"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).

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Hurry Up Already: Eschatological Ecclesiology and its Problems

If you've been at this ecclesiology and ecumenism business as long as I have (thirty years this spring, since I was a high-school student involved in Anglican-Catholic dialogue, and then in the Canadian Council of Churches and World Council of Churches for many years), you realize how long even little things take, and how far off into the future unity looks. One of the first lessons I learned in the late 1980s was that by then everyone who had been at it since the 1960s saw a significant cooling off; and a little later still, the hopes for full-on Christian unity everywhere by the turn of the millennium were scaled waaaaaay back. (Already in 1991 in Canberra, everyone was using the phrase "ecumenical winter.") By the new millennium we had some people (e.g., Aidan Nichols in his otherwise useful Rome and the Eastern Churches) speaking of unity as an eschatological prospect, which I found very depressing.

Along comes an affordable paperback edition of a recent book to cheer and buck us up by arguing that all this talk of eschatology can be a dodge for doing more things better right now: Scott MacDougall, More Than Communion: Imagining an Eschatological Ecclesiology (Bloomsbury, 2018), 302pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The dominant contemporary model for ecclesiology (theological views of the church itself) is the ecclesiology of communion. MacDougall argues that communion ecclesiologies are often marked by a problematic theological imagination of the future (eschatology). He argues further that, as a result, our ways of practising and being the church are not as robust as they might otherwise be. Re-imagining the church in the light of God's promised future, then, becomes a critical conceptual and practical task.
MacDougall presents a detailed exploration of what communion ecclesiologies are and some of the problems they raise. He offers two case studies of such theologies by examining how distinguished theologians John Zizioulas and John Milbank understand the church and the future, how these combine in their work, and the conceptual and practical implications of their perspectives. He then offers an alternative theological view and demonstrates the effects that such a shift would have. In doing so, MacDougall offers a proposal for recovering the 'more' to communion and to ecclesiology to help us imagine a church that is not beyond the world (as in Zizioulas) or over against the world (as in Milbank), but in and for the world in love and service. This concept is worked out in conversation with systematic theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and Johannes Baptist Metz, and by engaging with a theology of Christian practices currently being developed by practical theologians such as Dorothy C. Bass, Craig Dykstra, and those associated with their ongoing project.
The potential for the church to become an agent of discipleship, love, and service can best be realised when the church anticipates God's promised perfection in the full communion between God and humanity, among human beings, within human persons, and between humanity and the rest of creation.

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