The Doctrine of the Church, An Interview with Gregg Allison, Part 1

Greg Strand – December 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Gregg Allison, Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a book on ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church: Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton: Crossway). This is the most recent release in Crossway’s excellent Foundations of Evangelical Theology series.

A few preliminary remarks should be made before reading the interview, which will, hopefully, lead you to read the book. First, the title should reveal a bit of Allison’s ecclesiological bent, broadly baptistic (note the smaller case “b”), with a respectful interaction and irenic engagement with other ecclesiologies. This would be reflective of many in the EFCA.

Second, the foundational focus is on the biblical nature of the church. This is foundational, and ministries are determined by that foundation. This, he believes, is his most important contribution to the study of ecclesiology today. I would strongly agree, as I have stated it this way for many years. We must understand what the biblical nature of the church is if we are going to understand what the function and ministries of the church are to be.

Third, he defines the church through seven key attributes, the first three based on “the origin and orientation of the church,” with the final four focused on the “gathering and sending of the church.” I will include this in part 2 of this interview, which you can read tomorrow. I believe you will, as did I, find this very helpful.

Fourth, he is sympathetic to the notion of a multisite church model. This is a relatively recent Evangelical phenomenon, so it will be helpful to hear the biblical reasons for his support.

Finally, Allison notes that one of the greatest challenges in the church today is “so-called Christians claim to love Jesus but they can’t stand the church and are not involving themselves in a local church. Thus, the challenge is how to root the church in the gospel of Jesus and connect these people, who claim to know the gospel of Jesus, to the church.” Most of us feel this, and utter a hearty Amen.

Matthew Claridge interviewed Allison in Credo Magazine about this new publication:

I encourage you to read the interview, even more so the book. But today and tomorrow I am going to share two excerpts from the interview, with the hope it will whet your appetite to read the book.

What are some of the challenges you personally faced in writing this systematic treatment of the church?

One of the key challenges was writing an ecclesiology for an audience that is broadly evangelical and thus holds to divergent positions on ecclesiological matters such as continuity and discontinuity between the Old Testament and New Testament and the old covenant people of God and the new covenant people of God, the normative or descriptive nature of the book of Acts, when the church began and who are its members, the relationship of the church to Israel and the kingdom of God, the nature and recipients of baptism, the nature and recipients of the Lord’s Supper, how the church should be governed (e.g., episcopalian, presbyterian, congregational with one pastor and a board of deacons, congregational with a plurality of elders), and the like. In my opinion, a generic evangelical ecclesiology cannot be written. Thus, I chose to write a broadly baptistic ecclesiology (reflecting my theological persuasion and my membership in several baptistic churches over the course of my life) that (I hope) fairly presents other ecclesiologies and interacts with them in a respectful and irenic fashion. At the same time, my ecclesiology develops in some directions that are not typically baptistic (though not without historical precedents and contemporary examples) like opening with a discussion of biblical covenants and identifying the church as the new covenant people of God, a significant emphasis on church discipline, a view of the Lord’s Supper that is both memorial and a type of spiritual presence (with strong warrant from 1 Cor. 10:14-2)[sic], a plurality of elders, the diaconate consisting of both deacons and deaconesses (this latter point is affirmed within a complementarian framework), and advocacy of a particular multisite church structure.

The second challenge was making my way through a large body of contemporary literature on the church, the vast majority of which is pragmatic in nature and thus focuses on the ministries of the church without ever considering what the church is. But I had made a decision early on in my writing that I would start my ecclesiology with a consideration of the nature of the church—its attributes (see point 4 below)—then move to the ministries of the church, because I was convinced that those ministries must flow from the church’s identity, and not visa versa. Thus, while learning a good deal from this contemporary literature on how to do church, I was not particularly helped in constructing my ecclesiology.

A third challenge was the tenor of most contemporary ecclesiologies: almost universally, they underscore the problematic nature of constructing a doctrine of the church. Whether they focus on the dreadful state of the contemporary church (e.g., its consumerist mindset), or accentuate the multiplicity of ecclesiologies (to emphasize the difficult task ahead), or underscore the divisions separating churches due to their different stances on homosexuality and/or gender, most contemporary formulations of the doctrine approach ecclesiology as a problem with which to wrestle. Such a negative orientation weighed quite heavily on me as I sought to write my book.

Remember to come back tomorrow to read the second excerpt from this interview, spelling out Allison’s biblical definition of the church using seven key attributes.

 

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA’s Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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