A Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology

I am going to be spending some time working throughnicholas-healy Nicholas M. Healy’s book, Church, World and the Christian Life: Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology (thank you to Cambridge University Press for a review copy). Healy claims that his book focuses more about ecclesiology than being an actual exercise in the discipline of ecclesiology, which, as we will see, ends up being more than just a formal point but a material one as well. In Healy’s own words,

I have been drawn to the present inquiry in part by the impression that while the ecclesiology of the last hundred years or so has been sometimes profound, and its impact upon the church also sometimes profound, it has not been as helpful as it could be for the Christian community…in general ecclesiology in our period has become highly systematic and theoretical, focused more upon discerning the right things to think about the church rather than orientated to the living, rather messy, confused and confusing body that the church actually is” (3).

Healy suggests that a theology which focuses on the pure essence of church will do so to the detriment of the church and its tasks. The church, and theologians, stand under God’s free reign and rule, and as sinners, always remain part of the problem. Put in ecclesial terms: “The church, although orientated to, and governed by, the solution [God], still remain part of the problem” (12).

Healy calls the church to remember the baptismal claim, which is, minimally, that the way of Jesus is actually better than other ways of living. This claim must be tempered by the sinful reality of the church, therefore, in Healy’s words,

To the extent – and only to the extent – that the church, in the Spirit, orientates itself to the Father through Jesus the Christ, it is superior to all other religious and non-religious bodies” (18)

In other words, as a pilgrim church with “tears among the wheat,” we are never the answer, cure or solution – but we partake of the solution in so far as we are oriented to Him. Therefore, in order to do so within the doctrine of ecclesiology, ecclesiology itself must be reconfigured around the practical and prophetic rather than simply systematic. It is this point that I am most interested in, that a dogmatic discussion without a proper practical orientation only hinders true ecclesiology. This, I suppose, could either be incredibly profound or amazingly mundane. We’ll have to wait to see.

In terms of engagement with this concept, how do you think a proper account of ecclesiology should be developed? Do we start, as some would, with an account of Trinity in se? Would the focus be more upon locating the discussion itself or upon community practices and a way of life which embodies the way of Jesus? Any thoughts?

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4 thoughts on “A Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology

  1. Yes, good points James. We are always wrestling with questions about the “work” any given doctrine might be asked to do in a theological system – perhaps we have overlooked the possibility that the spacefighting trees could do the work of our ecclesiology. Hmm.

  2. Maybe the spacefighter trees do more work under the “prophetic” rather than the practical. If we are missionally engaging the spacefighter trees, as resident aliens ourselves (both on our planet and others), there needs to be a prophetic filter to what worldly (other or not) elements are allowed in any practical-prophetic schema.

    Say, for instance, practically speaking, we seek to develop an ecclesiology at home among spacefighter trees – say, by adopting the very method Healy worries about, a “supermodel” conception of ecclesiology, not communal or sacramental, but an adaption of the vine imagery in John 15 with the extrabiblical flourish of ray-guns. Therefore the general ecclesiological model would be ray-gun touting vines which may very well speak practically to spacefighter trees.

    Once again though, the prophetic questions remains – is this true to the gospel? It could create a Driscollian flavor of the gospel if the trees actually do believe, leaving them making claims about not being able to follow a vine they can beat in a ray-gun fight.

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