Friday, November 11, 2016

Ecumenical thoughts on post-election unity

Some thoughts from an ecumenist about the post-election call for American national "unity":

According to Ephesians 4, "making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (v. 3) entails "speaking the truth in love" (v. 15), which contributes to the body's growth toward mature unity (vv. 15-16).

The history of the modern ecumenical movement includes failures to do that (for example, the failure of the Conference on Life and Work to denounce the Reichskirche and recognize the Confessing Church as the authentic church in Germany, which greatly frustrated Dietrich Bonhoeffer) as well as more faithful acts (for example, the efforts of the World Council of Churches' Programme to Combat Racism in relation to the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches' expulsion of that church, with both forms of truth-speaking leading to eventual restoration of that church to ecumenical fellowship).

All this may be applied to this moment in our national civil life and the days ahead. Speaking truth is a way of embodying love for our national community. When people are publicly grieving and lamenting and calling for justice and engaging in acts of nonviolent protest, they are loving their national community and making their own contributions to its unity--not a quick and ultimately false unity superimposed on division and its causes, but a unity forged out of our earnest and honest contestation of what sort of community we are going to have. Let the truth-speakers speak, and let us enter into genuine dialogue with them.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Pacific Journal of Baptist Research issue explores Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future

National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion plenary
book symposium panel session, Waco, Texas, May 24, 2016
The new issue of the Pacific Journal of Baptist Research (vol. 11, no. 2 [November 2016]) is devoted to a book symposium exploring my new book Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future: Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community (Baylor University Press, 2016]). The four essays and my response to them are lightly revised versions of presentations made in a plenary panel session at a joint meeting of the National Association of Baptist Professor of Religion and the Baptist History and Heritage Society held on the campus of Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas, May 23-25, 2016. The contents of the issue appear below:

Adam C. English     2
Editorial
David E. Wilhite     3
Baptists, Catholicity, and Visible Unity: A Response to Steven Harmon
Amy L. Chilton Thompson     12
Response to Steven R. Harmon’s Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future: Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community
Courtney Pace     16
Baptists, Catholicity, and Missing Voices: A Response to Steven Harmon
Andrew Smith     20
Description, Prescription, and the Ecumenical Possibilities of Baptist Identity: Reading Steven Harmon’s Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future
Steven R. Harmon     24
Locating the Unity of Christ’s Rule: A Response to Respondents to Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future 
Panelists (L-R): David E. Wilhite, Amy L. Chilton Thompson,
Courtney Pace, Andrew Christopher Smith
The issue is edited and introduced by Dr. Adam C. English, Chair of the Department of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Theology and Philosophy at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, who also moderated the NABPR/BHHS panel discussion. Contributors of the review essays are Dr. David E. Wilhite, Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary; Dr. Amy L. Chilton Thompson, Adjunct Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California; Dr. Courtney Pace, Assistant Professor of Church History at Memphis Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee; and Dr. Andrew Christopher Smith, Assistant Professor of Religion at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee.

Read the full November 2016 issue of the Pacific Journal of Baptist Research as a downloadable PDF file here.

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

Friday, October 14, 2016

"Real Baptists Pursue Church Unity"

The new issue of Baptist World, the magazine of the Baptist World Alliance, includes my article "Real Baptists Pursue Church Unity" (vol. 63, no. 4, October-December 2016, pp. 9-10). The article is part of a feature section of articles on Baptists and unity, with other contributions by John Briggs, Elizabeth Newman, Ross Clifford, and Frank Rees and several news articles reporting on various regional and national expressions of Baptist involvement in the pursuit of Christian unity. The issue is available online; an excerpt from the beginning of the article follows:

The experiences of many Baptists and the impressions of many of their external observers run counter to the assertion made by this article’s title. Baptists have their origins in ecclesial division, and their subsequent history is marked by ever-increasing intra-Baptist divisions. Division is certainly a DNA sequence in the genetic code of “real Baptists.” Yet intertwined with it are genetic markers of an impulse toward ecclesial unity, and Baptists are being “real Baptists” when they allow that impulse to move them toward the full participation in the life of the Triune God and in the life of the body of Christ that Jesus prayed would mark his followers: “that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:22 NRSV)....(read the full article and other articles in this issue here)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Baptist Identity, the Whole Church, and God's Future (Boiling Springs Baptist Church)

If you're in the Boiling Springs, NC area, at 5:00 PM this Sunday (September 18) I'm doing a talk at Boiling Springs Baptist Church (down Main Street from the Gardner-Webb campus) related to my new book Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future: Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community (Baylor University Press): "Baptist Identity, the Whole Church, and God's Future." I'd enjoy having you join the conversation. The address of the church for GPS purposes is 307 S Main St, Shelby, NC 28152; the venue will be the Lighthouse Room in the church's educational space.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Molly Marshall on Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future

In her Baptist News Global opinion column "Can a Baptist Be a Catholic?" published today, Molly T. Marshall, President and Professor of Theology and Spiritual Formation at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, references 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 beginning of the column:

A cadre of Baptist scholars has been writing about emerging catholicity, the holy desire for unity among all ecclesial communions. Taking tradition more seriously as a source for theological construction, these Baptists urge usage of the ancient creeds of the apostolic heritage of the whole church to supplement their reading of Scripture. A leading theologian in the movement, Steven Harmon, contends, “Baptists have their own distinctive ecclesial gifts to offer the church catholic, without which even the churches currently in communion with the bishop of Rome are something less than fully catholic themselves.”

As a staunch Baptist I, too, long for catholicity. In many respects the future of Christianity depends upon a greater ecumenicity .... (read the full column at Baptist News Global)

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

Friday, August 12, 2016

Baptist Catholicity: An Introductory Bibliography (David Rathel)

David Rathel, a Ph.D. student in theology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, has posted a bibliography of publications connected with "Baptist Catholicity" on his blog "David Rathel's Research Page." It includes my books Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision and Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future: Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community, as well as a chapter on "'Catholic Baptists' and the New Horizon of Tradition in Baptist Theology" that I contributed to the book New Horizons in Theology (published in the series of annual volumes of the College Theology Society).

Interested in Towards Baptist Catholicity or Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future? Click on the hyperlinked titles to order them from the publishers, or follow this link to my Amazon author page.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

On Trump, violence, and ecclesial complicity

Yesterday's crossing of a line by a presidential candidate, as egregious as it was, is symptomatic of a pervasive malady afflicting the American church as well as its cultural context: credence in the "myth of redemptive violence" (Walter Wink's coinage). It's time to declare the renunciation of all forms of violence and the embrace of the nonviolent way of Jesus a matter of status confessionis for the church (a state of affairs in which the fundamental essence of the Gospel the church confesses is at stake).

This will include forsaking the Niebuhrian realism that has been the received ecclesial justification for American foreign policy since the 1950s, in the Cold War and in the "war on terror." Its pervasive influence was evidenced in the 2008 presidential election campaigns, with both John McCain and Barak Obama crediting Niebuhr's influence on their political philosophies. It can be argued that Niebuhrian realism, offered to the polis by the church, undergirded both the invasion of Iraq under President Bush and the escalation of drone strikes under President Obama (I assert this as someone who voted enthusiastically for Obama twice and continues to admire him and his presidency).

All this is to say that as the church we must both denounce what happened yesterday in Wilmington, North Carolina, and repent of our complicity in the formation of a culture in which those words actually strike a chord with some Americans, so that as followers of Jesus Christ we might actively live into the shalom of the reign of God.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Towards Baptist Catholicity's 10th anniversary

This month is the tenth anniversary of the release of my book Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision in the series Studies in Baptist History and Thought, published in the UK by Paternoster and co-published in the USA by Wipf and Stock. I'm grateful that the book has continued to find new readers, and I'm gratified to hear from some of them that the book has transformed their understanding of what it means to be Baptist and helped them to embrace their Baptist heritage along with the larger Christian tradition. (Many thanks to David Wilhite for requiring his students at Baylor University's Truett Seminary to read Towards Baptist Catholicity in his Christian Texts and Traditions I course in the M.Div. core curriculum there.)

Interested in reading Towards Baptist Catholicity? Order from the publisher or via Amazon.

If you've read Towards Baptist Catholicity already, I hope you'll consider posting a review to Amazon and/or Goodreads.

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.