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Toward a Pentecostal Theology of the Lord's Supper: Foretasting the Kingdom Paperback – September 2, 2012
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About the Author
Chris E.W. Green (PhD, Bangor University, Wales; DMin, Oral Roberts University) is Assistant Professor of Theology at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland, TN USA.
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I couldn't hope to summarize this book fairly, but a few things GOD has done in me while reading are to invoke a fresh and rejuvenating wonder at the promise of GOD in CHRIST, which we announce, remember, participate in and trust every time we take the Supper. It has also confirmed and stoked my hope in the good news that GOD is renewing the whole world in CHRIST with the church. As HE continues to do it HE includes us, not giving a foretaste as a dangled carrot, but as a genuine down-payment, the inauguration of heaven's coming and the KING reigning! The biblical and theological power in the LORD's Supper that Green explores in this book inspires me in thought, devotion, practice, leadership, shepherding, and study. There's so much more here and I'm so glad I took on this book. I'll be dialoguing with and referencing it (not to mention whatever scholarship it inspires) for as long as I can still read.
A quote for a taste: "...JESUS is 'coming king' in the church's sacramental experience, just as HE was in the incarnation and shall be in the parousia - with this difference only: in the End, HIS kingdom shall be finally and fully established beyond dispute. Hence, in the Eucharist-event believers are given a foretaste of the kingdom owing to the fact that they are being filled with the SPIRIT, the arrabon [pledge] of the restitution of all things."
In chapter 2, Chris examines a plethora of Pentecostal theologians of the past half-century, dealing mainly with how current Pentecostal scholarship approaches the sacrament(s). He examines the works of forty different male and female Pentecostal scholars, from more well known theologians such as Macchia, Yong, and Chan, to lesser known theologians such as Tomberlin. While much in this chapter is exciting and very informative, I especially enjoyed learning about how Hollenger believed that the Eucharist was the "'central point of Pentecostal worship', a veritable 'holy of holies' of the worship service", and how Macchia believes that "Pentecostal sacramental practice surpasses the theology of the sacraments so far advanced by Pentecostal theologians" so we need to "catch up"! This is what Chris is attempting to do, provide the Pentecostal communities with a sacramental theology that has 'caught up' to their over one-hundred years of sacramental practice. Here's one quote to pique your interest in this chapter, "One early Assemblies of God writer referred to the 'divine alchemy' of the Supper, and another said that the way to experience 'abundance of Life' was through 'eating Christ's flesh and drinking His blood', for by doing this, believers 'partake of a powerful, efficacious stimulant, an elixir from the throne'." WOW!
Chapter 3 deals with the first quarter century of Pentecostal thought and practice regarding the Supper. Chris says concerning this chapter, "By attending carefully to primitive Pentecostalism, Pentecostals can (re)discover categories of thought and modes of practice suitable to their spirituality, their being-in-the-world. They can put away Saul's armor, so to speak." Chris examines several early Pentecostal periodicals from both the "Wesley-Holiness" and "Finished-Work" streams. It is a very rewarding read, and to the best of my knowledge, the most exhaustive work of its kind. He shows how early Pentecostals from both streams were a lot more sacramental than most have realized. These were people who approached the Supper with much reverence. They expected to encounter heaven. They expected healings to break forth. They expected to meet Jesus at the Table. One quote Chris included from an early Assembly of God minister from 1916, especially stood out to me, "There is nothing old or stale about this memorial feast, the fruit of the vine is not old, the shed blood is not aged, the bread is not stale, the Lord's body is not a mere thing of the past, the was is new and living. The thing most striking about the character of the feast is its presentness, not its pastness or its futureness. It has a present aspect, there is a sign of warmth, the blood is not cold and coagulated but flowing fresh from the wounded side of Jesus, 'recently killed and yet living'."
In chapter 4, Green attempts to read three Eucharistic passages from the NT in a Pentecostal manner. Towards the end of this treatment on 1 Corinthians Green beautifully states, "the claims of 1Cor. 10.16-17 suggest that it is helpful to see the church's receiving of the Lord's Supper as a romantic gesture, as a gift between lovers, a tryst with Christ who is jealous for his bride, and a way in which Christ, God fleshed, is bodily present to and for his church." His treatment of Acts 2 and John 6 skillfully weave in early Pentecostal Eucharistic themes. From ideas of sanctification, community, examination, and participation in the Divine nature, Chris does a good job staying true to his Pentecostal movement. Toward the end of the chapter Chris speaks about how the Supper is "a continuation of Jesus' ministry, re-enacting his life of sweeping, boundary-violating hospitality and his atoning death for the life of the world, while pre-enacting the future messianic feast as well." He also believes that, "in our celebration of the Lord's Supper we are brought up together to participate in the Trinitarian life, a life of always-overflowing love and mutual delight. In Christ, who presents himself to us in this sacrament, we truly receive God and one another."
Chapter 5, explained in Chris's own words, "is intended to put forward a constructive and revisionary proposal for a theology of the Lord's Supper that engages discerningly in dialogue with partners inside and outside the Pentecostal tradition while remaining consistent and continuous with Pentecostal spirituality." Not too far into the chapter Christ makes a claim that fits well with the subtitle of this book, and much of the claims made elsewhere, "The Eucharist itself, then, is a new creation event, a sign and foretaste of the Eschaton, and to take the loaf and cup in faith is to receive an ontologically-transforming proleptic share in the metaphysics of the life everlasting. 'God brings the future down to the present tense' and in this way eschatologizes us, just as he does the bread and the wine." Under the section, "Toward a Metaphysics of Communion", Green wisely heeds the warning of attempting to explain the "metaphysics" behind the presence of Christ in the supper, yet still gives some helpful imagery into how we can worship and stand in awe of the MYSTERY, "In the Eucharist-event, the Spirit 'broods over' the cosmically-enthroned Christ, the celebrating congregation, and the elements on the Table, opening the celebrants to the presence of the risen Jesus who the Spirit makes in that moment bodily present for them with, in, and through the thereby-transfigured bread and wine." Under the Section, "Worship", Chris says, "To put it prescriptively, the Eucharist-event should be recognized as the hub of the worship service. Or, to use another image, it should be seen as the hearth around which all the other liturgical furniture is arranged." And, "At the Lord's Table, the Spirit reminds worshippers that the whole of created life centers in the story of Jesus Christ, who has brought, shall bring, and is bringing all reality into communion with God." I could not agree with Christ more on these points.
While there is much to be commended about this work, and while I think the Pentecostal movement(s) as a whole need to take this work seriously, I have a few personal caveats. First, Green deals too much with the other Sacraments of the Early Pentecostals in Chapter 3. I think it would have served his purpose better to give briefer summary statements concerning their approaches to water baptism, laying on of hands with oil, and foot-washing. At times those sections were a distraction (whether interesting or not). Second, Green was a little too "Pentecostal Holiness" for me in the sense that I felt at times that the direction of certain parts were almost semi-Pelagian (even though Green does often qualify some of those statements in footnotes). My roots stemming from the finished-work Pentecostal stream, and my growing love for other 'finished-work' streams stemming from the Reformation left me a little bit 'uncomfortable' at points. Third, while Green multiple times shows the similarities Early Pentecostals held with the Reformed view of the Supper he does not seem to engage as much with that tradition as he probably could/should have. Lastly, I would simply have liked to hear more of Green's voice coming through the book. With over 1,400 foot notes, his unique voice at times is drowned by the voices of those he is attempting to identify with. I'm all for hearing a chorus, but I wouldn't have minded Chris to sing a couple more solos in the book. The parts where he did are dynamic!