Beloved Disciples in Mission to the World
This dissertation argues that Sandra Schneiders’ work lays the groundwork for a robust theology of the church’s prophetic nature and builds upon her work by proposing the beginnings of a critical prophetic ecclesiology. This ecclesiological method seeks to articulate how the church might live more fully into its prophetic nature both through its mission in the world and in its ordered life of communion. This dissertation proceeds in an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion. The introduction argues that the tensions in the Second Vatican Council’s treatment of the church’s share in Christ’s prophetic work call for the development of a theology of the church’s prophetic nature. Moreover, it proposes that Schneiders’ work is poised to help theologians respond to that call. The first chapter highlights Schneiders’ fundamental theology and hermeneutical theory, in order to draw out her claim that Christians respond to God’s salvific invitation to share in God’s life by appropriating the paschal imagination—the ideal meaning of scripture and tradition’s witness to God’s self-revelation—into the world in which they live. The second chapter draws out Schneiders’ understanding of the paschal imagination, which is rooted in her theology of the paschal mystery. It demonstrates that in the paschal mystery Jesus is revealed to have incarnated God’s unceasing invitation for creation to share in the life of God and the fullness of the response humanity is called to offer through its cooperation with the Spirit’s salvific initiative in his prophet life, ministry, and death. The church manifests the presence of the risen body of Jesus in history through its ongoing cooperation with the indwelling Spirit, through whom the risen Jesus returns to his disciples. The third chapter illustrates that Christian spirituality, which Schneiders suggests must be feminist in nature, is the life project of responding to God’s salvific initiative by participating in the life of the risen body of Jesus. Such participation necessarily entails sharing in the prophetic life through which he was glorified in the life of God in the paschal mystery. Sharing in this life involves attending to the laments of the oppressed, announcing God’s vision of salvific communion revealed in Jesus and the Spirit, working to deconstruct structures of domination, and seeking to build up structures that make the shalom of God’s life manifest. The fourth chapter reviews developments in the theology of the church’s share in the prophetic identity of Christ since Vatican II. It argues that Schneiders’ work, drawn out in the first three chapters, provides a framework for a robust theology of the church’s prophetic nature by rooting the prophetic character of the church in the paschal mystery and implicitly calling the church to adopt a prophetic ecclesial spirituality. The fifth chapter develops the beginnings of a critical prophetic ecclesiology, an ecclesiological method that seeks to articulate how the church might live into its prophetic nature more fully, particularly in light of the ways it has failed to do so. It puts this method into practice by examining how the U.S. Catholic Church has failed to embody the prophetic life of Jesus in its ordered life through its participation in clericalism, patriarchy, and White racist supremacy. In response to the church’s participation in these structures of domination, it develops theologies of ordered evangelical relationality, charismatic discipleship, and a recovered sense of the church’s Gentile identity that calls the church to transform the wounds it has inflicted upon its body into sites of Christ’s glorification. The dissertation’s conclusion argues that ordering the church around base ecclesial communities would allow it to live into its prophetic identity by providing a practical means for these theologies to take root and empowering the church to continue the mission of Jesus in the world through practices of radical solidarity.