Christ, Church, and World: A Christological Ecclesiology for Post-Christendom

Theodore Hopkins, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis


The North American church is facing a profound crisis. The post-Christendom situation is changing the landscape of the church’s relationship with culture, society, and individual communities, creating problems of ecclesial identity and purpose. This dissertation argues that the unique challenges of post-Christendom require three criteria for ecclesiology: storied identity, doctrinal substance, and visible concreteness. Most recent Lutheran ecclesiology has begun with either God’s word of the Gospel or the Holy Spirit, leading to an emphasis on individual justification or the practices of the church, respectively. Against these starting points, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being leads me to center the church on the person of Jesus Christ. In Christ, the church finds its story, called into mission by the Lord himself. This account resists the relegation of the church to an insipid, individual matter of the heart since Christ is no mere spiritual figure but is the Lord of the world, fully human yet fully divine. In this way, the church is rooted deeply in the personal union of Christ, who not only became a man but took the form of a servant to save his world. Thus grounded in Bonhoeffer’s Christological “person-theology”,1 the church receives specific direction through the Gospel narratives of Christ the Lord, who calls his church to discipleship and repentance as a distinct community from the world, and Christ the servant, who invites the church to witness and service in solidarity with God’s world. As the church inhabits the story of Jesus, the Spirit opens eyes to ministry that is faithful to Christ and to his world.