Monday, July 18, 2016

The Martyrs' Memorial, Oxford

Last week I was in Oxford (UK), a setting that frames the first chapter of my new book Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future. The chapter begins:

In December 2010 a joint international commission of the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church met in Oxford, the "city of dreaming spires," to envision the ecumenical future and how their communions might take concrete steps toward inhabiting it together (p. 3).

Chapter 1 concludes with these two paragraphs that reference the Martyrs' Memorial and its inscription shown in these photos taken in Oxford last week:

Baptists and members of other communions who take up this book’s challenge to journey together toward the ecumenical future will likely not enjoy such warm relationships with many from their own tradition, for some of the greatest obstacles in this journey are located within particular communions rather than between them. Each day of the 2010 Baptist–Catholic conversations in Oxford, delegates passed the Martyrs’ Memorial as they walked along St. Giles’ across from Regent’s Park College. The inscription below the monument’s Gothic spire reads, "To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLI."
The date and the explanation of the monument’s origins are not-so-subtle clues that the monument is not really about the Protestant martyrs named in its inscription. The year 1841 fell in the midst of the most vitriolic period of public debate in England over the proposals of the Oxford Movement. The final tract of the Tracts for the Times was published that year. In Tract 90 John Henry Newman, then four years away from his reception into the Catholic Church, had argued that the Tridentine expression of Catholic doctrine could be reconciled with the teachings of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles. The Tractarians’ opponent Charles Golightly, an Anglican cleric in Oxford, succeeded in raising funds for the construction of the memorial through a national subscription campaign. Its message, directed against this early form of receptive ecumenism in the Church of England, was clear: "Roman Catholics are the epitome of evil, for they murdered the founders of your national church. Don’t even think of moving in their direction, liturgically or theologically."

Baptists whose vision includes an ecumenical future in full communion with Catholics and other Christians are already the occasional object of similar rhetoric from some members of their own communion. Like the leaders of the Oxford Movement, the contributions of these catholic Baptists may bear the fruit of a more widespread Baptist reception of the gifts of Catholics and other Christians in a way that becomes evident only many decades after their lifetimes. I have written this book in the hope that the tribe of those who long for the visible unity of Christ’s church might increase among Baptists, and that other Christians might recognize them, so that together we can make our pilgrim journey toward the ecumenical future (pp. 18-19).

Interested in reading more? Order Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future from Baylor University Press or via Amazon.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Engaging and Celebrating the Work of Paul Fiddes


I'm writing this post from the UK, where I'm participating in a Young Scholars in the Baptist Academy seminar addressing the theme "Trinity and Participation: Engaging and Celebrating the Work of Paul Fiddes." Fiddes is a distinguished Baptist theologian who is Professor of Systematic Theology at Oxford University and Principal Emeritus of Regent’s Park College, the Baptist-related college of Oxford University (photo is of the portrait of Fiddes hanging in Helwys Hall, the dining hall at Regent's Park College). We're meeting at Regent's Park College to present and discuss papers exploring various aspects of these themes in Fiddes's thought. My own contribution is a paper titled "Trinitarian Koinonia and Ecclesial OikoumenÄ“: Paul Fiddes as Ecumenical Theologian." Our papers may be downloaded from the Young Scholars in the Baptist Academy page; they will be revised for eventual publication as a collection of journal articles.

Young Scholars in the Baptists Academy is an initiative of Georgetown College, supported by a grant from Lily Endowment, Inc. Additional funding and support is provided by the Baylor Institute for Faith and Learning.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Third series of international Baptist-Catholic ecumenical conversations planned

During its annual gathering in Vancouver earlier this week, the Baptist World Alliance announced that it would participate in a third series of international  bilateral ecumenical conversations with the Catholic Church beginning in 2017. The BWA press release follows.

Baptists and Catholics to begin third round of dialogue in 2017

The Baptist World Alliance is to begin a third round of theological dialogue with the Catholic Church in 2017. This was announced by General Secretary Neville Callam in his report to the BWA General Council at its meeting in Vancouver, Canada, in July.

“On the basis of discussions between BWA and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), a third round of Baptist-Catholic dialogue will commence soon,” Callam wrote.

In May this year, preparatory meetings were held between Baptist representatives Frank Rees of Australia, Paul Fiddes from the United Kingdom and Timothy George of the United States “with a team from the Catholic Church to consider the focus and methodology for the upcoming phase of the Baptist-Catholic dialogue,” Callam stated.

“This joint preparatory meeting decided that the next phase of dialogue, which could commence in June 2017, should have clear continuity with the first two phases and should focus on the subject of common witness to Jesus Christ,” Callam elaborated. “A final statement on the purpose and plan for the upcoming dialogue is to be concluded in the near future.”

The first round of Baptist-Catholic dialogue occurred from 1984-1988 and the second round from 2006-2010. “We would be pleased to build on these two previous dialogues and explore new areas of discussion,” Cardinal Koch, president of the PCPCU, said in a letter to Callam in February. “These official dialogues were cause for great celebration and gratitude to God,” Koch declared.

The BWA and the Vatican have experienced close cordial relations in recent times, building on the goodwill that emerged out of the first two rounds of dialogues. In October 2013, Timothy George represented the BWA at the Thirteenth Ordinary General Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.

In October of the following year, 2014, Valerie Duval-Poujol, a French Baptist biblical scholar, represented the BWA at the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that discussed important issues facing contemporary families.

Roy Medley, recently retired general secretary of American Baptist Churches in the USA, was a fraternal delegate of the BWA at the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church which took place in Rome in October 2015.

The BWA leadership was represented at the March 2013 inauguration of Pope Francis I.

A four-year dialogue between the BWA and the World Methodist Council is currently underway, which runs 2014-2017.

Baptist World Alliance®
©July 7, 2016

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

AAR-SE Constructive Theologies Call for Papers

The 2017 American Academy of Religion--Southeast Region Constructive Theologies Call for Papers is now available. See link following the section CFP below for new submission instructions this year (online form plus e-mail to section chairs).


AAR: Constructive Theologies

In keeping with the conference theme “Utopia and Dystopia,” the Constructive Theologies section invites proposals for presentations on the theme of eschatology, broadly construed. Topics for consideration might include the relationship between future-oriented and realized eschatology; visualizations of the Kingdom/Kin-dom of God; eschatology and ecology; eschatology and embodiment; etc. Constructive Theologies also invites proposals for three co-sponsored sessions: (1) “The Reformation, 500 Years Later” with History of Christianity; (2) “Theological Visions of Hope amidst Modern Dystopias” with Bible and Modern Culture; and (3) “Womanist Practical Theology” with Women, Gender and Religion. For the co-sponsored session on Womanist Practical Theology, we especially seek papers that explore how womanist theological approaches interrogate, disrupt, and enrich theological scholarship, pedagogy, or activism. Contact Steven R. Harmon, Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity (sharmon@gardner-webb.edu) and Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo, Wake Forest University School of Divinity (gandoleo@wfu.edu) with any questions. http://secsor.org/uncategorized/2017-call-for-papers-available

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Neville Callam on Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future (EthicsDaily.com)

Neville Callam, General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, devoted his July/August BWA Connect column to my new book Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future: Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community (Baylor University Press). My previous Ecclesial Theology post linked the version of the column that originally appeared on the BWA web site; now EthicsDaily.com has published a version of the column as well.

Here's an excerpt:

....Many discerning readers will welcome not only the vision of the ecumenical future that Harmon espouses and commends, but also what Harmon’s excellent book implies and actually states concerning the proper work of theologians.

The project Harmon undertakes is done in the service of faithfulness to the Lord of the church. Harmon writes primarily as one who is dedicated to the service of the church and its unity. His is not a fascination with theological ideas for their own sake. His articulation of the vocational dimension of a theologian’s work is as clear and impressive as that offered by another outstanding contemporary Baptist theologian, Molly Marshall.

In richly documented chapters crafted by a competent Baptist ecumenical theologian, Harmon deals with a number of issues which Baptists may need to rethink in the light of the long and rich history of the one church of the living God of which they are a part. Readers will appreciate the clarity that marks Harmon’s book – a clarity that is born in a profound understanding of the issues themselves and also in enviable communications skills.

Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future should be required reading for Baptist leaders....(read the full article on EthicsDaily.com)

Order Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future from Baylor University Press or via Amazon.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Baptist World Alliance General Secretary on Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future

Neville Callam, General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, devoted his July/August BWA Connect column to my new book Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future: Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community (Baylor University Press). Here's an excerpt from the column:

....Many discerning readers will welcome not only the vision of the ecumenical future that Harmon espouses and commends, but also what Harmon’s excellent book implies and actually states concerning the proper work of theologians.

The project Harmon undertakes is done in the service of faithfulness to the Lord of the church. Harmon writes primarily as one who is dedicated to the service of the church and its unity. His is not a fascination with theological ideas for their own sake. His articulation of the vocational dimension of a theologian’s work is as clear and impressive as that offered by another outstanding contemporary Baptist theologian, Molly Marshall.

In richly documented chapters crafted by a competent Baptist ecumenical theologian, Harmon deals with a number of issues which Baptists may need to rethink in the light of the long and rich history of the one church of the living God of which they are a part. Readers will appreciate the clarity that marks Harmon’s book – a clarity that is born in a profound understanding of the issues themselves and also in enviable communications skills.

Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future should be required reading for Baptist leaders....(read the full article on the Baptist World Alliance web site)

Order Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future from Baylor University Press or via Amazon.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church opens amidst withdrawals

General session of the Holy and Great Council of the
Orthodox Church at the Orthodox Academy of Crete
The "Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church," meeting June 19-26 in Crete, has opened amidst the withdrawals of five of the autocephalous patriarchates from the Council--most notably the Russian church headed by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. The story is reported by multiple international media sources; below are links to a news story and an analysis feature released by Deutsche Welle:


World Orthodox Leaders Meet in Landmark Event

Why the Orthodox Church council planned over 55 years could fail before it starts

Update: Q&A at press conference dated June 10.

Press releases, documents, links to live feeds, videos, and photos related to the proceedings of the Council are available on the Council's website and Facebook page.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future now on Kindle

My latest book Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future: Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community (Baylor University Press, 2016) is now available in the Kindle e-book format. On the book's Amazon Kindle page, one can download a free sample that includes frontal matter with preface, chapter 1, and a few pages of chapter 2--but without viewable footnotes. (The paid Kindle e-book does include access to the footnotes,)

Order the Kindle version of Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future from Amazon.

Order the print version of Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future from Baylor University Press or via Amazon.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pilgrims Together: Baptist Identity and Christian Unity

Next week George Mason (Senior Pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas) and Laura Anne Rodgers Levens (Assistant Professor of Christian Mission, Baptist Seminary of Kentucky) will host a conversation with Curtis Freeman (Director of the Baptist House of Studies, Duke Divinity School) and me about our recent books on Baptist identity in ecumenical perspective and their implications for Baptist congregational and denominational life during a workshop at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Greensboro, NC. Both books will be available for purchase and signing at the workshop. The workshop will be offered 1:30-2:30 PM on Thursday, June 23. Details from the General Assembly workshop schedule follow below; see the end of the post for ordering information for both books.

Pilgrims Together: Baptist Identity and Christian Unity
Location: Auditorium I

Description: Join George Mason and Laura Levens for conversation with Curtis Freeman and Steve Harmon, whose recent books explore Baptist identity in relation to Jesus’ prayer that his followers be one.

Presenters: George Mason, Senior Pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas; Laura Rodgers Levens, Assistant Professor of Christian Mission, Baptist Seminary of Kentucky; Curtis W. Freeman, Director of the Baptist House of Studies, Duke Divinity School; Steven R. Harmon, Visiting Associate Professor of Historical Theology, Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity.

Curtis Freeman's book Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Baylor University Press, 2014) is available from Baylor University Press or via Amazon.

My book Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future: Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community (Baylor University Press, 2016) is available from Baylor University Press or via Amazon.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Anticipating the "Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church"


I hope all Christians will join me in heeding Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's call to remember in prayer the upcoming "Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church" that will convene at the Orthodox Academy in Crete June 16-27, 2016.

This event, for which planning began in 1961, has been compared to the Catholic Church's Second Vatican Council in terms of its significance for the life of the Orthodox Churches, internally and in relation to other Christian communions and the contemporary world. It is the first such full council of the Orthodox Churches held since the Seventh Ecumenical Council--the Second Council of Nicaea in AD 787.

Here are some links for those interested in learning more about the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church:

The web site maintained for the Council includes an informative historical overview and texts of key pre-conciliar documents. Among the latter, the document Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World may be of particular interest to readers of Ecclesial Theology.

In February 2016 the World Council of Churches issued a press release on preparations by the patriarchs of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches for the Council.

Here is a link to an audio interview with Bishop and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware about the Council.

An article by Crux magazine editor John L. Allen, Jr. published today (June 7) includes text from Allen's interview with Rev. John Chryssavgis, an archdeacon and theological adviser to Patriarch Bartholomew.

Rev. Chryssavgis also wrote an article for First Things offering "brief clarifications on basic questions surrounding the Council."

The venue for the Council, the Orthodox Academy in Crete, was the location for the plenary meeting of the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches that I attended in October 2009 as a representative of the Baptist World Alliance. Below are some photos I took of the facility on that occasion.