Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jeffrey Cary on Jenson, Williams, McClendon, and free church ecclesiology

Jeffrey W. Cary
This is the first in a series of occasional posts calling attention to recent doctoral dissertations by Baptists and others in the broader free church tradition working at the intersection of ecclesiology and ecumenical theology. These posts will include the dissertation abstract and, where available, links to the text of the dissertation on the internet site of the degree-granting institution.

Jeffrey W. Cary is Assistant Professor of Theology at Lubbock Christian University in Lubbock, Texas. His dissertation "Authority, Unity and Truthfulness : The Body of Christ in the Theologies of Robert Jenson and Rowan Williams with a View toward Implications for Free Church Ecclesiology" (Baylor University, 2010) was supervised by Barry Harvey.


Those within the free church tradition have often appealed to the notion of the invisible church to account for the unity of Christ‘s Body. A growing number of free church theologians, however, are arguing for the necessity of visible ecclesial unity, which immediately raises the perennial problem of the authorities by which unity is maintained. There is also a growing recognition among free church theologians of the need to recognize the authority of tradition alongside the authority of Scripture. Chapter two charts and affirms these recent developments but then inquires whether a turn toward visible unity together with an embrace of the authority of tradition can eventually be coherent without also embracing the authority of an extra-congregational teaching office.

Chapters three and four engage two theologians from outside the free church tradition. Robert Jenson and Rowan Williams both argue that authority is located in the classic loci of Scripture, tradition and an episcopal teaching office. These chapters will observe what vision of visible ecclesial unity emerges from the ways in which each of these theologians construes the relationships among these three loci. While there are significant differences between their visions of visible unity, together they present serious challenges to those within the free church tradition concerning authority, unity and truthfulness.

Chapter five will engage free church theologian James McClendon, a pioneer of these newer free church developments. While McClendon has made invaluable contributions within the free church tradition, this chapter will argue that McClendon‘s account of ecclesial unity and his defense of a free church polity arise out of certain theological deficiencies which can be supplemented by the work of Jenson and Williams.

The conclusion will argue that more recent free church theologians have advanced beyond McClendon, especially in his areas of deficiency. Yet it is precisely these advances that make a free church polity even more problematic, especially as a long term project. This study concludes that a move toward visible unity along with a retrieval of the authority of tradition leads naturally toward the usefulness of, if not the need for, some form of global teaching office.

Posts in this series:

Jeffrey Cary on Jenson, Williams, McClendon, and free church ecclesiology

Aaron James on language, Eucharistic identity, and the Baptist vision

Scott Bullard on Eucharist, Unity, and Baptists

Derek Hatch on Mullins, Truett, and de Lubac

Jonathan Malone on Baptists, Ordination, and Catholic "Sacramental Consciousness"

Cameron Jorgenson on "Bapto-Catholicism"

1 comment:

  1. Finally! I've been wanting to read his dissertation! I had Dr. Cary last semester for two classes (ecclesiology and church history), and I really want to learn more about all this. Thanks for posting this!