Monday, April 30, 2007

What Church of Christ Scholarship Should Be, 2

This is a second post about the article by James Thompson, "What Is Church of Christ Scholarship?" Restoration Quarterly 49 (First Quarter 2007), pp. 33-38.

As I noted in the previous post, Thompson begins his article with some general, introductory observations about religious scholarship done by religiously-engaged people. It brings some dilemmas. He also refers, more specifically, to religious scholarship done by members of Churches of Christ.

Next, Thompson offers what he calls "A Proposal for Church of Christ Scholarship" (pp. 36-37). To give you the gist, I'll sometimes quote and at other times summarize. He writes:

"1. I suggest that the dominant feature of the tradition is a high eccelsiology that has framed our understanding of the Christian faith and separated this tradition from evangelicalism." That is to say, Church of Christ scholarship should highlight biblical forms, ideals, and practices of the church.

2. Church of Christ scholarship can best contribute to the wider world of scholarship and sound a harmonizing note by extending the traditional emphasis placed on the NT books of Acts, the Pastoral Epistles, and Hebrews.

3. Church of Christ scholarship ought to extend the tradition's emphasis on what the New Testament vouches for as legitimate forms of church life -- "believer's baptism, congregational polity, the authority of elders." Moreover, the ideal of restoration should be extended to include the goal of recapturing "the love, vitality, compassion, and mission of the early church."

4. While recognizing the limits of human reason, Church of Christ scholarship should appreciate that rational inquiry, as opposed to illumination by the Spirit, "has been a distinguishing feature the movement."

These commitments, says Thompson, can give us "a sense of continuity with our past." That, in a nutshell, is the middle section of his article.

So far, so good? What do you think?


Royce Ogle said...

I suggest that right away anyone who embraces that theme is prone to error. Why "Church of Christ Scholarship"? Why not Bible scholarship?

Any theological study that must accomidate a presupposition, or in this case a tradition, is flawed from the onset.

None of us should be afraid to approach the word of God leaving our presuppositions behind and allow it to confront us with it's truth. Perhaps then we can learn it's truth.

Many of our brothers and sisters only read books and articles written by other coc people. You usually, not all the time, but usually get the same stuff packaged a bit differently.

Grace to you,
Royce Ogle

Frank Bellizzi said...

Hi Royce! Thanks for your comment.

Obviously, I can't speak for our brother James. But I think he might respond by saying that there's a sense in which no one does pure Bible scholarship in the same way that no one is ever "just a Christian."

I'm an American. A descendant of Italian immigrants, who grew up an Okie in a military family. (What a mutt!) Religiously, I'm both a washed-in-the-blood Christian AND a dyed-in-the-wool Campbellite.

I think that Thompson would say it's when I acknowledge and know that about myself that I'm best able to recognize my weaknesses and play to my strengths and say something that the world needs to hear.

I think he would also say that doing mere biblical scholarship is like doing mere science. No one does. Such enterprises are always motivated by an interest and bear an aspect of power.

I think Thompson might hold up, as an example, someone like Gordon Fee. The Christian world has learned a lot about the Holy Spirit and books like 1st Corinthians from this Harvard-trained N.T. scholar who also happens to come from a Pentecostal background. People from the Churches of Christ can and should do the same kinds of things.

Messianic Gentile said...


I really like and respect Dr. Thompson. I hesitate to criticize this graet and valued theologian. And I might just be reading him wrong here, but then I might be seeing his blind spot too.

I am concerned about his point #1 regarding ecclesiology. When I was at ACU I learned "community" as the buzzword of the century and as the unwritten curriculum of the school (as well as written in plenty of places).

As far as community and ecclesiology go together, I am definitly behind Thompson on this one. However, if his statement is left to sound so liturgical and "pattern"-driven, then I am not with him for long. I really don't think the traditional CoC views on the church -especially with regard to organization and liturgical practices- have much if anything to offer to the chruch at large. Not that I am against them, but historically they have had more to do with defining who is in and who is out than with being like Jesus etc. Any agenda involving these elements needs to deal seriously with the damage they can and have done as they unpack anything worthwhile (if it is really there) along the way.

On the other hand, and yes I note he mentions this, "love, vitality, compassion and mission" are closer to the heart of ecclesiology than patters.

I think the connection between God's forming of humanity in Gen 2:7 and forming of the church in Acts 2:2 via the spirit/wind/breath, is where the real value and direction for further door opening in ecclesiology is to be had.

Thanks again for the thoughtful posts. I really like this stuff.

Jesus is Lord!