Theology in the Modern Era: Jeremy M. Kimble on The Church

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

Jeremy M. Kimble serves as associate professor of theology and as Director for the Center for Biblical Integration.

Introduction

The Reformation brought about great doctrinal changes in the church, especially as it related to the doctrine of Scripture. God’s Word was now seen as our ultimate authority and not merely equal to tradition, and the doctrine of salvation was emphasized, particularly justification by faith alone in Christ alone. Reformation churches established their own identity by becoming strongly united around the solas of the Reformation and in their continued distancing from the Roman Catholic Church.

Beginning in the Reformation period, and becoming even more distinct in the modern era (1750–), ecclesiological differences became more pronounced, while unity around the doctrines of grace was evident. Variances among the Reformers regarding church life became entrenched doctrinal convictions and ecclesial distinctives, which brought about agreement in certain core theological areas (e.g., justification by faith alone) but disagreement over other matters (e.g., baptism, Lord’s Supper, church government forms of church worship). As a result, the modern era is a critical period in the history of the church regarding church doctrine. In many ways it called into question how the church was to cooperate and work together while also maintaining doctrinal distinctives often dealing with matters of ecclesiological importance.

Historical Overview

By the mid-eighteenth century, Christianity—particularly in the West—found itself in the throes of particular ideologies, such as the Enlightenment (emphasis on the individual, objective reality, and reason) and Romanticism (emphasis on the subjective and emotions). Each of these philosophies would have their effect on culture at large and call into question many of the major tenets of Christianity, such as the possibility of miracles, original sin, status of Scripture, and identity of Jesus.

By the late eighteenth century, the beginnings of the modern missions movement became evident. This movement came to fruition in large measure thanks to the work of William Carey (1761–1834), a missionary to India, particularly through his work Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen (1791). Carey was deeply influenced by the theology of Andrew Fuller; both stood in opposition to hyper-Calvinistic tendencies that made their way, especially, into Baptist churches.

The Second Great Awakening (1800–1840s), a movement seen mainly in the United States, brought an increased emphasis on the new birth, spiritual awakening, and evangelism. The methods by which these things were accomplished were often done outside of local church contexts in various revival meetings. This posed potential threats to a robust doctrine of the church and allowed parachurch organizations to increase in importance, even as an ecclesial reality for some. Nevertheless, the Awakening certainly has had an influence on the life of the church and the approach to such matters. In many ways, church worship itself became primarily concerned with evangelism, baptism, and membership. By the mid-twentieth century, many evangelical churches had shifted in viewing themselves preeminently as baptized, covenanted, local assemblies, to functioning primarily as outreach centers and corporate worship services as catalysts for revival. This perspective made the process for joining a church generally much quicker and more accessible.

In recent years, it is likely that no ministry has thought and produced more and had greater effect on the topic of ecclesiology than 9MarksMinistries. Founded in 1998 by Mark Dever (1960–), pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, 9Marks is a ministry dedicated to helping pastors and church members understand the components needed to become a healthy, biblical church. They do so through an e-journal, website, books, curriculum, and conferences. Although Baptist by conviction, 9Marks has had an impact across denominational lines as people continue to think about topics such as conversion, church membership, church discipline, expositional preaching, discipleship, and church leadership. Ministries such as 9Marks,along with the continued concentration of books and conferences dedicated in some way to the doctrine of the church, ensure that this is a theological topic that will continue to gain attention.

Case Studies

1. Nature and Polity of the Church

2. The Ordinances of the Church

3. The Mission of the Church

4. The Worship of the Church

For the Church

Ecclesiology has often taken a back seat as a doctrine to theological topics such as the Trinity, atonement, and the person of Christ. This is understandable, but it does not render the doctrine as unimportant. The triune God by means of redemption is gathering a people dedicated to glorifying his name. And God has called these people to live as a kingdom of priests set apart for his purposes. As such, the more recent move toward a “mere ecclesiology” does not do justice to all that God wants the church to be. Instead, the church must hold to convictions in every doctrinal area, including the nature and functionality of the church.

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021