Review: An Introduction to Ecclesiology

An Introduction to Ecclesiology, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: An introduction to different historical theologies of the church, contemporary theologies from throughout the world, the mission and practices of the church, and the church and other religious communities.

At one time, an introduction to ecclesiology would be complete with parts one and three of this work. It would be sufficient to discuss the historical theologies of the church from the major church traditions, and the liturgy, sacraments or ordinances of the church and the mission of the church from the West, from where these theologies arose, to the rest of the world. The changes, even from an earlier edition of this work, reflect the growth of indigenously led Christianity on every continent engaged in the theological task as well as the increasing awareness of Christianity’s intersection with, points of contact and difference with, and need to engage the other major religious communities of the world. These latter two form parts two and four of the present work.

Part one then discusses the major traditions of the church and what these have meant by confessing one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. A chapter each is devoted to six major traditions, featuring a representative theologian and a key theme. In order, they are:

  1. Eastern Orthodoxy, “The Church as an Icon of the Trinity” (John Zizioulos)
  2. Roman Catholic, “The Church as the People of God” (Hans Kung)
  3. Lutheran, “The Church Around the Word and Sacraments, Part One” (Wolfhart Pannenberg)
  4. Reformed, “The Church Around the Word and Sacraments, Part Two” (Jurgen Moltmann)
  5. Free Church, “The Church as Fellowship of Believers” (James William McClendon, Jr.)
  6. Pentecostal/Charismatic, “The Church in the Power of the Spirit” (no representative theologian)

It is surprising that no separate chapters address Anglicanism and its Wesleyan offshoots and that German theologians are representative of three of these traditions. Might not Herman Bavinck or Abraham Kuyper be more representative of the Reformed movement?

Part two turns to global theologies. Latin American theology turns to theologies of liberation and the idea of base communities. Africa has a long church history from early Christianity, to Catholic and colonial missions efforts , and the rise of the African Initiated Churches, the latter with a significant emphasis on the Spirit in the churches. The chapter on Asian ecclesiology was surprisingly short, focusing on “church-less” Christianity and Pentecostal and indigenous churches. Greater attention is given to global feminist ecclesiologies, particularly the confrontation of patriarchy, womanist black theology, and mujerista Latina theology. The North American church is treated as a mosaic of historic traditions, the Black church, immigrant communities and emergent churches.

Liturgy, order, and mission are the focus of part three. It traces a development of a multi-dimensional focus on mission shared by the whole church as a response to colonialism Subsequent chapters outline different understandings of ministry, liturgy and worship, and the sacraments or ordinances. The final chapter focuses on what the unity of the church can mean amid such diversity and various ecumenical efforts as well as the resistance to such. On this last, I would like to have seen more discussion of this in a global context as the predominance of the church has shifted from Europe and North America to the rest of the world.

The last part consider Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism with regard to community among these religions. Probably most significant for me are the connections of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as people of the book, as well as the Sangha communities of Buddhism. I felt this section somewhat cursory, addressed much better in texts on world or comparative religions. Still, to consider the counterparts to the communal nature of Christianity, and even what the individualistic West might learn from these counterparts is worthwhile.

This is an introductory text that doesn’t attempt to formulate a distinctive ecclesiology but rather survey how theologians have understood the nature of the church through history and around the world. It’s useful as part of a doctrine or theological survey course and points people to the contributions of key theologians in the field. It is written with clarity and concision, and if in some place, one may want more coverage, in no place will one want less.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

One thought on “Review: An Introduction to Ecclesiology

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: September 2021 | Bob on Books

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