In his seminal 1974 book Models of the Church, theologian Avery Dulles offered five paradigms, or "models," each of which called attention to certain aspects of the worldwide Christian church. The church, Dulles wrote, is in essence a mystery -- a reality of which we cannot speak directly. Thus we must draw on analogies to understand the church in deeper ways.
Dulles developed five models, drawing on a range of theological schools and traditions, both Protestant and Catholic, to illuminate different aspects of the church. His models included church as institution, mystical communion, sacrament, herald, and servant. Dulles was careful to point out that no single model, by itself, adequately paints a complete picture of the church; each contains important insights about the nature of the church.
During my last year of college, my pastor lent me the book Living Gently in a Violent World, co-authored by Jean Vanier and Stanley Hauerwas. This book is an exploration on how followers of Christ ought to live in broken world.
The introduction of the book recounts the story of Jean Vanier teaching a course on pastoral care. During one class, Vanier asked the students to share some of their spiritual experiences. One of the students, Angela (who was deaf) began to share a dream she had where she met Jesus in heaven. She recalled talking with Jesus for some time and never experiencing so much joy and peace. "Jesus was everything I had hoped he would be," she said, "And his signing was amazing!" Vanier explains to the reader that "for Angela, heaven's perfection did not involve being 'healed' of her deafness. Rather, it was a place where the social, relational, and communication barriers that restricted her life in the present no longer existed."
I went into a Christian bookstore the other day and was surprised to see some of the most prominent display space given over to military flags for the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. These flags, and a vast assortment of Americana merchandise, were on sale for the holidays.