Interview with James M. Arcadi on An Incarnational Model of the Eucharist (Part 1)

I’m privileged to present an interview I recently had with Dr. James M. Arcadi about his new book entitled An Incarnational Model of the Eucharist. Just this year, Dr. Arcadi took up a post at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), so I’m glad he was able to take some time to talk to me about his book.

Before he came to TEDS, he was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow for the Analytic Theology Project at Fuller Theological Seminary. In January I connected well with the other participants of this project at the Los Angeles Theology Conference, but I somehow missed out on meeting him. (Maybe next year?) You can find out more about Dr. Arcadi on his TEDS faculty page.

My questions in this post and the next will be in bold, with Dr. Arcadi’s responses following. In this post we’ll cover Chapters 1 through 4 of his book, and the remaining chapters (and the Epilogue) in the next. Enjoy!


There are probably a lot of people like me out there that come from radically non-liturgical Christian backgrounds. Tell us how you became personally interested in the Eucharist, and why came to think that there was a need in the academic literature that you wanted to address.

The late Marilyn Adams opens her work on the history of Eucharistic metaphysics by saying that the project was driven by two passions: Eucharistic piety and an appetite for philosophical analysis. I think I share in some part in those passions. For me also, two other motives came to the fore. First, I have long been interested in God’s presence (the discussion of omnipresence in the book is an example of that). And what better place to look for God’s presence than in Emmanuel, God with us in the person of Christ? The second motive was/is a pastoral one for I serve the Eucharist to people, and when I do I hand them a piece of bread and say, “This is the body of Christ.” And people want to know, “What does that mean?” This book is a long version of how I try to answer that question.

As far as the academic landscape goes, within analytic theology there has not been much written on the topic. I thought, and think, that this doctrine is one that is ripe for analysis, and so I offer it as a way of pushing analytic theology beyond the bounds of philosophy of religion and even beyond some of the standard doctrines that analytics have treated (Trinity and Incarnation, mostly).

Your book seems to me to be an example of what you just referred to as “analytic theology.” You also say in the book that your project follows a path that Anselm called “faith seeking understanding.” Can you explain how you understand analytic theology, and how it relates to Anselm’s catchphrase?

Actually, I don’t think the phrase “analytic theology” appears in the text! That was important to me because I wanted the ideas to stand on their own right in the theological scene and not just be relegated to some corner. That the book was published in a theological series is very exciting to me. In that regard the “declarative theology” version of faith seeking understanding that I sketch is more central as a methodology to the shape of the project. Analytic theology, to me, is just another instance of the longstanding “handmaiden” relation of philosophy to theology. It is simply that the version of philosophy that I have found particularly helpful comes from contemporary analytic philosophy.

For anybody who wants to learn more about how philosophy relates to theology and how the two are put together well, what resources do you recommend?

I think that Thomas McCall’s An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology is a great resource for seeing the connection between the two and the benefit of philosophy for theology. I am also in the process of editing, what will be, the T&T Clark Companion to Analytic Theology that my coeditor, J. T. Turner, and I hope will be a helpful resource in this area. So, stayed tuned for this in early 2020.

Some advice I’ve heard about making an “original” contribution in a field is to make distinctions. In Chapter 1 you distinguish no less than ten theories about how the Eucharist “works,” or how it is that Christ is present in the “elements” of the bread and wine. What are the different categories that these theories fall into, and where does the view that you defend in the book fall within the spectrum?

My main motivation for this section was to help people realize that there are a lot of options out there. Often I run into people who think they either have to have a pure memorialist doctrine or the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. There are a lot of views between those two extremes (and they aren’t even the conceptual far extremes!).

I won’t get into all the details, so I’ll just lay out the major contours of the spectrum. One family of views I call the “Corporeal Mode.” These views indicate that the substances of the body and blood of Christ become present in some fashion related to the elements of bread and wine.

Next I have what I call the “Pneumatic Mode” family of views, which try to articulate the presence of Christ with the elements in some non-substantial way, perhaps a spiritual way.

And finally I designate another family of views, the “No Non-Normal Mode,” that says that Christ is not uniquely present in the Eucharist in a way different from how he is present anywhere else in the universe. Typically we might say, and this is rough, that Baptistic, Pentecostal, mainstream Evangelical views fall in this latter category. Typically Reformed views fall into the middle category (although that is a locus of dispute within that tradition). Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and some Anglican views fall in the first category, as does the constructive model I offer.

We’ve already talked a little bit about “declarative theology” and how you use philosophical tools in your book. Yet, as soon as readers hit Chapter 2, they will see that you’re doing a bit of biblical exegesis as well! That’s one thing I really appreciated about this book. Why did you think it was necessary to do this?

For me, I don’t think we’d have anything like Eucharistic theology if it were not for what we have in the Last Supper narratives. That is, Eucharistic theology is a revealed doctrine, not something derived from natural theology. Hence, it seems appropriate to start examining a revealed doctrine in revelation itself! I have also been concerned to show that any proposals on the metaphysics of the Eucharist ought to take into consideration the pre-death/resurrection/ascension occurrences of the Eucharist (Last Supper and Emmaus). Metaphysical proposals that appeal to the risen/ascended/glorified Christ seem to me to entail disconnecting present participation in the Eucharist from the very Last Supper that is often referenced in the liturgies of the Eucharist.

I’d like to hear more about how you think biblical exegesis and analytic theology relate. What’s your take on their relationship with one another?

I suppose I simply think that biblical exegesis and analytic theology possibly relate in the way that one thinks any exegesis and theology relate. The method of moving from text to doctrine is the locus of no small amount of spilled ink and I don’t see analytic theology as uniquely problematic in this regard. In fact, the modes of biblical exegesis that occurs in the institutions in which I’ve trained and worked (such as grammatical, syntactical, and semantic-structural analyses) seem ready-made for those with analytic philosophical training. Logical and/or philosophical analysis could easily be added to the exegete’s toolkit.

I come from a background where we participated in “communion” maybe once per quarter, and sometimes even only once per year. That, in combination with the fact that I’ve read my Bible terribly for so many years, made me immune to the point you make in Chapter 2 about the Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-35). Because I found that section helpful and important, can you tell us more about what’s going on there?

I think this is a very suggestive vignette, one of my favorites in all of Scripture. All too briefly, I think that the kind of presence motif that is raised on one side of the crucifixion/resurrection in the Johannine Last Supper discourses is brought up again on the other side of the crucifixion/resurrection. The culmination of the story is, of course, the climactic description wherein the text says that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” and then these disciples went back to Jerusalem to declare how Christ was known to them, known to be present with them, in the breaking of bread.

I’d like to press one point about the Emmaus story now. You say in the book that those disciples “recognized him [Jesus] when he broke the bread; they knew he was with them in the Eucharist” (p. 56). And of course your point is that these disciples understood that Jesus is “substantially” present in the Eucharist. What do you say to somebody who thinks that sounds a bit anachronistic?

The text is vaguer than our theological analysis can go. I don’t not think that necessarily the Emmaus disciples suddenly had a realization of Sacramental Impanation as an instance of real predication with syntactical equivalence and epistemic inequivalence (mouthful that it is!). Rather, I use this story to prime the theological pump with respect to connecting Christ’s presence to the celebration of the Eucharist. It isn’t a decisive move, but more of continuing to set up the background conceptual work for the model that is deployed later.

In Chapter 3 you transition to philosophical ideas, and you discuss what’s called “speech act theory” and also how God’s presence relates to consecrated objects. Then in Chapter 4 you apply these concepts to the dominical words “This is my body.” Can you give us a brief overview of how all of these ideas relate, and how they can help us understand the Eucharist?

Speech act theory is a tool derived from the philosophy of language that has already been used by biblical scholars in the task of interpretation. The basic idea is speech is a kind of action and so getting clear about what actions are undertaken by a speaker through a particular utterance helps us to understand what the utterance means. Simply put, my use of this tool is to show how we can understand “This is my body” to be both an instance of the act of consecration (bringing about a particular ownership of the object by God that serves as a locus of God’s presence) and the act of renaming (bringing about a new singular term that can be used to refer to the consecrated bread).


Join me next time for my exchange with Dr. Arcadi on Chapters 5 through 7 and the Epilogue to his book. Until then, feel free to interact in the comments below.

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