October 30, 2013

3 Ways Christ is Present in the Eucharist (@KreeftQuotes)

How is Christ present in the sacrament of Holy Communion? Here's Peter Kreeft in his book Catholic Christianity (paper, Kindle), which is an exposition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the chapter on the Eucharist, he writes:
Here the three meanings of "present" come together: Christ in the Eucharist is (a) present, not absent, but really here; (b) present, not past, but happening now; and (c) presented as a gift (a "present"), really given, offered, not withheld (326).
I'm happy to affirm and deeply grateful for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, though I'm hesitant to attempt to parse that out too far (e.g. transubstantiation, consubstantiation). Somehow Christ mysteriously ministers his presence to his people in the bread and wine. This three-pronged comment from Kreeft is quite helpful, though, as we reflect on the character of Christ's presence. In the consecrated elements, Christ is really present right now to give himself to his people in love and with joy. 

October 8, 2013

The Liturgy and the Gospel (@OfficialSeedbed)

The team at Seedbed.com was kind enough to publish an essay in which I recount three key reasons I am increasingly drawn to liturgical worship. Here's an excerpt:
I’ve often thought of my life as having been lived on the edge of the liturgy. I suspect that perspective will resonate with many in the Wesleyan and Methodist tradition. We observe Advent and Lent. The colors on the pulpit and the communion table change with the season. We usually celebrate All Saints Sunday, and sometimes our pastors even preach the lectionary. Elements of liturgical worship are sprinkled throughout our worship life. Many suspect there is more going on, that there is a deeper coherence to the liturgical form of worship, even if we are unsure of what holds it together. We stick close to the side, hesitant to jump out into the middle of the stream, cautious lest we are carried off by a current that we cannot control and do not fully understand. We are unsure of where it will take us. Nevertheless, and despite our caution, some are captured by the inescapable inclination that we stand on the edge of something great, simultaneously terrible and beautiful, and we begin to take small steps forward into deeper water in order that we might drink more fully of the riches of the mystery before us. I offer here a few reflections on the early stages of my own journey from the edge of the liturgical stream into deeper waters. Perhaps these reflections will encourage those who read to join this exploration of the beauty and mystery of the liturgy.
You can read the rest of the post at the Seedbed blog. Here I'd like to point to a couple of resources and add a comment or two as a follow-up to that piece.

The article mentions Bryan Chapell's book, Christ-Centered Worship, and I want to emphasize how extremely influential this book has been in my understanding of the liturgy. Chapell sets side-by-side the liturgies of the Roman Catholic Church and several Protestant traditions and, without overlooking the differences, shows how the form and structure of the liturgy in these various traditions is shaped by the gospel. This was eye-opening for me. I've long understood that the gospel should fill the content of Christian worship; it never occurred to me that the very form and order of worship should be governed by the gospel also, though having now encountered this idea, I can't imagine a better way. It seems so obvious, so clear, so excellent. How could anyone who loves the good news not desire that the gospel set the pattern and form of the Church's worship?

Another key book that was recommended to me is Mark Galli's Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. If you have little or no experience with liturgical worship, then this is the book to read first. Galli's style is accessible and engaging. You don't have to hold a theology degree to get what he has to say. He will not only introduce you to the most basic structure of the liturgy, he will also help you begin to appreciate its beauty, relevance, mystery, and majesty.

I'll finish by saying that it is precisely that which I take to be central to my evangelical identity that drives me toward liturgical worship. The liturgy is all about Christ and him crucified. It goes to work in us by faith to draw us to Christ and to renew us in his image. It is saturated with scripture and, above all, aims ultimately to exalt the holiness, the majesty, and the glory of God. 

What is your experience with liturgical worship? Are there any books or other resources you've found particularly helpful? 

October 2, 2013

3 Books to Introduce Arminian Theology

More and more people are interested in Arminian theology, which is is an account of the Bible's teaching on salvation that is named for the 16th century Dutch Reformer Jacob Arminius. This increased attention to Arminius is due in part to presently rising interest in Calvinism and Reformed theology. Some people are interested in Arminian thought because they are deeply concerned by the inherent problems with Calvinism and go looking for an alternative. Others take an interest in Arminianism because they are Calvinists and they desire to refute the alternative perspectives. If you consider yourself an Arminian, it's a good idea to read a few books so that you know what it means to adopt that label. If you are a Calvinist interested in arguing against Arminianism, you need to read enough to level a fair and informed critique. 

A careful reading of the right three books on a given topic should give you a basic introduction to the major issues and their general implications. You need to pick the right three books, though. They will, of course, cover some of the same material; repetition is good for getting the basics. But they should also come at their common topic from somewhat different angles to give you a sense of the nuance involved.  So, here are three books - one constructive, one corrective, one polemical - that will complement each another and give you a solid and well-rounded introduction to Arminius and the theological tradition that bears his name. 
Keith D. Stanglin & Thomas H. McCall
Oxford University Press, 2013, 240 pages

If you are going to be an Arminian, it's a good idea to know a little bit about Arminius himself and the origin of his thought. This book will do just that. One major strength of this volume is its careful attention to the historical circumstances in which Arminius' views developed. The first chapter introduces Arminius' life. Then three remaining chapters are devoted to the Dutch reformer's views on "God and Creation" (chap. 2), "Providence and Predestination" (chap. 3), and "Sin and Salvation" (chap. 4). I was particularly interested in the way Stanglin and McCall present the controversies over election and predestination as an in-house debate within the Reformation. Arminius died a minister in good standing in the Dutch Reformed Church. I'm inclined to think the present day debate between Calvinists and Arminians would benefit from the perspective of it being an in-house debate.

Roger B. Olson
IVP Academic, 2006, 250 pages

If the above book by Stanglin and McCall explains what Arminian theology is, this book by Roger Olson explains what it is not. Mis-information about Arminianism abounds. Far too many people erroneously think that Arminian theology means believing in free will or entails a denial of the sovereignty of God. Like Stanglin and McCall, Olson attends closely to the primary sources, and he demonstrates that many presently popular portrayals of Arminian thought simply fall short of accurately representing classical Arminian theology. Arminians should read this book to avoid misunderstanding the view they claim to hold. Calvinists should read this book to avoid critiquing false portrayals of Arminianism.

Jerry L. Walls & Joseph R. Dongell
IVP, 2004, 230 pages

Once you've got the basics of Arminian theology and cleared up some of the common misconceptions, you are ready for a polemical work that takes on the opposing views. Why I Am Not a Calvinist by Walls and Dongell does just that. The real strength of this book is that it is co-authored by a philosopher and a biblical scholar. So, the critique of Calvinism is fairly comprehensive. The first two chapters focus on how we approach and engage the Bible with regard to the debate between Arminians and Calvinists. The remaining chapters take up the more philosophical issues in Calvinism like the nature of human freedom and divine sovereignty, among others. The real strength of this book is the way it shows that Calvinism does not simply depend on scriptural exegesis but on philosophical commitments also. Arminians will appreciate its thoughtful arguments against Calvinism, and prudent Calvinists will take seriously the critique.