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.