Category Archives: Ministry

Judge Lest You Be Judged: John Calvin on Grace in Church Discipline

“Judge lest you be judged.” This mantra has become so widely accepted in our 21st century western context that even the the church has come to take it as programmatic for church discipline. Even within the church to discipline somebody is seen as being judgmental; and to be judgmental is to commit one of the most “heinous” sins society can envision. This aversion to judgement or discipline is in some ways understandable, after all many people have been hurt by the judgments (fair or unfair) of the church. But we ought to ask, must the discipline of the church necessarily be seen as inherently harmful or can church discipline be seen as something which is uplifting and helpful to growth? It is my suggestion, that contrary to our contemporary aversion to church discipline, which sees church discipline as a necessary evil, John Calvin saw church discipline as something which was not only necessary but also good for the church. In this brief essay I will describe a few cases that occurred in Geneva and were deemed as worthy of discipline. This will give us a better understanding of how church discipline was enacted in Calvin’s Geneva. Following this I will go on to describe what Calvin takes to be the benefits of church discipline.

Church Discipline in Geneva

William Naphy writes that upon his return to Geneva Calvin experienced opposition to his system of discipline. This opposition actually came at the hands of his fellow ministers. (Naphy, 56) Apparently some ministers felt as though too much power had been given over to the hands of the city’s pastors, and that the Small Council ought to beware of giving away power which belonged to itself. These pastors believed that this shift in power would result in “disorder and revolt.” (Naphy, 56) Naphy argues that at the end of the day, Calvin was able to consolidate power under his own Calvinist party (though naturally there were some concessions). This resulted in the system which Jeffrey Watt aptly describes in “Reconciliation and the Confession of Sins: The Evidence from the Consistory in Calvin’s Geneva.” There he argues that the balance of power laid in the fact that the Consistory could not impose secular penalties to those appearing before it (Watt, 105). The Consistory however had influence to impose discipline which would lead to holy behavior. The way the Consistory did this was by referring “miscreants for criminal sentencing to the small council.” (Watt, 105) However, more powerful than their influence over secular means of discipline, the Consistory’s true power laid in the fact that they “had direct influence over the rank and file” to deny the right to participate in the Eucharist. (Watt, 105)

Among those infractions which merited a suspension from the Eucharist, the most significant act of church discipline next to excommunication, the most common were blasphemy, violence, and sexual sins. As evidence of some common causes for discipline Naphy cites that in 1550 twenty-seven percent of cases involved sexual immorality, fourteen percent involved “religious irregularities,” and forty percent involved interpersonal disputes. As one example of a personal dispute, Watt recounts that a certain Jacques Morellet had punched his wife because she had left the door open, which in turn let in a breeze that disturbed his sleep. (Watt, 107). The Consistory forbade Morellet from taking communion. A less extreme case of a personal dispute involved a feud between Pernett Durrante and Claude Jernoz. The dispute between these women led to neither of them receiving communion for four years. This action was decided with consideration of the biblical injunction to not “come to the altar” until reconciled with one’s brother or sister. As an example of sexual improprieties we may consider the case of a landlord named Jean Losserand, who attempted to rape a married woman. (Watt, 109) The Consistory excluded him from the supper and also referred him to the small council for criminal charges. There were also cases of religious impropriety. In April 1562 a large number of people avoided the regularly scheduled pre-communion pastoral visitation. Their punishment was that they needed to appear before the consistory to prove they knew the basics of the reformed faith. There were also cases of Genevan’s performing Catholic practices abroad. In these cases the consistory often recommended that the person not take communion once, but if repentant they could take communion the following time it was offered. Also, “those who renounced the Reformed faith to save their lives were routinely readmitted to the Community of Geneva after being excluded just one time, provided they were truly penitent.” (Watt, 110) As we can see there were manifold reasons for church discipline. Often these cases required wisdom to decide what was the best course of discipline and other times the proper course of action was clear as day to the consistory.

Calvin on Church Discipline

So far we have seen how church discipline was enacted in Geneva. Modern audiences may agree with the Consistory’s decisions in some of these cases, however discipline in some of the controversial cases, like the a man who sold rosaries or a woman who prayed to Mary, may seem overly harsh. Certainly, one would think, these sorts of infractions should not merit exclusion from the Eucharist! To exclude people from the means of grace they need seems harmful and counterproductive. However, this was not Calvin’s opinion.

In the Institutes Calvin outlines three purposes for church discipline. The first is that those who lead a filthy and infamous life bring dishonor to God and corrupt the name of the church and the name Christian. Thus they ought to be disciplined. (Calvin, 1232) The second is that bad company corrupts good character. In other words, impious people, corrupt the good people in the church. (Calvin, 1233) The third purpose, and the purpose which we shall focus on, is that “those overcome by shame for their baseness begin to repent.” (Calvin, 1233) Calvin is of the opinion that the rod has the power to awaken those who are stubborn to their own evil. Here Calvin cites Paul’s famous words to hand a sinner over to Satan “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1333) Thus to excommunicate someone, or to ban someone from receiving the Lord’s supper for a time, has the power to waken up a stubborn sinner and lead them to turn back to Christ. In this way, discipline is an act of grace, being a conduit for the stubborn sinner for receiving the grace necessary to repent of their sins.

However, Calvin not only believed that church discipline was a gracious act, he also believed that it ought to be carried out in a gracious manner. For instance, he says,

Great severity is not to be used in lighter sins, but verbal chastisement is enough – and that mild and fatherly – which should not harden or confuse the sinner, but bring him back to himself, that he may rejoice rather than be sad that he has been corrected. (Calvin, 1234)

Often times these verbal chastisements came through sermons. Parker notes that in calling out the sins of the congregation (not individuals) “there is not threshing himself into fever of impatience or frustration, no holier than though rebuking of the people.” (Parker, 119) In other words he approached sermonic reproof and exhortation in a gracious manner. The exception to this sort of behavior comes when Calvin dealt with injustice and opposition to the gospel. For example, he specifically indicts some of the Genevan Judges for acting contrary to God’s justice. (Parker, 120)

Great severity is not to be used in lighter sins, but verbal chastisement is enough[3] – and that mild and fatherly – which should not harden or confuse the sinner, but bring him back to himself, that he may rejoice rather than be sad that he has been corrected. (Calvin, 1234)

Here we see the gracious nature of church discipline manifested in several ways. First, the sinner ought to be approached in a graceful manner, showing them the appropriate amount of severity. Not only this, but the tone of discipline ought to be fatherly, that is seeking the best for the sinner, not punishing simply for the sake of retribution. Third, the purpose of discipline is not to harden or confuse the sinner, but to bring the sinner to awareness of his sinfulness. Here Calvin shows, that he understands the ability church discipline has to harden the heart of a sinner. Calvin says, this ought to be avoided. Finally, the goal of discipline is not that the sinner feel bad about their sin, but that they may rejoice that they have been corrected and put back on the right path to godliness.

Elsewhere Calvin writes that severity ought to be joined with “a spirit of gentleness” which is fitting for the church, thus agreeing with the spirit of Chrysostom’s question: “If God is so kind, why does his priest wish to seem so rigorous?” (Calvin, 1237) Church discipline should confirm God’s love towards the sinner. Its intent is to lead the sinner to repentance, so that it may bring spiritual health not only to the sinner but the entire church body. (Calvin, 1240)

Conclusion

Thus far we have seen the way in which church discipline was enacted in Calvin’s Geneva as well as Calvin’s stated goals in enforcing church discipline. The purpose of church discipline is the good of the church and the sinner. Those who are charged with the overseeing of the spiritual well being of God’s people are charged with a duty to warn, reprove and correct evil (Calvin, 1239). They do sinners no favor in allowing them to remain guilty before the Lord. Thus church discipline is necessary, not as a necessary evil, but as a necessary means to awaken sinners to God’s grace towards them. According to Calvin, the church ought to be careful in hurting the flock when disciplining them, yet at the same time sometimes the temporary pain that comes from being publicly or privately reprimanded or being excluded from communion or from the church is the most loving and gracious thing the church can do for sinners.

10 Reasons You Should Go to Seminary

I recently came across an older blog post by Scot McKnight about going to seminary. McKnight is one of my favorite authors and biblical scholars. He also teaches at a seminary. I respect the guy a ton! So if he says, “here are 10 reasons you should go to seminary” I listen, and I think you should too.

Here are some reasons for going to seminary:

1. Gift enhancement. Seminaries will not “gift” a person but seminaries can almost always enhance the gifts God has given to a person. I have argued for years that seminaries work best when they are populated by ministers and not by folks who think or want, but aren’t sure, if they are gifted or called. What seminaries do well is enhance gifts.

2. Biblical and Theological enhancement. Seminary students will study the Bible, the whole Bible, and that will be a first for some. And, they already have a theology; seminaries can enhance that theology, both by way of subtraction (getting rid of some careless ideas) and addition (adding better ideas). Students have the opportunity to study great theologians, and pity the seminary that assigns textbook-ish theology books, and I’m thinking here of Athanasius and Augustine, Aquinas and Anselm, Luther and Calvin (and the Anabaptists like Hubmaier), and then into the modern era with Barth and Moltmann.

3. Personal enhancement. There was a day when seminaries assumed seminary students would be praying and reading the Bible and practicing the disciplines and attending church … they assumed formation was already underway. No more. Increasingly, seminaries are making spiritual formation — personal enhancement — a part of each course in the curriculum. I will be. 

4. Dedicated time. Let’s face it, to develop theologically as a minister you need time, and that’s what seminary does. In sociological terms, seminary can be a time of encapsulation: you are isolated from your work, your church, and you are holed up in a class with other students and a professor, and you wander into quiet libraries and you study — it is that dedicated time that seminaries can offer. Most pastors aren’t afforded the luxury to study in big chunks of time, so going to seminary, even if it is as a commuter, offers dedicated time. It probably won’t happen without dedicated time.

5. Access to specialists. One of the problems with seminaries is that they can take on the flavor of a research institution and its professors want to be left alone to do historical and technical research and write books and articles and monographs for the academic guild. I am proud to say at Northern, the aim is for the professors to be both specialist enough to be able to work in the guild but who are shaping their lives toward pastors, toward ministry, and toward the church. Seminaries provide specialists to ministers who need specialists on the topics of the day.

6. Theological diversity. Some seminaries (names omitted) prefer to have faculty who all think alike. I’m 100% persuaded diversity, theological diversity, is the name of the game for seminaries. No two pastors think exactly alike and no two professors think alike, and having theological diversity (within some creedal constraint) that interacts with one another sets a pattern for ministry for years to come. Taking classes from professors who don’t agree with you, or who think differently, will make you a better minister.

That is just 6/10! You can read the rest here.

By the way… I think Fuller Seminary is a great option. Just saying!

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This is a picture of Fuller Seminary’s library – oh and also  of California’s year-round beautiful weather.

(Review) The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch

My wife and I have a beautiful 16 month old daughter. She loves to play around and she really loves to read. Given my profession, the fact that she loves books brings joy to my heart! Although she loves books, probably more than any other form of entertainment, Mothers Dayher mother and I still have the difficult task of figuring out how much technology we want to let her have access to at this early stage of her life. Should she have access to our phones? Should she be able to look at photos on them? Play games on them? Use the camera? Or what about the computer, she gravitates towards it! She hits the keys like she’s typing up something really important. And then, there is the ever important question, how much TV is too much TV? These are all questions that we as young parents are trying to figure out. Thankfully, Andy Crouch, author of some of my favorite books including Culture Making and Strong and Weak, has written a new book titled The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.

One of the most helpful features of this book are his 10 commandments:

  1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
  2. We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
  3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together.
  4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
  5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
  6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
  7. Car time is conversation time.
  8. Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
  9. We learn to sing together, rather than let recoreded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
  10. We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

As a parent I found commandment #2 and the chapter about it especially interesting. He stresses that children are driven to create – if we nudge them in that direction. However too often, cheap technology squelches that drive to create. “For a child’s creative development, the inexpenseive, deep, organic thing is far better than the expensive, broad, electronic thing. And yet we are constantly tempted to give them toys that work on their own – that buzz and beep and light up without developing any skill.” (80) Chapter 6 – which treats the topic of boredom was also especially helpful. Apparently the English word for boredom does not appear until the 1850’s and its root word “bore” appears only a century earlier. Crouch argues that the technology that promises to free 41vj8hqrnkl-_sx355_bo1204203200_us from boredom actually makes it worse, it makes us more prone to seek distraction. Its even worse for kids! Crouch concludes that “the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get.” (141) That is powerful stuff! A short-term solution can actually become a long term problem. In this chapter he takes aim at the practice of sitting kids in front of videos in order to entertain them, or keep them busy while mom and dad try to get some work done around the house. Talk about convicting!  Videos he says, are designed to fill a screen with a level of vividness and velocity that does not exist in the real world – or only very rarely. Some entertainment is created to never require too much concentration or contemplation, it grabs our attention and constantly stimulates our desire and delight with novelty. It desensitizes us. In light of all of this it gets harder and harder to stay entertained. The ordinary, in turn, becomes boring. Dirt, grass, trees, fields, birds, all the things that require attention, the things that you see more of when you slow down and look closer, become boring. I certainly don’t want that for my daughter! I want her to delight in the magic that is God’s creation! I don’t want to stifle her creativity with quick solutions, and I don’t want her to lose her awe of the ordinary. This book serves as a fine warning to me, which will keep me from ignorantly falling into practices which counteract my desires for her.

As you can probably tell, this book has made a significant impact on the way I think about technology and parenting. If you are a parent, I highly recommend this book. Even if you are not, this book might help you bring some discipline into your technology filled life.

Note: I received this book in exchange for an impartial review.

(Review) Embodied Hope by Kelly Kapic

The problem of evil has been solved. Well, at least the logical problem of evil has been, which for the lived experience of most human beings is radically insufficient. Pain and suffering present a radically real problem for many people. People die, get sick, and deal with chronic pain. For some, these realities pose a major stumbling block to seeing God as good. Kelly Kapic, the author of Embodied Hope has experienced these realities first hand. His wife has dealt with the ravages and emotional toll of physical suffering. In light of this he has chosen to write a book which is both theological and pastoral, exploring the truths about God and ourselves which have bearing upon this problem of pain and 51a5lkxgr8l-_sx331_bo1204203200_suffering.

Naturally, the problem of evil is a really large topic, thus Kapic chooses to limit himself in two ways: First, he chooses to address Christians who suffer. Thus this book isn’t meant as a global defense against the existential problem of evil, or evil in general. It is aimed ad Christians who experience suffering. Second, he chooses to deal with suffering associated specifically with serious illness or physical pain.

The book is roughly divided into three parts. Part one deals with the limitations of easy answers often given to the problem of suffering and he deals with the nature of biblical lament. Here he also explores what it means to be embodied creatures. Part two turns to Christology in order to address some of these issues. Kapic believes that “Only by looking to this man [Christ] can we reorient our experience of suffering in a way that is truly Christian.” (15) In part three Kapic relates ecclesiology to the problem of suffering. He says that in the body of Christ we “discover a pattern for Christian discipleship that allows for genuine struggle, communal support, and transformative affection.” (15)

As someone who would consider myself to be a “pastor-theologian” I can really appreciate the nature of this work. Kapic works hard to make sure that our theological reflections are not separated from our pastoral practice. I found Kapic’s chapter on the Incarnation to be especially strong in maintaining this bond. Here he examines the theology of Athanasius and Warfield and concludes that,

The physicality of the Messiah takes us to the heart of the gospel and God’s promise, not just of sympathy but of rescue. God has come, come near, come to be God with us and God for us!” (75)

This is a powerful truth with major pastoral implications. Much incarnational theology has swung towards saying that the most important part of the incarnation is that Christ now has solidarity with us. This is certainly true, and pastorally significant, but solidarity without rescuing doesn’t offer much hope!

His chapter on confession was also enlightening. I have rarely seen a chapter on confession in a book addressing suffering. If I have, they are often very poorly written, wrongly teaching that our sickness/suffering is always tied to some hidden sin. So what does confession have to do with healing? Confession before others can help us disentangle our pain from the idea of personal punishment, it liberates us from shame and condemnation, it allows us to meet Christ in the other, and allows us to make ourselves truly vulnerable to the healing presence of God. This is truly powerful stuff!

So who should pick up this book? Undoubtedly, pastors! I mentioned above that this is a great example of pastoral theology. Kapic doesn’t present anything “new” here, or anything particularly interesting to academic theologians. However, he does an amazing job of making theology “real” for pastors and laypersons. I often hear that systematic theology is irrelevant or that it’s a nice intellectual pursuit, but here Kapic shows us that is simply untrue. The sort of historical theology  and systematic theology he is engaging in this book is supremely relevant to the life of anyone who calls themselves a Christian.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

Same-Sex Attraction and the Church

Its actually a plausibility problem…

What the bible teaches about same sex relationships sounds implausible to most people 51mnsxoryhl-_sx331_bo1204203200_nowadays. It sounds totally implausible to ask people to turn their backs on same sex relationships and live a lonely life as a perpetually single person.  Not only does it sound implausible, it sounds unhealthy. Listen to what Melinda Selmys, a Roman Catholic who experiences same sex attraction says:

“Though shall not,” has consistently failed to persuade the postmodern world because it is madness.

She’s right, it in our world the idea that someone should say yes to the single life is absolute madness. And this is exactly where the problem lies, the church has unintentionally perpetuated the implausibility of a same-sex, single, celibate Christian life through a number of misteps. Ed Shaw, a pastor and the author of Same-Sex Attraction and the Church, seeks to address this plausibility problem by making what the Bible clearly commands seem plausible again.

Shaw’s thesis is that,

The reason that the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality sounds so unreasonable is because of a whole number of misteps that the church ahs taken over the years; a whole host of ways in which evangelicals have become too shaped by the world around us. (22)

What Shaw does throughout the book is highlight 9 misteps that the church has made, unwittingly making the same sex celibate life implausible. He begins the book with a very personal chapter, describing what life has been like pursuing a life of sexual holiness as a pastor who has same sex attractions. This is an important chapter because the plausibility problem is a deeply personal and emotional issue for him, not only as a pastor but as a same-sex attracted Christian. This chapter really sets the context.

So what are the missteps? Here are the 9 incorrect beliefs that the church has adopted, thus perpetuating the implausibility of a single-celibate same-sex life:

  1. Your identity is your sexuality
  2. A family is Mom, Dad and 2.4 children
  3. If you’re born gay, it can’t be wrong to be gay
  4. If it makes you happy, it must be right
  5. Sex is where true intimacy is found
  6. Men and women are equal and interchangeable
  7. Godliness is heterosexuality
  8. Celibacy is bad for you
  9. Suffering is to be avoided

Although these 9 topics have certainly influenced how the church processes issues of same sex attraction in the church, they have wide ranging implications. Personally, I have an ax to grind against belief 4 and 9. Even apart from issues of sexuality, the beliefs that “if it makes you happy, it must be right” and “suffering is to be avoided” have done so much to harm the mission of the church. Because the church has imbibed these values (especially the American church) people are slow to sacrifice for the sake of God’s mission. And perhaps even worse, students tend to abandon their faith in college precisely because they have bought into “happiness” as the goal of life, and hence their faith as well. I’ve seen it time and time again, people following Jesus because of the “happiness” and “blessings”

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Ed Shaw is Pastor of Emmanuel City Centre in Bristol, England.

he has to offer them instead of simply following him because he is the Messiah. It’s a consumeristic view of faith. All this to say, the issues Shaw addresses have major implications even beyond the topic of same-sex attraction.

I highly recommend this book to those in ministry. I wish all my pastor friends would take the time to read it simply because I know that some of them unknowingly are perpetuating these harmful beliefs in their churches (2 and 5 seem to be especially common in the circles I find myself in.) This would also be a helpful book for all sorts of leaders in Christian ministry to read. We would really benefit from being more careful about how we address issues of family life and relationships, as elevating certain topics in sermons or bible studies can unwittingly alienate a large segment of our Christian brothers and sisters.

Even though you may not agree with the details of Shaw’s proposal, this is an invaluable resource for those seeking to disciple their flock in the areas of sexuality and beyond.

NOTE: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.

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.

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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)

 

Books Read in 2016

At the end of each the year I put out the list of books I have read that year. Usually they consist of a lot of theology books, followed up by a good chunk of philosophy books, and a few fiction books thrown in. In 2013 I read 106 books. In 2014 I read 87 books. In 2015 I read  88 books. This year, my numbers went down drastically. However, that was mainly because I was in school again, reading lots of journals and book chapters, and writing a whole bunch. The numbers also dropped because I stopped reading at the gym. My workouts sort of changed (became more intense) so I no longer read while doing cardio. Anyway, this year’s total is 52 book. That’s one per week!

book-piles

Books Read in 2016 = 52!

January

  1. Systematic Theology Volume 1 – Wolfhart Pannenberg
  2. Experiences in Theology – Jurgen Moltmann
  3. The Nature of Doctrine – George Lindbeck
  4. The Nature of Confession – Phillips & Okholm

February

  1. Beyond Foundationalism – Grenz & Francke
  2. The Drama of Doctrine – Kevin Vanhoozer
  3. Black Theology of Liberation – James Cone
  4. Models of God – Sally McFague
  5. Introducing Radical Orthodoxy – James K.A. Smith

March

  1. Analytic Theology – Crisp & Rae
  2. An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology – Thomas McCall
  3. Four Views on Hell – Preston Sprinkle
  4. Strong and Weak – Andy Crouch
  5. The Problem of Hell – Jonathan Kvanvig
  6. Hell: The Logic of Damnation – Jerry Walls

April

  1. Gaining by Losing – J.D. Greear
  2. The Unfolding Mystery – Edmund Clowney
  3. Jonathan Edwards Among the Theologians – Oliver Crisp
  4. Sacrifice and Atonement – Stephen Finlan

May

  1. Knowledge and Christian Belief – Alvin Plantinga
  2. Living on the Devil’s Doorstep – Floyd McClung
  3. How I Changed My Mind About Evolution – Stump and Applegate
  4. The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World – Gene Green, Stephen Pardue, K.K. Yeo

June

  1. Prodigal God – Tim Keller
  2. The Father Heart of God – Floyd McClung
  3. Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous – W. Jay Wood
  4. The Pastor Theologian – Gerald Heistand & Todd Wilson
  5. Reading Romans in Context – Ben Blackwell, John Goodrich, and Jason Matson
  6. You are What You Love – James K.A. Smith

July

  1. The Claim of Humanity in Christ – Alexandra Radcliff
  2. The Lost Letters of Pergamum – Bruce Longenecker

Lost Track of Dates

  1. Writings on Pastoral Piety – John Calvin (ed. McKee)
  2. Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation – William Naphy
  3. Infant Baptism in Reformation Genega – Karen Spierling
  4. Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension – Julie Canlis
  5. America at the Crossroads – George Barna
  6. The Uncontrolling Love of God – Thomas Oord
  7. Pentecostal Outpourings – ed. Robert Smart, Michael Haykin, and Ian Clary
  8. Crossing Cultures in Scripture – Marvin Newell
  9. Rational Faith – Stephen Evans
  10. What is Reformed Theology – R.C. Sproul
  11. Judaism Before Jesus – Anthony Tomasino
  12. Reordering the Trinity – Rodrick Durst
  13. Delighting in the Trinity – Michael Reeves

November

  1. A Little Handbook for Preachers – Mary Hulst
  2. Love Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life – Henri Nouwen
  3. Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective – Marc Cortez

December

  1. The Vulnerable Pastor – Mandy Smith
  2. Serving a Movement – Timothy Keller
  3. Saving Calvinism – Oliver Crisp
  4. Paul’s New Perspective – Garwood Anderson
  5. Soul Keeping – John Ortberg