"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, April 20, 2020

Ecclesiology in Practice

When I first began studying ecclesiology twenty years ago, it was common to read things like the 20th century was the "century of the Church." In other words, as many remarked, one looked in vain in the patristic, scholastic, and early modern periods for systematic treatises on "the Church" in almost all major thinkers East and West.

Instead, it was only with the advent of the 20th century, and the important concomitant of the ecumenical movement--widely thought to have started at the 1910 World Mission Conference in Edinburgh--that we realized we needed to reflect carefully not just on the Church in the abstract, but also in her concrete structures, not least if the hope for Christian unity was going to make progress.

Still, much of ecclesiology has tended towards the idealistic, and only much more recently has turned to considering such things as episcopal, patriarchal, and papal structures, as I did in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy. More recently still have we begun to look at even more local structures, including parishes and diocesan synods, as I did last year in my Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power.

The ongoing attention to the concrete in ecclesiology, to a practice-informed theology, is well served in a new book by Clare Watkins, Disclosing Church: An Ecclesiology Learned from Conversations in Practice (Routledge, 2020), 282pp.

About this new book the publisher tells us this:
From 2006 to 2011 researchers at Heythrop College and the Oxford Centre for ecclesiology and Practical Theology (OxCEPT, Ripon College Cuddesdon) worked on a theological and action research project: "Action Research – Church and Society (ARCS). 2010 saw the publication of Talking About God in Practice: Theological Action research and Practical Theology (SCM), which presented in an accessible way the work of ARCS and its developing methodology. This turned out to be a landmark study in the praxis of Anglican and Catholic ecclesiology in the UK, showing how theology in these differing contexts interacted with the way in which clergy and congregations lived out their religious convictions. This book is a direct follow up to that significant work, authored by one of the original researchers, providing a systematic analysis of the impact of the "theological action research" methodology and its implications for a contemporary ecclesiology.
The book presents an ecclesiology generated from church practice, drawing on scholarship in the field as well as the results of the theological action research undertaken. It achieves this by including real scenarios alongside the academic discourse. This combination allows the author to tease out the complex relationship between the theory and the reality of church.
Addressing the need for a more developed theological and methodological account of the ARCS project, this is a book that will be of interest to scholars interested not only Western lived religion, but ecclesiology and theology more generally too.

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