What is ecclesiology about? The provenance and prospects of recent concrete approaches to ecclesiology.
Hawksley, Theodora Lucy
Over the last fifteen years, a small group of ecclesiologists has been engaged in redefining the object of ecclesiological inquiry and the purpose of ecclesiological reflection. These ‘concrete’ ecclesiologies take the historical, sinful, concrete church of experience as the object of their theological reflection, and understand ecclesiological reflection as practical reasoning in the service of church communities. Concrete ecclesiologies borrow methods from qualitative social science in order to attend to the concrete church. This thesis describes concrete ecclesiologies as a distinct field for the first time, defines the methodological common sense they share, and traces their roots in twentieth century theology and the postmodern cultural context. The theological and methodological tensions underlying concrete ecclesiologies are analysed, and cril attention is focussed on their use of social science. This critical analysis suggests that significant reparative work is needed in order to realise the promise of concrete approaches to ecclesiology. Constructive ethnographic and theological work is required to develop concrete ecclesiologies’ understandings of (a) the object of ethnographic inquiry, (b) the object of ecclesiological inquiry, and (c) the function of ecclesiological reflection. Constructive work commences with a survey of ethnographic understandings of the social real. Pragmatic/relational anthropology’s understanding of the social real is used as the departure point for a creative theological rethinking of the object of ecclesiological inquiry, the church, and the purpose of ecclesiological reflection.