Those within the free church tradition have often appealed to the notion of the invisible church to account for the unity of the Body of Christ. A growing number of free church theologians, however, are giving increased attention to the importance of visible ecclesial unity, which immediately raises the perennial problem of the authorities by which unity is maintained. There is also a growing recognition among free church theologians of the need to recognize the authority of tradition in tandem with the authority of Scripture. In this book, Cary affirms these recent developments but then inquires whether a turn toward visible unity, together with an embrace of the authority of tradition, can eventually be coherent without also embracing the authority of an extra-congregational teaching office.
To guide his study, Cary engages the work of two theologians from outside the free church tradition: Robert Jenson and Rowan Williams. He then brings them into contact with the prominent free church theologian James McClendon in order to supplement some of the deficiencies Cary perceives in McClendon's groundbreaking work. Once these deficiencies are addressed, however, the question intensifies whether the free church tradition, as such, can remain a coherent ecclesial option over time.