Halden recently noted a post by R. O. Flyer about an article by Nicholas Healy critiquing the so-called “New Ecclesiology” of Hauerwas, the RO crew, and the Catholic crew (not that they are so different). Now I haven’t read the article so I am going on Flyer’s take on things. Perhaps I am a card carrying member of the – as Tony Jones puts it – “Hauerwasian Mafia;” and perhaps I’m reading through a Milbank essay as we speak, but I wanted to disagree with their patently Reformed critique that these ecclesiologies lack the ability be be judged by God’s Word and that they are in fact “reactionary.” I wanted to also turn the tables and say that it is the idealism of a “spiritual” ecclesiology that is in need of concrete judgement.
First off, the accusation that these ecclesiologies are “reactionary” needs to be let go right away. All theology, be it ecclesiology or whatever, is done by people; that is to say, theological discourse takes place in history. Being historical we neither come to the task objectively or untraditioned by our own circumstances and upbringing. Perhaps this seems an elementary observation but it begs the question: “Is there any ecclesiology that is not situated ‘for’ and/or ‘against’ the prevailing tendencies of the day?” Obviously not, as the Augustine example makes clear (funny to put in a story that doesn’t much build up ones case). Indeed it is perhaps a the unconcrete ecclesiology that is idealistic, looking to the sky for the “Spirit to act.” Yes, it is the height of irony that Hauerwas et. al. speak “idealistically” of the Church and proceed to judge the Church for remaining in sin but are being accused of being unavailable for such judgement. How might we expect the Spirit to judge the Church but by its own preachers? And it is a categorical misunderstanding of the RO critique to say that the Church must be “saved” from evil “modernity” or the “world.” It is exactly the message that the Church has compromised itself with modernity and the world’s secularity and is in need of a “return” (ie-judgement) to theology, to being itself and proclaiming the Gospel on its own terms and not those of “the world.”
To refuse to speak of the Church idealistically is to refuse to be an escatological Church, who is “already” perfected by the act of Christ. By not living up to this accomplished ‘ideal,’ the Church continually places itself under judgement and because of its concreteness can be sanctified. It is the individualized radically free ecclesiology of Reformed Protestantism that resists judgement and who in the face of struggle inevitably chooses schism over reconcilitation, who in the name of “necessary reformation” chooses a shrunken orthodoxy over a generous catholicity thereby rendering such ‘reformation’ null as the ‘reforming’ group is continually multiplied and pluriform.