Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Resources for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2011

The beginning of the 2011 observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18-25, is only 20 days from today. But it's not too late to plan for local, congregational, group, and individual observances of the most important practice of spiritual ecumenism: joining Jesus in his prayer that his followers "may be one...so that the world may believe" (John 17:21 NRSV).

The Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute, a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, has provided an extensive array of resources for observing the 2011 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity online, along with ordering information for resources available for purchase.

Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (available directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon) serves well as the basis for a group or individual study of grassroots ecumenical engagement in connection with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. (The publisher offers group discounts on orders of five copies or more if contacted by telephone or e-mail.)

A Century of Prayer for Christian Unity, ed. Catherine E. Clifford (Erdmans, 2009), published in connection with the 2009 centenary of the founding of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, is a useful companion resource for those interested in exploring more deeply the historical and theological dimensions of the observance.

Most importantly: remember to pray for the unity of the church--during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and throughout the year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Baptist World Alliance / Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity joint international commission press release


PRESS RELEASE

Theological Conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
December 2010

The final round in the second series of theological conversations between the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) of the Catholic Church took place December 12-18 in Oxford, England. The co-hosts were two Permanent Private Halls of the University of Oxford: Regent’s Park College (Baptist) and St. Benet’s Hall (Benedictine).

A first phase of international conversations had taken place in 1984-1988, resulting in a report in 1990 entitled “Summons to Witness to Christ in Today’s World.”

An overall aim is to explore the common ground in biblical teaching, apostolic faith and practical Christian living between Baptists and Catholics, as well as an examination of areas that still divide the two Christian traditions.

The objectives of these international conversations are to increase mutual understanding, appreciation, and Christian charity toward each other; to foster a shared life of discipleship within the communion of the triune God; to develop and to extend a common witness to Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world and the Lord of all life; and to encourage further action together on ethical issues, including justice, peace and the sanctity of life, in accord with God’s purpose and to the praise of God’s glory.

The theme of this phase, from 2006-2010, is “The Word of God in the Life of the Church: Scripture, Tradition and Koinonia.”

Bishop Arthur Serratelli, Bishop of Paterson, New Jersey, USA, and Rev. Dr. Paul Fiddes, Professor of Systematic Theology in the University of Oxford, Oxford, England, UK, co-chair these conversations on behalf of the Catholic Church and Baptist World Alliance respectively. The secretaries for the co-chairs were Rev. Dr. Fausto A. Vasconcelos (BWA) and Rev. Dr. Gregory J. Fairbanks (PCPCU).

The Baptist team consists of permanent members, and persons specially invited as “esteemed guests.” Permanent members participating in this round of conversations include Drs. Fred Degbee (Ghana), Timothy George (USA), Steven Harmon (USA), Nora Lozano (USA), Tomás Mackey (Argentina), Rev. Tony Peck (Czech Republic), Drs. Rachael Tan (Taiwan) and Tadeusz J. Zielinski (Poland). Drs. Curtis Freeman (USA) and Elizabeth Newman (USA) participated as “esteemed guests” for this round of conversations.

The Catholic team consists of permanent members and consultants. Participating Catholic members included Drs. Peter Casarella and Susan K. Wood, SCL of the USA, Dr. Krzysztof Mielcarek from Poland, Rev. William Henn, ofm cap. and Dr. Teresa Francesca Rossi of Italy, and Rev. Jorge Scampini, O.P. of Argentina. Sr. Sara Butler, M.S.B.T., of the USA, participated as a consultant.

BWA General Secretary Rev. Dr. Neville Callam sent a message which was read to the Joint International Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at the start of the week.

Greetings were also conveyed by Rev. J. Felix Stephens, OSB, Master, St Benet’s Hall, Oxford, Co-Host of the Conversations; Rev. Dr. Robert Ellis, Principal, Regent’s Park College, Oxford, Co-Host of the Conversations; The Very Rev. Dr. Richard Finn, OP, Regent of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford; Rev. Brendan Callaghan, SJ, Master of Campion Hall, Oxford; Dr. Paul Joyce, Chairman of the Board of the Faculty of Theology in the University; Monsignor Andrew J. Faley, Assistant General Secretary, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales; The Rev. Graham Sparkes, Head of Department for Faith and Unity, Baptist Union of Great Britain, and Rev. Dr. Mary Cotes, Ecumenical Moderator, Milton Keynes,

The 2010 meeting in Oxford brought to completion the second phase of international conversations and focused on the preparation of the final report.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Goal of Baptist-Catholic Dialogue

At the invitation of Associated Baptist Press, I've written an opinion column reflecting on the conclusion of the 2006-2010 series of conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Here's a snippet from the beginning of the article:

(ABP) -- Updating my Facebook status about being in England last week to participate in the final of current international theological conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity prompted a friend to respond: "What's the big goal?"

A lot of Baptists probably share the question. Some may be intrigued that theologians from such seemingly opposite Christian communities would spend a total of five weeks over a five-year period in sustained dialogue with one another. What do they talk about? What are they trying to accomplish, and how?

Others may be suspicious. Are the Catholic theologians trying to convince Baptists to embrace Catholic teachings? Are the Baptist theologians faithfully representing the Baptist beliefs and practices held dear by the global Baptist community? Are the representatives of both communions pursuing a unity that compromises convictions?

Read the full article at abpnews.com.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Baptist "Receptive Ecumenism" in the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia

Yesterday evening I had the privilege of dining with Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia (yes, they have an archbishop--more on that below) at the Eagle and Child Pub in Oxford (the pub where C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and other members of the "Inklings" literary discussion group met regularly). Archbishop Songulashvili is in Oxford for a couple of months of study and writing, and my friend Curtis Freeman (director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina) ran into him there earlier in the day and arranged for us to have what proved to be a most fascinating and rewarding dinner conversation.

Earlier this year I delivered the 2010 Lourdes College Ecumenical Lecture on the theme "How Baptists Receive the Gifts of Catholics and Other Christians," which was subsequently published under that title in Ecumenical Trends vol. 39, no. 6 (June 2010), pp. 11/81-5/85. The lecture/article included this paragraph calling attention to the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia as an example of Baptist receptive ecumenism that defies Baptist stereotypes:

The congregations of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia represent a fascinating case study in Baptist receptive ecumenism that includes striking forms of liturgical as well as ecclesiological reception. In a culture that is historically Eastern Orthodox, the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia has maintained “belief in believer’s baptism, autonomy of the local church, freedom of conscience and religious liberty,” while adopting an ecclesial structure that is a hybrid of congregational and episcopal governance with a threefold ministry of bishops, presbyters, and deacons. In this structure the local congregations are autonomous in relation to one another and to the structure of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, but they are presided over by a bishop, whose office is a “symbol of unity” with the “responsibility...to provide spiritual guidance to the whole church as prophet, preacher, and teacher of the Gospel.” The ministers of the Evangelical Baptist Church wear Orthodox vestments and employ the Orthodox use of the sign of the cross, incense, and icons in their worship services. The Church sponsors monastic orders for men and women and a school of iconography. As their archbishop puts it, they “technically should be considered a Reformed Orthodox Church. On the one hand,” he says, “we are committed to the principles of the European Radical Reformation, and on the other hand we hold to our own Orthodox legacy.” In other words, they have received the gifts of the Orthodox tradition and incorporated them into their Baptist pattern of faith and practice.

These aspects of ecumenical reception of gifts from the Eastern Orthodox tradition cannot be attributed merely to the influence of living in an Orthodox culture. They are the fruit of intentional ecumenical engagement between Georgian Baptists and their Orthodox neighbors, and it was not easy for these Baptists whose historical identity was formed in contradistinction to Orthodox identity to decide together to receive these gifts as a community.

Ecumenical reception was also not a one-way street, for the Orthodox Church in Georgia also identified gifts in the Baptist tradition which they believed would strengthen Orthodox faith and practice, including the importance of the proclamation of the word and the relation of baptism to the church's practice of making disciples.

Other Baptists and other Christians have much to learn from this little-known communion and its quest to embody the unity Christ wills for his church in this particular place. I look forward to reading the future publications by which Archbishop Songulashvili and others will document this fascinating and encouraging story.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

ACTS: Action of Churches Together in Scotland reviews Ecumenism Means You, Too

Rev. Lindsey Sanderson, Assistant General Secretary of ACTS: Action of Churches Together in Scotland, has written a review of Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010) for the organization's web site. Here's a snippet from Sanderson's review:

Although originally written for an American context the issues explored are equally applicable to Scotland and Harmon uses his experience as a member of the Baptist World Alliance delegation in international discussions with the Anglican Communion, and Roman Catholic Church and his involvement in the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission to present his work with global perspectives. As someone who has enjoyed U2’s music since a teenager the use of the songs grounded the discussion in what was familiar and in fact has prompted me to go and listen again with fresh insight. ‘Ecumenism means You, Too’, is immensely readable but whilst this might be an ‘easy read’ the content offers both insight and challenge for everyone concerned that ‘like children who inescapably inherit a world of broken relationships, simply because they are born into it, every Christian is reborn into a church that is sinfully divided.’ (p.84)

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ecumenical institutions and organizations--National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA has been the primary institutional structure for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. Member faith groups from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African-American, and Peace churches include approximately 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Upcoming UK travels--Baptist/Catholic conversations (Oxford) and guest lecture (Durham)

In a few days I will depart for the UK to participate in the fifth and final meeting of the 2006-2010 series of bilateral ecumenical dialogues between the Baptist World Alliance and the (Roman Catholic) Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (photo at left is from the 2008 meeting at Duke University). This year's meeting will be hosted at Oxford University by Regent's Park College and will be devoted to the preparation of the official report from this series of conversations. In advance of the December 12-18 meeting in Oxford I will travel to Durham (the "proper Durham," as a former colleague from Scotland insists) to deliver a guest lecture on the theme "Ecumenical Theology and/as Systematic Theology" for the Theology and Ethics Seminar at Durham University led by Professor Paul D. Murray.

Below is a précis of the 2006-2010 conversations between the BWA and the PCPCU:

Theme for the 2006-2010 cycle of Theological Conversations: “The Word of God in the Life of the Church: Scripture, Tradition and Koinonia

This theme is being handled in 5 sessions, one each year in 2006-2010:

2006, Birmingham, AL (Beeson Divinity School, Samford University)

“The Authority of Christ in Scripture and Tradition”

(1) The meaning of ‘The Word of God’ (as God’s self-expression in the Koinonia of the Trinity and the Church; understanding of Koinonia).

(2) Relation of Scripture and Tradition (new Baptist appreciation of tradition; Catholic discernment of the authentic Tradition; the self-giving of Christ in the Spirit in scripture and tradition).

(3) The use of scripture in the church.

2007, Rome, Italy (International House Paulus VI)

"Baptism and Lord’s Supper/Eucharist as Visible Word of God in the Koinonia of the Church”

(4) The notions of sacrament and ordinance in our respective traditions (in light of an understanding of scripture and tradition; as means of grace and as requiring faith).

(5) Baptism as part of the process of initiation, or the journey of Christian beginnings (including the place of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper in the process; the role of faith in the life of the church; salvation itself as a process; relation of initiation to the life of discipleship).

2008, Durham, NC (The Baptist House of Studies, Duke Divinity School)

“Mary in the Communion of the Church”

(6) Mary in the light of scripture and the early church (e.g. the Mary to whom Christ directs us, the Virgin mother, the handmaid of the Lord, Theotokos, the hearer of the Word, the daughter of Zion, witness to the cross, resurrection and Pentecost).

(7) Mary in the light of ongoing [T]tradition, in relation to Christology and ecclesiology (e.g. development of doctrines of the Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity and the Assumption of Mary; the honoring of Mary by the Protestant Reformers; Mary in the celebration of Christmas; the intercession of Mary in the context of intercessory prayer).

(8) Mary and contemporary issues of inculturation and spirituality (e.g. the ‘local identities’ of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the relation of culture to scripture and tradition; the distinction and confusion between intercession and mediation, and between devotion and worship; Marian issues in feminism; Mary and the sanctity of life).

2009, Rome, Italy (International House Paulus VI)

“Oversight and Primacy in the Ministry of the Church”

(9) The notion of oversight in relation to scripture and tradition (local and universal episkope; oversight and servanthood).

(10) Contemporary developments of the Petrine Office, including the ministry of unity as outlined in “Ut Unum Sint.”

2010, Oxford (Regent’s Park College), England

The main focus will be the preparation of the report of this current cycle of conversations.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ecumenical institutions and organizations--Institute for Ecumenical Research

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

Sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation, the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France seeks to bring together scholarly research and service to the churches in three major areas of work: ecumenical research, ecumenical dialogue, and ecumenical communication and reception. The Institute is staffed by full-time research professors, adjunct professors, and visiting professors; maintains a specialized library; and offers an annual Summer International Ecumenical Seminar. The newsletter of the Institute is available online.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gratitude for James Leo Garrett, Jr.

Yesterday my Facebook home page reminded me that November 25 was James Leo Garrett, Jr.’s 84th birthday. The coincidence of Dr. Garrett’s birthday with Thanksgiving Day reminded me how thankful I am for the life, ministry, and influence of my doctoral dissertation supervisor.

In November 2005 I had the privilege of presenting a Festschrift issue of the journal Perspectives in Religious Studies published in honor of Dr. Garrett’s 80th birthday at a meeting of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Below are the remarks I prepared for that occasion:

On behalf of the editors of the NABPR Festschriften Series, it’s my pleasure to announce that the 2006 Festschrift honors James Leo Garrett, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology, Emeritus at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Edited by Bill Brackney, who was unable to be here today, the theme of this Festschrift is “Theology in Conversation.” This is a most appropriate theme, for Leo Garrett’s theological work and ecclesial and ecumenical endeavors have always been carried out in conversation with others. If you’ve utilized Dr. Garrett’s two-volume Systematic Theology, you have some sense of the historical depth, the ecumenical breadth, and the sheer quantity of his theological conversation partners.

Seven contributors explore various dimensions of theology done in conversation: Steve Harmon on Karl Barth’s conversation with the fathers as a paradigm for patristic retrieval in Baptist and evangelical theology; Bob Patterson on James Leo Garrett and the doctrine of revelation; Derek Davis on Baptists and the American tradition of religious liberty; Charles Deweese on the Lordship of Christ, biblical authority, and religious liberty in Baptist World Congresses, 1905-1955; Paul Sands on the wider ecumenism of Hans Küng; Bill Brackney revisiting the question debated by Leo Garrett and Glenn Hinson, “Are Baptists Evangelicals?”; and finally a bibliography of the scholarship of James Leo Garrett prepared by Ben Phillips. A softcover version will appear as the Spring 2006 issue of
Perspectives in Religious Studies, and there will also be a hardcover edition, which we hope you’ll encourage your libraries to purchase.

This is the year of Leo Garrett’s 80th birthday, but his contributions to Baptist theological scholarship continue. He’s currently working on a major monograph on Baptist theology, forthcoming [now available] from Mercer University Press. As Bill Brackney writes in the introduction to the
Festschrift, “During a period of upsetting organizational and institutional change in the Southern Baptist family, James Leo Garrett has been a solid bulwark of consistent Baptist belief and interpretation, a model of integrity in relationships….We are all indebted to [him] for his personal and professional contributions to our lives.” Although he’s not here, let’s honor James Leo Garrett, Jr. with our applause.

My contribution to the Festschrift—a revision of which appears as chapter 7 of my book Towards Baptist Catholicity—included this note:

I am pleased to offer this contribution in honor of my dissertation supervisor James Leo Garrett, Jr., whose own work has served as a worthy model of Baptist theology done in conversation with the church in its catholicity.

I doubt that I'd be on my current trajectory as a Baptist ecumenical theologian apart from Dr. Garrett's formative influence. I am grateful.

“Almighty God, you gave to your servant James Leo Garrett, Jr. special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant that by this teaching we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” (Collect for the Common of Saints, “Of a Theologian and Teacher,” from the Book of Common Prayer)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Regent's Reviews reviews Ecumenism Means You, Too

The current issue of Regent's Reviews (vol. 2, no. 1; October 2010) published by Regent's Park College of Oxford University includes a review of Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010). The review by Myra Blyth of the Regent's Park/Oxford faculty appears on pp. 7-8. The full issue is available online in PDF (click on the hyperlinked title above). Here's an excerpt from the review:

This book tries from the outset to buck the trend and present ecumenism as earthy, populist and accessible. That is no mean feat and what is even more remarkable is that it sets about this task in a way that does not dumb down the subject matter. On the contrary it is deeply reflective and well supported by an appendix that points the reader to important primary and secondary sources for further study.

I warm to this unique energetic presentation of the ecumenical vision and would recommend it to students of theology and to those in ministerial training as a great accessible primer.

This book-–in the words of the Harmon (a Baptist and member of the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission)-–“invokes the theological dimensions of U2’s songs when they cast artistic light on various aspects of the quest for Christian Unity”. This is an inspired and inspiring quest. It brings the politics of Ireland-–the homeland of the band members--and the fragmented state of the church into the spotlight of their song lyrics and offers a critique of both against the narrative of Jesus. This is an exciting dialogue between theology and popular culture which relocates ecumenism in the real world rather than in some ecclesiastical backwater.


Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ecumenical institutions and organizations--Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

As a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, the mission of the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute is to promote Christian unity and interreligious dialogue in North America. It seeks to fulfill this mission by engaging in study and research in the ecumenical and interreligious movements through writing, workshops, and participation in dialogues between and among the churches as well as with different faith communities at the local and national level; by offering personal expertise on ecumenical and interreligious matters, making staff available upon request for lectures and short courses, and offering information to news media and researchers; publication of the journal Ecumenical Trends and publication and distribution of resource materials for the annual observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; and by co-sponsorship of the biennial Northeast Ecumenical Institute at Graymoor and faculty participation in an annual summer course which introduces students to ecumenical and interreligious movements at the Centro Pro Unione in Rome.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ecumenical institutions and organizations--Churches Uniting in Christ

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

Churches Uniting in Christ is a relationship among ten Christian communions that have pledged to live more closely together in expressing their unity in Christ and to combat racism together. CUIC is both an outgrowth of and successor to the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), an organization that worked for more than 40 years toward the day when Christians can become more fully reconciled to each other. Member communions presently include the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church USA, the International Council of Community Churches, the Moravian Church Northern Province, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church, with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America having the status “Partners in Mission and Dialogue.”

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ecumenical institutions and organizations--Christian Churches Together in the USA






Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

Officially organized in 2006, Christian Churches Together is intended as a forum of ecumenical dialogue and witness involving the participation of representatives from all five major Christian families of churches in the United States: Catholic, Orthodox, historic Protestant, evangelical/Pentecostal, and historic racial/ethnic. (A listing of participating churches and organizations, which includes the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to which I belong, is available here.) The organization seeks to provide a context—marked by prayer, theological dialogue and fellowship—in which churches can develop relationships with other churches with whom they presently have little contact, and it hopes to offer a significant and credible voice in speaking to contemporary culture on issues of life, social justice and peace.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Monday, November 8, 2010

New publication--chapter in "All Shall Be Well": Explorations in Universal Salvation and Christian Theology, from Origen to Moltmann

"All Shall Be Well": Explorations in Universal Salvation and Christian Theology, from Origen to Moltmann, ed. Gregory MacDonald (Cascade Books, 2010), to which I contributed the chapter on Gregory of Nyssa, is now available for order (click on hyperlinked title). The publisher's description of the book and table of contents follow.

"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."--Lady Julian of Norwich

Universalism runs like a slender thread through the history of Christian theology. It has always been a minority report and has often been regarded as heresy, but it has proven to be a surprisingly resilient "idea." Over the centuries Christian universalism, in one form or another, has been reinvented time and time again.

In this book an international team of scholars explore the diverse universalisms of Christian thinkers from the Origen to Moltmann. In the introduction Gregory MacDonald argues that theologies of universal salvation occupy a space between heresy and dogma. Therefore disagreements about whether all will be saved should not be thought of as debates between "the orthodox" and "heretics" but rather as "in-house" debates between Christians.

The studies that follow aim, in the first instance, to hear, understand, and explain the eschatological claims of a range of Christians from the third to the twenty-first centuries. They also offer some constructive, critical engagement with those claims.

1. Introduction: Between Heresy and Dogma—Gregory MacDonald

I. Third to Fifteenth Centuries

2. Apokatastasis: Particularist Universalism in Origen (c.185–c.254)—Tom Greggs

3. The Subjection of All Things in Christ: The Christocentric Universalism of Gregory of Nyssa (331/340–c.395)—Steven R. Harmon

4. Sin Has Its Place, but All Shall Be Well: The Universalism of Hope in Julian of Norwich (c.1342–c.1416)—Robert Sweetman

II. Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries

5. L ove Is all and God Is Love: Universalism in Peter Sterry (1613–1672) and Jeremiah White (1630–1707)—Louise Hickman

6. Union with Christ: The Calvinist Universalism of James Relly (1722–1778)—Wayne K. Clymer

7. Between Calvinism and Arminianism: The Evangelical Universalism of Elhanan Winchester (1751–1797)—Robin Parry

8. Salvation-in-Community: The Tentative Universalism of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834)—Murray Rae

9. Postmortem Education: Universal Salvation in Thomas Erskine (1788–1870)—Don Horrocks

10. The Just Mercy of God: Universal Salvation in George MacDonald (1824–1905)—Thomas Talbott

III. Twentieth Century

11. The Final Sanity is Complete Sanctity: Universal Holiness in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth (1848–1921)—Jason A. Goroncy

12. The Judgment of Love: The Ontological Universalism of Sergius Bulgakov (1871–1944)—Paul Gavrilyuk

13. I do teach it, but I also do not teach it: The Universalism of Karl Barth (1886–1968)—Oliver D. Crisp

14. The Totality of Condemnation Fell on Christ: Universal Salvation in Jaques Ellul (1912–1994)—Andrew Goddard

15. In the End, God...: The Christian Universalism of J. A. T. Robinson (1919–1983)—Trevor Hart

16. Christ’s Descent into Hell: The Hopeful Universalism of Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–1988)—Edward T. Oakes, SJ

17. Hell and the God of Love: Universalism in the Philosophy of John Hick (1922–)—Lindsay Hall

18. The Annihilation of Hell and the Perfection of Freedom: Universal Salvation in the Theology of Jürgen Moltmann (1926–)—Nik Ansell

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ecumenical institutions and organizations: Centro Pro Unione

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

Founded and directed by the Society of the Atonement, the Centro Pro Unione (“Center for Union”) is an ecumenical research and action center. Its purpose is to give space for dialogue, and to be a place for study, research, and formation in ecumenism: theological, pastoral, social, and spiritual. The Centro maintains a research library, publishes the Centro Pro Unione Bulletin, hosts lectures and conferences, supplies material in support of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (see below under “Prayer for Christian Unity”), and offers a graduate-level Summer Course in Ecumenism.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Robert Jenson on Canon and Creed, Scripture and Theology

I'm enthusiastic about this most recent book by Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson. Canon and Creed (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010) is the latest release in the WJK series Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church. An important and accessible contribution to the growing body of literature advocating a theological reading of Scripture that is enriched rather than supplanted by historical-critical methodologies, Jenson's book clearly and compellingly sets forth a case I've tried to argue now and then in my own ecclesial context. Here's a snippet from the book's introduction (more extensive preview selections are available on the WJK page for Canon and Creed):

It may even be that it is precisely because the mutuality of canon and creed has slipped from our grasp that so many other aspects of the church's life do the same. For canon and creed appeared in the church's history as--or so the church has believed--Spirit-given reminders of what sort of community the church must be if it is indeed to be church; thus alienation from the mutual import of canon and creed may be occasioned by, and in turn occasion, alienation from the church's reason for existence. If we cannot say what it means for the affairs of the church that we have these particular Scriptures, or what convictions center and delimit the life of the church, or how our Scripture and our convictions work together, how do we make an identifiable community? . . .

The structure of a community's self-identity through time depends on what sort of community it is, and so then does the nature of possible threats to that identity. What sort of community is the church? Perhaps we may find ecumenical agreement in a truly minimal proposition: the church is the community of a message, that the God of Israel has raised his servant Jesus from the dead. Anyone who cannot agree even to so much belongs to a different religious community than do the author and initially intended readers of this book--though of course all are welcome to eavesdrop and even intrude on the conversation.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ecumenical institutions and organizations: Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

The Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology is an ecumenical organization that seeks to cultivate faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the churches by nurturing theology that is catholic and evangelical, obedient to Holy Scripture and committed to the dogmatic, liturgical, ethical, and institutional continuity of the church. The Center challenges the churches to claim their identity as members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It affirms the Great Tradition and seeks to stimulate fresh thinking and passion for mission. To achieve this goal the Center sponsors projects, conferences, and publications (including the journal Pro Ecclesia and several books). [description from the Center's web site]

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Adam DeVille / Eastern Christian Books on Ecumenism Means You, Too

I'm grateful to Dr. Adam DeVille, a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Theology at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for calling attention to Ecumenism Means You, Too on his Eastern Christian Books blog in a post titled "Ecumenism Binds Everybody." Exceprted below are some of Dr. DeVille's comments on the book, offered from an Eastern-rite Catholic perspective:

Steven Harmon has written a very short little book that is very useful in trying to overcome the apathy today about ecumenism while also allaying the sometimes understandable anxieties of Christians who imagine that ecumenism means selling out to some kind of lowest-common-denominator version of the faith....Harmon...offers us two very useful things in this book. First is his opening call for all Christians to understand that ecumenism, properly understood, does not...entail any doctrinal diminution or dogmatic compromises. Only unity founded on the truth, to which we all come and unreservedly consent, can be accepted....The second important reminder of this text comes in the sub-title: "Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity." Every Christian needs to be involved in the search for unity....Twenty years ago I began working in the World Council of Churches, and traveled all over the world, only to return home every time and realize that nobody had the faintest clue that the WCC even existed, let alone any interest in what it might be trying to do. Ecumenism thus remains too top-down, too "elitist," and this must change. As Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky of blessed memory used to say: the Lord will give us unity when all of His people rise up in prayer demanding it. If Harmon's book helps us to do that, then glory to God.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Introductions to Ecumenism--WCC, A History of the Ecumenical Movement (3 vols.)

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

World Council of Churches, A History of the Ecumenical Movement (3 vols.), ed. Ruth Rouse, Stephen Neill, Harold Edward Fey, John H. Y. Briggs, Mercy Amba Oduyoye, and Georgios Tsetses (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1954/1986-2004) is the definitive historical account of the ecumenical movement, covering developments from 1517 to 2000. Volume 1 is available here, volume 2 is currently out of print, and volume 3 is available here.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Introductions to Ecumenism--William G. Rusch, Ecumenical Reception: Its Challenge and Opportunity

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

William G. Rusch, Ecumenical Reception: Its Challenge and Opportunity (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2007) is an informative introduction to the processes by which the churches respond to the steps toward unity represented by the agreements reached in ecumenical dialogues.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Denomination: Assessing an Ecclesiological Category (T&T Clark, forthcoming 2011)

I'm pleased to be able to pass along information from the Continuum publishing group's web site regarding a forthcoming publication with their T&T Clark International imprint: Paul M. Collins and Barry Ensign-George (eds.), Denomination: Assessing an Ecclesiological Category (Ecclesiological Investigations; T&T Clark International, forthcoming 20 July 2011). I've contributed the chapter written from a Baptist perspective. The description, table of contents, and editor information follow below:

Description

The term "denomination" is now widely used to describe a Christian community or church. But what is a ‘denomination’? In this highly creative collection of essays representatives of all major Christian traditions give an answer to this question. What does the term mean in their own tradition? And does that tradition understand itself to be a ‘denomination’? If so, what is that understanding of ‘denomination’; and if not, how does the tradition understand itself vis à vis those churches which do and those churches which do not understand themselves as ‘denominations’? In dialogue with the argument and ideas set forth in Barry Ensign-George’s essay each essay offers a response from the perspective of a particular church (tradition). Each essay also consider questions concerning the current landscape of ecumenical dialogue; ecumenical method and the goals of the ecumenical movement; also questions of Christian identity and belonging

Table of Contents

Core Essay: Barry Ensign-George, Reformed/Presbyterian
Essay: Gesa Thiessen, Lutheran
Essay: Amy Planitnga Pauw, Reformed/Presbyterian
Essay: Russell Richey, Methodist (USA)
Essay: K.M. George, Oriental Orthodox
Essay: Joseph Muthuraj, United Church (India)
Essay: Ann Riggs, Quaker
Essay: Elena Vishnevskaya, Orthodox
Essay: Paul Avis, Anglican
Essay: Peter de Mey, Roman Catholic
Essay: Kirsteen Kim, Methodist (UK)
Essay: Steve Harmon, Baptist
Essay: Wolfgang Vondey, Penetcostal

Revd Dr Paul M. Collins is a priest in the Church of England, and a Reader in Theology at the University of Chichester, UK. His main works to date are Trinitarian Theology West and East: Karl Barth, the Cappadocian Fathers and John Zizioulas (2001), Context, Culture and Worship: The Quest for Indian-ness (2006). Secretary of the new formed Ecclesiological Investigations Network.

Barry Ensign-George is a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which he serves as Associate for Theology in the denomination’s Office of Theology & Worship. His reaserch is focused on ecclesiology, particularly on formulating a theological assessment of denomination as an ecclesiological category.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The German Baptist "Rechenschaft vom Glauben" (confession of faith)

Baptist congregations and the regional, national, and international associations to which they belong have issued confessions of faith throughout the 400 years of Baptist existence. These confessions have often served two purposes: first, to communicate to other Christians who Baptists are, both in terms of what Baptists share in common with the rest of the Christian tradition and in terms of the convictions and practices that distinguish Baptists from other Christians; and second, to educate members of Baptist congregations about these matters. The first purpose was especially important during the early years of the Baptist tradition, for Baptists needed to show to their detractors in the established churches--which were sometimes involved in the denial of religious liberty to Baptists--that they, too, shared the historic Christian faith with them, yet also that their distinctive convictions required that they maintain a form of ecclesial life in keeping with those convictions, even if that meant having a separate ecclesial existence from the established churches.

Baptist confessions thus have often been drafted with ecumenical concerns in mind. One more recent Baptist confession that does this well in the context of modern ecumenical relations, in my opinion, is the "Rechenschaft vom Glauben" ("Confession of Faith," or literally, "An Account of the Faith"; the German word "Rechenschaft" echoes the language of 1 Peter 3:15) issued in 1978 by the Bund Evangelisch-Freikirchlicher Gemeinden in Deutschland (The Union of Evangelical-Free Church Communities in Germany, or German Baptist Union). The German text of this confession is available online in PDF; an English translation by the late Baptist historical theologian John Steely is included in G. Keith Parker, Baptists in Europe: History & Confessions of Faith (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1982), pp. 57-76.

This confession functions as an ecumenically situated statement of Baptist faith in that it first articulates the historic faith Baptists share with other Christian traditions via the full text of the Apostles' Creed.

The confession is also noteworthy in terms of implications for inter-religious dialogue in that an article on “God’s Old and New Covenants” (I.5) explicitly repudiates a supercessionist understanding of the relationship between Israel and the church.

For what it's worth, this is also the only Baptist confession issued to date that explicitly references the humanity of the Scriptures in connection with an affirmation of the compatibility of historical-critical investigation with belief in their divine inspiration. A selection from I.6, “God’s Word—The Bible,” par. 4 appears below in Steely's English translation:

The Bible is God’s word in human language. Therefore its books bear the signs of the times in which they originated. Their language, their patterns of thought, and their literary forms are bound to the times and places whence they come. Therefore the historical understanding of Holy Scripture is an obligation of the Christian church and its theology, in their listening to the word of God. The historical interpretation of Scripture takes into account the working of the Holy Spirit, both in originating and expounding the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The Bible lives, because God speaks through it. (Parker, Baptists in Europe, pp. 63-64)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Do Real Baptists Recite Creeds?

As a Baptist theologian, I'm often asked the question addressed in my guest commentary "Do Real Baptists Recite Creeds?" in Baptists Today 22, no. 9 (September 2004), p. 27. The original article is available electronically as part of the September 2004 issue of Baptists Today archived publicly online in PDF (scroll to p. 27). I'm posting a condensed adaptation of the original article here for easier access:

If a local Baptist church were to exercise its congregational freedom by embracing weekly confession of the Apostles’ Creed or “Nicene” Creed, would it be engaging in a non-Baptist practice?

Some Baptists have thought so. In the introductory courses I teach in Christian Theology, I have for several years opened each class session with the singing of a hymn and the recital of the Apostles’ Creed during the first half of the semester and the “Nicene” Creed during the second half of the term. One former student wrote on an exam paper that he had refused to join in reciting the creeds became “I’m a Baptist, and Baptists don’t believe in creeds.” (He had the freedom to make that refusal and reach that conclusion without academic penalty.)

My student’s reluctance to confess the creeds exemplifies a widespread sentiment in our context of Baptist life. One reason many Baptists see the creeds as un-Baptist is the oft-repeated slogan “No creed but the Bible!” Many Baptists take this to be a concise declaration of historic Baptist identity. By 2009 Baptists had existed for 400 years as an identifiable denominational tradition, but it has only been during the past century and a half that some Baptists in the United States have echoed this slogan. Its origins are outside the Baptist movement proper in the work of Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), founder of the Disciples of Christ. Campbell’s aversion was not to the ancient creeds per se — he frequently referenced them in his writings — but rather to the coercive use of more detailed Protestant confessions as tests of fellowship.

Baptists are right to resist this coercive use of either creeds or confessions, but we would be wrong to let this legitimate concern keep us from experiencing the benefits of the proper uses of the creeds. The Apostles’ Creed and “Nicene” Creed are properly used as expressions of worship. They are not lists of doctrinal propositions to which assent is compelled; they are summaries of the biblical story of the Triune God, drawn from the language of the Bible itself. The creeds function as the Christian “pledge of allegiance.” They declare the story to which we committed ourselves in baptism. Reciting the creeds thus regularly renews our baptismal pledges.

Reciting the creeds invites us afresh to locate our individual stories within the larger divine story that is made present to us in worship. Reciting the creeds impresses upon us again and again the overarching meaning of the Bible and so shapes our capacity for hearing and heeding what specific passages of Scripture have to say. Reciting the creeds invites us into solidarity with the saints gone before us who for two millennia have confessed this story with these same words. Reciting the creeds declares our solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Christ in other denominations who today embrace the story of the Triune God.

Having no fixed or mandated liturgy, Baptist churches are free to adopt whatever worship practices they find beneficial. Freely choosing to experience the benefits of confessing the ancient ecumenical creeds is a most Baptist thing for free and faithful Baptists to do.

Condensed and adapted from Baptists Today 22, no. 9 (September 2004), p. 27.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Introductions to ecumenism--National Council of Churches (USA), Faith and Order Commission Handbook

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

The Faith and Order Commission Handbook published by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (New York: NCCCUSA Faith and Order Office, 2008; available online at http://www.ncccusa.org/pdfs/FOhandbook2008.pdf) is intended not only to orient new members of the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA to the work of the Commission, but also to introduce other interested persons to Faith and Order ecumenism. It includes a concise history of the Faith and Order movement and an explanation of ecumenical methodology by noted American ecumenists, as well as a compilation of quotations from key ecumenical documents and a “Beginner’s Bibliography.”

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Introductions to ecumenism--Harding Meyer, That All May Be One: Perceptions and Models of Ecumenicity

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

Harding Meyer's That All May Be One: Perceptions and Models of Ecumenicity (trans. William G. Rusch; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) is a more technical survey of the diverse theoretical approaches behind the practice of ecumenical encounter throughout the history of the ecumenical movement. This book provides detailed explanations of terms and categories that have become commonplace in ecumenical discussions, such as “differentiated consensus” and “unity in reconciled diversity.”

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Quartet of Posts on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church in 1999 (and joined by the World Methodist Council in 2006) is one of the most significant agreements reached in the history of the modern ecumenical movement. While en route from Erfurt to Rome on a trek commemorating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's pilgrimage to Rome, Sarah Hinlicky Wilson has posted on Here I Walk a quartet of informative reflections on the JDDJ (linked below). I hope readers of Ecclesial Theology will take the time to read them (and the JDDJ) and reflect on the potential implications of this agreement for their own churches, local and beyond, in their relations with other communions. The Western churches divided since the 16th century have many other church-dividing issues remaining to be addressed, but the doctrine of justification should no longer be one of them.

On the Way to the Joint Declaration

The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification: So Much More Exciting Than It Sounds

Sweden and Finland Get Justified Too

Australia Ahead of Everybody Else

Friday, October 8, 2010

Introductions to Ecumenism--Nicholas Lossky (ed.), Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

Nicholas Lossky (ed.), Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement (2nd ed.; Geneva: WCC Publications, 2002) is a helpful reference work for those seeking to learn more about ecumenism, featuring entries on all aspects of the ecumenical movement as well as the churches that belong to the divisions of the one church, written by internationally recognized ecumenists and experts on each Christian denomination/communion.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Baptist step toward visible Christian unity in Europe

As a Baptist ecumenical theologian, I'm pleased to pass along reports that on September 24 in Rome the European Baptist Federation and the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe signed an agreement that, while stopping short of full Baptist membership due to remaining differences regarding baptismal theologies and practices, makes the two European communions "mutually cooperating bodies." The Associated Baptist Press has reported on the agreement ("European Baptists, Other Protestants Sign Cooperation Pact"); the joint press release issued by the EBF and the CPCE appears below. (In the photo are CPCE General Secretary Michael Bünker and EBF General Secretary Tony Peck. left and right respectively; Peck is a fellow member of the Baptist World Alliance delegation to the bilateral conversations with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on which I serve.)

The Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE) and the European Baptist Federation (EBF) are becoming 'mutually cooperating bodies' and have pledged to work together more closely.

Press release 16/2010 - jointly with the European Baptist Federation EBF

Europe's protestant churches and Baptists are seeking closer ties and better relations. Michael Bünker and Tony Peck, general secretaries respectively of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE) and the European Baptist Federation (EBF), signed an agreement for this purpose in Rocca di Papa, near Rome, on 24 September. This means the two Europe-wide organisations are now "mutually cooperating bodies".

The European Baptist Federation comprises 51 national Baptist Unions in Europe and the Near and Middle East. The Community of Protestant Churches in Europe numbers 105 Lutheran, Reformed, United and Methodist member-churches in more than 30 countries of Europe and South America. Formal and informal relations have existed between CPCE churches and EBF unions for quite a long time. Countries where this has happened include Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Norway, Austria, Sweden and the Czech Republic.

The cooperation agreement was signed during the meeting of the EBF Council. It pledges both bodies to take a series of specific steps towards cooperation. Thus CPCE and EBF will invite each other to council meetings and general assemblies. The General Secretaries and their respective staffs are to meet regularly, while the exchange of information will continue and become more extensive. Conferences and consultations will explore unifying factors and common positions. This will include continuing the theological dialogue which has been in progress since 1999. Theological differences such as the issue of baptism have not been set aside yet. Baptists practise believers' baptism and do not recognise the baptism of infants. Hence there is no question of full Baptist membership in the CPCE.

EBF General Secretary Tony Peck welcomed the agreement as a "clear sign of closer cooperation. Both branches of the Reformation have much to give to each other and much to receive from each other." CPCE General Secretary Michael Bünker endorsed these comments: "the agreement has strengthened the common voice of Protestantism in Europe," he noted.

Vienna/Berne, 28 September 2010

At present 105 Protestant churches in Europe (including five South-American churches originating from Europe ) belong to the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE). Lutheran, Reformed, United and Methodist along with pre-Reformation churches such as Hussites and Czech Brethren grant each other pulpit and table fellowship on the basis of the Leuenberg Agreement of 1973. The Secretariat is housed in the Severin-Schreiber-Gasse 3, A-1180 Vienna, office@leuenberg.eu, tel. +43.1.4791523.900, fax .110 The CPCE press officer is Dipl.theol. Thomas Flügge (Bern), tel. +41.31.3702502, t.fluegge@leuenberg.eu.

28.09.2010 Thomas Flügge

Monday, October 4, 2010

Walter Cardinal Kasper on "The Nature and Purpose of Ecumenical Dialogue"

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

Walter Cardinal Kasper's essay on "The Nature and Purpose of Ecumenical Dialogue," available online on the Vatican web site for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is a helpful introduction to the nature and purpose of ecumenical dialogue in Roman Catholic perspective from the recently retired president of the PCPCU. Cardinal Kasper offers a candid overview of the evolution of the Catholic stance toward the modern ecumenical movement from outright opposition at its beginning to irrevocable commitment to it at the Second Vatican Council and thereafter.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Communique from the latest round of Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox dialogue

Earlier this week the most recent round of conversations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches concluded in Vienna, Austria. While each of the ongoing bilateral dialogues between divided Christian world communions is significant, the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue is especially significant for two reasons: (1) the Great Schism of 1054 is the first of the major historic fractures in the unity of the church (though patristic exceptions to full visible unity were certainly numerous), and (2) so little stands in the way of full communion between the two churches. This round of conversations seems to have been devoted to the continued exploration of the implications of a common agreement reached at a previous meeting of the dialogue commission in 2007 at Ravenna regarding the status of the bishop of Rome as "most senior bishop." Below is the text of the official communique released at the conclusion of the Vienna conversations:

Vienna, Austria--The twelfth meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church took place in Vienna, Austria, a city with a long history, a bridge between West and East, with a rich ecumenical life. The meeting, generously and fraternally hosted by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna, from 20-27 September 2010, in the Kardinal König Haus.

Twenty three Catholic members were present, a few were unable to attend. All the Orthodox Churches, with the exception of the Patriarchate of Bulgaria, were represented, namely the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Patriarchate of Antioch, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Patriarchate of Moscow, the Patriarchate of Serbia, the Patriarchate of Romania, the Patriarchate of Georgia, the Church of Cyprus, the Church of Greece, the Church of Poland, the Church of Albania and the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia.

The Commission worked under the direction of its two co-presidents, Archbishop Kurt Koch and Metropolitan Prof. Dr John of Pergamon, assisted by the co-secretaries, Metropolitan Prof. Dr Gennadios of Sassima (Ecumenical Patriarchate) and Rev. Andrea Palmieri (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity).

At the opening plenary session on Wednesday, 22 September, the Commission was welcomed very warmly by the host, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, and by Metropolitan Michael of Austria of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on behalf of all Orthodox Churches present in Austria. Both emphasized the importance of holding the meeting in Vienna, which occupies a particular place in the history of the whole of Christianity. In the evening a reception was given by the Mayor of Vienna, Dr. Michael Häupl, at the Vienna Town Hall. The co-presidents announced that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI had urged intense prayer for the Commission meeting at his Wednesday General Audience and they read a Message to the participants from His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. A letter was sent by the co-presidents on behalf of the Joint Commission to the former President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and co-president of the dialogue, Cardinal Walter Kasper, expressing gratitude and appreciation for his service and for his significant contribution.

On Thursday, 23 September, the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria met the members of the Joint Commission at Kardinal König Haus. On Saturday, 25 September, the Catholic members celebrated the Eucharist in the Stephansdom in Vienna presided over by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, in the presence of the Orthodox members. In his homily he said that "we have and we need a primacy in the canonical sense, but above all there is the primacy of charity. All canonical dispositions in the Church serve this primacy of love (agape)". Afterwards a reception was offered in the Courtyard of the Archiepiscopal Palace of Vienna.

On Sunday, 26 September, the Orthodox members celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity of the Greek Orthodox Metropolitanate of Austria in Vienna, presided over by Metropolitan John of Pergamon, in the presence of the Catholic members. In addressing those present, Metropolitan Michael of Austria conveyed "the greetings of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and underlined the role and the contribution of the Greek Metropolitanate to the history of Vienna with great eminent personalities". He also referred to "the close collaboration between Orthodox and Catholics in Austria and in Vienna in particular, expressing the wish that the Lord's prayer 'that all may be one' (Jn 17:21) be a reality in the search for the unity of His Church".

During the afternoon, the members paid a visit to the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz and attended the service of Vespers. Later in the evening, they visited the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nikolaus.

On the first day of the meeting, as is customary, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox members met separately to coordinate their work. The Orthodox meeting discussed among other things the unfinished draft text produced by the 11th plenary session in Paphos, Cyprus last year, and much time was given to the methodology of the dialogue. The Catholic meeting also considered the draft text, seeking specific ways to improve the text, and reflected on methodological questions.

As was decided at the 10th plenary session in Ravenna, 2007, the Commission is studying the theme "The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium", on the basis of a draft text prepared by the Joint Coordinating Committee, which met in Aghios Nikolaos/Crete, Greece, 2008. During its meeting in Vienna, the Commission continued the detailed consideration of the text which began at last year's plenary session at Paphos, Cyprus. At this stage, the Commission is discussing this text as a working document and it decided that the text must be further revised. It was also decided to form a sub-commission to begin consideration of the theological and ecclesiological aspects of Primacy in its relation to Synodality. The sub-commission will submit its work to the Joint Coordinating Committee of the Commission which will meet next year.

During the meeting the members received the sad news that Mgr Eleuterio Fortino, co-secretary of the Joint Commission since its inception, passed away, after a long period of illness, and prayers were offered for the repose of his soul.

The meeting of the Joint Commission was marked by a spirit of friendship and trustful collaboration. All members greatly appreciated the generous hospitality of the host Church, and they strongly commend the continuing work of the dialogue to the prayers of the faithful.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Introductions to ecumenism--Norman A. Hjelm (ed.), Faith and Order: Toward a North American Conference

Resuming a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

Norman A. Hjelm (ed.), Faith and Order: Toward a North American Conference. Study Guide (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2005). This small book (50 pages) provides a fine introduction to the Faith and Order stream of the ecumenical movement, which is really the movement’s indispensable theological heart. This study guide was conceived to introduce North American Christians to the importance of Faith and Order ecumenism in preparation for a major Conference on Faith and Order in North America in connection with the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark 1957 Oberlin, Ohio conference on “The Nature of the Unity We Seek.” While the envisioned conference was ultimately not held, this book continues to serve as a useful introduction to an increasingly neglected dimension of ecumenism. It is notable for its attention to the concerns of evangelical and Pentecostal communions that have not historically been involved in Faith and Order ecumenism.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Word about the Proposed CBFNC Foundational Statement--Correction and Afterword

A corrected version of my September 21 blog post "A Word about the Proposed CBFNC Foundational Statement" now appears under that title and date. Whereas I had written that Dr. Larry Hovis, Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, had attended the 2005 Centenary Congress of the Baptist World Alliance, he did not attend the Congress but did receive reports about the Congress, including especially the printed "Message from the Centenary Congress" that was sent to members of the global Baptist community following the Congress. The blog entry has been corrected accordingly.

An afterword to the blog entry: While I emphasized the manner in which the proposed statement has received from others something the document's authors did not make, I should point out that reception does also necessarily involve a process of making one's own what is received from others. We are only at the beginning of this process of reception, so the proposed statement has not yet fully been made our own. Thus I also envision a process of reception that will continue to involve listening to responses to the proposed document from across the CBFNC community and that may also involve modifications to the document in light of those responses. It is possible that we can ultimately make the document our own in its current form, and it is possible that we can make the document our own only by revising it. Either outcome can reflect a faithful process of reception. The concise mission statement of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina is "Bringing Baptists of North Carolina Together for Christ-Centered Ministry," and the process of reception, of making this statement our own, must embody that mission. May it be so.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Word about the Proposed CBFNC Foundational Statement

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina is the state fellowship of the (national) Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which is the expression of the Baptist denominational tradition with which I identify. Public discussion of a proposed new CBFNC foundational statement has stimulated a vigorous debate among Cooperative Baptists in North Carolina and beyond as to whether the proposed foundational statement is consistent with this or that way of construing Baptist identity vis-à-vis the identity that belongs to all Christians as members of the body of Christ (see the September 19 Associated Baptist Press story "State CBF Proposal Sparks Debate about Baptist Identity"). Unfortunately some expressions of the debate, especially online, have generated more heat than light. Therefore apart from a couple of early comments responding to blog posts by others I have sought to avoid weighing in publicly on the discussion in ways that might fan the already-hot rhetorical flames. As I communicated privately to a number of colleagues and friends, my intention has been to share my perspectives more fully only when doing so might help clarify some of the matters under discussion.

I believe that time has now come. I do not speak for the Coordinating Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina or the task force appointed by the Coordinating Council in 2007 to propose revisions of the foundational statement, nor do my perspectives necessarily represent those of any of the CBFNC partner institutions of graduate/professional theological education with which I have been affiliated as a faculty member, visiting professor, or adjunct professor. I can, however, explain my intentions as the author of what in technical biblical scholarship would be called the Urtext (German for "original source document") of the proposed foundational statement.

Early in 2006, I received a call from CBFNC Coordinator Larry Hovis asking me if I would be willing to draft a responsive declaration that would express the faith Baptists share with all other Christians as well as the convictions and practices that have distinguished Baptists as a particular Christian tradition that has unique gifts to offer the rest of the body of Christ. The declaration would be recited as a corporate act of worship at the upcoming annual General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina at Ardmore Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in March 2006.

Dr. Hovis had received reports from the 2005 Centenary Congress of the Baptist World Alliance in Birmingham, UK the previous summer. During the opening worship service on July 27, over 12,000 Baptists from 112 countries in all their diversity stood and recited the Apostles’ Creed in commemoration of the manner in which the Baptist World Alliance had first declared its faith to the word a hundred years earlier. On July 5, 1905 Alexander Maclaren of Scotland, first president of the BWA, addressed the assembly of approximately 3,000 Baptists from 36 nations and proposed that as their very first act they rise to their feet and confess the Apostles’ Creed. At the Centenary Congress in Birmingham an actor playing the role of Alexander Maclaren declared to the Congress, “I should like there to be no misunderstanding on the part of the public as to where we stand in the continuity of the historic church, not as a piece of coercion or discipline, but as a simple acknowledgment of where we stand and what we believe. As it was a century ago, this speaking of the Creed will be an impressive, unifying, and glorious thing for us to do together as Baptists as we proclaim our common beliefs to the world.” Led also by a woman from Africa and a young man representing persons with disabilities who demonstrated gestures acting out the statements of the Creed, the participants stood and confessed the Apostles’ Creed with their voices and bodies. The BWA also issued a "Message from the Centenary Congress" that declared the convictions Baptists share with other Christians along with those convictions Baptists have held distinctively.

Dr. Hovis hoped that CBFNC Baptists might find a way to do something similar, and so I began working on a "Litany of Cooperative Baptist Convictions" that in the context of a General Assembly worship service might positively declare our solidarity with the global Baptist community and the larger body of Christ to which we belong. Dr. Hovis reflected on the significance of this act of worship and the intentions behind it in a column titled "Professing Our Faith" on page 7 of the linked May 2006 issue of the CBFNC newsletter. This "Litany of Cooperative Baptist Convictions" in turn has been adapted by the CBFNC task force as the nucleus of the text of the proposed new CBFNC Foundational Statement.

Several years ago the contemporary Christian musician Rich Mullins recorded an adaptation of the Apostles' Creed that included the lyric "I did not make it--no, it is making me." That lyric is applicable to my work on the "Litany of Cooperative Baptist Convictions" in that I did not make this. I received the content of the litany, indeed its very language, from my Baptist sisters and brothers in the global Baptist community who have preceeded me in the faith and today are alongside me in the faith. While it is true that the Apostles' Creed is ultimately the historic summary of the overarching message of the Bible that declares our allegiance to the living God to which the Creed and the biblical story it summarizes refer, the Litany and the proposed CBFNC statement into which the Litany was incorporated received the Creed as an expression of our own faith from our Baptist sisters and brothers at the 1905 Baptist World Congress and at the 2005 Centenary Congress. I, and the members of the task force, did not make it.

Likewise, when the Litany and the proposed CBFNC foundational statement declare the Baptist convictions that "We believe the Christian faith is best understood and experienced within the community of God’s people who are called to be priests to one another, as the Scriptures are read and studied together," that "We declare that through the Holy Spirit we experience interdependence with those who share this dynamic discipleship of the church as the people of God," and that "[spiritual] gifts are discerned and confirmed by the believing community together," for example, this language did not originate either with me or with any of the members of the CBFNC task force. We did not make it--we received it from our global Baptist sisters and brothers who are before us and beside us in the faith.

Therefore I respectfully point out that while some critics of the proposed statement seem to have assumed that some members of the task force crafted the document on the basis of personal theological agendas that are "Bapto-Catholic" or that reject individualistic readings of the Baptist tradition in favor of communitarian ones, this assumption is clearly incorrect. If critics of the proposed statement take issue with its wording at these or other points, their disagreement is not with me or with members of the task force--it is with the global Baptist community as represented by over 12,000 Baptists from 112 countries who at the 2005 BWA Centenary Congress publicly declared the apostolic faith and issued the "Message from the Centenary Congress." We did not make it; we received it from others.

It is my prayer that the community of CBFNC Baptists with whom I have served before and with whom I am again privileged to serve may be able to have a constructive discussion of the proposed statement in which every voice is heard and no voice is silenced. I hope that such conversations may help us learn to receive from others a faith we did not make, and I hope that in turn such reception will make us--that it will help us become more faithful followers of Jesus Christ in our journey together as a pilgrim people.