Book Review: This Is For You, by Jimmy Hopper, Tim Lien, and Eric Venable
This Is For You is something of a unique book, that I believe could be put to a very profitable use by a great many Christians. It's similar to a daily devotional â€“ each chapter is very brief, but contains much food-for-thought that could be ruminated upon throughout the day â€“ but all of the meditations are on the sacrament of communion. Hence, rather than reading it daily, it seems geared toward a weekly use: every Lord's Day, before approaching the table, believers would do quite well to read one of the meditations, to assist them in reflecting upon the vastly important significance of what is taking place in the breaking of the bread.
I immediately hit it off with these authors, and felt that I had taken a journey quite similar to theirs. Previously, in their broadly Evangelical backgrounds, they had seen communion as something that they primarily were doing â€“ it was a time for them to remember the Lord's death, symbolize their faith in him, search their hearts for sin and failures, and ask forgiveness. What was missing was any thought at all that the sacrament was a means of grace â€“ something that in reality was primarily the work of God, signifying and sealing his covenant promise to be merciful to us, and mysteriously but really nourishing our hearts with his spiritual presence.
This radical shift in understanding may be illustrated by a couple of quotes. First, Tim Lien reflects on his practice of communion before his thinking shifted to a more Reformed perspective (and his words could just as easily be mine!): â€œBread in hand, I would hold it and try to get myself into a focused spiritual sobriety. Concentrate, concentrate, bread lifted, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, bread at lips, please forgive me, please forgive me, bread in mouth. Commence juice sequence. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, think about the dying bleeding Christ, forgive me, forgive me, try to imagine the physical horror, help me to do better, gulp the Welch's. It is finished.â€ I can definitely relate to that way of doing communion. The problem with it is, it's all about what I'm doing, how I'm repenting â€“ but doesn't the whole concept of being fed at the Lord's table indicate the exact opposite?
So what, then, is the proper approach to the sacrament? In a different place, Eric Venable describes a different way of thinking: â€œThere are many things I love about the Reformed understanding of the sacraments, but near the top of the list is the understanding of the sacraments as a means of grace....at the hearts of this phrase is the idea, that the Christian life is not a self-sustaining enterprise.... God's biblical prescription for a weak, susceptible, and failing faith is not for us to redouble our efforts, do more Christian things, and attend more Christian activities. Instead, it involves humbling ourselves to recognize our own inability within ourselves for spiritual vitality. It is then that we open the mouths and ears of our souls to humbly receive the help that God gives. The Reformed tradition believes that the primary and most vitally important way that God strengthens and grows our faith is through the means he has prescribed, specifically, through his Word, his sacraments, and prayer.â€ I would concur most heartily â€“ and when the Lord's table is approached in this way, what a time of wonder and joy it becomes, to realize that, in spite of my weakness and inability to continue in the faith, God is richly supplying me with his own presence, his own body and blood, to nourish my heart for the long journey home!
Of course, the sacrament of communion has many wonderful nuances, meanings, and applications, which I cannot get into here. But in this little book, many of them are brought out and reflected upon in a very helpful way. I think the authors' perspectives are quite consonant with historic Reformed thought, and would be very beneficial for many Evangelical Christians today who may not be familiar with this perspective on the sacraments, and in particular, the sacrament of communion.