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After Our Likeness: Church as the Image of the Trinity (Sacra doctrina) (Sacra Doctrina: Christian Theology for a Postmodern Age) [Paperback]

Miroslav Volf
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

27 Jan 1998 Sacra Doctrina: Christian Theology for a Postmodern Age
In After Our Likeness, the inaugural volume in the Sacra Doctrina series, Miroslav Volf explores the relationship between persons and community in Christian theology. The focus is the community of grace, the Christian church. The point of departure is the thought of the first Baptist, John Smyth, and the notion of church as "gathered community" that he shared with Radical Reformers. Volf seeks to counter the tendencies toward individualism in Protestant ecclesiology and to suggest a viable understanding of the church in which both person and community are given their proper due. In the process, Volf engages in a sustained and critical ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiologies of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and the metropolitan John Zizioulas. The result is a study that spells out a vision of the church as an image of the triune God.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co (27 Jan 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802844405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802844408
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 16 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 146,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Interpretation"In this substantial volume, Volf explores the relationship between trinitarian theologies and their corresponding ecclesiologies. His thesis is that a Free Church trinitarian ecclesiology is not only dogmatically defensible but in certain social situations may prove to be superior to other ecclesiologies. . . . A careful theology with broad ecumenical interests, Volf's exposition of Ratzinger and Zizioulas is exemplary, and his own constructive arguments make a significant contribution to contemporary theology."Modern Theology"This book richly deserves to be read beyond purely academic circles. By reformulating Free Church ecclesiology, Volf offers anyone interested in ecumenical dialogue a new touchstone for understanding many of those traditions that continue to be excluded (and to exclude themselves) from ecumenical discussions."Theological Studies"Creative, original, and compelling in its organization and logic. Volf's study deals with a number of areas that still need further critical reflection not only in Orthodox and Catholic ecclesiologies, but also in those of the Free Churches."Anglican Theological Review"One of the most important contributions made to the study of ecclesiology, not only within Protestant theology where good ecclesiology is often scarce, but also in the field of the ecumenical study of the Church."Journal of Ecumenical Studies"Volf offers a significant contribution to the debate from a free-church point of view, grounded in biblical and patristic research, but taking account of the ecumenical studies and contemporary systematic contributions of Moltmann and Pannenberg, especially their eschatological orientations. The author's own background, in both the Croatian context where Catholic and Orthodox churches dominate and working within the evangelical scholarly community, gives his research and ecumenical breadth and uniqueness of point of view that makes its contribution to the discussion particularly important."Currents in

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6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars what is church? 25 July 2007
By matt
Format:Paperback
I only want to add a few general cents here about the text.

First, his desire to have the Congregationalist/Free Church recognized as legitimate ecumenical partners for dialogue is very welcome. Since they represent one of the fastest growing segments in modern Christianity, it makes sense that they should have a voice. But a common voice would be helpful. Congregationalists are a little like talking to Hydra- who is the voice? Volf offers a defense or vision of his ecclesiology, but in the end I believe it remains just that, "his" defense of "his" ecclesiology. In my own dialogue with "Free Churchers" there always remains the but-we-don't-see-it-that-way factor that is hard to go beyond, when the next one can totally agree. I certainly believe that Volf's ideas will find resonance with many readers/prayers/hopers, but in the end, it still lacks the unifying force that remains in the mainline traditions of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy (although some would argue that Orthodox are not unified in any real sense, but that's another story...) which leads them to lack a real, unified alternative to modern society. In chapter 3, Volf argues that it is the Holy Spirit that actualizes the Church. Of course, but that is also the problem with Free Church theology. Its theological identity is always playing second fiddle to its non-conformist, non-structured ecclesial identity, leading to a least common denominator "denomination". What is most essential is then the question. But since when is the Tradition or scripture minimalist? Volf doesn't help there. Although chapter 6 tries to define what it means to be "catholic" (according to the whole), it really doesn't ring true.
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A free church vision? 17 July 2001
By Neil Brighton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Volf's book explores the question of the manner in which the church is a reflection of the triune God. His own interest is to articulate a free church vision of the church. He seeks to do this in dialogue with the Catholic theology of Ratzinger and the Orthodox theology of Zizioulas. The benefit of this is that both Ratzinger and Zizioulas represent particular and distinctive comprehensions of the trinity. The danger is that it allows Volf considerable latitude in forming his own position. The result is that the book is stronger as a critique of others than as an alternative proposal.
There are a couple of points to be made of Volf's critique of Ratzinger and Zizioulas:
1. Has he been overly selective in his choice of Ratzinger's texts in view of the fact that Ratzinger has not published a comprehensive ecclesiology nor written extensively about the Trinity.
2. Given the importance of eschatology to Volf's argument, the book would have been strengthened by a more detailed engagement with Ratzinger at this point.
3. His critique of Zizioulas's desire to give precedence to person over substance has validity. But given that Zizioulas claims to be working in continuity with the Cappadocians, it would have been helpful to draw distinctions between what Zizioulas is claiming and what they had written. In particular Zizioulas's insistence on the monarchy of the Father is an example of the degree to which he has moved from Gregory Nazianzus.
In Volf's own argument there are times when it reads like a complex justification for much current western practice. While he correctly identifies that free church ecclesiology frequently starts from below rather than from a view of the Trinity one wonders how far Volf goes to correct this. While this book does much to sharpen our thinking and opens up a number of crucial questions there are deficiencies in Volf's proposals:
We must start from a view of the Trinity that give due attention to the person and work of each member and which seeks greater understanding of the relationships between the members. While Volf seeks to distance himself from hierarchical understandings of the Trinity his own views seem to suggest that the Trinity is some form of democracy. Mutual indwelling is a critical part of our understanding but so is the priority of the Father. Flowing from this is an understanding of the role of the Spirit in the creation of fellowship and as the bond of unity as we are being incorporated into the one body over which is Christ as head. Is unity, as Volf claims, derived from the plurality of its members or not.
In short, an important book which raises important questions for the church. It is worth reading and grappling with the issues. However, in the end I think a better case can be made.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent actually 11 Dec 2001
By Patrick O - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It is always a distinct pleasure when one comes across an author which one has not read before. Although I have perused articles by Dr. Volf before, this was the first occasion in which I really read his text. The fact that upon finishing this book I began to seek out more of his books is a sign that something he wrote really caught my attention. Maybe it is the fact that as one raised in what can be called the free-church tradition (Baptist, Pentecostal, etc.), it is always delightful when I find a well thought out theologian who shares those same convictions. Or indeed it could be that the intention of the series to provide a Christian Theology for a postmodern age resonated within me.
After Our Likeness begins with the discussion of two very different ecclesiologies. The first is the great Catholic theologian, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. The second is the Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas. Both are esteemed within their respective Church and they are quite able representatives of their traditions. In doing this, Volf seeks to first establish the foundations of these distinct understandings of what it means to be a church, which more or less represent broadly Western and Eastern thinking as a whole. It is because of his real intent that he feels this is necessary. The primary goal of Miroslav Volf in this text is to, "contribute toward making the Free churches and their ecclesiology (or ecclesiologies) presentable, Free Churches that are dogmatically orthodox and that are numerically becoming increasingly significant." He is essentially seeking to provide a theologically developed ecclesiology which could be in dialogue with the older, and rather now defensive, ecclesiologies of the traditional churches. An example of why this is needed is found in the Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry document which was published by the World Council of Churches. Here one from a Baptist tradition feels completely left out of the so-called dialogue.
Having briefly discussed the traditional ecclesiologies, Volf then proceeds to develop one which takes into account the ancient and the modern, seeking to provide a theological model which will be useful for this century, understanding that the global church will increasingly reflect a Free Church form with or without the approval of the World Council of Churches. He begins by looking at the foundations of what the Church is, seeking to show what is at the roots and core of the creation and continuation of the Church in this world. Understanding that the Church is essentially part of ?God?s eschatological new creation?, Volf develops how a church can be identified as such. The core idea is that the Church is an assembly, an assembly which gathers in the name of Christ, committed as individuals to allow their lives to be determined by Jesus Christ. Volf then develops what this means, dealing with the issues of faith, God?s being, the specific structures which result from this core idea, and the question of how differing perspectives can still be united into one whole catholic church. In many ways, what Volf is offering is more of a starting point than a completely thorough treatment, but a starting point which demands to be included in global ecumenical discussions as representing the fastest growing understanding of what being the Church means.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars needed conversation and questions 6 April 2007
By matt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have to say that the previous reviews are about as thorough as I could be, so I only want to add a few general cents here about the text.

First, his desire to have the Congregationalist/Free Church recognized as legitimate ecumenical partners for dialogue is very welcome. Since they represent one of the fastest growing segments in modern Christianity, it makes sense that they should have a voice. But a common voice would be helpful. Congregationalists are a little like talking to Hydra- who is the voice? Volf offers a defense or vision of his ecclesiology, but in the end I believe it remains just that, "his" defense of "his" ecclesiology. In my own dialogue with "Free Churchers" there always remains the but-we-don't-see-it-that-way factor that is hard to go beyond, when the next one can totally agree. I certainly believe that Volf's ideas will find resonance with many readers/prayers/hopers, but in the end, it still lacks the unifying force that remains in the mainline traditions of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy (although some would argue that Orthodox are not unified in any real sense, but that's another story...) which leads them to lack a real, unified alternative to modern society. In chapter 3, Volf argues that it is the Holy Spirit that actualizes the Church. Of course, but that is also the problem with Free Church theology. Its theological identity is always playing second fiddle to its non-conformist, non-structured ecclesial identity, leading to a least common denominator "denomination". What is most essential is then the question. But since when is the Tradition or scripture minimalist? Volf doesn't help there. Although chapter 6 tries to define what it means to be "catholic" (according to the whole), it really doesn't ring true.

Second, his ecclesiology and trinitarianism tend towards individualism, since he still fails to deal substantially with the Eucharist and Baptism and traditional Trinitarian theology (the heart of traditional ecclesiology). Since his ecclesiology is essentially individualistic (Enlightenment?), it makes sense for him to do this, but it totally misses the point. Even while he claims trinitarian models for his approach, I found them lacking in substance. God is more than three roles, three persons united in love or a common substance. (He follows Moltmann's lead in seeing the three Persons of God as individuals united in self-giving. There is certainly precedent for this in the past, starting with St. Gregory Nazianzus' Christology, but it still doesn't go far enough, or perhaps it goes too far!). What unites "God" is the Father- God proper. The Son and Spirit are not the head. What really defines Christian theology is that God exists not as three individuals with relations to each other, but as three who are relations. There is a monarchical order, even if it is beyond our understanding. And this, too, Volf criticizes in Zizioulas, since faith for Volf is rationalization, not the faith of children. Z argues for a suprarational approach/experience of the Church in the context of liturgical realities, not cognitive reflections. And this is the real heart of the issue. If we are to image the Trinity, our imaging is in what we are. I am not really me unless I am united to you. Perichoresis as Volf and Moltmann use it must move beyond united individuals in freedom (Congregationalist ecclesiology). An individual, or the isolated, self-defined Church, is not a person or church in the traditional theological sense.

This book would have been much more useful had it used the sacraments/mysteries as touchstones of ecclesiolgy.

I would suggest reading Zizioulas' "Being as Communion" or "Eucharist Church and Bishop", McPartlan's "Eucharist Makes the Church" and "Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries" by Werner Elert for a more comprehensive understanding of these topics that Volf ignores outright.
39 of 53 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A defense of free church ecclesiology. 22 Jan 1999
By BillFarley@msn.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Volf's book is not so much about a Trinitarian theology of the Church as it is a theological foundation for the ecclesiology of free and congregational churches. Volf is presenting a case for the inclusion of free churches within what is commonly known as the holy catholic, apostolic and universal Church. He compares the ecclesiology of the free (congregational) churches with the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church. Naturally, he does not totally accept their systems. However, he does recognize the value of the relational ties that connect the parishes together in their respective traditions. He rejects their hierachial structures, but values the quality of community that exists beyond the local congregation. The larger community is an antidote to parochialism and the danger of local congregations becoming merely religious clubs consisting of like minded persons. Yet, he sees the real strength of Christianity residing in the local congregation. He supports the grassroots or bottom up system of inter-congregational relationships. His ideal of a cooperative Christian community is Trinitarian in nature, many equal bodies joining together to form one unity which is not greater than the sum of the parts. He sees the opposite in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions. There, the many have their origin from the one. The whole gives identify to the many, and without the unity of the one, the many cannot exist. He understands the Holy Trinity as being three separate and equal persons of the same substance making up the Godhead. This view is part of his justification of free church ecclesiology. He says that the Orthodox and Roman Catholics have a trinity of unequal persons and practice an ecclesiology of inferior parts. Volf presents a strong academic defense for free church ecclesiology. It is a defense with many useful insights, even for traditions with an episcopalian structure. However, a general weakness of his work is the assumption that all local churches and parishes perfectly practice the theologies and doctrines of their respective traditions. I believe that there is more diversity within denominations and traditions at the local level than anyone in higher academic or ecclesiastical circles wants to admit. Volf carries on a hypothetical dialogue with John Zizioulas and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger who represent the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church respectively. He claims to present their authentic positions by offering quotes from their writings, However, he is the one selecting the passages to debate. I do not know the context from which he selected the passages; thus, I am not able to determine his objectivity. Ratzinger and Zizioulas do not carry on any authentic dialogue with Volf; it is quotation without true participation. I feel that Volf is presenting Zizioulas and Ratzinger from a position that is most favorable to his cause. Even with this most favorable presentation, I still find myself agreeing more with their positions than with Volf's. This is somewhat unusual because I usually disagree with Ratzinger on most issues. Also, at times, there seems to be a similarity between Ratzinger's idea of ecclesiolgy and those of John Wesley in my own Methodist tradition.
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing "tri-alogue" between Rome, Constantinople, and America 19 July 2012
By jwinterscom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
To use the analogy of water, some books are like pouring water into your head, drinking it in, other books are like jumping into a body of water and swimming around. "After our Likeness" is the latter.

Volf's edited dissertation on eccelsiology is a dense read, as most dissertations are. In it, he attempts to discuss how the Western (and largely American) model of the "Free Church" of congregationalism might gain something from their Eastern and European brethren in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. The first half of the book is dedicated to exploring the ecclesiological ideas of Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) and Metropolitan bishop John Zizioulas of the Greek Orthodox church. Throughout the discovery of Ratzinger and Zizioulas, we find the writings of John Smyth, a foundational leader in the Baptist tradition, countering and giving a foil to the more episcopal polities of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox.

The second half the book is where Volf begins to attempt to synthesize all of these points of view together. There is quite a bit to understand as Volf tries to see a sort of "third way" of ecclesiology through discussions about who comprises the church, what the roles in the church are, what the gifts of the church mean for the function of the church, how faith and the church interact, and the universal or "Body of Christ" nature of the church.

Each of these subjects could be a book unto itself, so Volf does an excellent job of sparking an idea, but does not go as far as making specific prescriptions or prophecies for the Church and how it may begin to look more like the Trinity, each person comprising a larger and mysteriously unified whole.

I would not recommend this book for the uninitiated. The jargon and sheer amount of Latin in the book make it difficult for someone with a theology degree to fully wrap their minds around it, but for those who can understand such things - I wholeheartedly recommend the book as it gives us a picture of how we might continue to think about the composition of the church as it gathers before the return of Christ.
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