Yesterday I presented a paper titled "The Dialogical Construction of Baptist Theology" on the program of the annual meeting of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion held at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. The material presented in this paper will be incorporated into a chapter of a book project on which I'm currently working, so I will post here only the introductory section:
In an article in the journal Ecumenical Trends published in 2009, I contended that ecumenical theology should be understood as a specific form of systematic theology. The sort of theology that is hammered out in bilateral and multilateral ecumenical dialogue is systematic in its own right by virtue of its comprehensive, coherent, and constructive character. It is comprehensive in that while ecclesiological issues receive much of the attention in the dialogues, the dialogical contestation of the church’s confession enables larger portions of the divided church to confess with one voice what they discover they are able to confess together across all the major loci of systematic theology. It possesses a methodological coherence that derives from being rooted in concrete ecclesial communities of reference, each of which has a living tradition that is an “historically extended, socially embodied argument...about the goods which constitute [the] tradition” (quoting Alasdair MacIntyre’s definition of a “living tradition”). Furthermore, the dialogues also manifest a methodological consistency in their approach to their theological work: discernment of matters of fundamental consensus and differentiated consensus, identification of issues of disagreement that merit ongoing dialogue, and recommendation of ways in which the two communions might embody in their current relations the steps toward visible unity that have already been achieved in the dialogue. And since the interconfessional dialogues make possible a MacIntyrean contestation of the Christian tradition across its divisions, any convergences that emerge from this dialectical process will be inherently constructive theological proposals. These constructions have not heretofore existed, and they could not have come into existence apart from the constructive theological work of the joint commissions.
In the present paper I extend this understanding of the systematic nature of ecumenical theology to the theological convergences articulated by the reports issued by the joint international commissions of the bilateral ecumenical dialogues in which the Baptist World Alliance has been involved. To date the BWA has held conversations with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (1973-1977), the Lutheran World Federation (1986-1989), the World Mennonite Conference (1989-1992), the Anglican Consultative Council (2000-2005), and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (1984-1988 and 2006-2010). Baptist participation in these instruments for dialogue yields a Baptist constructive theology that draws deeply from the Baptist theological tradition while creatively identifying openings for theological convergence with other traditions that previously have been unnoticed or undeveloped. This paper represents the substance of a portion of a chapter I’m currently writing for a book in progress on the Baptist vision and the ecumenical future. The larger book chapter will substantiate this thesis regarding the constructive nature of Baptist ecumenical theology under the systematic loci of prolegomena, theology proper, creation and theological anthropology, Christology, the Christian life, ecclesiology and its sub-loci, and eschatology, but the present paper will focus more narrowly on matters of prolegomena that, I will argue, account for dialogical theological constructions that situate the Baptist vision ecumenically as one that is radically biblical, radically catholic (lower-case “c”), and relentlessly pilgrim.