- Between Magisterium and Marketplace: A Constructive Account of Theology and the Church by Robert C. Saler
In this revision of his dissertation directed by Vítor Westelle at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Robert Saler offers a distinctive contribution to the troubled relationship between ecclesiology and theological creativity in relation to theological authorship. Contrary to many others who address this question that “haunts our own theological era” (96), Saler does not believe that the magisterium is the only option for avoiding the pitfalls of the marketplace. He proposes an ecclesiology of a “diffusively spatialized event”—instead of a concrete, distinct public—as a better way forward.
Saler situates his argument within the on-going discussion about the nature and function of authorship in general, in dialogue with Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. He explores this question of theological authorship historically, showing that when it comes to the question of ecclesiology and authorship, the real theological choice is not between Karl Barth and Friedrich Schleiermacher, but John Henry Newman and Schleiermacher. He finds the case made by “polis ecclesiologists” in Newman’s trajectory compelling, but rejects the necessity of a magisterium as the best solution to the crisis of theological authorship. He draws from the work of Joseph Sittler (and with clear influences from his Doktorvater) to develop his alternative vision of the church. Recognizing that understanding the church as a “diffusively spatialized event” will entail a reconfigured view of theological authorship, he further proposes an embrace of “weakness and failure” as positive goods in the search for theological truth (19).
Saler offers a penetrating examination into the intertwined issues of ecclesiology and theological authorship. Throughout, he engages many dialogue partners to make his argument, offering perceptive and interestingly drawn contrasts. He writes charitably of the polis ecclesiology position even as he argues against its solution to the crisis of theological authorship. Saler’s work is constructive in the best sense of the word. [End Page 446]
While Saler appeals to Augsburg Confession (CA) VII as the basis for an event ecclesiology, he expands the traditional reading of the CA to propose that the church as “event” happens wherever and whenever there is any act of truth-telling that points to or embodies the reign of God, namely, often outside of the traditional places that we call churches. However, the category of “event” is nonetheless limiting as a basis for ecclesiology, as these discursive acts of truth (191) still take place in community. This suggests that the church is more than “event”; it is also a community of people bound together by these discursive acts of truth-telling, and the Spirit who enables both.
While his discussion of the “highly unstable Confessing Church in Germany” gives a clear and interesting example how a spatially diffused ecclesiology was able to combat heresies without a magisterium, I found myself wondering what the church as “spatially diffused event” might look like today? Contemporary examples would have especially welcome as counters to the critiques of Carl E. Braaten and other Lutherans and former Lutherans examined by Saler in earlier chapters.
This book will appeal especially to ecclesiologists, but any theologian interested in engaging these questions will do well to consult this book for its clarity and insight on the relationship between theological authorship and ecclesiology.