May 6, 2011

Recommended Reading: Doctrine of Lord’s Supper

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The Lord’s Supper, the meal that unites, has ironically been the source of much division and controversy throughout church history. It was, in fact, the primary source of division among the sixteenth-century Reformers. Numerous books have been written on the doctrine and practice of the Lord’s Supper. The following are some that I have found to be particularly helpful.

General Works

1. The Lord's Supper by Robert Letham

Letham’s book is a brief introduction to the Reformed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. It is a good place to start for those wanting to get a basic grasp of the issues.

2. Treatises on the Sacraments by John Calvin

This volume is a reprint of volume 2 in Calvin’s Tracts and Treatises. It contains a number of Calvin’s writings on the Lord’s Supper, although it does not include all of them by any means. It serves as a helpful supplement to his work on the subject in his Institutes and commentaries.

3. Grace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin by B.A. Gerrish

B.A. Gerrish is one of the world’s foremost Calvin scholars, and this book on Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper is a standard. It offers many extremely useful insights on this doctrine.

4. Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament by Ronald S. Wallace

This book is the only book of which I am aware that deals with Calvin’s doctrine of the sacraments in connection with his doctrine of the word of God. It suffers from Wallace’s neo-orthodox tendencies, and from the fact that at times it is little more than a list of Calvin quotes, but is still a helpful book.

5. The Clearest Promises of God: The Development of Calvin’s Eucharistic Theology by Thomas J. Davis

Davis argues that there is evidence of substantial “change and development” in Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper between the first edition of his Institutes in 1536 and the time of his death in 1564. I believe the evidence indicates that by 1541, at the very latest, Calvin’s doctrine of the sacraments was basically settled. What we find from 1541 forward is simply further explanation and clarification, not substantive change. Davis’ book is a fascinating look at Calvin’s doctrine and well worth reading.

6. The Body Broken: The Calvinist Doctrine of the Eucharist and the Symbolization of Power in Sixteenth-Century France by Christopher Elwood

Elwood’s scholarly study is not light reading and is not for everybody, but for those with an interest in the subject, he does a good job placing the discussions of the Lord’s Supper within the political context of the sixteenth century.

**7. Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper by Keith Mathison

This book contains my thoughts on several matters related to Calvin’s doctrine. I have followed this up with a chapter on Calvin’s doctrine of the sacraments in a forthcoming book from Crossway, edited by Derek Thomas and John Tweeddale.

Other Resources

1. The Mystery of the Lord’s Supper by Robert Bruce

Robert Bruce (1551-1631) is not a household name, even among knowledgeable Reformed Christians. He was at one time, however, one of the most important leaders in the Church of Scotland. He was the successor of John Knox and James Lawson and preached at the Great Kirk of St. Giles in Edinburgh. The Mystery of the Lord’s Supper (Christian Heritage) contains five sermons preached by Bruce at St. Giles in February and March of the year 1589. See my review here.

**2. John Owen on the Lord’s Supper by Jon D. Payne

Owen was one of the greatest Puritan theologians. Payne’s work is a good introduction to his thought on this sacrament.

3. The Mystical Presence: A Vindication of the Reformed or Calvinistic Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist by Williamson Nevin

Nevin was a nineteenth-century American theologian, a contemporary of Charles Hodge, and one of the founders (with Philip Schaff) of the Mercersburg Theology. His extensive written debate with Hodge over the Lord’s Supper is one of the most fascinating episodes in nineteenth-century theology. The Mystical Presence is the book that started the firestorm.

4. Sermons on the Lord’s Supper by Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards was easily the most significant theologian America produced in her first centuries of existence. His thoughts on any subject are always worth considering. This is certainly true when it comes to the Lord's Supper.

**5. The Covenant Sealed: The Development of Puritan Sacramental Theology in Old and New England, 1570–1720 by E. Brooks Holifield

Holifield is one of the most respected church historians alive today. This work is a helpful survey of sacramental theology in the writings of the Puritans. Well worth reading.

This article is part of the Recommended Reading collection.