The church in evangelical theology and practice

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leanne van dyk

When Christmas Day fell on a Sunday in 2005, a minor religious and cultural furor erupted, as reported by American news organizations, when several leading evangelical churches decided to cancel their Sunday morning worship services. This was because Christmas was a "family day,'' said church spokespersons. One leader observed that it would not be "convenient" for parents to have to deal with excitable children, have Christmas breakfast, and then change clothes and come to church. After all, people could go to one of the scheduled Christmas Eve services - there was nothing special about Sunday.

What aroused the most comment on this story was the fact that these were evangelical churches-accustomed to bearing the torch of conserving cultural and religious traditions, not discarding them. So, this event was a particular shock to cultural observers. But what was also interesting, yet unacknowledged by editorialists on the front pages of newspapers, was the ecclesiology that such an action revealed, at least among American evangelicals.

This chapter will explore this broad question via historical, descriptive, and constructive approaches. I will propose a version of a renewed evangelical ecclesiology that has continuity with evangelical history and articulates both a broad theological vision and practical fruitfulness.

historical roots and markers

It has often been said that evangelicalism lacks an ecclesiology, or at least a coherent ecclesiology. Stan Grenz believes this is because of the historical foundations of evangelicalism.1 ''Evangelicalism's parachurch ethos works against the ability of the movement to develop a deeply rooted ecclesiological base from which to understand its own identity and upon which to ground its mission'';2 thus a brief survey of the historical roots of evangelicalism will help clarify the contours and the challenges of evangelical ecclesiology.

In the aftermath of the catastrophic religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there was widespread disillusionment with established church structures. As a result, some sought to find the "true" faith behind or within all the confessional hostilities that had so devastated Europe for over one hundred years. This longing for "purity" is one of the historical seeds of the evangelical tradition and it has momentous implications for evangelical ecclesiology. If the church is deemed the problem, then the solution, clearly, is a deep anti-church attitude. Accompanying this profound suspicion of established ecclesial structures that arose from enormous social upheaval were two streams of seventeenth-century religious development, pietism and religious awakening, both of which eventually flowed into contemporary British and North American evangelicalism.

A common feature both of early Methodism in England and the Great Awakening in America in the seventeenth century was an emphasis on personal experience and testimony. The community of believers, then, was the community of those who had personally experienced the grace of God and who could relate it to others.3 The intensely personal and individual nature of these experiences was captured in sermons, narratives, and hymns, as well as by untiring preachers like George Whitefield and John Wesley. It is an often observed, yet astounding fact, that Wesley traveled more than a quarter million miles in his lifetime, mostly on horseback.4 The spread of evangelical fervor that is associated with the Great Awakenings also found a ready home in the free-church movements with their antipathy toward hierarchical ecclesial structures and liturgical forms. Individualism and experientialism were two early markers of the evangelical ethos that have persisted to the present day.

Experiences of inner religious awakening naturally led to an anti-institutional, anti-ecclesial bias.5 In the place of ecclesial structures and institutions, the model of the church that emerged was that of a voluntary society, a model that has had momentous implications for the subsequent tradition of evangelicalism. Anti-institutional bias is not limited to eccle-sial structures but political structures as well. Although the factors are surely complex, it is at least worth noting that the same century that witnessed the two Awakenings in America also witnessed the colonial Revolution. Believers guided by the Holy Spirit, prayer, and Scripture no longer felt bound either by the traditions of the church's teaching office or the authority of the king, when he was deemed unjust.

In addition to the pietist and revivalist traditions that represent the primary historical roots of evangelicalism, Howard Snyder has identified additional historical sources as well.6 These have influenced evangelical ecclesiology in complex ways. First, the Anglo-Catholic and Reformed/ Lutheran traditions contributed to the evangelical tradition, in spite of evangelicalism's tendency to reject creeds, forms, and hierarchies. An often noted feature of the history of evangelicalism is that it has never replaced denominational structures. In fact, a 1996 poll by the Angus Reid Group in Toronto discovered self-identified evangelicals across a wide variety of denominations in the United States and Canada.7 Denominational distinctives, then, continue within the diverse evangelical tradition. This is so much the case that some observers of the contemporary evangelical scene conclude that the term is too imprecise to mean anything at all. D. G. Hart states, ''Instead of trying to fix evangelicalism, born-again Protestants would be better off if they abandoned the category altogether ... Evangelicalism needs to be relinquished as a religious identity because it does not exist.''8 Nathan O. Hatch agrees: ''In truth, there is no such thing as evangelicalism.''9 At the very least, the continuity of the historic denominational structures and the wide diversity of evangelical forms give force to this critique.

A second historical source of the evangelical tradition noted by Snyder is the radical Reformation and the free-church tradition, often carrying on a vigorous ecclesiological critique of the established churches. It is ironic that an original denial of ecclesial traditions is the establishment of a certain tradition of denial. This character of evangelicalism has been noted by George Marsden: ''Little seems to hold it together other than common traditions, a central one of which is the denial of the authority of traditions.''10 The ''tradition'' of denying traditions has had an impact on evangelicalism's ecclesiology, giving it a certain ad hoc character. Some contemporary impulses within evangelicalism are moving against this deep suspicion of historic traditions, however.11

Third, the revivalist traditions, distinct from the historical period of the Great Awakening, have influenced the evangelical ecclesial ethos. The names of Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Billy Graham are included in the long list of influential revivalist preachers that have marked the character of American evangelicalism. The influence and reach of Billy Graham on American evangelical congregations is impossible to overstate.12

Fourth, according to Snyder, democracy has been a powerful and unique shaper of the evangelical reality, especially in America. Certainly, strong attitudes of individual choice and voluntarism have entered into the evangelical character through the American experiment. An example of the assumption of personal choice can be seen in an article by Bruce Barron. Surveying the ongoing controversy surrounding women's ordination in some evangelical communities, Barron proposes a solution to the problem, drawing on the principle of individual ecclesial choice: ''But Protestants can easily move, if they wish, to a denomination whose view on women's ministerial roles matches their own.''13 Individual choice is the proposed solution to an ecclesial problem; this is uniquely suited to an American democratic, individualistic, modern, and market-driven mentality.

Finally, and related to democracy, is entrepreneurship. In a ''can-do'' context, easy accommodation has occurred between market values and the identity of the church. In such a pragmatic and utilitarian culture the church is expected to enhance its "clients," to distribute information, goods, and services to Christians, who are related to God as lone individuals.

evangelical ecclesiology: a diagnosis

An overview of the multiple historical roots and sources just observed perhaps makes it no surprise that scholars of the evangelical tradition often comment on its sheer variety and complexity.14 Such variety makes accurate description a difficult task for historians, sociologists, and theologians. Confusion over the word ''evangelical'' is not new. Both B. B. Warfield, the stalwart old-school Princeton theologian and Shailer Mathews, the social-gospel theologian, self-identified as ''evangelical,'' the first in 1920, the second in 1924.15 Although the word received fresh clarification after the fundamentalist-Modernist controversy and as it became distinguished from fundamentalism in the 1940s, it continues to the present day to cover a dauntingly wide array of religious, cultural, and intellectual opinion, style, ethos, and nuance.

Yet a discernible profile has emerged. According to David Bebbington, four key characteristics mark evangelical belief: crucicentrism, biblicism, conversionism, and activism.16 These characteristics emphasize salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the literal truth and authority of Scripture, conversion as a life-changing experience of commitment and relationship, and the necessity of active missionary efforts. These characteristics were identified by the 1996 Angus Reid survey given to three thousand Americans and are similar to other lists of evangelical markers.17 Noticeably absent in these common lists of evangelical characteristics are references to the church, including liturgy, worship, tradition, sacraments, ordination, or church government.

Ecclesiology, it would seem, is not an explicit part of evangelical identity. Some evangelical writers have noticed this apparent disregard for ecclesiology and have issued a call for renewal. In a feisty and prophetic book, David Fitch surveys the evangelical scene and concludes: "we must pursue the tasks of being the church again ... we must receive back from Christ the practices of being the people of God he has called us to be.''lS Fitch believes that evangelicals have sold out to secular culture, have lost their distinctive Christian voice, and have taken up the tools of the marketplace without thought for the cost of Christian witness: "For it is our own modernism that has allowed us to individualize, commodify, and package Christianity so much that the evangelical church is often barely distinguishable from other goods and services providers, self-help groups, and social organizations that make up the landscape of modern American life.''19

David Wells joins Fitch in his critique. He, too, decries contemporary evangelicals for their wholesale evacuation of the church and its doctrines and tradition in favor of the idioms of secular modernity. "The evangelical world has lost its radicalism through a long process of accommodation to modernity.''20 Other evangelical thinkers as well, including Robert Webber and Simon Chan, join in the call for evangelical transformation, much of it centered on a renewed sense of the church. If a keen and coherent ecclesiology has not been part of evangelicalism's past, there is a growing conviction that it is desperately needed for evangelicalism's future.

The focus of doctrinal energy in evangelicalism has long been on Jesus Christ and Scripture. Other doctrinal issues have also occupied attention, such as charismatic gifts, the extent of salvation, and the last days. But ecclesiology has not aroused much interest or energy. A recent book on issues in evangelical theology includes eighteen doctrinal topics that have interested evangelicals but does not include ecclesiology at all.21 When issues of ecclesiology have emerged, they have tended to focus on controversies of women's ordination, crises of leadership abuse or scandal, or innovations in worship style that push the boundaries of the community's identity. Ecclesiology, in other words, has tended to be marginalized to matters of polity, governance, finances, and leadership.

Some evangelicals criticize the lack of ecclesiology in the evangelical tradition.22 Of course, not all communities of faith explicitly state the ecclesiologies that shape them, but all do, in fact, have an implicit eccle-siology. It has often been noted, in parallel fashion, that ''noncreedal'' churches indeed have implicit creeds and "nonliturgical'' churches have implicit liturgies that shape worship. So, it is helpful to observe what evangelical theologians say explicitly about what evangelical ecclesiology is, in what respects they lament its shortcomings, and in what ways an ecclesiology is shaped by the practices and patterns that are often implicit and unarticulated.

Often a discussion of ecclesiology begins with the Nicene marks, identifying what the church ought to be. The church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The marks are then analyzed for their necessity and sufficiency for a true church. Some evangelicals have revisited the Nicene marks as a way of claiming continuity with the tradition. Although tradition has not always been a valued concept with evangelicals, the Nicene marks have been a point of reference for some.

They can also be a standard against which the evangelical tradition can measure its own practices. "We consider the four 'marks'... and compare these to what we see,'' says Edith Humphrey, who then proceeds to hold the broad evangelical tradition to the marks as contextual correctives.23 Unity and holiness are reflected characteristics from God's own self. They are as much a confession of faith as a call to obedience. For example, these marks may well judge and correct certain innovations or self-absorptions in worship. Catholicity or universality, in an evangelical context, is a call ''to orient ourselves so that we consider and participate in the entire church - past, present, and future; east, west, north, and south - and to recognize our place there.''24 This mark corrects an ahistorical evangelical tendency. It also corrects a persistent individualistic evangelical tendency. When the church is confessed to be ''catholic'' or ''universal,'' it is far bigger in God's purposes than the perimeters of individuals or families.

The apostolicity of the church has perhaps been the Nicene mark most embraced by evangelical instincts, but perhaps also most open to reduc-tionism. It is far more than a term of mission and outreach; the apostolic character of the church refers as well to the deposit of the faith, the historic and normative origin of the church's teaching and formation by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, it refers to the structures of the church's organization and authority. Protestant and evangelical communities that deny formal notions of apostolic succession can affirm a spiritual, yet embodied, sense of the church as the temporal location of Christ's teaching ministry.

Although the Nicene marks of the church can perhaps be a useful rubric of reflection and correction, and although they may receive broad acceptance as a necessary ecclesial identifier, they certainly do not mark off a sufficient evangelical ecclesiology, either in a normative or descriptive sense. The task of constructing an evangelical ecclesiology needs to be more attentive to the unique characteristics of the evangelical ethos. Yet, some of the most important descriptors of evangelicalism itself, including individualism, voluntarism, emotionalism often paired with anti-intellectualism, and charismatic leadership, may resist an explicitly formed ecclesiology. This cluster of characteristics suggests that evangelical ecclesiology will find greater resonance with the free-church tradition rather than the classic Nicene marks of the church and the normative ecclesiologies in continuity with them. Drawing on the unique character of the evangelical tradition, Grenz suggests that evangelicalism has no explicit ecclesiology because of its roots as a voluntary society.25

The limitations of the Nicene marks with respect to a full and adequate ecclesiology have long been recognized, however. A common response has been to add to the Nicene marks in normative ecclesiologies. The Protestant Reformers further specified the characteristics of a true, visible church: the preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments as well as proper church discipline. Twentieth-century thinkers have extended the list even more: Ecumenist Willem Visser't Hooft identified three key functions of the church, including witness, service, and fellow-ship.26 Dutch Reformed theologian Hendrikus Berkhof included nine elements of the church: instruction, baptism, sermon, discussion, Lord's Supper, diaconate, worship, office, and church order.27 John Howard Yoder identifies five practices of the Christian community which mark its life as a believing community, including binding and loosing, breaking bread together, baptism, charismatic body ministry, and congregational dialogue as the means of decision making.28

Some evangelical thinkers are relatively uninterested in ecclesiology, judging it to be a peripheral concern. ''When it comes to evangelical identity, I believe that ecclesiology and especially polity are secondary to the gospel itself,'' or ''Ecclesiology is important, yes. It is certainly interesting. But it is not saving.''29 Yet many evangelical theologians are keenly interested in retrieving a full-scale ecclesiology for the health of evangelical theology as a whole. For these theologians, the ecclesiological deficit in evangelicalism has not gone unnoticed.30 David Wells argues that modernity has weakened and eroded evangelical congregations and that only a reclaiming of right doctrine and a re-orientation to God as sovereign, holy, and other can give evangelical congregations the kind of identity they need to understand who they really are. Much of contemporary evangelicalism has taken on board a therapeutic understanding of the church and even a therapeutic theology. This is so utterly foreign to an authentic biblical understanding of God, people, and their relation, says Wells, that a complete reorientation is required.31 Although Wells does not draw out the implications of his critique into a constructive evangelical ecclesiology, others have drawn on such critiques and focused particularly on the church.

The ecclesiological imagination among evangelicals must expand, deepen, and grow more textured. But this ecclesiological deficit can only be overcome if the theological exploration is thorough and integrative. John Webster makes this observation: ''A doctrine of the church is only as good as the doctrine of God which underlies it.''32 If ecclesiology were understood to be an articulation of the character, acts, will, and purposes of God for the people of God, that would be a much broader and grander scope of discourse than the rather limited range of topics that often occupy what is assumed to be ecclesiology.

Several vigorous proposals concerning a constructive ecclesiology have recently arisen from those who identify with, or are sympathetic to, evangelical theology. These proposals have some potential to shape evangelical ecclesiology primarily because of their basic congruity with the doctrinal emphasis already present in evangelicalism's traditions. The practical effect of these nascent movements on evangelicalism itself, especially in its broadest sense, has yet to be measured and assessed.

The emergent church movement is one such movement that has potential to re-shape evangelicalism's ecclesiology. The emergent church is consciously associated with evangelicalism, although it has its own unique character. It is a relatively new movement with young leaders who are highly independent. Although loose relationships exist between emergent churches, there is no hierarchy, structure, donor base, or web of supporting organizations such as marks established evangelicalism. This gives the movement an independent, even idiosyncratic atmosphere. In addition, emergent churches are often deliberately postmodern, urban, hip, and eclectic. Yet there are some affinities between the emergent church and broad evangelicalism with definite efforts at communication and affiliation. These affinities make the emergent church conversation worth careful consideration among those interested in evangelical eccle-siology. For one thing, emergent church participants are keenly interested in classic Christian belief and practices. In addition, emergent church instincts run toward renewal, commitment, and activism.

Key differences between emergent conversations regarding the church and more broadly based evangelicalism include emergent's emphasis on the sacraments and liturgy, although both areas of church life find an increasing hearing among evangelicals as well. In fact, the focus of some evangelical leaders matches the concerns of some emergent church leaders, namely, a recovery of worship, liturgy, and sacraments.33

Robert Webber, the author of several well-known books on the emergent church, posts a website in which he makes explicit connections to evangelical principles and statements.34 Webber expands, in an emergent church direction, the 1977 Chicago Call, a statement which evangelical leaders signed affirming the basic doctrinal positions of historical evangelicalism and calling for a recommitment to those basics.35 On the website he invites those ''younger academic evangelicals'' who are interested to email their support and blog their comments. The thirty-six affirmations that will, at this writing, eventually be an ''emergent church call'' include some that are related to ecclesiology: calls to be the people of God, to creedal identity, to narrative worship, to sacramental life, to catechetical teaching, to servant leadership, and to Christian community. A profile takes shape of an emergent evangelical ecclesiology that is focused on sacramental worship grounded in the classic Christian tradition and faithful, aware, and active Christian living that is an organic fruit of that worship.

Another important evangelical conversation that focuses on the church is the missional church movement. The missional church conversation includes a wide network of pastors, theologians, and laypersons, including many evangelicals. Those who are conversant with missional themes and supportive of them also include mainline and Roman Catholic participants. Missional theology has the potential to have a major impact on evangelical ecclesiology because it articulates a vision of the Christian faith that reaches into every doctrine and every aspect of Christian living. The theological themes that find a coherent voice in missional theology are creation and eschatology - or God's ''first and final ends,'' Trinity and Incarnation, community and ethics, Spirit and life, all in an integrative vision. These are theological emphases that find strong affirmation, as well, in the broad evangelical tradition. For the most part, missional theology, networks, publications, and initiatives have been embraced by evangelicals. Although some have offered critiques, these have the tone of friendly insiders.36

According to this vision, the church is the people of God, called by God to embody ''a particular way of life that exemplifies the ontological reality of the eschatological future brought into the present by the incarnational reality of Jesus Christ.''37 This dense phrase is a fundamental challenge to ''business as usual'' in many evangelical congregations where ''church'' is understood to be a purveyor of religious goods and services for the enhancement of the individual's spiritual self.38 Missional theologians are convinced that the church is the people of God who are summoned to participate, in their particular context, in God's purposes and goals for the world. Those divine purposes and goals have been made known through Jesus Christ and will be fulfilled in God's future. But God's future breaks into our present in ways that can be seen and heard and felt concretely. These particular ways are the embodied gospel in the community of faith. In this way, missional theology is a prophetic vision concerning the call of the church in contemporary society. Convinced that the church is now in a cultural setting radically different from old paradigms of Christian cultural hegemony, [missional theology] wishes to articulate a vision of the church that challenges those old assumptions and summons the church to be an alternative community, a gospel community, an authentic witness to contemporary cultures.39

The vision of missional ecclesiology means that the church, contrary to much evangelical tradition, in a certain sense is not a voluntary society; it is the people of God, the body of Christ. It has, in other words, divine origin. The church is not a service organization whose purpose is to meet the spiritual needs of its ''customers.'' Rather, the church is a people that have been shaped by Jesus - a people who are moving with him toward the consummation of God's work of salvation.40 Being ''in Christ'' more accurately and fully describes the reality of the Christian believer rather than having a ''personal relationship with Jesus.''41 The ''success'' of the church is not measured by membership numbers or dollars but by faithfulness, which may well mean suffering by taking up the cross of Christ. The ''purpose'' of the church has already been revealed by God; the ''purpose-driven'' church is to participate in God's mission for the world. These affirmations are the heart of a missional/evangelical ecclesiology.

evangelical ecclesiology: a proposal

Both the emergent church movement, with its emphases on worship, liturgy, sacraments, and a return to the classic Christian tradition, and the missional theology conversation, with its critique of the church's enmesh-ment within secular modernity and its call for the church to take up the vocation of participating in God's own mission for the world, are encouraging initiatives within the fold of evangelical theology for a renewal of ecclesiology. Questions lurk at the edges, however: will an improved evangelical ecclesiology get to the heart of evangelicalism's ethos and practices? How can a clearly articulated theology reform hearts and minds, perhaps especially of young evangelicals who have been so thoroughly shaped by media and market? The 30 December 2005 New York Times reported on the culture of young adult evangelicals who ''shop'' for worship experiences with their friends, sometimes going to several gatherings for highly scripted, emotionally charged worship events.42 Crafting a coherent evangelical ecclesiology that articulates the divine origin and telos of the people of God is an important evangelical task, but overcoming the ''clergy-lay'' divide and the ''intellectual-lay'' divide in order to bring the entire tradition into this comprehensive and fruitful vision is a critical challenge.

A uniquely evangelical ecclesiology ought not only to overcome the deficits often noted in the evangelical tradition, but also celebrate the unique strengths of that tradition. The implicit suggestion in the title of a recent book on evangelical ecclesiology is that the Word of God is the organizing principle of an evangelical ecclesiology.43 This will be an ecclesiology much expanded from issues of polity and governance, an exposition of the classical marks, or urgent calls for renewals in worship. These are all matters of importance, to be sure, but a comprehensive evangelical ecclesiology must present a bolder and more ambitious theological and social vision.

The Word of God as a unifying motif has the potential for just such a theological and social vision. The referent of ''Word of God,'' a wonderfully multivalent biblical and theological term, is primarily weighted here in its Christological meaning, but including, as well, the full expansion of meanings, including Scripture and sacrament.

Such an evangelical ecclesiology would be, first, an incarnational ecclesiology because the Word of God took up human flesh for us and for our salvation in Jesus Christ. This basic Christian datum has rich implications for the life of the church. Jesus not only died and was risen; he also ascended and now lives. The church confesses an incarnate Christ who is present to the community of faith in Scripture, preaching, worship, sacrament, and service. John Webster says, ''Jesus Christ is alive, gloriously and resplendently alive, because alive with the life of God. He is risen from the dead, and so he is neither inert nor absent, neither a piece of the past nor one who possesses himself in solitude and remoteness; he is majestically and spontaneously present.''44 So, evangelical ecclesiology confesses that Christ is present to the church, sometimes in comfort, sometimes in judgment, always in promise and hope.

The practices of an evangelical congregation that lives out an incarna-tional ecclesiology of the Word of God would include ministries of justice and mercy in the name of Jesus Christ. These ministries would address the fleshly concerns of people - food, shelter, clothing, employment, health care, and access to legal protections. Practices would include, as well, prophetic resistance to deeply entrenched racism and sexism in church and society, and a call to repentance and reconciliation when these sins have marred the community.

Second, such an evangelical ecclesiology would be a Trinitarian ecclesiology, because the Word of God exists within a Trinitarian context in the divine economy. An adequate ecclesiology does not focus only on one or another divine person. Although a certain Trinitarian reductionism is often displayed in evangelical worship practices, sometimes tilted toward Jesus, sometimes tilted toward the Father, sometimes tilted toward the Spirit, evangelical ecclesiology will understand the Word of God to exist in full Trinitarian mutuality and unity. For this reason, the church exists as a people of the triune God and participates in the ultimate plans and purposes of the triune God.

The practices of an evangelical congregation that lives out a Trinitarian ecclesiology would include a wide range of worship commitments. Such a congregation will pay close attention to worship structures and music, keenly interested in how worship reflects and honors the richness of the divine community. Music will be selected not for its emotive power but its congruence to convey the story of the faith and reflect the community's union with the Father through the Son by the Spirit. Furthermore, the authority and inspiration of Scripture will be understood in a much richer context. In continuity with the evangelical tradition, a strong emphasis on the Bible will be valued, but it will be understood within the whole divine economy of salvation. The Bible will no longer be a litmus test of orthodoxy or an object to be guarded but the dynamic means of God's presence and activity in the community of faith, the means by which the Spirit of God forms the people of God.45

Third, such an evangelical ecclesiology would be a sacramental eccle-siology, because in the community of faith sacraments as well as Scripture present Christ. Evangelicals have often not embraced the sacraments, with notable exceptions, including the emergent church in recent years. Yet, as John Calvin points out, the ''office'' of the sacraments and the ''office'' of Scripture are one and the same - both set forth Christ and the grace that comes to us through Christ.46 Some evidence of a renewal of sacramental identity and practices is a hopeful sign for a whole and healthy evangelical ecclesiology.

The practices of an evangelical congregation that lives out a sacramental ecclesiology would include frequent references within worship and congregational life to our identity-shaping baptismal promises to each other. Practices also include frequent celebration of the Lord's Supper, which is a gift of God to the people of God not to be spurned or lightly regarded. Because God is pleased in the sacraments to nourish and support us through the Spirit by means of common, earthy elements - water, wine, bread - evangelical ecclesial practices shaped by the Word of God in a sacramental sense will also include tender attention to the common and the earthy. Children will not only be nurtured in the faith, but will also be provided safe environments and trained care givers. Good policies will be written and implemented to protect youth from any who might harm them in the community, a place that should be safe, but too often is not. Seniors will be respected and their particular needs carefully considered. These practices reflect a deep sacramental awareness.

Fourth, such an evangelical ecclesiology would be a proclamatory ecclesiology, because the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is present in the event of preaching through the power of the Holy Spirit. Here is a mark of an evangelical ecclesiology that is already well attested in evangelical theology and practice. The word is preached. Yet the connection in the divine economy between the written word in Scripture, the preached word in the sermon, and the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, needs to be clearer so as to avoid a mechanistic biblicism or idolatrous charismatic focus on the preacher. Although a constructive evangelical ecclesiology can be organized by the motif of ''Word of God,'' the persistent, gracious action of the Holy Spirit must also be recognized and integrated at every level in an evangelical theology.

The practices of an evangelical congregation that lives out a procla-matory ecclesiology would include a tangible commitment to Scripture, preaching, and communicating the gospel. This can be seen in many ways in congregational life: by the care and skill with which the Scripture is read in worship, by prayers for illumination before the reading of the Word, by sermons which are attentive to Scripture and how Scripture interprets us, by a willingness to be corrected by the broader Christian community of interpreters, and by eagerness to give witness to Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture.

Fifth, such an evangelical ecclesiology would be an eschatological ecclesiology because the church is sent by God to embody and proclaim the Word of God to a world that will be brought into ''life in the world to come,'' as the Nicene Creed says. So, God's future has already illuminated the church's present through Jesus Christ. The church need not live in fear and anxiety; rather, the church has every reason to be confident in God's promises for the restoration of shalom. There will be times that the church will be sorely tested. But, because Jesus Christ is risen and ascended, the people of God live in hope.

The practices of an evangelical congregation that lives out an escha-tological ecclesiology would include worship and ministries that express trust in God. Even in the language of lament, the congregation voices its security in being created, redeemed, and called by God. In its witness, the church expresses hope for the world. Witness, then, ought to be grounded in the promises of God rather than the fear that has sometimes seemed to characterize evangelism in certain sectors of evangelicalism. Witness that is grounded in God does not deny the ''no'' of God that has been revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ, but it does emphasize the ''yes'' of God that is proclaimed in the cross. In this witness, the standard for ''success'' is not solely or even predominantly quantitative growth or expansion. Rather, the standard for the church's self-evaluation is faithfulness to the patterns of the kingdom of God, patterns that have been revealed to the church in Jesus Christ.

The characteristics of an evangelical ecclesiology of the Word of God that have been proposed: incarnational, Trinitarian, sacramental, procla-matory, and eschatological, give contours to an ecclesiology that has continuity with an identifiable evangelical tradition yet seeks to address the deficits so often noted by evangelical observers. It is an ecclesiology that is theologically rich, worshipfully coherent, and practically fruitful.

Further reading

Bloesch, Donald G. The Church: Sacraments, Worship, Ministry, Mission. Christian

Foundations. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002. Clowney, Edmund P. The Church. Contours of Christian Theology. Downers Grove,

IL: InterVarsity, 1995. Guder, Darrell L. (ed.). Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North

America. The Gospel and Our Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998. Gunton, Colin E., and Daniel W. Hardy (eds.). On Being the Church: Essays in

Christian Community. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1989. Husbands, Mark, and Daniel J. Treier (eds.). The Community of the Word: Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005. Karkkainen, Veli-Matti. An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, Historical and Global Perspectives. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002.

Stackhouse, John G., Jr. (ed.). Evangelical Ecclesiology: Reality or Illusion?. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003.

Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity. Sacra Doctrina. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.


1. Stanley J. Grenz, Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-Theological Era (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000), pp. 288, 289.

4. Bruce Hindmarsh, "Is Evangelical Ecclesiology an Oxymoron?: A Historical Perspective,'' in John G. Stackhouse, Jr. (ed.), Evangelical Ecclesiology: Reality or Illusion? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), p. 28.

5. D. G. Hart, "The Church in Evangelical Theologies, Past and Future,'' in Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier (eds.), The Community of the Word: Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005), p. 40. Social scientists observe this anti-institutional bias as well in evangelicalism and posit it not only as a result of inner religious feeling but also as a result of social upheaval. Cf. R. C. Gordon-McCutchan, "The Irony of Evangelical History,'' Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 20. 4 (December 1981): 309-26.

6. Howard A. Snyder, "The Marks of Evangelical Ecclesiology,'' in Stackhouse (ed.), Evangelical Ecclesiology, pp. 93-96.

7. Mark A. Noll, American Evangelical Christianity: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), p. 31.

8. D. G. Hart, Deconstructing Evangelicalism: Conservative Protestantism in the Age of Billy Graham (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), p. 16.

9. Hart refers to this quote on p. 31 of Deconstructing Evangelicalism with reference to Nathan O. Hatch, "Response to Carl F. H. Henry,'' in Kenneth S. Kantzer and Carl F.H. Henry (eds.), Evangelical Affirmations (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie, 1990), pp. 97-98.

10. George Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 81.

11. The "emergent church'' is one example, which will be discussed later.

12. Graham's enormous importance makes the evolution of his views on inter-faith dialogue, political and social justice engagement, and hospitality toward persons with different views than the "orthodox'' evangelical line all the more important.

13. Bruce Barron, "Putting Women in Their Place: I Timothy 2 and Evangelical Views of Women in Church Leadership,'' Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33. 4 (December 1990): 451-59, p. 459.

14. Mark Noll describes evangelicalism as "diverse, flexible, adaptible, and multiform'' (American Evangelical Christianity, p. 14).

15. Hart, Deconstructing Evangelicalism, pp. 22, 23, referring to B. B. Warfield's essay "In Behalf of Evangelical Religion'' and Shailer Mathews's book The Faith of the Modernists.

16. David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), p. 3.

17. Noll, American Evangelical Christianity, p. 31. The poll was also given to the same number of Canadians, with similar results.

18. David E. Fitch, The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming The Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism, and Other Modern Maladies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005), p. 18.

20. David F. Wells, No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), pp. 295, 296.

21. Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002).

22. Thomas Howard, Evangelical is Not Enough (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1984) and D. H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999) are two authors, in addition to D. G. Hart, Deconstructing Evangelicalism, and several of the contributors to John Stackhouse's book, Evangelical Ecclesiology, who regret the absence of an evangelical ecclesiology.

23. Edith M. Humphrey, "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic,'' in Stackhouse (ed.), Evangelical Ecclesiology p. 137.

25. Grenz, Renewing the Center, p. 288.

26. Craig A. Carter, "Beyond Theocracy and Individualism: The Significance of John Howard Yoder's Ecclesiology for Evangelicalism,'' in Husbands and Treier (eds.), The Community of the Word, p. 180.

27. Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Study of the Faith, revised edition, trans. Sierd Woudstra (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), pp. 350 351.

28. Carter, "Beyond Theocracy and Individualism,'' p. 182.

29. Roger E. Olson, "Free Church Ecclesiology and Evangelical Spirituality,'' in Stackhouse (ed.), Evangelical Ecclesiology, p. 162, and Paul F. M. Zahl, "Low Church and Proud,'' in ibid., p. 215.

30. Both Mark Noll's 1994 book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans) and David Wells's 1993 book No Place for Truth lamented what they observed to be a decline in the state of evangelical theological commitment.

32. John Webster, "The Church and the Perfection of God,'' in Husbands and Treier (eds.), The Community of the Word, p. 78.

33. Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, forthcoming) is an evangelical writer whose interests are congruent with the emergent church interests.


35. Some of Robert Webber's recent books, published by a stalwart publisher of evangelicalism, include: Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (1999); Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (2004); and Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making Your Church a Faith-Forming Community (2003); all published Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

36. For example, John Bolt's review essay of George Hunsberger's chapter in Stackhouse (ed.), Evangelical Ecclesiology suggests that missional theology has a flawed cultural analysis. Cf. John Bolt, "Evangelical Ecclesiology: No Longer an Oxymoron?: A Review Essay,'' Calvin Theological Journal 39. 2 (November 2004): 400-11.

37. Alan Roxburgh, "The Church in a Post-Modern Context,'' in Confident Witness - Changing World: Rediscovering the Gospel in North America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 258.

38. An influential force in American evangelicalism in recent years is Rick Warren and his books The Purpose-Driven Life (2002) and The Purpose-Driven Church (1995; both Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan). The ecclesiology of these books can be said to be instrumental: the church exists to fulfill individuals. This is the evangelical ecclesiology that missional ecclesiology challenges at its foundations.

39. Leanne Van Dyk, "The Formation of Vocation - Institutional and Individual,'' in L. Gregory Jones and Stephanie Paulsell (eds.), The Scope of Our Art: The Vocation of the Theological Teacher (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), p. 230.

40. Darrell Guder, Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 129.

41. For an insightful critique of this evangelical phrase, see John Suk, "A Personal Relationship with Jesus?'' Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought 20. 5 (November 2005): 5-9.

42. Neela Banerjee, "Going to Church to Find a Faith that Fits,'' New York Times, 30 December 2005.

43. Husbands and Treier (eds.), The Community of the Word: Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology.

44. John Webster, "The Visible Attests the Invisible,'' in ibid., pp. 96-113 (p. 108).

45. Telford Work, Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), p. 216.

46. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), Iv.xiv.17.

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