A Conversation with a Baptist Ecclesiologist

by The Ecclesiologist

I was more than excited to see Robert Sagers’ guest post related to ecclesiology on Justin Taylor’s blog back on August 3rd.  If you are like me, and you find Justin Taylor’s blog posts harder to keep up with than the Emerging Church’s theology of candles, you probably skipped over this article or still haven’t got to it.  Let me sum it up for you and offer some thoughts along the way.

The post can be found here.

Robert Sagers took time to interview Dr. Gregg R. Allison, professor of theology at Southern Seminary.  The interview was in relation to Allison’s forthcoming work on the doctrine of the church.  Sagers asked three questions.  First, is it possible to formulate an “evangelical” doctrine of the church?  Second, what aspects of ecclesiology do you think Christians have neglected most today?  And third, which books were most helpful for you in your research?

Allison acknowledge that it is not really possible to formulate an “evangelical” doctrine of the church, but he believes it is possible to articulate “evangelical marks” of the church.  Because ecclesiology is derived from “other convictions,” evangelicals can only talk about the nature, attributes, ministries, government, and ordinances of the church in “broad strokes.”  Though Allison is honest in his answer, I found his answer troubling.  Who prioritizes which convictions ought to come first?  Why does ecclesiology just fall into place?  Why doesn’t ecclesiology shape and influence other doctrines?  If we must give up on an evangelical consensus on ecclesiology, why are we so quick to work for an evangelical consensus of Scripture or the Gospel?  Allison may have only exposed a greater chasm in the evangelical world, one, which for many, is better left unexposed.

The four main areas where evangelicals have neglected ecclesiological thought, according to Allison, were related to the function and nature of the church, church discipline, church unity, and the headship of Jesus over the church.  All these discussions were profitable, but if we have given up on developing an evangelical ecclesiology, these neglected topics come as no surprise?  If we cannot work towards a consensus across denominational lines about ecclesiology, these neglected topics will always haunt the church.

Allison does make the point, in passing, that the failure of evangelicals to understand the mission of the church has resulted in evangelicals being confused on what the gospel actually is.  While his point was related to social activism within the church, I feel as though this point would have been a great avenue to explore further with Allison.  The connection between the gospel and ecclesiology was obviously the elephant in the room in this discussion (think about it … why are we so slow to take church discipline seriously?  Is it not because we haven’t thought through any connections between the gospel and ecclesiology?  Why do we neglect unity?  Is it not because we don’t really understand the table fellowship the gospel is to bring?).  While we all agree that our soteriology will influence our ecclesiology, it is about time we admit that our ecclesiology (our lack there of) also influences or soteriology.

While the conversation left me wanting, I look forward to reading Allison’s work.  In an anti-ecclesiological, pro-network culture, we must rejoice in any ecclesiological thought we can get.