The “Untheological” Preacher

screen-shot-2018-02-26-at-12-18-23-pmIt’s not uncommon to hear preachers of a certain theological stripe say from the pulpit something like, “What I’m saying isn’t theological, it’s just biblical.” The sentiment is understandable even if the statement isn’t tenable. In many folks’ minds—both clergy and lay people—theology is a distraction from the real content of the Bible, from the real purpose of worship, or from the real goal of discipleship. 

Some of this sentiment can be chalked up to bad theology, written densely and in specialist language to no clear end. We might also wonder how the movement of theologians from the church to the offices of universities may have precipitated a sense of distance between theology and the church. Further still, theological debates often require an acceptance of nuance that is less than preferable when dealing with matters of salvation—in other words, people might chafe at theology because they feel it leads them to wonder if they can know anything for sure about God, life, or eternity. 

While I can charitably acknowledge these criticisms and concerns about theology, I think they reveal a narrow assumption about how theology works within the church. It seems that most people who think theology is more harmful than helpful assume theology works mostly to clarify (or confuse) matters of Christian belief that have little bearing on Christian life. If this assessment is on point, then it would take a substantial effort to redeem theology in the hearts and minds of everyday church folk, let alone the clergy who have taught them to think this way about theology. If that’s all it is, why do we need it at all? Continue reading

Trinitarian Theology and the Sacraments

Gordon T. Smith, whose edited volume on eucharist was reviewed several months back, authors a chapter in IVP’s volume Trinitarian Theology for the Churchentitled: “The Sacraments and the Embodiment of Our Trinitarian Faith.” Smith bemoans the neglect by many to engage in the broader ecumenical discussion concerning the sacraments, suggesting that this neglect has fostered a “christomonism” rather that a christocentric trinitarianism, which highlights the pneumatological deficit among many traditions and churches.

In mapping the divergent views, Smith suggests two starting assumptions which must be made: first, that the sacraments are the acts of the church rather than merely individual, interior and expressive events; and second, God is sovereign and is not constrained by the sacraments. Building upon these admissions, Smith suggests a trinitarian participation through eucharist: “we give thanks to the Father-Creator (this is a Eucharist), we do this in remembrance of Christ (anamnesis) as we invoke the presence of the Spirit (epiklesis). And the unity of this structure demonstrates that these three are one.” Furthermore: Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper: Pentecostal View

As I noted in my previous entry, I wanted to spend some time highlighting the distinctives of a Pentecostal view of the Lord’s Supper. Gordon T. Smith, the editor of the volume, notes that the reason for adding this view was to do diligence to the explosion of growth in the Pentecostal movement globally (p. 8). In light of the emergingveli-matti_karkkainen-1 theology under girding this movement, Smith thought it necessary to bring them into conversation here.

The Pentecostal view is put forth by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Fuller’s Global theologian. V-Matti starts his essay off with a hilarious aside, noting that in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (2002), the entry on the sacraments is actually written by a Roman Catholic theologian – along with the entry on ecclesiology! Fortunately, sans anathemas. Kärkkäinen attempts to briefly map the trouble with talking about a “Pentecostal” theology, particularly in light of the fact that the theology of the movement has not caught up with its experience and practice. So while, in one breath, it might be justified to argue that the movement has an antisacramental sentiment, in the next you have to note that, in certain places, there is a specific working eucharistic practice and devotion. Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper: Book Review

I received a book for review a couple of weeks ago for Theology Forum that I was particularly interested in highlighting here. lords-supperI have been on a sacrament kick as of late. I, as many of you no doubt, come from what feels like a traditionless-tradition that “inherited” a vague and ambivalent viewpoint of the sacraments in general, and the Lord’s Supper in particular. This is why, for the purpose of seminary students, laymen and (for the sake of) professors, I wanted to highlight IVP’s new book, The Lord’s Supper: Five Views ed. by Gordon T. Smith. This particular “five views” book offers perspectives from Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist and Pentecostal theologians. The volume follows the same format as the other “five views” books, where each author develops a concise essay of their position, followed by critical analysis from the other authors. Continue reading