Keifert, Patrick R. Testing the Spirits: How Theology Informs the Study of Congregations. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009.

The Authors

Ronald W. Duty

Pat Taylor Ellison

David Fredrickson

Donald Juel

Patrick Keifert

Lois Malcolm

Gary Simpson

Three Shifts (from Van Gelder’s Foreword)

  1. The return of the congregation to theological education.
  2. The role of the Bible in the life of congregations.
  3. The role of congregations living in their particular contexts as public moral companions

Congregational Studies Research Team (CRST) Mission Statement

“We are a theological learning organization in direct partnership with congregations, church leaders, and teachers. In concert with the Spirit of God, this partnership seeks to build up and empower congregations for mission by engaging with them in a process of conversation and action involving spiritual discernment and theological reflection about the necessary behaviors, skills, beliefs, and knowledge base for faithfully and effectively bringing people to a public identity in Christ.”⁠1

Simpson on the Trinity

“The Trinitarian life of the crucified God forms the basis for the communicative mode of God’s own creative agency. So also, it forms our vocational participation in this mode of creative moral agency. We are now coming full circle. Christian vocation is freedom from our sinful instrumentalization of the created world that is effected by the trustworthiness of the alien righteousness of the Crucified and received by faith. In the vocational freedom, the entire created world remains the media and ‘masks’ (larvae dei) of the triune God’s creative agency. Furthermore, Christian vocation is freedom for our ‘proper righteousness’ which always retains its ‘basis,’ ‘cause,’ and ‘source’ in Christ’s alien righteousness. In this vocational freedom we remain cooperators with God’s creative agency (cooperatio dei) to bring temporal life into existence, to nurture that life, and to extend that life to all others.”⁠2

Lois Malcolm’s Summary Statement

“In summary, throughout these discussions of congregations we have been arguing that God can only be understood indirectly. God is always both hidden and revealed in the church’s proclamation (cf. Barth); God’s mystery and incomprehensibility remain even as we come to know and love God more deeply (cf. Rahner). Nonetheless, as Christians we affirm that God has revealed who God is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. By the power of the Spirit, we have been called and sent to tangibly attend, assert, decide, and act on this within the totality of our lives. But that means that we must risk thinking and speaking about God, and thus we risk the sins of either idolatry or profanation.

Within Protestantism, the main fear has been of the danger of idolatry. If anything, modern culture has sought to base its public life on what is universal, objective, and abstract, and not on what is sectarian. Indeed, one could argue that the Enlightenment critique of particular religions could be seen as a secularized version of this Protestant critique. The Congregational Study Research Team has presupposed that the finite is capable of bearing the infinite: this means that the worldly and mundane can indeed embody God’s presence. What I have argued for here is an appropriate balance of this polarity. Of course, in addition to the danger of idolatry, there is also the danger of profanation. Therefore, what I have offered by way of a comparison of Barth and Rahner is an analysis of precisely this dialectic and how it might function in the discerning of God’s presence in actual practices.”⁠3

1 {Keifert, 2009 #395@4}

2 {Keifert, 2009 #395@86}

3 {Keifert, 2009 #395@199}

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