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Faith & Religion

Prodigal and the Volf

Reading the quote in Prodigal Kiwi Blog: Churches – They Just Couldn’t Speak to Me reminded me of theologian Miroslav Volf’s comments on the transmission of the Christian faith in his book After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity.

Volf says that the successful transmission of the Christian faith, within the church context, involves two different identifications.

  1. The mediation of faith can succeed only if those standing outside that faith are able to identify with the church communities embodying and transmitting it. Those outside will connect with the community if they see something within it that they can sympathise with.
  2. The degree to which transmission of faith occurs presupposes the identification of a church’s members with that church. The more included, affirmed and participatory people are, sharing in the values of the community, the more they are willing to be involved in transmitting the faith that underlies that community.

Volf argues that both are missing in contemporary Western society, particularly in the Protestant Free Churches – the “gathered churches”.

In particular, Volf thinks that we need “to develop an ecclesiology that will facilitate culturally appropriate – which is to say, both culturally sensitive and culturally critical – social embodiments of the Gospel.”

I think the situation is two-fold too. Those outside the community can’t see anything within the church to connect to – either it doesn’t appear relevant or it appears simply a mirror of contemporary culture. And those within the church either don’t have a strong commitment to the local body or cannot understand or connect to those outside of that community – they don’t know them well enough to care about them in a personal sense.

Sympathetic connections need to be made in both directions.


  1. Stephen, very good comments. I have the book but haven’t read it…I’ll reverse link to your post, because I think Volf is making some very interestings points / observations. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  2. Andrew

    I think Volf is right, but HOW are social embodiments to be made? What constitutes an appropriate social embodiment in our context? I think it’s the how that is messier than saying we need to. I think there’s huge tensions in church circles about what is an appropriate social embodiment e.g. “in the world not of it” and all those cliches. This is where Christians start calling each other names e.g. “syncretistic” etc.

    I’m sure the how is multifaceted but unfortunately we don’t hear enough multifaceted or pluriform ideas.

  3. You’re right, Andrew. I don’t think there’s a “silver bullet” that will fix it all (except for the Holy Spirit). I do think we swing between being “culturally sensitive” and “culturally critical” – sometimes too much of this world and at times too little engaged with it.

    The multifaceted approach seems good too – certainly that’s how I read the Spirit working through the book of Acts.

  4. Agree with you both 🙂

  5. Andrew

    Totally agree with your reflection that we are sometimes too much of the world whilst other times we’re too little engaged with it. I think we’ll continue to oscillate between too much of the world and too little engaged with it, probably often getting it wrong. I think problems come when we pitch our tents in either camp and stay there.

    I think oscillating between the two is the tension of mission and it is inherently messy. We’ll often muck it up, too much of the world sometimes and too little engaged others, but I think the key is that we’re atleast trying to join in with what God’s doing (drawing the whole of humanity/creation into relationship with Godself and each other).

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