Local and Universal: A Free Church Account of Ecclesial Catholicity, By C. Ryan Fields
Local and Universal
  • Length: 304 pages
  • Dimensions: 6 × 9 in
  • Published: February 06, 2024
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: A0671
  • ISBN: 9781514006719

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In the words of the creeds, the church is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic body of Christ.

Of those features, perhaps none is as misunderstood as the church's catholicity (that is, its universality)—because while the church is universal, it is also radically local, connected to a particular community or even found on a specific street corner. How might we reclaim the universality of the church without losing its local situatedness?

In this Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture volume, pastor and theologian C. Ryan Fields offers a surprising solution: he turns to the Free Church tradition, those churches that are historically separate or "free" from state oversight. Juxtaposing the Free Church with its Episcopal counterpart, he argues that far from neglecting the catholicity of the church, the Free Church tradition can helpfully inform our understanding of the one body of Christ while remaining true to its local roots.

Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture, edited by Daniel J. Treier and Kevin J. Vanhoozer, promotes evangelical contributions to systematic theology, seeking fresh understanding of Christian doctrine through creatively faithful engagement with Scripture in dialogue with church tradition.

"Dry water? Cold fire? Short eternity? All contradictions in terms. But what about Free Church catholicity? Equally oxymoronic? Not so, says C. Ryan Fields in his engaging and substantive new study, Local and Universal: A Free Church Account of Ecclesial Catholicity. Who would have thought the Free Church tradition would have something to say—much less contribute—to the doctrine of the church's catholicity? Fields shows us the way, engaging both Scripture and the Free Church tradition with scholarly acumen and pastoral verve. He offers fresh theological resources for thinking about the church's claim to universality to those not only within the Free Church tradition but of any ecclesial tradition. Highly recommended!"

Todd Wilson, president and cofounder of the Center for Pastor Theologians and author of Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith

"Catholicity is both a contested and neglected aspect of ecclesiology. It is contested in that there are several definitions for it, and it is neglected in that there are not many recent studies on its biblical and historical foundations, particularly from the Free Church traditions. C. Ryan Fields successfully speaks into this gap in ways that are both imaginative and rooted, generative and definitive. This book should be a standard for studies of catholicity for any tradition, and especially for Free Church traditions."

Matthew Y. Emerson, dean of theology, arts, and humanities at Oklahoma Baptist University and author of "He Descended to the Dead"

"The importance of the Free Church tradition, broadly construed, on the world stage can hardly be overestimated. Indeed, at a time where other Christian traditions often seem to be losing their way or giving in to religious liberalism (or both), Free Church communities are regularly found to be growing. While as a (Roman) Catholic I cannot agree with everything Fields says, I am deeply struck by the constructive rigor, ecumenical erudition, and biblical and theological depth found in this book on the very sensitive theme of catholicity."

Matthew Levering, James N. Jr. and Mary D. Perry Chair of Theology at Mundelein Seminary

"Historically, the Free Church tradition has had a weak ecclesiology. Fields's excellent work is a breath of fresh ecclesial air. Fields biblically grounds and theologically guides our thinking about the church—each local church manifests the fullness of the gospel, meaning it lacks nothing, and it also evidences a gospel-compelled catholicity, as it reveals part of the now of the kingdom, a partial embodiment of Jesus' high priestly prayer, an outpost of heaven. This is an exceptional work, one I heartily recommend, written by an outstanding pastor-theologian who lives out this truth as a pastor in a local church. We all, especially those in the Free Church tradition, are in his debt."

Gregory Strand, executive director of theology and credentialing for the Evangelical Free Church of America and adjunct professor of pastoral theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"An astute, irenic, and worthy contribution to a two-thousand-year-old conversation about the church's catholicity. Not many books accomplish that. My own thoughts on the topic were educated, pushed, and edified, and any future conversations on the doctrine of catholicity will need to interact with Fields's careful and compelling work. I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to recommend it."

Jonathan Leeman, editorial director at 9Marks and author of Political Church

"C. Ryan Fields delivers a biblically grounded, historically informed manifesto for the catholicity of the local assembly within the Free Church traditions. Through extensive research and engagement with Scripture he examines bottom-up (Free Church) and top-down (Episcopal) patterns of ecclesial authority, finding their expressions of unified diversity as complementary. Local and Universal provides an important contribution to the doctrine of catholicity."

Ingrid Faro, Northern Seminary, coordinator of the MA in Old Testament—Jerusalem University College program

"In an age with pervasive calls for both diversity and unity, Christian catholicity calls for renewed and wise consideration by Protestants. When it is discussed, Free Churches are too often overlooked, from both within and without. In Local and Universal, C. Ryan Fields makes a unique and important contribution to ecclesiological catholicity. He has not merely worked at the intersection of catholicity and the Free Church tradition but also provides an insightful, catholic-minded, and constructive design for that intersection. This is a well-researched, contributive, and important book."

W. David Buschart, professor of theology and historical studies at Denver Seminary

"The time is long past for Free Church believers both to reclaim the word catholic and to live out the meaning of true catholicity—and to do so precisely as part of our own rich ecclesial tradition. This book advances that argument with rigor and nuance and thus contributes to what I believe is the Spirit's moving in our midst."

Timothy George, distinguished professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

Read an Excerpt


Foreword by Kevin Vanhoozer
Series Introduction

Introduction: Free Church Catholicity?
1. Biblical Warrant for the Doctrine of Catholicity
2. Catholicity: The Development of a Doctrine
3. Engaging Anglican Accounts of Catholicity
4. Free Church Catholicity Explored: Examining Reformational Manifestations
5. Free Church Catholicity Expounded: Assessing Contemporary Proposals
6. Free Church Catholicity Embodied: Locating Catholicity
Conclusion: Locating Catholicity and Catholic Locality

General Index
Scripture Index


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C. Ryan Fields (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Free Church in Acton, Massachusetts.