronian Latins
    • Should we say something similar about dogmatics? i.e. to train to speak, write, and think as if they were in the same speech community as Athanasius and Calvin
  • The Globalization Thesis
  • The modern barrier to the thing-in-itself and God-in-himself

D.Dogmatic Discourse, part 1: Analytics

1.Dogmatic Discourse, Part 1:analytics

  • Language as a tool or language as what makes inter-subjectivity possible in the first place
  • Webster sounds an analytic note
    • Dogmatics is a species of reasoning. It involves viewing reason as created, fallen, redeemed. Caught up in an economy of grace. Dogmatic reasoning yields a conceptual representation to what reason has learned from following the exegetical text.
  • Is Webster an analytic theologian?
    • What is AT?
    • Its clear that Webster makes use of conceptual distinctions: i.e. Creator and Creature.
    • Dogmatics begins with economic works, and traces back to God in himself.
    • Webster insists again and again that theology proper is directed towards things unseen, but not necessarily unheard. It offers conceptual analysis of biblical discourse.

2.Linguistic Phenomenology

  • Webster may be a kind of phenomenlogist of the Triune God. Not the “thing in itself” but God in himself. Attempt to ID the essential components of phenomena. Webster even sounds like Husserl when he speaks of reducing elements to their founding principles. Webster – contemplation requires the mind to move through created things to the Trinitarian things themselves.
  • JL Austin compared his method to a phenomenology of ordinary language. Is dogmatics a sort of phenomenology of biblical language? It sort of resembles this.
  • Is analysis the task of dogmatics?

3.Warnings to reducing dogmatics to analytics

  • Webster’s Warning
  • Vos – Biblical theology considers the form and content, Systematic theology examines these same contexts as the material for a human work of classifying and systematizing according to human principles.
  • Webster: says this suggest two problems
    • Makes Bible raw material, hence the idiom of systematic theology drifts away from Scripture. It operates at a distance from the idiom of scripture.
    • Gives rise to the dangerous idea that dogma is an improvement upon Scripture.
    • Webster prefers a more “light-weight” understaning of the dogmatic task

 

E.Dogmatic Discourse, part 2: Poetics:

1.The Poetics of Dogmatics: a brief historical sampling

  • Not just content, but Form
  • David Tracy describes theology as the triumph of logos over theos.
  • Some examples:
    • Gregory of Nazianzus: Poemata Arcama
    • Schleiermacher: Christmas Eve Celebration: A Dialogue
    • Von Balthasar: Theo-Drama
    • Vanhoozer: Theodramatics

2.The Poetics of Dogmatics, part 2: biblical reasoning revisited

  • Webster’s exhortation to not let dogmatics drift away from the idioms of scripture
  • The imagination is a cognitive capacity: its important then to harken to the different ways Scriptures speaks of Christ. Given recent critiques of the designative function of language, we ought to pay more attention the the shaping of a biblical imagination, which includes also forms and content. Stories are not just delivery systems for delivering propositional content. They do something else too.
  • We needs poets and novelists, how much more do we need biblical narrative, to not only cultivate right opinion but also right affections.
  • What’s the moral for dogmatics? Should dogmatic theology look more like a science textbook or a story?
    • Lets not confuse propositional content and form
      • Some forms i.e. analytic excel at form
      • Some forms i.e. narrative excel at content too
    • Lets not think that dogmatics needs to adopt the styles of biblical discourse in order to think biblically
  • Gunton – Dogmas are summary of gospel material
  • Dogmas provide direction for doing, seeing, tasting, everything that is the drama of relation
  • The dogmatic imaginary is the social imaginary of the church generated and governed by the biblical imaginary

F.The Mission of Dogmatic Statements

  • Dogmatic indicatives: statements on a mission
    • Task: say what is happening in the mission of the F, S, HS
    • Dogmatics bears witness to this
    • Saying of what is in Christ, that it is
      • Many forms of IS (metaphorical, eschatoalogical, poetic, eternal)
    • Dogmatics guides the church in saying what “is” in Christ.
    • Dogmatic theologians are part of the cloud of witnesses
  • Dogmatics at Jerusalem: a mission(s) statement
    • Acts 15 – an example, Luke even uses DOGMATA to describe what happened in Acts 15
      • Judgement about “fittingness” of action to what we know is true about what God is doing in Christ
    • Dogmatic discourse and confessional statements
    • Confession is responsive and not spontaneous

G.Conclusion – the discourse of dogmatics and the gestures of discipleship

  • Why is there dogmatics rather than nothing?
  • Importance of including gestures in dogmatic discourse. Saying what IS in Christ involves action too. Action of what is true in Christ. The evangelical task is not just a finger pointing to Christ, but a whole BODY gesturing towards Christ.
  • Gestures are language too.
  • Dogmatics helps the church make Christly gestures.

Is Analytic Theology REALLY Systematic Theology?

logo-full

Last week Oliver Crisp kicked off the 2016 Analytic Theology Seminar Series at Fuller Seminary. He gave a wonderfully precise and clear lecture on the relationship between Analytic Theology and Systematic Theology. Basically he answered the question:

Is analytic theology really systematic theology or is it really just ersatz theology?

The way that Crisp approached this question was to examine the works of three different exemplars of systematic theology. Scholars whom nobody would doubt their pedigree as analytic theologians. First he examined the purpose and project of John Webster, followed by Brian Gerrish, and concluding with Gordon Kaufman. All very different types of theologians, but systematic theologians nonetheless.

In examining the works of these theologians he came up with a “shared task” of systematic theology. Think of it as a minimalist account of systematic theology:

Shared Task: Commitment to an intellectual undertaking that involves (though it may not comprise) explicating the conceptual content of the Christian tradition (with the expectation that this is normally done from a position within that tradition, as an adherent of that tradition), using particular religious texts that are part of the Christian tradition, including sacred scripture, as well as human reason, reflection, and praxis (particularly religious practices, as sources for theological judgements.

What jumped out to me about this minimalist account of ST is that it involves to main claims. One claim is about the task and the other is about the sources. The task is one of explanation, the primary sources are religious texts (broadly construed) and other secondary sources.

To me this seems like a fairly minimal account of what systematic theologians do. Naturally some may have a more robust account than this, but none will have something less than this. It seems to me, and it certainly seemed to Crisp that Analytic Theology does what is described in “shared task,” however it does it in a way that uses the tools, methods, and sources of the tradition of philosophy we have come to call “analytic.”

So is Analytic Theology truly Systematic Theology? As long as it keeps to the shared task, I have no reason to say why not.

Practicing Scripture, Christ, and the Church: John Calvin’s Agenda for the Eucharist

What is “practical” theology? Often, practical theology is thought to consist of the explicit practices of the church, such as church discipline, preaching, leadership, types of worship, etc. Is this the sort of practical theology Calvin is engaged with in his Eucharistic theology? Although a good portion of Calvin’s practical theology of the Eucharist surely is focused on explicit practices, such as those mentioned above, Calvin also concerns himself with at least three implicit practical consequences that emerge from Eucharistic theology. These three concerns revolve around: 1) faithfulness to scripture, 2) Christology, and 3) ecclesiology. Here we shall see how these three themes emerge in Calvin’s work and result in a theology of the Eucharist that is eminently practical. But first we shall begin by outlining some of the explicitly “practical” comments Calvin makes regarding this sacrament.

lords-supper2

The final twelve sections of 4.17 are Calvin’s theological reflections on how to practice the Eucharist. Here he emphasizes the necessity for communicating the communal implications of this sacrament. He points to Augustine’s work as a precedent for using this practice as a goad to arouse mutual love in a local church. (1415) Calvin also teaches that the sacrament must be offered together with the preaching of the word. To do otherwise is to promote superstition. He also addresses the topic of who ought to be able to take communion. He then devotes several pages on the proper celebration of the Eucharist, explaining how often it should ideally be taken (often) and in what manner (in both kinds). A cursory reading of this section reveals how concerned Calvin is with the actual practice of this sacrament. This sort of reading would prove instructive to those wanting to emulate Calvin’s practice; however, to simply read these twelve sections and ignore the thirty-seven sections that precede them would mean ignoring other important reasons why Calvin is so concerned with practicing the Eucharist properly, namely, his scriptural, Christological, and ecclesiological concerns.

Calvin’s thought regarding the importance of reading Scripture faithfully emerges in the section where he deals with the basis of the doctrine of transubstantiation. Thus the battle over how to practice the Eucharist appropriately appears to be a battle over how best to read scripture. He cites his Roman Catholic opponent’s use of the Exodus story in which Moses’s rod is changed into a serpent as an example of reading scripture improperly. He also cites their reading of Jeremiah as evidence that they misread scripture. According to those who argue for transubstantiation, the fact that the prophet complains that wood is put in his bread signifies that Christ’s body was allegorically affixed to the wood of the cross. (1378) Calvin  disdains  this “disgraceful” sort of allegorical reading because it occludes the prophet’s true meaning. (1378) In fact, Calvin calls those who read these passages this way “enemies” of the prophet’s true meaning. Hermeneutical concerns are not reserved to his Catholic opponents alone, he also takes aim at Lutheran readings of Scripture. In a section dealing with the use of the word “is” in the words of institution he shows his hand again, revealing how he feels about those who accuse the reformed of reading scripture improperly. Here Calvin says,

 

Now I think I have made my point, that to sane and upright men, the slanders of our enemies are loathsome when they broadcast that we discredit Christ’s words, which we embrace no less obediently than they, and treat with greater reverence… our examination of the matter ought to be a witness of how much Christ’s authority means to us. (1387-8)

Later on he says that his opponents imbue the “simpleminded with the notion that we discredit Christ’s words, when we have actually proved that they madly pervert and confound them but that we faithfully and rightly expound them.” This passage reveals something important about Calvin’s Eucharistic theology, namely, that a faithful reading of scripture is at the forefront of his mind when doing Eucharistic theology. Knowing Calvin, this should come as no surprise. However, this observation has far-reaching practical implications beyond the Eucharist. In Calvin’s mind the authority of Christ comes to us through scripture, and to read scripture in a way other than it was intended to be read discredits Christ’s authority. To read allegorically or to add to scripture diminishes the authority of Christ, which is something Calvin is loathe to do.

Another one of Calvin’s concerns is also related to Christological features, not necessarily Christ’s authority, but the metaphysics of Christ’s presence. Concern with the metaphysics of the Eucharist would seem to be a theoretical concern rather than a lords-supper1practical one, but it is eminently practical, for the very gospel hinges upon it. The metaphysical issue Calvin is concerned with is the Lutheran doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ. The Lutherans, according to Calvin, want to enclose Christ under the bread, and “to meet this necessity they have introduced the monstrous notion of ubiquity.” (1401) Calvin counters this “monstrous notion of ubiquity” by showing from Scripture that Christ’s body is circumscribed by the measure of a human body, thus he is not in all places. (1401) We may read this as another battle over Scriptural authority, however it is much more than this.[1] According to Calvin, the doctrine of ubiquity (which is grounded in Eucharistic theology) is “plainly in conflict with a nature truly human.” This has profound soteriological implications. If Christ does not have the same sort of human nature that we have how can we say that Christ took on our “true flesh,” suffered in our “true flesh” and also took up that same “true flesh” in his resurrection and brought it up to heaven? (1399) To say that Christ has a different sort of flesh than our own undermines the vicarious work of Christ for us; it also undermines our eschatological hope. As Calvin says, “how weak and fragile that hope would be, if this very flesh of ours has not truly been raised in Christ, and had not entered into the kingdom of God.” (1400)

The final theoretical agenda (if we can call it that) in Calvin’s Eucharistic theology is ecclesiological. In a famous passage in which Calvin argues that participation in the Eucharist makes all who partake  participants in the one body of Christ, Calvin explains how the nature of bread shows us that this is so. He explains that just as bread is made of many grains so that one cannot be distinguished from the other, it is the case that the body of Christ (i.e. the church) is joined and bound together so that “no sort of disagreement or division may intrude.” (1415) This has profound implications for local congregations. In fact, Calvin highlights this, saying that we cannot injure, despise, reject, abuse or offend other believers and not do the same to Christ; we cannot love Christ without loving other believers, and we cannot give ourselves to Christ without give ourselves to one another. However, these ecclesiological implications go beyond the local congregation (though Calvin certainly had local concerns in mind), and the call to unity is a call for the universal church to live in a united manner. This is a matter that seems to be understood across the reformation as a whole. Most efforts that were made to encourage unity throughout the magisterial reformation revolved around the Eucharist. For instance, consider Wolfgang Musculus’s writings on the Eucharist. Craig Farmer argues that substance of Musculus’s Eucharistic theology (i.e. the notion of an exhibitive presence) remains relatively stable, but that he was willing to abandon certain controversial terms in making efforts towards finding a middle ground between Wittenberg and Zurich. (Farmer, 310). Similarly, throughout they years Calvin, makes adjustments to his Eucharistic theology in order to promote Eucharistic concord. According to Wim Janse one would not realize this simply by reading the 1559 Institutes. (Janse, 37) In his article “Calvin’s Eucharistic Theology: Three Dogma-Historical Observations” Janse argues that Calvn’s development of his Eucharistic theology goes through Zwinglian, Lutheran, and spiritualizing phases. The source of these changes came from his desire to find consensus. Thus in Calvin’s development of Eucharistic theology we see a series of compromises and conciliatory formulations. (Janse, 40) Not only do we see his goal of church unity through the Eucharist manifested in his theological development, we see in his actions, for instance the signing of the Augsburg Variata and the Consensus Tigurinus, as well as his cultivation of relationship with Melanchthon.

Calvin’s practical theology of the Eucharist extends far beyond typical “practical” concerns. His Eucharistic theology has far reaching implications for how scripture is read, how the gospel is understood, and how the church expresses its unity. Given that these are not the typical concerns of many practical theologians today, those doing practical theology would do well to pay attention to how Calvin’s “theoretical” theology does not lend itself to the tidy separation between theoretical and practical theology.


[1] For instance, see where Calvin says “They cannot show a syllable from Scripture by which to prove that Christ is invisible.” (1398)

 

Analytic Theology Seminars at Fuller Seminary Start Today!

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-6-23-23-pm

 

See the message below from Allison Wiltshire

Hello!

I would like to invite you to join us at Fuller Seminary for a weekly series of talks on human and divine love as part of the Analytic Theology for Theological Formation project.  Our team would be thrilled for you to attend any or all of the events. Feel free to pass along this information to your students or colleagues who may also be interested.
Attached you will find a schedule for the entire series that run January-June as well as a more detailed advertisement for the first 7 events. The first event is tomorrow, January 4, from 3-5pm in the faculty commons at the David Allen Hubbard Library on Fuller’s campus. Dr. Oliver Crisp will open up the series by giving an introduction to analytic theology.
For more information you can visit our website, facebook, or twitter. Feel free to contact me with any questions!
Best,
Allison Wiltshire


Allison Wiltshire 
Fuller Theological Seminary
Research Administrator AT project