Friday, December 2, 2011

The Church by E. P. Clowney: A Review

“If [the church] is to stand against the gates of hell, it must know its own divine charter, its bond to Jesus Christ, and the ‘Holy Spiritual’ power of its calling”. In 1942, twenty-five year-old Edmund Prosper Clowney was ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Ten years later, he came to serve on staff at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia for the next thirty-two years; eighteen of them as its president. In 1995, for the series Contours of Christian Theology, Clowney contributed this work, entitled The Church. Going with the series’ theme to introduce foundational Christian doctrine, he supplies his own take on the doctrine of the Christian church. He writes to a culture that considers the God of the Bible to have “died long ago with orthodox theology” and sees the local church as God’s tomb. This work seeks to restore the doctrine of the church as represented from the Bible.

Clowney was a life-long affiliate of Westminster Theological Seminary. Each of the major points throughout the book - whether male eldership, Christian nurture, or witnessing to the world - are driven heavily from the Scriptures. Clowney is clear as he walks the reader through his convictions and how they bear upon the Christian. His covenantal theology and praise of the Westminster Catechism are present in the text, and subsequently his disposition to paedobaptism. Yet his positions do not curtail his overall evangelical position of the church. He could have extended his position on women in the church and gone deeper into the corporate service structure; dedicating only one page to preaching. As well, his view on prophecy for today is not adequately presented, rather he only points out Grudem’s misappropriation of 1 Thess 5:19-21. The wisdom from chapter ten on the nurture of the church should be prized the highest out of all eighteen chapters. The Church, is an excellent twentieth-century take on the doctrine of the church. His dependence on the apostolic accounts of the Scriptures in formulating his doctrine of the people of God is comforting. The work gives a deeper understanding of the form and function that Evangelical Churches must retain in their life and practice.

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