By the Cross Investigations Group

The Cross Investigations series encourages pastors, professors, authors, and bloggers to explore questions of import to the church in a coherent and cooperative manner. Every two weeks, a question will be posed to the group, and individual responses will be featured as they arrive at the Cross and Culture blog on the Evangelical Portal. One week after the question is sent, the answers will be gathered together into a single article. We hope that reflecting together will stimulate thought, focus conversation, and ultimately prove more edifying to online readers and to the church more generally.

The Question for Cross Investigations #1 is:
"Evangelical churches are showing renewed interest in theology and theological training. If the church in America could recover one area of doctrine or theological tradition (i.e., ecclesiology, pneumatology, doctrine of God), what should it be?"

The respondents (in alphabetical order) are:
David Buschart, Professor of Theology and Historical Studies at Denver Seminary
Andy Crouch, Senior Editor of Christianity Today International
Timothy Dalrymple, Manager of the Evangelical Portal at Patheos.com
Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary
Danny Hall, Senior Pastor at Valley Community Church in Pleasanton, California
Daniel Harrell, Associate Pastor at Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts
C. Michael Patton, founder and President of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries
Mark D. Roberts, Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge


David Buschart is Professor of Theology and Historical Studies, and Associate (Academic) Dean, at Denver Seminary:

I find it a difficult but interesting discipline to single out one doctrine. The doctrine of God is most foundational of all, and perennially a fruitful locus of reflection. Our contemporary cultural context, which includes forays from cloning to the movie Avatar, makes anthropology a particularly strategic doctrine right now. And, evangelicals have only recently (in the past twenty years or so) begun to seriously revisit questions of theological method. It would be easy to propose this as the area to which we should give attention. But, for our purposes here, I will commend the topic of ecclesiology.

I have some pause in making this proposal. For about twenty years, observers from both within and without evangelicalism have bashed evangelicals for our excessively "low" or non-existent ecclesiology. (I happen to agree with many of the observations that are typically made in this regard.) And, it will not be surprising if other respondents to your query also point to ecclesiology. Be that as it may, I commend it as an important and potentially fruitful of theological renewal because, among other reasons, it inevitably entails consideration of a number of other important topics which also warrant the attention of evangelicals in particular.

Thoughtful engagement with the question of ecclesiology can help evangelicals come to the realization that evangelicalism is not an ecclesio-theological tradition in the way the Reformed or Methodist or Pentecostal traditions are. And, having come to this realization, they can relieve evangelicalism of the (unrealistic) burden of expecting it to carry the ecclesiastical and spiritual freight that only ecclesio-theological traditions can. Such traditions are capable of deep, thick descriptions of Christianity and Christian life, both individual and corporate, and thus can form, as they historically have, rich traditions of Christian life grounded in churches that provide shape for everything from Christian initiation and burial, to the nurture of children and of new believers, to frameworks for engaging in mission and engaging society. Evangelicalism alone, by its very definition and nature, is, as a number of observers have pointed out, "not enough." This does not mean that evangelicalism is bad or that, as some have suggested, it is a vacuous concept, a useless misconception, or a myth. It simply means that evangelicalism qua evangelicalism cannot, by definition, have a deep, rich ecclesiology. But -- and here is an important distinction -- this does not mean that evangelical Christians cannot have high ecclesiologies. Evangelical Christians can, and should, be deeply ecclesiological, with a theology of Christian life that sees that life as indispensably anchored in and guided by church.

More could be said about, for example, the way reflection on ecclesiology forces us to consider the ways in which God's relationship to humankind is or is not mediated, or the ways that a robust ecclesiology can challenge in healthy ways characteristically western and American sensibilities, but I've already gone long.

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Andy Crouch is a Senior Editor at Christianity Today International, on the editorial board for Books and Culture, and author ofCulture-Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling:



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Timothy Dalrymple is Manager of the Evangelical Portal at Patheos.com:

What is most sorely needed amongst the evangelical churches in America today is, in my view, a rich and thoroughgoing theology of the cross.  Most Protestants (indeed most Christians, with the proper qualifiers and definitions) can affirm some form of the Reformation solas: sola gratia, sola fidei, solus Christus, and sola scriptura.  What we have lost -- many of us, at least, including myself -- is the striving and the earnestness that made possible Luther's staggering Reformation breakthrough.  That is, we no longer strive with every bone, muscle, and tendon to conform our lives to the life of Christ.  It is good to rest in grace; it is not good to rest in grace (if it were possible) before the need for grace has even been confronted. And, after grace has been received in faith, it is not good to rest in grace (if it were possible) as though the race were already run.  Salvation is not the end of the Christian life, but the beginning of the life of Christ within us.

Thus a proper theology of the cross is always also a theology of the imitation of Christ, a theology not only of the cross of Christ but of the cross that each and every one of us is called to bear daily (Luke 9:23).  This does not mean that we take our salvation into our own hands; it means that we are constantly aware of the need for divine mercy because we constantly seek and are constantly aware of our inability to walk in the very footsteps of Jesus.

A proper theology of the cross holds our salvation and sanctification together in a single coherent vision.  As we strive in gratitude and love to live the life of Christ, our character is shaped into the likeness of Christ, and our minds are conformed to the mind of Christ.  The cross points the way to a radically counter-cultural vision of the true, the good, and the beautiful.  Indeed it shows that the world almost always has these things upside down.

Finally, a proper theology of the cross shows the way both to individual and to social transformation.  Much of what I find valuable in the emerging church and social justice movements (in spite of what I perceive to be their faults) is, I think, an effort to find an authentic theology of the cross.  The theology of the cross shows how seriously God takes suffering, and how God identifies with those who are scorned and persecuted.  God did not merely enter into our sin and suffering, but He overcame and transformed them from the inside out.

So if there is momentum today for theological renewal, let it be a theology that is nailed to the cross, lashed to the sufferings of individuals and of the world, tied close to the inversion of worldly goods and values and to the everyday striving and yearning and need for grace that characterize the Christian life.

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Douglas Groothuis is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary.He blogs at The Constructive Curmudgeon:

It is encouraging that so many evangelicals are studying in the area of philosophy at institutions such as Denver Seminary and Talbot Graduate School. A rigorous understanding of philosophy is necessary for philosophical theology, the study of the rational foundations of theological affirmations. Given the attacks of the New Atheists and of secularism in general, Christianity needs to be presented as true, rational, and pertinent to all of life. Christians engaging philosophy as ministry are well equipped to that end.

 

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Danny Hall is Senior Pastor of Valley Community Church in Pleasanton, California:

It is tempting to say that ecclesiology is the crucial area that evangelicals should re-capture, as how we define and practice church is core to everything we do. However, as a pastor, I see another area that impacts people at an even more fundamental level. That area is Biblical anthropology. The very nature of pastoral work means that daily we encounter the problems and dysfunctions of broken humanity. I would further argue that even as we articulate a better ecclesiology, the ability of our people to engage with that is severely limited by that brokenness.

What does it mean that we are each created in the image of God? What are the effects of sin and how has this marred the Imago Dei? What kind of healing has been made possible by the work of Christ? What hope do we have that there is real help for the consequences of our brokenness? Are we indeed moving toward becoming again all that it means to be human?

These are some of the questions that I think need to be explored more fully. In doing so we are moving people toward a more comprehensive health, a health that allows them to participate in the life of the Kingdom in far more productive ways.

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Daniel Harrell is Associate Pastor at the historic Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He is also author of Nature's Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith:

I would argue for a strong sense of eschatology -- not from the vantage point of fortune-telling, but from the vantage point of a secure future. The idea that God has so guaranteed our future that we can go ahead and start living it now would give a power and confidence to the church that seems at times to be missing.

 




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C. Michael Patton is founder and President of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, and the proprietor of the popular Parchment and Pen blog.

The evangelical tradition of the 20th century has a lot to commend it. Our emphasis on the Scriptures, the Gospel message proclaimed, and making the main things the main thing is very strong. Our ability to think outside the box can also serve the church well, as we can contextualize the Gospel with more relevance.

Our biggest problem comes in our ecclesiology. Not so much in the way we "do" church (although we do have many related problems here), but in our reverence for the church as the representative of Christ that goes back 2000 years. I once asked Bradley Nassif, an Orthodox theologian with evangelical sympathies, what he believed the biggest problem with evangelicalism is. He told me that we have "historical amnesia." Ouch. I agree. And to fit this into our current issue of ecclesiology, evangelicals don't realize that the churches we start and belong to fit into a 2000-year-old tradition of keeping the Gospel pure. The problem with our churches today is that we don't know where we have come from and, therefore, often lose sight of where we are going. The Gospel is easily corrupted in such an environment. Therefore, while many people proclaim a "gospel" in evangelicalism, it is starting to look like nothing that ever went before it. What legitimizes a church to be a church? That is a question we rarely ask. We need to start asking it and look to those who have gone before us for the answer.

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Mark Roberts is Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, author of books like Can We Trust the Gospels?, and a prominent blogger at MarkDRoberts.com.

Though it might seem like I’m cheating with this answer, I’d say that the American church needs most to recover (or uncover!) a fully biblical theology. I mean this literally. We need a truthful, and therefore expansive and engaging, understanding (logos) of God (theos), one that’s anchored to the Scripture and centered in the Incarnation. (I tried to summarize such a theology in 100 words for a recent Patheos conversation.)

Let me explain why I think it’s not cheating to say the American church needs theology, a right understanding of God. As I considered other doctrines that are badly needed in today’s church, I kept tracing the problem back to an inadequate or erroneous view of God. Take, for example, ecclesiology. The root problem in our notion and practice of church is our basic perception of God. We make church incidental when we fail to understand the relational (triune) nature of God. We make church “all about me” when we neglect God’s Lordship. We think worship is primarily a matter of our emotional experiences when we ignore God’s glory. We turn church into a club when we lose touch with the seeking love of God. We allow church to be too otherworldly when we forget God as Creator. We make church an end in and of itself when we neglect the mission of God. We make a sport of dumping on the church when we disregard God’s love for the church. And so forth and so on. As long as our doctrine of God is inadequate (not that any theology will ever fully comprehend God), all the rest of our doctrines will follow suit. When we get the basics of God right, then the rest of our beliefs can be built on a solid foundation.

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For the next Cross Investigation, come back to the Evangelical Portal next week.