A while back someone purchased The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes for me from my Ministry Resource List, for which I am always grateful.
I do a lot of reading, and had a number of books to get through before this one. I had requested the book because it came highly recommended as a great resource on the subject, but to be honest, I was not on-the-edge-of-my-seat-excited to read it. Like every other theologian, I am not equally interested in every theological topic, and the Lord’s Supper has never ranked too high on my list of theological priorities.
I grew up Catholic. Communion was something we participated in weekly. I never understood what it was all about, and didn’t care to. It was just a ritual I went through (including the ritual of trying to get that sticky wafer off of the roof of my mouth with all sorts of clever tongue contortions). When I converted to Pentecostal, I went from celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly to bi-annually or annually, so I had even less reason to give the topic much thought. Sure, I studied the various positions and the historical debates on the nature and purpose of the Supper in seminary. That piqued my interest a bit, but more from a historical perspective than a personal interest in my own practice of the Supper. I saw the Supper as a memorial, through that we should do it (and more frequently than we usually do as Protestants), but never got much out of it personally. Then, I read this book. It has greatly enhanced my appreciation for the importance and significance of this ordinance instituted by none other than Jesus Himself. There are many nuances to the Supper that most of us pass over. This book draws them out.
This is a Baptist production, so it is decidedly Zwinglinian in its understanding of the Lord’s Supper. I share their theological understanding of the Supper, so this was a plus. As for the contents, the book considers the Lord’s Supper from a Biblical, theological, historical, and practical perspective – a truly comprehensive view of the subject.
- After an introduction by Thomas Screiner and Matthew Crawford, Andreas Kostenberger considers whether or not the Last Supper was a Passover meal or not. After detailing the pros and cons, he comes down on the side of identifying it as a Passover meal.
- Jonathan Pennington compares the four accounts of the Last Supper in the Gospels to identify their similarities and distinctives. James Hamilton Jr. follows up with an examination of Paul’s account and unique contribution to the subject.
- A full seven chapters are devoted to examining the Lord’s Supper from a historical perspective: patristic era (Michael Haykin), medieval Carolingian conflict (David Hogg), Catholic teaching (Gregg Allison), Luther’s teaching (Matthew Crawford), Zwingli’s teaching (Bruce Ware), Calvin’s teaching and Reformed theology (Shawn Wright), and the Baptists (Gregory Wills). I was particularly shocked at how early in history church leaders began speaking of the bread and water as being the literal body and blood of Christ. I also learned that I misunderstood Catholic teaching on the mass as a sacrifice of Christ. They do not hold that each time they break the bread that Christ is being sacrificed again for sins, but rather it is a re-presentation of his once-for-all sacrifice.
- After an excellent historical treatment of the subject, Brian Bickers begins a practical examination of the Supper, focusing on what it is that we experience in our celebration of the Supper – both the good and the bad (feelings of unworthiness and guilt). He does a great job showing how the Lord’s Supper connects the past to the present, similar to how the Passover meal connected the Israelites with God’s saving act in the Exodus.
- Gregory Alan Thornbury focuses his attention on understanding the situation at Corinth that Paul was addressing, with the goal of shedding some exegetical light on Paul’s talk of taking the Supper “unworthily” and admonishing the Corinthians to “examine themselves” lest God judge them. So many people have struggled with the Lord’s Supper because of a misunderstanding of Paul, so this chapter is vitally important to the modern church.
- Finally, Ray Van Neste closes out the book with a string of practical considerations. He attempts to answer the question of why the Lord’s Supper is so undervalued by so many Christians, and then moves on to discuss such matters as who should preside over the administration of the ordinance, how often it should be celebrated, whether we should use real wine, where it should be celebrated, how to serve the Supper, and who should and should not partake.
The comprehensive nature of the book, coupled with its lucid insights makes this a great resource for understanding the Lord’s Supper. I’m sure that even Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed folks could benefit from much of the material.