Augustinian Ecclesiology? Scot Says Yes.

I must say, I agree with Scot’s assessment of the problem, if not his solution.  There’s an illness in evangelicalism, and it’s that everything is always worse than it used to be.  Teens are more pregnant, politicians are more corrupt, culture is less Christian, and, yes, the church is less relevant.  I think Scot’s right to point this out.  But what do you think of his suggestion that an Augustinian ecclesiology is the answer?

Everywhere I go and nearly everyone I read has a theme, whether central or peripheral, and I think the theme is getting too much attention and it’s getting too much play and it’s setting us up for failure.

Here’s the theme: the Church is so messed up.

Instances: preaching is not that good today; theology is so shallow today; Christian morals are so loose today; parents are not that good today; we’ve got too much individualism today; kids don’t respond as they used to; the church is spending too much money today; Christians aren’t liked in culture ….

The suggestion: Let’s start all over again. This time we’ll get it right. Let’s get ourselves a group of really zealous followers of Jesus and let’s think about kingdom and forget the choir robes and denominations and pastors and hierarchy and church budgets. Finally, we’ll get it right. We’ll just follow Jesus and we’ll forget the church. We’ll do kingdom work and forget the church.

Go ahead. Join the crowd. In a few years you’ll come back to something you either face now, in a more rational manner, or later in a more chastened manner, that is if you’ve got any passion left. Here’s my theory:

I want to say I believe in an Augustinian ecclesiology.

via Criticizing Church, Defending Church – Jesus Creed.

  • Josh

    Since Scot specified what he meant by “Augustinian” this way: “But if you want a gaggle of cracked Eikons, sinners and mistake-makers and sometimes goofed up and sometimes incredibly loving and joyous and devoted, then look to the church. You’ll find that kind of group, but not the perfect group.”, I can only say, “Amen, brother!”

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Sadly, this is the conclusion that many are coming to as you stated: “Let’s start all over again. This time we’ll get it right. Let’s get ourselves a group of really zealous followers of Jesus and let’s think about kingdom and forget the choir robes and denominations and pastors and hierarchy and church budgets. Finally, we’ll get it right. We’ll just follow Jesus and we’ll forget the church. We’ll do kingdom work and forget the church.”

    Why such an extreme reaction? Again, as many say, “The church is all messed up.” Constructive criticism is good, but I wonder if too much can drive us to extremes, sometimes even abandonment of the church.

    Sure, the church is a mess, but is it any more of a mess than other institutions in this society? Have we bought into the secular media’s bashing of Christianity to such an extent that we too have become Christ-bashers? Have we begun to atone for our sins by beating up on ourselves, having forgotten that the price has already been paid in full?

  • Kenton

    I echo Josh’s point. Scot’s definition of “Augustinian ecclesiology” changes the whole post. I’d say it’s one of Scot’s best ever.

  • Dan Hauge

    I’m wondering, Tony, just what aspect of Scot’s take do you disagree with? The notion that we aren’t perfect? That we’re flawed? I know you don’t agree with the notion of Original Sin, but it doesn’t seem to me that Scot’s analysis of ‘Augustinian ecclesiology’ depends on a specifically ‘original sin’ formulation. What is it exactly about the notion of ‘cracked Eikons’ that you find objectionable? It seems kind of self-evident to me, I must admit.

    • http://tonyj.net tony

      Dan, et al, Good point. I agree that we are ‘cracked eikons,’ and that I only want to be part of a faith community that recognizes and embraces that fact. It is, indeed, the dualism mentioned by Zach, inherent in Augustinian (read, Neoplatonic) thinking that I recoil from…

  • http://baptimergent.wordpress.com/ Zach

    Scot asks: “What ever makes us think the church has to be either perfect or we’ll stay home and do our own thing?”

    Who thinks this? Is this kind of thinking really the groundswell or is it implied from perspectives with divergent theological & ecclesial commitments? Just asking…

    Among the circles where I have been having conversations about the church the “theme” has often been the church’s inability to honestly confess Scot’s very correct statement – “But if you want a gaggle of cracked Eikons, sinners and mistake-makers and sometimes goofed up and sometimes incredibly loving and joyous and devoted, then look to the church. You’ll find that kind of group, but not the perfect group.”

    I agree with Scot about a “fellowship of cracked Eikons,” but I’d recommend parsing out the dualism-baggage that is inherent in Augustinian thought.

  • http://vanillatea.blogspot.com Julie

    Hmm. I’m not sure I see how the “Well, we’re human so we’re not perfect” line helps fix any ecclesial problems. Doesn’t it just excuse them?

    Clearly, I’m way too Wesleyan – I have no problem with the idea that the aim of the Christian life (in this lifetime!) is “perfection” or “perfect love”. Certainly, moving toward “perfection” (I use the quotation marks because Wesley’s “perfection” still allowed for human mistake, lack of knowledge, and bodily brokenness) is a process – a journey of sanctification – that no one can say they have ever completed. But the image of journey toward something – isn’t that an image that is more likely to encourage Christians to change the church for the better (with the help of the Holy Spirit)?

    Certainly Christians mess up – and certainly Christians need to be ever mindful of grace toward themselves and those around them. But messing up can’t be excused because Christians are “merely human” – being fully human means that Christians should always strive to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. As John Howard Yoder notes, this is not an impossible command – and “perfection” has everything to do with radical love.

  • Anthony

    I too am becoming skeptical of narratives of decline. Not sure if an Augustinian lens would be helpful. When you are in exile you already suspect you are cracked in some way. What we need is a more hopeful ecclesiology. How about an Isaiah-ian remnant ecclesiology?

  • Josh

    Julie, I see nothing in Scot’s post that is trying to excuse the current state of affairs. It all boils down to the question whether the attempt to do better is based on an idealistic image of ourselves and the church (which sets us up for failure) or on an honest admission of a brokenness that may gradually heal but still will accompany us for the remainder of our journey on this side of eternity (and maybe for quite a bit beyond that side as well!).

    Grace has never been meant to be misused as an excuse not to change. Without seeing our own desparate need for it, we’ll not only end up in disappointment but also be critical of others much more harshly than we ought to.

  • http://soulache.posterous.com Trey Lyon

    I agree with the Scot’s point, but I don’t want to call it Augustinian–mostly because Augustine has left us 1600 years of self-flagellating and self-loathing. Scot’s right in that the “let’s start over and get it right” is implicitly disingenuous–we’re all “Cracked vessels” as Paul, Scot and Cornel West would say. But we also are capable of such light and beauty.

    I want to embrace our humanity, but I don’t want to lose, malign or marginalize our capacity as a community to co-create with God a vision of what could be.

    Is it really “Augustinian ecclesiology” that’s necessary or just a healthy dose of humility? And if so, is that what the whole “emergent is dead” question really is?

  • http://richardinaz.blogspot.com Richard Jones

    I like Scot’s thoughts, but I’m not sure the “in a few years you’ll come back” is accurate. I think lots of people are not coming back (at least haven’t yet), and unfortunately (for me) that seems to be where the Emergent conversation is heading (along with the Practicing Church movement, which is one of the few ideas to really get my attention in the last few years).

  • http://www.dualravens.com/ravens Patrick Oden

    I’d prefer Cassian ecclesiology, that has a large dose of humility, discernment, and intent to press on in the fullness of God’s Kingdom even in the present, as the Spirit works in us and through us in this world.

    Cassian was the missionary who helped influence the direction of Celtic Christianity.

  • http://thisisamess.blogspot.com/ Andy

    I read this post at Jesus Creed also. I understand Scot’s argument and agree, mostly, but I struggle with this…

    “But if you want a gaggle of cracked Eikons, sinners and mistake-makers and sometimes goofed up and sometimes incredibly loving and joyous and devoted, then look to the church. You’ll find that kind of group, but not the perfect group.”

    I struggle we how we use the word perfect in this context (which is entirely subjective). And, even though I agree with the description of church above, I believe that the church still has a purpose and mission other than just existing in the mold described above.

    http://thisisamess.blogspot.com/

  • http://web.me.com/whitrmartin Whit Martin

    Tony,

    Can you explain what you ‘do’ believe concerning Original Sin if Dan was correct in his assessment of you? Just wondering what take you had on it. Thanks.

    My contribution: We are anything BUT Human. If we examine the Fall, we see very quickly that we went from ‘human’ (God’s original intention) to all BUT human (fallen from that original image). If Christ is the 2nd Adam, then he is the original intention; Christ is, in fact, the only ‘real’ human. Julie, being a Wesleyan as well, I would say that we are engaged in sanctification to become human again.

  • http://thisisamess.blogspot.com/ Andy

    I read this post at Jesus Creed also. I understand Scot’s argument and agree, mostly, but I struggle with this:

    “But if you want a gaggle of cracked Eikons, sinners and mistake-makers and sometimes goofed up and sometimes incredibly loving and joyous and devoted, then look to the church. You’ll find that kind of group, but not the perfect group.”

    I struggle we how we use the word perfect in this context (which is entirely subjective). And, even though I agree with the description of church above, I believe that the church still has a purpose and mission other than just existing in the mold described above.

    http://thisisamess.blogspot.com/

  • nathan

    in my experience, everyone is willing to admit to a general state of being ‘cracked’…until we start naming actual practices/structures that add to the mess…then it goes from sophistry and some theory to the person looking in the mirror and the critique of our deepest held values and our practices.

    we don’t need a generalized theological theory of ecclesiology that skips across the surface.

    where we see the most damage done by local churches is largely in communities that already have a robust view of human failure…in fact their basic anthropology is overwhelmingly negative.

    I value Scot’s voice/opinions. When I read his post, I wondered aloud: “Isn’t Augustinian Ecclesiology what we already really have?”

  • nathan

    @ Patrick:

    RE: Cassian.

    Hear, hear!

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed Scot McKnight

    OK, you can slap me around for using “Augustinian” but I wasn’t trying to be accurate to Augustine in saying this. I was thinking analogously:

    If Augustine thought we were all fallen, then we should expect some fallenness among us…

    So [and here's what I want to say]: If we are cracked Eikons, then we can expect our churches to be cracked too.

    By the way, I’m not trying to excuse sin but to wonder if sometimes we expect too much and jump the shark because we’re surrounded by sinners. (I fit in that sinner group.)

  • http://soulache.poseterous.com Trey Lyon

    alright, I’ll take that at face value Scot–but it raises a thorny issue.

    how do churches/faith communities become places of active reconciliation and support for all us sinners?

    many just offer the grace of silence and welcome–which is appropriate, but is it honest? particularly if the conversation is leaning more towards AA/NA meetings than church-as-social club.

    intimacy means accountability too–but for the life of me I have NO idea how to do that–or if we even need to?

    • http://tonyj.net tony

      To the Wesleyans among us: What I don’t understand is this idea of ‘perfection.’ You say it means perfection, but it doesn’t mean perfection. It seems like semantics to me.

  • http://web.me.com/whitrmartin Whit Martin

    Wesley referred to Christian Perfection as ‘perfection in love.’ To truly love with the love of the Spirit. Think of it this way: in the movie Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey is talking to God and his (amazing) prayer is to see Grace (his girlfriend) through God’s eyes, to see her the way He does. It’s surprisingly simliar, but it goes beyond the seeing and flows more in the vein of the living part. It doesn’t mean perfection as in ‘Theosis” from the Greek Orthodox belief.

    Wesley saw grace after justification as leading us “on to perfection.” His intent was to show us that sanctification was a reality and that we were to be filled with all the fullness of Christ, to have the mind of Christ. Dr. Robert Mulholland of Asbury Seminary speaks of this as he speaks of the ‘false self’ and the ‘true self’, borrowing a lot of language from Nouwen. Mulholland has a GREAT book called “The Deeper Journey” where he talks about this. There is a sermon podcast on iTunes from Asbury where he talks to the seniors from about 2 years ago about ‘the vine and the branches’ and hits on these themes of the fullness of Christ/the mind of Christ (both themes taken from Paul’s letters).

    Wesley was heavily influenced by the early Church Fathers. Thomas á Kempis was a constant devotional of his. There was something significant about the ‘going on to’ part for him. William Otterbein in the 18th Century said, “But is it possible for a man to come to complete victory over sin through Jesus Christ? (Answer) Who is mightier, Christ or the devil? In the gospel we are given all kinds of divine strength for life and godliness (Titus 2.11-12)… Hence, …”I can do all things through Christ…” Thus it is an obvious error to imagine that one cannot in this life be freed from sin.”‘

    Compelling to me, but I believe the implications lay in the challenge, “Are we attempting to love and to love with the love of God; to love with the Holy Spirit, who is the love perfectly shared between the Father and the Son?” WHAT IF we accepted in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to love as Christ loved? WHO is trying?

    I know of Wesley scholars who are immersing themselves in the Philokalia and are finding REAL gold there.

    PS – your book “The Sacred Way” has really changed my life. I’m very thankful for you and what you do.

  • Annie

    I think the point is th emphasize that Christians are going *toward* perfection. Perfection is not possible for any living human being–not in this life, in any case. In the next, surely. But the process starts now and progress in holiness is possible.

  • http://anewkindofminister.blogspot.com Cody Stauffer

    From what I understand of Wesleyan “perfection,” as I am currently enrolled in a class for my MDiv called “Wesleyan Tradition in Context,” he meant more along the lines of maturity or completeness, meaning to fulfill the commands of Jesus- to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. When Paul talks about the fruit of the spirit, Wesley pointed to that as “perfection” as well. Here’s a link to Wesley’s sermon #76, “On Perfection,” where he discusses what he means: http://wesley.nnu.edu/john_wesley/sermons/076.htm

  • Jeff Straka

    As I learn the history of Augustine’s rationale behind the “Original Sin” doctrine (based primarily on his own moral “issues”), I become more and more uncomfortable with it. I think Scot McKnight’s “cracked ikon” parable is movement in the right direction compared to Augustine or Calvin, but it still implies a “damaged goods” image. You won’t ever get full price for a glued-together vase at the store – it would be in the “bargain bin”.

    What if we looked at the vessel as “good” (as the “manufacturer” intended), but the contents we place in it as the difference? Do we fill it with God (flowers or other things of beauty that OTHERS can enjoy) or do we fill it with “crap” (possessions, titles, positions, ego – things that WE enjoy)?

    I think the other issue is our tendency to define “sin” in moralistic terms. In “The Existential Jesus” by John Carroll, he says there is a second meaning of the Greek word “hamarita”. While it can mean “missing the mark” as in a badly aimed spear-throw, it can also mean “character flaw” – a character that is out of balance. Thus sin can be looked at as an issue of “being” and not of “morals”. Jesus, according to Carroll, is concerned with the “righting of being” rather than fixing a bunch of improper external behaviors.

  • Annie

    I like that, Jeff, although a right being should produce appropriate love of God and neighbor. To say sin is moral is not enough but I don’t think it makes sense to take moral and ethical behavior out of the equation. Jesus’s sacrifice aims to address the root of the problem–the distortion of the image of God–which is inward but should then manifest in something outward.

  • Jeff Straka

    I agree, Annie. I think Jesus saw vases that looked “dead” because they were not displaying the Life of God (flowers). When he looked INSIDE the vase, he saw all this “junk” that was preventing this Life from being poured in. Remember the “Rich Young Ruler”? He could not bear to empty his contents. Those that Jesus healed (righted their being) where emptied.

    Perhaps the fruit that Adam and Eve ate symbolizes the way we begin to discard some of the “flowers of Eden” from our vase (which perhaps we were all born with) and replace them with things outside of God (east of Eden). Remember: nothing in the outward appearances of Adam and Eve changed as they ate the fruit – their “vase did not crack”. The “death/decay” was apparently happening on the INSIDE of their being. When we are filled with contents OUTSIDE of the contents of the “original blessing”, outward manifestations begin to appear – Cain being the first real example (and what many Jews consider to be the “original sin”).

  • http://michaelvdifuccia.wordpress.com/ Michael

    As much as I like to philosophize about how to do church, I find myself a member of Augustine’s “City of God” in my encounters with broken people (whether fellow “citizens” or not). “Perfection” (semantic issues aside) is not on my mind, only grace. With that said, I am a fan of an ecclesiology that invites the broken, and whose members embrace their brokenness throughout the lifelong process of sanctification as members of the “City of God.” My response is more in line with Whit’s explanation of perfection. However, I would not see grace as preceding justification; in a temporal sense. But nonetheless, I can’t escape the fact that the way I approach each unique relationship is tantamount to my ecclesiology.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Good thoughts (and I’m happy to meet some fellow Wesleyans!)

    Wesley did all his devotions from the Greek and Hebrew as opposed to the Latin Vulgate of his day. The latin “perfectus” had a static feel to it (one that we inherited today and feel when we say ‘that is perfect.’” Wesley, influenced by the greek and the East, never thought of perfection in that way but in a dynamic way. It was always moving, always progressing. Furthermore, as already pointed out, it was moving in perfection of love of God and neighbor. Some of my notes from a sermon series I did on Christian Perfection can be found here: http://chadholtz.net/?p=409

    I like the cracked eikons motif but I don’t think that is anything new nor do I think churches aren’t embracing that. But even as we embrace the reality that we are human and prone to sin/error, we are also confessors of the sacred story that gives us hope beyond ourselves to a God who is actively working in and through us to move us from “glory to glory.” We are a people not defined by our cracked-ness but by our baptism.

    Will Willimon reminds me that whenever we pastors serve Eucharist, the people coming forward are hungry, needy, desperate, broken and lost. They may come to the Table as cracked eikons but they leave as children of God on their way to wholeness.


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