Additionally, Minich’s opening essay provocatively and invitingly sets the stage for discussions about how modern-day Protestants should think of the church. Writing in contrast to some contemporary ecclesiological arguments, such as 9Marks editorial director Jonathan Leeman’s recent book on political theology, Minich argues that while the local church is a necessary expression of God’s people, the two communities aren’t one and the same. The people of God, Minich writes, are bound together not by localism or autonomous church government but by their faith relationship to Christ (Meador, in the book’s concluding essay, repeats this idea). At a time when evangelicals are reflecting on the essence and identity of the local church, Minich’s powerful essay should initiate some enlightening dialogue between differing ecclesiological traditions.
Organizationally, the Davenant Institute prioritizes historical theology and the sociopolitical lessons of generations past. This priority is evident throughout much of People of the Promise, which often reads more like a primer on Reformation history than a handbook on theology. Littlejohn contributes arguably the volume’s most important chapter on “the genius and tensions of Reformation ecclesiology.” Paying close attention to Martin Luther’s revolutionary insistence on the priesthood of all believers, Littlejohn traces out the development of Protestant ecclesiology from the Reformation, arguing that
[W]e must accept for practical purposes that all those who professed Christianity [in Luther’s context] belonged to the Church, and this meant nearly the whole body of citizens. In its temporal profile, then, the Church overlapped almost wholly with the body politic, and hence decisions about its temporal well-being were fit subjects for the civil magistrate’s concern.
This is a striking claim. Over and against the views of other Protestants, such as Baptists, Littlejohn and other authors in the book believe that Luther, Calvin, and the other “Magisterial Reformers” sought a close-knit relationship between the church and the public square. Indeed, Littlejohn goes on to criticize the “Anabaptist model” of ecclesiology and its “critique of civil authority.” The true spirit of the Reformation, he counters, is one that refrains from policing the boundaries of the church too aggressively. It concedes, instead, the utter impossibility of separating wheat from tares, both within the local community of faith and in the larger society (which are not nearly as separate as Baptists might suppose).
If this sounds a bit slippery, that’s because it is. Disappointingly, Littlejohn does not offer any substantive interaction with competing Protestant theories. His failure to quote or engage any contemporary descendants of the “Anabaptist model” cuts against the book’s ambition to present a “mere Protestant ecclesiology.” What Littlejohn mentions almost as a historical footnote is, in fact, one of the most important theological disagreements in Protestantism, one which a brief historical evaluation of Luther, while helpful, does not really address.