Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Introducing Miroslav Volf's book, "After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity"

Allow me to offer a brief extract from my Ashram Church dissertation by way of introducing a modern theologian who has been crucial to my thinking on the ashram church:

Miroslav Volf was born in Croatia and grew up in Serbia. He is currently Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. Volf has been described as “an eclectic” and “unusual in many settings ... a Pentecostal among evangelicals, a mainline Christian among evangelicals, and an evangelical in the mainline. Growing up, he was a Christian among communists” (Oppenheimer, 2003:18).

Volf does theology at the intersection of faith and life – and this characteristic makes him an obvious choice among contemporary theologians as we reflect on the ecclesiality of Christian ashrams, for ashrams are meant to be gathered communities that are creatively, and fruitfully, engaged at the intersection of faith and life. Volf is a practitioner of a passionate, open and constructive theology, speaking the implications of his faith beyond the boundaries of the academy or the church and into the needs of the world. He sees his type of theological work as a relevant, and much needed, contribution to understanding and seeking solutions to the problems of life in the world. “Volf offers theology not as the exclusive province of Christians, but as an appeal to the whole world” (Stafford 1999:35).

Volf’s broad topic in his book, After Our Likeness, is ‘the relation between persons and community in Christian theology.’ In the first part of the book Volf engages in a dialogue (in itself a model of how ecumenical dialogue should be conducted: open and appreciative, critical and sustained) with Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) and the metropolitan John Zizioulas, both of whom he recognizes “as more or less official representatives” of Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology. As he moves towards his ultimate goal of spelling out “a vision of the church as an image of the triune God,” he purposes “to counter the tendencies towards individualism in Protestant ecclesiology” and also to develop an “understanding of the church in which both person and community are given their proper due.” (1998:2)

Based upon his presentation of a ‘non-hierarchical doctrine of the Trinity’, Volf seeks to develop a non-hierarchical and ‘truly communal’ ecclesiology (1998:4). A primary criticism of the institutional church in India has been its hierarchical and bureaucratic organisation. Thus Volf’s ecclesiology is far in advance of other ecclesiologies and is relevant for our examination of the ashram as an ecclesial community.

Volf is also concerned for the transmission of faith (1998:4) – a concern that has always been central for the Christian ashram pioneers, and to which task the ashram is eminently suited. It would be worthwhile for us to note Volf’s expression of his concern – “My concern is ... to develop an ecclesiology that will facilitate culturally appropriate – which is to say, both culturally sensitive and culturally critical – social embodiments of the Gospel” (1998:5 emphasis in the text).

Here is the link on to Miroslav Volf's book "After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity"

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Ashram Church Proposal

What follows is the abstract from my recently submitted MTh dissertation.

The Ashram Church:
A Study of Possible Implications of the Ashram Community for the Rural Church in the Punjab by J V David


This study explores the potential of the Christian ashram as an alternative way to institutionalize the church in India. The ashram church proposal is located within the broad history of the Christian ashram movement in India. The study examines the formal ecclesiality of the ashram church from the perspective of the Free Church ecclesiology developed by Miroslav Volf in his book After Our Likeness: The Church as the image of the Trinity (1998). Three pathways of contextual relevance are proposed, and using selected issues from the broad context of the Indian church, the ashram church is probed to see how it could help the church become indigenous in expression, form and vision. The case study research strategy (Robert K. Yin, 2003, Case Study Research: Design and Methods, 3rd edn.) is used to study the Saccidananda Ashram, an existing Christian ashram, as an ecclesial community. Finally, the study outlines the implications of the ashram church proposal for the rural church in the Indian Punjab.