Monday, January 31, 2005

James Jordan on Reading the Bible 

I am enjoying listening to James Jordan's lectures on reading the Bible at the moment. Thanks to Barb and John for drawing my attention to them. Some of the principles that Jordan presents for the proper handling of Scripture are very helpful and cut right across the individualism of our day. Perhaps one of the most important points that he makes is that, outside of the Church, the Bible is not a means of grace and will only lead to greater confusion. We have all, I am sure, seen many examples of this in action. I would also highly recommend Jordan's article 'Apologia on Reading the Bible', found in this past issue of Contra Mundum.
This is quite shocking (thanks to Paul for the link).

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A New Covenant Institutional Priesthood? 

I posted this on the Wrightsaid list early today, but I thought I would repost it on my blog, as I probably won’t be posting that much else in the next few days. It is a bit rambling and repetitive in places, but that’s just the way that my mind has been functioning today. The Church is a priestly body and the ruling assembly of the new polis and not merely a gathering of pious individuals. As a Protestant I hold to the priesthood of all believers, although this doctrine is far better understood as the priesthood of all the baptized. It is Baptism that makes a person a priest. Becoming a priest is the result of initiation into a corporate body, not the result of a private act of personal faith. I believe that great harm has been done by taking the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers in an egalitarian sense. Although every baptized person is granted privileged access into God’s presence, and does not need another to go in for him, there are differing ministries within the body. What we need to appreciate is that the Church is not an undifferentiated priesthood (as many understand the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers to teach). Every baptized person has priestly functions (as they have been incorporated into Christ’s priesthood), but there are some priestly functions that cannot be exercised by the laity in general and some which cannot be exercised by women in particular. The fact that we become members of the royal priesthood through the external rite of Baptism performed by the Church reminds us that our priesthood cannot be abstracted from the ordered body that we have become part of through Baptism. Baptism incorporates us into the body’s priestly ministry and grants us priestly privileges; it does not make us priests unto ourselves, unaccountable to anyone else. The priestly body of the Church has different orders. The privileges that are given to the Church as the Bride and royal priesthood do not entail an undifferentiated body. Rather, the one Spirit that has been given to the Church is re-presented to the Church in the form of variegated ministries. Elders or pastors do not somehow have a greater access to God than the laity do. Their authority is not some grace that is given to them as detached individuals that exceeds that which other individuals receive. The difference lies in their peculiar role in relation to the rest of the body. The authority of the elder or pastor is a relational one, something which is proper to someone who takes up a particular position within the body — that of representing the Husband and Father to the Bride. In this respect, the hierarchy of the Church is similar to that of the Trinity. The hierarchy of the Trinity is a relational hierarchy and not a hierarchy born out of power (as John Zizioulas observes). The Christian priesthood, as it begins in Baptism, cannot be detached from the Church, for the Church is the temple and habitation of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22). The priesthood that we enjoy as baptized persons is not a priesthood that we possess that can be abstracted from the body. Rather, our priesthood is a participation in the priesthood that has been given to the body as a whole, which is itself an incorporation into the priesthood of Christ. Although we all have the privilege of access, we do not all have the right to exercise every priestly function. The Spirit anointed the Church for its priestly role at Pentecost, but the priesthood that has been given to the whole body is re-presented to the body by particular roles that God has established. These roles are not proper to every individual. We see much the same thing in the OT. The NT language concerning the Church being a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) is taken straight out of the OT (Exodus 19:6). The priestly status is given to the nation as a whole and not in an egalitarian manner to detached individuals. The Levites were particularly separated in order to serve to fulfill Israel’s role as the priestly nation. The rest of the Israelites were not part of the institutional priesthood, but the institutional priesthood belonged to them as they were members of the priestly nation whose vocation the institutional priesthood had been set up to fulfill. This process whereby the gift (of the Spirit’s anointing) that has been given to the whole body devolves onto particular individuals who are called to exercise this ministry for the sake of the whole body is seen in the process whereby the status of firstborn son, which is properly ascribed to Israel as a whole (Exodus 4:22), becomes focused first upon the firstborn sons of the Israelites and is then passed onto the Levites. The firstborn son status is, of course, intimately bound up with the priestly status of Israel. The firstborn son status belonged to the whole nation, but within the body of the people certain were set apart to this status in a manner that the rest of the nation was not. In the NT there is a ‘priesthood’ that is set up within the royal priesthood of the Church. This priesthood re-presents the priesthood that belongs to the Church in common and exercises this role on behalf of the body as a whole. This priesthood is not their private property, but the possession of the body. Apart from the body there is no priesthood. The differentiated character of the body of the Church ensures that no one can think of himself as self-sufficient. Am I denying any change from the OT to the NT? No. In Baptism every member of the NT priesthood is individually granted a degree of access that was not enjoyed by most of the OT priesthood. Nevertheless, while recognizing these differences, we do need to recognize a far greater degree of continuity between the OT and NT forms of priesthood than most evangelicals do. NT worship is frequently described as sacrificial worship (e.g. Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 13:10, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:5) and this sacrificial worship is led by men who exercise an especial priestly vocation that differs from that which is exercised by the rest of the congregation. If the Church is to be a royal priesthood such a special priesthood is necessary. None of us are self-sufficient priests. The priesthood of all the baptized does not somehow make the Church unnecessary. Indeed, the priesthood of all the baptized is meaningless apart from the Church, for the Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Baptism, by bringing us into the visible Church, brings us into the Temple of God. The common conception that the doctrine of the priesthood of all the baptized can somehow be turned against the Church to support individualistic Christianity must be rejected.

The God who Accepts 

In short, this Deity invoked by modern Anglicans is “the God who accepts” rather than the “God who saves and redeems.” That is, in accepting us, this God is saving and redeeming us. Here is a brief summary of the message in my words:

“God is love and God loves all people. This divine love is particularly expressed in the acceptance of people as they exist in their normality, self-worth, dignity, orientation and searching for God. Thus the Gospel is the message that God in Jesus announces that all are welcome, that all are accepted just as they are, and that the Church is a community of celebration of human acceptance of people of all types. In Christian fellowship, the uniqueness, dignity and worth of all persons, just as they are, is affirmed and practiced. And the Eucharist is the family meal, the means whereby unity is created by sharing in a common meal and affirming one another in the “Peace” and the receiving of the same symbolic food. It is open to all, whether or not they have been baptized and whatever be the state of their heart and mind. The mission of the Church concerns human dignity and worth, peace and justice for all, since God is the God who accepts all creatures, whoever and whatever they are. So Baptism is the entry into this community of celebration and represents a commitment to the mission of peace and justice.”

Read the rest here.

Romans in a Week 

I usually link to Wright material whenever it is put on Regent Radio. They are playing Wright's fantastic Romans in a Week series at the moment. Don't miss out.

Tim Gallant on AAPC 2005 

Tim Gallant has concluded his reflections on the AAPC 2005 conference. You can access them all from here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Wright on the Rapture 

While searching for something else, I came across this and thought that it was too good not to share:—
I recently heard this story about N.T. Wright: A student asked Dr. Wright after one of his lectures to define the rapture as it fit into his eschatology. He replied: "The rapture is when you look out your window, see people rising up into the air and say to yourself, 'I'll be damned!'"

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

BTW, if, like me, you often find that you cannot scroll down below the archive list when you load this page, all you have to do is click the 'restore down' button (next to the 'close' button on the top right hand corner of the window) and the rest of the posts will appear. Click it again and the window will return to its normal size.

Some Thoughts on Transubstantiation Part 3 

Threefold Presence Frequently the sacraments are discussed in a manner that fails to pay enough attention to their character as actions. All too often the categories that we resort to in order to frame our doctrine are far too static (e.g. sign / thing signified). Such language tends to frame the Eucharist less as a dynamic action to do than as a symbol to be looked at. The Eucharistic elements are primarily there to be looked at and meditated upon; the elements begin to eclipse the event that they should be part of. This tendency is a big one in evangelical circles and is not absent in Roman Catholic circles. Many forms of the practices of Eucharistic adoration, some practices associated with the reservation of the host and the use of the bread in Corpus Christi festivals and the like strike me as quite decadent, unbiblical and sub-Christian. They involve a serious distortion of the biblical rite and seem quite alien to the sacrament that was instituted by our Lord. When understanding the Eucharist as an action and understanding the presence of Christ within it precisely as a presence within an action, rather than as presence in static and detached elements (although there is certainly presence in the elements as they are found in the action), it is important to have an appreciation of the threefold character of the body of Christ. The Eucharist is a ritual whereby the Church is fulfilled as the Body of Christ. Christ Himself is present in our midst as our Host (historical Body). Christ Himself is present in the elements as our food (sacramental body). Christ Himself is present in us as His Church (ecclesial body). In the Supper Christ our Host gives the Church to eat of His body so that the Church might dwell in Him and so that He might dwell in the Church. Christ the Bridegroom gives His body to His Bride so that His Bride might become one flesh with Him. The presence of Christ is threefold: as the Host who gives the gift of Himself, as the gift itself and in the recipients of the gift as it is received. Only by keeping these three dimensions in view will we begin to understand what takes place in the Eucharist. In passages like 1 Corinthians 11 these three dimensions of presence are beautifully jumbled up together. One moment Paul is talking about the bread of the sacrament as the Body of Christ, the next it is the historical Body of Christ that he speaks of; he then proceeds to speak of the Church as the Body of Christ. It is the relationship between these aspects of the one Body of Christ that make the Eucharist what it is, that make the Church what it is and, dare I say, fulfil what Christ Himself truly is — not just an individual but a corporate Personality (totus Christus). In the light of this, any individualistic celebration of the Eucharist should be out of the question. This is one of the reasons why I believe such things as private masses to be distortions of the true nature of the sacrament. By focusing so much on the presence of Christ in the elements, some proponents of the doctrine of transubstantiation have lost sight of the ecclesial character of the Eucharist. In a similar manner, many evangelicals, who have treated the elements principally as signs to be individually meditated upon, end up downplaying the importance of the presence of the whole body of the Church at the celebration of the Eucharist. What it means for the bread and the wine to be Christ’s body and blood cannot be appreciated apart from an appreciation of what they serve to do within the Eucharistic action. They are Christ’s communication of Himself to His Bride. By Christ’s communication of Himself in the elements the Church becomes one flesh with Him. The goal of the sacrament is the totus Christus — the transubstantiation of us, not of bread and wine. This does not mean that it is necessarily inappropriate to speak about the transubstantiation of bread and wine, but if the presence of Christ in bread and wine becomes the point of the rite, we have missed the point. Transcendence and Immanence I believe that it is helpful to understand the Supper as a genuine foretaste of the new creation order. Geoffrey Wainwright, in his book Eucharist and Eschatology, identifies three key features of the new creation order. First, it will be life in Christ. Second, it will be life with Christ. Third, it will be Christ’s life in the new creation. Wainwright claims that these three aspects correspond to the general theological truths of God’s transcendence, the distinction between God and His creatures and the immanence of God in His creation respectively. The transcendence of Christ is seen particularly in the fact that Christ is the giver of the Supper to the Church. The Creator/creature distinction is seen in the fact that we eat with Christ and before God. The immanence of Christ is seen in the fact that the food that we feed on is Christ Himself. Christ is our food and not merely the giver of the food, our host and table-fellow. Wainwright maintains that God’s transcendence must of necessity take precedence over His immanence, as God is prior to His creation. Consequently, in our celebration of the Supper the emphasis must primarily rest upon Christ as the giver of the meal. Accompanying this should be a realization of our eating with Christ as our host and table-companion. These two aspects of the Supper should be given prominence over Christ’s presence in the elements. Scripture is unambiguous that Christ is also our food. In the Eucharist we eat His flesh and drink His blood, as John 6 teaches us (I find the arguments against John 6 being Eucharistic utterly specious and unconvincing). The doctrine of transubstantiation, it seems to me, gives unbiblical prominence to the presence of Christ in the elements over Christ’s role as our host and table-fellow. As a result it tends to produce unhealthy practices. Adoring Christ in the Eucharist is a perfectly biblical thing to do. As we celebrate the Supper we worship Christ as the One who gives us food and fellowships with us. We also receive Him as food in the elements. Adoring Christ in the Eucharist need not involve adoring the consecrated host. I sincerely believe that, however well-intentioned it might be, the manner in which the elements are treated in some traditions is technically idolatrous. We certainly feed on Christ’s body and drink of His blood, but in a very important sense what we eat is bread and what we drink is wine (1 Corinthians 11:26). Although Christ is truly present in the elements, the elements themselves never lose their integrity as creations of God. The mere fact that the bread in the Eucharist truly is the body of Christ does not make it a worthy object of worship. The Church is also truly the body of Christ without being a proper object of our worship. The claim that belief in Christ’s real presence in the elements necessarily entails the adoration of the consecrated host is one that leaves me unpersuaded. The Ecclesial Body and the Sacramental Body The Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist. The ecclesial body is dependent upon the Eucharist and there would be no Eucharist were it not the particular community of the Church that assembled to celebrate it. The assembly of the Church is a prerequisite for a true celebration of the Eucharist. Private masses are a dangerous departure from the biblical pattern. Following de Lubac, a number of authors have drawn attention to the manner in which the relationship between the three aspects of the theological body of Christ began to be reconceived towards the end of the Middle Ages, resulting in a corrupted doctrine of the Eucharist. In particular, de Lubac and others have highlighted the manner in the relationship between the ecclesial and the sacramental body was altered. Whereas the historical body used to be implicitly separated to some degree from the sacramental and ecclesial body, as time went on the sacramental body gradually migrated to the other side of the separation. In the original relationship, the sacramental body and the ecclesial body were seen as mutually confirming and dependent upon one another. However, the sacramental body was gradually prioritized over the ecclesial body until it ended up being screened off from the ecclesial body. The status of the Church as the body of Christ was downplayed until it assumed little more than the level of a metaphor. Many supporters of transubstantiation would be shocked by the manner in which I have paralleled the presence of Christ in the elements with the presence of Christ in the Church. This is because they think in terms of Christ sustaining a relatively anaemic presence in the Church. In the elevation of the sacrament, the assembly of the Church has been denigrated. Of course, many Roman Catholics will claim that I am seriously misrepresenting their position at this point. They will claim that it is absurd to accuse the Roman Catholic Church of denigrating Christ’s presence within the Church, as Roman Catholics clearly hold to a higher view of the Church than any Protestant ever could. I beg to differ: Roman Catholics hold to a higher view of the hierarchy of the Church, but not to a higher view of the Church itself. This is itself a result of the separation of the sacramental body from the ecclesial body. As the sacramental body was separated from the ecclesial body, the actions of the priest became all-important. The role of the people in the rite was marginalized, the withdrawal of the cup from the laity merely serving to reinforce the separation. The Church that made the Eucharist was no longer the gathered assembly, but the clergy. Private masses and other corrupt practices seem quite logical when the relationship between the sacramental and ecclesial body is regarded in such a manner. The power of the clergy, who secured the presence of Christ in the sacrament, was thereby enhanced. The Shape of the LiturgyWithin such a setting, transubstantiation became a strange miracle performed by the priest, while the role of the laity was increasingly a passive one. As Gregory Dix pointed out, the average worshipper in such a setting must content himself with purely private adoration as he looks at the sacrament (for even the words that he hears are not in the vernacular). Individualistic piety is the result of such deficient Eucharistic practice. I am convinced that it was as the Church was starved of the sacrament of its unity that many of the seeds of modern day individualism were sown. This is one of the reasons why freeing ourselves from individualistic understandings of the Eucharist is particular hard in the Western Church. Consecrationism or Receptionism? My differences with certain forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation do not have to do with (a) whether Christ is truly present in the Supper, or (b) whether we genuinely partake of the flesh and blood of Christ in the eating of the bread and drinking of the wine. I wholeheartedly affirm that Christ is truly present in the Supper and that we feed on the substance of Christ as we partake. Nevertheless, the further question of whether I hold to receptionism might well be raised at this point. Receptionism is the belief that the bread and wine only confer the body and blood where faith is present. Some people who hold this position make the presence of Christ in the elements contingent upon the faith of the one receiving them. Others maintain that Christ is truly presented to believer and unbeliever alike, but can only be truly received by the mouth of faith. The following statement from the 1557 Colloquy of Worms is a good example of a strong statement of the objectivity of Christ’s presence from theologians who hold to this latter form of ‘receptionism’:—

We confess that in the Lord’s Supper not only the benefits of Christ, but the very substance itself of the Son of Man, that is, the same true flesh which the Word assumed into perpetual personal union, in which He was born and suffered, rose again and ascended into heaven, and that true blood which He shed for us, are not only signified or set forth symbolically, typically, or in figure, like the memory of something absent, but are truly and really represented, exhibited, and offered for use, in connection with symbols that are by no means naked, but which — so far as God Who promises and offers is concerned — always have the thing itself truly and certainly joined with them, whether proposed to believers or unbelievers.

As it regards the mode now in which the thing itself, that is, the true body and blood of the Lord, is connected with the symbols, we say that it is symbolic or sacramental. We call a sacramental mode not such as is merely figurative, but such as truly and certainly represents, under the form of visible things, what God along with the symbols exhibits and offers, namely what we mentioned before, the true body and blood of Christ, which may show that we retain and defend the presence of the very body and blood of Christ in the Supper. So if we have any controversy with truly pious and learned brethren [Lutherans], it is not concerning the thing itself, but only concerning the mode of the presence, which is known to God alone, and by us believed.

For many, the debate between receptionism and ‘consecrationism’ has to do with the question of when and to whom Christ’s body becomes present. Consecrationists generally hold that Christ becomes present at the moment of the consecration of the bread and the wine. Receptionists are generally seen to believe that Christ only becomes present at the moment of reception and only to faithful receivers. Whilst a number of Calvinists claim that this is the Calvinistic position, I wonder whether certain nuances of the Calvinistic position are lost when such language is employed. I disagree with both receptionism and consecrationism as defined above. I believe that it is unhelpful to look for one moment at which Christ becomes present. Nor do I believe that there even is a moment of ‘consecration’. I fail to find one mentioned in Scripture. Christ’s presence embraces the whole action, as I have already claimed. The whole action is ‘consecratory’ and not merely one moment within it. One of the dangers with receptionism (hereafter understood as limiting the presence of Christ in the bread and wine to the moment of reception by the faithful recipient) is that it has the tendency of individualizing our celebration of the Supper. The presence of Christ becomes little more than a presence to detached individuals, rather than a presence to the congregation as a whole. Also, in both consecrationism and receptionism, there tends to be a focus upon the elements that distracts us from the other manners in which Christ is present in the Eucharist. If the whole action is consecratory, and is not understood in an individualistic manner, even the unbeliever is somehow brought into the presence of God. The unbelieving eat and drink judgment to themselves. Consecrationism often regards the presence of Christ in the bread and wine in a manner that holds true even outside of the context of the Supper, leading to such practices as the laying aside of the bread and parading it in Corpus Christi festivals. In opposition to such practices, I would assert that the presence of Christ in the bread and the wine is the presence of Christ as the gift of food (the firstfruits of the new creation). The presence of Christ in the bread and wine is a presence of Christ to be eaten and drunk of. It is only really appropriate to speak of the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ in the context of the action of the Eucharist. In a context where the eating and drinking of the Church is not going to take place, there is no presence of Christ in the elements. Is it appropriate to speak of the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ prior to our eating and drinking? Most certainly. However, speaking of them in such a manner is only appropriate as they are given to the Church as food and drink (i.e. as they are already part of the Eucharistic action). The full reality of Christ’s presence is only known as we partake of them. Our reception is the goal and climax of the Eucharistic action. The personal presence of Christ is only meaningful when understood in the context of the whole action. Consequently, our accent should always be upon the time of reception as the time in the light of which the presence of Christ in the rest of the Eucharistic liturgy makes sense. Manducatio Impiorum The question of the manducatio impiorum comes into play here: Do the impious truly feed on the body of Christ in the sacrament? Yes and no. First we should remove a few misconceptions. The position that only the faithful truly receive the substance of the body and blood of Christ does not necessarily teach that there is anything less in the sacrament when it is offered to unbelievers than when it is offered to believers, nor need it teach that believers add a crucial ingredient to the sacrament by their faith. Rather I understand it to teach that faith is the receptive organ by which we receive what is truly and objectively present within the sacrament. I believe that there is a real sense in which unbelievers ‘eat without eating’ and ‘drink without drinking’ at the Supper, just as people can ‘hear’ the Gospel ‘without hearing’. This does not, however, mean that such individuals know nothing of the presence of Christ in the sacrament. In 1 Corinthians 11 we see that the impious were really experiencing something of the presence of Christ in the sacrament. It is the body of Christ that is given to the unbelieving, just as it is the body of Christ that is given to the believing. There is no cause for us to doubt that what we receive is truly the body and blood of Christ. The Role of the Spirit It is the work of the Spirit that makes the Eucharist what it is. It is the work of the Spirit in the Eucharist that makes the bread and wine that we offer the firstfruits of the new creation and the body and blood of Christ. It is the work of the Spirit through the Eucharist that makes the people of God more than just a gathering of individuals, but truly the Body of Christ. We become the dwelling place of Christ by the Spirit. Following our Lord’s great Eucharistic discourse in John 6, He declares:—

Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.

John 6:61b-63

Some Zwinglians have used these verses to rob all of Jesus’ earlier statements of any real force. In response to these approaches, we must first appreciate that there is no opposition between life-giving flesh and life-giving words (as C.K. Barrett points out). The opposition in these verses is between human flesh in general and the Spirit. I do not believe that a reference is here intended to Christ’s own flesh. Nor do I take this to be any sidelining of the physical character of the elements. I believe that the fact that we are partaking of physical elements is crucially important in the Supper. I also believe that we feed on Christ’s flesh in the Supper and do not merely enjoy fellowship with Him in His divinity (I find the idea of fellowship with Christ in the Supper apart from His humanity disturbing, to say the least). What Jesus is teaching, I believe, is that the whole discourse will only make full sense when understood in the light of the later events of the ascension and the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. Apart from this perspective, the whole conversation is opaque, troubling and confusing. Our eating of Christ’s flesh and drinking of His blood would be little more than a form of cannibalism, were it not for the work of the Spirit. It is the Spirit that secures the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in the elements (not, I might add, some new property of Christ’s historical body whereby it becomes ubiquitous). Conclusion Much more could be said. However, I have now outlined some of my key concerns. Despite all that I have said, I have yet to be convinced that the doctrine of transubstantiation itself necessarily entails any of the errors that I have catalogued above. I believe that the Bible teaches that we feed on the substance of Christ in the Eucharist in our partaking of the bread and the wine. I also believe that Christ is really present in the bread and the wine and that they are not merely symbolic. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that most of the forms that the doctrine of transubstantiation has taken should be regarded as serious departures from biblical teaching. If I had more time, I would study Eucharistic sacrifice in some depth and would also explore the OT background to the Supper. I have done this to some degree in other posts in the past. As Leithart and others have point out, the attention given to the question of Christ’s presence in the elements is one that results from a ‘zoom lens’ approach. We will better understand the character of the Eucharist once we use a ‘wide-angle lens’ approach. The Supper is much more than the elements and is formed by a rich weave of different biblical symbolism. One of the final problems with the doctrine of transubstantiation that I will mention is the manner in which it has distracted us from the Supper as a whole by concentrating overmuch upon the elements. Even after you have explored all of the issues raised by the doctrine of transubstantiation, there remains so much to say about the Supper.
I'm not sure that I will be using this new web search tool (as we don't have a TV I can think of little reason to do so), but it does look interesting. For those of us who don't have enough information already, Google is always ready to bring us more.

Supper as Sacrifice? 

Peter Leithart writes:—

...study of the book of Leviticus has become a growth industry in Old Testament studies. This has produced a more nuanced and precise understanding of the nature of sacrifice in the Bible, which is essential background for grasping the significance of the sacrifice of Jesus.

Two points will illustrate how this might affect the theology of the atonement. Old Testament sacrifices were indeed expiations, cleansing sin through the death of a substitute, but that was only one moment of a larger sacrificial sequence. After being killed, the animal was transformed into smoke to ascend to heaven and its flesh was given to the worshiper as food, and that whole ritual comes under the rubric of sacrifice. Biblically, to speak of Jesus’ work as “sacrificial” means not only that He was put to death for our sins; Christ’s “sacrifice” embraces His resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and even Eucharist. To speak of Christ’s sacrifice is to say that He achieved atonement by passing through death into the presence of His Father. Second, sacrifice is a liturgical act, and if the atonement was sacrificial, then it was an act of worship. How does an act of worship by the Incarnate Son atone for sin? Exploring this question may bring us close to Thomas Aquinas, who taught that Christ’s supreme act of reconciling obedience was a supreme and redeeming Eucharist. Jesus’ main explanation of His death occurred at the Last Supper, and that may be more significant than Protestants, at least, have realized.

Read the rest of Leithart's article, entitled 'Cross and Culture: Sacrifice and the Redemption of Society', here. Biblically speaking, I believe that the Eucharist is sacrificial (in a number of respects) and I think that it is generally only ignorance of what the Bible means by sacrifice that holds us back from admitting this.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

A Culture of Victims 

From today's Daily Telegraph:—

The "don't-blame-me" mentality personified by Vicky Pollard - the Little Britain character who refuses to accept responsibility for anything - is becoming more prevalent, according to a new study.

Researchers say that young people increasingly believe that their fate is out of their hands and that parents, schools, government or bad luck are to blame for their misfortunes.

Matt Lucas's depiction of the feckless Vicky, with her "yeah but, no but" catchphrase, appears to encapsulate the trend perfectly.

The growth of the victim mentality has been accompanied by a rise in cynicism, self-centred behaviour and alienation, according to psychologists who analysed thousands of personality tests dating back to 1960.

They believe that the shift in attitudes has had major consequences for society and may be leading to depression, higher crime rates and lower academic standards.

Dr Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University who led the study, said: "From 1960 to 2002, college students increasingly believed that their lives were controlled by outside forces rather than their own efforts." The same "substantial" increase can also be seen in children aged nine to 14, she said.

The impact of self-centred behaviour and the victim mentality can be seen across every part of society - from the reluctance to give up seats on public transport to voter apathy. It can be seen when people in debt blame banks for lending them too much money or when fat people blame fast-food advertising or hormones for obesity.

The shift of attitude also explains society's fascination with therapy and the belief that the root of anyone's problems may well lie in childhood.

Although the research was carried out in the States, I would not be surprised if the victim mentality that it draws attention to is even more prevalent in the UK. The article goes on to state:—

Prof Frank Furedi, a sociologist at Kent University who has studied changing attitudes to blame and risk, said the shift could be seen in Britain.

It was reflected in the medicalisation of human behaviour and the growth of the therapy culture, he said.

"If you want to look after your elderly parents, it's called compulsive helping. If you enjoy close passionate relationships, it's called relationship addiction. If you are in a close relationship, it's called co-dependence."

The changes were also reflected in day-to-day interactions, he said. "Nobody will stand up on my commuter train from London to Kent if an old person gets on. If you are under the age of 50, you just look at your shoelaces."

The slavery brought about by the victim mentality is something that I learned from Rousas Rushdoony a few years back (Rushdoony may be a dirty word in many circles, but I challenge anyone who actually read him to say that they learned nothing profitable from him). The mentality of slavery involves an abdiction of responsibility that will eventually lead to statism. Man is always subject to powers greater than himself and he knows this. The rebellious man, who will not bow to God, will eventually find himself subject to other higher powers. Either man will see himself merely as determined by the impersonal forces of nature, or as the slave of the state. The Christian faith frees us from the slave mentality of the culture of blame. As Christians we can courageously take responsibility and take control of our situations under God. The inevitability of man's passivity in the face of some higher power needs to be taken seriously. For those who deny that man is subject to the Triune God, the alternative is to make man the slave of impersonal forces (e.g. psychological, economic, biological). As man seeks to usurp God's rule, his relationship to nature will change. He will increasingly find himself subject to nature, rather than the ruler over nature. The blame culture always undermines the order of authority that God has set up, as anyone who has studied Genesis 3 in depth will readily appreciate. If man is merely the product of natural forces, rather than the creation of God, man will end up being depersonalized. However, as we live under the rule of the Triune God we can be freed from the paralysis caused by the culture of blame and victimhood. When we appreciate the bad things that happen to us as coming from the hand of a personal God, we can respond in ways that are not open to the atheist. The weakness that the Christian feels in the face of events need not result in the impotency of victimhood. Rather, the response can be one of increased faith; we are forced to entrust ourselves even more to God's control. As we subject ourselves to God by faith we can act courageously in the world and advance in our rule over creation. If we are the servants of a God who works all things together for our good we are freed from the victim mentality. If every event in the universe comes to us from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, there is no room to indulge this way of thinking. This does not mean that we are never shaped by forces beyond our control or harmed by the activity of others. Rather, it means that our reaction to these truths is very different from that of the non-Christian, who tends to go to one of two related extremes, either seeking to assert man's omnipotency or thinking in terms of utter impotency. Christians can be totally honest about their weakness, without feeling doomed to be dominated by it.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Some Thoughts on Transubstantiation Part 2 

These posts are primarily directed against popular forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation. Whilst some of the following points might also apply to more scholarly defences of the doctrine, I appreciate that there are forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation that do not differ that significantly from my own understanding of the Eucharist. Sacramental Marcionism Peter Leithart, in The Priesthood of the Plebs: A Theology of Baptism, has drawn attention to the error of ‘sacramental Marcionism’. Many theologians have created a very sharp distinction between the sacraments of the Old Testament and those of the New. Whilst some might argue that the OT sacraments did not communicate Christ, but were mere symbols of the realities received by the Church, Paul uses quite ‘realistic’ language when speaking about the food and drink received by the OT Israelites in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4. Whilst Paul is clearly trying to present the OT story in such a way as to highlight the connection between the Corinthian Christians and the OT Israelites, I still believe that we need to give his language due weight. Paul clearly parallels the spiritual food and drink received by the OT Israelites with that received by the Church (cf.1 Corinthians 12:13). There are clear differences between the sacraments of the Old and those of the New Testament. However, there is also a firm relationship. The sacraments of the New Testament are not a movement into reality from the ‘merely symbolic’ sacraments of the OT. 1 Corinthians 10 should at least teach us that, in some sense at least, the sacramental order of the OT granted a real participation in Christ in a manner analogous to the manner in which the sacraments of the NT grant us a participation in Christ. The Eucharist, while clearly differing from the Passover, tithe feasts, peace offerings, and various other OT rituals it fulfils, is not somehow a different type of thing altogether. Leithart writes:—

Though Augustine refuses to elaborate the reasons for the change in rites, he offers a brief but immensely provocative metaphor as explanation. Just as verbal signs — the letters of a written verb and the sounds of a spoken verb — vary according to the time the verb indicates, so the rites of the church develop to show a shift in “tense,” from anticipation to fulfilment….

By this combination of metaphors, Augustine underscores his repeated insistence that sacramental “substance,” or, continuing the analogy, the “verbal root,” remains the same in both Testaments. Christ is the Verbum spoken, offered, and received in the word and sacraments of both Old and New. Moreover, just as a conjugation is not a transition from language to not-language but a transformation from one linguistic form to another, so also the transition from Old to New remains within the economy of linguistic and cultural signs. The New is a radically fresh and surprising variation on the themes of the preceding movement but it is not a wholly new musical departure.

Leithart goes on to claim that ‘the New is meaningful only by virtue of its difference from the Old.’ The Eucharist can be properly understood only as a conjugation of the rites of the OT. Blessed Are the HungryA number of defenders of transubstantiation have been decidedly reluctant to adopt such an approach. There is an implicit Marcionism in the manner in which they relate the sacraments of the NT to those of the OT. If we are going to understand what the Eucharist really means, it will be against the backdrop of the OT rites and narrative (on which subject I recommend Leithart's Blessed Are the Hungry). The doctrine of transubstantiation, with its focus on the change that occurs in the sacramental elements, has produced a sharp discontinuity between the Eucharist and its OT precursors, where no such change is spoken of. I do not believe that relating the Eucharist so closely to OT sacraments needs to be seen as an emptying or even as an ‘immanentization’ of the sacrament. OT sacraments were a real participation in the redemption that was yet to come in Christ. Their full reality was not yet. In a like manner the Eucharist is a real participation in an eschatological redemption that is, nevertheless, still ‘not yet’.
Presence and Absence
Far too many doctrines of the Lord’s Supper presuppose a sharp distinction between presence and absence. They presume that either Christ is either present or absent; it is impossible to have both at the same time. The doctrine of transubstantiation often leads to a form of ‘fetishized’ presence, where the manner in which Christ’s presence exceeds and transcends the elements is not adequately treated. In particular, the doctrine of the ascension entails a real absence of Christ. The presence of Christ that we speak of in the Supper must be one that permits the words ‘until He comes’ to retain their force. Far too many forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation simply dissolve this eschatological tension in an unbiblical manner. There is a fuzzy boundary between presence and absence. Nothing is ever simply present or absent. Even the temporal ‘present’ itself is never fully present. In some sense, the meaning of certain events that happened today is something that will be continuous deferred in various ways. It is like a piece of music, the meaning of one movement in a symphony cannot be fully appreciated apart from all previous movements that it modifies and that modify it and all subsequent movements that it modifies and that modify it. No note finds its meaning within itself; rather, its meaning is found by virtue of its place within a sequence of notes. Nor can its meaning be fully appreciated apart from the context in which the symphony is composed, first performed and apart from all subsequent performances. It is like a life story: the way that you recount the early period of a person’s life story is always coloured by what happens next. Problematizing simplistic binary oppositions between presence and absence is very important when dealing with many popular forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation. Getting our Redemptive Historical Bearings Ascension and Ecclesia: On the Significance of the Doctrine of AscensionWhen understanding the presence of Christ in the Supper we must start by taking our bearings in redemptive history. Forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation have generally been developed with scant regard for the redemptive/covenant historical situation in which we find ourselves. The Church exists between the Ascension and the Second Coming of our Lord. It is the presence of Christ that constitutes the Church as the Church. However, the time between the Ascension and the Second Coming is a time of genuine absence. This lends a genuine ambiguity to the existence of the Church. As Douglas Farrow has observed, the Church has often been wont to transfer the ambiguity of its own existence onto Christ. There is a tendency to normalize the Church’s own situation and problematize the situation of Christ. The reality of this passing world is made normative and the presence of Christ in the Eucharist must be explicable within the categories provided by this world. Transubstantiation all too easily presumes the validity of the categories of this world to explain what takes place in the Supper. Christ must be brought down to earth again every time the Eucharist is celebrated. This ‘bringing down to earth’ of Christ need not involve any idea of a local presence of Christ (denied by Aquinas and others). All that it needs to involve is Christ’s being subjected to the brokenness of our time and world order once more. The doctrine of transubstantiation often does not take enough account of the fact that the presence of the risen and ascended Jesus Christ can no longer be accounted for by the categories provided by our cosmologies. One of the great insights in John Calvin’s Eucharistic theology (although the eschatological dimension of the Supper is generally muted in Calvin) is that it is our reality that is out of joint and needs to be reorientated to Christ, rather than vice versa. In the Eucharist it is not Christ who is brought down to us, but we who are raised up by the Holy Spirit to enjoy the presence of Christ in the heavenlies. Christ is at a distance from us because of the disjointedness of our reality. Both the time and the place in which Christ exists are removed from our own. However, the Holy Spirit is able to bring together things that are separated. Rather than Christ being brought down again into the structures of our broken world, in the Eucharist, by the work of the Holy Spirit we are given a foretaste of the world reorientated to His reality. The presence of Christ in the Supper is the presence of the eschaton and all that that entails. It is from the celebration of the Eucharist that the Church derives its identity as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). The presence of Christ in the Supper is not a presence that excludes absence or removes any ambiguity to the Church’s existence. The revelation of the Church’s true existence awaits the future coming of Christ (Colossians 3:3-4; 1 John 3:2). However, in the interim each celebration of the Eucharist is a mini-Parousia. The doctrine of transubstantiation risks denting the Church’s hope for the future. If Christ is fully present every time that the Church celebrates the Eucharist, for what greater presence are we eagerly waiting? Whilst I realize that those who hold the doctrine of transubstantiation seldom deny the doctrine of the Second Coming, I believe that the doctrine of transubstantiation has the tendency of obscuring it. Presence in the Elements The doctrine of transubstantiation has focused on the presence of Christ in the elements. All too often a form of ‘fetishized’ presence is taught. The substance of Christ is fully present in the form of mute bread. The presence of Christ in the bread is so emphasized (the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to utraquism merely reinforces this) that justice is not truly done to the fact that the presence of Christ embraces the whole ceremony. Such an exclusive emphasis on the presence of Christ in the bread leads to a number of problems. Perhaps the chief of these problems is the elevation of the Church’s position relative to Christ. The Church is seen to be the chief active agent, rather than Christ. Christ’s agency in giving Himself to the Church is not as prominent as the agency of the Church, which gives us this Christ in the depersonalized form of bread. Of course, this form of the doctrine of transubstantiation is not to be confused with the form held by Aquinas and many other modern theologians. Nevertheless, it has had a significant number of adherents in the pews of Roman Catholic churches over the years. As I have already hinted, the presence of Christ in the Supper must not be limited to the bread and the wine, but must be extended to embrace the whole ceremony. We must start with a very clear perception of the Christ of the gospels who has ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father. The incarnate Christ did not cease to be; Jesus Christ is still a man for us and our salvation. In the Supper He permits us to feed on Himself in the eating of bread and the drinking of wine. The presence of Christ in the bread and the wine is not a presence that is to be gazed upon, nor is it a presence that can be abstracted from the action itself (as Catherine Pickstock observes). His presence in the bread and the wine is a presence in the form of gift. Consequently, to fetishize the presence of Christ in the elements apart from receiving the elements in our mouths subverts the whole purpose of the Supper. The presence of Christ in the elements cannot be properly understood outside of the context provided by Christ’s giving of Himself in the bread and the wine and our receiving of them. We must always remind ourselves that the Eucharist is an action and not the elements alone. It is not the bread and wine in abstraction that are the place of the presence of Christ, but the bread and wine as given by Christ and eaten and drunk by us. As the bread and the wine are situated in this movement they are quite truly the body and blood of Christ. One of the problems with some forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation is that, through their treatment of the transubstantiated bread as some ‘new thing’, they have tempted people to treat the elements primarily as things to be gazed at, rather than as food to be eaten. Once the elements are treated in such a manner, they can actually become darkened to our sight. The appearance of bread ends up hiding the body of Christ, rather than really revealing it. However, if we affirm that the presence of Christ in the elements is the presence of Christ as the gift of food, the bread actually serves to reveal the body of Christ in this sense and does not obscure it. Presence versus mere ‘There-ness’ Christ, Baptism and the Lord's Supper: Recovering the Sacraments for Evangelical WorshipAs Leonard Vander Zee and others have observed, there is a difference between being ‘present’ and being ‘there’. A table or a chair is not present in a room; it is merely there. In a like manner, merely being in the proximity of someone’s body is not the same thing as enjoying their presence. As I have already claimed, there is no sharp division between presence and absence. Personal presence is known as we relate to other people. In the name of ‘real presence’, many (but not all) Roman Catholics are actually encouraging us to adopt an attenuated form of presence that falls far short of the sort of presence that I believe that we need to be arguing for. The body of Christ may be there, but His personal presence is not really stressed. The danger is that the ‘mute substance’ (as Farrow terms it) of Christ in the transubstantiated bread becomes malleable in the Church’s hands. The Church can all too easily project its own persona onto Christ when it is no longer confronted by Christ as active in the Eucharist. I wonder whether, if we paid more attention to personal modes of presence, some of the Protestant reservations about Eucharist sacrifice might begin to be dissolved. Whilst the doctrine of transubstantiation often carries the danger of depersonalizing the presence of Christ, I believe that Calvin’s doctrine of the Eucharist more fully captures the personalism of the event. (to be continued)

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Robert Alter on his translation of the Pentateuch 

Some might be interested to listen to this. Robert Alter explains his approach to translating the Pentateuch.

Identity, Anonymity, Pseudonymity and the Internet 

There is a discussion on Paul Baxter's blog on the question of whether it is a good thing to write anonymously and pseudonymously online. It is a very interesting issue; it would be great to hear other people's points of view on the question. Anyone have an opinion on the matter?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Some Thoughts on Transubstantiation Part 1 

I have, on a number of occasions, been asked to give my thoughts on the doctrine of transubstantiation. The following are some (very) unpolished thoughts on some general issues that are raised by the doctrine. I have decided against engaging in detailed analysis of any one particular defence of the doctrine due to the sheer number of such defences. It seems as if no two defenders of transubstantiation understand it in quite the same way. In addition to this there is quite a gulf between some of the more moderate scholarly arguments for transubstantiation and the beliefs of average Roman Catholics. Eucharistic Sacrifice and the ReformationGiving thoughts on transubstantiation in such a manner is dangerous. The Reformed tradition has a long history of misrepresenting Roman Catholic Eucharistic theology. Whether it is on the subject of Eucharistic sacrifice (see Francis Clark’s Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Reformation) or transubstantiation, Protestants have tended to present a grossly distorted view of the Roman Catholic doctrine. If you want to engage with transubstantiation rather than a straw man, you are probably best avoiding the treatments of transubstantiation that are to be found in Reformed books of systematic theology. The following thoughts are chiefly concerned with many of the popular forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation that one will find online or on the street. I believe that there are possible forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation that are not susceptible to any of the following criticisms. I also appreciate that some might claim that I myself hold to transubstantiation of a kind (others might claim that I hold to a form of transignification). The claim would not be without warrant, although I see my position more as a variation on Calvin, than as a variation on Aquinas. I could quite happily subscribe to moderate forms of the doctrines of transubstantiation and Eucharistic sacrifice; the Roman Catholic doctrines I could not swallow are more in the area of Mariology and ecclesiology. Nevertheless, I would be reluctant to use the term ‘transubstantiation’ of the position that I hold, recognizing the potential for misunderstanding. Besides, it seems to me that the term ‘transubstantiation’ has been used to describe so many varying positions by defenders and critics that it is more than a little threadbare by now; I would prefer to dress my doctrine in smarter terminological attire. My approach will focus upon certain of the questionable philosophical assumptions that often inform the doctrine of transubstantiation. Many of these questionable assumptions are shared by evangelical and Reformed critics of the doctrine of transubstantiation. These critics may sharply disagree with the defenders of the doctrine of transubstantiation, but in the area of philosophical assumptions they are frequently on the same operating table of thought. Most of the following points have already been made by many authors. I don’t think that I will say anything particularly radical or new here, but I would be interested to hear other people’s opinions.
Symbol and Reality
Defenders of the doctrine of transubstantiation often presuppose a clear distinction between symbol and reality. Evangelicals are generally no less guilty on this point than are Roman Catholics. Both presume that if something is symbolic it cannot truly be real and, if it is real, it cannot truly be symbolic. Setting symbols outside of the realm of reality and reality outside of the realm of symbols is something that consistently takes place in both Roman Catholic and evangelical circles. One party says that the bread and wine are truly and really the body and blood of Jesus Christ; the other party says, no, they are just symbols of the body and blood of Jesus. For the Life of the WorldThe doctrine of transubstantiation has been criticized by many on this point. One of the best criticisms of transubstantiation’s treatment of symbol and reality that I have come across is found in Alexander Schmemann’s book, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. Roman Catholics assert the ‘real’ presence over against those who argue for a more ‘symbolic’ understanding of the Supper. They think that somehow we need to get behind the matrix of symbols in which we find ourselves in order to encounter the ‘reality’. The symbol cannot communicate reality. In the doctrine of transubstantiation a discontinuity between the symbol and the reality is affirmed. At some point in the celebration of the Eucharist the symbol is annihilated and replaced with the reality. Symbol and reality are not seen to indwell each other and constitute each other, rather the realm of reality lies ‘outside’ or ‘behind’ the realm of symbols. Somehow we must escape from symbols in order to encounter the reality. At this point it is important to appreciate that there are a number of forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation that avoid certain of the criticisms that I am making here. Catherine Pickstock’s form of the doctrine in After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy is a case in point. What we need to appreciate is that reality dwells in the realm of symbols and symbols dwell in the realm of reality. Symbols and reality depend upon each other for existence. Take, for example, relationships. Is a man’s relationship to his fiancé real? The man writes love letters to his fiancé, he gives her flowers, he recites poetry to her, he shares meals with her, etc. One day they might get married. They will be married in a ceremony that is formed of many complex signs and symbols — spoken language, exchanged rings, lighted candles, movement up and down the aisle, etc. Does the ‘reality’ of their relationship somehow lurk ‘behind’ the countless symbols that are used? No. The symbols are the things that create, constitute and serve to maintain the relationship. Without the symbols the relationship has no reality whatsoever. Somehow, through the wedding celebration, God joins a man and a woman together so that they become ‘one flesh’. Is this a magical intrusion of reality into a lifeless realm of symbols? How does a wedding ‘work’? Does the ring have some mystical powers? No, but something does really happen through the wedding celebration that cannot be adequately accounted for if symbols and reality are separated as many have supposed. Our relationships are all formed by exchanged signs and symbols. By the complex weave of signs and symbols within the wedding ceremony a new relationship is really constructed and not ‘merely symbolized’. In the Lord’s Supper we must think in terms of much the same thing. Something ‘really’ happens when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, even though the Supper itself is symbolic through and through. Relationships do not exist apart from symbols and this includes our relationship with God. Within the context of modernity, many people strive for the immediacy of presence. Somehow words and bodies are seen to get in the way of the immediate spiritual communion that we want with God and with each other. To have a relationship with God that is mediated by signs and symbols does not seem right. The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are seen by many to merely be signs and symbols that point to a relationship that exists elsewhere, usually in the inner soul of the individual, where neither language nor corporate rituals and ceremonies have any role in mediating that relationship. Signs, Symbols and Creation In Scripture, however, signs and symbols are not seen to get in the way of immediate relationship, because there is no relationship apart from signs and symbols. Just as the reality of my friendship with someone is inseparable from such things as shaking hands with them so our relationship with God is inseparable from such things as the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper does not merely teach us about our relationship with God; it actually serves to constitute and sustain our relationship with Him. Many evangelicals have thought that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are somehow superfluous to requirements and we can happily live the Christian life without them. However, just as hugs and kisses are not made redundant by words, as they do and convey far more than bare words could, so the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are not made redundant by the preached Word. They are necessary if we are to truly enjoy a full relationship with God. The preached Word brings us into and sustains our relationship with Christ on some levels that the sacraments do not. The sacraments also bring us into and sustain our relationship with Christ on a level that the Word alone cannot. They are not just didactic signs of a relationship with Christ that exists independently of them. What I am arguing for here is a mediating position between those who say ‘reality, not symbol’ of our feeding on Christ in the Supper and those who say ‘symbol, not reality’. The reality and the symbols are inseparable. Doctrines of ‘the sacraments’ have all too easily sustained a nature/grace dichotomy. Theologians have often argued over the number of sacraments. Roman Catholics argue for seven; Protestants generally argue for two. However, these debates often fail to give due attention to the fact that all of creation was designed to be sacramental and is still, in some sense, sacramental. Sacraments are all too often conceived of as some different order of reality from the rest of creation. Such understandings of the sacraments ensure that grace is always kept in an extrinsic relationship with creation. In opposition to this, I argue that grace is truly continuous with nature. The sacraments are not to be severed from the network of signs and symbols that we inhabit. Although I do speak about ‘the sacraments’, I see the sacraments as revelatory of the sacramental character of creation as a whole and not closed off from the rest of creation. To summarize: the problem with many forms of transubstantiation is that they do not pay enough attention to the intrinsic relationship between symbol and reality. Through the symbol we participate in the reality. Both evangelicals and Roman Catholics are not very good on this point. Evangelicals see the relationship between the symbol and the reality as purely extrinsic; the symbol points to a reality outside of itself. The symbol is reduced to merely a means of knowledge about God and salvation, rather than a means of knowledge of God and salvation (i.e. by permitting us to participate in the reality that is symbolized). Roman Catholics all too often agree with evangelicals here; they have also thought in terms of an extrinsic relationship between the symbol and the reality. The Form and Essence of the Sacraments When the symbol bears only an extrinsic relationship to reality, Eucharistic theology will founder on the resulting dichotomy. Either reality will be prioritized at the expense of symbol, or symbol at the expense of reality. In many forms of transubstantiation the reality of Christ’s body and blood must annihilate the symbol in order to replace it with the reality. Quite apart from anything else, this serves to relegate the rich symbolism of the celebration the Supper to a role in which it is merely ornamental or didactic. The severing of ‘form’ and ‘essence’ in the Sacrament is something that needs to be criticized. Once the form/essence dichotomy has been presupposed, the liturgical form can be tinkered with far more readily. The sacrament and its liturgical form becomes — at best — a ‘means of grace’, rather than being gracious itself. The language of ‘means of grace’ suggests that some form of generic grace exists outside of and apart from such ‘means of grace’, which merely serve as channels to bring this grace to us. It is best avoided for this reason. The relationship between the liturgical form and the essence of the sacrament (i.e. the grace that the sacrament symbolizes) is variously understood. For many Roman Catholics the symbolic liturgical form somehow causes the reality. For evangelicals the liturgical form illustrates or represents the reality. In this most Roman Catholics and evangelicals are agreed: symbol and reality do not mix. The symbolic liturgical form is not itself gracious, but serves to bring us into a form of contact with the reality that it symbolizes; it is at best the vehicle for grace and not to be confused with the grace itself. When the liturgical form is understood in such a manner, certain aspects of it can be dispensed with and the (extrinsic) relationship (either of causality or representation) that the liturgical form is intended to sustain with the reality can still be preserved intact. The liturgical form has been subjected to violence from those who hold to such positions. For example, if all that the sacrament is supposed to be is picture or represent the body and blood of Christ, the dominically instituted element of alcoholic wine, for example, can be substituted by some other reddish liquid. The wine is merely there to be a picture of Christ’s blood and its alcoholic character is supposedly unnecessary. Others, who hold the position of transubstantiation, might view the liturgical form merely as ensuring the validity of the sacrament, while remaining non-essential to the sacrament. Of course, as the liturgical form does little more than ensure the validity of the sacrament, anything beyond a minimal conformity to the dominically instituted liturgical form plays little more than a purely aesthetic or didactic role and can safely be dispensed with. In opposition to both of these positions the mutual interpenetration of form and essence, symbol and reality, in the sacrament must be stressed. The Importance of the Eucharistic Liturgy If the Eucharistic liturgy merely serves as the ornamentation and condition of validity of the miracle of transubstantiation that lies at the heart of the celebration, the result is a great discontinuity in the celebration. The miracle of transubstantiation is an invasion from outside, rather than a revelation from within the ceremony (a nature/grace dichotomy is clearly also at work here). Eucharistic theology all too easily becomes geared to isolating the various elements (or conditions of validity) within the liturgy that serve to cause the miracle of transubstantiation. In opposition to this approach, I believe that the Eucharist should be seen as one event with a number of interdependent elements. Those who view the Eucharist as a series of independent actions that serves to cause the miracle of transubstantiation risk turning the Supper into some form of religious fix that is received by mechanistically following some prescribed ritual. By atomizing worship, separating it into lots of discrete actions, we will end up facing unhelpful questions. We will begin to wonder what ‘extra’ thing each element of worship gives us. If the celebration of the Eucharist is seen as self-contained and independent of the other elements of the church’s corporate worship, people will begin to wonder what it is that the Eucharist gives us that the preaching of the Word or corporate prayer does not give us. However, if the Eucharist is perceived to be an integral part of a complete service of covenant renewal, such questions will not bother us in the same way. The Word, Baptism and the Eucharist all serve to save us. However, they were not designed to save us in abstraction from each other. They are all interdependent. Many evangelicals have the idea that Baptism and the Supper are somehow surplus to requirements and that the preached Word is all that we need. They are quite wrong. However, those who believe that Baptism or the Eucharist somehow give us some saving blessing that comes independently of the preached Word (as some ‘added extra’, for example) are equally wrong. The preached Word, Baptism and the Eucharist all work together. If our corporate worship has the Word, but does not conclude with a celebration of the Eucharist, the Word has not achieved its purpose. If we celebrate the Eucharist apart from the proclamation of the Word the Eucharist will not achieve its purpose either. They are quite interdependent. Many popular forms of the doctrine of transubstantiation cut loose the celebration of the Eucharist from its moorings within the corporate service of covenant renewal as a whole and see it as an independent unit that functions by itself. They also atomize the liturgy of the Eucharist itself and fail to see its coherence and unity and the interdependence of each element upon each other element and also upon the Eucharistic liturgy as a whole. As a result they end up with an understanding of the Eucharist in which the Eucharist can, independently of the Word, confer a ‘Eucharistic grace’ in a mechanistic manner. The Elements in the Eucharistic Celebration One of the key issues here is the manner in which the elements of bread and wine are regarded. Most Catholics that I have come across understand the elements to be the body and blood of Christ in a manner that holds true even when they are abstracted from the context of the Church’s celebration of the Eucharist. Somehow the bread and the wine have once and for all ceased to be what they once were and have become a different thing entirely. This is a key area of disagreement. I truly believe that it is the body and blood of Christ that we receive in our eating and drinking, but I could never regard the bread and the wine as the body and blood of Christ outside of the context of the Supper. Within the context provided by this world, the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine. This does not mean that nothing really takes place in the celebration of the Eucharist. The context in which we partake of the bread and the wine is not the context provided this world; rather, we partake within a context established by the Holy Spirit. Within the context provided by the Church’s Eucharistic celebration the bread really is the body of Christ and the wine really is the blood of Christ. This is not a matter of playing with language. The manner in which the elements are the body and blood of Christ cannot be explained by the categories provided by this world. The bread is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ only as we exist within the environment of the new world order created by the Holy Spirit. In the celebration of the Supper we feed on the body and drink of the blood of the man Christ Jesus. How exactly this happens is mysterious and defies easy explanation. By claiming that it is the work of the Spirit that makes the Supper what it is, I am not trying to water down the reality of our participation, as if our participation was merely something ‘spiritual’ (as opposed to ‘material’). The work of the Spirit in the Supper is not limited to the region of our minds and emotions. The Spirit’s work in the Supper does no, I believe, result in ‘leaving behind’ our physical bodies, or the physical elements of bread and wine. Rather the physicality of our bodies and the elements are interpenetrated by the Spirit, who translates them into a place of communion — a foretaste of the renewed creation. The Supper cannot be reduced to the sursum corda. A change really does take place in the celebration of the Supper. This change is not limited to the elements, but includes every part of the celebration, including those who participate. The Spirit translates both us and the elements into the new creation environment of Christ Himself. In this change the bread never ceases to be bread, the wine never ceases to be wine and we never cease to be created human beings. However, in this change the bread, the wine and the celebrating community become something far greater as they become the place of Christ’s peculiar presence. Christ is received in the sacrament through the work of the Holy Spirit. What we receive is not merely the Holy Spirit in our hearts, nor is it merely the benefits of Christ’s work. What we receive in the Supper is Christ Himself. The Christ that we receive is the incarnate Christ, and not a disincarnate Christ. We eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. (To be continued)
I have added a few new blogs to my links. Included are the new neo-Calvinist blog, The Dialogical Coffee House, which should make worthwhile reading and AKMA's new blog, New Testament Resources, which also looks like it might be quite helpful in the future. I have also — shamelessly copying Barb — put dots next to the names of all of the bloggers that I am acquainted with in 'real life'.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

John Robbins on AAPC 2005 

The following was contained in a circular e-mail that I received from John Robbins this morning:—

Well, the major 2005 Neolegalist Conference is over.

Held each year in Monroe, Louisiana, under the sponsorship of the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church in America), the annual conference has featured such stalwart schismatics and heretics as Douglas Wilson, Steve Schlissel, and Steve Wilkins (a minister in good standing in the PCA, but the PCA is not in good standing).

This year the schismatics at the AAPC outdid themselves by featuring Westminster Seminary's own Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (a Teaching Elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church), co-architect (with Norman Shepherd) of the Shepherd version of the heresy of justification by faith and works, and N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham in the Apostate Anglican Church. According to more than one report, 500 people attended the conference. Many of them were sober.

Barb Harvey, who candidly describes herself as "one confused chick," is a member in good standing of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (a church not in good standing), and she has done us all a favor by publishing her impressions of the conference. You can find them at this address:


Here are a couple highlights from her blog:

"The conference was wonderful in every respect."

"The lectures delivered by Drs. Gaffin and Wright covered familiar terrain and in my estimation, often revealed a commonality in theology albeit occasionally achieved by differing hermeneutics. Perhaps most striking was the shared affirmation of the already/not yet of justification and of justification/acquittal according to works."

Despite the fact that "Enoch's, the premier watering hole in Monroe was closed for the week" (note to Steve Wilkins for next year's conference: Make sure Enoch's is open 24/7), the resourceful speakers and attendees found another place to get well-oiled, which undoubtedly facilitated their profound theological discussions.

(Didn't St. Paul really say, "Take a little wine for your frequent theological infirmities"? I think I read that in Bishop Wright. And, of course, if a little is good, and your theological infirmities are frequent and severe enough, two-fisted drinking is completely in order. It helps makes those paradoxes seem positively logical. Besides, there is a long ecclesiastical tradition of two-fisted drinking.)

While you're on Ms. Harvey's site, please notice also the vast presence of these heretics on the web. The tip of the iceberg can be seen in the sites and links the confused Ms. Harvey so thoughtfully provides for her readers.

Now that you have a better idea who the enemies of the Gospel are, and how wide their influence, perhaps you can better appreciate the work The Trinity Foundation is doing...

I sincerely hope that Barb does not end up getting plagued by militant Robbins followers as a result of this e-mail.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Preserving Memories in Cyberspace 

This article has prompted me to think about some interesting issues. I often wonder what it will be like for historians in the future, given the fact that many people do not keep a hard copy of such things as their personal correspondance today. The man of letters is an endangered species; however, the 'man of e-mails' seems undeserving of his place. So much of our personal material and information is embedded in forms of technology that may not be easy to find in twenty years time, let alone a few hundred. Now that we store our photos on discs and our correspondance online or on our hard drives, we make it far more likely that they will never survive our own deaths. Such things as data corruption, incompatibility problems and password protection can all play a part in this. When our technology is increasingly geared solely towards present consumption it seems that the possibility of our memories being preserved is increasingly slim. The fact that our technology increasingly militates against the long-term preservation of our memories does not entirely surprise me. In the peculiar temporality of cyberspace, it seems strange to give thought to future generations. The future simply is not a horizon of our existence in cyberspace in the same way as it is elsewhere. Nor is the past. Cast adrift in cyberspace it is hard to form past, present and future into a coherent narrative. In cyberspace we exist within a relentless flux of images that grants our existence a disjointedness that would not be experienced by people in previous ages. The nomadic existence of the person in cyberspace discourages any great commitment to one particular metanarrative (this term being used in its broader sense). The sheer glut of information has the effect of desensitizing us to truth. In cyberspace our lives can easily become insulated from conviction and passionate involvement. In cyberspace we can all too easily become nothing more than consumers driven by a constant pulse of desire for the next new thing that we lose all sense of ourselves as actors in history. As Christians we must remember the warning to watch and be sober; in cyberspace we are wandering on 'enchanted ground'. Much of modern electronic technology has the effect of deconstructing our abilities to act as those who are called to sustain community throughout history. This is increasingly begin to dawn on me, both in my own experience and in observing others. I would be interested to hear people's thoughts on how we can act as people of memory and hope in an age of ephemerality. Are there any creative and imaginative ways in which we can harness our technology to aid us in our vocation? What are some of the practices and habits that people have adopted in order to resist the tendency of modern technology to drown us in a disjointed present? In particular, what are some of the ways in which we can ensure the preservation of our memory (not merely data) in the age of cyberspace?

Monday, January 10, 2005

Tim Gallant on AAPC 2005 

Tim Gallant has begun to blog on the AAPC conference. He has posted on the preconference events and has now moved on to treat the first lecture from the conference itself. There is some really good material in these notes. Thanks Tim!

Sunday, January 09, 2005

NT Wright on Regent Radio 

Wright is on Regent Radio again.
Creation and New Creation in the New Testament

Saturday, January 08, 2005

A Sign of our Times 

Had this show offended Muslims, homosexuals, people who have committed abortion or any other such group the BBC would not have dared to have shown it. However, it is open season on Christians and the BBC will happily defy 45,000 complaints (the previous record for numbers of complaints is 1,554) in order to screen it this evening.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Clarity from Canterbury? 

In The Daily Telegraph today (not my favourite paper, by the way — that would have to be The Times), Tom Utley writes about Rowan Williams' recent article in The Sunday Telegraph:—

The archbishop's article in The Sunday Telegraph was an absolute disgrace.

It was so badly written that I found it almost impossible to hack through his forest of abstract nouns to make out what he was trying to say. I accept that Dr Williams is a good and thoughtful man. But it is no use his being good and thoughtful, if he is unable to communicate his thoughts clearly to the tens of millions of souls in the Anglican Communion who look to him for guidance.

What on earth does he mean, for example, when he writes: "Religious people have learnt to look at other human faces with something of the amazement and silence that God himself draws out of them"?

On a syntactical level, I have a problem with the pronoun "them" at the end of that sentence. Does it refer to "other human faces" or to "religious people"? Either way, the sentence reads like complete nonsense to me. In what sense can anybody be said to draw silence out of a face or a person?

No doubt the sentence meant something to Dr Williams himself when he wrote it. No doubt he, and perhaps a few others, knew what he meant when he wrote that believers had learnt "to be open to a calling from outside their own resources". Speaking for myself, however, I cannot get any sort of mental grasp on the concept of a calling being either inside or outside a resource.

I would not go as far as to say that Dr Williams deserved the headline attached to his article in the first edition of The Sunday Telegraph: "Archbishop of Canterbury - this has made me question God's existence." But I do feel a stab of sympathy for the poor sub-editor, scratching around to write a headline on an article so obscure that its meaning was almost impenetrable. What should he have written instead? "Archbishop of Canterbury - God draws amazement and silence out of faces"?


If I have misrepresented Dr Williams, then I blame him. He should remember that he is no longer at theological college, and try to communicate in language that the layman can understand.

What do others think? What does 'looking at other human faces with something of the amazement and silence that God himself draws out of them' really mean? Suggestions welcome.

Part 7 of 6... 

Jason at Gower Street has posted a further part to his interview with Wright. In this section Wright speaks about his For Everyone series.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

I couldn't agree more.


A few months back, I started using Statcounter to see where some of my visitors were coming from. It doesn't cost anything, but it can be very interesting. The keyword analysis can be particularly funny on occasions. Unfortunately I haven't kept track of some of the most bizarre Google searches that have led people to my blog, but some have been quite hilarious. Today I finally had a hit from Hawaii. I thought that it would be interesting to see how long it took me to get a full set of US states. The first 49 took me well under a month, but Hawaii held out for quite some time. I have also had visitors from over 70 different countries.

Daniel Kirk has a new blog... 

Sibboleth (quite possibly the best blog title that I have encountered to date)
His first few posts contain some interesting feedback from the AAPC conference. I look forward to reading what other people have to say about the conference in the coming days. Could anyone tell me when recordings will be available?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

My granny died in her sleep last night at about 4:30a.m.

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