Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

An Ecclesiology For Late Modernity by Kurt Fredrickson – A Literary Review

This review is of a Ph.d. thesis by Kurt Fredrickson.  I got a lot out of this paper, so I hope my review reflects that.  The full title of the thesis is: An Ecclesiology for Late Modernity: The Missio-Ecclesiology of Deitrich Bonhoeffer.

I basically start with my sense of the author’s thesis, followed by a
general overview of the paper, and then I focus on themes that are
pertinent to my research. With that said, here is my review.

In light of a world in rapid and discontinuous change, Fredrickson claims that the church must develop new ways to “redemptively engage multicultural postmodern North America”(i) and that Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s missio-ecclesiology paves the way for us.

Fredrickson looks to the writings of Bonhoeffer as well as those who have studied his writings to consider how to reshape the church so that she can “once again be a transforming agent for good” in the world.  Fredrickson first looks at Bonhoeffer’s Missio-Ecclesia Vision and describes how his vision is grounded theologically in his Christology, Anthropology, and Ecclesiology.  He then uses Bonhoeffer’s vision to critique North American religion as well as assess the church in the United States, before paving the way forward.  In describing where the church should go, Fredrickson says that Bonhoeffer’s thought is that a new structure begins with metanoia (repentance) and then he takes Bonhoeffer’s thoughts and develops a list of characteristics that describe what the Emerging Missional Church should look like.

A key element that Fredrickson picks up on in Bonhoeffer’s writing, which is a significant point for the church today to grasp, is how the church exists for the sake of the world.  This theme is throughout his work.  He says, “The church can never be isolated from the world as God is not isolated from the world. Bonhoeffer notes:  ’God is the beyond in the midst of our life.  The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but it the middle of the village.’” (3)  In another place he states, “For Bonhoeffer, faith meant engagement. The Christian and the church is never isolated or withdrawn from the world.  Faith is “participation in this being of Jesus (incarnation, cross, and resurrection….) Our relationship to God is a new life of ’existence for others’, through participation in the being of Jesus.  It is living completely in this world” (12).

With this needed reminder that the church exists for the sake world – he also reminds us that she also needs to remember the posture that she should have as she lives out this vocation.   As Fredrickson notes, “Bonhoeffer was also aware that the church’s stance in society must not be one of triumph and security.  The utter failure of this mode was clearly seen in the German church. [During the rise of Hitler]  The new stance of the church must be one of weakness and suffering. The new stance of the church in waning Christendom will be in exile, in diaspora. It is this weak and hidden church that will become a force for good and blessing in the world” (11).

One of the most instructive, concise, and thoughtful parts of this work was when Frederickson said, “While Bonhoeffer’s missiology is not explicit, it is quite apparent in his writing and actions, demanding a radical new understanding of the gospel and a restructuring of the church.  Bliese summarizes this missional emphasis from five different vantage points in Bonhoeffer thought.”  The following is a summary:

    1.  There is mission with the view from inside: renewal        
         The church to ongoing reform and obedience to Christ alone

    2.  There is mission with the view from below: suffering
         We must see history from the perspective of the powerless and oppressed

    3.  There is mission with the view from outside: embrace
         How can Christ be Lord of the religionless?

    4.  There is mission with the view from the world: solidarity
         Christ is present in the world and for the world

    5.  There is mission with the view from the cruciform center: the cross
         The faith that will make a mark in the world is carries a cross (15-17)

Fredrickson’s look at contemporary Missio-Ecclesial Expressions in pages 72-85 is worth reviewing, as well as his conclusions.


5 Responses to An Ecclesiology For Late Modernity by Kurt Fredrickson – A Literary Review

  1. Adam says:

    Very interesting. I’ve actually been thinking of these very things recently. I read through B’s Letters and Papers from Prison and was struck by how much his thoughts about “a religionless christianity” were relevant to conversations happening today.

  2. JR Woodward says:


    You gotta love Bonhoeffer. He has some amazing thoughts and has many words for us today in our time and context.

  3. Chris Garner says:

    hey JR 🙂

    do you think that ‘new structure begins with metanoia ‘ (which, if understood as mind-renewing/repentance, is thus i believe is the basis for true revival!) is what can explain Brian McLaren’s ‘Everything must change’?
    I’d like to think so…but theres just so many mixed reviews of the book.

    Jr, did i miss a review of the book from you>? if not, are you planning on it?

    (sorry for all the questions..it helps my thinking on this stuff..)


  4. JR Woodward says:


    Hey man. Yeah, I think that mentanoia is needed first and I do plan to review Brian’s book at some point.

    It seems whatever Brian writes today, there is some controversy. What have people been saying in your neck of the woods?

    I have read it, but haven’t written about it yet. When I get the chance I will. I hope to soon. By the way, I just posted your piece you inspired me with. Peace.

  5. Pingback: Dream Awakener » A Primer on Today’s Missional Church

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