Saturday, August 29, 2015

David Carter on "Baptist-Catholic Dialogue Today"

The current issue of the journal Ecumenical Trends published by the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute features an article titled "Baptist-Catholic Dialogue Today" by David Carter, a British Methodist church historian and member of the joint commissions of the British Methodist-Catholic dialogue and the international Catholic Church-World Methodist Council dialogue (Ecumenical Trends 44, no. 7 [July/August 2015]: 6/102-13/109). The article surveys the context and contributions of the second series of international conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church that took place from 2006 through 2010 and issued the joint report "The Word of God in the Life of the Church."

This issue of Ecumenical Trends also includes Edward C. Andercheck's article "Methodist-Catholic Dialogue: Ut Unum Sint and Geoffrey Wainwright's Response" (1/97-5/101, 14/110). While both articles and the issue in which they appear are available online only to subscribers, a subscription to either the print ($30 per year, including digital access) or digital-only version of the journal ($15) includes online access to the past two years of back issues.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Religious and theological studies books by Gardner-Webb scholars

Members of the Gardner-Webb University faculty have published several books in various disciplines of religious and theological studies during 2014 and 2015.

Oxford University Press has published Founding Sins: How a Group of Antislavery Radicals Fought to Put Christ into the Constitution by Joseph Moore, Assistant Professor of History in the Department of Social Sciences at Gardner-Webb. The book will be released in hardcover on September 15, but its Kindle edition is available now. According to the book overview on the Oxford University Press, Founding Sins "argues that America's original religious right, the Covenanters, shatter the conservative logic that America was founded as a Christian nation." Here's the full book description:

The Covenanters, now mostly forgotten, were America's first Christian nationalists. For two centuries they decried the fact that, in their view, the United States was not a Christian nation because slavery was in the Constitution but Jesus was not. Having once ruled Scotland as a part of a Presbyterian coalition, they longed to convert America to a holy Calvinist vision in which church and state united to form a godly body politic. Their unique story has largely been submerged beneath the histories of the events in which they participated and the famous figures with whom they interacted, making them the most important religious movement in American history that no one remembers.

Despite being one of North America's smallest religious sects, the Covenanters found their way into every major revolt. They were God's rebels--just as likely to be Patriots against Britain as they were to be Whiskey Rebels against the federal government. As the nation's earliest and most avowed abolitionists, they had a significant influence on the fight for emancipation. In Founding Sins, Joseph S. Moore examines this forgotten history, and explores how Covenanters profoundly shaped American's understandings of the separation of church and state. 

While modern arguments about America's Christian founding usually come from the right, the Covenanters have a more complicated legacy. They fought for an explicitly Christian America in the midst of what they saw as a secular state that failed the test of Christian nationhood. But they did so on behalf of a cause--abolition--that is traditionally associated with the left. Though their attempts to insert God into the Constitution ultimately failed, Covenanters set the acceptable limits for religion in politics for generations to come.

In March 2015 Fortress Press published The Divine in Acts and Ancient Historiography by Scott Shauf, Associate Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy at Gardner-Webb. The following book description is provided by Fortress Press:

Scott Shauf compares the portrayal of the divine in Acts with portrayals of the divine in other ancient historiographical writings, the latter including Jewish and wider Greco-Roman historiographical traditions. The divine may be represented as a single deity (in Judaism) or many (in Greek and Roman traditions) and also includes representations of angels, God’s spirit, Jesus as a divine figure, or forces with divine status such as fate, chance, and providence. Shauf’s particular interest is in how the divine is represented as involved in history, through themes including the nature of divine retribution, the partiality or impartiality of the divine toward different sets of people, and the portrayal of divine control over seemingly purely natural and human events. Acts is shown to be engaging historiographical traditions of the author’s own day but also contributing unique historiographical perspectives. The way history is written in Acts and in the other writings is shown to be intimately tied to the understanding of the role of the divine in history.

In June 2014 Pickwick Publications released The Topos of Divine Testimony in Luke-Acts by James R. McConnell, Jr., Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation in the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb. Here's the description of the book on the publisher's site:

In this study James McConnell addresses the concept of authoritative testimony in Luke-Acts. Specifically, he argues that particular elements in the narrative of Luke-Acts can be understood as instances of the topos of divine testimony through utterances and deeds, considered in some ancient rhetorical handbooks to be the most authoritative form of testimony when seeking to persuade an audience. McConnell claims the gods' testimony was used in ancient law courts and political speeches to persuade a judge of a defendant's guilt or innocence, and in attempts in public forums to convince others of a particular course of action. Similarly, the topos is used in ancient narratives and biographies to legitimate certain characters and discredit others. The instances of the topos of God's speech (both oral and through OT citations) and deeds in Luke-Acts are functioning in the same way.

In March 2014 Wipf and Stock issued How to Read the Bible Without Losing Your Mind: A Truth-Seeker's Guide to Making Sense of Scripture by Kent Blevins, Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy at Gardner-Webb. From the book description:

Does reading the Bible sometimes leave you confused? Do you have difficulty seeing the relevance of the Bible to modern concerns or to important issues in your life? Do you believe Bible reading and intellectual inquiry are mutually exclusive? This book explores how the Bible can serve as a resource for discovering truth. It provides a method that accepts and incorporates the knowledge gained from modern scholarship while also recognizing that truth-discovery is a personal, multifaceted journey. It honors the integrity of Scripture while remaining open to insight from additional truth-sources. In exploring what we mean when we speak of the Bible's authority, it is honest about the challenges presented to modern readers by the cultural chasm separating the biblical writers from today's world. How to Read the Bible Without Losing Your Mind shows how the Bible can be read with full engagement of both mind and heart.

Gardner-Webb alumni have also been making notable contributions to scholarship in religious and theological studies. In November 2015 Fortress Press will release Making Love with Scripture: Why the Bible Doesn’t Mean How You Think It Means by 2001 Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy graduate Jacob D. Myers, newly appointed as Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. Fortress Press provides this description:

Nothing has been more contentious in the history of Christianity than the meaning of the Bible, and that debate continues today. Arguments over Scripture have divided denominations, churches, and families, and these squabbles have led many to abandon the faith altogether. Jacob D. Myers, a rising young scholar, has a solution to the problem with Scripture. The instability of the Bible’s meaning, he argues, is not a weakness but a strength, and it can benefit conservatives and liberals alike.

In a conversational style peppered with pop culture references, Myers provides a variety of tools for readers of the Bible, helping the experienced and inexperienced alike appreciate the sacred text in new ways. Finally, he proposes the intriguing alternative of an “erotic” interpretation, one that makes love with the Bible and opens new vistas of understanding.

In June 2013 Oxford University Press published Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution by James P. Byrd, who graduated from Gardner-Webb in 1988 with a double major in Religious Studies and English and is now Associate Professor of American Religious History and Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee. From the OUP site:

On January 17, 1776, one week after Thomas Paine published his incendiary pamphlet Common Sense, Connecticut minister Samuel Sherwood preached an equally patriotic sermon. "God Almighty, with all the powers of heaven, are on our side," Sherwood said, voicing a sacred justification for war that Americans would invoke repeatedly throughout the struggle for independence. 

In Sacred Scripture, Sacred War, James Byrd offers the first comprehensive analysis of how American revolutionaries defended their patriotic convictions through scripture. Byrd shows that the Bible was a key text of the American Revolution. Indeed, many colonists saw the Bible as primarily a book about war. They viewed God as not merely sanctioning violence but actively participating in combat, playing a decisive role on the battlefield. When war came, preachers and patriots alike turned to scripture not only for solace but for exhortations to fight. Such scripture helped amateur soldiers overcome their natural aversion to killing, conferred on those who died for the Revolution the halo of martyrdom, and gave Americans a sense of the divine providence of their cause. Many histories of the Revolution have noted the connection between religion and war, but Sacred Scripture, Sacred War is the first to provide a detailed analysis of specific biblical texts and how they were used, especially in making the patriotic case for war. Combing through more than 500 wartime sources, which include more than 17,000 biblical citations, Byrd shows precisely how the Bible shaped American war, and how war in turn shaped Americans' view of the Bible. 

Brilliantly researched and cogently argued, Sacred Scripture, Sacred War sheds new light on the American Revolution.

Also in 2013, Faithlab published Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow: What All Christians Can Learn from LGBTQ Lives by Cody J. Sanders, a 2005 graduate of Gardner-Webb in Religious Studies and Psychology who now serves as Pastor of Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here's the book description from

Winner of the National Bronze Medal for Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans Non-Fiction in the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Awards, Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow is about changing the questions we ask about sexuality, gender identity, and faith. Sanders helps us imagine new pathways into old conversations by shifting our attitude from one of suspicious scrutiny toward LGBTQ people to one of compassionate curiosity. Less concerned with answering questions, it aims to cultivate our imagination for asking new questions. Sanders asks, "What can all Christians learn from LGBTQ people that will enhance our lives and strengthen our communities of faith?" Lessons are offered on the themes of relationship, community, faithfulness, love, violence, and forgiveness.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Radner on Freeman's Contesting Catholicity

First Things has posted on its web site a two-paragraph teaser snippet from Ephraim Radner's review of Curtis Freeman's book Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Baylor University Press, 2014) in the magazine's August 2015 issue. Non-subscribers and those without library access to First Things may purchase the full article for $1.99. Here's part of the review preview:

When I’m in a gloomy mood, sometimes I’d like to be a Baptist. Instead of all the venal bishops, political synods, and ignorant commissions, I’d have some controllable integrity to my church life: a good congregational polity with the folks in the pews in charge, Bible reading and preaching at the center, no-apologies evangelism and church planting, a limit on the intrusion of self-important experts and their crazy ideas, no liturgy to mess up, and (unlike their Pentecostal brethren with their shamanistic temptations) good old-fashioned fundamentalist biblical rationalism that makes it easy for most people to smell a pastoral rat in their midst when they have one....(continue reading at First Things)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Looking toward 2017

October 31, 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of one of the key events in the complex of 16th-century Protestant and Catholic reforming movements, the posting of Martin Luther's 95 Theses on the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg (traditional site in photo at left). The cover story of the July 8, 2015 issue of the Christian Century addresses well the ecumenical issues at stake in how the whole church and its divisions choose to mark this event. In "Repent and celebrate: The Reformation after 500 years," co-authors Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, assistant research professor at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, and editor of Lutheran Forum, and Thomas Albert Howard, professor of history and director of the Center for Faith and Inquiry at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, cite as a way forward the paradigm of "receptive ecumenism" that I've found fruitful for my own work in ecumenical theology:

What we are looking for is an elimination of the necessity of enemies, not an elimination of the necessity of arguments. We look forward to a multiplicity of purged confessional theologies, maintaining the particular gifts and insights on all sides while remaining open to the truly Christian insight of the other, even of the old enemy. In the words of the Catholic ecumenist Paul Murray, we propose a "receptive ecumenism" and encourage all parties to ask: What can we offer and what can we receive from others to foster a deepened communion in Christ and the Spirit?

The whole article is available on the Christian Century web site. In this connection I also commend From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017, a resource issued jointly by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation based on five decades of bilateral international ecumenical dialogue between the two communions. From Conflict to Communion offers helpful guidelines for ecumenically responsible observances of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (available online in PDF; click on hyperlinked title). Baptists and others in the free church tradition will find an account of Baptist/free church identity in ecumenical perspective that resonates with what Wilson and Howard propose in Curtis Freeman's book Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Baylor University Press, 2014).

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How the Pope Teaches

The Baptist News Global Perspectives blog has published my post "How the Pope Teaches." An excerpt from the beginning of the post follows.

Word is out that Pope Francis’ long-awaited encyclical on the environment will be published later this month with the titleLaudato Sii—“Praised Be You”—words from the Latin text of St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun. (Baptist News Global readers will be familiar with it in the form of the adapted hymn text “All Creatures of Our God and King.”)
This encyclical will not merely reflect the personal perspectives of the pope—contrary to what some critics with unfortunate access to news media seem to think. As an expression of Catholic magisterial teaching it will have undergone a process of thoroughly communal formulation with collegial input from others in the Catholic Church, including its theologians, ethicists, and Scripture scholars, lay as well as religious; collegial input from others in the wider church; and collegial input from the scientific community, including its Catholic, non-Catholic Christian, and non-Christian members....(read the full post at Baptist News Global Perspectives)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

SECSOR AAR Constructive Theologies call for papers

The call for papers for the next meeting of the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion, March 4-6, 2016 in Atlanta, is now available on the SECSOR web site. As chair of the American Academy of Religion--Southeast Region Constructive Theologies section, I'm also posting the Constructive Theologies CFP below. See the full CFP on the SECSOR site for information on requirements, guidelines, and deadlines for submitting proposals.

(AAR) Constructive Theologies

Themes: (1) joint session with Philosophy of Religion and Religions of Asia on “apophasis within or across religions”; (2) joint session with Religion and Ecology on the ecohermeneutics of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical scheduled for release this year; (3) open call for papers relating theologies of social location to the 2016 SECSOR theme “Translation and Context”. Submit all proposals to Steven R. Harmon, Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity, ( and Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo, Wake Forest University ( *For the joint session on apophasis within or across religions, please include also Lisa Battaglia, Rachel Pang (, and Nathan Eric Dickman (; for the joint session on the ecohermeneutics of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, please include also Todd LeVasseur ( and Jefferson Calico (

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Baptist Ecumenical Dialogue and Vatican II" (video)

In my previous post I passed along a link for downloading an audio podcast interview on "Baptist Ecumenical Dialogue and Vatican II" that I recorded for the Creighton University "Catholic Comments" program hosted by theology department faculty members John O'Keefe and Wendy Wright when I was there in February to speak at a conference on the legacy of the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio. The Creighton University Center for Catholic Thought has now uploaded this video of our studio recording session to YouTube:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Baptist Ecumenical Dialogue and Vatican II

While at Creighton University in February to speak at a conference on the legacy of the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, I recorded a podcast interview on "Baptist Ecumenical Dialogue and Vatican II" with Catholic Comments program hosts John O'Keefe and Wendy Wright of the Creighton Department of Theology faculty. That podcast is now available. Here's a link for listening to or downloading the podcast on the Catholic Comments site.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Book announcement: Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future

I'm pleased to announce that my book Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future: Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community has entered the production phase and is scheduled for a March 2016 release by Baylor University Press. I'll post updates regarding the book's publication, including pre-ordering information, here at Ecclesial Theology during the next few months. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here's a draft of the copy for the catalog and back cover description:

Baptists tend to be the “problem children” of the ecumenical movement. The Baptist obsession to realize a true church birthed a tradition of separation. While Baptists’ misgivings about ecumenism may stem from this fissiparous genealogy, it is equally true that the modern ecumenical movement itself increasingly lacks consensus about the pathway to a visible Christian unity.

In Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future: Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community, Steven R. Harmon explores the relationship of the Baptist calling to be a pilgrim community and the ecumenical movement. Harmon argues that neither vision can be fulfilled apart from a mutually receptive ecumenical engagement. As Harmon shows, Baptist communities and the churches from which they are separated need one another. Chief among the gifts Baptists have to offer the rest of the church is their pilgrim aversion to overly realized eschatologies of the church and their radical commitment to discerning the rule of Christ by means of the Scriptures. Baptists, in turn, must be willing to receive from other churches neglected aspects of the radical catholicity from which the Bible is inseparable.

Embedded in the Baptist vision and its historical embodiment are surprising openings for ecumenical convergence. Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future urges Baptists and their dialogue partners to recognize and embrace these ecumenically oriented facets of Baptist identity as indispensable provisions for their shared pilgrimage toward the fullness of the rule of Christ in their midst, which remains partial so long as Christ’s body remains divided.

Also in the meantime, check out some other forthcoming releases from Baylor University Press.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Harmon reviews Kinnamon in Christian Century


The May 13, 2015 issue of the Christian Century (vol. 132, no. 10) includes my review of Michael Kinnamon's book Can a Renewal Movement Be Renewed? Questions for the Future of Ecumenism (Eerdmans, 2014). The review appears on p. 39 of the print edition; an electronic version of the review is currently available on the Christian Century web site. Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the review:

Lament over the current “ecumenical winter” and analysis of the factors that have contributed to it have become commonplace in recent ecumenical literature. As he considers the future of ecumenism in Can a Renewal Movement Be Renewed? Michael Kinnamon gives four reasons for why the ecumenical movement stands in need of renewal: “loss of commitment among church leaders to the goal of Christian unity,” “divisions and other signs of weakness within the ecumenically supportive churches,” “an increasing split between two sets of ecumenical priorities,” and “diminishment of key instruments of the ecumenical movement, including councils of churches”....(read the full review at Christian Century)