The Future of The Church (September 9, 2015)


– [Dr. Matt Jenson] We’re so glad to see you
all. I’m really excited for tonight, having spent some time with our participants today
and we’re delighted to have you, we’re delighted to have you online as well. This is gonna
be a lot of fun. One quick program note tweak. I think your program says that Peter Leithart,
right here is with Trinity House. He’s not with Trinity House anymore, he’s with Theopolis
Institute. So we’re so glad he’s here. Well back in November of 2013, the same Peter Leithart
wrote in First Things about the end of Protestantism. “Protestants think of themselves as not Catholics,”
Leithart suggested and that’s just not enough to sustain God’s church. “Instead,” he wrote,
“Protestantism ought to give way to reformational catholicism. Though it agrees with the original
Protestant protest, Reformational Protestantism is defined as much by the things it shares
with Roman Catholicism as its differences.” Now Leithart was blunt. “The Reformation isn’t
over,” he reassured us, “but Protestantism is, or should be.” Well, them was fighin’
words. Or at least they called for clarification, deliberation, debate. So, that’s what we did.
A few months later we gathered in this same room to hear Leithart, Westminster Theological
Seminary’s Carl Truman, and Biola and Torrey’s own Fred Sanders wrangle over the future of
Protestantism. It quickly became clear that you can’t make much of the future of Protestantism,
its whither, without having some sense of what it is, which in turn requires grappling
with its past, its whence. The response was great, in part because this question matters.
It helped too, to have these three in the same room, rarely do you get such capable,
creative, and disciplined theologians talking to one another. More often it’s monologue
or at best an exercise in talking past one another. So, we thought we’d do it again.
And this time we decided to set up a bigger tent. This is in keeping with Leithart’s driving
concern that Protestants stop identifying themselves merely as “not Catholic” and
start reimagining the wider church as maybe, just maybe, a place where we can recognize
brothers and sisters in the name of Jesus, of the power of the Spirit. We are grateful
tonight to have four speakers. Dr. Simon Chan is a Pentecostal from Singapore, known for
his work in spiritual and liturgical theology. I believe Biola’s president referred to him
this morning as, “The most liturgical Pentecostal theologian in the world.” In addition to a
recent book on Pentecostal ecclesiology, he’s written a compelling book on grassroots Asian
theology. Dr. Ephraim Radner is an Anglican teaching theology in Canada, who years ago
wrote a penitential history of the church’s division, arguing that the Spirit has left
the divided church even while we’re called to remain in it. He continues his bruising,
that’s the only word to use, his bruising account of the church’s history of violence,
in his recent, “A Brutal Unity”. Father Thomas Rausch teaches just across town at Loyola
Marymount University. He’s long led the way in constructive dialogue between Roman Catholics
and evangelicals, demonstrating at once a deep fidelity and obedience to the teachings
of the Catholic church and a creative, hopeful, ever gracious consideration of and welcome
to evangelicals. Dr. Fred Sanders teaches a few feet away from here in the Torrey Honors
Institute. – [Father Thomas Rausch] We’re getting closer
and closer. – [Dr. Jenson] Best known as an ardent champion
of the Doctrine of the Trinity, convinced that the Trinity changes everything, Dr. Sanders
argues trenchantly for a low church evangelicalism rooted in the great tradition. So here’s the
program. Each of our speakers will take 10 minutes to offer some opening remarks. We’ve
given them a few prompts asking them to consider in particular the unity of the church. They’ve
prepared their remarks, but they have not shared them. In fact, Matthew Anderson, Matt,
are you here? Where are you? Who has planned so much of this, thanks, Matt. He gave me
explicit directions, which I can promise you we sometimes held to to avoid theology talk
in our dinner beforehand. I don’t know what these guys are gonna say and they don’t know
what one another will say. Hopefully, they do know what they, themselves, will be saying.
And that will make the next part fun, I promise you. After each speaker presents his opening
remarks, we’ll have a round table conversation. I’m particularly enthused that this is not
a bilateral conversation, but a quadrilateral one. For you Wesleyans out there. Not a lot
of Wesleyans in the room. Okay, fair enough, fair enough. Following our conversation around
the table we’ll have a time for questions and answers from the floor. If you’ve got
one, if you think of one, work on crafting it in the meantime, so our, I mean it, so
our participants will have a clear, crisp question, which they can answer. We’ll have
you come down to these two microphones when the Q & A time starts. And finally, we’ll
have a brief response from Peter Leithart who started it all, after all. We’re very
glad to have him here with us this evening. As we talk about the future of the church
tonight, a future which now and always is finally in the good hands of God, in His Son
and in His Spirit, I’d encourage you to keep your ears tuned, not only to the whither,
but also to the whence and to the what. And now, let the festivities begin. First up,
Dr. Chan. – [Dr. Simon Chan] What is the future of the
church? The question can be approached from a number of perspectives. From an eschatological
perspective the future of the church is certain. Christ who broke the dividing wall, separating
Jews and Gentiles at the cross, will actualize the one church made up of peoples from every
nation, tongue, and tribe. That, which we now confess in faith, “I believe in one
holy, catholic, and apostolic church” will become fact. Christ will one day have His
bride without spot or wrinkle. There will be the marriage supper of the Lamb. Without
faith in this church that Jesus built, I don’t think there’s much point discussing about
the future of the church. Our hope in its future is the promise of Christ. But if you’re
asking about the future of the church en via, the pilgrim church on earth, our response
will, again, depend on the perspective we take. The church could be viewed from at least
two perspectives. First, if we look at the church denominationally, my own personal view
is one ranging from guarded optimism to despair. As far as the mainline Protestant denominations
in the West are concerned, we can write them off as probably beyond repair. This is not
just my own view, but when some of the most influential Theologians in the West today,
such as Jenson, Pannenberg, and Hauerwas have concurred in their assessment of Protestantism,
I think we should do well to at least hear them out. Hauerwas, in his typically brash
way has said that, “We shouldn’t even be bothered with mainline Protestantism because it’s doing
such a good job self-destructing.” But these same theologians also seem to think that there’s
a future in the Catholic church, the Orthodox church, evangelicalism, and Pentacostalism.
So there’s reason for guarded optimism. My optimism is still guarded because of what
is happening in those churches. Each has its own up and down sides. You have, for example,
a liberal Catholic block in the West, which seems bent on undermining its official teachings.
Some of them seem to be going all out to outdo their liberal Protestant counterparts. Orthodoxy
is thriving in the West. As a Pentecostal I find it theologically quite attractive.
We have a lot in common with respect to the Third Person of the Trinity. But where Orthodoxy
constitutes a majority, it shows its ugly side. Then there are those evangelicals suffering
from an inferiority complex, I suspect, who seem to be playing catch up with the mainline
Protestants, that is a worrying trend. As for Pentecostals, I will have something to
say shortly. Second, if we look at the church globally, the situation is generally more
hopeful. But it’s hope mixed with a good dose of caution. Most denominational churches in
the global South, unlike their western counterparts, are thriving. Many of them have actually cut
off their links with their parent bodies, perhaps though, that’s the reason why they
are thriving. The global South Anglican communion is only one of many, but a better knowing
one because of all the headlines the so-called Anglican communion is making today. The spiritual
vitality of the global South Christianity could be attributed to one major factor, namely
its deep, spiritual affinity with primal religiosity. Which, contrary to the expectations of evolutionary
theorists of religion, proves to be quite resistant to the anti-supernaturalistic bias
of secular reason. Global South Christianity, however, has its own set of problems. But
for all its faults, it at least gets its basic priorities right. It puts the right emphasis
where it belongs, such as the centrality of the Gospel and the primacy of the church’s
witness and mission in word and deed. We may still have some Asian theologians who dance
to the tune of so-called Progressives in the West, but I’m sure you’ll notice that most
of them cannot survive in Asia. They talk about Asian theology or Asian feminism, or
Asian liberation theology or post-Colonialism in Asia in the comfort of their endowed chairs
in North America and Europe. It has been observed that much of Christianity in the global South
is charismatic Christianity. But charismatic Christianity is an elusive catch phrase covering
many diverse movements and churches with equally diverse theologies and practices. About the
only feature that distinguishes it from non-charismatic Christianity is that it speaks in superlatives
and with a very loud voice. Needless to say, its influence is, at best, ambivalent. Positively,
it has deeply infiltrated most traditional churches, including the Catholic church, and
infused them with fresh vitality on an unprecedented scale. For example, El Shaddai, in the Philippines
is a laylat movement that attracts millions of Catholics. It is probably the Catholic
church’s most effective answer to evangelical proselytization. But the charismatic movement
also has its shadow side. It has spawned myriads of independent churches with little or no
accountability to anyone except their founders. Their theologies range from the flippant to
the bizarre. Even the more orthodox ones are not spared the excesses, which often bring
shame to the name of Christ. As a globalized phenomena, charismatic Christianity manifests
some very disturbing trends. They are charismatics while mired in the idolatry of power, health
and wealth, and all fixated on extraordinary phenomena, such as gold dust, glory clouds
and angelic visitations and so forth. And more worryingly, some seem to be obsessed
with the dark side of the extraordinary, such as demonology, territorial spirits, generational
curses, for which the answer is an esoteric kind of so-called deliverance ministry. Also
in these circles, it’s hard to tell the difference between the purpose driven life and the market
driven life. Or maybe there’s no difference. Combat with the evangelical problem I mentioned
earlier, this charismatic problem is perhaps far more damaging because it is being effectively
marketed throughout the world. In a globalized, religious market, the flow is not just in
one direction, from the US to the rest of the world. Similar ideas and strategies are
also being exported from Latin America and Asia to other parts of the world, including
the West. The problem of trying to evaluate charismatic Christianity is to pinpoint the
problem itself because it is a rapidly mutating phenomenon. Some see charismatic Christianity
as holding promise to a kind of grass roots ecumenism. But I, personally, am not sure
how things will pan out. I think globalized charismatic Christianity is at a crossroads.
It is interesting to note that historians and social scientists have been more generous
in their assessment of charismatic Christianity especially in the global South. They point
out how the charismatics have brought about upward social mobility in poverty stricken
countries. Charismatics give to the poor a sense of personal agency, which transforms
their previous fatalistic worldview. But theologians have been more cautious. One critical issue
that surfaces again and again is that they are powerful forms of charismatic Christianity
worldwide which are strongly biased towards a theology of glory without the counterbalance
of the theology of the cross. It promotes an over-realized eschatology without any eschatological
reserve. My observation in my part of the world tends to confirm what these theologians
are saying and I’m worried about its future. If charismatic Christianity is to turn from
the path that leads to dissipation, it needs sound theological leadership. A reason for
hope is that there is an emerging theological scholarship among classical Pentecostals in
the last 30 years. But they are generally not well accepted within their respective
denominations or simply ignored. I cannot speak for other Pentecostal denominations
but my own denominational leadership does not seem to give high priority to theological
reflection or dialogue with other traditions. They are more interested in how to find the
best strategy for church growth. For the sake of mission and evangelism, they are quite
ready to cooperate with any other ecclesiastical body and para-church organization. That’s
as far as their ecumenism gets. Beyond that, they show very little interest in ecumenical
relations. So from their perspective, if there’s any sense in which the church is one, it is
in the highly amorphous spiritualized sense. There is deep suspicion about the visible
forms of church unity. In short, many of the more conservative evangelical and Pentecostal
churches are plagued by a docetic ecclesiology. As long as ecclesiological docetism persists,
ecumenism from these quarters is likely to remain stalled. So coming back to the question
which I began, what is the future of the church? If I may use a Biblical metaphor, there are
churches where the fragrance of the Gospel is unmistakably strong and full. In some others,
the bottle is contaminated and its scent may be tolerable or mildly irritating or deeply
nauseating depending on the extent of the contamination. In still other churches, all
we could smell is, to use the famous phrase of Von Harnack, “the aroma of an empty bottle.”
Thank you. – [Dr. Ephraim Radner] My thanks for the invitation
to be here and especially to all of you who are gathered this evening. It’s wonderful
to see such a wonderful, bright, colorful group of people listening to a talk about
the church. I’m going to give a mostly theological account of my answer to the question, the
future of the church, rather than a sociological social one. And having heard Dr. Chan’s remarks,
it looks like what I’m gonna say is gonna be an elaboration of his very first point,
which he left very quickly as to the end of the church in that in which we have a hope.
Now my overall point is this, the future of the church is to become something none of
us has any sense of, concretely, at this point in time. To quote 1 John: “Beloved, we are
God’s children now, it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He
appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” And what I want to argue
is that this is true for what we call the church today, not just for individuals and
I’m going to try to explain that. Now first of all, presuppositions I’m bringing to this
little outline, I am a scriptural literalist in the sense that I believe that each word
in the Bible has a divine and referential significance. I’m not a fundamentalist in
the classical sense of the term. Doctrinal propositions are not first order reference
of scripture. They are second order, as I understand them, human constructions of varying
degrees of usefulness. They might well be very true, that’s not the point, but they’re
always corrigible, including those decisions of ecumenical councils. Scriptural words,
on the other hand as Jesus says, “Cannot be broken, they endure forever.” Which is a fundamental
Jewish conviction but a Christian one too, exemplified in my own college’s namesake,
John Wycliffe, for instance, if you’re interested in him. That is to say every word of scripture
stands ontologically prior to created history. History follows the words of scripture, not
the other way around. Now that’s what I’m bringing to my remarks. So on this score,
words like Protestant and Catholic, let alone Anglican, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Methodist,
Pentecostal, whatever, these are all what one might call, epiphenomenal nomenclatures.
They’re just floating around in the ether of our historical lives. They have no scriptural
significance. And hence, they do not represent objects of divine reference in any primary
way. So that everything we call church today are outworkings in time of something prior
that we do not yet grasp. And to speak of the church today is to speak of something
that is disappearing insofar as we know it. Literally, there is no divine future for any
of the reference that we call churches. But what about The Church, with a capital C? Yes,
there is such a divine referent, but it is of an uncertain stability of reference. In
general, in scripture church does, indeed, refer to a single congregation, and hence,
when William Tyndale did his big translation and he translated church in the New Testament’s
congregation, he was right. Everybody got upset about that but he was right. Only occasionally
does the word in the New Testament refer to something more than the congregation. Significantly,
Matthew 16 and Ephesians, Colossians, Timothy, and so on, The Church, capital C, but the
future aspect of The Church, what we would call its eschatological character is only
therefore, somewhat indicated by the word “church.” And to get at that future aspect,
we have to get at the scriptural words that endure, as it were, in their eschatological
disclosure. And I will give but one example, which Dr. Chan picked up right at the beginning,
I’m happy to have noted, that is to say, the bride of Christ. The church’s future is scripturally
tied up with the church being presented to Christ as a spotless bride, as Paul puts in
Ephesians 5. In the Book of Revelation, the term church, which refers there to individual
congregations, never to something else, disappears altogether in favor of the bride herself by
the end of the book. Hence, in concrete terms, in Revelation, eschatologically, bride subsumes
church as its futurological substance. So the conclusion is as follows, there are to
date churches who will become The Church only, though, as The Church becomes the bride presented
to Christ. Now what does this mean in the history of the church in which we are now
located within our churches, plural? It means that that history is one of the transformation
of those churches into the bride. That’s what’s gonna happen. That, we can say with certainty.
Any discussion of the future of X, my congregation, my denomination, my ecclesial tradition, my
ecclesial claim, with respect to this, any discussion of the future of X is a discussion
of how X becomes changed into the bride. Now I’ll leave aside large issues of ecclesiological
definition but indicate some of the claims my approach implies. What we call The Church,
capital C, church universal, church catholic, Christian church, the church of the creed,
one holy catholic and apostolic, the church may, in fact, not be a historical entity in
any way that we can identify today. The church may instead be a matter of contested becoming,
what is is not what will be and vice versa. Now it could be the case, I’m not denying
this as a possibility, that there is here a historically denoted church. It could be
one of our churches that we belong to, or all of our churches, I don’t know, but it
could be the case that what we are talking about with our church, small c, is a church
that begins in say, sin and ends in purity. And that would be analogous to the way that
a person who is baptized in sin becomes purified at the end but is still the same person, in
terms of continuity of identity. So I’m not saying there’s no continuity between what
we call churches today and The Church of the end. But churches, on the other hand, are
not persons either, they’re many people. Are the societies? Is The Church a society as
the great 16th century Catholic theologian, Bellarmine said? “Like the Republic of Venice,”
he said. Perhaps, but societies perdure as their members die and are replaced. Furthermore,
the France of the 11th century is by no means the same as the France of the 21st century
and what they have in common at all is debatable. Except perhaps, coincidences of some long
forgotten bits of language and geography. So historical nations are metaphors, as far
as I can see more often than not. Venice today is simply not the Venice of the 16th century.
So to say the church is a society is to say much that is very uncertain. I’m not sure
whether that’s what I’m implying as ecclesiological docetism but that’s another matter. The bottom
line, though, is that there is a church, Matthew 16, but we do not know what it is. Not just
where it is, but we don’t know what it is. Yet, we can also say at the same time that
we are somehow bound to this place of which we are ignorant. We are members of the church
and we can say that with certainty. This is a paradox, obviously, knowing that we are
part of something that we don’t really know. But it’s not really an odd paradox when you
think about it. It’s like being a part of the universe, of which we’re all almost completely
ignorant but we know we’re a part of it. Or that we are living creatures. We know we’re
living creatures, but we don’t know what that means, except in the strangest and most elusive
or allusive of ways. But we’re driven to engage and think about and so on. So ecclesiology
is a good thing. So how do we reflect theologically on this? Benchmarks for understanding this
reality of churches as they become the bride, include, of course, the discussion of the
end times, as I’ve been talking about, which the Book of Revelation for instance, engages.
But think about it. That means that the churches, as they become the bride, includes things
like love growing cold, or many falling away, or familial treachery when mother and father
betray their children and vice versa and, of course, martyrdom. This provides a clear
discussion of the church in terms of Jesus’ claim that, “Many are called, but few are
chosen.” The churches or the church are those who are called, hence the term “ecclesia.”
The bride, though, is she who is chosen and, finally, taken by Christ. To become the bride
is to go through just such times times that those who remain or endure to the end are
the church and then be taken by the Son, Himself, in an act of sheer grace. Called, persevering
elect, that’s the historical outline of the standard Pauline order of that: predestined,
called, justified, suffering, glorified. So the future of the church is one of calling,
purification, and embrace. And the future of Protestantism or Catholicism or Pentecostalism,
and all their subdivisions is one of being purified so as to become the bride. Now it’s
hard to know if this has to do with the subtraction of individuals from all of our churches, from
the whole, as Augustine suggested in his paradigm. Or whether is has to do with the purgation
of the individuals who are already part of our churches in the form of each Christian’s
own transformation, or maybe it’s both, which I think is probable in the form of a corporate
Israel. By the way, I haven’t talked about Israel, I could have, we could have talked
about this in a different way but I’ve stuck to the question of the bride. We live in ignorance
of the character of the church’s appearance in this case, as I said. In John’s words,
“We do not know what we shall be though we shall be like Him,” but then he goes on,
“And everyone who thus hopes in Him shall purify himself as He is pure.” So the history
of the church is the story of the church’s purifications or purgation. And what is the
nature of that? I’ve already mentioned the reality of martyrdom. Surely in today’s world
as we’re seeing it on images from the television that is a key area as it has always been.
Indeed, we can surely say that as the churches one by one and altogether are drawn into the
arena of martyrdom, so their becoming Church will become apparent. And if not, well then
not. But more broadly the purgation of the church is as about spotlessness, blamelessness,
purity. These are properly seen in terms of all the elements associated with the Spirit’s
work. Most especially, the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul refers to them. These are things that
God has given rise to through His grace over time: gentleness, self-control, forgiveness,
love, patience, joy. The presence or absence of these fruits are historical hints today,
as to a church’s movement into the future Church, capital C as Christ’s bride. Time
in her ravages and challenges, changes those who have been called into the realm of the
chosen, the ecclesia of becoming, and who then bear fruit, the ecclesia of the divine
marriage. So to summarize, the future of the church has no obvious, and thus, indicative
relationship to the churches of today, of which we are members. Rather, it lies in the
as yet uncertain path of the churches being transformed through tribulation into enduring
forms of Christian life and witness. So that there is one bride of such a form and figure
and this bride is then taken by Christ in the single act of grace, such that the bride
is made the body of Christ in a nuptial embrace, bearing much fruit. If we were to evaluate
our churches today according to such a future, I am quite certain everything about what we
do today as churches would change profoundly. Thank you. – [Dr. Jenson] That’s great. – [Dr. Radner] Thank you. – [Father Thomas Rausch] I am grateful for
the invitation to join you tonight. This is my first visit to Biola, so it’s a new experience
for me. Dr. Chan said there are a number of perspectives in approaching the church and
the question of the future of the church. I’d like to pursue an ecumenical perspective.
But it’s a great question, “What will tomorrow’s church be like?” Will it be a truly catholic,
small c, church, a communion of local churches living in visible unity? Or will it be a multiplicity
of churches and communities even more divided in faith and life. Present estimates of the
number of denominations is roughly 43 thousand, according to The Center for the Study of Global
Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. In 1900 the number of denominations was 1,600.
So, you see what’s happening. Christian unity from a Roman Catholic perspective means a
communion of churches sharing a common heritage and living in visible communion with each
other. From an ecumenical perspective I would say that the four most important documents,
I hope the graduate students are familiar with these, are the 1964 Vatican II decree
on ecumenism, the World Council of Churches’ 1982 Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry Statement,
the 1999 joint Lutheran/Roman Catholic Doctrine on the decree of justification, which was
the issue that started the reformation in the first place, and the 2012 World Council
of Churches Convergence, not concensus, Convergence Statement entitled “The Church Towards a Common
Vision”. The WC statement on the church is structured in terms of four ecclesiological
issues. The relatively brief text successively treats the church’s essential missionary origin,
its nature as a communion, its growth towards the kingdom, and its relation to the world.
To summarize very briefly, the church takes its origin from the saving activity of the
Trinity. Visible unity is important for its nature and mission, a point that is repeatedly
emphasized in this document. Such unity may require changes in doctrine, practice, and
ministry so that the churches may recognize in each other the one holy catholic and apostolic
church, that’s chapter one. The text stresses the nature of the church as a communion. It
says that while diversity is a gift of the Lord, the unity and catholicity of the church
means that each local church should be in communion with all the other local churches.
Growing towards visible union requires communion in the fullness of the apostolic faith, its
sacramental life in a truly one and mutually recognized ministry, in structures of conciliar
relations and decision making and in common witness and service to the world. That’s chapter
three. Though it acknowledges that many differences remain about the number of the sacraments
or ordinances, who presides at the Eucharist, how ordained ministry is structured, and so
forth. The nature of the church is missional. Participating in the divine mystery that church
serves God’s plan for the transformation of the world. It proclaims the gospel, celebrates
the sacraments, and in manifesting the newness of life given by Christ, anticipates the kingdom
already present in Him. Though the text acknowledges a need of the churches to be accountable to
each other because of new conflicts over moral principles and other ethical questions. It
seems to me this WCC text on a common vision of the church is significant for a number
of reasons. First, it presents a trans-denominational ecclesiology that should find resonance in
the different churches. Second, sharing a Trinitarian faith means that each church is
called to living in visible communion with other Christian communities. Each has a structure
consisting of an Apostolic faith, sacramental life, and a recognized ministry. Third, its
view of salvation is not narrowly individualistic but it serves God’s plan for the transformation
of the world. Finally, the centrality of the Eucharist in the text is remarkable. It clearly
sees the church as a Eucharistic community. But will it fly? That’s always the question.
In the West there are new obstacles to ecumenism, the vision of visible unity seems to be slipping
away for many of the reformation churches. Some stress justice over unity and are concerned
today with the new search for denominational identity, as Cardinal Koch, the head of the
Vatican Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has recently observed. There is a lack of
agreement on sacramental practice and the Eucharist is not yet central in many denominations
today, including many evangelical communities. Mainline churches in the United States and
Western Europe continue to lose members in a world where Christian faith is just one
option among many today. Michael Kinneman points out that the denominations that were
once the pillars of the ecumenical movement are in many places experiencing diminishing
numbers and resources with a resulting toll on ecumenical organizations. Those that are
member churches of the World Council of Churches constitute little more than 20% of World Christianity
today. And their number is diminishing. He asks if the World Council is becoming too
ideological, substituting a commitment to economic, social and ecological issues and
losing ecumenism’s traditional vision of a reconciled church, sharing in the Eucharist
and making decisions in common. The Evangelical claim that they represent 40% of Americans
may be greatly exaggerated. John Dickerson, in his “The Great Evangelical Recession” cites
a number of studies to show that the actual number is closer to somewhere between 7 and
8.9%. So quite a difference there. But if Christianity is diminishing in the West, it
is flourishing in Asia, Africa and Latin America as Christianity’s center of gravity shifts
from Europe and North America to the Southern Hemisphere, to the global South. A recent
Pew forum study finds that more than 1.3 billion Christians live in the global South today.
That’s 61 percent. Compared with about 860 million in the global North. 39%, another
huge disparity there. Much of this growth has been in the church’s Evangelical, Pentecostal
and Neo-Pentecostal expressions. Allen Anderson cites studies have claimed that there are
628 million Pentecostals, charismatics and independent charismatics, collectively termed
“renewalists,” in the world today. Roman Catholics number over one billion. That means
that of the world’s 2.1 billion Christians, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and charismatics
together amount to close to 75% of the total number of Christians in the world. That’s
an interesting statistic. Also rapidly growing are the independent indigenous churches whose
members comprise about 1/5th of all Christians today and are thus not members of traditional
denominations or churches. Mark Nowell notes that this past Sunday it’s possible that there
were more Christian believers attending church in China than in all of so-called Christian
Europe. That’s really incredible when you think about it. Thus the profile of global
Christianity has changed dramatically and the western church cannot really afford to
ignore it. This recentering of the majority of the Christian population in the global
South poses, it seems to me, significant challenges for the ecumenical future of the church. These
southern Christians and some in the West see the WC statement on the church as being too
traditional and excessively western in its approach. Much less concerned with doctrine,
confessional difference, or ecclessiology, these new communities have a different agenda.
They sense the nearness of the supernatural, unlike the enlightenment influenced West.
They place great emphasis on healing of body, mind, soul, spirit and society. And stress
life issues such as AIDs, violence and poverty. [coughs] Excuse me. Their denominational boundaries
are often porous and multiple Christian identities are not unusual. As Nowell points out, whether
Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, or Independent, almost all are Pentecostal
in the broad sense of the term. And not a few Christians in these churches are decidedly
anti-ecumenical as was evident at the Busan WCC 10th assembly in Korea just in 2013, where
hundreds were protesting, not just the assembly, but the very idea of the ecumenical movement.
Will these churches be able to receive the World Council of Churches’ statement on
the church as a challenge to renewal of ecclesial life commitment to justice, peace, mission
and unity? Some today, like Lutheran Robert Jensen, are speculating that the ecumenical
future lies with the Roman Catholic church, the Eastern churches and the Pentecostal groups.
Dr. Chan and I did not rehearse this. We said some of the same things. And Pentecostal Cheryl
Bridges-Johns says, if anything, says that the ecumenical future resides with the reformed
Catholicism and a mature Pentecostalism. If anything should move our separated churches
to work together, it should be the increasing number of the “nones.” I have to tell
my congregation that doesn’t mean sisters, huh? The nones are all of those people when
you ask ’em what their faith tradition is they say, “none.” And you know how those
are growing huh? The number of nones, those who are religiously non-affiliated, now 23%
of adult Americans and 35% of the millennials continues to grow. If anything should make
our churches come together and learn how to work together, it should be this enormous
growth in unaffiliation and lack of faith. It seems to me, that’s a very significant
issue today. So, I want to conclude with some questions. Is the church any community of
disciples gathered in the Spirit? Or is there a christological foundation expressed in common
structures, ritual, faith and mission? Is it possible that some Christian communities
may not fully realize what it means to be church, but should find a home within a larger
church, something like Dr. Radner suggested, something like that, a moment ago? Is living
in visible communion with other churches important for the ecclesial reality of a Christian community?
Is Christian unity a value for your church? And finally, will tomorrow’s church be a global
communion of churches sharing a common faith, life and mission? Or will it be an infinite
number of separate communities even more divided in faith and life? So I look forward to our
discussion. Thank you very much. – [Dr. Fred Sanders] Well, I speak as an Evangelical
Protestant, but I would tremble to say that I speak for Evangelical Protestants, ’cause
they’re very hard to speak for. Of the four groups represented here tonight, Evangelicalism
is the broadest category with the loosest connection to central institutions. These
are my people, but it’s not as if they got together all half a billion of ’em, and voted
me the spokesman. And it’s not as if I’ve spent time in all the major sectors of global
Evangelicalism. I grew up Pentecostal, I got saved in the Methodist church, I’ve lived
in Baptist territory in the American South, and have attended a Presbyterian church. I’ve
fellowshipped with charismatics and holiness people. Denominationally I’m a long time member
of the Evangelical Free Church in America. But vast stretches of the Evangelical multiverse
remain beyond my experience. – [Dr. Jenson] Multiverse, that’s great! – [Dr. Sanders] Because of my Wesleyan Theological
commitments I’ve never been fully at home in reformed cultures, though I’m a polite
guest and, don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are Calvinists. I visited a lot
of liturgical congregations and I know my way through some ancient liturgies. But, I’m
a bit of a fan boy for evensong, actually. But by choice I’m low church and haven’t lived
through the cycling seasons of the church year and the steady constant repetition of
liturgical worship as a life pattern. And all those zones that I’ve just described have
residents who are in fact Evangelical. You have Evangelical Calvinists, Evangelical Anglicans,
Evangelical Pentecostals, and so on. Evangelical, then, is partly adjectival. And yet it’s not
purely adjectival. In adjective form it can’t be applied with total unreservedness or with
such liberality or with such catholicity, if I could venture a pun. You can see this
if you try to force it across the widest divides in Christendom. If you try to speak of an
Evangelical Catholic, you’re overstepping a line of usage and indulging in a kind of
self consciously naughty conflation. Evangelical Catholics, okay. It’s an interesting discussion,
but you’ve gotta know that the energy comes from the transgressiveness. That’s because
Evangelicalism is an inflection of Protestantism. It’s a way of being Protestant and being committed
to the formal principle of the reformation, sola scriptura, and to the material principle,
sola gratia, by grace alone. J.I. Packer once characterized Evangelicalism as “fidelity
to the doctrinal content of the gospel.” And that’s as good a characterization as I can
think of, but then again I’m a theologian, so I would like fidelity to the doctrinal
content of the gospel. And if you ask an Evangelical what we’re all about, we don’t always express
it so articulately or doctrinally. Remember, one of the many reasons I’m not the official
appointed spokesman for Evangelicalism is that I’m a systematic theologian and I always
put things a little more theologically than you will hear them on the street. What you
hear on the street, what you get from the mass majority of Evangelicals if you hand
them the mic is, “You must be born again.” With remarkable consistency. With a family
resemblance that is clarifying, you can spot the Evangelicals in many countries, speaking
in many languages and organized in many kinds of churches, saying, “Do you know Jesus?”
I’m not asking if you go to church, I’m asking if you know Jesus. I’m not asking if you self
identify as a Christian when the pollsters come around. What I wanna know is do you know
Him, have you met Him? I’m not asking if you can recite facts about Him, I wanna know if
you know Jesus. I understand I’m expressing that individualistically, I understand I’m
putting it in terms of sort of hippy psychological relationship terms of having a personal relationship
with Jesus. I’ve heard all of that and it all sounds like double talk, ’cause I’ve got
to know, if you know Jesus. That’s the Evangelical way. We wanna know if you know Him; we wanna
testify that we have met Him. We say it a lot of different ways. If I had my way, we
will say it in a way so Trinitarian that it will make your head spin and your heart burn
within ya! As the Father pours out His Spirit to testify of His only begotten Son. But even
if we leave out the Trinitarian bit or put it off till a little later when we’ve had
a little training, what we wanna know is do you know Jesus? And yet there’s no Evangelical
central command. There’s no Evangelical Pope. That’s a terrible phrase, a bit naughty, I
think. There’s no Evangelical border patrol, though some people act like a self appointed
border patrol, but there isn’t really one, with the institutional authority to declare
who’s in and who’s out. I think it’s fair to say that it’s widely lamented- I’m sometimes
tempted to say the only thing all Evangelicals have in common is a tendency toward public
self flagellation about how awful we are. But, I resist that temptation. I resist the
temptation to say so, just as I resist the temptation to speak always in self blaming
lament, occasionally even indulging in a bit of Evangelical cheerleading. Go us! You see,
that sounded refreshing ’cause you actually don’t hear it that much. We’re always like
beating ourselves up, saying “We’re so triumphalistic, what losers we are. Why are we so triumphalistic?”
But the lack of a central institutional authority is widely lamented. I don’t think it actually
should be. The reason we don’t have a central institutional authority for this thing called
Evangelicalism, is that we, Evangelicalism, are not an institution. That’s also the reason
we, Evangelicals, don’t have an ecclesiology, that is, a doctrine of the church. It’s ’cause
we’re not a church, right? Churches should have doctrines of the church to give an account
of themselves. We’re more like a movement. Now I’m happy in a local church, everybody
oughta be. I’m a Christian, so I’m in a local church. And perhaps in my rich fantasy life
I think of Evangelicalism as a coalition of other folks who are likewise happy in their
little churches, where they go. And to borrow C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christian analogy, These
are rooms off of a common hallway and we come out into the Evangelical hallway and we have
little conversations with each other and common goals, especially for parachurch missions
and things. And we can also trade things out there and we can sell books to each other.
It would be far too cynical to describe Evangelicalism as a system for selling more books across
more denominational platforms. But speaking as an author it’s true that I may even choose
to write some of my books in such a way that they are inviting to many other kinds of Evangelicals,
as many as possible. Especially when what I’m writing about it is something we have
in common, just like say, the Trinity, for one example. But sometimes, you get a long
way into what you think is a clear discussion of Evangelicalism and suddenly you realize
that the person doing the talking is getting increasingly shrill about how the hallway
needs to have more room for chairs in it and wants to know where we’re gonna put the worship
band or the choir, and when we’re gonna decide which, and where the weddings are gonna take
place. And that’s when I realize that I have nothing to say and little to learn from somebody
who thinks of Evangelicalism as a church that you can go out and join. Some kind of mega-denomination
that comes in different flavors. And that’s why when I hear the word ecclesiology, as
in “We have no ecclesiology. We are so terrible.” When I hear it in that context I don’t reach
for my revolver, that would be bad, but I do head for the door. ‘Cause what would a
movement be doing with an ecclesiology? What a movement needs is something there’s not
even a word for: a movement-ology. But as for me, I have a church I go to. I also have
a job to do, and students to teach, and that job and those students are at Biola, an inter-denominational
conservative, Protestant school that proudly carries the name and reputation of being Evangelical.
Now Biola was founded in 1908 and part of our founding is the rejection of that great
turn of the 20th century defection and falling away of the denominations. As one denomination
after another went modernist, went liberal, denied core Christian doctrines, starting
with the hard doctrines but working their way up to whatever doctrine you’ve got, a
lot of conservative Christians in all of the denominations found themselves having common
cause and interdenominational, ecumenical you could say, cooperation and reasons to
band together and stick to the old faith. Now, this is a thumbnail sketch of that story,
but what happened is they lost the fight to reclaim and keep their own denominations.
They got out thought, out maneuvered, out spent, out voted, and soon found themselves
outside on the curb saying, “What happened to my Grandma’s church? It doesn’t believe
Jesus rose from the dead anymore and I’m sitting out here talking to the handful of Methodists,
Presbyterians and Baptists and Anglicans who do.” Well those people looked around and said,
“Hey, we’re inclined to think ecumenical is a bad word, but this is looking pretty ecumenical.”
And that’s the origin of the kind of movement of interdenominational cooperation that is
the Evangelicalism that gives birth to Biola. We fought for the denominations, mainly lost,
and then camped out on the curb. And that’s kinda the image I wanna pause on. Are we in
fact camped out? Getting back to Peter Leithart’s idea of a sort of Protestantism as a permanent
protest that just grumbles about what it’s not. Is Evangelicalism a kind of a permanent
squatter’s community trapped outside of the mainline? Are we exiled people expecting to
return home or to find a permanent one? If the Methodists would just get their act together
could I go back there where I got saved? Are we refugees living in temporary camps or will
we be here for good? Are we the sad remnants of the Occupy Movement four winters later?
I mean it was kind of cool at the beginning, right? But there aren’t as many people there
and you start wondering about bathroom facilities. This is a question about our posture. It’s
a question about our orientation towards the future of the church. It becomes urgent when
you speak with young people who are always eager for dialogue with other kinds of Christians
and for what I still have trouble saying as a good word, ecumenism. I’ve just got a
lot of sort of hold over from bad, lowest common denominator, ecumenical discussions
that I’ve been through. This summer I read Collin Hansen’s book “Blind Spots”, brand
new book from Crossway. In a review I wrote of it for Christianity Today, I said this:
“Confronted with the stubborn fact of Christian disunity, every new generation of Christians
asks the same question, ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ And every old generation
has the same set of answers at the ready: ‘We already tried to get along before you
got here, young people. All the things that divide us are non-negotiable.’” Now I’m
keenly aware of a number of differences that divide my kind of Evangelicals from other
kinds of Evangelicals and other kinds of Christian communions. I don’t intend to budge on them.
I am not envisioning a future for myself in which I budge on any of the key principles.
But I do wanna picture a future in which the unity of the church is visible to the world
around us and is held deeply and felt deeply in our own hearts. In 1917, Walter Rauschenbusch
made the observation that every generation tries to put its doctrine on a high shelf
where the children can’t reach it. Well I wanna put doctrine on a high shelf and I think
people need to be of age before they start tinkering with doctrine and I think creeds
and doctrines and catechisms are there to form us, and so they oughta be something we
don’t tinker with immediately. But I wanna back away from that feeling of putting doctrine
on a high shelf and saying “Don’t bother with the ecumenical thing; we already tried it.
The problems are intractable; we have irreconcilable differences; we’ve already filed the divorce
papers; there’s no going back on it.” I kinda wanna hand this off to the young people and
say, “Give it a try. Here’s a list of the mistakes we made; try to make different mistakes.”
And I hate to end on a maudlin note, like I believe the children are the future, and
I’m not gonna sing, but I do believe that the children of Evangelicalism have experienced
something real and true and even ultimate, I would say, in encountering Jesus Christ
in the gospel, in the Evangelical churches. And it’s to them that I want to trust the
dialogue that goes on in the future. Thank you. – [Dr. Jenson] Well good news for you, normally
this sort of thing we say thanks for coming to the conference, it’s been nice to have
you and a couple of you come up and bend the ear of a couple of these but we’re just getting
started. And there are about a thousand ways we could go. Our papers are full of comments
and questions and probably some exclamation points. I wanna start with this question.
I wanna ask all four of you to answer it. Father Rausch was talking about, a few of
you were talking about, the reality of Christianity flourishing in the global South. Dr. Chan,
just written a book about the fact that when we do contextual theologies, what we really
should do is actually pay attention to the work of the Spirit in the church. Not take
learning we’ve done elsewhere and put a theoretical contract upon it and say this is Asian theology,
this is Latin American theology. Let’s actually listen to what the Spirit’s doing in the church.
Just so happens, I have an old friend who’s a missionary in Southeast Asia who’s visiting
right now. He’s not particularly theologically educated, though he’s wise and discerning
and has many years under his belt. And he’s telling me of these very remote, rural settings
and so what I wanna do, is I want to paint the picture for you and ask you a question
on the back of that. Very small villages, and evangelists, I don’t even know what kind
of denominational affiliation, but some kind of evangelists will come through and tell
them stories about the Bible. They’ll tell them about this God who actually is the Lord
over everything and who actually has power over everything and who’s sort of the new
sheriff in town. And they say, “Well that sounds good. We wanna worship that God.” And
some people become believers in Jesus. Now they tell ’em the stories because they’re
not literate, there’s no Bible, there’s certainly no kind of jurisdiction that set this up,
but they tell ’em the stories about Jesus and people begin to believe in Jesus and they
tell ’em about prayer with as little lingo as possible. But they say things like, “You
can talk to God. You can talk to Him right here. And you can tell Him what you need and
you can ask Him for help and you can tell Him how good He is to you and thank Him for
things.” And they actually teach ’em about communion. My friend was telling me about
the fact that they will use the crust from the outside of the rice. That’s the closest
thing they got to bread. Maybe they’ll use coconut juice, something like that. They don’t
know what wine is, they’ve never seen a grape. The closest thing they have is the local hooch
and he doesn’t wanna encourage the local hooch. So they learn about communion and the closest
thing to ecumenism that happens is they hear that two days from here there’s some other
people who have heard some similar stories and who believe in Jesus too. And so they’ll
walk, they’ll go two days and they’ll say, “Tell me your stories and I’ll tell ya my
stories.” And they share the stories they’ve heard and maybe they pray for one another
and they share the outside of the crust of the rice and they share the coconut juice.
Okay. So here’s the question: What does the road to full unity look like for these believers?
What does the road to full unity look like for these believers? So three things, real
quick to highlight. I’m assuming they’re believers, I’m assuming there’s something here. I’m assuming
there’s a road ahead of us. And I’ve couched it in terms of full unity, notice the qualifier
there. Father Rausch, you wanna, do you wanna start? Or if you don’t, you can feel free
to pass to one of your esteemed colleagues. – [Father Rausch] That’s a really tough question.
And I like it very much, Matt. You know I would say that that’s an ecclesial community,
that God’s grace is there, that it’s transformative. It ought to be leading them towards the fullness
of the church. They’re probably not there yet, which is the point of your question,
and that’s why we really need to be working together, to be sharing our common faith.
I wanna tell you a story, you know I was teaching in Guangzhou a few years ago. I taught a Christology
course at a big secular Chinese university and I had a couple house church Christians
in there and they said come over for some table fellowship. Like ah, are they talking
about Eucharist? They meant beer and peanuts koinonia. – [Dr. Jenson] Koinonia. – [Father Rausch] But they were fascinated
by theology and of course as a house church they were not able to get seminary degrees
and all that. Which I think speaks of the need for the churches to really influence
each other to share our theological faith, to share what it means to be church in the
full sense. So that’s kind of what I would say, although your question takes me a little
bit off guard. – [Dr. Matt Jenson] Let me follow up just
once. Say, you have some space to offer pastoral council. And they say “We wanna know, what
are the next two steps we should take towards full unity?” So all you know about them
is what I’ve told you, these very, very basic practices and this very basic belief. – [Father Rausch] You know my most profound
insight into ecumenism is that ecumenism always begins with friendship. And when we discover
each other and become friends, then differences begin to break down and we begin to learn
from each other. That’s what really needs to happen. That’s where we begin to share
the depths of our faith and our spirituality and our understanding of church and all of
that. And I think that’s where we begin to move towards full communion. It has to start
with friendship. Which means encounter and relationship. – [Dr. Jenson] Yeah, thanks. One of you can
go, or I can pick someone. – [Dr. Radner] Well, I would– – [Dr. Chan] Oh, please go ahead. – [Dr. Radner] I don’t know how to answer
the how, I could say the what. I think, again going to something like Ephesians 5, true
unity is where Christ gives himself to His body, the husband to the wife. And vice versa
is implied, but He does it on the cross and He does it utterly. That is the unity of the
church in its fullness. And practically speaking I think when Christians give themselves over
to other Christians, to death, that is true unity. Now that happens sometimes. I mean
it’s interesting that the Ugandan martyrs in the late 19th century had Catholics and
Anglicans together and they walked along the same path, they were eventually killed in
perhaps different places as arguments as to where it all happened. I don’t wanna say that
was perfect unity, but it’s been recognized as one of the most remarkable realities of
Christian unity in the history of the modern church. The Pope John Paul used it as an example
of the unity of martyrdom in a way that transcended all these other things, all the dialogues
and this, that and the other. And I think he’s right. And I think you can see that by
contrast the many places where that has never happened. Where opportunities have been there
and it hasn’t happened. You can see it all over the world in lots of places. And to some
degree it happens right now. I mean our relationship with Christians in the Middle East is a shocking
exposé of Christian disunity, shocking. And it should, I mean I don’t have an answer to
it. See, I’m not talking about the how, but the what is pretty clear. So, the people you’re
talking about, it’s a little hard to know. I mean I would say that’s the church, I mean
you wanna call it ecclesial community or whatever. What’s going on there, it partakes of something
of Christ’s life in the truest way, but we don’t know whether it’s true unity yet. – [Dr. Jenson] Well and the way, from your
presentation, even your comments here, looking at some of your writings, often ecumenical
conversations are about extensive unity. And so it’s let me find as many people from as
many different communions as I can quickly to caricature. And I want to have unity across
these denominational bounds. One of the things I’m hearing too is also there’s a sense of
unity as intensive, intensive unity. So in other words it’s, if it really is giving myself
up to death, my project needs to be not just let me make sure that I know enough people
from enough different communions. It’s let me learn how to give myself unto death, even
if it’s to one other Christian. So there’s this intensive quality that needs to be kept
in this conversation unit as well. – [Father Rausch] Yeah, I think that that’s
a fair characterization. I’ll let you go on. – [Dr. Jenson] Let’s go on, thanks. Dr. Chan. – [Dr. Chan] Yes, I quite agree with what
Ephraim says about the what of unity. That I think is given to us, is already established
for us. We can summarize it as love. Isn’t it coming together including giving your life
for your friend or even your enemy. I think that when we ask the question like you asked
about what sort of unity do we anticipate, I think we need to be careful not to think
of unity in terms of existing categories that may be at work. This is for example in the
ecumenical world as we know it today. In places like you described, we need to think of other
forms of unity and perhaps certain kinds of barriers that need to be crossed, which may
not even be doctrinal in nature. Who knows that these people who seem to agree with one
another on the basics of the gospel, when it comes to other issues, may display deep
disagreement with one another. I know of some people who share the same faith, they’re all
Baptists in Northeast India, but they belong to different tribes and they slaughter one
another. So, we need to think of a different category to talk about ecumenism, depending
on the context in which Christians exist. – [Dr. Jenson] Okay, can I put the same question
I put to Father Rausch to you? If you had the space for pastoral council to suggest
one or two desideratum for these folks on the path to unity. – [Dr. Chan] Yeah, I would say in my experience
with people in tribal societies, one of the greatest challenges is to help them to transcend
their tribalism. It’s one of the most difficult things. I often tried my Christian brothers
and sisters in Northeast India that it seems that your tribal blood is thicker than the
blood of Christ. And that cannot be. So I want to challenge them from the outside. In
fact it gives me a certain advantage to say I know your situation, I know how deeply you
feel about your tribal identity, but this is ultimately not your basic identity. We
ultimately have to transcend that. And so that would be my possible response. Again,
it’s very contextual. – [Dr. Jenson] Yeah, it is, absolutely. Dr.
Sanders? – [Dr. Sanders] Yeah. So to me it’s all a
thought project, ’cause I have no experience talking to tribal people. So in this kind
of an isolated, rural village, what is for me a thought project, experiment. So when
you describe it, I don’t immediately see a problem in need of solving. I don’t see this
community of people believing in Jesus as deficient churches in any way that pertains
to their identity as churches. The ideal that each local church should be in communion with
all other churches is kind of a, it’s a theoretical ideal anyway. I mean, they could all be Facebook
friends, I suppose. But, I mean that’s a lot of churches to be all in contact with, especially
when you’re not dealing with, well, when you’re dealing with a congregationalist ecclesiology,
whereby the community of Christ believers constitutes the Church and you don’t have
to hook into some sort of episcopal oversight. So I see and I think “Wow, there are lots
of things they could benefit from.” But I think that a sense of fellowship, both a longer
fellowship, you know with all Christians that have gone before (I think that’s great, that’s
wonderful, certainly contributes to the flourishing of a church to be aware of and positively
disposed towards the fact that there have been Christians ever since the disciples.
Maybe that’s a deeper or a historical sort of openness to other churches), but also the
wider one. Kind of like, “How many days would I have to walk to get to the next village
where these Jesus followers live?” But to me that’s, you know, the distinction. It’s
the bene esse of the church, it’s the well-being of the church and not the being of the church.
So I don’t look at those and say “These are defective ecclesial communities which could
reach full communion.” I think, “That’s a church.” But that’s, there I’m not speaking
for all Evangelicals, that’s my congregationalist ecclesiology. – [Dr. Jenson] Any responses to that? – [Dr. Radner] My question is not so much
whether these are defective, I wouldn’t question that for a moment, as to whether it’s enough
for the hope of what it means in our calling as Christians. If they’re not being called
to anything more than meeting one another across the hill, then maybe not. But my guess
is nobody lives in such isolation anymore in the world and if anybody does, they’re
pretty much minority. Most people live with responsibilities to their communities, their
states, their regions, their you know, neighbors understood in lots of ways nobody asked for,
but none the less that are there. And so we have responsibilities and how we fulfill those
responsibilities are deeply determined by our faith and who we are as Christians. And
therefore our relationships as churches in that sense. That has to do with, you know,
questions of how one deals with the government. What is our place vis-a-vis our little communities
across the hills vis-a-vis this context in which we live and the laws and the whatever’s
going on. Most places it’s not very good, that’s just the nature of the world and therefore
the question of Christian unity actually is frequently called upon as a kind of basis
upon which to make a faithful response to the world around us. And I think that when
we’re isolated or we accept the smallness of our communities in some way as enough,
I think we’re accepting a sort of, the weakness of a position vis-a-vis our calling as Christians
within the wider world. Potentially, potentially. And it all depends where we are, obviously.
I mean we’re making this up in some senses as a case, but– – [Dr. Sanders] Yeah, I can imagine listing
some protocols or some ascending level of obligations you have as you become aware of
more and more Christians. Again, this is imaginary, we’re starting with a group that in my imagination
only has contact with one other village. But, it seems to me that in settings I’m in, I
think, “I think I’m obliged to communicate that I am not competing with other gospel
preaching churches for market share.” Right? Like, if I’m giving the impression that my
church is the best church in the sense that I really need to capture all the people around
here I can and not let ’em go to that one down the street. I think that there are ways
of communicating non-institutional unity. – [Dr. Jenson] So that’s not communicating
communion, that’s sort of what non-competition? – [Dr. Sanders] Yeah. – [Dr. Jenson] It’s a pretty thin account
of communion there, yeah? – [Dr. Sanders] Yeah, sure. 43,000 denominations
sounds scandalous, but I don’t know all 43,000 denominations. It could be that you’ve got
the left foot Baptist church right next door to the right foot Baptist church and they
just love each other. In fact it could be, this is not the case, but it could be that
43,000 churches means more love between more churches. – [Father Rausch] Please God, yeah. – [Dr. Radner] The problem is history doesn’t
bear that out. That’s the problem, I mean it could. And it does in some places, actually.
It actually does. – [Dr. Sanders] It does sometimes. I introduced
a speaker last night who’s just been through a church merger. Where two churches in the
same area in L.A. realized their ministries overlapped so much that they oughta, they
could afford a bigger building with better air conditioning if they joined up. But they
weren’t fighting each other before that, you know. It’s all the same set of friends. – [Dr. Jenson] Father Rausch. – [Father Rausch] I don’t wanna be put in
the position of defending the institutional nature of the church, but at something you
said in your second response there, Dr. Radner, about how does this little church in this
village relate to the world mission of the church. You know, my reaction in the first
talks was that if we so spiritualize our understanding of church, that it becomes good fellowship
and koinonia and love of God. Maybe if all the mission of the church is is to have everyone
born again that might be enough. But if the mission of the church is to work for the transformation
of God’s people for their flourishing, for their wellness, for their transformation by
God’s grace, then we need a little bit more structure. And that’s why I’m always a little
bit suspicious of what might seem to me as an attempt to so spiritualize ecclesiology
or so spiritualize the mission of the church that it becomes entirely individualistic.
So I like that you touched on that in your remarks just a moment ago. – [Dr. Jenson] That’s nicely put too, the
structure in, I don’t wanna put words in your mouth, but the structure in service of mission. – [Dr. Radner] In service of mission, yeah. – [Matt] So in support of mission and certainly
pushing hard against any false dicotomy between structure and spirit or spontaneity or, yeah,
that’s really important. Let me ask this question. This is actually coming straight from Father
Rausch, in his book “Toward a Truly Catholic Church”, you say later in the book “Catholicity
not visible is not real.” So we’ve been talking, we’ve been hitting at the docetic things that
are visible, invisible. So I wanna ask again for the four of you. First, I just want a
vote. And then I wanna hear you describe it. Yes or no, I’ll bypass you on the yes or no,
since you wrote it. – [Dr. Radner] Maybe he changed his mind!
Fair enough, fair enough. – [Father Rausch] Did I really say that? That’s
pretty good then. – [Dr. Jenson] You did! We can put other words
in his mouth. No. So I’m assuming Father Rauch you still agree that a catholicity not visible
is not real. Dr. Radner? – [Dr. Radner] No, I would agree with that.
The question is what means by visibility. Because- – [Dr. Jenson] We’ll come back. Hold on. I
wanna get the votes in! But you’re first, you’re first. Dr. Chan. – [Dr. Chan] I’ve indicated quite clearly
that I’m opposed to any kind of docetic ecclesiology. And so visibility is essential. – [Dr. Jenson] Okay, Dr. Sanders. – [Dr. Sanders] Sure… [laughter] – [Dr. Chan] What does that mean? – [Dr. Sanders] I know I only get one word. – [Dr. Jenson] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Was that
three or four u’s? Good. I think that’s 3.75 yeses and- – [Dr. Sanders] Well it was unanimous I think,
right? There’s a lot of agreement there. – [Dr. Jenson] Sure… Dr. Radner, let’s,
yeah, you’re absolutely right. It depends on what we mean by visibility. – [Dr. Radner] Yeah, I am not… Ecclesial
structures are often used as synonyms for visibility. And they might be and they can
be useful and so on. But that’s certainly not what I was implying as necessary. I think
bodies are the issue. And it has to do with praying together, it has to be doing with
space, it has to do with voice, it has to do with money. I was gonna say, if we don’t
give our lives to one another, the next best thing is our money. And I’m not totally serious
about that, but I’m partially serious about that. – [Dr. Jenson] I wanna be in communion right
now if you’re OK with that. – [Dr. Radner] Yeah, yeah, but it goes both
ways. – [Dr. Jenson] That’s right. – [Dr. Radner] But seriously, if one is prepared
to give one’s tithe, if one as an Evangelical, Free Evangelical, is prepared to give one’s
tithe to the local Roman Catholic Church, I think it’d be an odd thing to do, I think.
I imagine some people may actually do it here and there for various reasons. I don’t know,
marriage, and this, that and the other. But I think actually it would be an incredibly
real, at least potentially, element of visible unity. But, there are lots of other ways to
talk about that. – [Dr. Jenson] No, I appreciate that. – [Dr. Chan] I think that in principle, any
area that is defective that we recognize as expressing our sinful condition, those are
precisely the areas that we must focus on in expressing our visible unity. And it may
take many different forms in many different contexts. – [Dr. Radner] Do you mean accountability?
In some fashion amongst Christians, is that what you mean by addressing defects or– – [Dr. Chan] Well, it could be accountability.
That may be one area. You talk about the whole area of fellowship with one another and expressing
that fellowship, koinonia, in a very concrete way. That’s one form. But, it may well be
that in some situations the need is not so much about koinonia, it is very interesting
that at least, the koinonia may be expressed in ways that are quite different from say,
what you think koinonia ought to be expressed. I’ll give you an example. Again, using the
examples of tribal societies, you find that at one level, they can express deep relationship
with one another. They are often very personal in their approach to one another. They value
personal relationship. But when someone feels that his or her honor is violated, you find
that the whole relationship turns ugly. So there is an area weakness. It can be a strength,
to talk about defending honor and so forth, but it can also be a weakness. And in many
instances I know how in the name of being shamed by someone, Christians turn violent.
So, that is a specific area in which we need to address to express our unity in Christ.
So I get back to this thing that we cannot preempt or decide beforehand what might be
the conditions that constitute unity and apply that across the board. I think that we need
to constantly look at situations, actual life situations, where things that unity, koinonia,
are expressed in different ways, implying many different sets of values. – [Dr. Jenson] Good, either of you two? – [Dr. Sanders] I think I like the distinction
between institutional unity and other forms of visible unity. I do think that would go
with lots of denominational structures. Existing side by side but cooperating well. I like
the thought project of the bizarre cross-denominational tithing. I can imagine tithing to a church
that I thought had a lot going on but really needed to hire some theological consultants.
If I could write that on the memo line. I certainly don’t think any of us tithe at our
own churches because we’re convinced they’re so perfect that they don’t need to change
at all, they just need more money to do what they’re doing. I think when you invest in,
when your ecclesiology invests heavily in external unity, you get your reward. You get
the external unity. The larger a church or denomination gets, the more there are multiple
things going on within it. Which, fail to actually register the sort of unity that I’m
talking about. So I guess I’m trying to cite stuff to charge that I’ve got a docetic or
invisible spiritualized kind of idea of church unity. Denominations I’ve been a part of that
have successfully branded themselves out really, and said “We are this church, we are the Methodist
Church.” You poke around in there a little bit and you say, actually there’s at least
a couple of babies fighting in this womb right now. There are two churches in there and it’s
a matter of time till they split in some way. And I think we could tell that story in multiple
ways. I mean, the Anglican story is its own story. There are lots of different kinds of
Roman Catholics who have a strong investment in external institutional unity but deep divisions
internally. – [Dr. Jenson] Okay. Father Rausch, please. – [Father Rausch] You know when you quoted
that, it didn’t quite sound right. I think what I said was, “Communion that is not
visible is not real.” And I was thinking of the Reformation when I wrote that because
you could say we are all united, but without- the bonds of unity were severed in the 16th
century. That was the tragedy. But there is a sense in which it makes sense to say catholicity
that is not visible is not real. Roman Catholics have a tendency to reduce catholicity to universality.
So it’s the whole church. But if you go back to Seperian and Ignatius, it’s “catholos,”
it’s according to the whole. And what it means is that any expression of life in Christ needs
to be incorporated into the church, which we’ve not always done. So we should have
Pentecostal Christians and we should have those that use this Evangelical language,
which Catholics are unfortunately a little uncomfortable with when you ask ’em if they’ve
been born again. But we don’t come up in that culture, you know? You grow up in that kind
of a culture; we don’t. We have different ways of talking about God’s grace and we should
be able to draw on the riches of the theologies of other churches. And anything that’s legitimate
expression of life in Christ needs to be incorporated into the church if it’s to be truly catholic. – [Dr. Chan] I think in response to what you
just said, yes, Catholics may not be comfortable with the typical Evangelical expressions like
“born again” and so forth, and yet, when I read a book like George Weigel’s “Evangelical
Catholicism” there’s so much of it that I see in his description of Catholic, or rather
Evangelical Catholicism which could be described as having family resemblance with the Evangelicals.
So it may not be the language, but there’s something about it that I can say, “Yes I
can identify with what he is saying as a Catholic.” – [Dr. Jenson] Dr. Chan, can I ask you a follow
up, just because I think you’re about the best person in the world to answer it. So,
I’ve long thought with ecumenism that Pentecostalism is the big question. So you see the reformational
denominations that are working so hard and they’re meticulous, beautifully meticulous
and patient and procedural to find ways. George Hunsinger is here tonight. He’s written a
fantastic book that carefully lays out an approach that would bring in the reform communion
to an accepted place to share communion with Roman Catholics. It’s a breathtaking thing.
But I keep thinking, “What about Pentecostals?” And it’s a structural question, it’s a question
about episcopacy, it’s a question about a Eucharist-centered worship that’s rarely the
case. So maybe, let me just throw out a bias, and I’ll overstate it and see if you can respond
back. I just suspect that this massive movement of believers and Pentecostals around the world
will never get to the place where it even, where they could even conceive about aligning
with the Bishop of Rome or having this kind of regulated liturgical approach or maybe
even being Eucharist centered, but that’s a little more possible. And to me that’s a
stumbling block in this project of oneness. I’m being a little dire for the sake of response,
but what do you think? Is there a sense that Pentecostals might be able to make that move?
Is there a sense that we’re just not conceiving this project of oneness right if we’re requiring
so much of them? – [Dr. Chan] I think that part of the problem
is that traditionally Pentecostals have not been in touch with the larger Christian churches.
They only recognize people of their kind and only among those with a certain particular
family resemblance, to use your expression, would they be open, would they open themselves
to. But then, it’s very interesting that when some Catholics became charismatic, it started
to open the eyes of the Pentecostal. It started to give to them a different understanding
of what the Catholic Christians, the nature of Catholicism. I think it helped to break
down a lot of prejudices. So, there are things that happened among the Pentecostals, not
only within the traditional Pentecostal denominations and bodies, but beyond, across denominations,
that are helping to forge, we might say, spiritual affinities with one another. And I think that
those are hopeful movements that over time could eventually lead to a fuller sense of
koinonia and unity. – [Dr. Jenson] Thanks, that’s helpful. Let
me ask one more quick question, since I’ve got the meat-eater’s share. Can I ask this
of you Dr. Radner? Is the vision of unity that Christians have, or at least in the kind
of circles that we talk in, is it too fraught with a certain kind of perfectionism? You’re
dealing with the history of the sin of the church and you’re trying to account for that,
and I’m thinking of the church’s unity. Do we have a problem with being almost too perfectionistic
in our ecumenical approach or vision? – [Dr. Radner] I’m not sure I get the question,
in that, there’s no question we’re not perfect. We’re not gonna be perfect. So, being perfect
isn’t a problem for us. I mean, it’s not a problem because we’re never gonna get there.
Now, if your question is but we think ecumenical unity means X,Y and Z and all the boxes have
to be checked before we can talk truly about unity, and that’s keeping us from some other
kind of engagement that is necessary, that may be true. I just think, you know, we are
in such a global transition, socially, that we haven’t a clue as to where this is going.
I mean, would anybody really think that it’s worth making a prediction 25 years from now,
even as to where Pentecostalism is gonna be in Latin America or China or wherever. Who
could have predicted many of the things. The sorts of statistics that you were giving about
the United States are quite astonishing. And they were not what people were saying. I mean
people were saying this and that, I realize you can always find somebody who predicted
it, but so like an economist right, I mean an economist can always predict something
if they say the same thing for 10 years in a row. Then it’ll be fulfilled. – [Dr. Jenson] That’s great. – [Dr. Radner] But, I think we are- it’s just
a huge transition. So my remarks were not meant to be just abstractive ones. I really
don’t think we know what unity is going to look like right now, because things have been
so, just moved around and bustled and turmoil in terms of what Christianity is becoming
in the places, I mean what’s gonna happen to Christianity in the Middle East? Does anybody
have any idea what has happened to Christianity in the Middle East in the course of 10 years,
25 years, whatever it’s been, has completely upturned 1,500 years worth of certain kinds
of structures. What makes us think that’s not gonna happen anywhere else? I mean it
won’t happen the same way, but… So, perfect isn’t the issue. The issue is actually to
care about it. And I think one of the biggest problems is indifference. And Elie Wiesel
gave a famous lecture on indifference vis-a-vis moral life in general, which is sort of a
classic talk. But you can apply it to all kinds of things. The point is that if we think
that the unity of the church is something we are called into, have been given, and according
to which we are sort of measured in God’s eyes, then we can’t fail to make that one
of the greatest priorities, the only priority, the greatest priorities we have now, anywhere
we’re at and in any way we can do it. And anything that tells us it’s not important
or that it’s okay, I think is clearly, that one I’m fairly willing to say that’s a mistake.
So, yeah perfectionism isn’t the issue. I think just caring enough to actually go after
something, as if it’s important in this case, is. I don’t know whether that’s your answer. – [Dr. Jenson] No, that’s wonderful, that’s
perfect. We’ve got about 15 minutes for questions. That’s a perfect place to transition. So if
you do have questions, we have these two mics right here, please come up, have a blessedly
succinct question for us. And direct it as you will, either to everyone or to one participant
in particular. And whoever gets to the mic first gets the first question. – [Audience Member 1] Oh gees, I’m first,
alright. – [Dr. Jenson] I think, oh you even wrote
it down. – [Audience Member 1] Well he said to be articulate,
so, I didn’t wanna let you guys down. In light of our Western post-postmodernism, with its
hyper individualism and self actualization and an overall sense of feelings having more
weight than facts, do you believe this cultural movement is being received as an overreaction
by some churches in contributing towards Christianity’s future downfall and thus we should view these
churches as just another generational crying of wolf? Or is it a real concern that more
churches need to realize and unite together against? – [Dr. Radner] Gosh, wow that’s a– – [Dr. Chan] That’s a mouthful. – [Dr. Radner] That’s one sentence! – [Audience Member 1] It’s a light question,
it’s a softball. – [Dr. Radner] That’s one sentence! – [Dr. Jenson] It’s longer in the German. – [Audience Member 1] Do you want me to read
it again? – [Dr. Radner] I take it the question is asking
whether these sort of cultural trends are something we should worry about in the long
term or whether they’re part of the sort of ebb and flow of generational… is that right? – [Audience Member 1] Yeah. – [Dr. Radner] Okay. I just read this Pew
study about how millennials think of themselves as all cynical and narcissistic and greedy
and so on, more than anybody else. That sounds like a really bad self view by given generation.
But then it also noted that more members of the millennial generation, according to sort
of the framework of when they’re born, don’t think that they’re actually members of the
millennial generation, than any other generation has. I mean every generation, apparently you
ask from the silent and strong to the bloomers and so on. You’ll ask people who were born
in those periods, “What do you think about baby boomers?” and they’ll say oh well they’re
this and that. But by the way I’m not a baby boomer. Even though they actually fit. But
apparently the number of millennials who say that they’re not millennials is the largest
of any self denying generation. So, what does that– – [Dr. Jenson] Which is a good thing, self
deny, you’ve been writing about this for. – [Dr. Radner] What does that mean? I think
it does mean that a lot of people don’t like what they are. I think that, I mean there’s
a sense- There’s the good side and the bad side. The bad side is, “We’re all narcissistic
and cynical”; the good side is, “but I don’t wanna be a part of that, so actually
I’m not.” So, the point being that it’s a little hard to know whether this is- There’s
some sort of self awareness I think, within whatever, let’s call this present generation,
younger generation, young adult generation. There’s a self awareness that’s going on,
but there’s also perhaps a sense of inevitability about it too, if I try to interpret that,
which is a bad sign. That is to say, “This is just who we are. This is where things are
going. I don’t like it, but I accept the kind of change in values and commitments that are
going on.” Is this gonna live itself out in the course of the years, so as to change
what this generation sort of constructs and leaves for the next? Obviously that’s hard
to say. I think connected to a larger, global culture or cultures that are interconnected,
I think there’s cause for concern. I think it’s hard. It is a lot harder for younger
people today to have a clear sense of, I’ll say, moral imperative (but I mean in this
sense within Christians a Christian imperative for their lives) than there has been in the
past. Because everything seems both so overwhelming and united against, in some way. I mean in
smaller worlds it’s easier to figure out where you’re going. You don’t think that everything
is stacked up against your beliefs. But I think there’s a sense of inevitability about
the world. Everything is cast in global terms now. I mean from climate change to hunger
to this and to that. It’s all everything. And so I think there is a sense of fatigue,
almost, in the face of this and hence withdrawal into sort of an acknowledged kind of smaller
self enclosed world. So I would be worried. I mean that goes against these questions of
unity. You’d think it would help, but- everybody’s aware of the bigger picture, but actually,
I think there’s a sense that it’s too much and it’s not all gonna come together anyway,
so what’s the point? So, I don’t really know, obviously, but I think there’s some concern.
I would have concern about that. – [Dr. Jenson] Let’s take one on the left
here and we’ll go back here. – [Audience Member 2] Alright, it’s my understanding
that the Protestant Reformation placed an emphasis on faith and belief over action in
the life of a Christian believer, and that has led to an increased importance on the
exactitude of correct doctrine. Is it possible that this environment has led to the excessive
denominationalism within the Protestant church and preoccupation with exact doctrine that
has undermined the mission of the church? And if so, how do we continue to think, pray
and wrestle through the finer points of right belief without letting that eclipse our effective
action within the world? – [Dr. Sanders] Well I wouldn’t wanna play
off right belief against life and action. So those are not mutually exclusive. If it
were the case that a movement opted for one and treated the other one as if it were mutually
exclusive, you know so emphasized one that it downplayed the other, I suppose that would
be bad. You might be able to tell from the way I’m putting that, that I don’t think that’s
a fair characterization of the Reformation. So I can’t then go on and say whether that
contributed to disunity. I mean it’s hard to place much more emphasis on right doctrine
than Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, right? It’s not like Luther came along and said “Well,
it’s a bit sloppy, let’s make that more precise.” – [Dr. Jenson] That’s the line. – [Dr. Sanders] Yeah. I mean it’s crucial
that to keep both of those on the table. It’s not like we can choose. Let’s forget about
transformed lives and just get our doctrine right. I could see how if you did make that
option, that would lead to finer and finer tuning of doctrinal statements to exclude
people who are a little bit wrong, on finer and finer points. – [Dr. Jenson] Fair enough. – [Audience Member 3] So when I was first
introduced– – [Dr. Jenson] Can you step up to the mic
a bit? – [Audience Member 3] Is that better? – [Dr. Jenson] Yeah. – [Audience Member 3] When I was first introduced
to liturgical Christianity, I was exposed to a new pronoun for the church, being she,
rather than it. Which had never, really, I don’t know, I’d never spoken about the church
in a kind of gendered or personified way before. And in effect it meant that when I would speak
to particularly liturgical Christians, there was this sense of like a separate person being
spoken about. And I guess what I want to know is one, is that distinction in pronouns, does
that tell something about how the churches (small C churches) see the Church more broadly?
Is it important to you which pronoun you use for the Church and what does your pronoun
choice say about how you see the Church? – [Dr. Radner] Good, good, that’s a good question
actually. – [Dr. Chan] What’s the question, I didn’t- – [Dr. Jenson] About the pronouns used for
the church and sort of what difference it makes when you use “she” or “it?”
I’m looking at- you don’t have to talk. – [Dr. Radner] We’re all looking, we’re all
looking at you because- – [Dr. Jenson] Representative of- – [Dr. Radner] That’s a particularly Catholic
appropriate question, no? – [Father Rausch] I’m not sure I heard it
all. You’re asking why is the church called she? – [Dr. Radner] And does it matter? – [Father Rausch] And does it matter. – [Dr. Jenson] And he was talking about “she”
versus “it,” a gendered versus neutral, and is there something unique to the different
tradition. – [Father Rausch] I think you’re right, it’s
a very Catholic understanding of church. We see the church as nurturing, we see Christianity
as a fundamentally ecclesial faith. You know when Paul talks about being in Christ he’s
talking about being in the body of Christ. You know and so there’s this sense that like
a mother, and you have to be very careful of this today because some of this language
is loaded today especially in the Catholic church and the whole question of the ordination
of women, but yes, the church is a maternal image. Because it’s receptive of the word
of God, it’s nurturing, it brings us to life out of it’s body, you know, which is the body
of Christ. So I think it’s an important image, although it’s one we use with some care today
because in some ways these terms have become politicized. If that helps at all. – [Dr. Radner] Can I just add to that? I mean
I, you know there are scriptural images which make that absolutely necessary to say at least
sometime, I mean the Ephesians 5 text is perhaps the most famous. Israel is a bride. The Song
of Songs was always interpreted by Jews as for Israel as the woman, or Christians as
the church, sometimes the soul, but I think what’s important is the fact that the church
is, this is me talking, I don’t think is an “it.” I mean one might use the “it”
term for whatever helpful, it fits in the discourse in some way. But strictly speaking,
the church is not an it. It’s not an institution in the way we talk about an organization with
a CEO and what have you. It’s not a building and we’re all clear about that more or less.
It’s not a single person either, but it’s personal. It’s about a living reality of people.
And that’s hard to, it’s hard to talk about. The tradition has used the feminine gender,
although not exclusively it needs to be said- – [Father Rausch] It’s very ancient. – [Dr. Radner] -as coming out of scripture
itself, but that has allowed the church always to have this personal reality whom God loves.
I mean Christ goes to give himself to a person, to a living being, to people, not to an idea
and not to an ideal at all. – [Dr. Jenson] I’m afraid we only have time
for one more, so. – [Audience Member 4] What advice would you
give a person that does not want to join a local church because of disillusionment with
fractures in the global church? – [Dr. Jenson] Can you read that one more
time? – [Audience Member 4] What advice would you
give someone that doesn’t want to join any local church because they’re too disillusioned
with fractures and hurts across denominations in the global church? – [Father Rausch] How do you join a global
church? – [Dr. Sanders] Now I got the question and
my advice would be join a local church. So I mean, I would wanna take seriously the kind
of pain and disillusionment that is present and, knowing about all of this Christian discord,
I’d also wanna make sure that it wasn’t sort of a cooked up, high minded sounding excuse
for the actual practical difficulties and awkwardnesses of living with fellow Christians
in close community. – [Dr. Radner] And that’s the personal aspect.
That is one of the personal aspects of the church’s life that we were just talking about. – [Dr. Jenson] I mean picking up from some
of Dr. Radner’s work, one thing you might say to that person is- what a perfect opportunity
to enter into the body of the crucified Lord and walk in His way. To join a local church
that breaks your heart. – [Dr. Chan] Well, this where Ephraim’s concern
comes in, right? About your brutal unity. Very much so. – [Dr. Jenson] I’m afraid that’s all for questions.
I’d love it for us to have more time for that, but Dr. Peter Leithart, if you will give us
some closing comments. – [Dr. Leithart] Thank you. You’ll have to
excuse my voice. I’ve been losing it all day and it’s almost gone. So, I’m Peter Leithart.
I’m the president of the Theopolis Institute, which is one of the cosponsors of this evening.
And on behalf of the Theopolis Institute, I want to thank you all for coming, thank
also the speakers. Thanks to the Torrey Honors Institute and First Things Magazine for inviting
Theopolis to be one of the cosponsors. It’s a great honor for us to be involved at this
level. I wanna make very brief comments and in doing that I’m picking up on a couple of
topics that were covered. Not because these are the only ones that were of interest, certainly
leaving a lot to the side. There’s a great deal that I could say, a great deal to expand
on, to clarify, perhaps even to object to, but I wanna just pick a couple of things.
The first is I wanna pick up on something that Ephraim had emphasized regularly throughout
the evening. But, I think typically, I want to make it a little more cheery than Ephraim
has left it. He is exactly right that we don’t know what the unity of the church or what
the church of the future will look like. And that’s exactly right because it’s in the nature
of the God who has formed the church, the God who has created this world, that He does
things that we don’t expect. This is the sign of a living God, as Robert Jensen says. He
has the capacity to surprise. If a dead thing has a capacity to surprise, it’s because it
comes back to life. The church has often been dead, often been pronounced dead, often been
pronounced irrelevant. But then, God surprises and does something new. God is a creator and
each day of the creation week He does something fresh, does something new, something unexpected.
God is the God of Israel and in each age of Israel’s history he does something unprecedented,
something that hasn’t been anticipated. And often after a massive collapse and breakdown.
So I think it’s crucial, Ephraim is right, it’s crucial that we don’t pretend to know
what the church of the future will look like. It’s also crucial to realize that the God
who is superintending and orchestrating the history of the church is a God who is fulfilling
His promises. And while He is forming a church that is united to a crucified Savior, He’s
forming a church that is moving, I think, from glory to glory until it is subsumed as
bride. So my particular twist on this, Ephraim brought up the condition of the church in
the Middle East, how can we make any sense of that? The birthplace of the church seems
to be now evacuated of Christians. I put this point of response: at the very moment that
the Chinese authorities during the cultural revolution were expelling the missionaries,
and suppressing the churches, that was the point at which God began to work. We don’t
know what God’s going to do. We don’t know what the future of the church in the Middle
East looks like. But that’s not a point, and I’m sure Ephraim agrees with this, that’s
not a point for gloom. Never a point for gloom because we serve and worship a God of infinite
creativity, infinite freshness, and a God who has committed all that infinite creativity
to us. I see that my time is up. This is Fred’s nine o’clock phone call. Call me at nine,
he says. Call me at nine, Leithart will be speaking and you can interrupt. Okay. The
other point I wanna make is to pick up on something, a couple of the things that Fred
said at the end. I appreciated his ringing endorsement for Evangelicalism, his pep talk
for Evangelicalism. And I think he got the point of Evangelicalism exactly right. It’s
about knowing Jesus. And this captures both the genius and the particular context of the
rise of Evangelicalism. “Do you know Jesus?”, not “Are you a church member?”, not “Can
you recite the creed?”, “Do you know Jesus?” The question is a question that’s posed as
a protest against any form of nominal complacent Christianity. And that’s the genius of Evangelicalism.
And I affirm, completely affirm that with Fred. But I wanna, particularly in this crowd,
Biola students, you younger generation that Fred has pointed out, are our future and I
won’t sing either. But I wanna leave you with these questions, these Evangelical questions.
Do you know Jesus? And is the Jesus that you know a new Adam who has a bride? Is the Jesus
that you know One who has given His life, breaking down barriers between Jews and Gentiles,
transgressing boundaries? Is the Jesus that you know the One who said, “Do this” and implied
“Do this together?” Is the Jesus you know the Jesus who prayed that all His children
and all His disciples would be one? If you don’t know that Jesus, then you don’t know
the Jesus that’s revealed in the New Testament. Do you know Jesus is the crucial question.
But if you know Jesus, then you’re also seeking to serve Him and obey Him and that means pursuing
a unified future for the Church. Thank you. – [Dr. Jenson] Thanks Dr. Leithart, that’s
a perfect set of questions to end our evening. Thank you all so much. You’ve been an attentive
audience. Thank you again to the contributors, can we? Thank you very much. Will you join
me in prayer, please? Father, we would see Jesus and we would know Him. At once, I think
those of us in this room, we want to say thank You that You’ve shown in the face of Christ
and caused us to see Him by the power of Your Spirit. And, we want to also pray that we
would know Him. Father, forgive us our complacent satisfaction with prior knowledge. Forgive
us our confusion of familiarity with communion. Forgive us our easy, our easy transformation
even of Jesus into an idol as we forget who He is, the Jesus of Scripture. And renew us.
Renew us in Christ. And renew us towards one another in Your church. Thank You that You
know the church of the future. And we entrust it, and we entrust ourselves, we entrust Your
world to You tonight. In the name of the same Jesus, our Savior and Lord, Amen. – [All] Amen. – [Dr. Jenson] Goodnight.

5 thoughts on “The Future of The Church (September 9, 2015)”

  1. Global South is an expression Catholics dont use. While Africa and South America are new regions for Protestants, Catholicism has been there all along. We dont treat them as a separate species. They are us and we are them.

  2. There are pastors who abuse the members of the chruch. These pastors who graduated from Biola need to be accountable for their sinful behaviors.

  3. Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
    for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready; Revelation 19:7

  4. 20:22 SCRIPTURE NOT ETERNAL: Matthew 5:18-17 “I came to FULFILL the Law.. and *UNTIL* heaven and earth PASS AWAY, not one jot or one tittle will by no means pass away from the law UNTIL all is FULFILLED.

  5. Its a good thing GOD don't POUR OUT HIS SPIRIT ON THE WISE…The kingdom of HEAVEN is hidden from the WISE, cuz none of,these men know ANYTHING about the HOLY GHOST in dwelling your heart and what that is…NONE OF THEM. AND I AINT TALKING ABOUT CRAZY TONGUES AND FALSE "GIFTS" DECEIVED PEOPLE BRAG ABOUT…THY WISDOM CONDEMN AND CORRUPT THEE..

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