Tag Archives: ecclesiology

Stanley Grenz’s Theological Anthropology – An Overview (Pt. 3)

This is part three of a short series in which I look at Stanley Grenz’s theological anthropology as it can be found in “The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei.”


Having provided a brief overview of Grenz’s methodological commitments we are now in a position to provide a brief overview of his argument. This text is divided into three parts covering Context, Texts, and Application. Part one, “The Context: Trinitarian Theology and the Self,” traces out historical developments of Trinitarian theology and theological-philosophical-psychological understandings of the self. Part two, “The Texts: The Imago Dei in Trinitarian Perspective” addresses biblical texts which shed light upon the imago Dei. Part three, titled, “The Application: The Social Imago and the Postmodern (Loss of) Self” provides an eschatologically determined, social, ecclesial conception of the image of God.

Chapter one begins with the conviction that theological anthropology must be developed under the confession of the the Triune God. Given this conviction Grenz sets the context for a Trinitarian theological anthropology by providing a survey of the renewal of Trinitarian theology that has characterized the 20th and 21st centuries. Grenz begins with Hegel’s turn to the subject and his assumption that Trinitarian theology must take seriously the close connection between the Trinity and the unfolding of history. Starting with Hegel, he travels through the works of Rahner, Barth, Moltmann, and Zizioulas on his way to LaCugna. The thrust of this chapter is to show that the movement away from psychological models of the trinity and the revival of social Trinitarianism is commensurate with the modern rethinking of the notion of persons. Or as Grenz says, “the ascendancy of the focus on the three Trinitarian persons, in turn, opens the way for a truly theological anthropology.”

In chapters two and three Grenz maps the development of contemporary concepts of the self. Chapter two is dedicated to treating the emergence of the concept of the self. Here Grenz states that the modern concept of the self is marked by one key feature: Inwardness. Quoting Charles Taylor Grenz says “our modern notion of the self is related to, one might say constituted by, a certain sense (or perhaps family of senses) of inwardness.” Grenz makes a case Augustine being the progenitor of the “Western concept of the self with its focus on the inwardness of self-consciousness in contrast to the outwardness of relationality to others.” His historical survey covers much ground, expositing the works of Descartes, Locke, and Kant, all whom according to Grenz elevate the autonomous individual self. A second feature of the inward turn according to Grenz is a desire for self-mastery. He deems Calvin as the progenitor of the individualist quest for self-mastery, hidden under the guise of sanctification. Among the “villains” of this individualistic, self-sufficient narrative, Grenz also cites Jonathan Edwards as bequeathing to evangelicalism an individualistic, self-sufficient, “navel-gazing” ethos of spiritual growth. Chapter three argues that the modern sense of self was destabilized and ultimately completely undermined by the postmodern sensitivities of authors such as Montaigne, Rousseau, Emerson, and Nietzsche.  The result was that the postmodern self became “a bundle of fluctuating relationships and momentary preferences…highly unstable, impermanent.”

How can the Christian faith speak into the problem of the post-modern loss of self? Grenz argues that the concept of the imago Dei is the solution to this problem. Surveying three motifs in the theology of the imago Dei: a structural motif, a relational motif, and a “destiny” motif he argues that these three motifs form a constellation of themes which should be considered together. However, the image of God as “being with a destiny” is the fundamental basis for the imago Dei.

Chapters five through seven treat the concept of imago Dei in conversation with the latest findings from the field of biblical studies. Chapter five treats the exegesis of Genesis 1:26-28, the locus classicus for the imago Dei. He also explores the New Testament designation of Christ as the image of God. In chapter six Grenz further develops the idea that Christ is the divine image, by arguing that “he is the head of the new humanity destined to be formed according to that image in fulfillment of God’s intent for human kind fro the beginning.”

Having established on exegetical grounds that conformity to the image of God in Christ is humanity’s eschatological destiny he then turns towards applying this concept to the problems of the postmodern loss of self. In chapter seven he suggests that human sexuality reflects the relation character of the Triune God. Sexuality, Grenz argues, is constituted by a drive towards bonding, the participation in the fullness of the other. This drive towards bonding is only truly fulfilled in the eschatological community of the saints in union with Christ. Thus, the drive for intimacy so prominent in the sexual self hints at something which is fundamental the the nature of the “self,” namely that the self consists of persons bonded in community.

Grenz concludes his section on application in chapter eight where he constructs a notion of an eschatological, ecclesial ontology of the self. Providing another survey detailing the historical development of thought, this time surveying the history of social psychology and narrative theology, Grenz comes to the conclusion that ultimately the solution to the postmodern problem of the loss of self comes in conceiving of the self as the ecclesial self, i.e. a person whose being is grounded in their relation to the eschatological community of Christ. This is grounded in Zizioulas’s Trinitarian theology, in which he claims that God’s being is constituted by relationship or communion. Thus like God himself whose being is in communion, the human self finds its ultimate expression in communion, more specifically communion with the community of those who are bound to the true image of God, Christ.

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John Calvin & the Four Nicene Marks of the Church

One theme that emerges throughout Calvin’s works as well as some Calvin biographies is the importance he places upon ecclesiology. We see this in various ways, for instance in his fight for the unity of the protestant movement, in his emphasis on the proper understanding of the Eucharist, and his constant attempts at establishing church discipline in Geneva, just to name a few examples. In this brief essay I will explain a few themes in Calvin’s ecclesiology by using the four marks of the church as they are put forth in the Nicene Creed. Understanding that this is not necessarily the way Calvin organized his ecclesiology, I believe it is a useful tool for explaining what he thought about the church.[1] Thus in this essay I will address what Calvin might understand what is meant when it is said that the church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”

St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva - Calvin's
St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva – Calvin’s “Home” Church

ONE

            The Nicene creed begins the section about the church by saying “I believe in one…. church.” The oneness of the church is something that Calvin insists upon throughout his career. This might seem to contradict the very nature of the protestant reformation, however in Calvin’s mind it does not present a contradiction, namely because Calvin saw the oneness of the true church as vitally important. This is a theme that emerges in Gordon’s biography of Calvin. Gordon claims that “Calvin understood his destiny to extend far beyond Geneva’s walls: he was a man of the Church, and its unity was his deepest passion.” (Gordon, Kindle Loc 35) One concrete example of how unity was at the forefront of Calvin’s mind can be seen in his attempted ecumenical work on the Eucharist. Calvin saw the dispute between Lutheran and Zwinglian understandings of the Eucharist as the major block towards church unity. Thus Calvin attempted to navigate a way between both positions, a way which could unite the church. He did this by signing the Augsburg Variata and the Consensus Tigurinus, as well as cultivating a relationship with Melanchthon. He even traveled extensively, journeying to Berne, Zurich, Basle, Frankfurt, and Strausbourg in order to cultivate unity. Sadly, the unity he desired was not achieved.

HOLY

            The Nicene creed continues by saying “I believe in one, holy… church.” Regarding the holiness of the church Bruce Gordon says “the power of Calvin and his fellow ministers lay not in their talent for excoriation, but in their ability to create a vision of a godly community.” (Gordon, Kindle Loc 3095) Though he may have done an excellent job of casting vision for what a godly community looked like, one cannot escape his “talent for excoriation.” One can take the incident with the excommunication of Philibert Berthelier as an example. Berthelier had been excommunicated by the Consistory but appealed to the Small Council in order that he may attend the Lord’s Supper. However, Calvin appeared before the council declaring that he would “rather die a hundred deaths than subject Christ to the disgrace of unworthy participation in the Lord’s supper.” (Gordon, Kindle Loc, 3069) However, at the end the city magistrates concluded that church discipline was in their hands and not in the hands of the consistory. This was a defeat for Calvin, who believed that “our Savior set up in his Church the correction and discipline of excommunication.” (Articles Concerning, 50). Nevertheless, Calvin instituted wide spread moral reform. Geneva was transformed from a city filled with immorality, even having a reputation for violence and sodomy, towards a slightly more moral society. Thus in Geneva we see Calvin’s belief that the church ought to be holy and pure.

CATHOLIC

            The third Nicene mark of the church is that it is “catholic.” Interpretations of what is meant by “catholic” are manifold but at the very least we can say that it can refer to that which has universally been believed by the church. A prime example of how Calvin sees protestant churches as being truly catholic (as opposed to the Roman Catholic church) can be seen in how he argues with Sadoleto. In his reply he defends his catholicity by saying “You are mistaken in supposing that we desire to lead away the people from that method of worshiping God which the catholic church always observed.” (Sadoleto, 6) He then claims that the church has always been governed by the Holy Spirit, which God has annexed to the Word, he supports this claim with Scripture and by appealing to Chrysostom. He then argues for the claim that the protestant church represents what has always been believed by appealing to the writings of Basil, Cyprian, Ambrose, and Augustine. Calvin then says “that it [the Church] is the society of all the saints, a society which, spread over the whole world, and existing in all ages, yet bound together by the one doctrine, and the one Spirit of Christ, cultivates and observes unity of faith and brotherly concord.” (Sadoleto, 7) Thus he emphasizes the catholicity of the church, even saying that protestants revere this church, the church which is truly Catholic, as its mother; but he rejects the Roman church as fulfilling this catholic definition of the church.

APOSTOLIC

            The final mark of the church is that it is “apostolic.” Here Calvin rejects apostolic succession in favor of succession of apostolic teaching. One see’s the importance Calvin puts upon apostolic teaching in the way he envisions his own vocation. In one sense we could say that Calvin saw himself as a defender of correct doctrine, this was part of his vocation.  Calvin says regarding this self understanding that “the welfare of this church…lay so near to my heart that for its sake I would not have hesitated to lay down my life.” (McKee, 62) One way he ensured the continuing welfare of the church is through his doctrinal and biblical writings. Much like so many other important figures in the history of the church, Calvin devoted much attention to Romans. There he lays out the Apostolic teaching of the church, especially when it comes to justification. But perhaps even more than in his commentaries or preaching we see Calvin’s understanding of the importance of defending apostolic teaching in the way in which he responds to heretical teaching. Chief among the examples of Calvin’s polemic against those who don’t follow the apostolic teaching is his treatment of Servetus’s work. In Calvin’s mind those who spare heretics and blasphemers are themselves blasphemers (Gordon, Kindle Loc 3157). Though it seems as if Calvin did not want Servetus to die, the Servetus incident shows how seriously Calvin takes the apostolic teaching of the church.

It should be noted that Gordon’s biography sheds light on each of these four marks, but Gordon’s strength in the area of ecclesiology is his contribution to our understanding of the apostolic nature of the church and the unity of the church. In particular, his chapter on Servetus sheds light on Calvin’s motivations to maintain the apostolic teaching of the church, especially within the context of contemporary political and theological thought, in how he treats heretics. Gordon does much to dispel the myth of a bloodthirsty Calvin out to get Servetus. Secondly, his chapter, “European Reformer,” shows how much Calvin did (at times unintentionally) to bring unity to the Reformed churches ranging from churches in Britain to Poland to the Low Countries and even to the Palatinate. Reformed churches throughout these lands were heavily influenced by Calvin and his reforms in Geneva. Many leaders in these countries wrote to Calvin for advice and some, including John Knox, even came to Geneva to learn from Calvin. Thus even though he never achieved the unity in the church he desired, his contributions went a long way towards establishing some sort of unity based upon his Reformed understandings of the faith and church polity.

CONCLUSION

            There are many ways to approach Calvin’s ecclesiology. We could define it in terms of the two marks he mentions (right distribution of the sacraments and the word properly preached), he views on the current state of the church vs. God’s intention for the church, or even his perceived role in building up the church, however we have chosen to examine his ecclesiology in terms of these loci classicus. Hopefully this heuristic has helped to shed light upon Calvin’s understanding of the church within a historical context.


[1] At least given our readings, and my prior knowledge of Calvin’s work I am not familiar with him organizing his ecclesiology in light of these four marks.

Apostolic Church Planting

Church planting is en vogue. You can find books upon books on the subject and even conferences on the topic that draw 1000’s of attendees. (I have to admit my favorite one of these conferences is Exponential.) But most church planting isn’t planting in the biblical sense. Yes it’s the start of new congregations, which is planting a “church” in some sense, but biblically church planting consists of starting new local gatherings with an emphasis on the creation of new disciples. At least that is what J.D. Payne, pastor of church multiplication at Brook Hills, has to say. Quite simply Payne defines church planting as,

Evangelism that results in new churches.

This (really) short book, which in some sense is a distillation of his longer book Discovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and tumblr_inline_nh93znkgjr1qm2vhiHows of Global Church Planting, is an attempt to provide the reader with the essential aspects – practically and theologically – that are necessary for doing church planting in a Biblical fashion.

Payne begins with stressing the importance of nailing down your ecclesiology before you start planting. He then provides the reader with a sort of “pathway” to planting as well as the stages involved in growing a church plant. Most importantly, in my mind, Payne stresses the need for developing leaders which will one day oversee the church. This is clearly the Pauline model.

Overall, I found this book to be very helpful. It’s a clear and concise model for doing church planting. It draws its insights from Scripture, experience, and testimonies. I myself am not a church planter, but I have plenty of friends who are. After reading this book I came away with a better understanding both theologically and practically about what exactly it is that they are doing. I believe that this book could serve as a useful set of reminders for those who are planting churches. But I also believe, and I hope that this book will help spur on a new generation of church planters.

Note: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.

Missional Preaching in a Post-Christendom World

How can preaching inspire and shape a church to share the goodness of God in Jesus Christ with neighbors near and far, in words and deeds? How can reaching equip and send the people of God to be the people of God in the world and for the world? Because the only way the world will possibly believe this good news is if they see a community of people who live it and invite them to live in it too. This is the hope of missional preaching. (The Mission of Preaching, 28)

At the beginning of the year I sensed that the Lord wanted me to spend some more time studying and improving my skills in preaching. This goes hand in hand with the larger call upon my life to help equip the church for mission. When I saw that Patrick Johnson wrote a book titled The Mission of Preaching: Equipping the Community for Faithful Witness I knew that I was supposed to read this book.

Summary

Without a doubt the Western church lives in an era for which we are largely unprepared. We now life in a missionary context. I could tell you story after story about this. The fact is that nowadays many people are no longer even de-churched rather they are completely un-churched. This simple fact forces us to consider how preaching in this missionary context differs from preaching in a Christendom context. Johnson suggests that we need to reconsider homiletics in light of this missionary context. He proposes a missional homiletic:

Preaching confesses Jesus Christ through a missional interpretation of scripture in order to equip the congregation for its confession to the world.

Johnson fleshes out what this means through three chapters. He begins by examining the work of three homileticians who see preaching as a form of bearing testimony or bearing witness. Each of these proposals have their own strengths and weaknesses but in Johnson’s opinion, their greatest strength is that they all make a strong case for preaching as a form of testimony. Johnson also devotes a chapter to Barth’s missional theology. Barth’s Trinitarian theology forms a sort of foundation for an ecclesiology which emphasizes the missional nature of the church. For Barth, the commission given to the Church and to individual Christians is to bear witness to Christ. This forms the basis for a missional church and missional preaching. Johnson also devotes a chapter to studying the literature produced by various leaders in the missional church movement. He focuses primarily on Treasures in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional faithfulness. From this book he describes various patterns and characteristics of the missional church. This serves as a further basis for his development of the missional homiletic.

Johnson wraps up his discussion of missional homiletics by reminding the reader that a missional hermeneutic must interpret scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ, it must take seriously the formative intent of scripture, it must address the vocational locatedness of the local congregation. All of this must be done in service of equipping the congregation for its confession in the world. As the preacher preaches scripture in light of this hermeneutic, he or she will be in a better position to act as a witness to Christ that equips his/her congregation to be effective witnesses for Christ in whatever context they find themselves in.

Pros:

I absolutely loved this book! It was very well researched, i.e. it engages with various views on the purpose of preaching. It is theologically sophisticated, dealing in depth with Karl Barth’s theology. And most helpfully for preachers like me, it is extremely practical. Now this book doesn’t give a bunch of how to steps to missional preaching, it does provide patterns and images of what missional preaching might look like. In other words it provides great examples in order to stoke the preachers imagination as to what missional preaching will look like. What I appreciate most about this book is that it is one of the few books that specifically treat this ever so necessary topic – preaching in a missionary context. If I could I would put this book in every young preacher’s hands. More and more preachers are going to have to deal with the reality of preaching in this post-Christendom world, and they will most definitely need guidance for how to face this new challenge.

Cons:

There is very little to critique in this book. One could critique some of the position of those that Johnson interacts with (for instance how several of the homileticians Johnson studies prioritize the authority of the preacher’s interaction with scripture over the authority of scripture itself), however that would not be very productive. My biggest critique of this book is the absence of any interaction with Karl Barth’s lectures on homiletics. If Barth really holds to a missional hermeneutic, this should certainly show up in these Barth’s lectures on homiletics. Johnson should have devoted some space to these lectures.

Conclusion

This post-Christendom context that we find ourselves in today will require change, not only in the preacher himself and how he preaches, but also in his understanding of the purpose of preaching. The preacher will have to add to his other preaching identities (herald, pastor, witness) the identity of equipper. This book will help him to do that. Hopefully those who read this book will be better equipped themselves to equip the church for the sake of mission.

Shepherding God’s Flock

Towards the end of 2014 I spent some time praying, asking God what areas of growth he wanted me to focus on in 2015. Two areas that came up were 1) Preaching and 2) Shepherding. God wanted me to work on my preaching and communication skills and God wanted me to grow in having a heart that reflects his own compassion for his flock. It almost seemed like perfect timing that Kregel asked me to review Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond.

Shepherding God’s flock is a collection of essays complied by Benjamin Merkle and Tom Schreiner written by leading pastors and scholars on various issues of church leadership. The book focuses on three areas:

  1. Biblical Theology of Shepherding
  2. Historical Theology Regarding Shepherding and Ecclesiology
  3. Modern and Practical Approaches to Shepherding

Leadership and shepherding in the OT and NT is addressed by James Hamilton, Andreas Kostenberger, Benjamin Merkle and Tom Schreiner. Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist, and Roman Catholic perspectives and polity structures are addressed by Nathan Finn, Jason Duesing, Shawn Wright, Michael Haykin and Gregg Allison. The modern side of shepherding is addressed by Bruce Ware and Andrew Davis.

This book is definitely written from a Baptist perspective, this means that everything in the book is slightly slanted towards and elder led, congregationally ruled ecclesiology and understanding of the elder’s role. Having a “baptistic” ecclesiology, there is much for me to agree with in this volume, though I do have to admit that I am very sympathetic with Presbyterian localized ecclesiology (teaching elders and ruling elders).

I enjoyed this book very much and I actually learned a ton. The book wasn’t as much about the role of a shepherd – but more so a book about biblical church polity. That is okay, its not what I expected but I certainly appreciated it – especially because my time at Fuller Seminary didn’t include much thinking about polity. (We were focused on other aspects of ecclesiology.) Overall this is a fantastic collection of essays. I honestly believe that this will become an indispensable textbook for any class on ecclesiology or church structures. I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up using this book as a textbook in the future. It includes everything one would want from a textbook for an eldership/church polity class – it has biblical material, historical-theology material, and practical material.

Note: I received this book courtesy of Kregel Publishers in exchange for an impartial review.

Reformed and catholic!?!?

It seems like a simple question, which doesn’t have a very simple answer:

Can Christians and churches be catholic and Reformed? Can they commit themselves not only to the ultimate authority of apostolic Scripture but also to receiving this Bible within the context of the apostolic Church?

Allen and Swain believe that the answer to that question is a simple “yes!” In fact they say that “to be Reformed means to go deeper into true catholicity, not to move away from catholicity.” (4) Allen and Swain take the next 160 or so pages to unpack the complexity of this seemingly simple answer.Reformed Catholicity

Joining the rather popular, and encouraging trend, of theological retrieval (which we see in Radical Orthodoxy, Evangelical Ressourcement, and Resourcement Thomism) Allen and Swain provide us with a Sola Scriptura based logic for pursuing a Reformed retrieval program. They argue that one can take the distinctive features of Reformation theology and ecclesiology in order develop a truly catholic theology – that is a theology which embraces the Great Tradition of the Church.

Overview

They begin their argument, or manifesto, for Reformed Catholicity, by sketching the logic behind the claim that the catholic church is the context for doing theology. They base their argument upon the notion that the church is the “School of Christ.” This first chapter dips into ecclesiology and pneumatology and shows that the Spirit, who is the teacher, abides in the church and ensures that its apostolic teaching is guarded through the reading of Scripture. This establishes the basis for saying that “the church is the school of Christ, taught by the Spirit of Christ; the church is the seedbed of theology that flourishes by the anointing of Christ.” (46)

Their argument then turns the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. In chapter two they seek to defend this doctrine from recent criticisms. Most of these criticisms are based upon seeing this doctrine from a modernist perspective rather than seeing the doctrine as it truly is meant to be understood – in a reformed catholic context. In chapter three they argue that the more one is committed to the authority of scripture the more one is compelled to honor and respect the teachings of those in the church that came before us. They show that Scripture and tradition are not mutually exclusive. Scripture generates tradition, and tradition serves scripture by helping us read it.

Chapter four attempts to provide an argument for a “ruled reading” of Scripture on the basis of Reformed theological and ecclesiological principles. (96) This chapter provides a solid foundation for reading scripture in light of one’s doctrinal commitments. To most theologians this seems quite obvious – we always bring our theological baggage (I wish there were a more positive word for this) to our reading of Scripture. And this is Okay! However, many biblical scholars argue that we should try not to do this – we should try to read scripture solely based upon historical criteria. Those scholars need to read this chapter.

Their last chapter is a defense of the practice of proof texting in theology. They show that “a proof text signals a symbolic relationship between commentarial specificity and dogmatic synthesis as well as exegetical precision and cognizance.” Thus most critiques against proof-texting (done well) actually misunderstand the practice.

This last chapter is followed up by an afterword written by J. Todd Billings. He sums up the vision of Reformed Catholicity by applying it to the life of congregations on the ground. Pastor theologians will find this chapter incredibly interesting since it compares and contrasts the catholic reformed vision of the church and ministry with a consumeristic – moralistic therapeutic deism so prevalent in the church.

Thoughts…

I really appreciated this book; probably because I was already on board with the overall project of reformed catholicity. So instead of focusing on critiquing Allen and Swain’s work I want to highlight several further lines of research that come out of this book.

  1. The Goal of the Spirit’s Pedagogical Role & Papal Infalibility – There is an interesting footnote in chapter 3 which waves this topic. Given the Spirit’s role abiding within the church and teaching the church, the fact that the church’s understanding of its apostolic foundation and and must grow, and the fact that the Spirit’s goal is to lead the church into the eschatological future of fully knowing God we might want to rethink Papal infallibility as not completely wrongheaded – we might want to consider it to be more akin to an over-realized eschatology.
  2. The Role of the Pastor-Theologian – Allen and Swain argue that theology and exegesis work hand in hand. They says that more theologians should commit to an ongoing practice of doing exegetical work in lectures, conferences addresses, and their personal writing plans. I want to make a suggestion that they overlook – theologians should preach more in their churches. Some of the greatest theologians were pastors at one point or another in their life: Calvin, Barth, Bonhoeffer. The discipline of theology would be better served if theologians had to regularly preach in their home churches.
  3. Christian Education – In order to become better readers of scripture – and thus hopefully better “doers of the word” – we need to learn how to read scripture well. We learn to read scripture well when we have a strong theological foundation – In other words we need to learn how to read scripture with the great catholic tradition in mind. This will involve “pre-loading” Christians with doctrine before they approach the text. What is the best way to do this? Is it catechetical classes? Sunday School? More doctrinal preaching? Really I don’t know. But it’s a vital question for the health of our churches.

In my opinion Reformed Catholicity paints a picture of being a catholic protestant that is far bigger than simply including Reformed believers. Most of what Allen and Swain say could be appropriated by anybody within the Reformation tradition. As somebody who doesn’t subscribe to a Reformed ecclesiology (I’m “Baptistic” & Reformed), I appreciated the fact that their “Reformed theological and eccelsiological principles” where broad enough that someone with Reformed sensibilities but a free-church ecclesiology could embrace.

Reformed Catholicity is a fantastic book. If you are a pastor or theologian who cares about the fact that the church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic then you need to read Allen and Swain’s manifesto for being Reformed (protestant) and catholic.

Models of the Church

Many years ago Avery Dulles wrote a classic book on ecclesiology titled – Models of the Church – in this book he outlines several key models that Protestants and Roman Catholics have used to explain the nature of the church. Dulles explains that the church has been understood as  an Institution, a Mystical Communion, a Sacrament, a Herald, a Servant, as well as a Community of Disciples. However the problem with some of these “models” is that they aren’t models or images that Scripture uses to describe the church. Yes there is some truth to these images, however they ignore the fact that God through Scripture intended us to use scriptural images as the primary images for our understanding of the Church. Among these images are “family,” “body,” and “Temple.”

In Scripture God reveals to us the nature of the church through images and models – these should also be our primary images and models for understanding the church…

Scripture clearly lays out some images and metaphors that shape our self-understanding of what it means to be church. We even have some helpful historical models (which by no means are on par with Scriptural models); for instance the church as a sacrament or as a suffering servant. However, a problem arises when we uncritically begin to appropriate modern day images and apply those to the church. Once we begin to indiscriminately apply from culture around us we begin to walk on thin ice – the problem is that these images carry a lot of baggage and they can (unconcsiously) twist and deform our scriptural understanding of what it means to be the church.

So what are these (unhelpful) models? Here are five models suggested by Michael Goheen

  1. The Church as a Corporation: Corporations have a bottom line (money) and they are ready to make use of any means which can help them efficiently achieve that bottom line. The danger with this model is when the church begins to value efficency and pragmatism over faithfulness.
  2. The Church as a Theater: Theaters are where people go to sit back and passively enjoy some sort of entertainment. The danger with this model is that people begin to come to “church” in order to be entertained once they stop being entertained they bail. This is so wrong on many levels – its consumeristic and it imagines church as simply a place one goes to.
  3. The Church as a Classroom: The Church exists to teach. What is wrong with this model? Well lets begin with the fact that western education tends to be reductionistic – western education doesn’t form the whole person, rather it simply focuses on helping people to have “correct beliefs” regardless of whether or not they actually live “correctly.” However, we shouldn’t bag on the teaching function of the church – the church certainly is a place for teaching, but it can’t be reduced to western models of teaching.
  4. The Church as a Motivational Seminar: Two Words – self help. Enough said…
  5. The Church as a Social Service Office: The government has social service offices – they provide welfare, take care of the weak, needy, and poor. These are all things that the church ought to be doing as well – Its part of loving the world! However the church is not simply an institution for providing social services, the church cannot simply preach a “social gospel” it must preach a holistic gospel. This means that the church will address these issues and help these people but within the context of Gospel announcement.

All of these models have certain elements of truth (some definitely more than others). However we must be careful about leaning too heavily on any of these models. God has given us models in Scripture to use – so those must be the primary models that shape our understanding of the nature of the church.