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Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography.

Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography. Edited by Pete Ward. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012. ISBN: 978-08028-6726-1. viii and 254 pages. Paper. $36.93.

In this edited volume, twelve scholars offer diverse perspectives on ecclesiology and ethnography as methods for theology. These distinct voices are not edited into uniformity, but stand in contrast, conflict, and lively dialogue with one another. The layout of this book enacts its purpose: the first section proposes, in four differing voices, that ecclesiology needs qualitative research practices. Then the book opens to a wider community, and eight scholars, employing various types and degrees of empirical research, contribute to the conversation on ecclesiology and ethnography.

However, the purpose of the book is not finished on the last page; instead, the book depends on its readers becoming that ever-widening community of conversation partners. Since the authors claim that, "ecclesiology arises from a theological situatedness in the church," (Ward, 3) there is an insistence that you--the people of the church--have privileged access to ecclesiology and theology. Therefore, it is the lay people, the pastors, and the teachers of this church who are ideally positioned to enact the work of ethnography within their own communities.

The use of the term "ethnography" as a general term for empirical research could be misleading for the reader who either expects this book to contain ethnographies or takes this book's contents to define ethnography. Instead of descriptive work based on individuals' lived experiences, this book, while it does admirably employ empirical data, remains largely normative and theoretical. However, the reason behind the use of the term is good: these authors have noticed that for too long, theologians have verbalized support for the use of empirical research, yet, most religious scholars do their research primarily, if not exclusively, apart from the people impacted by their research. The brilliant impulse of this book is to enact a conversation that embodies research that gets closer to people than theories ever do--through listening, and accompanying, and breaking bread.

Jan Rippentrop

Emory University

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Author:Rippentrop, Jan
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2015
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