Here at the outset of 2020, it seems that a good deal of my energy this year will be devoted to several projects focused on helping churches deepen their congregational life …
As I’ve been preparing for these projects, I’ve compiled this reading list on some of the most essential thinkers who guide us into the work of deepening our congregational life together in our local churches. I chosen to focus on authors/thinkers rather than books because most of these authors have written more than one relevant book.
Lohfink is likely the most important living theologian writing about Christian community. His work is largely unknown outside of seminaries, but it will be essential to the work of reimagining church in the 21st century. The following two books stand out as relevant to this reading guide. The former was written earlier and is more accessible to congregational reading/reflection. The latter is a more in-depth study that will require patience and careful study, but is well-worth the effort.
Lohfink calls the present-day church to once again be the “contrast society,” which attracts non-believers by living what it preaches and by being different without being narrowly sectarian.
Are not all religions equally close to and equally far from God? Why, then, the Church? Gerhard Lohfink poses these questions with scholarly reliability and on the basis of his own experience of community in Does God Need the Church? In 1982 Father Lohfink wrote Wie hat Jesus Gemeinde gewollt? (translated into English as Jesus and Community) to show, on the basis of the New Testament, that faith is founded in a community that distinguishes itself in clear contours from the rest of society. In that book he also described a sequence of events that moved directly from commonality to a community that was readily accessible to every group of people and was made legitimate by Jesus himself. Only later did Father Lohfink learn, within a new horizon of experience, that such a description is not the way to community. The story of the gathering of the people of God, from Abraham until today, never took place according to such a model. Today Father Lohfink states that he would not write Wie hat Jesus Gemeinde gewollt? the same way. The situation of belief and believers has undergone a shift: the question of the Church has become much more urgent. Church life is declining and the religions are returning, often in new guises. In light of these shifts and the change in his own view of community, Father Lohfink inquires in Does God Need the Church? of Israel’s theology, Jesus’ praxis, the experiences of the early Christian communities, and of what is appearing in the Church today. These inquiries lead to an amazing history involving God and the world – a history that God presses forward with the aid of a single people and that always turns out differently from what they think and plan.