Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What Am I Reading? Eberhard Jüngel

What Am I Reading? Eberhard Jüngel

Eberhard Jüngel, Karl Barth: A Theological Legacy (Garrett E. Paul, trans; Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1986).

This volume is a translation of some of the material that appeared in German in 1982 under the title Barth-Studien (München). It is not a full translation and, in my humble opinion, some of the best stuff is left out. That ‘left-out’ material primarily concerns Jüngel’s treatment of Barth’s doctrine of baptism. For those of you who like conspiracy theories, see Kurt A. Richardson’s book, Reading Karl Barth, to get his take on why this material remains untranslated.

In any case, what we do have in translation reveals Jüngel to be a first-rate interpreter of Barth who is, among other things, intimately acquainted with Barth’s biography and work. The first 100 pages of this book gives two accounts – one shorter and one longer – of Barth’s life and work (the shorter includes some remarks about his impact and the longer focuses on Barth’s early development). The last remaining 35 pages or so deal with the difference between Barth and Luther on the Gospel / Law relation, and Barth’s Christological work in CD IV.2 primarily, but also in IV as a whole.

What follow includes one short reflection on two aspects of this work that jumped out at me, and one extended quotation from Jüngel dealing with another aspect.

Systematic Theology?

Most students of Barth know of his fondness for ‘beginning once again at the beginning.’ Indeed, this aspect frustrates students of Barth because it is directly responsible for the size of his corpus. It could never, for Barth, be an issue of refining and revising that which was already written. Rather, it had to be always a completely new interpretation of the subject matter of theology. Along these lines, Jüngel says
“Barth’s theology was, from the beginning, an avowed enemy of systems. It remained so even in the very systematically written Church Dogmatics. What is systematic about this theology is that it resolves to make progress precisely by constantly correcting, or else completely changing, its direction.” (27)
This kind of a statement raises the question of whether or not there should be called into existence by Barth’s work some kind of “Barthian scholasticism.” Now, as I have said elsewhere, I’m a big fan of a finely made distinction, which is one of the hallmarks of scholastic theology. So, in the sense that a “Barthian scholasticism” would mean the careful working out of the implications of Barth’s theology, I can see no fundamental problem with doing this kind of work. But, the danger here is that “Barthian scholasticism” might become, instead of a constant questioning and moving forward, the arresting of this movement through establishing a system, whereby theology is moved forward based on foundational premises from which conclusions might be drawn. No matter how closely these foundational premises might reflect the content of revelation as witnessed to by Scripture and attested by the Holy Spirit, they are not identical with this content, and are thus a false starting point – no matter how fruitful thought-experiments that use them as starting points might be. Thus, we must ‘begin once again at the beginning,’ taking our cues not from a system, but from the content of revelation, and thus from Jesus Christ.

Systematic theology? Yeah; but always theology, and not systems building.

Lutheranism, or, What screwed up modern theology before it began?

Ok, I admit that the title of this section is a bit polemic. Luther was a theological genius in his own way. It is just a shame that his insight was far better than his execution. In any case, Jüngel explicates Barth’s understanding of how Luther and Lutheranism lead directly to Feuerbach. Jüngel quotes Barth et al from various sources throughout this section, and because it would be tedious to note them all, you’ll have to get a copy of the book if you really want to follow the citation trail.
“Barth describes the modern history of theology as a progressive deterioration that reached its logical conclusion in Ludwig Feuerbach’s thesis: ‘Theology is anthropology – that is to say, in the object of religion, in what we call…‘God,’ nothing is specified except the essence of man.’ Feuerbach only drew out the logical consequence of the shift in theology’s ‘attention from what God is in himself to what God is for men.’ Luther’s ‘talk of faith as almost a divine hypostasis which moved and worked independently’; the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Lutheran teaching of the Lord’s Supper; and orthodox Lutheran doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum [the interchange of attributes in the divine-human Christ], which took no notice of the Reformed reservation Finitum non capax infiniti [The finite cannot contain the infinite] – all these signified, Barth held, ‘the possibility of a reversal…of God and man.’ Barth believed that this possibility had become a reality in the modern era and was completely accomplished in Feuerbach.” (37-8)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Response to Boethius


I have greatly enjoyed your series on Boethius. It is all very good and interesting stuff!

However, I must say that I disagree with some of the general contours of Boethius’ thinking on those matters addressed in your last installment, and I thought it might be fun for me to offer them here for some further discussion, etc. There are really two main points of disagreement:

  • Whereas Boethius affirms that Christ assumed a sinless / unfallen human nature, I affirm that Christ assumed a fallen human nature. “What is not assumed is not redeemed,” so that if fallen human nature is not assumed, fallen human nature is not redeemed.

One derivative point that I would want to press here is whether or not Jesus could have sinned. I think that we have to say that Jesus could have sinned, although he did not sin. If we are to say that Jesus’ temptations were actual temptations in which he underwent all the torment that we undergo in temptation, it must have at least been possible for him to have chosen to sin. He had opportunity. He was fully human, although also fully God. Because he was fully God, he did not sin; because he was fully human, he could have.

  • Whereas Boethius affirms that it is only through sin that humanity (Adam) becomes mortal, I affirm that humanity was created mortal and that immortality existed even then only as grace and promise. Why else should there be a Tree of Life from which Adam and Eve were banished?

One derivative point that I would want to press here is whether or not God would have become incarnate had humanity not fallen into sin. I tend to think that the incarnation would still have happened, although perhaps only with ramifications in the prophetic and maybe the kingly offices and not the priestly office. Of course, we are just speculating here (something that shouldn’t take up too much of our time), but I tend to think that the fellowship with God made possible after the incarnation is superior to that shown to us in the opening chapters of Genesis.

Yes, I am swimming against some very dominant currents of the Christian theological tradition, but I do not think that I am without certain supporting currents in that tradition, as well as recourse to some superior exegesis and the depth grammar of God’s self-revelation in Christ.

P.S. One of the most profound theological questions that can be be asked is this: "Where is true humanity found, in Adam or in Jesus?"

Letters from Leavers

I recently came across a new website, and I have become convinced of its value for those in church leadership, and for those who would theologically advise them. This site is full of the testimony of those who have left the church, and I’m not talking about leaving any one particular church (although there are some stories about that) – I’m talking about those who have left THE church, Christianity as a whole. Reading some of these stories, I was struck by the penetrating thought – “If theology cannot address these problems, its not doing its job.”

Now, lest you worry that I have turned my back on my disavowal of apologetics, I haven’t. But, reading these stories I was struck by the utter inability of many theological systems (both those I have studies and those which I have at one point or another held) to provide resources for pastoral care in relation to these questions. Dealing with these kinds of issues from within the church and Christian theology (remember, these people were all ‘in’ at some point, and were not retained) is of utmost import. We don’t need to cast around outside of Christian theology to find support for our faith (that kind of apologetics is, I think, a waste of time). But, we ought to be able to speak to these needs if for no other reason than that we must affirm that God is able to speak to these needs.

In any case, I highly recommend Letters from Leavers to your attention. They have an RSS feed, and I suggest subscribing. And, for those of you interested in practical theology, or at least the practical aspects of systematic theology (there certainly are practical aspects!), look through this stuff and ask yourself if some of them wouldn’t make for great final exam questions.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Two Trend-Lines in Barth

Below is a paragraph from an early draft of one of the chapters of my MDiv thesis, currently underway. I hope you enjoy!


It should be noted here that through
out Barth's theology, and coterminous with his emphasis on the objectivity of Christ's work, there is an emphasis on the subjective impact of this objectivity and the human response to which it gives rise. That is, Barth consistently turns his attention to the consequences in nobis of what God accomplishes in Christ extra nos. We need not spend much time elucidating this point, but we can provide a quick high-altitude sketch. First, it is the objective readiness of God to be known that establishes the possibility of human knowledge of God.[1] Second, God's election of Jesus Christ means that the "elect man is chosen in order to respond to the gracious God," and it is upon this response that hinges the fulfillment of God's purposes in the space-time existence of the human being.[2] Third, in IV.1, it is the 'Obedience of the Son of God' that establishes the 'Justification of Man', the reality of which finds it fulfillment in the responsive act of faith.[3] Fourth, we see this same pattern again in IV.2, where it is the 'Exaltation of the Son of Man' that establishes the 'Sanctification of Man', the reality of which finds it fulfillment in thankfulness to and love of God.[4] Fifth, in IV.3, it is the 'Glory of the Mediator' that creates and awakens in the 'Vocation of Man' the witness of the Christian and the church.[5] Finally, as we had occasion to see briefly above, it is the divine work of Spirit baptism that accomplishes the transition from 'potential' sharing in Christ's history to 'actual' sharing.[6] The objectivity of Christ's work includes this subjective element and is ordered toward this subjective element as the fulfillment or telos of the objective activity of reconciliation wrought by God in Christ.

[1] Cf. Barth, CD II.1, §26.

[2] Barth, CD II.2, 413.

[3] Cf. Barth, CD IV.1, §59 and §61.

[4] Cf. Barth, CD IV.2, §64 and §66.

[5] Cf. Barth, CD IV.3, §69 and §71.

[6] Cf. Barth, CD IV.4, §75.1.


UPDATE: Some of you know that I have been hard at work this week drafting the second chapter of my thesis. This chapter will provide the foundation of a paper I will present at a conference next week. I am pleased to announce that I have completed an entire draft of this chapter! Just for fun, I thought I would put up a picture of what my desk looked like after I finished the draft and before I cleaned it up. Enjoy!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 2.9-10

1 Peter 2.9-10

[9] But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.



Calvin’s commentary on these two verses is quite short – only about 3 full pages. But, there are some very good bits. Despite these good bits, I’m not feeling as though I have much to say about them. So, I’ll just give you some of the good quotes with minimal comment from myself.

One thing I will say, however, is that Calvin makes good use of his tactic of paraphrasing in his own words what the author meant in writing a given verse or sentence or phrase. This is one of my favorite of Calvin’s exegetical tools because it makes perfectly clear what Calvin is up to and how he is reading the passage in question, not to mention the fact that it generally yields very quotable sections.

One (other thing) thing I will say is that Calvin opens this section with a comment about the separation of believers from unbelievers. In keeping with one of his three goals for church discipline, this is necessary in order to keep believers from being negatively influenced by those acting like non-believers. The other two goals for church discipline in Calvin’s thought are: first, the honor of God in that those who do not behave as believers should ought not to be called believers, and in that the Lord’s Supper should be administered with discernment; and second, the well-being of those under discipline in that discipline is medicinal and aimed at the betterment of the person in question. It is important to remember, however, that even excommunication in Calvin’s teaching on discipline does not equal a pronouncement that a person is reprobate, for only God knows this. Rather, it is a pronouncement that this person has persisted without repentance in ungodly behavior and thus must be excluded from the Supper and the community. But, enough about that – on to some Calvin quotes!

“God gave to the fathers an earthly taste only of these blessings,…they are really given in Christ. The meaning then is, as though he had said, “Moses called formerly your fathers a holy nation, a priestly kingdom, and God’s peculiar people: all these high titles do now far more justly belong to you; therefore you ought to beware lest your unbelief should rob you of them.”

“[T]he Lord hath called us, that he might possess us as his own, and devoted to him.”

“There is in the royal priesthood a striking inversion of the words of Moses; for he says, ‘a priestly kingdom,’ but the same thing is meant. So what Peter intimated was this, ‘Moses called your fathers a sacred kingdom, because the whole people enjoyed as it were a royal liberty, and from their body were chosen the priest; both dignities were therefore joined together: but not ye are royal priests, and, indeed, in a more excellent way, because ye are, each of you, consecrated in Christ, that ye may be the associates of his kingdom, and partakers of his priesthood. Though, then, the fathers had something like what you have, yet ye far excel them. For after the wall of partition has been pulled down by Christ, we are now gathered from every nation, and the Lord bestows these high titles on all whom he makes his people.’”

NB how in the above quote the priesthood of believers is not an independent priesthood but a sharing in the priesthood of Christ. We have spoken of the mediation of Christ in ways similar to this before. Again, see the work of T.F. Torrance for a contemporary exposition of this theological theme.

“And the sum of what he says is that God has favoured us with these immense benefits and constantly manifests them, that his glory might by us be made known: for by praises, or virtues, he understands wisdom, goodness, power, righteousness, and everything else, in which the glory of God shines forth. And further, it behoves us to declare these virtues or excellencies not only by our tongue, but also by our whole life.”

“We must also notice what he says, that we have been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous or wonderful light; for by these words he amplifies the greatness of divine grace. If the Lord had given us light while we were seeking it, it would have been a favour; but it was a much greater favour, to draw us out of the labyrinth of ignorance and the abyss of darkness.”

“[W]hen they are gathered in Christ, from no people they really become the people of God…It is then God’s gratuitous goodness, which makes of no people a people of God, and reconciles the alienated.”

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Choice Quotations: Barth and Thurneysen

Choice Quotations: Barth and Thurneysen

Revolutionary Theology in the Making: Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence, 1914-1925 (James D Smart, trans.; Richmond: John Knox Press, 1964).
“Both then and now this has been the source from which his [Barth’s] whole theology has come. It has grown out of the work of preaching, and it serves the proclamation of the church. And so it has remained. That the springs of the Bible should flow afresh in our time is the great concern that here is central, and indeed the sole concern. Barth is no abstract thinker, as will be very clear from these beginnings, and abstract here would mean liberated from the Scriptures. He does not project theological speculations out of his own mind; he is not concerned about a system; he is an he remains student and teacher of the Holy Scriptures. Whoever tries to understand him as other than this will not understand him at all.” (13; Thurneysen’s introduction)
“This way of his own that he was to go became quite clear in the second draft of Romans, written in the Safenwil period. The manuscript was completed as Karl Barth moved to Göttingen. In this work the last remnants of a kind of thinking that concerned itself with the evolution of the inner life were finally stripped away. Karl Barth had done with all idealistic, neo-Kantian concepts. The schema finite-infinite was no longer used to express the distinction between heaven and earth, between God and man. In general, he moved out from under the protection of any kind of world view. He refused from this time on to make use of any ontological substructure in order to lend security to his theological statements.” (16-17; Thurneysen’s introduction)
“All this having been said, there is still something that should be added…about the relation between Eduard Thurneysen and myself, both in scholarly and in personal matters…Let no man draw false conclusions from the quantitative preponderance of my letters over his…It was not true…that I was the active partner who did the giving and Thurneysen only the passive or receiving one. On the contrary he was the one who first put me on the trail of Blumhard and Kutter and then also of Dostoevsky…Which one then preceded the other? Which one followed the other? We were closely united.” (71-2; Barth’s introduction)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.2

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.2

[NB: Turretin treats general ecclesiology as his eighteenth topic (sacraments are treated as the nineteenth topic), which is divided into 34 questions. Thus our designator, “18.2” for topic 18 question 2.]

Second Question: The word “church” – its homonyms and definition.

This second question considered in Turretin’s ecclesiology is divided into thirteen further sub-points. It begins with a discussion of the meaning of the word ‘church’ in light of the Greek terms used in the New Testament. Special attention is given to the difference between ekklesias and synagogues / episynagoges. Turretin concludes his linguistic study by observing that the word ‘church’ means different things in the text. Of utmost import to him, however, is that we recognize that the church is not a gathering place, but the gathering itself. That this is directed against Rome is clear (Turretin is generally good about telling the reader these things).

From this, Turretin takes up a discussion of the three primary ways in which the notion of ‘church’ is used in the New Testament:
“Now although the meanings of the word ‘church’ are various and multiple, still they can all be reduced to these three principal ones: (1) the invisible church of the elect and believers; (2) the external church of the externally called professing faith; (3) the representative church of pastors. The church can be regarded either with respect to internal communion with Christ or efficacious calling (with respect to those selected in whom the word and sacraments are efficacious by the Spirit and work salvation) or with respect to the external profession or dispensation of the word and sacraments (as to those who are externally called) or with respect to the sacred rule and government by rulers appointed by Christ.” (p. 8)
Much of Turretin’s material here is very reminiscent of Calvin’s ecclesiology and nearly every point set forth here finds resonances in Calvin’s work. Two such resonances deserve specific mention. First, Turretin affirms that the visible / external church is a mixed church, that is, a mingling of both believers and those who look like believers. Second, Turretin applies his third use of the term ‘church’ to Matthew 18, a move that Calvin makes as well.

Toward the end of this section, Turretin brings his polemic work to a fine point:
“The fundamental error of the Romanists in the whole controversy is that the church is to be measured like a civil society, so that its essence consists only in externals and things striking the senses and that a profession of faith alone is sufficient to constitute a member of the church; nor are faith itself and internal piety necessarily required for it. Nevertheless, its nature is far different. We ought not to learn this from the corrupt light of reason or from our morals or those of others, but from the most pure mirror of the divine word, which is wont to make it consist not in externals (which are seen by men and can often mislead), but in internals (which are believed and recognized by God alone…).” (p. 10)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Loscher's 13 Objections to Pietism

Karl Barth, Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century: Its Background and History (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 126-127.

Barth tells the story of Valentin Ernst Loscher (1673-1749), the founder of the first theological journal, and an opponent of both pietism and the enlightenment. Below is a list, provided by Barth, of Loscher's objections to pietism.

  1. Indifference ot the truth of the Gospel, boasting that Christianity is a Christianity of power

  2. Devaluation of the means of grace by their association with human piety

  3. Weakening of the ministry of the Church by the denial of the objective grace of the ministry (to be affirmed not for the benefit of godless pastors but by virtue of the matter itself)

  4. The confusion of the righteousness of faith with works, the understanding of justification as a process which in the last resort takes place within man

  5. A tendency towards chiliasm

  6. The limitation of repentance to a particular time of life

  7. Preciousness, that is, the suppression of all natural pleasure and the so-called intermediates

  8. A mystical confusion of nature and grace in the conception of an essential part of man which is pure and good in itself even before rebirth

  9. The annihilation of the so-called subsidia religionis
  10. , i.e. the outward and visible Church, by devaluation of its symbols and ordinances, by the contestation of theological systems
  11. The fostering and acquittal of manifest enthusiasms

  12. The conception of an absolute perfection that is both possible and necessary, which leads to pride or despair

  13. The undertaking to improve not only people but the Church itself, that is, the desire to alter it

  14. The causing of manifest schisms

Monday, February 12, 2007

T. H. L. Parker on the Bolsec / Calvin Dispute

Jerome Bolsec was originally a monk and doctor of theology in Paris. But, being converted to the evangelical (Reformational) faith, he fled France and settled upon the practice of medicine as a livelihood. This eventually brought him to Geneva where, in October of 1551, he attended a meeting of the Congrégation, a regular meeting of the Genevan clergy held primarily for preaching practice. One of the ministers preached on John 8.47, and tied it into the doctrine of predestination (quite a stretch, actually). In the time given over for discussion after the sermon, Bolsec raised questions about this doctrine. Now, Calvin was detained on other business, and was not present for the sermon. However, he did slip in the back without being noticed in time to hear Bolsec criticizing this doctrine and the Genevan ministers. Calvin mounted an hour-long ex tempore defense of this doctrine (I wish I could have seen Bolsec’s face when he realized that Calvin was there!). At the close of the meeting Bolsec was arrested by the magistracy, not for denying predestination, but for some of his more radical rhetorical flourishes against the Genevan pastors who were, after all, government employees.

Now that you know the background, I give you a particularly interesting paragraph from T. H. L. Parker’s discussion of this incident in his book, John Calvin: A Biography (113-114).
This doctrine is open to many objections, and these objections have been made often enough; we shall shortly hear Bolsec making some of them. But these objections are elementary, such as would occur to any serious-minded person, and we must not imagine that a subtle and thorough theologian like Calvin would be unaware of them. He makes certain safeguards which he obviously regards as sufficient. Whether they are sufficient is another matter; but we should not think that we can dent Calvin’s armour with reeds. Bolsec at any rate was a poor theologian technically, and, it would seem, particularly weak on the history of doctrines; he even thought that Calvin’s doctrine originated with Valla in the fifteenth century. He had a few sound criticisms of Calvin, but he was making them from the wrong point of view and so nullifying their force. He asks Calvin whether there is in God any will other than that revealed to us in Scripture. He is willing to say that God has elected from among men whom he has pleased and that this election is in Jesus Christ, apart from whom none is acceptable to God. But against such unexceptionable statements he will make election dependent on faith, reprobation on the rejection of the Gospel. And so he enters the venerable objections to the doctrine: it is making God the author of evil; it is making God a tyrant; it is making man a puppet; it is making two ways of salvation, one by election the other by Christ. The truth of the matter is that Bolsec was one of those people who can feel that there is something wrong with this doctrine in its classic formulation and are forced to deny it for the wrong reasons. Augustine’s and Calvin’s doctrine, we may well think, was not good. But Bolsec’s denial of it was far worse. It would have led to a Pelagianized Church; and of all Churches the Pelagian is religiously and morally the weakest.
Disclaimer: As usualy, I do not necessarily agree with the content of this quotation. It just seemed to me to be particularly interesting if not almost off the cuff.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, but there are a few recent theo-blogosphere attractions that I want to draw attention to, not because I necessarily agree with sentiments connected to these attractions, but because they are of sufficient quality to be worthy of attention and engagement.

  1. Internetmonk’s Ten Questions on the Bible (plus one rant)

  2. Internetmonk’s Five Reasons + Two Resources on why he doesn’t use the term “inerrancy”

  3. Cynthia over at Per caritatem has a great series going on Peter Martyr Vermigli and Francis Turretin on the question of free will, written by special guest Michael Vendsel

  4. My friend and colleague David over at The Fire and the Rose is embroiled in an interested argument as to the significance of theology for the Christian laity

  5. Aaron G. provides us with Ten Propositions on Certainty and Theology

  6. And, of course, my philosopher friend Shane has a new web-presence that you don’t want to miss – check him out over at Scholasticus

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Robert Jenson on Barth on Time

Robert W. Jenson, Cur Deus Homo? The Election of Jesus Christ in the Theology of Karl Barth. Dissertation submitted to the theological faculty of the University of Heidelberg in pursuit of the degree of doctor of theology, 1959.
According to Barth, God in himself is not atemporal, but temporal. The time which He, in his eternal life, has is the possibility and model of created time. There exists however this fundamental difference between God’s time and created time as such: In God past, present and future are not separated; in merely creaturely time they fall apart into a succession of separate “times”. In God the past is that which is present as the eternally past, as, so to speak, the qualitatively past. For man, it is that which is “no more”. With God therefore, that which in his eternal self-discrimination is rejected is, so to speak, always past, qualitatively past. But when this is carried out in time for the creature, this past achieves a time of its own. That which with God is the ever-present immediate event of the triumph of light becomes in time a history. In time, there was a time when this rejected reality was the present reality. Within the history of Jesus Christ and his people, our time is exactly this time. (53)
[T]he existence in eternity of the God-man involves no strange mythology; it is quite simply the human history under Pontius Pilate which is in eternity, without needing to “leave” its own time and history. We have here to do with an event which is at once and as the same event an event in God and an event in God’s work in time, because it is precisely the passage from the one to the other or better yet, the event of their unity. (85)
The distinction between eternity and time, and the location in eternity of the eternal decree, is not to be blurred. Explicitly, the event of the eternal predestination and of Jesus Christ’s pre-existence therein, is not identical with the history of salvation. Nor is the eternal pre-existence of the God-man exhausted in his immediacy to God’s all-encompassing eternity. (86)
God is indeed eternally present to all creatures. But although they and their time are enclosed in God’s eternal time, they are in their time and not in his. Jesus Christ is in God’s time. (87)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: Introduction

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: Introduction

Have I ever told you how much I like ecclesiology? Well, I do like it a great deal. This past semester I wrote a research paper on Calvin’s understanding of church discipline in relation to his ecclesiology in general and his notae ecclesiae and notae fidelium in particular. Also, I have dedicated and continue to dedicate much of my time to thinking about sacramentology, a sub-set of ecclesiology. My honors thesis at Wheaton College was on a “properly evangelical” understanding of the Lord’s Supper, and my thesis here at Princeton Theological Seminary (currently underway) deals with Barth’s doctrine of baptism. Finally, in this my final semester of MDiv study, I have the pleasure of taking a class on the Lord’s Supper from Professor George Hunsinger (who should have a book on the subject coming out sometime soon, so keep an eye out for it).

But enough about me. I’m sure you all are wondering why, even if I like ecclesiology, I would chose to do a blog series on Turretin’s ecclesiology. All I can tell you is that I’m not sure why. Cynthia surely has something to do with it. But, I think that the primary reason is simply that I’ve had Turretin sitting on my shelf for over a year and I have still not looked through his material on ecclesiology. Such neglect cannot be tolerated.

In any case, I intend in this series to skip the stone of my mind across the lake of Turretin’s ecclesiology. A close reading of the 500+ pages in question is simply too much to ask of myself right now. So, I’ll be dropping into interesting / important sections and sharing my thoughts with you all along with any particularly interesting quotes. Here is the bibliographic information for the source of my page citations throughout the series:
Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, volume 3 (Translated by Musgrave Giger; edited by James T. Dennison, Jr; Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1997)
Below is a brief introduction to Turretin based primarily on the biographic sketch that Dennison provides at the end of volume 3, but also augmented in my discussion of Turretin at Princeton Theological Seminary by my own acquaintance with PTS’s archives gained because of my work with the Special Collections / Archives department over the past 2.5 years.

1. Peter Martyr Vermigli?

At the time of the Reformation, Turretin’s family had ascended to the ranks of nobility in the Italian town of Lucca because of their success in the silk trade. In 1541, Peter Martyr Vermigli arrived in Lucca to serve as a Prior. Vermigli was already in the process of being influenced by Luther, and – finding that Lucca had already been introduced to the “new learning” of the Renaissance humanists – set about preaching the gospel and educating the people in its import. But, the Pope got the Inquisition up and running again at about this time, and Vermigli was compelled to flee in 1542. Turretin’s great-grandfather (Regolo), though sympathetic to the Reformation doctrine, did not feel as though he needed to break with Rome. But, Vermigli had sown the seeds of the evangelical faith that would flower, generations later, in the last great Reformed scholastic.

2. Turretin’s Family, esp. his father.

Turretin’s grandfather (Francesco) was born after Vermigli fled Lucca. He accompanied his father (Turretin’s great-grandfather) on business trips and was an adept manager of the family finances even at age 17. But, these trips exposed Francesco even further to the evangelical faith, and he committed himself to it at age 19. Francesco fled Lucca in 1574 when the Inquisition returned. He passed through Lyons, Geneva, Antwerp and Zurich, making significant portions of money at each stop through plying his family’s silk trade, before returning to Geneva permanently. Here he continued to prosper, and became an important figure in Geneva, serving on the Council of 200 and the Council of 60.

It was Turretin’s father (Benedict) who upped the ante on his family’s commitment to the evangelical faith. He was educated in the Academy that Calvin established in Geneva, and he spent his career teaching theology there. He also represented Geneva at various important synods for the various Reformed churches, including Dort, and the subsequent meeting of the French Synod at Alez. He also raised money to repair Geneva’s defenses in the early 1600’s, a feat that his son Francis would repeat years later.

3. Turretin’s Life.

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) was also trained at the Geneva academy. Upon graduation, Francis went abroad to all the great centers of Reformed theology where he met the important theologians (such as Moise Amyraut) and became acquainted with the condition of Reformed theology. It was during Turretin’s life that the “Protestant Civil War” (p. 643) raged between the orthodox in Geneva (Turretin) and the Amyraldians based in Saumur (Amyraut, Cappel, and la Place). The battle progressed throughout Turretin’s life and increasingly penetrated in the inner sanctums of orthodox Geneva. It would finally be Turretin’s son, Jean-Alphonse (who was 16 when Turretin died and thus did not receive his formative theological education from his father) who repudiated the Helvetic Consensus in 1706. As Dennison puts matters,
“Turretin and his Institutio were the swan song of an orthodoxy which would be decimated by the rationalists of the dawning Enlightenment. Turretin’s orthodoxy would be regarded as a monument from a retrograde and restrictive past. Man was on the brink of freedom – the chains of orthodoxy were about to be ruptured. That freedom has proved to be more savage and totalitarian than any biblical orthodoxy. Men who will not have God as their Lord will only destroy themselves – and one another. Francis Turretin would concur – the greatest mass murderers of all time – Josef Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot – were not children of orthodoxy – they were in fact true children of the Enlightenment!” (p. 647)
A scholarly note: Turretin’s theology is scholastic in that it is done with an eye to teaching in a “school.” This is seen by its organization into questions and answers, and its high level of technicality. Further, Turretin’s theology is “elenctic” in that it seeks to expose error. It is a polemic theology, even though Turretin has a positive project in view as well.

4. Turretin at PTS.

Francis Turretin’s Institutio Theologiae Elencticae was the standard textbook for theology at Princeton Theological Seminary from the time it was founded in 1812 under Archibald Alexander until Charles Hodge published his Systematic Theology in 1872. The text was read in Latin, although Hodge asked Giger (on faculty at Princeton University and a contemporary of Hodge’s) to produce a translation, done by hand, which was put in the PTS library for students to reference. The length of Turretin’s use at PTS was extended because Hodge held off publishing his systematics, which were based on his lectures, until late in life because he thought that ministerial candidates would stop coming to PTS to hear him lecture if they could simply read those lectures. In any case, both Alexander and Hodge formulated their theology in constant critical dialogue with Turretin.

Friday, February 02, 2007

My most recent publication

Far be it from me to short-circuit any discussion that might develop concerning my discussion of Mountain Dew, Doritos, and the Lord’s Supper - although perhaps that post is too long to generate much discussion. But I wanted to call your attention to my most recent publication, a review of John Yocum’s book Ecclesial Mediation in Karl Barth, which was electronically published yesterday by the Center for Barth Studies here at Princeton Theological Seminary. Do give it a look and let me know if you have any thoughts about it.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Mountain Dew, Doritos and the Lord’s Supper

Recently, I was faced with the challenge of writing a short paper in which I was to “apply” insight that I have learned from the historical study of Calvin’s life and work to some contemporary situation. After lengthy deliberation, I concluded that it might be interesting to think about why Calvin would or would not be in favor of replacing the bread and wine used in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with Mountain Dew and Doritos. In the interest of fun and collegiality, I thought that I would share it. Enjoy!

Are we to consider the Lord’s Supper as rightly administered if it does not include bread and wine? This question is of vital importance within American evangelicalism, where grape juice is the regularly substituted for wine. Furthermore, if we are free to make substitutions in this way, why not celebrate the Lord’s Supper using elements that resonate more clearly with the experiences of contemporary popular culture? Why not celebrate the Lord’s Supper with Mountain Dew and Doritos? In what follows, we will sketch the arguments made in favor of these positions and will attempt to ascertain how Calvin may have responded to these arguments were he ever faced with them.

The substitution of grape juice for wine in the Lord’s Supper among evangelicals stems from their origins in the fundamentalism of the early 20th century. One important aspect of the fundamentalism of that day was its association with the prohibitionist movement. Somewhere along the way, this vast cadre of conservative Christians (along with many others) had become convinced that the consumption of alcohol, even in moderation, was not only a sin but also a danger to society. In light of this it was deemed necessary to substitute the wine of the Lord’s Supper with grape juice. Indeed, many churches still have by-laws in effect that prohibit the use of church funds to purchase alcoholic beverages of any form and for any purpose. Because fundamentalists generally held to a symbolic account of the Lord’s Supper, they did not see any problem with substituting one beverage derived from grapes for another. The two were closely enough linked (and some have even argued that the “wine” in the New Testament used for general consumption was so low in alcohol content as to be virtually the equivalent of grape juice) that the substitution was seen to be insignificant. American evangelicals have largely inherited this position.

However, if substitution of elements is justified because the substituted elemental form conveys the same meaning as the elemental form being replaced, what limits are there to be placed upon this substitution? Many younger evangelicals are beginning to ask this question. Since conveying meaning is primary, does it not make sense to substitute bread and wine or grape juice with products that are more associated with daily nourishment in contemporary popular culture? Why not celebrate the Lord’s Supper with Mountain Dew and Doritos? Those who ask this question tend to be youth workers, and they are rightly concerned with making the practices of the church intelligible to the youth under their care. This is an important question to ask, for even Calvin recognizes that the order “of the church ought to be variously accommodated to the customs of each nation and age,” although he also admonishes us “not to charge into innovation rashly” (ICR, 4.10.30). What might Calvin say about these substitutions?

That these kinds of questions had not been seriously entertained by Calvin is clear from his simple assumption of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper (ICR, 4.17.1). This is not surprising, since Calvin lived in an age when the water supply was of questionable purity and when the safest beverages to drink were those containing alcohol. Nevertheless, there are three aspects of his work on the question of church order that bear directly on the likelihood of his accepting these “innovations.” These are first, his discussion of the frequency of celebrating the Lord’s Supper; second, his discussion of the use of images in worship; and third, his discussion of the deaconate. These three facets will be discussed briefly.

First, Calvin was convinced that the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated once a week. He does not make this clear in his Institutes (cf. ICR, 4.17.44) or in the “Draft Ecclesial Ordinances” of 1541 (cf. LCC, 66-7). However, in his “Articles Concerning the Organization of the Church and of Worship in Geneva” of 1537, Calvin clearly argues that it “would be well to require that the Communion of the Holy Supper of Jesus Christ be held every Sunday at least as a rule” (LCC, 49). What is missing in this instance is supplied in the Institutes, namely, the appeal to Acts 2.42 to support this frequency of celebration (cf. ICR, 4.17.44). Whereas the “Articles” could leave us with the notion that how one celebrates the Lord’s Supper is dependant upon theological arguments, the Institutes establishes that we must look to Scripture for the establishment of right worship. Our second consideration, Calvin’s rejection of images in worship, bears out this pattern as well. Throughout his discussion in the Institutes, he returns again and again to the second commandment, and other passages of Scripture (cf. ICR, 1.11). Calvin’s discussion of the deaconate, our third consideration, establishes this pattern beyond question. His division of the deaconate into two forms, administrators and caregivers, is a product of his exegesis and his attempting to account for passages of Scripture that assign the title of “deacon” to women (cf. ICR, 4.3.9; cf. also LCC, 64-6).

While it is true that Calvin was open to “innovation” or change in the practices of worship based upon the differing traditions and customs of varying cultures, it is abundantly clear that Calvin thought it to be of utmost importance to follow the directions of Scripture on those matters to which it spoke. Calvin elucidates how he understands the relation between these two concerns when he writes that
because [God] did not will in outward…ceremonies to prescribe in detail what we ought to do (because he foresaw that this depended upon the state of the times, and he did not deem one form suitable for all ages), here we must take refuge in those general rules which he has given, that whatever the necessity of the church will require for order and decorum should be tested against these (ICR, 4.10.30).
What God has indicated concerning proper worship in Scripture is binding upon us, even as we have freedom to shape our worship in ways suited to the culture around us with reference to those things upon which Scripture is silent. Insofar as the biblical texts dealing with the Lord’s Supper plainly indicate that bread and wine are the symbols of Christ’s body and blood, it is very likely that Calvin would reject the substitution of Doritos and Mountain Dew. But, is the matter so cut and dry on the question of substituting grape juice for wine?

One of the arguments put forward in favor of substituting grape juice for wine is that the taste of wine may provide temptation to a recovering alcoholic. Grape juice should be substituted, as per this argument, on the principle of Scripture’s teaching on care for those fellow Christians who are weaker than we. This line of argument finds deep resonance within Calvin’s theology. In his discussion of innovation in church order, Calvin argues that “if we let love be our guide, all will be safe” since “love will best judge what may hurt or edify” (ICR, 4.10.30). The same sentiments are to be found in Calvin’s teaching on Christian freedom.

Calvin argues that there are three kinds of Christian freedom. First, Christians are free from the law in the sense that we are saved without being required to fulfill it perfectly; second, Christians are free to obey the law without being required to do so for salvation; third, Christians are free in those things which are “indifferent” (cf. ICR, 3.19.2, 4, 7 respectively). What Calvin seeks to guard against here is the danger that Christians would become concerned that their salvation is tied up with self-denial. On the contrary, Calvin argues that “God’s gifts” should be used “for the purpose for which he gave them to us, with no scruple of conscience, no trouble of mind,” provided that these indifferent things “are used indifferently” (ICR, 3.19.8, 9). Despite the energy with which Calvin argues for this form of Christian freedom, he no less energetically exhorts his readers to be ready to use or restrain their freedom, depending on what will most benefit their neighbors. Indeed, Calvin notes that we “must at all times seek after love and look toward the edification of our neighbor” (ICR, 3.19.12). On the basis of this deep concern for the well-being of the neighbor, it is conceivable that Calvin would accept the substitution of grape juice for wine. This is not a radical substitution, for both wine and grape juice are the “fruit of the vine” (Luke 22.18). Still, Calvin was a wine connoisseur and it is doubtful that he would approve of a complete substitution of grape juice for wine in the Lord’s Supper. In fact, Calvin mentions wine in passing during his discussion of Christian freedom, and it is clear from this reference that Calvin is not opposed to the enjoyment of “sweet wine” (ICR, 3.19.7).

The conclusion of our study is that, although Calvin is open to “innovation” and accommodation of aspects of Christian worship to the various cultures within which the church finds itself, he is also very concerned to follow the guidance of Scripture on whatever aspects of worship that Scripture discusses. Thus, celebrating the Lord’s Supper with Mountain Dew and Doritos is out of the question for Calvin. However, we have also found that it is possible that Calvin would not be altogether opposed to the substitution of grape juice for wine, provided that this is not a complete substitution. It is likely that he would favor the mediating position occupied by many mainline churches, where both wine and grape juice are offered but distinguished so that those communicating may take account of their own weaknesses, and those of their neighbors.


ICR = John Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion (J.T. McNeill, ed.; F.L. Battles, trans.; LCC 20-21; Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960).

LCC = John Calvin, Calvin: Theological Treatises (J. K. S. Reid, ed.; LCC 22; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954).