Sunday, November 7, 2010

Given For You by Keith Mathison

Back when I was a Calvinist, I read Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper by Keith Mathison. At the time I was convinced of Mathison's position and disturbed by all the Zwinglianism I saw around me. Since I've become a Lutheran, I thought it might be a good idea to revisit this work.

Given For You is probably the best defense of the Calvinist position on the Lord's Supper. It does a good job of accurately and honestly representing Calvin's position and tracing position of Calvinist and Reformed churches throughout history.

However, exegetically the book is very weak and very complicated. The reader is left with the impression that unless he has PhD there is no possibility that he could ever interpret the Scriptures for himself. If Mathison is correct in his teachings then the doctrine of perspicuity must be nonexistent. The book makes it apparent that Calvin's position is not based upon the clear teachings of the Scriptures but upon philosophical speculation. Calvin teaches that in the Lord's Supper the Holy Spirit lifts us up to heaven to spiritually receive Christ's body and blood but the Bible never says anything like this.

What I find the most disturbing in the book is the author's lack of understanding of other positions--especially the Lutheran position. Throughout the book, the author does make reference to what he believe is the Lutheran position but most of the time it is some kind of strange Calvinist caricature of the Lutheran position. The author lists some good Lutheran books in his bibliography but I get the impression that he has never actually read them. He seems to be repeating some of the same old misconceptions about Lutherans found in Hodge and other writers.

The most concentrated critique of Lutheranism is found on pp. 256-260 under the heading "Consubstantiation." The very presence of the title shows that the author is attacking a straw man. Neither Luther nor the Book of Concord teach consubstantiation. Luther and the Lutheran confessions refuse to adopt a philosophical position when it comes to the Lord's Supper and refuse to try to describe how the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ since the Scriptures do not offer an explanation, they simply confess it to be true.

Pages 257 says, "Because his doctrine of the Eucharist demands the simultaneous presence of Christ's human body in numerous locations, Martin Luther formulated the doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ's human body." Luther did not invent the doctrine of ubiquity. Medieval theologians such as Guitmond and Alger had already taught this doctrine. The doctrine of ubiquity never made it into the Lutheran confessions. Luther simply offered it as a possibility. Some prominent Lutheran theologians promoted the doctrine of ubiquity while other equally prominent theologians such as Martin Chemnitz taught something different. Mathison believes that the teaching of the communication of the attributes distorts orthodox Christology. This objection has been answered rather thoroughly by Martin Chemnitz who shows that the church fathers who defended the orthodox position also taught the communication of the attributes and demonstrated that the original intent of the ecumenical creeds included the communication of the attributes. As far as I know, no Calvinist has disproved Chemnitz in this regard.

On page 259, Mathison claims that "Luther did not teach that the bread is Christ's body. He insists that the bread remains bread and that Christ's body is present simultaneously with the bread." But this is most certainly not true. Commenting on 1 Corinthians 10:16 in 1528, Luther says, " not only says, 'This is Christ's body,' as we read in the Lord's Supper, but mentions the bread which was so broken and says, 'The bread is Christ's body,' indeed, 'The bread which we break is not only the body of Christ but the distributed body of Christ.' The fact that bread is also present does not negate the fact that this is His body.

On pages 259-260, Mathison says that the Lutheran insistence on a corporeal presence requires a redefinition of what a body is. But Lutherans do not attempt to define it and so redefinition is not necessary. As Luther himself pointed out, Jesus did things with His human body that ordinary people cannot do. Jesus passed through walls. I can't pass through a wall. But it would be wrong to conclude that Jesus didn't really have a body just because He was able to do things we cannot do. The demand for a Jesus whose human body can only do things that other people's bodies can do requires a different Jesus from the one found in the Scriptures.

I don't expect everyone to convert to Lutheranism but it would be nice if people writing these books took the time to really understand opposing positions and were able to honestly represent them. From reading their writings, I think Luther and Zwingli understood what the other's position was. Beza and Andreas seemed to understand each other's position. I'm not convinced that Calvin understood Luther's position and perhaps is to blame for the long history of Calvinists who don't understand the Lutheran position. It seems so very strange to me. In many ways the Calvinist position seems to be the most difficult to understand--you have the Holy Spirit lifting people's spirits to heaven to feast on Jesus body and blood and all kinds of arguments from philosophy. The Lutheran position is simple and shouldn't be so misunderstood. This is My body. This is My blood. I have some books on my shelf written by recent Lutheran theologians on the Eucharist and they honestly represent the Calvinist position. One of them goes on at length to describe the slightly different views of different Calvinist groups throughout history. But of the Calvinist books written on the Eucharist that I've read, I can't find a single one that honestly represents the Lutheran position.

Luther's argument against Zwingli was rather simple. Luther's position came straight from the words of institution. In This is My Body Sasse summarizes Luther's four arguments against Zwingli on p. 340: "the article of the Christian faith that Jesus is perfect God and man in one person, undivided and inseparable; that God's right hand is everywhere; that God's Word is not false and cannot deceive; that God has and knows of various modes of being in any place, and not only the one which the philosopher calls local."


Anonymous said...

This is excellent, Chuck!
-Jake Atkisson

Louis said...

What book would you recommend for a layman who wants to properly understand the Lutheran perspective?

Chuck Wiese said...

Louis: I bought a copy of "Take Eat, Take Drink" by Ernest Bartels at Baker Book House a few years ago and it's very readable and even has study questions included. It might be a little long depending on how much reading the person wants to do but the sections are divided up enough that a person could skip through sections he's not interested. Most of the book is a historical survey of the different teachings on the Lord's Supper. Bartels does an excellent job honestly explaining other perspectives.

I've heard good things about the new "Lutheranism 101" book (based on the For Dummies books) but I haven't had a chance to look at it yet.