Extremely Rough Draft Written Quickly Tonight. I just want to know – does it makes sense?
Chapter 1: The Turn to the Visible
“Consensus of much recent ecclesiology has been to confirm the correctness of Bonhoeffer’s judgment: no ecclesiology can be adequate which does not give primacy to the church’s visibility.” John Webster.
In recent years, evangelical theology has experienced a growing sense of interest in the visibility of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The lately departed Robert Webber, prophetically pronounced that ‘younger evangelicals’ have a desire for ‘a more visible concept of the church.’. Some evidence of the fulfilment of this prediction can perhaps been observed in ‘Federal Vision’ ecclesiology and notable conversions of theologians to the Roman church.
The turn to the visible among ‘Federal Vision’ proponents is in part, an attempt to redress deficiencies within the Reformed tradition. Peter Leithart writes: ‘A central contention of the “Federal Vision” position is that Reformed theology, with its strong doctrine of God’s sovereignty and absolute election, has sometimes neglected the significance of the visible church, its ministries, and its sacraments’.
The recent conversions of Francis Beckwith and Rusty Reno from their denominations to the church of Rome, is also in part, a turn to the visible. Beckwith found himself attracted to the concrete practices of the Roman church: ‘It’s important to allow the grace of God to be exercised through your actions. The evangelical emphasis on the moral life forms my Catholic practice with an added incentive. That was liberating for me.’ Reno found the ecclesiology of John Henry Newman an ‘accelerant’ as Newman saw the basis for the Christian life as the ‘visible Church, with sacraments and rites and channels of invisible grace.’
Visibility: the ‘New Ecclesiologies’
Amidst the force of this trend towards the visible church, a so-called ‘new ecclesiology’ has emerged. The term ‘new ecclesiology’ is described by Theodora Hawksley as referring to ‘those who strongly affirm the significance of the historical, concrete church and its practices for theological accounts of the Christian life.’ Further, Hawksley describes the ‘new ecclesiology’ as that which ‘typically considers the concrete life of the church as the primary context for theological reflection, rather than its idealised form.’ The ‘new ecclesiology’ is perhaps best understood as a sensibility characterised as having neo-orthodox influences from Karl Barth, through Hans Frei, and with post-liberal tendencies from George Lindbeck and Alisdair MacIntyre.
One such example is that of Stanley Hauerwas, whose 2001 Gifford Lectures critiqued Karl Barth’s ecclesiology as not being concrete enough. According to Hauerwas, Barth cannot ‘acknowledge that, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are made part of God’s care of the world through the church.’ Hauerwas’ lecture is indebted to the work of Joseph Mangina and the early work of Nicholas Healy. Mangina critiques Barth’s ecclesiology as having a ‘short-circuited’ pneumatology and thus ‘an odd hiatus between the church (in a full theological sense) and the ordinary, empirical practices of the Christian community across time.’, and Healy similarly critiques Barth’s ecclesiology ‘as having a strong tendency towards an abstract and reductionistic ecclesiology.’
Two other voices rising amongst the ‘new ecclesiology’ chorus are Reinhard Hütter, and the late Philip Rosato. Hütter disapproves of the lack of visibility in Barth’s ecclesiology since it is predicated upon a ‘strict diastasis between Spirit and institution.’ Rosato echoes this concern in Barth’s ecclesiology: ‘[a]lthough the Spirit is theoretically given much space in the treatment of the Christian community in the Church Dogmatics, Christ so controls the being of the Christian that the Spirit’s mediating function becomes rather lifeless.’ (Rosato, 185).
Thus we find in Hauerwas, Mangina, Healy, Hütter and Rosato, the sensibility of the ‘new ecclesiology’ whereby reflection on the messy reality of the historical-concrete, visible church is the locus of attention.
Invisibility: the ‘Counter Ecclesiologies’
In contrast to this turn to the visible, a minority of voices are crying out in the wilderness for a turn in the opposite direction. John Webster aims to propose ‘an evangelical sed contra: rather than focus on the church as a visible community of practices, contemporary ecclesiology would do well to recover a proper sense of the church’s invisibility.’ Likewise, Keith Johnson notes that ‘evangelicals who want their actions “to count” in Hütter and Beckwith’s sense are burdening themselves with the responsibility of what should be God’s work.’ Thus we have not only ‘new ecclesiologies’ which are marked by a flight into the visible church, but also ‘counter ecclesiologies’ which are marked by a flight from it.
Ecclesiology and Pneumatology: How Much to Claim for God?
At this point we need to carefully navigate our way through the two poles of ‘new ecclesiology’ and ‘counter ecclesiology’. The dangers of pushing these poles to their limits are on the hand, an over-inflated role of the visible Church, as if it were the Christus Prolongatus in toto, and on the other hand, merely an instrumental role for the Church, as if it were the dispensable means to something essentially external to it. Yet as Vanzhoozer warns us: ‘The church cannot be adequately understood unless one gives an appropriately ‘thick description’, one that goes beyond the human categories of sociology, even beyond the notion of ‘community practices’. To describe all that the church is, one must have recourse to properly theological categories. For the church is, in the final analysis, a theological community.’ (Vanhoozer, ‘Essay’ in Evangelical Futures, 71)
The question at hand is how much the Church can claim on God’s behalf? More precisely, the question concerns the theological ‘location’ at which the Spirit works in the concrete, visible church. Those of the ‘new ecclesiology’ tend towards understanding the Spirit’s ‘location’ in the nexus between the invisible and visible church in such a way as to weight the Spirit’s work visibly. Those of the ‘counter ecclesiology’ tend towards the opposite, location the Spirit’s role in ecclesiology to a hidden or ‘spiritual’ visibility behind the concrete and visible church. Thus an exploration into this pneumatological ‘location’ would likely inform the configuration of the invisible and visible aspects of ecclesiology. Therefore, the flashpoint for our research project is the following question: ‘What is the ‘Pneumatological Location’ of the Nexus between the Opus Dei and Opus Hominum in Theological Descriptions of Church?’
(Webster, ‘Visible Attests’, 97)
 Robert Webber, The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2009, 194. Webber continues to point out that ‘younger evangelicals’ desire ‘an embodied presence of God’s reign in an earthed community.’ (109)
 Peter Leithart, Prebyterian Identity Crisis, http://www.leithart.com/archives/002784.php
 Christianity Today interview with Francis Beckwith. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/mayweb-only/119-33.0.html last accessed 9.10.2011 2:06pm)
 ‘Out of the Ruins’ in First Things, Feb 2005 (http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/out-of-the-ruins-3)
 Hawksley, 180.
 Hawksley, 180.
 Stanley Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe, London: SCM Press, 2001, pp. 145, 202.
 (Mangina, 270, Healy, Logic of KB, 263.
 (Suffering Divine Things, 115)
 (Webster, ‘Visible Attests’, 97)
 Keith L. Johnson, ‘The Being and Act of the Church’ in ‘Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism’, 223.
 A similar point made by Bender concerning evangelical ecclesiology. (Bender, ‘KB and Evangelicalism, 194)
 Quote Hutter or Mangina (Bearing the Marks…) on this.
 As per Webseter, ‘Spiritual Attests’ (100-104)