25 09 2008


What is the church for?

18 07 2008


Problem: so many books – so little time.

Solution: google and blogs.

It is easy to become overwhelmed with all the good books and clearly unrealistic to read very many of them.  But when we don’t read we place ourselves in a vacuums place – detached from the world of ideas and I think from an important lens to see the activity of God in our broader culture.

I came across a few thoughts about a book titled A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight (©2007) on Paul Littleton’s blog.  In his book Scot tackles the meaning of the atonement in a more holistic way (regarded by some as inflamatory because he challenges (the limitations of) some long held perspectives).  Here’s a short quote from the book before the thoughts from Paul Littleton:

“To be forgiven, to be atoned for, to be reconciled – synonymous expressions – is to be granted a mission to become a reciprocal performer of the same: to forgive, to work atonement, and to be an agent of reconciliation. Thus, atonement is not just something done to us and for us, it is something we participate in – in this world, in the here and now. It is not just something done, but something that is being done and something we do as we join God in the missio Dei.” (p. 30-31)

(A)ny theory of atonement should keep the end in mind – what was atonement meant to produce? In answering that question McKnight notes that the atonement was not just meant to produce forgiven people, but that “the work of God is to form a community in which the will of God is done and through which one finds both union with God and communion with others for the good of others and the world.” Thus, the atonement was meant to produce a certain kind of community. I like his approach. I think it is very helpful in formulating a well-rounded and holistic view of the atonement. It avoids getting “stuck” in one particular place, overemphasizing one aspect of atonement to the neglect of others. In fact, he mentions the various views of atonement and likens them to a bag of golf clubs. A golfer might make it through a round with just one club (I think there are even friendly golf games that might involve just such a feat), but don’t expect to shoot par, or probably even close.

Perhaps McKnight’s approach would benefit our understanding of the church as well. Ecclesiology, or the study of the church, is becoming pretty popular these days. One age-old question about the church is, “What are the distinguishing marks of a true church?” Historically the answer to that has been 1) one, 2) holy, 3) catholic and 4) apostolic. To that the Reformers added that a true church is one in which the word is faithfully preached and the sacraments are faithfully practiced. Books on the church tend to proceed from there, describing what one, holy, catholic, apostolic, the word and the sacraments mean. In addition, there has been added to those things such as the fourfold ministry mentioned in Ephesians 4. Those are all valid questions and worthy of our attention and serious thought, but we might be helped in asking the question, “What does God intend to produce in this thing we call the church?”