New Book on the Lord’s Supper

I received a review copy of this book two days ago, and read it the day I got it. Imagine a Baptist arguing for the LS as a means of grace! Of course, that is their original heritage, as the author well proves.

I have been eager for more books on the Lord’s Supper for two reasons. Firstly, I plan on preaching a series on the Lord’s Supper in the near future, and secondly, the Reformers talked more about the Lord’s Supper than about any other topic, including justification by faith alone. I have been realizing that the Lord’s Supper is a much larger and much more important subject than I had thought previously (being infected previously, I suppose, with some of the general evangelicalism’s memorialism). It is a gospel issue, since the Lord’s Supper preaches the gospel to all five senses. It is a means of grace fully equal to Word and Prayer. And yet, in today’s Christianity, it gets a measly third place to Word and Prayer. This is due, no doubt, to the fact that most people do not see the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace.

Enter Barcellos’s book. His thesis is fairly circumscribed: it is to prove that the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, and to show from Scripture how the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace. He is explicitly aiming his thesis at those who tend to follow the early Zwingli in their memorialism. Barcellos certainly proves his thesis (not that I took a lot of convincing!). Certain points he makes here and there are worth the price of admission, and I will point those out. The book is geared towards pastors. The average layperson will not be able to follow the serious Greek exegesis of various passages.

The best things about the book (for me) were the careful exegesis of 1 Corinthians 10:16, and the description of the tenses of the Lord’s Supper. The former is a lynchpin verse for the case that the LS is a means of grace, and not just a remembering. The latter was a fascinating point that also helps greatly in proving the thesis: the LS looks back to Christ’s finished work, looks at present to our Savior in heaven (and by the power of the Holy Spirit we commune with the risen Lord now), and we look forward in time to the wedding supper of the Lamb (“until He comes”). If the LS is only a remembering, then only the past tense matters. Barcellos also ties in the tenses with the tenses of the Lord’s Day in a very intriguing way (noting that “kuriakos” only ever describes two things in the NT: the LS and the Lord’s Day). I think one could even go farther than Barcellos here and connect it all back to the covenant via Vos’s description of the change of covenants as related to the Sabbath (in his Biblical Theology).

So, overall, I am very enthusiastic about this book, and will use its insights in my sermon series with gratitude. There are a couple of points where I think the book might be improved. Firstly, the book is a bit short (128 pages including indices). There were many times when I thought he could have expanded his arguments and included more data. I wanted more exegesis, too! Secondly, although he mentions the connection of Word and Sacrament towards the end of the book, I felt that this topic deserved its own chapter. He has a whole chapter devoted to comparing the LS with prayer as means of grace. To me, it seems just as important, if not more so, to compare and connect Word to Sacrament. This was a very important connection to the Reformers. Barcellos mentions it, and says some very good things about it, but I felt that it deserved a whole chapter to itself. Thirdly, though I know he knows Mathison’s book, I get the feeling he is not quite convinced by everything that Mathison says. Now, that’s perfectly fine. But I do think that Mathison’s book provides enormous ammunition to those arguing Barcellos’s case for the LS as a means of grace. Calvin’s position on Christ’s presence in the LS may be hard to understand at times (Hodge, Dabney and Cunningham all rejected it, though they agreed with Calvin that the LS is a means of grace), but to me it seems the most biblical position. Especially in the discussion of 1 Corinthians 10:16, it seems to me that Calvin’s position makes eminent sense of the text there. Here’s to hoping that Barcellos is already thinking about a second edition. This book is already a very worthy addition to the discussion and well worth the purchase.

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17 Comments

  1. Todd said,

    January 16, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Lane,

    Good review. Just to clarify in case some readers are not familiar, your review gives the impression that Dabney and Hodge did not agree with Calvin’s view of the LS as a means of grace. Both Dabney and Hodge stood with Calvin against Rome, Luther and Zwingli on the LS. All three (C, D & H) agreed on the LS as a means. They only disagreed on how Christ’s flesh in heaven is involved in communicating or strengthening us in the LS.

  2. January 16, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Here’s my short review of the book: http://sovereignlogos.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/book-review-richard-barcellos-the-lords-supper-as-a-means-of-grace-more-than-a-memory/

    Here’s an interview I participated in with the author for ConfessingBaptist.com: http://confessingbaptist.com/podcast039/

  3. greenbaggins said,

    January 16, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Todd, you are correct. What Hodge, Dabney and Cunningham disagreed with in Calvin’s view was not that the LS was a means of grace, but rather with how Jesus was present in the LS.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    January 16, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    I have revised the post to reflect the clarification, Todd, which was definitely necessary. Thanks again for pointing that out.

  5. January 16, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    “To me, it seems just as important, if not more so, to compare and connect Word to Sacrament.” Connecting Word and Sacrament, in my opinion, is the key to avoiding a rote, ritualistic LS. Jeff Hutchinson is good at this, but most pastors I’ve had were not. There’s a lot more you can do in your (hopefully weekly!) introduction to the LS than simply quote 1 Cor. 11.

  6. January 16, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Thanks, Lane. Good observations. Iron sharpens iron.

  7. January 18, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Todd,

    I am interested in learning more about the distinction(s) between and among Calvin, Dabney, and Hodge to which you alluded. I understand that Calvin and Hodge (I don’t know anything about Dabney) view the LS as a means of grace. What I do not yet understand is what their disagreement(s) were regarding how Christ’s flesh in heaven is, in their view, involved in communicating or strengthening those who receive the elements.

    Todd, could you please inform me about what Calvin, Dabney, and Hodge’s exact disagreements were on this issue?

    ad maiorem Dei gloriam,
    Paul Weinhold

  8. Todd said,

    January 18, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    Paul,

    Here is a good explanation of the debate, favoring Calvin over Hodge:

    http://www.academia.edu/1091130/Calvins_Doctrine_of_the_Lords_Supper_A_blot_upon_his_labors_as_a_public_instructor

    And here is Hodge explaining weakness of Calvin:

    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/hodge/theology3.iii.vi.xvi.html

    Blessings,

    Todd Bordow

  9. Roy Kerns said,

    January 18, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Some year ago in another forum I posted the two comments below. I remain convinced that their burden shows up way too seldom in the ministry of the church. Part of that lack may result from their burden showing up nearly never in discussions of the Lord’s Supper. Or in books on the Lord’s Supper, for that matter.
    1) That children, even fairly young one, can love the Lord means that
    preaching ought respond to that reality. Ie, at least some parts of
    it should clearly and boldly challenge the children to come to Jesus,
    to realize the seriousness of scorning their baptism. What better
    time than during the administration of the Lord’s Supper, which
    preaches the gospel in sign language, to press that claim. (Pastors
    and elders, take note. This sometimes speaking comprehendably to
    children is a mark of godly preaching.)
    2) This is exactly the best response to paedocommunionists. It agrees
    with them that covenant children are holy. It agrees with them that
    being no more than a child does not of itself bar one from partaking.
    It pleads with them (and everyone else, for that matter) to actively
    work at bringing children to love and serve the Lord and join in
    communion.

  10. Ron said,

    January 18, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    Roy,

    I’ve seen point 1 quite a bit. We should desire, as one minister used to pray, that our children “close with Jesus.” Another minister I know began inviting the children out of “junior church” to witness the gospel in the breaking of bread… I really like your point, that being a child doesn’t bar one from partaking… so, again, we do well to remind them to close with Christ so that they might indeed come and partake in a worthy manner.

    Good Lord’s Day.

  11. January 19, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Todd,

    Thanks for sending along those articles. I may find them useful in the future. For now, though, I was hoping for a briefer synopsis of the disagreement(s) between and among Calvin, Dabney, and Hodge regarding how Christ’s flesh in heaven is, in their view, involved in communicating or strengthening those who receive the elements.

    Could you please give me the summary version?

    ad maiorem Dei gloriam,
    Paul Weinhold

  12. Todd said,

    January 19, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Paul.

    Calvin wrote in the Institutes (IV. xvii. 10): “We conclude that our souls are fed by the flesh and blood of Christ, just as our corporal life is preserved by bread and wine. For the analogy of the signs would not hold, if our souls did not find their aliment in Christ, which, however, cannot be the case, unless Christ truly coalesce into one with us, and support us through the use of his flesh and blood. It may seem incredible indeed that the flesh of Christ should reach us from such an immense local distance, so as to become our food. But we must remember how far the power of the Holy Spirit transcends all our senses, and what folly it must be even to think of reducing his immensity to our measure. Let faith then embrace what the understanding cannot grasp, namely, that the spirit truly unites things which are totally separated.”

    Hodge called Calvin’s view “peculiar” to suggest in any way that the body of Christ reaches us and feeds us in the LS. Calvin was trying to avoid a separation of Christ into parts, that when we feed upon Christ we feed upon the whole person. Hodge would ask how that is possible that we can feed upon Christ’s body which is in heaven; Calvin would say it’s a mystery. Hodge affirmed Christ’s presence by Spirit, but was uncomfortable with Calvin’s view that we also feed on the body by faith. Hodge did not think the Belgic or WCF supported that aspect of Calvin’s view. Many think Hodge misunderstood Calvin.

    That’s just a summary, there is obviously more to it that the WTJ article explains.

  13. Scott said,

    January 19, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Regarding the difference between Mr. Calvin and the others, it may be exaggerated.

    But, at risk of oversimplification, it looks like Mr. Calvin viewed the Lord’s Supper more from the perspective of the Holy Spirit having united us with Christ (what theologians call ‘union with Christ’).

    It also appears the Westminster Standards reflect more Mr. Calvin’s perspective, spiritual presence of our Lord during the Lord’s Supper, e.g.,

    Westminster Confession of Faith
    Chapter XXIV
    Of the Lord’s Supper

    ….

    VII. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament,[13] do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.[14]

    ….

  14. January 19, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    Todd,

    Thanks for your reply. I appreciate your summary version of Calvin and Hodge’s disagreements regarding how Christ’s flesh in heaven is, in their view, involved in communicating or strengthening those who receive the elements. If I understand you correctly, then you’re saying that the basic difference is this: Hodge insisted that Christ’s flesh and blood is *not* received by those who receive the elements, and that Calvin insisted that Christ’s flesh and blood is in fact received by those who receive the elements.

    What about Dabney? What was his view?

    ad maiorem Dei gloriam,
    Paul

  15. Todd said,

    January 19, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    Paul, Dabney wrote “We reject the view of Calvin concerning the real presence…, first, because it is not only incomprehensible, but impossible. Does it not require us to admit, in admitting the literal (though spiritual) reception of Christ’s corporeal part, it in a distant heaven, and we on earth; that matter may exist without its essential attributes of locality and dimension?

    I think both Calvin and Hodge would affirm that we are strengthened by Christ’s whole person in the Supper, but disagree on how. Hodge seems content to say that Christ (the whole person) feeds and strengthens us by his spiritual presence in the Supper; while Calvin seems to want to say a bit more. Hodge and Dabney were very uncomfortable with what Calvin would leave to mystery. Whether the disagreement is a disagreement in substance, or simply a disagreement in how best the mystical union between Christ and his people that is communicated in the LS should be explained, I’ll leave to others more knowledgeable.

    I personally do not buy the modern call that we must return to Calvin’s view of the Supper, as if we have all been missing something. I think Hodge and Dabney’s view was fine, and I think the explanation in the WLC is also fine as it is, and it doesn’t seem to take a side, at least IMO.

  16. January 20, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Todd,

    Thanks for your reply. Given your response, I don’t think I really understand what Dabney, Calvin, and Hodge’s disagreement(s) were regarding how Christ’s flesh in heaven is, in their view, involved in communicating or strengthening those who receive the elements. It must be a finer distinction than I’m able to appreciate right now.

    Thanks again for taking the time to reply to my question.

    ad maiorem Dei gloriam,
    Paul


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