From Isolation to Community
A Renewed Vision for Christian Life Together
It is no secret that isolation--in political, cultural, physical, and social forms--is one of the key ailments of our age. But less explored is the way the church as it is frequently practiced contributes to this isolation instead of offering an alternative.
This book applies Dietrich Bonhoeffer's ecclesiology to contemporary church practice. Myles Werntz engages with Bonhoeffer's work, particularly Life Together, to argue for a renewed vision of the church community as a theological therapy to cultural, moral, and sociological isolation. Insofar as the church fails in this task, it fails to be the body of Christ and magnifies the isolation that permeates creation. Werntz offers an account of how familiar church practices--such as Scripture reading, worship, prayer, and eating--contribute to community formation in the body of Christ. Shifting church practice away from isolation is not simply a matter of social engineering but a matter of embodied theological practice characteristic of the church as a community.
Introduction: Naming Our Problem: Isolation and the Human Condition
Part 1: Isolation and the Structure of the World
1. Life in Isolation, Then and Now
2. The Church and the Practice of Isolation
3. The Logic of Bodily Community
Part 2: The New World of Christian Community
4. Renewing Common Life
5. Restructuring Private Life
6. Renewing the Shape of Ministry
7. Life Together Made Visible: Confession and Communion
Conclusion: After Isolation, in Isolation
"Werntz, like Bonhoeffer himself, is not satisfied with practical tools or techniques for building church-community. Instead he offers theological clarification about the main barrier to community--a state of isolation present in the crowd and the autonomous individual--and describes how the practices of the gathered church might heal our isolation by forming us into a people who bear one another's burden and sin. While Werntz uses Bonhoeffer as a guide, he offers a constructive vision for the contemporary church that is thoroughly his own. His vision invites Christians into shared life together for our own sake and for the life of the world."
Jennifer McBride, president, International Bonhoeffer Society-English Language Section; associate professor of theology and ethics, McCormick Theological Seminary
"Community has become a buzzword in much Christian writing. Lest you be tempted to pass by this book, then, in apathy or frustration, I can assure you there are no clichés here. Myles Werntz has written a sharply observed, sensitively and creatively ecumenical, intelligently hopeful book on this perennially elusive theme. I was dazzled and instructed by his range of reading and cultural engagement, and I was heartened and delighted by his humbly orthodox Baptist theological intervention in a time when people the world over are imagining with real desperation what a rescue--a redemption--from isolation might involve."
Wesley Hill, associate professor of New Testament, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan; author of Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian
"In a moment where we are relearning what community is and could be, Myles Werntz offers us language for what was building our walls of isolation, even prior to pandemic quarantines and a socially distant reality. From Isolation to Community is a vital book for helping us to rediscover the promise and hope of life together."
Brian Bantum, Neal F. and Ila A. Fisher Professor of Theology, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
"There is no shortage of books on the thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Nor is there any shortage of books on church and ministry in our contemporary moment. But books that can put these together are few and far between. Yet here is one! Myles Werntz's From Isolation to Community does so marvelously. With dexterity and depth Werntz brings Bonhoeffer to life in a way that will help churches faithfully minister in this time. It's a valuable read."
Andrew Root, Carrie Olson Baalson Professor of Youth and Family Ministry, Luther Seminary; author of Churches and the Crisis of Decline
"To say From Isolation to Community is reflective is to get it just right, but its eloquence and simplicity enhances its reflectivity. To say something is reflective and eloquent about someone so profound as Bonhoeffer was in Life Together is to give us fresh eyes to read Bonhoeffer's classic all over again, as if for the first time. Reading Myles Werntz's reflections on Bonhoeffer amid isolation makes me ache for life together with my brothers and sisters in Christ."
Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament, Northern Seminary
"For some time we North Americans have celebrated our freedom. It turns out that what we have gotten is loneliness, meaninglessness, and, in Myles Werntz's language, isolation. When we come to church, we just bring our isolation with us. What's the cure? Community, carved out by Christ among his disciples, here refracted through Dietrich Bonhoeffer's luminous witness. Werntz sees clearly what ails us and the cure God has already given."
Jason Byassee, Butler Chair in Homiletics and Biblical Hermeneutics, Vancouver School of Theology
"Through much of the modern period, Christianity adapted itself to succor the needs of atomized individuals at the mercy of profound social change. Unwittingly, this accommodation took the state of isolation as given, and thus isolation ironically repeated itself in the solutions on offer. Whether in conservative-reactionary or liberal-progressive forms, modernized Christianity modeled identity either as the self's assertion of sovereignty or the self's absorption into a collectivity. But according to Werntz's welcome construction of a theological alternative inspired by the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian gospel is essentially about the formation of community in Christ, which interprets the state of isolation as the consequence of sinful alienation from God the Creator. Resolving this spiritual alienation, community in Christ cascades out into the world in a series of joyful exchanges on the trajectory of beloved community."
Paul R. Hinlicky, Tise Professor of Lutheran Studies, Roanoke College; docent, Evanjelická Bohoslovecká Fakulta, Univerzita Komenského, Bratislava, Slovakia
Named One of Fifteen Important Theology Books of 2022, Englewood Review of Books
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