Friday, February 11, 2011

Two Cheers for Denominationalism!

Henry P. Mobley Professor of Doctrinal Theology

Feb 10, 2011
Spring Convocation

No one is likely to confuse Protestant denominationalism with God’s good and perfect will for the church. Denomination is a provisional structure of Christian existence that has taken diverse forms across space and time. It is currently experiencing many strains and fissures, and may evolve in new ways or even disappear altogether. For denominational churches, this radical contingency is part of their identity. My aim in this address is not to propose strategies for turning denominational fortunes around, but rather to suggest theological reasons why Protestants should not give up on denominationalism just yet. These reasons come in part from reflections on the church by some contemporary Roman Catholic theologians, including Nancy Dallavalle, Roger Haight, Brad Hinze, Paul Lakeland, Gerard Mannion, and Paul Murray. I argue that movements like comparative ecclesiology, inductive ecclesiology, and receptive ecumenism reflect theological views of the church that are consonant with denominational self-understandings and encourage a more appreciative perspective on denominationalism. Now that denominational churches have fallen on harder times, they have the opportunity to live into their distinctive theological self-understanding: a self-relativizing view of their place in the church universal, a realism about their own imperfections, and an acknowledgement of the need to receive wisdom from others, both inside and outside the church. Listen to the sermon.