Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity Sacra Doctrina. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1998.

The Author

Professor Volf is the founding Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. His books include Allah: A Christian Response (2011); Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (2006), which was the Archbishop of Canterbury Lenten book for 2006; Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (1996), a winner of the 2002 Grawemeyer Award; and After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (1998), winner of the Christianity Today book award. A member of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. and the Evangelical Church in Croatia, Professor Volf has been involved in international ecumenical dialogues (for instance, with the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) and interfaith dialogues (on the executive board of C-1 World Dialogue), and is active participant in the Global Agenda Council on Values of the World Economic Forum. A native of Croatia, he regularly teaches and lectures in Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, and across North America. Professor Volf is a fellow of Berkeley College.[1]


Volf states the purpose of his book:

“The following study is concerned with placing this cry of protest of the Free Churches—‘We are the church’—into a trinitarian framework and with elevating it to the status of an ecclesiological program, and with doing so in dialogue with Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiologies. I am hopeful that this will also indirectly provide a modest theological contribution to clarifying the problem the political protest ‘We are the people!’ presents to social philosophy. My primary objective, however, is to contribute to the rediscovery of the church.”[2]

“The ecclesiological dispute concerning the church as community is therefore simultaneously a missiological dispute concerning the correct way in which the communal form of Christian faith today is to be live authentically and transmitted effectively.”[3]

He pursues this endeavor by first analyzing the ecclesiologies of Ratzinger—representing the Roman Catholic perspective—and Zizioulas—representing the Greek Orthodox perspectives. He finds both perspectives to be hierarchical, placing God the Father at the supreme head, constituting all else, thus setting the precedent for a hierchical, episcopocentric ecclesial structure. Volf employs Moltmann’s and Pannenberg’s trinitarian doctrine and eschatological futurity of God to reframe the conversation and make a claim for a Free Church, congregational ecclesiology.

This is a sketch from a class discussion in The Congregation, taught by Patrick Keifert at Luther Seminary in the Spring of 2013.

Photo May 15, 7 16 33 AM


On the Church

“The ecclesiality of the church can be defined as follows. Every congregation that assembles around the one Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord in order to profess faith in him publicly in pluriform fashion, including through baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and which is open to all churches of God and to all human beings, is a church in the full sense of the word, since Christ promised to be present in it through his Spirit as the first fruits of the gathering of the whole people of God in the eschatological reign of God. Such a congregation is a holy, catholic, and apostolic church. One may rightly expect such a congregation to grow in unity, sanctity, catholicity, and apostolicity, but one may not deny to it these characterizing features of the church, since it possesses these on the basis of the constitutive presence of Christ.”[4]

On Personhood

“My premise is that the person is constituted by God through its multiple relationships to its human and natural surrounding, and that God gives to the person in this act of constitution the capacity for freedom with regard bot to God and to its environment.”[5]

On Trinitarian Relationships

“In their mutual giving and receiving, the trinitarian persons are not only interdependent, but also mutually internal…Perichoresis refers to the reciprocal interiority of the trinitarian persons…From the interiority of the divine persons, there emerges what I would like to all their catholicity…The notion of perichoresis offers the possibility of overcoming the alternatives unio personaeunitas substantiae. The unity of the triune God is grounded neither in the numerically identical substance nor in the accidental intentions of the persons, but rather in their mutually interior being…The unity of the divine essence is the obverse of the interiority and catholicity of the divine persons.”[6]

“At the ecclesial level…only the interiority of personal characteristics can correspond to the interiority of the divine persons…This is the process of the mutual internalization of personal characteristics occurring in the church through the Holy Spirit indwelling Christians. The Spirit opens them to one another and allows them to become catholic persons in their uniqueness. It is here that they, in a creaturely way, correspond to the catholicity of the divine persons. This catholicity of Christians, however, cannot be limited ecclesially. That is, a catholic person involves the internalization not only of that person’s Christian siblings and friends, but also of the person’s entire ‘environment’—of the Creator as well as of every creature. Every person is a catholic person insofar as that person reflects in himself or herself in a unique way the entire, complex reality in which the person lives.”[7]

Unity of the Church

“Because the Son indwells human beings through the Spirit, however, the unity of the church is grounded in the interiority of the Spirt—ans with the Spirit also in the interiority of the other divine persons—in Christans. The Holy is the ‘one person in many persons.’”[8]

The Church

“The eschatological catholicity of the people of God can be understood properly only within the framework of this eschatological totality of God’s new creation. The catholicity of the entire people of God is the ecclesial dimension of the eschatological fullness of salvation for the entirety of created reality.”[9]

“This twofold activity of the Spirit in unifying and differentiating prevents false catholicity of either church or persons from emerging in which the particular is swallowed up by the universal. The Spirit of communion opens up every person to others, so that every person can reflect something of the eschatological communion of the entire people of God with the triune God in a unique way through the relations in which that person lives.”[10]

[1] http://divinity.yale.edu/volf (accessed September 2, 2013)

[2] {Volf, 1998 #344@11}

[3] {Volf, 1998 #344@11}

[4] {Volf, 1998 #344@158}

[5] {Volf, 1998 #344@186}

[6] {Volf, 1998 #344@208-210}

[7] {Volf, 1998 #344@211-212}

[8] {Volf, 1998 #344@213}

[9] {Volf, 1998 #344@267}

[10] {Volf, 1998 #344@282}

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