I just finished Dr. Cheryl Peterson’s new book on ecclesiology, “Who Is The Church? An Ecclesiology for the 21st Century.” I then had an opportunity I speak with her. You can find a link to a recording of our conversation below.
Dr. Peterson begins with an illuminating chapter on American ecclesiology, tracing its roots from Puritan separatists. She shows how the narrative for a Christian America is in the water here, and how it compromises the historic message of the gospel.
Then she walks through several ecclesiologies. For the uninitiated, an ecclesiology is simply the study of the church. It seeks to answer the question, “What is the church?”
Peterson begins with the classic Reformation ecclesiology, in chapter two: Word-event. Whereas the church had grown to define itself as wherever bishops and papacy are, the Reformation understanding was that the true church was an event: wherever the gospel of Jesus was proclaimed and heard.
In chapter three she explores a more ecumenical communion-ecclesiology. The church is a communion, koinonia, the body of Christ. Cardinal Ratzinger, prior to becoming Pope, said this was the official ecclesiology of the church. It is Trinitarian perichoresis. The church is community as God in Trinity is community, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This has gotten much traction in ecumenical circles. Anglicans and Reformed now understand themselves as a communion. The Lutheran World Federation has now added a tag line: “LWF: A Communion of Churches.”
The challenge with these two ecclesiologies is that they grew out of the age of Christendom. They assume an influential church at the center of society. They don’t reflect a sent-church increasingly marginalized that must see itself as a missionary church. In chapter four she explores a mission-focused ecclesiology, starting with Leslie Newbingen (Anglican theologian and Bishop of India. He challenged the churches of the West to see their own contexts as mission fields. She moves on to reformed theologians Guder and van Gulder. This ecclesiology is based on sending. God the Father so loves the world, he sends the Son. Father and Son send the Spirit. Father, Son and Spirit send the church. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
She then proposes using a George Lindbeck narrative ecclesiology. She wants, however, to begin with the Spirit. We need a third article ecclesiology. She uses the theology of Acts to demonstrate how in the narrative Jesus constitutes the church in 1:8, “You will be my witnesses.” She then explores the traditional marks of the church in the Nicene Creed: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Here she understands not in the patriotic sense of faithfulness to apostolic tradition, but in the older biblical sense of being sent into the world. This truly is an ecclesiology for the 21st century. Her epilogue suggests ways the church in the ground can live into this by eliminating the word volunteer, immersing people in the biblical narrative, focusing on creating a right spirit in the community, learning to tell our own faith testimony.
Here’s the audio of the interview: http://traffic.libsyn.com/bishopmike/Cheryl_Peterson_Interview_10-18-13.mp3