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Great introduction to Ecclesiology
on January 25, 2012
In the past decade, it seems that I have been a part of churches that hit most of the stereotypes within Baptist circles. I worked as a youth intern in a fairly standard contemporary church. Went from that to being the college intern for a year in a church that probably looked about the same as it did in 1950. After that I headed up the college group for a couple of years at a place that did the whole seeker-sensitive/attractional thing, and now my wife and I have landed at an Acts29 plant. From that range of experience, I can tell you that there is a broad spectrum of ideas on what the church should look like. To be honest, for a long period of time I didn't know if there was an answer to that question. This confusion is one of the reasons the at reading Edmund Clowney's The Church was a great experience for me.
This book will by no means address every question one may have about how a church should be set up, but it was never meant to. Instead, it broadly looks at what the Bible says as regarding the church to create a sound case for what should be true of every church, regardless of the specifics of polity, music style, or other specific issues. Instead, Clowney paints with broad strokes, looking at how the church is created thought the work of God before looking at the traditional attributes (one, holy, apostolic, and catholic/universal) and marks (preaching of the gospel and proper administration of the sacraments) of the church. Following this he turns to more practical issues, considering the church's relation to the world and some specific topics such as the sacraments and women in ministry.
The book is an academic work, so it reads a little on the dry side, but the material in it is of tremendous value, especially in a time when it seems people consider their preferences and pragmatism to be as important as Scripture. Clowney's work points everything back to the Bible as the starting point for the discussion.
Especially helpful to me was the discussion over the three aspects of the church's mission (worship to God, encouragement to believers, and evangelism to the world). In my experience, it seems one or more of these aspects is emphasized to the detrainment of the others, such as the popular statement that "the church is the only institution that exists for the sake of those outside itself." Clowney's work here helps correct these erroneous conclusions that are ultimately unhelpful.
That is not to say that everything in this work is equally helpful. There are a few points on which I disagreed with the author, most notably during his discussion of infant baptism. For the most part, however, the book is broad enough that it does not take sides on the issues that have traditionally divided Protestant denominations. If you are looking for a work that is a strong introduction to Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) and don't mind reading something akin to a textbook, then The Church is worth your consideration.