Practical Prophetic Ecclesiology: Part 3

After addressing the nature of the practical-prophetic task and blueprint eccleisologies in the first two chapters, this post will look at the remainder of the volume. Building upon the first two chapters, Healy proposes that the way forward in ecclesiology is by way of a “theodramatic horizon.” nicholas-healyBorrowing heavily from Balthasar Healy writes, “Balthasar contends that theological discourse should reflect the true nature of revelation and Christian existence prior to the eschaton. The relations between God, world and church are best conceived, he believes, as something rather like a play. The play can best be described in terms of one or other of two main types of Christian horizons and theological styles, the epic and the dramatic” (53).

This bifurcation allows Healy to shuffle modern blueprint theologies into epic construals, highlighting his critique that ecclesiology has focused primarily on the eschaton rather than as the broken pilgrim church. The dramatic orientation of the church is seen to parallel the scriptures and the movement of God both pro nobis as well as God’s life ad intra: “This in a way analogous to (and dependent upon) the way the Father makes room for the Son within the Godhead, God gives us a place on the stage where we may make our free response in gratitude” (62). But this response, being free, is tainted with sin. The church, as the church in via, is caught in between the times, and therefore ecclesiology must address this specific scenario.

The theodramatic horizon Healy offers, based on following Balthasar’s understanding of divine and human agency, gives a theologically laced reality to the “non-church.” Healy explains,

Within a theodramatic perspective the non-church world becomes theologically-laden, for it cannot be understood as independent of God’s activity. And since the Holy Spirit is present and active not only within the church but in what is non-church, sometimes a fruitful relation – though one that must remain thoroughly tensive – can arise between the church and the non-church. The church can learn from what is non-church” (69).

This final line is a major aspect of what Healy proposes in his practical prophetic ecclesiology. This does not diminish the uniquness of the church, but it forces the church to humbly listen for prophetic voices beyond the horizon of Christian sub-culture. In other words, “Ecclesial life takes the form of a grand, never-ending experiement. If we are to play our evolving roles as we should, we should engage in ongoing and self-critical evaluation of our ecclesial thought and action, i.e., practical-prophetic eccleisology” (75).

After developing this framework, Healy works through pluralist ecclesiologies (chapter 4) and then offers a theological response to these (chatper 5), followed by inclusivist ecclesiologies (chapter 6) and the inherent issues and questions raised therein. For the remainder of the post, I focus on the last chapter, entitled simply, “Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology.” This final chapter does more of what I hoped Healy would do in the book itself, namely, argue towards how the church should view these various disciplines that the church must take seriously as it seeks to address the mission, calling and life of the body (philosophy, sociology, psychology, history, etc.). In this chapter, Healy looks at four “stances” regarding these in relationship to religion: atheist, agnostic, religious and theological. In reflecting upon these categories in relation to sociology, Healy states,

The church’s survival in the midst of change is not the point of the inquiry; the point is to discern the movement of the Spirit in our midst so as to improve our witness and discipleship. The theologian therefore undertakes her work in an engaged, even prayerful manner, rather than with the disinterested objectivity or humanist agenda of the academic agnostic sociologist” (166).

Healy later adds that, “trust is discerned through engagement with those who are other than ‘we’ are: with the Spirit, with those Christians with whom we disagree; and with those outside the church” (170). This seems to be Healy’s main objective, to help the church become a listening church beyond the bounds of its own understanding, but nonetheless listening with a Christian ear. Here, I think, Healy is right. I’m not convinced it is the greatest need for the church right now, nor do I think that taking up this task necessarily pushes against the dogmatic task, but I think Healy’s point remains. The church needs to learn how to address the world and the academy Christianly. This, of course, raises many questions.

As I think through this proposal more, I think my frustration is that, as an evangelical, I am sick and tired of seeing our churches eat the crumbs beneath the world’s table, failing to reflect theologically on the church and its tasks. Healy on the other hand, being Catholic, is probably at the opposite end of the spectrum. I am curious about other’s experiences with ecclesiology across a variety of denominational lines. Do you resonate with Healy or with my sentiments? Any thoughts?

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One thought on “Practical Prophetic Ecclesiology: Part 3

  1. Ben Quash, Theology and the Drama of History (Cambridge, 2005), makes a similar bifurcation between epic and dramatic theological modes.

    Quash, also listening instently to Balthasar, suggests that putting theology into the dramatic mode allows one to more effectively grasp that as theologians “we do not ‘procede’ our material”, “we are bound to take up the interpretive task from a position always already ‘in the middle’ of life. We are always already players in the movement of this drama” (26-7; something epic conceptions fail to achieve). It is a good piece of writing even if you don’t find all his arguments convincing.

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