Archives For Gregg Allison

Recently Gregg Allison was interviewed about his book, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church,  which I have previously mentioned.  One of the questions addressed the importance of ecclesiology, i.e. the doctrine of the church, the question and answer I include below.

In what ways is it important for pastors to have a carefully developed biblical ecclesiology?

Much of what’s available to help pastors today—articles, blogs, videos, and the like—is pragmatically driven advice about how to do church. That being the case, pastors go from one new approach to preaching and worship, or discipleship and pastoral care, to another. In my view, before pastors should worry about how to do church they must grasp the identity of a church—its nature and characteristics. With that biblical and theological vision of the church’s identity firmly established, they can then engage their cities with the gospel, preach the whole counsel of God, foster missionality as a characteristic of the church and not just a program, disciple and discipline members, and all the rest. Sojourners and Strangers, therefore, begins with several chapters about what the church is and is to be, and it concludes with a conversation about the ministries of the church. That design was not accidental but intentional, as it fleshes out the answer to your question.

I appreciate greatly Allison’s response. Evangelicals have generally had a strong soteriology, i.e. a doctrine of salvation, but a weak ecclesiology, i.e. a doctrine of the church. And yet both are absolutely critical to the health and well-being of Christians, both individually and corporately.

It would be a wonderful thing if, in the providence of God, this book would be used to deepen our understanding of the biblical nature of the church and to strengthen our commitment to the life and ministry of the local church. Actually, the former is the foundation of the latter; the latter manifests one’s understanding of the former.

As I promised yesterday, here is the second part of the interview (see yesterday’s post for the complete interview) that focuses on Gregg Allison’s seven key attributes of  his understanding of the church, spelled out in his new book, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton: Crossway).

Your core definitions of the church include the following: doxological, logocentric, pneumadynamic, covenantal, confessional, missional, and spatio-temporal/eschatological. Could you briefly summarize what these aspects mean?

The church is characterized by seven attributes. The first three are characteristics regarding the origin and orientation of the church: it is (1) doxological, or oriented to the glory of God; (2) logocentric, or centered on the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the inspired Word of God, Scripture; and (3) pneumadynamic, or created, gathered, gifted, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The final four are characteristics regarding the gathering and sending of the church: it is (4) covenantal, or gathered as members in new covenant relationship with God and in covenantal relationship with each other; (5) confessional, or united by both personal confession of faith in Christ and common confession of the Christian faith; (6) missional, or identified as the body of divinely-called and divinely-sent ministers to proclaim the gospel and advance the kingdom of God; and (7) spatio-temporal/eschatological, or assembled as a historical reality (located in space and time) and possessing a certain hope and clear destiny while its lives the strangeness of ecclesial existence in the here-and-now.

I like this definition! What about you?

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.