Church: An introduction to ecclesiology
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT632
during the stay of Dr Stephen Pickard, former Assistant Bishop of
Adelaide, at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, in 2011, triggered this
introduc- tion to the study of ecclesiology. Acknowledging his
indebtedness to the late Professor Dan Hardy throughout, Pickard's
nine chapters investigate the identity of church as a constantly
shifting dynamic, intensely engaging with God in worship, word,
sacrament, service, and witness.
Chapters 1 and 4 especially
root the entire search for how to be Church in the
interconnectedness between God, humanity, and those who know and
respond to the divine attraction. He takes it as axiomatic that the
vocation to discipleship is a pilgrimage "in the company of
others", becoming "a redeemed sociality".
He illustrates this
conviction theologically through the narratives of the nation of
Israel; the new epoch inaugurated by Jesus's embodying and
announcing the Kingdom of God; and the phase of the resurrection
and Pentecost communities. Seeking the Triune God of love involves
"deeper communion with the world of this God and its peoples".
Pickard illustrates the
constantly shifting language in which theologians have pursued the
nature of the Church. He prefers terms that portray an
eschatological trajectory rather than "steady-state" or "blueprint"
ecclesiology. Intertwining scripture, history, and theology, he
addresses virtues and practices of the Church as a deliberate
embodiment of the gospel. A recurring emphasis on a feminist
critique of previous thinking is linked with a celebration of the
recovery of the contribution of women to becoming Church.
investigations in the 1920s, and Gunton's in the 1980s, in a
chapter on natural ecclesial heresies, Pickard links mistakes about
God and sustained faults in the conception and prac-tice of the
Church and ministry.
For example, a Pelagian
impulse to over-emphasise works over grace leads to overwork and
anxiety; a Docetic ethos that plays down the humanity of Christ
contributes to top-down, uncollaborative, tightly controlled, and
There is a helpful chapter
discussing how the renaissance of Trinitarian theology, notably in
the works of Catherine LaCugna, Jürgen Moltmann, Miroslav Volf, and
John Zizioulas, continues to develop as a framework for a truly
mutual Church. He notes the dangers of too great a reliance on
aspirational descriptions of Trinitarian relations. Instead, he
indicates recent developments linking the formation of Church with
immersion in the holiness of God and the work of the Spirit in
drawing humanity into relationship with the Father and the Son.
This is a vital area. More
reference to the works of Sarah Coakley and Elizabeth Johnson would
have been helpful to readers beginning to explore this
Dense, but accessible,
Pickard's relatively short book takes the student over a wide
canvas. There are helpful pointers to a Church that is not ashamed
to be eucharistically focused, but always open to God at work,
especially in the vulnerable and broken parts of humanity and
creation. With each chapter come questions and reading suggestions.
I thoroughly commend this book to all who are engaging their hearts
and minds to release new gospel energy in the Church and in our
Canon Robin Greenwood is Vicar of St Mary the Virgin,
Monkseaton, in Newcastle diocese. His book Being Church:
The formation of Christian community (SPCK) is to be published
later this year.