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.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Scripture in the Life of the Baptist Churches: Openings for a Differentiated Catholic-Baptist Consensus on Sacred Scripture"

My article "Scripture in the Life of the Baptist Churches: Openings for a Differentiated Catholic-Baptist Consensus on Sacred Scripture" is published in the current issue of the journal Pro Ecclesia (vol. 18, no. 2 [Spring 2009], pp. 187-215). The article is a revision of a paper I presented during one of the sessions of a five-year series of bilateral ecumenical conversations currently underway between the Commission on Doctrine and Interchurch Cooperation of the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic Church.

Here's a summary of how the article proceeds, taken from the introductory section: "After offering a thick description of the role of Scripture in the first-order liturgy and catechesis of Baptist churches and summarizing the place of Scripture in the second-order efforts of Baptist communities to articulate confessions of faith, I will identify eight potential loci of a differentiated Catholic-Baptist consensus on Sacred Scripture" (p. 190).

In a future post I'll explain what a "differentiated consensus" is.

This publication is special to me for a couple of reasons. It's the first article I've published in my very favorite theological journal. Sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology, Pro Ecclesia and the scholarship it publishes exemplify well how theology may be done in, with, and for the church. It's also a revision of a paper I was in the midst of preparing for presentation when our son Timothy arrived into our family, so much of it was written while he was strapped to my chest in a carrying sling and I was alternating between tracking down references in the documents from Vatican II and furiously typing away at the manuscript. Those are special memories.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Karl Barth as Ecclesial Theologian

The sort of theology I characterized as "ecclesial theology" in my previous post is epitomized by Karl Barth (1886-1968), the most significant theologian of the twentieth century. This quotation from his Church Dogmatics (originally titled Christian Dogmatics at the outset of the project--the changed title reflects the thoroughly ecclesial character of its contents) expresses well the approach to the theological task I'm advocating here:

"But it is obvious that before I myself make a confession I must myself have heard the confession of the Church, i.e., the confession of the rest of the Church. In my hearing and receiving of the Word of God I cannot separate myself from the Church to which it is addressed. I cannot thrust myself into the debate about a right faith which goes on in the Church without first having listened....If I am to confess my faith generally with the whole Church and in that confession be certain that my faith is the right faith, then I must begin with the community of faith and therefore hear the Church’s confession of faith as it comes to me from other members of the Church. And for that very reason I recognise an authority, a superiority in the Church: namely, that the confession of others who were before me in the Church and are beside me in the Church is superior to my confession if this really is an accounting and responding in relation to my hearing and receiving of the Word of God, if it really is my confession as that of a member of the body of Christ" (CD I/2, p. 589).

Barth's theology has its own shortcomings (everyone's does this side of heaven), and he's by no means the only theologian I can point to as an example of a thoroughly ecclesial theology. In my own Baptist tradition, the three-volume Systematic Theology by James Wm. McClendon, Jr. (1924-2000) fits the bill. But I've probably learned more from Barth about how to listen to the rest of the church en route to doing my own constructive theological work than I have from any other theologian I've read.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What Is "Ecclesial" Theology?

The title of this blog invites further explanation of what it is about "ecclesial" theology that distinguishes it from other approaches to doing theology. "Theology" is of course "ordered thought" (logos) about "God" (theos), and as such it is something that has been pursued by individual Christians and Christians together in the community of the church since the beginnings of Christianity. As theology became a specialized academic field within the modern university, however, it often became a project in which individual theologians proposed their own ideas about God and things related to God in dialogue principally with other individual theologians' proposals about God and things related to God, frequently with little reference to the theology hammered out in the community of the church. There are many exceptions to this generalization, but while a typical modern systematic theology might reference earlier expressions of the church's theology to illustrate the range of options for explaining a given doctrine, most of the space allotted to a particular doctrinal rubric might be given to the original aspects of the individual theologian's expression of the doctrine and how it compares with other modern individual theologians' approach to the doctrine. What is missing in what I've just described is the sense that theology is an ecclesial discipline that is properly done "in" the church, as one who is first and foremost a member of the church and only then a member of the professional academy of theologians; "with" the church, as one who intently listens to what other members of the church, throughout its existence in history and in the totality of its global expression today, have to say about God and things related to God, and as one who actively seeks out opportunities for dialogue with these other Christian voices; and "for" the church, as one whose primary vocation is to contribute to the church's task of "teaching as she must teach if she is to be the church here and now" (the late Baptist theologian James Wm. McClendon, Jr.’s definition of the task of doctrine in his Doctrine: Systematic Theology, Vol. 2). If theology conceived as the work of individual systematic theologians and done in dialogue with other individual systematic theologians was a distinctively modern project, the way I've suggested conceiving of ecclesial theology represents a postmodern retrieval of something that was good and proper about the communal dimensions of pre-modern theology.

The contributions of individual theologians are in fact essential to the communal dimensions of ecclesial theology. Theologians have a unique charism as members of the body of Christ by virtue of their calling, intellectual gifts, academic preparation, and ongoing theologial scholarship in the service of the church. Whenever the church refuses to consider the contributions of those who have been given this charism, her task of "teaching as she must teach if she is to be the church here and now" suffers. But the task of theologians also suffers if they refuse to consider what the other members of the church, past and present, have to say in the conversation of ecclesial theology.

In a future post I'll point to a significant modern exception to the way I've characterized the ecclesial deficiencies of much modern theology, whom I regard as a model for the sort of ecclesial theologian I'd like to be.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity

For the next couple of weeks I'm finalizing the manuscript for my forthcoming book Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity, which will be published later this year by Cascade Books. This will be a brief popular introduction to the modern ecumenical movement aimed at laypersons, who are the movement's most important participants. I'll share more information about the book as its publication date nears.

Blog Launch

Today I'm launching the blog "Ecclesial Theology," which I've envisioned as a way to help my current and former students, professional colleagues, and other interested persons learn about my writing projects and speaking engagements, most of which have to do with ecumenical theology (theology that serves the quest for the visible unity of the church) and other dimensions of what I call "ecclesial theology"--theology done in, with, and for the church. I'll likely not do much writing on the blog itself; instead I'll use it as a way of letting people know what I'm working on and where to find what I'm publishing in the form of books, book chapters, articles, and book reviews, as well as where to hear me speak and preach.