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date: 08 April 2020

(p. v) Preface

(p. v) Preface

This Oxford Handbook of Ecclesiology is a unique academic resource for the study of the Christian church. It brings out the continuities and discontinuities in the changing understanding of the church in the Bible, church history, and contemporary theology. Ecclesiology is a vibrant discipline within the spectrum of Christian theology. As the scholarly study of the self-understanding of the church, its identity, ecclesiology is at the centre of contemporary theological research, reflection, and debate. Because understandings of the church differ in interesting ways from one Christian tradition to another over time, notwithstanding substantial common ground, ecclesiology has to be a critical discipline. It not only takes an objective, critical approach to its sources and history, but also remains self-critical, constantly vigilant, revising and reforming its major paradigms accordingly. Ecclesiology is carried forward by research, dialogue, debate, publication, and controversy on the part of many persons, from various Christian traditions and sometimes from none, in many academic centres and beyond them, around the world.

Ecclesiology is also the theological heart of the ecumenical movement. Ecclesiology has been the main focus of the intense ecumenical engagement, study, and dialogue of the past century. While significant convergences have been achieved, it is in ecclesiology that the most intractable differences remain to be resolved. So ecclesiology today is largely carried forward in an ecumenical context. It remains an exploratory and critical discipline, but is now undertaken in a more irenic and dialogical way.

Ecclesiology investigates the church’s manifold self-understanding in relation to a number of research fields, including the origins, structures of authority and governance, doctrine, ministry and sacraments, unity and diversity, and mission of the church, not forgetting its relation to the state, to civil society, and to culture. The main sources of ecclesiological reflection are the Bible (interpreted in the light of scholarly research), church history and the wealth of the Christian theological tradition, the experience and practice of the church today, together with the information and insights that can be gleaned from other relevant academic disciplines.

This Oxford Handbook of Ecclesiology covers the biblical resources, historical development, and contemporary initiatives in ecclesiology. In particular, generous space is allocated to the New Testament sources of ecclesiology and to some of the most influential shapers of modern understandings of the church. It aims to be a widely useful, comprehensive guide to understanding the church and the ways that the church has been understood in history and is understood today.

(p. vi) It has been rather a long haul to bring this book to birth, as is almost unavoidable in a work with nearly thirty contributions. So I am immensely grateful to all my distinguished authors, especially those who were very prompt with their assignments and have had to exercise considerable patience while the portfolio was completed. However, they have had an opportunity recently to check, revise, and update their chapters.

I also wish to thank the editorial team of Oxford University Press, especially Tom Perridge for initiating the invitation to me to edit such a volume, and Karen Raith who has seen it through editorially in recent times. Their kindness, understanding, and patience has made a big difference. I am grateful also to various members of the production team, who have seen a complex operation through to a successful conclusion.

Paul Avis

University of Durham

University of Exeter

October 2017