Scott W. BULLARD. Re-membering the Body: The Lord's Supper and Ecclesial Unity in the Free Church Traditions. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2013. pp. 188. $22.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62032-017-4. Reviewed by Kyle M. NICHOLAS, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA. 98119
This book is Bullard's attempt to retrieve a sacramental view of the Eucharist for Baptists. The Eucharist in the Baptist and free church traditions, Bullard maintains, has lost the "thick conception of the unity brought about by the Eucharist" (1) that is found so robustly in Roman Catholicism and some Protestant denominations – i.e. United Methodists, Episcopalians, and Lutherans. Bullard's book is clear, nuanced, and free from theological one-upmanship so often found in ecumenical projects.
Bullard maps out for his readers precisely the route he will take in retrieving the Eucharist for Baptists. It is important to note that Bullard is operating with a more historically nuanced notion of "Baptist" than many typically do. He follows James McClendon when he resists the typical conflation of Baptists with Protestants, and instead regards Baptists as a third community – apart from both Catholics and Protestants – born out of sixteenth-century Christian radicalism. Bullard's map is both audacious and simple, which unfolds in four steps. The majority of the book looks at three major thinkers from the 20th century: The Baptist James McClendon (Chap. 2), Catholic Henri de Lubac (Chap. 3), and Lutheran Robert Jenson (Chap. 4). Bullard's concise and fair construal of the Eucharistic theology of each is impressive and informative. The fourth step in Bullard's project (Chap. 5), after the three aforementioned speakers have been examined and set in conversation with one another, is a concluding chapter on contemporary Baptist theologians – whom Bullard dubs the 'new Baptist sacramentalists' – that see a "deep connection between ecclesial unity and churchly practices such as the Eucharist" (149).
The most in-depth section of the book is chapter 2 on McClendon. Bullard chooses McClendon because he is both a critical mind in the history of Baptist thought, and his engagement with the larger Christian tradition has formed him to see the "necessity of a retrieval of the connection between the Lord's supper and the unity of the church" – a position largely unpopular, though not wholly absent, in Baptist thought. Bullard carefully expounds on McClendon's view on the Eucharist, but ultimately believes McClendon falls short of an adequate view of the Eucharist since he "never nails down the relationship between the Supper and the church's unity in his ecclesiology" (55). McClendon's work is on the "verge" of being adequately sacramental, but will ultimately require the work of de Lubac and the new Baptist sacramentalists to become sufficient.
The chapters on de Lubac and Jenson show Bullard's deep, careful, and charitable reading of each author. Bullard draws from an impressive breadth of each writer's corpus and critiques common objections to these two authors who are often seen as at odds with Baptist thought. It is clear that Bullard's theological sympathies lie with de Lubac and the recent appropriation of de Lubac by William Cavanaugh, which may not garner much widespread Baptist approval. Bullard has also read Jenson widely and sympathetically (a Lutheran who is often chided as being more extreme than Catholics in his views on the Supper), but Jenson's views remain disappointingly limited to his own chapter. Bullard largely abandons Jenson in the final chapter in order to put McClendon, de Lubac, and the new Baptist sacramentalists in conversation. This, however, could be seen as the oversight of the new Baptist sacramentalists and not Bullard, who admits that Jenson has not been drawn on in recent conversations to the extent that he deserves.
Bullard, it would seem, considers himself a member of the new Baptist sacramentalists: and it shows. Thus, this book is a welcome and accessible volume for sacramental traditions (Catholic, Lutheran, etc.) that too easily brush aside Baptists in conversations about ecclesiology in general, and Eucharistic theology in particular. This, I believe, is and will be its main appeal. My hope is that Baptists will read this book and be informed and stimulated as well, but, unfortunately, I fear Bullard has written so convincingly – and appears so convinced himself – that the "Eucharist makes the Church" (161) that the volume may go untouched by many staunch adherents to the free church tradition: those who might benefit from it the most.