Monday, December 28, 2009

BWA-RCC conversations 2009--official press release

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

The fourth round in the second series of conversations between the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and the Catholic Church took place December 13-18, 2009 in Rome, Italy.

The first round in this series was held at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, in Birmingham, Alabama (USA), from December 10-15, 2006. The second round was held December 2-8, 2007 in Rome, Italy. The third round was held at December 14-20, 2008 in Durham, North Carolina (United States) at the Duke Divinity School. 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.

The overall 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 Dr. Fausto Vasconcelos of the Study and Research Division of the BWA and Rev. Gregory J. Fairbanks the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

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), Curtis Freeman (USA), Timothy George (USA), Steven Harmon (USA), Nora Lozano (USA), Tomás Mackey (Argentina), Elizabeth Newman (USA), Rev. Tony Peck (Czech Republic), Drs. Rachael Tan (Taiwan) and Tadeusz J. Zielinski (Poland). Rev. Massimo Aprile (Italy) was the esteemed guest 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. participated as a consultant.

The topic of this round was “Oversight and Primacy in the Ministry of the Church.” Papers delivered for the Catholic delegation were Contemporary Developments of the Petrine Office Including the Ministry of Unity as Outlined in Ut unum sint by Rev. William Henn, OFM Cap., The Episcopal Ministry at the service of Unity in the Church by Rev. Jorge A. Scampini, O.P. and Continuity and Development in Roman Catholic Ecclesiology by Dr. Susan K. Wood, SCL. Baptist papers delivered were Where Two or Three Are Gathered: Toward a Baptist Understanding of the Church by Dr. Curtis W. Freeman; Episkopè in Scripture and Tradition – A Baptist Perspective by Rev. Anthony Peck and The Papal Office in Traditional and Ecumenical Baptist Perspectives by Dr. Tadeusz Zelinski.

The group will convene for its fifth and final round of these conversations in 2010.
Photo: 1st row (right to left)--Fred Deegbe (BWA, Ghana), William Hehn (PCPCU, Italy), Rachael Tan (BWA, Tawain), Elizabeth Newman (BWA, USA), Timothy George (BWA, USA), Teresa Rossi (PCPCU, Italy), Arthur Serratelli (PCPCU Delegation Chair, USA), Paul Fiddes (BWA Delegation Chair, UK), Massimo Aprile (BWA, Italy), Susan Woods (PCPCU, USA), Nora Lozano (BWA, USA), Fausto Vasconcelos (BWA Office, USA); 2nd row (right to left)--Gregory Fairbanks (PCPCU Office, Italy), Krzysztof Mielcarek (PCPCU, Poland), Steven Harmon (BWA, USA), Tony Peck (BWA, UK), Curtis Freeman (BWA, USA), Tadeusz Zielinski (BWA, Poland), Tomás Mackey (BWA, Argentina), Peter Casarella (PCPCU, USA), Sara Butler (PCPCU, USA), Jorge Scampini (PCPCU, Argentina).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Latest round of Baptist-Roman Catholic conversations concluded

I'm now well on my way to recovery from jet lag after my trip to Rome for participation in the latest round of conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. This year's conversations focused fruitfully on our respective patterns of ecclesiology, approaches to episkope (oversight), and perspectives on the Petrine office exercised by the pope. Next year's conversations, tentatively scheduled to convene next December at the University of Oxford, will be devoted to work on the final report that will be presented to the two communions for approval.

A highlight of our meetings was a visit to a session by Walter Cardinal Kasper (3rd from left on photo above), President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who may very well be my favorite contemporary Roman Catholic theologian. Cardinal Kasper encouraged us with his perspectives on Catholic ecclesiology and possible ways forward in ecumenical engagement. He also presented each member of the two delegations with a copy of his book Harvesting the Fruits: Basic Aspects of Christian Faith in Ecumenical Dialogue (Continuum, 2009), which summarizes the results of four decades of substantial ecumenical dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the World Methodist Council. It made for a stimulating read on the plane during my journey home, and I believe I'll be consulting it in connection with future writing projects.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Baptist-Catholic Theological Conversations Continue in Rome (BWA Communications)

Today the Baptist World Alliance communications division issued this press release regarding next week's round of conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Roman Catholic Church (click on hyperlink).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Curtis Freeman on "Baptists & Catholics Together? Making Up Is Hard to Do"

In connection with the upcoming round of conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Roman Catholic Church mentioned in the last post, Curtis Freeman's article "Baptists & Catholics Together? Making Up Is Hard to Do" in Commonweal (16 January 2009), pp. 18-21 does a fine job of placing the current dialogue series within the broader context of Baptist-Catholic relations (click on hyperlinked title).

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Baptists and Catholics in Conversation: Oversight and Primacy in the Ministry of the Church

A week from today I depart for Rome, where the delegations from the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to the 2006-2010 series of bilateral ecumenical dialogues on the theme "The Word of God in the Life of the Church: Scripture, Tradition, and Koinonia" will reconvene for a week of meetings at the Domus Internationalis Paulus VI. Following three previous sessions of conversations on The Authority of Christ in Scripture and Tradition, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and Mary in the Communion of the Church, this year's session will focus on the ecclesiological themes Oversight and Primacy in the Ministry of the Church.

Members of the Baptist delegation will be co-chair Paul Fiddes of the University of Oxford; co-secretary Fausto Vasconcelos, Director of the Education & Evangelism and Study & Research divisions of the Baptist World Alliance; Timothy George and Steven Harmon of Samford University's Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama; Anthony Peck, General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation; Tomas Mackey of the Baptist Seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Nora Lozano of the Baptist University of the Americas in San Antonio, Texas; Rachael Tan of the Taiwan Baptist Theological Seminary; Curtis Freeman of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina; Fred Deegbe, General Secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana; Elizabeth Newman of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Virginia; Massimo Aprile of the Baptist Convention of Italy; and Tadeusz Zielinski of Warsaw Baptist Theological Seminary in Poland.

Members of the Roman Catholic delegation will be co-chair Bishop Arthur Serratelli of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey; co-secretary Gregory Fairbanks of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Jorge Scampini of the Convento de Sto Domingo in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Krzysztof Mielcarek of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin in Poland; Susan Wood of Marquette University in Milwauke, Wisconsin; Peter Casarella of DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois; William Henn of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome; Teresa Francesca Rossi of the Centro Pro Unione in Rome; Dennis McManus of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.; and Sara Butler of Saint Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, New York.

Stay tuned here for additional information.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Ecumenical Theology and/as Systematic Theology"--full text PDF

With the kind permission of the editors of Ecumenical Trends, I am able to make available here in PDF the full text of my article "Ecumenical Theology and/as Systematic Theology," which was published in Ecumenical Trends 38, no. 9 (October 2009), pp. 6/134-9/137 and 15/143 (click on hyperlinked title).

In connection with which: A few weeks after the article was published, I enjoyed coming across a similar observation about the nature of ecumenical theology in Paul Murray's introductory essay to his edited volume Receptive Ecumenism and the Call to Catholic Learning (Oxford University Press, 2008):

[I]t would have to be acknowledged that the various developments achieved in bilateral dialogues over the last forty years in terms of increased mutual understanding and doctrinal clarification--together constituting some of the best examples of constructive Christian theology in a generation--have only been possible because the long-term participants have been prepared to commit to the challenge of attending closely to another tradition, seeking to gain clearer understanding of it and being open thereby to receiving of the other's particular gifts [p. 13, emphasis added].

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Common devotion and the unity of the church

Tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent and thus the beginning of Year Two in the Daily Office Lectionary. In addition to providing daily nourishment for personal spiritual growth, reading the Scripture passages assigned for each day contributes to progress toward the visible unity of the body of Christ as Christians across the divisions of the church together devote themselves to "the teaching of the apostles" and to "the prayers" (Acts 2:42).

The Anglican Book of Common Prayer and Roman Catholic Daily Missal both include daily office lectionaries along with other resources that guide personal devotions based on the daily office readings. A few years ago my wife gave me a Christmas gift that's become for me an indispensable resource for following the daily office: the four volumes of For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church (American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 1994-1996) include for each day the full text of the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel readings, an opening and closing prayer selected from the whole of the Christian tradition in its historical depth and contemporary breadth, and a devotional reading from one among the company of the saints that develops themes from one of the Scripture readings for that day, along with the full text of the Psalter, other patterns and resources for individual and family devotions, and occasional icons connected with seasons and significant feast days of the Christian year.

Electronic resources for following the daily office include The Daily Office maintained online by the Mission of St. Clare (the "text by day" feature downloads well to cell phones) and the Forward Day by Day meditations posted online by Forward Movement Publications.

If you've not previously followed the daily office, try taking it up as an Advent discipline in the days between now and December 25. You might serendipitously encounter Christians in other churches who are doing the same thing, and you just might find yourself having the kinds of conversations with them that make for the increase of the "one hope" (Ephesians 4:4) for the oneness of the church in this most eschatological of seasons of the Christian year.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"The Church Still Needs Baptists" now available online

The issue of Baptists Today in which my guest commentary "The Church Still Needs Baptists" appeared (vol. 27, no. 8 [August 2009], p. 28) is now available online as a PDF file in the Baptists Today public back issue archive (click on hyperlinked title above).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Regent's Reviews reviews Baptist Sacramentalism 2

The re-launched Regent's Reviews published by Regent's Park College of the University of Oxford includes in its first issue a review of Baptist Sacramentalism 2, ed. Philip E. Thompson and Anthony R. Cross (Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol. 25; Paternoster, 2008), to which I contributed the chapter "The Sacramentality of the Word in Gregory of Nyssa's Catechetical Oration: Implications for a Baptist Sacramental Theology." The review by Paul Goodliff of the Baptist Union of Great Britain appears on pp. 7-9 of the PDF version of the issue linked here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Washington Theological Consortium: New Books of Note in Ecumenism

Gerald Stover, an active lay ecumenist with the Lehigh County Conference of Churches in Pennsylvania, has called my attention to a most helpful annotated bibliography of recent books on ecumenical themes maintained and updated periodically by the Washington Theological Consortium. Readers of this blog will note in the current listing notices regarding two volumes I've mentioned here: Paul D. Murray, ed., Receptive Ecumenism and the Call to Catholic Learning: Exploring a Way for Contemporary Ecumenism (Oxford University Press, 2008) and John A Radano, Lutheran & Catholic Reconciliation on Justification (Eerdmans, 2009).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Paul Fiddes on "Baptists and Receptive Ecumenism"

Following up on a previous post on "receptive ecumenism" as a promising paradigm for ecumenical engagement: British Baptist theologian Paul Fiddes of Regents Park College, University of Oxford, presented a paper on "Baptists and Receptive Ecumenism" at a conference on Receptive Ecumenism: The Call to Ecumenical Learning at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Cadogan Street, Chelsea, UK in November 2007, later published in revised and expanded form in the journal Louvain Studies 33, no. 1-2 (2008). The Society for Ecumenical Studies has made the text of the published article available online in PDF (click on hyperlinked title above).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Dei Verbum § 9 in Baptist Perspective" available online

For those interested, a PDF electronic offprint of my article "Dei Verbum § 9 in Baptist Perspective" in Ecclesiology 5, no. 3 (September 2009): 299-321, mentioned in a previous post, is now linked from the Beeson Divinity School web site (click on hyperlinked title above).

Friday, October 30, 2009

The tenth anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

In honor of the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation:

Ten Years of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification
Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists to Commemorate the Event on October 30 and 31 in Augsburg

AUGSBURG, Germany/GENEVA, 15 October 2009 (LWI) - Several commemorative events will be held in Augsburg, Germany on 30 and 31 October to celebrate the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) between the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Roman Catholic Church ten years ago.

During a special worship service on Reformation Day in 1999, the LWF and the Vatican affirmed that mutual condemnations on the decisive question of justification that had been repeated for centuries no longer applied to the teaching of the respective churches. At the 2006 World Methodist Conference in Seoul, South Korea, the member churches of the World Methodist Council formally affirmed the JDDJ.

The highlight of the upcoming commemorative celebrations will be a ceremony on 30 October at 19:30 hrs in the Golden Hall of the Augsburg "Rathaus." Greetings by the Lord Mayor of Augsburg Dr Kurt Gribl; by Bishop Dr Johannes Friedrich of Munich, presiding bishop of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany; and by Bishop Dr Walter Mixa of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Augsburg, will be followed by brief introductions to the topic by the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) Walter Cardinal Kasper, and by LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko. Prof. em. Eberhard Jüngel from Tübingen will deliver the keynote address titled "What Does Our Happiness Have to Do with Our Blessedness?"

On 31 October from 09:00 hrs, presentations related to the JDDJ will continue in the Golden Hall. Speakers will include the long-serving bishop of the Evangelical Methodist Church in Germany Dr Walter Klaiber of Tübingen, and the former president of the German Bishops' Conference Karl Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz. The PCPCU president and the LWF general secretary will give the closing remarks. The festivities will conclude with an ecumenical worship service in the Augsburg Cathedral and a reception in the Michael Sailer Hall.

Kasper, Noko and Klaiber will address a press conference hosted jointly by the LWF, PCPCU and the Evangelical Methodist Church in Germany on 30 October at 15:00 hrs at the "Hollbau" Annahof in Augsburg.

This is a joint press release by the media offices of the Lutheran World Federation, Evangelical Methodist Church in Germany, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria and the Diocese of Augsburg.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Receptive Ecumenism

One of the most encouraging aspects of my participation at the recent WCC Faith and Order Commission meeting was the evidence I encountered in the form of paper presentations, discussions, and informal conversations that "receptive ecumenism" as an approach to ecumenical engagement is gaining traction. In a glossary appendix to my forthcoming book Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity, I define "receptive ecumenism" as follows:

Receptive ecumenism—An approach to ecumenical dialogue according to which the communions in conversation with one another seek to identify the distinctive gifts that each tradition has to offer the other and which each could receive from the other; given expression by Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical on ecumenism *Ut Unum Sint (“That They May Be One”): “Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some ways it is always an ‘exchange of gifts’” (§ 28). Some *interconfessional dialogues, such as that between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council, have worked toward concrete proposals for the exchange of ecclesial gifts.

Paul D. Murray, Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology and Director of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University (UK), has been one of the major voices advocating and exploring the possibilities of receptive ecumenism, especially through his leadership of the ongoing Receptive Ecumenism project at the Centre for Catholic Studies. A virtual version of the Centre's January 2009 conference on "Receptive Ecumenism and Ecclesial Learning: Learning to Be Church Together" is online (click on conference title above).

I close this post with the Centre's brief explanation of receptive ecumenism:

The essential principle behind Receptive Ecumenism is that the primary ecumenical responsibility is to ask not “What do the other traditions first need to learn from us?” but “What do we need to learn from them?” The assumption is that if all were asking this question seriously and acting upon it then all would be moving in ways that would both deepen our authentic respective identities and draw us into more intimate relationship.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Ecumenical Theology and/as Systematic Theology"

My article "Ecumenical Theology and/as Systematic Theology" appears in the October 2009 issue of the journal Ecumenical Trends (vol. 38, no. 9: pp. 6/134-9/137 and 15/143). The issue is not available online, but here's an excerpt from the introductory section of the article for those who don't have access to a library that carries Ecumenical Trends:

There is now an ecumenically shared commitment to ecumenical formation as indispensable to preparation for pastoral ministry, evidenced by the Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms of Ecumenism published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (1993) and the World Council of Churches Programme on Ecumenical Theological Education working document “Magna Charta on Ecumenical Formation in Theological Education in the 21st Century” (2008)....Yet in the absence of more intentional efforts in ecumenical formation, the average ordinand is either unaware of the significant strides toward visible unity in faith and order that have emerged from the bilateral and multilateral dialogues or else regards them as mildly interesting but of little relevance to the practice of congregational ministry. Pending needed curricular revision, professors of the individual biblical, historical, theological, and practical disciplines can re-envision their courses so that their learning outcomes include ecumenical formation as it relates to the subject matter. As a systematic theologian, I am convinced that this can best by accomplished in my own discipline if ecumenical theology is understood as a specific form of systematic theology that is systematic in its own right, is informed by other expressions of systematic theology, and in turn can serve as a source for systematic theological construction.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Faith and Order: Emerging coherence and changes of patterns

I'm now back home from the WCC Faith and Order meeting in Crete and enjoying being back in the routines of family life and teaching. This article on the WCC web site summarizes the proceedings of our meetings; papers, responses, sermons, and other documents from the meeting are available on this page.

In a future post I will offer some reflections on a promising and encouraging new approach to ecumenical engagement called "receptive ecumenism," which figured prominently in some of our discussions.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Update: Baptist voices in the WCC Commission on Faith and Order

Thanks to the kindness of a fellow commissioner from Ethiopia, we now have a photo of the four of us. From left: Arthur Ko Lay, Steve Harmon, Ruth Gouldbourne, Glenroy Lalor.

Baptist voices in the WCC Commission on Faith and Order

Since I am representing the Baptist World Alliance under the category of Christian World Communions representation on the WCC Commission on Faith and Order, I want to call attention to the participation of other Baptists in the meeting here in Crete. In the photo above Rev. Dr. Ruth Gouldbourne, pastor of Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in London (UK) and previously on the faculty of Bristol Baptist College, speaks from the floor of a plenary session this morning. There are two other Baptist commission members present: Rev. Arthur Ko Lay, pastor of Judson Memorial Church of the Myanmar Baptist Convention in Yangon, Myanmar, and Rev. Glenroy Lalor, Lecturer in Theology and Baptist Warden at the United Theological College of the West Indies in Jamaica.

Stories and Photos from the Crete WCC Faith and Order Commission meeting

The World Council of Churches news service is posting news stories and photo galleries from the 2009 plenary meeting of the Commission on Faith and Order in Crete, which concludes tomorrow. In a future post after my return (following recovery from jet lag and catching up on teaching up responsibilities), I'll summarize some personal experiences and observations from the meeting.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Program personalities for 2009 WCC Faith and Order Plenary Commission Meeting

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who as the Patriarch of Constantinople is the "first among equals" in the leadership of the Eastern Orthodox churches, will open the meeting of the World Council of Churches Commission on Faith and Order in which I will participate later this week in Kolympari, Crete, Greece. This recent WCC press release previews the meeting; this page provides biographical information on Bartholomew I and other keynote speakers for the sessions. I invite blog readers to pray that God's Holy Spirit might grant all plenary commissioners discernment during our discussions.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"The magisterium-hood of all believers"

Today concludes the conference on "Evangelicals and the Nicene Faith" hosted by Beeson Divinity School, at which yesterday I presented the address "The Nicene Faith and the Catholicity of the Church: Evangelical Retrieval and the Problem of Magisterium." As this will be a chapter in a forthcoming book of the conference proceedings to be published by Baker Academic, I'll not post the text here, but I will offer this summary. Recent attempts by Baptists and others who might be broadly described as "evangelicals" to retrieve aspects of the ancient, lower-case "c" catholic faith raise the question of how this might be done without such a project being yet another example of American "consumer" Christianity based on personal preference. What beyond personal preference authorizes such retrieval? After describing and reviewing what I perceive to be the strengths and weaknesses of Roman Catholic and Magisterial Protestant approaches to teaching authority in the church, I suggested that there is a another distinctive pattern of teaching authority in the Baptist and broader Free Church tradition that might be summarized with the slightly clumsy English coinage "the magisterium-hood of all believers." I'll provide information on publication details here when available.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

WCC Faith & Order director previews Crete meeting (audio interview)

Anglican theologian Dr. John Gibaut from Canada, director of the World Council of Church Faith and Order Commission, explains why anybody with an interest in what churches consider to be their mission in the world and how they come to decisions on theological, ecumenical or moral questions should look forward with some excitement to the 7-13 October 2009 meeting of the Faith and Order Plenary Commission in this audio interview linked from the WCC web site (click on each question to hear Dr. Gibaut's response):

How significant is the upcoming meeting of the Faith and Order Plenary Commission in Crete?

What is on the agenda of this meeting?

At what other issues will the commission be looking?

Can you give some examples of the moral discernment issues to be studied?

Can you say some more about the membership of the Faith and Order Commission?

What does "Faith and Order" actually stand for?

Friday, September 18, 2009

WCC press release on Crete Faith and Order meeting

This press release from the World Council of Churches news service previews the plenary meeting of the Commission on Faith and Order in which I'll be involved at the Orthodox Academy near Chania in Crete, Greece in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The history of Faith and Order ecumenism

This article on the "History of Faith and Order" by Günther Gassmann from the WCC web site originally appeared as an entry in the Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, 2nd ed. (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2002). It traces the history of the Faith and Order movement from its early 20th-century origins through the merger of Faith and Order and Life and Work to form the World Council of Churches in 1948 to the work of the Commission on Faith and Order from 1948 through the present. A PDF of the pamphlet Churches Affirming Unity, Overcoming Division provides additional information about the study programs of the Commission on Faith and Order.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

WCC Commission on Faith and Order overview

Leading up to my participation in the upcoming plenary meeting of the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches in Crete October 7-13, I will post a few links to information about the work of what some have called the "theological heart" of the modern ecumenical movement. The Commission on Faith and Order page on the WCC web site provides a helpful basic overview of the Faith and Order movement and the study programs of the Commission.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ecclesiology reviews Towards Baptist Catholicity

The issue of the journal Ecclesiology (vol. 5, no. 3; 2009) in which my article "Dei Verbum § 9 in Baptist Perspective" appears also includes a review of Towards Baptist Catholicity by Nigel G. Wright, Principal of Spurgeon's College in London (pp. 383-85).

Dr. Wright, by the way, is the author of Free Church, Free State: The Positive Baptist Vision, a book I've often recommended as a compelling statement of the distinctive ecclesial gifts the Baptist tradition has to offer the rest of the church.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Follow me on Twitter

If you want to know when I've posted something at Ecclesial Theology without checking the blog daily, you can now follow me on Twitter. There's also now a Twitter gadget on the right side of the page here, underneath "Books to Which I've Contributed Chapters" and above the blog archive.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Dei Verbum § 9 in Baptist Perspective"

The current issue of the journal Ecclesiology (vol. 5, no. 3; September 2009) includes my article "Dei Verbum § 9 in Baptist Perspective" (pp. 299-321). Those who have university-related computer access may be able to follow the linked table of contents to access the full text of the article if their institution has an electronic subscription to journals published by Brill. Here's the abstract:

The Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum is replete with affirmations about the nature of revelation and the authority of Scripture which Baptists can affirm, but the seeming equation of the authority of Scripture and tradition in article 9 is a sticking point that must be addressed before proceeding to other points of difference that owe much to differing perspectives on the authority of tradition. A close reading of article 9 highlights points of Baptist disagreement even while revealing some openings for a Baptist appreciation of the trajectory in the development of Catholic teaching on tradition evident in this text. Baptists cannot offer an unqualified endorsement of article 9, but they can find a place within the pattern of theological contestation that produced it. This text with which Baptists cannot unequivocally agree thus points to a larger opening for convergence between Roman Catholics in their practice of conciliar contestation and Baptists in their identity as dissenting catholics.

Monday, August 31, 2009

World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission

A little over a month from now (October 7-13) I will be participating in the plenary meeting of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches at the Orthodox Academy of Crete near Chania, Greece, representing the Baptist World Alliance. Several posts between now and then will provide information about the work of the WCC Faith and Order Commission and the specific projects on which we will be working during the Crete meeting.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Moltmann on ecumenism revisted

In a comment on a previous post on Jürgen Moltmann's reflections on the modern ecumenical movement, Stefanie Riley--a student at Campbell University Divinity School serving on the ministerial staff of the First Baptist Church of Wilmington, NC--posed a question I thought worth pulling into a main post. Stefanie's question concerned

" of the church's greatest fears in engaging in ecumenical dialogue: 'How do we maintain our own identity through our distinct heritage if we are compelled to accept the approaches utilized in other traditions as valid?' I would be interested to think further on the differences between the concepts of 'tradition or heritage' and that of 'origin'."

To which I replied:

It's possible to associate "tradition or heritage" with a commitment to remain in continuity with it and "origin" with a point of departure with which one doesn't necessarily maintain ongoing connections. But rather than thinking about ecumenical dialogue as something that makes us "compelled to accept the approaches utilized in other traditions as valid," I prefer to think of it as an opportunity for two things: first, for an earnest contestation of the faith in which all parties care enough about the truth disclosed in Jesus Christ that they are willing to contest their different understandings of it en route to a clarification that enables greater unity in the truth; and second, for an exchange of ecclesial gifts in which our tradition/heritage/orgin is seen as something that has preserved some aspect of the catholicity of the church that the rest of the church needs in order to be fully catholic, and at the same time is seen as our standpoint within the whole church from which we are able to receive the aspects of the church's catholicity that have been preserved in other traditions.

Stefanie is attending a Theological Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann conference next month, after which maybe she'll be able to share with us Moltmann's response to her question.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reports and agreed statements from ecumenical dialogues

A comment on my last post inquired about ideas for concrete forms of grassroots ecumenical engagement. In one of the chapters of my forthcoming book Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity, I suggest that the ministers and members of neighboring local churches of different denominations that have been in official ecumenical dialogue with one another at the national or international levels could gather to study and discuss the reports of those dialogues together. One contributor to the current ecumenical impasse has been the fact that the members, and frequently also the ministers, of local churches know nothing of the convergences and agreements that have been reached at the international level between their own denomination and other churches. The concrete action of gathering to consider the implications of these reports for how local congregations relate to one another would go a long way toward rectifying that.

The most extensive collection of such international reports is the Growth in Agreement series published in association with the World Council of Churches: Growth in Agreement, Growth in Agreement II, and Growth in Agreement III. Some of these texts are also available online; one source for these is a list of links to interconfessional dialogue reports maintained by the Centro Pro Unione in Rome. In a previous post I provided links to reports from the international dialogues in which my own world Christian communion, the Baptist World Alliance, has been involved.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jürgen Moltmann on Faith & Order Ecumenism

This summer I enjoyed reading Jürgen Moltmann's autobiography A Broad Place. Moltmann too is a theologian who in his own way has sought to do theology "in, with, and for the church":

"Because I did not grow up in a church, the church was not for me a matter of course. As pastor, too, I tried to answer the question, What is the church, and what is it there for?" (p. 202).

I was especially interested in a section in which Moltmann recounts and reflects on his involvement in the ecumenical movement as a member of the World Council of Churches Commission on Faith and Order from 1963 to 1983. Moltmann's musings lend support to the recent calls of some ecumenists for a "re-confessionalizing" of ecumenical encounter as a somewhat counterintuitive way forward:

"[T]he ecumenical unity of the many churches is not effected by way of bi-lateral or multi-lateral negotiations but rather when every church traces its own tradition back to its foundations, and in those foundations finds the traditio dei, which is common to all....Yet this advice to return ad fontes, though theologically correct, naturally often means that in one's own church one swims against the tide" (p. 86).

"The programme of 'reconciled difference'...became the sleeping pill of the ecumenical movement. We all stay as we are and are nice to each other" (p. 86).

"The outcome of my ecumenical participation, as I willingly confess, is this: my origin is Reformed--my future is ecumenical!" (p. 87).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Christian Reflection Prayer issue

In a previous post I mentioned the current issue of Christian Reflection in which my article "Learning to Pray" appeared. Now I've had a chance to read the whole issue, which I think is one of the best issues the Baylor University Center for Christian Ethics has produced thus far (my article notwithstanding). Here's editor Robert Kruschwitz's overview of the main articles in this issue on "Prayer":

"The practice of prayer can be 'the deepest decentering of the self, deep enough to begin dismantling...that burning preoccupation with myself,' notes Merold Westphal. Our contributors explore how faithful prayer opens us to God's gracious activity and forms us in Christ-like ways of perceiving, caring for, and acting in the world.

Paul Griffiths reflects on the scriptural injunction to 'pray without ceasing,' to make every aspect of our lives a prayer. Steven Harmon shows we can learn much about prayer, and the God to whom we pray, from ancient Church practices of the 'collect' form of prayer and singing the Psalter. Ruth Haley Barton heartily commends fixed-hour prayer, for it 'anchors our daily lives in rhythms of prayer, Scripture reading, and silence, ensuring that we do not get too far into any day without reorienting ourselves to the presence of God.'

Do prayers affect God and change the world? 'To embrace prayer as a force for change,' Todd Edmondson writes, 'we must stop thinking of it as just a human action' and 're-envision prayer as a relationship involving God, the world God has created, and the Church.'"

In addition, the issue includes meditations on Christian art depicting prayer by Baylor University art historian Heidi Hornik; a moving pastoral meditation on "Prayer in Eclipse" by Ken Massey, pastor of First Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC; and an article reviewing recent books on the Lord's Prayer by John Inscore Essick, my former student at Campbell University Divinity School who is now Assistant Professor of Church History at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky.

The issue in its entirety as well as the individual articles are available for download as PDF files from the Baylor University Center for Christian Ethics web site. It's rewarding reading.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"The Church Still Needs Baptists"--article in Baptists Today

The August 2009 issue of Baptists Today includes my guest commentary "The Church Still Needs Baptists" (p. 28). Here's a snippet from the lead:

"During the past several years, my work as a Baptist theologian has focused on ecumenical theology--theology that serves the quest for the visible unity of the church.

In connection with that I have given much attention to helping Baptists be critical enough of the shortcomings of our own tradition that we can appreciate and receive the gifts other churches have to offer. But during this year's quadricentennial celebration of Baptist life, I'm finding myself thinking more and more about why it's important to the rest of the church that there continue to be Baptists within it."

If you don't subscribe to Baptists Today or otherwise have access to it through church or library, this issue will be available as a PDF file on the Public Back Issues page of the Baptists Today web site--in about five months. I'll post a link here when it's posted there.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Baptist commemoration of the saints

In a chapter on worship in my book Towards Baptist Catholicity, I commended a Baptist practice of commemorating the lives of exemplary Christians as a means of ensuring that worship is a truly participatory rehearsal of the biblical story of the Triune God, one in which the divine narrative is intertwined with the stories of the members of the communion of saints, including those within and those beyond the local worshipping church:

"Though lacking the formal canonization process that is prerequisite for inclusion in the modern Roman Catholic sanctoral, the Book of Common Prayer, the Lutheran Book of Worship, and some other Protestant books of worship have included calendars with commemoration days for saints ancient and modern, including more recent figures such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr. If Baptist historians were to propose additional exemplary Christians from the Baptist tradition to add to such calendars in producing a sanctoral that is both distinctively Baptist and broadly ecumenical, Baptist congregations might be able to include in their own weekly worship a few moments for telling the stories of men and women who have provided worthy examples of lives lived in the service of God and humanity....The late Baptist theologian James Wm. McClendon, Jr. offered seminal suggestions for incorporating the lives of the saints into Baptist worship in an appendix to his groundbreaking study in narrative theology Biography as Theology. In this treatment of “Christian Worship and the Saints,” McClendon developed a theology of the relation of the departed among the communio sanctorum to the worship of the earthly church that is both consistent with the “baptist” vision and yet broadly catholic. On the basis of these guiding theological principles, McClendon advocated a “baptist” retrieval of the veneration (in the sense of honoring, not worshipping) of the saints in the worship and educational programs of congregations. McClendon’s suggestions are the starting point for future Baptist attempts to recover the patristic practice of the commemoration of the saints for contemporary Baptist worship." (Towards Baptist Catholicity, pp. 170-71).

On July 30, the Baptist World Alliance held a worship service commemorating the formation of the first Baptist church in 1609 in Amsterdam. The service, held at the United Mennonite Church of Amsterdam with which the earliest Baptist community there had close associations and which stands near the site of the Baptists' first meeting place, included an extended litany that did precisely the sort of thing that I (and Jim McClendon, too, I think) envisioned. The order of service is downloadable here; the photo from the service at the beginning of this post is courtesy of Tony Cartledge, whose blog offers a first-hand account of the service.

The litany, which is printed on pp. 4-5 of the order of service, commemorates these representative saints for their contributions to four centuries of Baptist life: Menno Simons, John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, John Clarke, John Myles, Frank Spence, George Liele, William Hamilton, Hannah Marshman, William Carey, Samuel Pearce, Joseph Merrick, John Aseltine, Manuel and Justina Pedras, Mark Hayford, Thomas Bowen, Antonio Teieira de Albuquerque, Diego Thompson, Guillermo Bagby, Guillermo McDonald, Samuel Sharpe, Thomas Burchell, William Knibb, John and Sally Leland, Elizabeth Gaunt, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Saunders, Pablo Besson, and Eurico Nelson. In addition, the litanity includes those saints sine nomine whose contributions to the living tradition of Baptist faith and practice are indispensable: "the women and men who have served as lay preachers and pastors, elders, deacons and deaconesses, Sunday School teachers and caretakers, and youth and community group leaders"; "teachers and students in our colleges and seminaries who seek to serve the church of the future"; and "members of our churches and congregations who live out the story in hope and in fear, in safety and in danger."

The Baptist World Alliance has encouraged local Baptist churches to use this litany in their own commemorations of this quadricentennial of Baptist life. I hope Baptist readers of this blog who have a role in planning worship in their own congregations will not only utilize this resource, but take it as a starting place for envisioning other ways in which the stories of exemplary Christians might enrich our participatory rehearsal of the biblical story of the Triune God.

Related posts:

More on Baptist commemoration of the saints

Towards a Baptist commemoration of the saints

The Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin

A Baptist commemoration of the saints

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Learning to Pray"--article in Christian Reflection

The current issue of Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics, a publication of The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, includes my article "Learning to Pray" (pp. 18-25). In his introduction to the issue, editor Robert Kruschwitz summarizes the article:

"Because prayer is so central to discipleship, learning how to pray became the most common theme in Christian writings in the four centuries after the New Testament. Steven Harmon thinks we can learn much about prayer, and about the God to whom we pray, from the 'collect' form of prayer that originated in early Christian worship and the practice of singing the Psalter. These ancient forms of prayer, Harmon writes in 'Learning to Pray' (p. 18), 'provide words for our prayers from beyond ourselves that transform us when we pray them.'"

Kruschwitz has also provided a study guide for the articles in this issue; the guide for "Learning to Pray" appears on pp. 4-5.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Baptist Quadricentennial

The world communion with which I identify, the Baptist World Alliance, is holding its annual gathering July 27-August 1 in Ede, Netherlands near Amsterdam in honor of the formation of the first Baptist congregation there by a group of English expatriates 400 years ago. I'm unable to attend due to teaching duties, but I'm following the proceedings on the BWA Annual Gathering 2009 blog and on the Baptists Today blog maintained by Tony Cartledge, my former colleague at Campbell University Divinity School.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ecumenism 101 handout

For those interested, here's the handout distributed to participants in the workshop "Ecumenism 101" that I led during Beeson Pastors School earlier this week.

Last year at Beeson Pastors School I led a similarly-themed workshop that used the language "the unity of the church" rather than "ecumenism" in the workshop title. Last summer's workshop was exponentially better attended that the one I led this week. An unscientific sampling, perhaps, but the disparity in attendance seems to confirm my intuitions about the grassroots impressions people have of the modern ecumenical movement. "The unity of the church" is in principle a good thing, while "ecumenism" suggests something about which many people are deeply suspicious.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ecumenism 101

Tuesday and Wednesday of this week I'm leading a workshop for the Beeson Pastors School on the theme "Ecumenism 101," rooted in material from one of the chapters of my forthcoming book Ecumenism Means You, Too. Here's the workshop description from the Pastors School brochure:

"By all accounts, the modern ecumenical movement is not moving much these days. Despite dramatic breakthroughs in the past few decades, the quest for a visibly united church now meets with indifference by many, impatience by some and outright hostility by others--often because its nature and goals have been misunderstood. Come learn about the biblical basis and recent history of the ecumenical movement, and what you can do to shape its future."

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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Towards Baptist CATholicity

David Wilhite, Assistant Professor of Theology at Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary, has been using Towards Baptist Catholicity as a textbook in one of the required Texts and Traditions courses there for the last couple of years. One of his students took this photo of her cat Leo having a look at the chapter on Karl Barth's engagement with the church fathers as a paradigm for patristic retrieval in contemporary theology. (Towards Baptist CATholicity is her own caption for the photo--credit where credit is due!)

Does this mean that I've actually written the Tome of Leo? ;-)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Southwestern Journal of Theology reviews Towards Baptist Catholicity

Speaking of book reviews: the most recent issue of the Southwestern Journal of Theology (51, no. 1 [Fall 2008]) includes a review of Towards Baptist Catholicity by John A. Nixon (pp. 117-19). (Thanks to Wyman Richardson for calling it to my attention.) The main articles and review section aren't available online, but the editorial introduction to this thematic issue on "Baptists and Unity" will be of interest to readers of this blog, as it differs significantly from the perspective on ecumenical engagement that will be presented in Ecumenism Means You, Too.

Like all book reviews, this one offers the reviewer's opinion on both strengths and weaknesses of the book's argument. This particular review identifies more perceived weaknesses, even while commending some aspects of the book. That's as it should be. If a book doesn't elicit some strong responses of disagreement, it's probably not worth publishing.

All reviews of Towards Baptist Catholicity published to date, by reviewers with widely varying theological perspectives, have been helpfully critical. For what it's worth, the review by Curtis Freeman in First Things is one that fully grasps what I hoped to accomplish by publishing the book. Other reviewers who have discerned well my intentions while being appropriately critical of the book's presentation of them include Myk Habets in Pacific Journal of Baptist Research 2, no. 2 (2006): 73-76; David Wilhite in Journal of Ecumenical Studies 42, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 474-75; Chris Criminger in Stone-Campbell Journal 11, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 100-02; Charles Scalise and Michael Root in Perspectives in Religious Studies 35, no. 4 (Winter 2008): 433-35 and 435-37; and Doug Weaver in Baptist History and Heritage 43, no. 3 (Summer-Fall 2008): 105-07.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ecumenical Trends reviews A Century of Prayer for Christian Unity

The June 2009 issue of the journal Ecumenical Trends published by the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute includes Timothy MacDonald's review of Catherine E. Clifford, A Century of Prayer for Christian Unity (Eerdmans, 2009), to which I contributed the chapter "Baptists, Praying for Unity, and the Eschatology of Ecumenism." Other contributors included Cardinal Walter Kasper and the late George Tavard.

I'm able to link the review here for the time being, as a PDF of the entirety of the June 2009 issue is featured on the Ecumenical Trends page of the Graymoor site as the free sample issue.

This issue also includes articles on the Trinitarian ecclesiology of Miroslav Volf and the work of the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, as well as a reflection by Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, on the ecumenical advocacy work of the NCC with reference to the United Nations.

In the event that the June 2009 issue ceases to be posted online as the free sample issue in the near future, here's the print citation for the review: Ecumenical Trends 38, no. 6 (June 2009): 12-13.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Baptist Ecumenical Dialogues with Other World Communions

In Thursday's Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly workshop "Ten Things You Can Do for the Unity of the Church," my sixth recommendation was, "Learn all you can about other denominational traditions." I suggested to those who attended the workshop (who were all Baptists) that one helpful approach to learning about other denominations that focuses specifically on what Baptists have in common with other traditions as well as how we differ with them would be to study the reports of ecumenical conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and other world Christian communions. These reports recount the stories of the two denominations in relation to one another, explain the things the two traditions can affirm together, and name the ongoing matters of disagreement that merit further conversation. Sometimes they have proposed practical steps that can be taken at the local level to enhance unity between the two communions. Since the early 1970s the BWA has held such dialogues with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran World Federation, the Mennonite World Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and partially with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox Churches. I promised workshop participants that I would post hyperlinks to the report texts that are currently available online. Here they are:

Baptist World Alliance-World Alliance of Reformed Churches (1973-1977)
Baptist World Alliance-Roman Catholic Church (1984-1988)
Baptist World Alliance-Mennonite World Conference (1989-1992)
Baptist World Alliance-Anglican Consultative Council (2000-2005)

Australian Baptist Ken Manley provides an informative overview of these conversations in his paper “A Survey of Baptist World Alliance Conversations with other Churches and Some Implications for Baptist Identity,” available on the BWA web site.

This approach to learning about other Christian traditions may of course be taken by members of other denominations that have engaged in international ecumenical dialogue. A web page maintained by the Centro Pro Unione in Rome provides links to online agreed texts from selected interconfessional dialogues. Texts from dialogues involving the following communions and organizations are currently linked: Anglican Consultative Council, Roman Catholic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Baptist World Alliance, Coptic Orthodox, Mlankara Syrian Orthodox, Disciples of Christ, World Evangelical Alliance, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, World Council of Churches Joint Working Group, Lutheran World Federation, Mennonite World Conference, World Methodist Council, Pentecostals, and the Orthodox Church.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ten Things You Can Do for the Unity of the Church

This Thursday I'm leading a workshop titled "Ten Things You Can Do for the Unity of the Church" in connection with the General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Houston, Texas. I hope I'll see a few readers of this blog there, especially some of my former students from Campbell University Divinity School. Here's the published workshop description:

"By all accounts, the modern ecumenical movement is not moving much. Despite dramatic breakthroughs in the past few decades, the quest for a visibly united church now meets with indifference by many, impatience by some, and outright hostility by others. Come learn what the members and ministers of local Baptist churches can do for the unity of the church as the ecumenical movement’s most important participants."

Since this is an adaptation of chapter 4 in my forthcoming book Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity, I'll not post the text of my remarks here. But a day or two after the workshop, I will post links to some of the resources I'll mention in the presentation.

Friday, June 26, 2009

In Memoriam--Dr. Lilian Lim

Last night Fausto Vasconcelos, Director of the Study and Research Division of the Baptist World Alliance, reported the death of Dr. Lilian Lim of Singapore, President of the Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary. Professionally, I am grateful for her important contributions as a member of the Baptist delegation to our conversations with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Personally, I will always cherish her keen interest in my son, who was born in South Korea and joined our household only a couple of weeks before our first meeting for conversations with the PCPCU. My wife and I owe much of what we know about traditions associated with the celebration of birthdays in Asian cultures to information Lilian passed along. She will be missed.

Update: Here is the press release from the BWA Information Service.
Update #2: Here is the story from Associated Baptist Press.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Towards Baptist Catholicity book note

The current issue of the Baptist World magazine published by the Baptist World Alliance includes a brief review of Towards Baptist Catholicity on p. 25.

More importantly, several feature articles in this issue tell the little-known stories of Baptists and other Christians in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Turkey. Much media coverage of the role of religion in the Middle East focuses on Arab-Israeli tensions, neglecting the experience of Christian minority populations in that part of the world. These articles help fill in some of the gaps in our awareness.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lutheran and Catholic Reconciliation on Justification

Over the weekend I received the new Wm. B. Eerdmans academic books catalog in the mail and was pleased to come across its announcement of the July 2009 publication of Lutheran and Catholic Reconciliation on Justification: A Chronology of the Holy See's Contributions, 1961-1999, to a New Relationship between Lutherans and Catholics and to Steps Leading to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by John A. Radano. I'm looking forward to reading this book not only because of my interest in the JDDJ; Monsignor Radano was the head of the Western Section of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity until his retirement from that position in 2008, and in that capacity he was actively involved in the bilateral dialogues between the Baptist World Alliance and the Roman Catholic Church, both the first series of conversations in 1984-88 and the first two years of the current series (2006-10) in which I'm participating.

Here's the book description from Eerdmans:

"After centuries of estrangement between Lutherans and Catholics, new relationships began at Vatican II and continued to develop during the following decades. In this broader context, Lutheran and Catholic Reconciliation on Justification illuminates the evolution of the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. While describing the steps leading to the Declaration as mutually understood by both partners and showing the important Lutheran initiatives indispensable for those steps, John Radano pays particular attention to the Holy See's contributions.

Part I illustrates initial contacts beginning with Lutheran observers at Vatican II. Before the Council's conclusion in 1965, a Lutheran- Catholic 'Joint Working Group' was formed and dialogue was engaged. In Part II Radano describes how mutual understanding and respect developed in the immediate postconciliar period. By 1972, Lutheran-Catholic dialogue reported a 'far-reaching consensus' on justification. Part III, corresponding to the first decade of John Paul II's pontificate, indicates that continuing dialogues gradually deepened and confirmed the justification consensus. Indeed, John Paul's own broad contacts with the Lutheran world helped build bonds of friendship and reconciliation. Part IV traces the steps taken by both sides in 1988–1999 to draft and officially sign the Declaration, and it describes the three-day celebration in Augsburg surrounding the signing ceremony.

An afterword tracks the reception of the Declaration since the 1999 signing, including support by Benedict XVI. Most especially, Radano details the World Methodist Council's official affirmation of the Declaration in 2006, highlighting the document's truly ecumenical nature."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reading the Sunday School lesson through theological lenses

This summer I'm spending about an hour a week writing a series of fourteen brief 750-word columns providing commentary on the weekly Sunday School lesson texts for issues of the Alabama Baptist newspaper published in June, July, and August. The first, from the June 4 print edition, appears online here. In these columns I'm avoiding offering the sort of exegetical help that may easily be found in the lesson guides and biblical commentaries. Instead I'm trying to equip laypersons with the larger theological framework that will help them understand how the passage fits into the overarching Christian story--in other words, I'm trying to help readers do theological interpretation of Scripture (without calling it that, of course). I've enjoyed the overlap between the texts for the June lessons from 1 John and the work I'm doing on the forthcoming Reformation Commentary on Scripture volume on 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What's a "differentiated consensus"? A little help from Ecumenism Means You, Too

Yesterday I sent the manuscript for Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity to the publisher for the editorial and typesetting phases of the process. The book will include a glossary of key terms frequently employed in ecumenical theological discourse. One entry is for the "differentiated consensus" referenced in the title of the Pro Ecclesia article I mentioned a couple of posts ago. Here's the glossary entry:

"Differentiated consensus—A term now commonly used to describe the sort of agreement reached between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church in their Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999). While the Joint Declaration itself does not use the precise expression 'differentiated consensus,' the concept is certainly present in its language 'consensus on basic truths' with 'remaining differences' or 'differing explications.' It thus does not suggest complete doctrinal agreement, but an agreement substantial enough that the remaining differences are no longer regarded as church-dividing. The language 'differentiated consensus' has become identified with the Joint Declaration in the process of its *reception. See also *consensus with remaining differences."

Stay tuned here for updates on when the book will be available.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Scripture in the Life of the Baptist Churches"--North Carolina connections

A teaser for North Carolina-connected readers regarding the Pro Ecclesia article on "Scripture in the Life of the Baptist Churches" mentioned in the last post: in the subsection on "Scripture in the Worship of Baptist Churches," a table on pp. 195-96 summarizes eight representative patterns of Baptist worship; the eighth column of the table reproduces an order of worship from the fourth Sunday in Advent 2006 at the First Baptist Church of Raleigh. Footnote 27 on p. 197 highlights a Trinitarian congregational response to the reading of Scripture written by former pastor J. Daniel Day (now Associate Professor of Preaching and Worship at Campbell University Divinity School) and still repeated each Sunday by the congregation.

I'll provide the promised definition of "differentiated consensus" from the article's subtitle soon.