Symbol or Substance?: A dialogue on the Eucharist


by Peter Kreeft

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.



Kreeft uses his literary imagination to eavesdrop on the conversations between C.S.Lewis, Billy Graham and J.R.R.Tolkien. It is a thoughtful and fair-minded exploration of the differing views on the Eucharist among Anglicans, Catholics, and Evangelical Protestants. The author states: I love to imagine three-way conversations among famous people He explains the purpose of the book: “I picked three of the most famous, loved and respected representatives of each of the three main Christian theological tradition or churches in the English-speaking world: the most famous modern Protestant evangelist (Billy Graham) the most famous modern Anglican Christian writer (C.S. Lewis and the most famous and popular modern Roman Catholic writer (Tolkien). There are many points of discussion that the author could investigate but his focus is the Eucharist. He also states that as a Roman Catholic, the Eucharist is what it cannot be for a Protestant the source, summit, sum, and substance of my Christian life.


Kreeft lays out for us four disclaimers: this is not a scholarly book as it gives us a taste of imaginative fiction that concretizes and personalizes the great ideas and arguments for ordinary readers by putting them into the mouths of great characters in dramatic conversation; 2.he doesn’t believe that the book captures the psychological and dramatic talents of a Plato; 3. he attempts to be as fair as he can but also sympathetic and understanding; 4.he does not attempt to settle anything through the conversations, he calls people to prayer and to live in the presence of Christ.


It is not fair as the reviewer to give you snippets of their conversations but to focus on the essence of the book. Graham asks the question: “Does the Bible say much about the Lord’s Supper and how we ought to observe it?” and this is the answer I gave: While churches differ in their understanding of the Lord’s Supper (or some churches call it, Communion or the Eucharist) they all realize its importance and seek to give it a central place in their worship. This has been true since the beginning of the Christian faith. The reason is simple: Jesus told His disciples to celebrate it regularly until He comes again, just as He celebrated it with them shortly before His death. The Apostle Paul recorded that first Lord’s Supper this way: “The Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me’” (1Corinthians 11:23-24) In a similar way, Jesus gave them a cup of wine symbolizing His blood, “which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). In other words, the Lord’s Supper should always remind us of Jesus’ death for us. He was sinless and didn’t deserve to die –but He willingly took our sins upon Himself, and by His death on the cross He purchases our salvation. The Bible says, “The blood of Jesus, his Son purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7) Don’t ever let the Lord’s Supper become something ordinary or boring. It tells us about the greatest event in human history, Jesus’ death for us. May God use it to remind you of His love.


The conversations that Kreeft supplies for us are rich in thought and prayerful in theology. It is meaningful and fun and worth the read. He gives us the image we need to know that God has a sense of humor and longs for our interaction with Him. This is not a book that presents theological agreement but the joy of listening and knowing each other’s beliefs on the Eucharist. The information is presented in the dialogue so the reader can determine whether symbol or substance is the question at hand.

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