As the North American church struggles to navigate the emerging post-Christian context, Theodore J. Hopkins argues that the church is identified by three fundamental relationships: Christ-church-world. By attending to the Christological center of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology, Hopkins establishes a framework for the church’s mission in the world that flows from Christ’s relationship to the church and his relationship to the world. This Christological framework also illuminates the changing relationship between the church and the world in Bonhoeffer’s works, such that Discipleship seems to demarcate the church from the world while Ethics seems to unite church and world in one Christ-reality. Following Bonhoeffer, Hopkins contends that the church is both distinct from the world and in solidarity with it in the dynamic of the crucified Lord Jesus who took the form of a servant and is present in Word, Sacrament, and community as the Risen One. Hopkins envisions the church within the story of Jesus so that preaching and teaching the Gospel identifies the church and calls it to faithfulness in Christ’s own mission. The church is formed to see itself and the world in Jesus and enabled to follow Christ’s mission of witness and service in the world.
For better or worse, the word on the street is that Lutherans have yet to come up with a robust ecclesiology! But before getting ahead of ourselves with such a big project, Hopkins asks us to step back and ask what being the church even means today. In dialogue with Bonhoeffer and others, he argues that without a clear account of Christ's relationship to his church in his world, not only Lutherans but Christians in the U.S. have either become like the world without the church or like the church without the world. Hopkins calls the North American church to repentance for succumbing to such reductionisms, which end up replacing the church's story with political ideologies or therapeutic ends. More importantly, Hopkins offers us a wonderful grammar grounded in God's story of creation to reimagine what it means not only to talk about the church but to be formed as the church in the likeness of Christ for the sake of the world. -- Leopoldo A. Sanchez M., Concordia Seminary All too often Lutherans assume that Christianity enjoys an honored place in culture, and so their beliefs about the church take for granted an individualism where people focus solely on personal salvation or an introspection in which they are absorbed in the churches' distinctive practices, in spite of the fact that such an advantage for the church no longer exists. In response to these illusions, what the church needs to do instead is to follow Christ where he leads it: into the world. Following the lead of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hopkins energetically repairs our understanding of the church so that it can engage more fruitfully in witness, service, and justice. Neither elevated over the world nor merged into it, the church as connected to Jesus Christ is formed increasingly into Christ's presence in the world. Hopkins offers a vibrant alternative to present ecclesiologies, one that urges the church animated from Christ himself to make a difference in the world. -- Mark Mattes, Grand View University What is the nature of the Church in a time when church attendance is in such dramatic decline? Hopkins takes great care to lay out the various historical and theological problems that contend with a church struggling to enact its witness to the world. He skillfully binds ecclesiology and Christology together, highlighting important tensions and calling out harmful assumptions. Still, the argument retains an essential optimism. At the heart of the book is a call to a renewed spiritual imagination that, in Bonhoefferian parlance, lifts up Jesus Christ as the grounding of all reality even in the midst of (and especially for) a post-Christian culture. -- Joel Oesch, Christ College, Concordia University Productive introspection is never easy. The temptation to egocentric self-absorption, coupled with the near impossibility of honest internal assessment, warn the wise to be wary of such pursuits. Prof. Hopkins demonstrates the requisite wisdom, however, as he patiently coaxes the church to engage in the uncomfortable and often disruptive work of self-evaluation. That he undertakes the task armed with solid insights and useful tools gleaned from close interaction with the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, greatly increases the likelihood that such reflection will not only occur but yield God-pleasing fruit. -- Joel Biermann, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis As he moves human history forward, God accompanies his church, and the Holy Spirit turns its attention and energy to the challenges of its mission in new times and places. Hopkins addresses the profound and everyday shifts in congregational life in North America in the early twenty-first century with sensitivity and insight in formulating a fresh approach to the daunting task of guiding any group of individualists into common tasks. Using Luther and Bonhoeffer to explore ways of embracing and enhancing the incorporation of the story of Christ's servant conduct in his mission of rescue and restoration into the thought and action of congregations, this volume integrates the biblical narrative of our salvation into the contemporary church's living out of its God-given identity. A stimulating venture into a doctrine of the church for our time and a practical launching point for congregational life and mission. -- Robert Kolb, emeritus, Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis