KB Categories Archives: Theology

The Lord’s Supper: Foundations and Practice in Puritan Liturgy

Marc Brown: For Puritans, worshiping around the Lord’s table was of crucial importance to communal and individual piety. Through which lens did the Puritans view this fundamental worship practice; Lord’s Supper, eucharist, or communion? Perhaps a case could be made that Puritan worship employed all three of these views in some form or fashion. However, through careful exploration, I hope to identify which of these positions most closely aligns with Puritan doctrine and practice.

In this paper, I will investigate the doctrines and worship practices defining Puritan understanding of the Christian covenant meal. I will demonstrate, that the Puritans employed the Lord’s Supper as their preferred model of Table worship. I will trace understanding of the Lord’s Supper from Scripture, to the early church, to Calvin’s Institutes, and finally to Puritan doctrine and liturgy. I will validate my thesis by consulting a number of primary and secondary sources.

Please click here to read the rest of Dr. Brown’s wonderful work.

Image right: “Scottish Communion Service.” Henry John Dobson

 

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Luther’s Spirituality

Marc Brown:

Features of Luther’s Spirituality

Theologian Robert Webber describes a dinner party where the subject of spirituality was introduced. Once broached, the topic generated a number of culturally acceptable responses reminiscent of an article that once described “Spirituality in America” as “what we believe, how we pray, where we find God.”[1]  The article, from Newsweek magazine, defined spirituality as the “passion for an immediate, transcendent experience of God.”[2]  The search for spiritual passion in modern Western culture takes many forms. Webber’s dinner guests identified with many of the forms of spirituality mentioned in the Newsweek article, culminating in the host being asked his belief. When Webber surprised everyone by answering he was a committed Christian, “who believes Jesus to be ‘the way, the truth, and the life,’”[3] the guests responded in startled silence. When Webber asked the guests what they would now ‘do with him,’ one guest responded, “Explain yourself. I’m willing to hear you out.”[4] Webber made clear to his guests that in order to explain himself he would have to tell a story. He quickly added, “All spiritualities are based on a story. You have to know the story of a particular religion to understand its spirituality.”[5] Webber was by no means the first to define his spirituality through the story of the gospel as recounted in Scripture. Martin Luther also defined his spirituality in this way. For Luther, sola scriptura would be no empty battle cry. As Luther grew to understand how the gospel story was at the root of his own spirituality, what changed was more than the opinions of a handful of dinner guests.

[1]J. Adler, “Spirituality in America,” Newsweek, September 5, 2005, 9.

[2]Robert E. Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 14.

[3]Webber, The Divine Embrace, 14.

[4]Webber, The Divine Embrace, 14.

[5]Webber, The Divine Embrace, 14.

Image above: “Luther’s 95 Theses.” Ferdinand Pauwels.

Want to read the rest of Dr. Brown’s work? Please click on the link below….

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Talking Life, Ministry, and Worship: Dr. Jonathan Powers

Dr. Jonathan Powers, faculty member at Asbury Seminary and graduate of the Institute for Worship Studies, talked was the guest on this episode of Ancient-Future Faith. Jonathan talked about his love for worship, admiration for Robert Webber, and his current duties at the seminary.

 

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New Orientation… The Spirituality of the Psalms

Audio Resource:

In this episode of Ancient-Future Faith, guest Ellen Koehler (right) was in the studio to talk about an upcoming Lenten series at Epiclesis (an Ancient-Future Faith Church in Sacramento, CA) on the Psalms. Based partly on the work of theologian Walter Brueggemann, the 5-session study will look at how the psalms– what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “the prayer book of the Bible”– speak to every season of our lives.

 

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How the Early Fathers Teach us to Read Scripture

D.H. Williams:

Ancient-Future Faith Network member and distinguished professor D.H. Williams  recently gave an address at Wheaton College. Dan is professor of patristics and historical theology in the Department of Religion at Baylor University and specializes in Patristic Literature and Theology; History Christianity, Religions of Late Antiquity; and Sociology of Religion.

 

How the Early Fathers Teach us to Read Scripture

Nowadays a fervent acknowledgement has gripped conservative Protestants and our brethren in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy who openly admit that a re-engagement with the ancient legacy within our present churches is a necessity and just as much a challenge.  New forms of ecumenism have begun to emerge characterized by a surge of books about reading the Bible theologically.[1]  Retrieval theologies  have come into the academic limelight largely because of the limitations of the historical-critical methods, which have been entirely invasive in graduate programs, has left too much of a gap between the Church and the academy by failing to unite exegesis, doctrine and the life of the non-academic Christians.[2]  For a long time we have been faced with a hegemonic pretense of this “modern” approach to the study of Scripture, along with the assumption that writing biblical commentaries is almost exclusively the province of scholarly biblical exegetes.[3]

In a quest for a more flexible and capacious hermeneutic, we look to patristic forms of Biblical exegesis as uncovered in hundreds of sermons, commentaries, and theological works.  Even the most experienced researcher of patristic exegesis will admit that ancient Christianity left us with a vast ocean of texts that can elude our best attempts to comprehend them.  It is neither easy or self-evident to grasp what the early fathers have said on many subjects, but especially when it comes to the pages and pages of Biblical interpretation.  There is also a prevalent illusion among some Evangelicals that patristic writers from different centuries or geographical contexts all spoke with one voice.  The Greek Orthodox theologian George Florovsky rightly observed that while we have seen a renewed emphasis on the authority and return to the early Fathers, it must be a “creative return.”  This implies an element of self-criticism, but also that any such retrieval will be what he called, a Neopatristic synthesis.[4] In other words, the thoughtful reader of the ancients has to reassess both the problems and the answers of the Fathers in such a way that does not violate the ancient context by grabbing bits and pieces of text that will only serves to abstract them from the total perspective in which only they are meaningful and valid. But instead of a neopatristic synthesis, John Behr prefers to speak of a patristic “symphony”for hearing the different voices of the Fathers, whether it be the second or any other century. Saint Gregory of Nazianzus and Saint Basil did not speak the same voice. These are different voices. And there are different voices through time. So, the point of reading the Fathers is not to synthesize all their knowledge into one definitive solution but it is like going back to the earlier scores of the symphony. You have to learn their parts in order that you are harmonized to the melody to sing your part today.[5]

Of course, the ancient writers were not purposely trying to be opaque; just the opposite, in fact.  When it came to explaining the Bible, those that wrote to provide elucidation were doing so to be understood by as many Christians as possible.  Our present quandary has more to do with the fact that a great majority of ancients did not explain the structure or the logic with which they are expounding the text.  However much we wish to retrieve the riches of patristic theology and exegesis, we cannot deny that a historical, cultural and philosophical gulf stands between us and them. And we are not happy that they do not make the kinds of distinctions that we think they ought to make.  We’d do well to respect this distance in our treatment of the primary sources, and avoid what Jarsolav Pelikan called a “tyranny of epistemology”[6] that has dominated especially Protestant hermeneutics since the Enlightenment. We often forget that the patristic interpreters stood much closer to the apostolic era and ought to mirror the writers of the NT much more closely than we do.

This being said, we are not faced with an impossible return to the past, as some have argued.[7]  As we consider reading ancient Biblical exegesis, it is not improper to ask what expectations should have; What marks some of the key differences between the way we read the Bible and how they read it?  And if a degree of retrieval—perhaps a high degree–of these sources is possible, what does that look like when it comes to understanding them?

Let me begin with some mechanics of what one encounters when reading the ancient Fathers and then we’ll look at certain strategies they used for reading Scripture:

 

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A Conversation with Dr. Rick Asche

Microphone (2)Rick Ache FamilyAudio Content: Dr. Rick Asche, a recent graduate of the Institute for Worship Studies and a long-time pastor, was the guest on this edition of “Ancient-Future Faith,” a radio program sponsored by Epiclesis: An Ancient-Future Faith Community. Rick has served in youth and men’s ministry, as well as a lead pastor, and more recently in junior high ministry in Lincoln, California. He recently accepted a calling to join the pastoral team at Epiclesis as Pastor of Intergenerational Discipleship. In this episode of the radio program, Rick talks generational ministry and its biblical mandates.

Click on the play button in the audio player below to hear the conversation with Rick Asche:

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The Christian Tradition of Suffering: An Exhortation to Contemporary Protestantism

D.H. Williams:

sufferingOne cannot read the New Testament and a great many patristic texts and not discover that a common denominator to all who followed Christ was the experience of suffering; whether in the forms of rejection, hatred, deprivation, or some sort of persecution.  Beginning with the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-10), the imperatives for a blessed life offer us a self-portrait of Jesus, who is himself the Blessed One.  This portrait shows an identification with poverty, gentleness, grief, hunger, and thirst for uprightness, mercy, purity of heart, a desire to make peace, and the signs of persecution. At the same time, Jesus promises, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved (Matt 10:22).  What is the disciple’s response?  “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (or hurt you), so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

From the gospel accounts to Acts to the earliest records of Christian executions, the church was born into a tradition of persecution and martyrdom that formed its identity.  The faith of the “chosen people” was essentially a religion of suffering and martyrdom.  The twin aspects, suffering and bearing witness went hand in glove.

Thus far, surveys of retrieval theologies make no mention of this issue, which is a serious omission, since there is a superfluity of literary evidence to show that suffering for and with the Christ who suffered through persecution was a central part of the early church. This facet of Christian experience is just as much a part of the theological inheritance as any other theology.  In all the presentations and dialogues on theological retrieval taking place, westerners who rarely suffer on account of their faith, are in danger of forgetting this elementary feature of the church’s distinctiveness.  But what is meant by such a retrieval unless we are in the midst of a church enduring some form of persecution?

 

AFFN Members may continue reading the entirety of Dr. Williams’ work by logging in, or clicking the .PDF file, below. Not a member yet? Check out this page to learn more about membership in the Network.

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The Relationship of Systematic Theology to Liturgical Theology

old-booksMarc Brown:

Introduction: The Issue

I have always been interested in why there are so many types of theology: systematic, biblical, historical, liturgical, etc. As a pastor who plans and leads worship in the local church, I have spent much time pursuing an understanding of liturgical theology. For good reason, many pastors with whom I have served have been more familiar with systematic theology. Do these disciplines connect? If so, how do they connect? Or, are these two areas of theological reflection separate from each other?

To address my questions, the purpose of this paper is to discover and discuss the similarities and differences between systematic theology and liturgical theology. Through examining the pertinent texts and lecture material, I will formulate an initial understanding of the identity and purpose of systematic theology. Next, I will explore several opinions as to the definition and purpose of liturgical theology. I will consult ideas from several liturgical theologians representing different church traditions so that a wider consensus may be attained. Then, I will compare the identifying characteristics gleaned from these opinions to the identity and purpose of systematic theology. Finally, while providing points of support and disagreement, I will offer my own understanding on the matter.

Positions

Many theologians have attempted to define systematic theology. Some of their definitions include…

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