Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Review: 'Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical
Introduction' (Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger, 2009).

Here's a good textbook for a basic course in 'Ecclesiology 101' (or what
used to be called 'Church, Ministry and Sacraments' back in my seminary
days). Though written 'densely' in text-book fashion (a few good
stories, lots of Bible texts, with some useful quotes and endnotes) it
would also comprise an excellent study-guide for church leaders.

The Recommended Reading List features authors like Donald Bloesch, Tony
Campolo, Mark Noll, D. Elton Trueblood, and Robert Webber: for those in
the know, they're more (progressive) evangelical than 'mainline' (eg.
the Alban Institute isn't, I think, mentioned) or ecumenical (eg.
published statements from 20th century Conciliar conferences don't
feature either). But there's a good balance between history ('the church
did not begin with us') and postmodern concepts (eg. the way many/most
churches are imprisoned within their secular cultures).

It strongly critiques conservative evangelical churches' addictions to
individualism (individual persons, families, churches - and note the
words of their 'praise choruses') and consumerism (there's more movement
of 'consumers' between churches and even across denominations than ever
before). And since the 'Scopes Monkey Trial' in the U.S. conservative
Christians have had a tendency to operate outside of the public square -
except for the two 'Focus on the Family' issues of abortion and gay
marriage - and marry their eschatology with 'left behind' Dispensationalism.

A summary of the authors' theological approach: the church is a
trinitarian community, constituted through its communion with the Triune
God: and the likeness between God and humanity is fundamentally
relational; eschatologically understood: the church is 'the instrument
of the coming kingdom' which involves the redemption not only of the
church but of the whole creation; missionally driven: not simply having
'missions' as one emphasis-among-many; varied in terms of ecclesial/
authority models; and ideally 'community' in Henri Nouwen's sense:
'community is the place where the person you least want to live with
always lives'.

As I said, it's more 'Evangelical' than 'Ecumenical'. Only
Fundamentalist/Evangelical 'scholars' use the Bible as a 'flat text'.
For example, it's mostly poor scholarship to quote ecclesial concepts
from Paul's early letters and 'the pastoral epistles' in the same
sentence without noting the progression in thinking between these
contexts. And only conservatives keenly anticipate 'the marriage supper
of the Lamb' (mentioned probably a dozen times).

But on the other hand there's a fairly strong social concern/justice
message throughout the book. Item: Archbishop Oscar Romero got into
trouble with the rich and powerful because he refused to baptize their
babies in segregated services - away from the poor - or separate rich
and poor at communion. A nearby comment: A church in the U.S. decided to
focus on outreach to the wealthy, 'cos you get more 'bang for your buck'
that way.

And there's both praise and criticism of the Emerging Church movement:
hanging out at Starbucks is not the same as kneeling together at the
communion rail; a latte is not an adequate substitute for bread and wine.

I wrote 'Yes!' to these statements:

* [Modern] Churches [mostly] focus on being vendors of religious goods
and service providers to expectant consumers... doing what it takes to
make sure their fellowships survive in the religious free market, where
only the fittest survive (p. 43)

* It is typical among Evangelicals... for worship... to be a 'warm-up'
for the main event, which is the preaching of the scriptures (p.106)
[which, I noted, is a very limited understanding of the concept of

* The one category of prayer that has not been as widely retained,
especially among American evangelical churches, is that of confession
(p. 109)

That's enough. This book emphasises corporate as well as individual
faith. It has a more 'holistic' approach than most books in its genre.
Although the authors are evangelicals they've done their best - with
mixed success - to incorporate insights from Roman Catholic, Orthodox,
and progressive Protestant traditions and thinking.

Rowland Croucher

September 2009

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