When we affirm our faith we affirm that we believe in “the holy catholic church” (when we affirm the Apostles’ Creed), or “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” (when we affirm the Nicene Creed). When we look around and consider the church that we see, however, there is much that is anything but “holy” or “one.” Yet we devote a significant part of our lives to being the church, and to participating in the life of particular congregations of the church. Why do you (and we) do that? It’s a particularly acute question for us, as Protestants. 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Did the Reformation make the church’s situation worse? Or does the Reformation have wisdom to offer us as we seek faithfully to follow Jesus Christ?
Kevin Vanhoozer probed these questions in three talks given at the 3rd Theology Conference of the Fellowship Community in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The first of those talks, “The Church as Creature of the Word: The Importance of Scripture in the Reforming Church” explores the importance of the Protestant principle of sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”) as supreme authority for shaping a Christian imagination capable of sustaining a distinct Christian way of life in this age.
Professor Vanhoozer asks, “Why is there church rather than nothing?” He indicates that there are multiple correct answers to this question. What answer do you find most helpful right now? What answer is most helpful for your congregation and its ministry? Why does Vanhoozer answer by focusing on making disciples? What intrigues you in this answer?
Professor Vanhoozer proposes that what the church needs is an imagination shaped by the gospel, and thus by scripture. This is done, he says, through sermons, sacraments, and forms of daily life. How is your imagination being shaped by sermons, sacraments, and forms of daily life? What does a congregation look like and do when it is guided by a gospel-shaped, and thus scripture-shaped imagination? How are our imaginations shaped by marketing, the various forms of media, social media?
Professor Vanhoozer distinguishes between believing in Scripture and seeing by the light of Scripture. What is this distinction? How does seeing the world by the light of Scripture contribute to building a Christian imagination? What things can the church do to help its members see the world by the light of Scripture? What changes can we look for as individuals and congregations grow in their ability to see by the light of Scripture?
Kevin Vanhoozer is Research Professor of Systematic Theology Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His is the author of several books, including Author of The Drama of Doctrine, and more recently The Pastor as Public Theologian and Biblical Authority After Babel.