Authored by: Scot McKnight

The Routledge Companion to Modern Christian Thought

Print publication date:  March  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415782173
eBook ISBN: 9780203387856
Adobe ISBN: 9781136677922


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Alongside words for God, including Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and flowing from and out of that Trinity (Volf 1998), the three most important words in the Bible are Israel, kingdom, and church, and church itself is found in the Bible under a host of images (Minear 1975; Watson 1979). While Roman Catholics are trained to think in terms of church, but not just as a local place led by a charismatic pastor-preacher, and while there are shifts in Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium and in the interpretation of Pope Benedict XVI since their publication (Dulles 2006), for Roman Catholics the church is fundamentally a mystical communion of the people of God, though it is also the place of connection to Peter and to the eucharist (Ratzinger 1996; Tillard 2001). With significant overlaps in theology, the Orthodox understand the church more in terms of the icon of the Trinity as well as a Spirit-led conciliar communion with the great tradition (Ware 1997). For Protestants the church is the people of God, but there is a tendency to engage in ecumenical efforts and to focus more on Word than on eucharist while also giving attention to personal salvation, mission, and activism (Jenson 1997), with this personal and missional emphasis particularly emphatic in many forms of evangelicalism (Stibbs 1974; Watson 1979). If ecclesiology is framed on a spectrum from high and strong to low and weak, Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy are in the high/strong, while Protestant evangelicalism (including charismatic movements and Pentecostalism as well as non-denominationalism), which tends to eschew historical heritage, hierarchical structures above the local church, and ecumenical efforts designed to foster unity, forms the other end of the spectrum (Stibbs 1974). As some evangelicals are attempting their own form of ressourcement (Husbands and Greenman 2008), there is the stubborn reality that all three groups emerge from the same church history and appeal to the same Scripture, though each appeals in different ways to the potency of tradition.

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