Book Plunge: Making A Meal Of It

What do I think of Ben Witherington III’s book published by Baylor University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife has been exploring Orthodoxy later. I find it interesting that yesterday many of us line up so that people can have a small piece of bread and drink from one cup. My wife and I not being part of the Orthodox Church are not allowed to partake, but we get a blessing. After all of that, we go over to a life center and there’s a meal there where people can get what they want and we can all sit at tables and chat with one another.

It’s ironic to think that the latter practice could be closer to the Lord’s Supper than the former is.

Witherington’s book is meant to give us a theology of the Lord’s Supper. I was quite intrigued to start this book since so many Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox debates can take place around this. I have to agree with my wife’s assessment as we discussed it beforehand that what we usually get at churches should be more accurately called “The Lord’s Snack.”

Witherington starts with Passover. Is this a parallel to the Lord’s Supper? Not really. Passover looked back to the past. The Lord’s Supper is meant more to look to the future. Still, we can get a lot out of learning about how Jews observed meals and how that could differ from the way the Greeks did it.

In the middle, you get an interesting look at John where Witherington explains his reasons for thinking Lazarus is the beloved disciple.  The more I see this case, the more I think Witherington could be on to something. The historians among us will be interested in this as well.

Witherington will go on to talk about the text as it is found in 1 Cor. 11 and in the Gospels and various places in the book of Acts. It’s interesting that this is such an important feature to churches, but really very little is said about it. What is tragic the most is what has happened to the event over time.

As we move away from the idea of house churches and we establish public places for people to go to, the meal becomes less of a meal. It becomes more individualized with personal wafers and in our day, personal cups. It is not the host, the head of the household, who presides over the meal, but rather it is a priest or a minister. Of course, anyone who does preside over this event should be aware of how it needs to be done respectfully, but is there a problem with making it the responsibility of the clergy?

The table has also been a place of exclusion many times. Let’s remember that our Lord ate and drank with prostitutes and tax collectors. At the Last Supper itself, Judas was present and Jesus gave him bread specifically. Of course, the church wanted to make sure that people did not come to their feasts to disrupt them, but could the feasts themselves not be an evangelistic opportunity?

Witherington at the end talks about being on tours in other countries where the Lord’s Supper was done. One person who gave a tour was a Muslim who was apparently questioning. The other was a lapsed Catholic. Witherington talks about how he invited both of them to the table to partake of the elements. Conversion took place.

Ultimately, my view of the Lord’s Supper right now is that the meal is largely symbolic, but meant to draw us into the presence of Christ. Jesus is the real host at every event. As the bread is broken, we are to remember that the body of Jesus was broken. As the wine flows, we are to remember how the blood of Jesus was poured out on the cross.

All of this is meant to draw us into the presence of Jesus. Yet at the same time, we don’t have this like a funeral dirge, but we have it as a celebration. We remember that this was not the end. He is coming back and we look forward to when He reigns again in the future totally when the Father rules on Earth as He does in Heaven.

The meal after the Lord’s Supper could ironically be closer to the Lord’s Supper since it is actually a meal and it is actually us communing together and meeting one another. After all, when the supper was had at Corinth, people were gorging themselves and getting drunk. Hard to think of an individual doing that on what’s given out on many a Sunday morning.

If there was any change I would make to the book, I would like more footnotes when later historical events are talked about. I would like to know where I can find these events in church historians. For instance, I know Witherington shares the story about Origen castrating himself, but I am skeptical of this event being a real one instead of just a legend about Origen.

Still, this book really makes one appreciate the Lord’s Supper and it’s hard to not be moved at the last chapter with the stories of conversion taking place. Those wishing to understand the doctrine of the meal are advised to read Witherington’s book. He’s a top-notch scholar that has again brought us great information and it’s easy to understand.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Protestants and Catholics

What do I think of Peter Toon’s book published by Servant Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Discussions about Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism was never something I really wanted to get into. I have been a subscriber of Mere Christianity for several years and been one wanting to look at defending the essentials. What changed is when my wife started asking questions and I realized if she’s doing this, I need to start looking into this. I asked a friend fluent on the issues for a good book on the topic and was recommended Peter Toon’s book.

Toon writes from a Protestant perspective, but his writing is friendly and he shows problems each side has with the other and ways that both could handle things better. There is no hint of anything that says that Catholics are an apostate church or anything like that. There is nothing saying that Protestantism is where the action is and we have it all together on our end. He points to statements made by both Protestants and Catholics that are good and that are problematic He points to honest concerns that both have about the other.

He covers the main issues as well. Not everything, but some of them. Authority is a big one. When I encounter Catholics, many of them say that it’s not really possible to understand the text of Scripture without the magisterium. Protestants reply that the meaning is in the text. Catholics say they gave the canon of Scripture. Protestants say canonicity lies in the books and the church discovered that rather than created it.

Authority I think could be the biggest issue. Where does the authority lie? This is the issue that leads to Sola Scriptura. Protestants say that the tradition cannot be known to be accurate, but we can study the Scripture and know that this is what the apostles said. Catholics see the tradition as being based in apostolic succession and thus reliable.

Other issues come up too such as justification. This is likely also before the understanding of the New Perspective on Paul so that isn’t a big debate in the book, but it was a major issue. Fortunately, I do think Protestants and Catholics are starting to come together to discuss these issues more.

Sacraments are also an issue. Protestants tend to only recognize baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Catholics recognize more. There are also differences on how the Lord’s Supper is to be seen. Is it transubstantiation or real presence or is it something else?

Mary is one of the last topics covered. Catholics often see themselves as defending the mother of God and upholding her honor and such. Protestants look more and say that it seems to border on idolatry to them. Unfortunately, Protestants then go and don’t seem to pay any attention to Mary. While we can think Catholics give too much honor, let us not be guilty of giving too little.

One nice appendix also in the book is a letter John Wesley wrote to a Roman Catholic. It is a letter seeking reconciliation and focusing on what is agreed on. Many of us do hope that one day there can be reconciliation. I am not sure how it is possible, but I can hope.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: In Search Of Ancient Roots

What do I think of Kenneth Stewart’s book published by IVP Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Historically, many times different denominations have not gotten along. Today, there is much more communication and with the internet here, many people are coming across other belief systems they would have no access to before. Many an orthodox Protestant can be wondering about their belief system. Where did it come from?

Stewart’s book is written to help those searching Protestants. While not for any one particular denomination, he does work to show that many of the beliefs and such that we have today go back to our ancestors. Not only that, there was great theological development even on core doctrines. One quick example is the Trinity. It’s not that Jesus rose from the dead and immediately the apostles got together and wrote the Nicene Creed. The outworking of that event took at least three centuries to get to Nicea and today we can look back and see the development of the doctrine.

One great theme of this book is that the Fathers matter. I remember asking someone well over a decade ago in talking about apologetics if they could name an early church father. The only name that came to mind was John Wesley. That’s why we have to do a better job educating. So many people know so little about these great people that many times gave their lives for the Christian faith. We not only don’t know our doctrines, but we don’t know the history behind those doctrines.

Stewart definitely wants us to return to the Fathers. He tells us that early Protestants were known for doing this. Today we think of other traditions scouring the Fathers, but he says in the past the Protestants were the ones doing this the most. There’s no reason Protestants today can’t be doing in-depth research on the Fathers.

He also speaks about examples of debates that we have today. The two he chooses are the frequency of the Lord’s Supper and if we should participate in infant baptism. Both of these chapters bring up points that will be of interest to anyone in these debates.

There’s also a chapter on the history of Newman with the look at the claim that to study church history is to cease to be Protestant. Stewart contends that there are two different Newmans. One is the one presented in many popular writings. The other is one the Catholic Church itself was unsure about.

Towards the end, he starts looking at the harder issues. Many of these chapters I thought would actually work better at the beginning of the book. These include the claim that the Roman Church does have the highest authority due to the seat of Peter being occupied. Stewart argues that the data for this is not as strong as would be like and the claim is not helped by the fact that many times there were rival popes and each pope was busy excommunicating the other.

There’s also a chapter on the history of justification by faith. I find the fact that so many have written on this to show that the early Fathers taught this as fascinating, but there was one blind spot here. I did not see any quotations from the Fathers. I would have liked to have seen some of those at least. One could not get an encyclopedic look of course, but something would be nice.

Finally, it ends with why people abandon Protestantism and go the other way. Again, the message is that we need to really study our history and our doctrine. We have had a sort of anti-intellectualism come over the church and too many have the idea that everything just fell down from heaven and the history is irrelevant. We need to know not only where we are and where we are going, but how we got here.

Those interested in church history will benefit from reading this. It would be good for those on all sides of any such debate. I hope we can return to some serious look at our history. In an age of greater skepticism, we need it more and more not just because of the constant changing of churches, but because of outside attacks on all churches.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: We Shall All Be Changed

What do I think of Joel McDurmon’s book published by American Vision? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been an orthodox preterist for years, even before going to a Seminary that is pre-mill and dispensational. A church I attended in Charlotte was largely that way and yet they let me give a presentation on orthodox preterism. It was quite a fun time. There is one title I refuse to accept and that is a partial preterist.

Why? Because I do not consider the other side to consist of full preterists. I call them Neohymenaeans. For reasons that will come out, I consider the movement a heresy. If that is so, why would I want to be called a partial heretic? Preterism means something and I do not define it by the heresy.

In this book, Joel McDurmon takes a look at one of the most prominent figures in the Neohymenaean movement, Don Preston. McDurmon starts with a look at hermeneutics. How we read the text is important. I like that McDurmon starts off with a case that could be convincing to many for the Neohymenaean movement. We must always show that as strange as we think a belief is when we first hear it, there are reasons people hold it. (Indeed, I used to consider preterism this bizarre belief and how could people believe it? The reality was I didn’t know what preterists really believed.)

McDurmon then gives what he thinks is a proper hermeneutic, and I agree with him. One example is that all does not mean all in a literal sense. Consider how we are told all Judea and Jerusalem was baptized by John the Baptist. Really? Every single person in Judea? All those Pharisees and Sadduecees in Jerusalem were going to be baptized? No. This is hyperbole.

The far more damaging part here is the practical outworkings of Neohymenaeanism. If you truly believe this, then you need to do things that are supposed to stop when the fullness of Christ comes in the resurrection and the new age. That includes things like the Lord’s Supper, marriage, and teaching. In other words, if you’re a Neohymenaean, don’t teach it to anyone, don’t have Communion, and don’t marry.

McDurmon also makes an argument for the bodily resurrection. I’m not going to give his key passage here. I think you need to get the book to see that for yourself. He does interact with the problematic reading of passages that attempt to turn the body referred to in passages like 1 Cor. 15 to just that of the body of Christ.

If there was something I would have liked emphasized more, it would be my biggest problem overall with the Neohymenaean movement. That is that if we are to be raised as Christ was raised, and we are instead resurrected spiritually and not physically, then that would mean that Christ was also resurrected spiritually and not physically. We can be told Christ is the exception, but then that leads to a contradiction and is begging the question. That’s why I say the movement is ultimately a Christological heresy. In fact, it’s quite similar to Gnosticism in that the material world doesn’t really matter and it doesn’t deal with the problem of evil ultimately. Evil still gains a victory that claims the material world.

Orthodox preterists out there need to know about the Neohymenaean movement and how to argue against it. Futurists need to realize that orthodox preterists are not neohymenaeans and we stand against this movement just as you do. While Neohymenaeans often try to paint preterists as futurists and dispensationalists, it’s important that on the other end Christians who are futurists don’t paint preterists as Neohymenaeans. Yes. We can have our discussions and disagreements in good Christian fellowship, but let us be clear that we who are orthodox Preterists do indeed hold to an orthodox position.

In Christ,
Nick Peters