Tag Archives: Cornelis Venema

Book Review: Children at the Lord’s Table?

NOTEI originally wrote this review in 2009.  However, ten years later, I’ve been hearing more about paedocommunion again.  This book remains a valuable resource for combating this error.

Children at the Lord’s Table?  Assessing the Case for Paedocommunion, Cornelis P. Venema, Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009.  Hardcover, 199 pages, $25.00 USD.

Paedocommunion is a word that we’re hearing more often these days, mostly because of its connection with many of the figures associated with the Federal Vision movement.  A few years back, one of those figures pointed out to me that no one has ever really written a book presenting a solid case against admitting children to the Lord’s Supper.  He may have been right then, but I don’t believe he’s right any longer.

Cornelis Venema is well-known as a professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary and a United Reformed minister.  In this book, he first outlines the arguments of Tim Gallant and others like him for the practice of paedocommunion.  These arguments are primarily from Scripture, but there are also historical considerations.

In the chapters following, Venema considers these arguments.  He examines the historical evidence and finds it to be inconclusive at best.  He also adds a chapter looking at “Paedocommunion and the Reformed Confessions.”  Several years ago, there was a case in the United Reformed Churches dealing with whether the Three Forms of Unity allow the teaching of paedocommunion.  The answer was negative.  Although Venema does not mention that particular case, he affirms the answer.  However, most important of all is the Scriptural evidence.  Venema examines the relationship between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper and points out that it is not as straightforward as many have made it out to be.  In fact, there is a stronger connection between the Lord’s Supper and the covenant renewal meal in Exodus 24.  Venema also gives an entire chapter to the crucial passage of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, concluding that the Biblical way to the Lord’s Table is through public profession of faith.

In the last chapter, the author also considers the relationship between covenant theology and paedocommunion, especially in view of the Federal Vision movement.  Given these current issues, this is a helpful discussion.  Equally helpful is the appendix dealing with covenant theology and baptism.  Venema correctly outlines the promise and obligations of the covenant.  Like Klaas Schilder, he distinguishes between two different aspects of the covenant of grace.  There’s also a good section on whether the covenant is conditional or unconditional – though  I do think that more explicit reference to union with Christ could have sharpened the argument here.

This is an excellent and timely book dealing with an important issue.  It would be worthwhile to have it on hand in family and church libraries for when questions arise about paedocommunion.  It’s also highly recommended for those who need to have a good understanding of this issue, i.e. pastors and elders.


Book Review: Getting the Gospel Right

GettingGospelRight

Getting the Gospel Right:  Assessing the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul, Cornelis P. Venema, Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006.  Paperback, 92 pages, $6.00 US.

This is a short little book dealing with an important, relevant topic.  Though not really in the Canadian Reformed churches, the doctrine of justification has been under debate elsewhere in the Reformed/Presbyterian community.  Most of this debate takes place in connection with the so-called Federal Vision.  However, it seems that there are also connections to what has been called the New Perspective(s) on Paul (NPP).

This book is an entry-level introduction to the NPP from a Reformed perspective.  The author is a United Reformed minister, professor of doctrinal studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary and also president of that institution.   Getting the Gospel Right is a shorter, popular version of another book published by Banner of Truth, The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ.

The book is divided into three parts.  In the first section, Venema outlines “the Reformation perspective on Paul.”  This perspective essentially boils down to five key features:  1) Justification is a principal theme of the gospel; 2) Justification is primarily a theological and soteriological (having to do with the doctrine of salvation) theme; 3) the Reformation claimed that the medieval Roman Catholic doctrine of justification emphasized obedience to the law as a partial, meritorious basis for justification; 4) the Reformers insisted that “works of the law” in Paul refer to any acts of obedience to the law which are then regarded as a ground for acceptance with God; 5) the righteousness of God is something that God freely grants and imputes to believers.

In the next section, Venema outlines the “New Perspective on Paul.”  He does this by laying out the views of three scholars:  E.P. Sanders, D.G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright.  The NPP has been critical of the Reformation perspective on Paul.  I think Venema fairly lays out their views in this chapter.  Because of his influence, Venema spends the most time with Wright.  He notes that Wright is unclear and obscure on certain important issues such as his understanding about the work of Christ.  When speaking about what the gospel is, Wright emphasizes the Lordship of Christ.  Venema notes that this emphasis “suggests that his view has more affinity with what historians of doctrine term the ‘classic’ or ‘victory over the powers’ conception than the penal-satisfaction emphasis of the Reformation.” (56).  Because of his emphasis on the question of who belongs to the covenant (as being the question that justification seeks to answer in Paul’s writings), “he does not articulate a doctrine of the atonement along the lines of classic Protestant theology.” (57)

The last substantial section features a longer critique of the views of Sanders, Dunn and Wright.  He believes (rightly) that the rejection of the Reformation perspective is partly based on confusion between Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism.  The Reformers never said that the Roman Catholic doctrine was Pelagian nor (speaking anachronistically) that the Judaists of Paul’s day taught Pelagianism.  Rather the charge was one of semi-Pelagianism.  This is just one problem among several that Venema highlights in this chapter.

Venema concludes, “Though it may be admitted that the new perspective has illumined some significant aspects of Paul’s understanding of the gospel, its claims to offer a more satisfying interpretation of Paul’s gospel than that of the Reformation seem at best overstated, and at worst clearly wrong.” (91).  I’m looking forward to reading the longer version of this book.   I can certainly recommend this one to those looking for a place to start in trying to understand the controversies that have beset many North American Reformed churches in recent times.

If I have just one small beef, it’s the use of Internet sources in some of the footnotes.   Since this book was published many of the links no longer work.  Since authors like N.T. Wright have a wide following, one can google the titles and find them, but it is a bit of a nuisance.  I’m not sure how a problem like that can be solved.


A New Cause of Division

The other day I posted the official English translation of a report going to the next synod of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands.  This report is proposing that having women in office is acceptable within the RCN.  Of course, this is not the first time that such sentiments have been entertained in Reformed circles.  It happened in the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) in the late 1980s and into the 1990s.  The CRCNA’s adoption of women in office was the major catalyst for the establishment of the United Reformed Churches.

In 1991, the faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary published a brochure entitled A Cause for Division? Women in Office and the Unity of the Church.  The Calvin faculty argued that differences over this issue should not split the CRCNA.  It would be unwarranted and even sinful for people to leave the CRCNA over the issue of women in office.

That same year, two professors of Mid-America Reformed Seminary responded to the Calvin brochure.  Nelson Kloosterman and Cornelis Venema wrote a little booklet entitled A Cause of Division:  The Hermeneutic of Women’s Ordination.  The booklet can be found online here.  Among other things, Kloosterman and Venema wrote the following:

In fact, we are convinced that Cause for Division defends the argument for women’s ordination with a hermeneutic which is at odds with our historic position as Reformed believers.  It does so by using an unReformed notion of the ‘analogy of Scripture,’ one which pits the alleged Scriptural principle of the equality and correlativity of men and women against the specific teaching of those Scriptural texts which describe a differentiation of roles.  Not only does Cause for Division provide no Scriptural proof for its notion of equality between men and women, but it also discounts those texts which spell out God’s blessed order for the relationships between men and women in the home and the church.  (6)

They later conclude that “the hermeneutic of women’s ordination has surely become A Cause of Division within the Christian Reformed denomination” (23).  The entire booklet is still worthy of a careful read all these years later.  Not surprisingly, the arguments are still relevant.

I recognize that the arguments being put forward today in the Netherlands are not exactly the same.  There are some differences.  But there are also some important similarities.  Certainly it can be said that this issue has become a new cause of division.  As in the CRCNA in past decades, those creating the breach in the RCN are those chipping away at a clear teaching of Scripture and those willing to even entertain such hermeneutical gymnastics.  Even if Synod Ede of the RCN can pull the federation back from the brink, the problem will remain of members holding to these aberrant convictions or being open to them.  The problem will remain also of office bearers, even seminary professors, holding to these erroneous views.  To rid the RCN of these convictions will take much time, courage, wisdom, and virility.  May the LORD give these gifts in abundance to the faithful in the RCN!


Book Review: Getting the Gospel Right

Getting the Gospel Right:  Assessing the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul, Cornelis P. Venema, Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006.  Paperback, 92 pages, $6.00 US.

This is a short little book dealing with an important, relevant topic.  The doctrine of justification is under debate in the Reformed/Presbyterian community.  Most of this debate takes place in connection with the Federal Vision.  However, there are also connections to what has been called the New Perspective(s) on Paul (NPP).

This book is an entry-level introduction to the NPP from a Reformed perspective.  The author is a United Reformed minister, a professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary and also president of that institution.   Getting the Gospel Right is a shorter, popular version of another book recently published by Banner of Truth, The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ.

The book is divided into three parts.  In the first section, Venema outlines “the Reformation perspective on Paul.”  This perspective essentially boils down to five key features:  1) Justification is a principal theme of the gospel; 2) Justification is primarily a theological and soteriological (having to do with the doctrine of salvation) theme; 3) the Reformation claimed that the medieval Roman Catholic doctrine of justification emphasized obedience to the law as a partial, meritorious basis for justification; 4) the Reformers insisted that “works of the law” in Paul refer to any acts of obedience to the law which are then regarded as a ground for acceptance with God; 5) the righteousness of God is something that God freely grants and imputes to believers.

In the next section, Venema outlines the “New Perspective on Paul.”  He does this by laying out the views of three scholars:  E. P. Sanders, D. G. Dunn, and N. T. Wright.  The NPP has been critical of the Reformation perspective on Paul.  I think Venema fairly lays out their views in this chapter.  Because of his influence, Venema spends the most time with Wright.  He notes that Wright is unclear and obscure on certain important issues such as his understanding about the work of Christ.  When speaking about what the gospel is, Wright emphasizes the Lordship of Christ.  Venema notes that this emphasis “suggests that his view has more affinity with what historians of doctrine term the ‘classic’ or ‘victory over the powers’ conception than the penal-satisfaction emphasis of the Reformation” (56).  Because of his emphasis on the question of who belongs to the covenant (as being the question that justification seeks to answer in Paul’s writings), “he does not articulate a doctrine of the atonement along the lines of classic Protestant theology” (57).

The last substantial section features a longer critique of the views of Sanders, Dunn and Wright.  He believes (rightly) that the rejection of the Reformation perspective is partly based on confusion between Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism.  The Reformers never said that the Roman Catholic doctrine was Pelagian nor (speaking anachronistically) that the Judaists of Paul’s day taught Pelagianism.  Rather the charge was one of semi-Pelagianism.  This is just one problem among several that Venema highlights in this chapter.

Venema concludes, “Though it may be admitted that the new perspective has illumined some significant aspects of Paul’s understanding of the gospel, its claims to offer a more satisfying interpretation of Paul’s gospel than that of the Reformation seem at best overstated, and at worst clearly wrong” (91).  I’m looking forward to reading the longer version of this book.   I can certainly recommend this one to those looking for a place to start in trying to understand the controversies rocking many North American Reformed churches.

If I have just one small beef, it’s the use of Internet sources in some of the footnotes.   Some of the links no longer work.  Since authors like N. T. Wright have a wide following, one can google the titles and find them, but it is a bit of a nuisance.  I’m not sure how a problem like that can be resolved.