Reformed and Ever-Reforming




Reformed and Ever-Reforming: The Possibility of a Reformed Ecclesiology for Missionary Congregations in Multicultural Contexts

C.J. Widmer

prof.dr. S. Paas, prof.dr. E.A.J.G. van der Borght

Faculty of Religion and Theology


PhD conferral

What happens when traditional churches formed in the Western tradition suddenly find themselves in incredibly diverse cultural contexts? What happens when a congregation is mostly white, yet now the community around them is mostly people of color? What causes people to resist welcoming diverse people into the spiritual community? When a congregation does adapt and welcomes more diversity, what changes happen to the theology and practices of the congregation?

Many people are grappling with how to adopt and respond to a new multicultural world. This dissertation contributes to this conversation in the religious sector. Corey Widmer examines all of these questions, with the ultimate goal of developing an ecclesiology, or a theology of the church, that not only allows for but welcomes the adaptations and creative experimentation that cultural plurality brings into a community life.

To develop such a theology, this project first sought to examine actual congregations that are seeking to respond to the cultural diversity around it. It uses the setting of Reformed and Presbyterian churches in the American context in order to have more of a controlled research pool. By conducting thorough ethnographic research in these three congregations, clear themes began to emerge despite the many differences in each of the three congregations.

The next step was then to look at more formal theologies of the church from Reformed theologians that could be helpful in equipping the church for cultural adaptation. This dissertation looks at the ecclesiology of Lesslie Newbigin, Colin Gunton and Allan Boesak. The final step was to bring the informal theologies of congregations into conversation with the formal ecclesiologies of the theologians.