Karkkainen divides his book into three parts, addressing ecclesiological traditions, leading contemporary ecclesiologists, and contextual ecclesiologies.
Part one takes us through six ecclesial traditions, as well as a discussion of the ecumenical movement. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the church is founded in the work of Christ through the presence of the Holy Spirit (23). They hold strongly to pneumatology, but not at the loss of the other members of the Trinity (17). The Roman Catholic Church has defined the church as the “People of God” (28); wherever the people are, there the church is. The sacraments provide the structure for the building of the church, and therefore provide the foundation for building communion (31). Luther saw the church as both a communion of saints and a communion of sinners (41). He also believed in the “priesthood of all believers” which diminishes the distance between the “official” or ordained ministers and the rest of the community (43-44). Calvin, in the Reformed tradition, saw the church as the visible community and baptism as the entrance into that community (51). The invisible church is made of the “elect” and is an “object of hope” and not a present day reality (53). The union between God and man, through Christ, is found in the visible church (53). The Free church sees the church as those who have truly been converted to Christ, rather than just claim his name (62). They believe the Spirit enables all true believers to have unmediated access to God (62) and emphasize mission as the primary purpose of the church (66). The Pentecostal/Charismatic churches have not focused on ecclesiology and there is no one mark of the “true” church, therefore, Pentecostal churches take many forms (73-74). The focus is on experiencing God; worship is a mix of spontaneous expressions and attentiveness to God’s presence (71). The Ecumenical movement is based on the idea that there is one Christ, therefore, there should be one church (79). However, this unity is difficult to develop because there are different perceptions of what unity in the church means.
Part two introduces seven leading ecclesiologists. Zizioulas’ ideas about church are shaped by the idea of koinonia, “community,” as even God exists in community through the trinity (95). Kung calls for renewal and reform in the church (104). He saw the historical church as the starting place for reform, beginning with our understanding of the New Testament church (105). Pannenburg’s ecclesiology is largely based on the “communion of the saints” (119). He asserts that even though accepting the faith is a personal decision, it must be done in conjunction with the church, which is the source of God’s Spirit and grace (114). Moltmann holds a Trinitarian emphasis (127), resulting in a view of the church as a communion of equals just as each member of the Trinity is equal (128). The church should be inclusive and relational, after the model of the trinity (128). Volf sees participation with God and the Trinity as a present day possibility, based on 1 John 1:3 (135), and sees the church as simple a people who gather in Jesus’ name, based on Matthew 18:20 (136). McClendon is a Baptist theologian who believes church begins with the local community of believers (143) who are both “redeemed and redemptive” (147). Newbigin holds a missionary ecclesiology and sees the church as a “pilgrim people of God” (152).
Part three presents seven contextual ecclesiologies. The non-church movement in Asia sees the church as a spiritual body that cannot be seen by physical eyes; it is as invisible as our faith (168). The church is life, not an institution (169). Latin America is seeing the growth of base church communities, which argue for a church community “from below,” a grassroots effort reorienting the church toward social justice (175, 177). The Feminist church seeks liberation for all at the margins, not just females (187) and advocates “church in the round,” a family style of leadership symbolized by the kitchen table (187). African independent churches seek a non-western form of Christianity rooted in African culture, not just contextualized elements of Western faith (195). The Shepherding movement places emphasis on discipleship and personal pastoral care and is closely related to the house church movement (202). The World church places its focus on revelation and our response to that revelation (215). The world church is questioning, points to the Holy Spirit, and reaches beyond its own boundaries (216). The post-Christian church, or “Another City”, is a church reminiscent of the early church, in which a distinct community of believers challenges the predominant ways of life.