Thursday, March 18, 2010

MDiv Thesis Proposal: Trinitarian Tradition and Congregational Ecclesiology (Request for Suggestions for Books and Directions!)

Below is the proposal, recently accepted, for my MDiv thesis. I will be gathering resources and reading over this summer, then researching and writing in the fall and following spring. Steven Kraftchick is the overall thesis director, Ian McFarland will be my thesis adviser, and Steffen Lösel will be my second reader. I would appreciate any and all suggestions for authors, works, articles, ideas, directions to take, and so on; I am especially excited about the way this research may open unforeseen doors to doctoral work in the future. Thanks in advance!

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The provisional title for my thesis is: “Trinitarian Tradition and Congregational Ecclesiology: How the Work of Robert Jenson Critiques and Supplements John Howard Yoder’s Vision of the Church.” The project stems from my interest in both theologians and the way in which the thought of each can critique and supplement the other’s. Given that they are such radically different thinkers, with disparate and in many ways unrelated focuses for their work, it is understandable that they have not been put into significant dialogue with one another. However, I believe this to be a mistake, for as two theologians of the church in the American context, steeped in history and tradition and speaking to and for the church catholic, it seems a mistake not to explore the ways in which their thought intersects, diverges, and even agrees.

The primary intersection I will focus on for my thesis is the resources and challenges Jenson presents to Yoder’s congregational ecclesiology, specifically with regard to the historic creedal traditions concerning the Trinity. I myself belong to a congregational ecclesial tradition (churches of Christ out of the Stone-Campbell movement), and largely subscribe to Yoder’s vision of the church’s calling and role in the world, as well as the practices necessary for faithfulness to the Spirit’s ongoing mission. However, both historically and in my own experience, congregational churches seem largely devoid of robust Trinitarian theology and faith, and even when nominally Trinitarian, most members or even leaders in such churches seem to have little to say about what it means to be Trinitarian Christians.

Thus the challenge is: If we worship a triune God, how can that fact—and all that it entails in reflection, practice, and the teaching of subsequent generations—be believed and embodied substantively in autonomous churches that do not ascribe to creeds? I believe that Robert Jenson has much to say on this matter, and that the churches to whom and on whose behalf John Howard Yoder wrote have much to gain from it.

I will plan to engage other thinkers “somewhere in the middle” between these two thinkers, including James McClendon, Jr., Stanley Hauerwas, Jürgen Moltmann, Miroslav Volf, Nicholas Healy, Gerhard Lohfink, Steven Harmon, William Cavanaugh, D. Stephen Long, Nathan Kerr, Rowan Williams, and Gerald Schlabach. I look forward to exploring and crafting the final product of this thesis, which I know will include not a few surprises along the way.


  1. Glad to see McClendon first on this list.

    Add a good friend of McClendon, Barry Harvey of Baylor; I would think John Colwell is another high-church baptist to consult

    I would add Ephraim Radner and David Yeago, and finally

    currently I am wrestling with the ecclesiological thining of Bernd Wannenwetsch as exemplified in his great book, Political Worship

    Hope, it helps

    John Rasmussen

  2. i think Theology for the Community of God by Stanley Grenz might prove helpful to you.

  3. My friend, I was delighted to run into your wife in a coffee shop in Nashville tonight! What a surprise!

    And am very delighted to see this progress in your MDiv.

    I recommend John Zizioulas.

    And the best talk I ever heard on the trinity was a Nashvillian spiritual leader/nun of sorts, Sister Kathleen, explicate Rublev's Holy Trinity icon. If you can find any good commentaries on it, it may help.

    If not, I can give you the gist of what I heard from her.


  4. In a very powerful collection of essays entitled "Mennonites and Classical Theology", A. James Reimer tarries with similar Trinitarian questions and does so in conversation with Yoder. Well worth a look for your project I think.

  5. Two sources quite relevant to your topic are Joe Jones' article about Yoder and Trinitarian theology recently published in a book titled "Radical Ecumenicity: Pursuing Unity and Continuity after John Howard Yoder" (which also contains an essay from Yoder that may be relevant) and Branson Parler's forthcoming dissertation on Yoder's Trinitarian Christology, which should be available from Calvin Theological Seminary by late this summer. The latter is especially concerned to talk about Yoder's relation to the creeds.

    Best wishes! This sounds like a fun and worthwhile project.

  6. To all who have commented so far: thank you so much! I have not only substantially grown my list of resources, I've checked out a number of titles from the library and greatly look forward to convincing my wife I need to buy them for "research" this summer...

    I wasn't expecting such a swift and substantive response, particularly from "silent readers" and strangers, so thank you once again for your kindness and your help. This thesis just became that much more exciting.

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