The Anointed Church

Toward a Third Article Ecclesiology

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Gregory J. Liston
  • Minneapolis, MN : 
    Fortress Press
    , September
     422 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In The Anointed Church, Gregory J. Liston examines the church through a Third Article Theology (TAT), which he defines in two ways: “first as a specific theological method that starts with the Spirit, and second as the theological understanding that emerges when this method is adopted” (23, emphasis original). Several theologians in the last few decades have used a TAT in order to develop a Spirit Christology, the view that one “cannot understand the identity and mission of Jesus Christ without introducing the category of the Spirit at the most fundamental level” (35). In this volume, Liston seeks to extend the insights of TAT beyond Spirit Christology to ecclesiology. He argues there are biblical, theological, philosophical, cultural, and ecumenical imperatives for undertaking this task.

The volume consists of three parts. In part 1, Liston introduces his understanding of TAT. He then summarizes Spirit Christology and its consonance with the Chalcedonian definition. He closes this section of the book by introducing his extension of TAT to ecclesiology. He argues that a TAT does not simply look at the church pneumatologically, but views the church “through the lens of the Spirit from the vantage point of other theological doctrines” (69, emphasis original). In particular, he will focus upon the analogical relation of the church to Christology and the Trinity.

In part 2, Liston explores ecclesiology and Christology. In order to avoid too strong of an identification of Christ and the church, Liston proposes that we see the church as the “sequel,” rather than the continuation, of the incarnation (88). Drawing upon the Chalcedonian pattern, he argues that just as we must avoid certain Spirit-Christological errors, we must also avoid ecclesiological errors in discussing the relation of Christ and the church. He identifies five parallels between Christ and the church: “(1) The Spirit conceives (Christ and the church); (2) The Spirit sustains the communion (of Christ and the church); (3) The Spirit conforms (Christ and the church); (4) The Spirit directs and empowers (Christ and the church); (5) The Spirit is displayed and mediated (by Christ and the church)” (123). In these parallels, he acknowledges areas of continuity and discontinuity—the asymmetry—between Christ and the church, while identifying the relationship with Christ with membership in the church.

In part 3, Liston then examines the church’s relation to Trinitarian theology. Against Miroslav Volf and others, Liston argues that the church is not “‘like’ the Trinity, nor is it ‘the image’ of the Trinity” (234). Instead he argues that “the church is ‘in’ the Trinity, participating in its very life because of the indwelling Holy Spirit and Christ’s priestly mediation” (234). In this, he seeks to extend the insights of Spirit Christology to Trinitarian theology—utilizing a “‘reconceived’ understanding of the Trinity where the Father eternally begets the Son by the Spirit” (185). The church participates in the Trinity through its worship and service, and thus witnesses to Trinitarian life. Therefore, he concludes that a TAT can provide a proper analogy of the church and the Trinity that avoids problematic conclusions. He concludes, “The most obvious implication of a Christological Third Article Ecclesiology is the mark of ecclesial indivisibility: the historical church is one” (339).

Liston provides a thorough and comprehensive account of TAT and its implications for ecclesiology, while still pointing to possible areas of further research. He not only presents an account of how the church should conceive of itself, but of how a TAT impacts practices like baptism and prayer. Throughout the book, Liston critically and constructively engages church fathers like Irenaeus, post-Reformation figures like John Owen and Jonathan Edwards, and modern and contemporary theologians from a variety of ecclesial backgrounds, including Karl Barth, John Zizioulas, David Coffey, Jürgen Moltmann, and Myk Habets. While its technical treatment of certain theological issues may make it inaccessible to general readers, the book may interest Christian theologians from a variety of ecclesial backgrounds.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Shaun C. Brown is an Adjunct Professor at Johnson University, Hope International University, and D’Youville College.

Date of Review: 
August 12, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Gregory J. Liston lectures in systematic theology at Carey Baptist College and Laidlaw College in Auckland, New Zealand while also pastoring a suburban Baptist church. He has PhDs in quantum physics and systematic theology.



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