2 Perspectives of Church, backwards and forwards

I am working on some content from Stanley Grenz from his Revisioning Evangelical Theology. I find the content to be a challenge and a good discussion. He wrote this text in 1993, but the discussion is completely appropriate for  today. The shape of what exactly is “Evangelicalism” is being discussed today. Many years from now, there may still be a debate about what Evangelicalism is. It does seem that the Neo-Calvinist camp is making the deepest impression in the discussion currently- big churches and big personalities associated therein. There are a couple of books coming out this Fall that will be great to read and include into the discussion.

Michael Horton and Roger Olson are both releasing a book the same day, October 18. Michael Horton will release For Calvinsim (with a full bloomed Tulip on the cover) while Roger Olson will release Against Calvinism (with a Tulip completely dead on the cover). Got to love the humor with those covers.

Another book being released on September 26th entitled Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism. The reading and following discussion of this book will be interesting, indeed.

Back to Grenz
At the end of the Revisioning book, Grenz feels that a reshaping of “church” will be helpful in a post-foundationalist theology. How we view the church is connected with our belief of the work of God in Christ and how we conceptualize our blessed hope. Grenz states that some view the church from a past reality, a rear-view mirror approach. Grenz states that this view is neo-Platonistic, a view of the church as “constituted by the heavenly archetype preexisting in God’s mind.” The goal of the church, then, is to emulate its heavely archetype. This idea, in Grenz’s mind, is similar to a Calvinistic ecclesiology. God has already elected before the foundation of the world. (Eph 1:4-5) According to Grenz, “the mission of the church in history is to make visible the invisible company of the elect. Its mission, therefore, is to bring within its boundaries all the elect- all who were chosen by God in eternity past.” (181) All kingdom acts, therefore, are attributed to God’s sovereignty, God’s glory.

Grenz notes that there are other eccesiologies that have a more firm kingdom-centric dimension. Instead of uncovering that which is already realized, the church operates, in real time, as a present reality of a future hope. God’s kingdom has dynamically come in the work of Christ, and is creating a new world with Christ as Lord even within the evil world that is passing away. This view of church looks forwards, not backwards. The church’s message serves as a prophetic voice to the watching world about what it means to live in the kingdom, a kingdom of “love, peace, justice and righteousness.” (183-184)

The church, then, serves as a ‘sign and sacrament’ of the age to come. Petros Vassiliadis from the Orthodox church writes that the church, “does not draw her identity from what she is, or from what was given to her as an institution, but from what she will be, i.e., from the eschata (the return of Christ at the end).” The church is an eikon (icon) of what God will complete in the end.

From here, Grenz recommends a trinitarian ecclesiology, a longer discourse that includes God’s joining with His people in that amazing image from Revelation 21:3, God’s dwelling place with His people, a recapturing of what was lost in Eden.

I thought that this discourse was stunning. There is a prevalent view of the church that looks backwards, another that looks to the present and to the future. Is one more appropriate over the other? Can both be reconciled? This is stretching, but is the Gospel communicated differently because of two different focal points of the churches origin?


Published by joeskillen

I'm a husband, dad of 2, Pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, KS.

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