This post was originally a comment made on the original post, which is reproduced here with permission from Greg for the sake of greater visibility


I like that you’re starting with a methodological question. Though belaboring method is somewhat out of vogue, and jumping right into specific theological loci has its benefits, this is an extremely important part of our discussion in particular.

I would say the quest for a theology that characterizes Churches of Christ in any sort of broadly inclusive way can only overcome the historical issues you raised—especially lack of consensus and organizing structure—by virtue of a shared project. As you state, the lack of common assumptions is a significant road block, but that is precisely what methodological discourse addresses. Can we set up a game that a variety of our interested friends are willing to play? I take your taxonomy of approaches to be especially relevant to that question. In that sense, I would like to organize the problems a bit more.

The barriers that have made and make a Church of Christ theology largely inarticulable are part and parcel of the restoration plea itself: historical consensus and organizing structure (call these first-order problems, because they are givens) are points of departure for virtually every other formal theological discourse takes for granted. Even if that is just an affirmation of the Great Tradition, it makes a huge difference. (Shameless plug: the forthcoming book by Mark Powell, John Mark Hicks, and me, Discipleship in Community [ACU Press, 2020], makes such a move in one way). These barriers might be helpfully distinguished from the need for methodological overtures per se (call this second-order).

The methodological anarchy of our tradition has, rather than being the necessary consequence of those first-order problems, frequently short-circuited possible answers to them. In other words, I think we can do methodology regardless of the first-order problems; it is useful to distinguish the problem that we have not done so.

Second, your post and my phrase “characterizes Churches of Christ in any sort of broadly inclusive way” both make an assumption of the relative perspicacity of the tradition’s constituents. As I think about these questions (regularly!), I continue to run up against the question of who “we” are, because the “we” of other traditions is theological (i.e., determined by those first-order issues).

There is a circularity here that we have to face head-on. I don’t think it is an unbreakable circle, but it does force the discussion to make some risky preliminary moves that others who work on theology for their traditions rather than merely from their traditions do not have to make. One can work on, say, Wesleyan or Reformed theology with significant latitude because the givens are fairly stable—and one may even interrogate those givens in coherent ways because of that stability. The base of interlocutors, defined by the theological tradition, is itself given, preserving the discussion’s inclusivity. Again, I take your taxonomy to address this issue by offering a variety of ways to know who our interlocutors are: those who engage the discussion through these approaches to “our” (begging the question?) historical givens, such as they are.

I wonder if a sixth option might be useful, though—one related to your ecclesiastical option but not focused on what a Church of Christ looks like. This option would focus on those who do theology as members of Churches of Christ (on whatever point in the spectrum) without bias regarding your first four options. In other words, we cannot begin, like others do, as members of a theological tradition (in the sense of consensus and structure), but we can begin as members of congregations with various canonical, exegetical, metamorphic, reconstructive ties to the tradition. This location need not entail, as with your ecclesiastical option, beginning with claims about what it means to be (a) Church of Christ, but it may constitute a sufficient identification with the shared commitments that your other options signal.

Third, I suppose a shared project demands that the quest for a theology that characterizes Churches of Christ inclusively be motivated by something more than interest in overcoming our historical inarticulacy. That is not a comment on your motivations but rather on the absence of express motivations in your post. The only “should” statement I see there is in the negative: “Would we not be ironically better off, to paraphrase Thomas Campbell, letting this (theological) body die and sink into (theological) union with the Body of Christ?” My answer is, no, we would not be better off, but we need to say why not. More, we need to say why the project is necessary, what it aims at. My assumption is that constructive theology is at issue here, and construction is interested in something.


Greg McKinzie is the executive editor of Missio Dei, an online journal for missions, theology, and practice, as well as an Adjunct professor at Lipscomb University.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s