Ephraim Radner’s A Brutal Unity is a massive 470+ page tome that’s written by an academic to fellow academics.
The book is incredibly dense. Thus the average Christian reader would find it difficult to wade through. However, academicians will find it full of “startling insight, extraordinary erudition, and is replete with theological implications,” so says Stanley Hauerwas of Duke Divinity School.
Since I’ve treated the anatomy of church division and unity in Reimagining Church, the questions and content weren’t new to me. Albeit, my treatment of it is written in a popular and accessible style and I come to several different conclusions from Radner.
By contrast, Radner is like a scientist who is trying to understand in minute detail of what church unity means exactly, how it’s distinct from oneness, and the horrors of division.
One thing I wish he would have done is define what he means by “Church” at the outset. I’ve hammered away at this many times, but writers keep stumbling with it.
“Church” . . . what do you mean? Do you mean all the Christians in the world? Do you mean the body of Jesus Christ? Do you mean the Protestant Church? The Catholic Church? The Reformed Church? Do you mean the organism that the NT describes as the ekklesia? Do you mean the organic expression of the church? What do you mean?
This was never made entirely clear to me.
Radner touches many different areas related to church unity. He delves into liberalism and its failures (as he sees it) and how they relate to a fractured church. He raises the question as to why Christians say the church is united and one when, at least empirically, it clearly is not. As far as solutions go, he states broad principles that are spiritual truisms (look at Jesus, and you’ll see the church. Where Jesus is, there too is the church, etc.). Truths, indeed. But as far as practical applications, I’m not sure he succeeded.
Albeit, I personally think the problem of division is unsolvable. What can be done, however, is for local expressions of the body of Christ to take a unique stand for unity. To plant their flag on the hill saying, “with malice toward none but charity toward all, we strive to plant our feet with the unity of the body of Christ come hell or Hiawatha. Christ and Christ alone is our only basis for unity. Thus we receive all whom He has received and we stand against a sectarian spirit in whatever form in which it manifests.”
I have given my own thoughts on what that looks like in other places. Suffice it to say that Radner has written a weighty book on the subject. One that will especially interest those who enjoy reading large academic tomes.
This post is part of the sponsored Patheos Book Club.