Thursday, August 23, 2007

Back From Hiatus: On to more reading -- Union in Christ by Purves and Achtemeier

Yes, I've taken a three week or so hiatus from blogging. We've had a number of activities that have left me with little energy for blogging.

Yet the summer reading goes on, and as we bring our Covenant-First summer book clubs to a close, we're starting into Union In Christ: A Declaration for the Church by Andrew Purves and Mark Achtemeier. Thus, it's time for me to get back to the keyboard and think through this concise and well written document. This text is a different kind of document from the other books we’ve looked at this summer. Andrew Murray’s Absolute Surrender was a devotional book distilled from a number of addresses given to general audiences. Meanwhile Torrance’s Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace was distilled from a focused lecture series given to a group of theological students.

Union in Christ is not a series of lectures. It is subtitled “A Declaration for the Church” – the more likely literary parallel is the United States Declaration of Independence. In both, we have a short, pithy statement that is carefully worded and each phrase bears the weight of great reflection. On the other hand, the statement is designed to be intelligible to non-specialists. The language used is deliberately chosen to stir the hearts of readers. Both declarations were authored by small committees to be presented to larger bodies for approval (the continental congress in the case of the US declaration; the Presbyterian coalition in the case of Union in Christ).

However, the Union in Christ text also contains the author’s commentary on the declaration itself – thus we get to see and understand some of the reasoning going into the careful wording, and we’re prompted to greater reflection. In short, with the commentary and questions, a theological document transforms into a devotional piece. Purves and Achtemeier did a great service in continually pointing us to the scriptures that undergird their work. Too often in contemporary theology, scripture reference is an afterthought, lending the impression that the cleverness of the theologian is more important than the foundation upon which he builds. Purves and Achtemeier have no such inclinations. They consistently lead us back to scriptures. They take great pains to show that their teaching is not a new one – it is the foundational teaching of the church rooted in scripture; their aim has been to state the basic truths in fresh ways.

Like all documents, this one is time-bound. However as a declaration, it is designed to address the issues of its day – which continue to be issues within the Presbyterian church and the church at large. The five sections of this declaration deal with: Christology (who is this Jesus), discipleship (what is life in Jesus), authority (who says what’s what), mission (what is the church supposed to be doing), and church unity (what is it that binds us together). Purves and Achtemeier take pains to point out that a declaration, by its nature, is limited in scope. This isn’t a systematic theology. They ask that they evaluate the statement based on what it says about the topics covered, rather than what is left out.

So over the next few days, join me as we explore this document together.

Soli Deo Gloria