Friday, July 17, 2009

George Lindbeck on the Ecumenical Impasse

Today in a summer term course I'm teaching on Twentieth-Century History and Doctrine we completed a unit on the modern ecumenical movement and ecumenical theology. Among other things, students read this assessment of the current ecumenical situation by retired Yale theologian and veteran ecumenist George Lindbeck from the August 9, 2005 issue of The Christian Century. Near the end of the article he explains a perspective shared by the ecumenical study group (to which he belonged) that drafted the Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity:

"While the majority of the (now disbanded) PP study group are members of Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian churches, they believe that the future of the kind of ecumenism that originated from these and other mainline Protestant denominations now lies outside of them. It is among evangelicals, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, polar opposites though they seem, that there is a measure of agreement on where and how the apostolic tradition is to be located and retrieved. They do not find it necessary to invent a special 'ecumenical hermeneutic' in order to legitimate their search for the tradition in scripture, under the guidance of the affirmations regarding God the Father. Son and Holy Spirit confessed, for example, in the Nicene Creed. Even professedly creedless evangelicals and Pentecostals do not deny the Trinity or that Jesus Christ is true God and true man. Without ever having heard of the catholic creeds in many cases, evangelicals and Pentecostals seek to read their Bibles in accordance with them, which makes theological convergence possible."

While there has been spirited intra-Baptist debate as to whether or not Baptists are "evangelicals" as variously defined, it seems to me that Lindbeck's use of that category makes space for Baptists and other Baptist-like Christian communities (free church, believers' church, or James Wm. McClendon, Jr.'s lower-case "b" baptists) who have historically been on the margins of the ecumenical establishment but without whose contributions there cannot be real progress in the quest for Christian unity.

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