Desperately Seeking The Church
We arrived early and hiked the length and breadth of Chicago. It's an architecturally stunning city. My one disappointing discovery was that it did not appear to be a "residential" downtown. I guess having a municipal economy larger than most nations requires some sacrifices.
After the conference Scott, Michael, Todd, Nicholas, and I did some official sightseeing. We were given a tour of the Moody Bible Empire, had lunch in the heights of the John Hancock Center, and explored the Art Institute. We finished the evening back at Berghoff’s, since we hadn't quite had our fill of red cabbage, speatzle, schnitzel, and bock earlier in the week. It was a really good time, and I only hope the boys found all the conversation as stimulating as I did. A thousand sincere thanks to Scott for sponsoring me.
It was a pleasure to meet fellow Kuyperians Vincent Bacote** and Hans Madueme. I hope to continue contact with them both.
I was also happy to meet up with Mark, whom I hadn't seen in way too long a time. He's finishing a pastoral internship in the area. Besides the immense personal joy of reuniting with a good friend, discussing his experience in the church was an added bonus to the conference theme.
The highlight of the conference was presentations by D.G. Hart and the keynote speaker, John Webster. We were happy to catch Hart's paper to the ISAE on his latest book* just previous to the conference.
Webster's systematic-theological construction of ecclesiology was unambiguously reformed, and placed the doctrine of the church in relation to both the doctrines of God's perfection and the visible communion of the saints. Throughout, he critically engaged current ecclesiologies and at times bordered on kerygma, articulately drawing lines through Scripture and "in the sand," as it were. He told me later that this was his first foray into these topics, not having published anything on the doctrine so far. I am glad to become acquainted with him, and look forward to seeing how his thoughts develop.
Hart cut most clearly to the chase. In sum, one might say that the scandal of evangelical ecclesiology is that they don't have much of one. Of course, it is important to understand the sort of evangelicals being discussed. And there's the rub. But perhaps the phenomenon being criticized is best understood as the advent of "churchless Christianity," or the notion that a sort of "mere" Christianity sans polity, liturgy, and confession can and ought to have primacy.
The historical and theological influences of this evangelical a-ecclesiology were helpfully discussed by some. Suggested alternatives, including Anabaptism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Radical Orthodoxy, Emergent Pomo-ism, mainline liberalism, Roman Catholicism abounded. However, biblically compelling recommendations were few. I bought a lot of books at the conference, and although addressed from a historical angle, rather than an exegetical one, I'm finding Hart's "Recovering Mother Kirk"* to articulate the sort of vision I find most biblically compelling (aside from Hart's anti-Kuyperianism particularly in chapters 8 and 12).