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.


  1. Steven, this sounds really interesting, would you willing to send me a copy to andrew [dot] goodliff [at] regents [dot] co [dot] uk

    I was in geneva the other week as part of group of english ordinards trying to find out more about the ecumenical movement and formation. as a group we all recognise the lack of knowledge and exposure we had during our ministerial formation to ecumenism.

  2. Andy,

    I'll gladly send a PDF of the pre-publication manuscript to you and anyone else who's interested.

  3. Steven,

    As a Moravian layperson whose denomination is making significant progress towards formalized communion agreements with Lutherans, Episcopals and Presbyterians I am interested in the motivating forces that are driving the ecumenical movement.

    We know that the WCC and NCC and the Catholic Church have had as a major goal the unification of religions for many years. There are questions that arise in our denomination among those who see the various denominational churches coming together and working as one on specific projects and goals that both share interest in. Those who are involved ask “why a formal agreement?”

    What express the intent of being one in the spirit better – Man made unions or the spontaneous union of congregations who join fore a common cause.

    The communion agreements we are seeing formulated go far beyond calling for cooperation of ecumenical partners in their works. The agreements seek to reach compromises on faith doctrine and practice in each denomination. Ecumenical partners will even be involved in policy-making synods.

    If each ecumenical partner was dedicated to seeking out and living out the Word of God this partnership could indeed enrich each church. If, on the other hand, one of the partner denominations is rejecting apostolic teachings leading its own denomination into division this will not be a healthy communion.

    I suppose this has become most obvious to me as I have followed the break up of the Episcopal church USA in recent months over their leaders rejection of some very basic fundamentals of Christian belief regarding the Trinity, Resurrection, Virgin Birth and Salvation.

    Would you have any comments on these concerns?
    Would you send me your article?

    Your Brother in Christ

  4. Andy,

    My e-mail message to you with the article manuscript bounced back as undeliverable. Send me a message directly at sharmon@samford.edu, and I'll attach the file in reply.

  5. Lee,

    Thanks for your insightful comments and questions. The concerns you note have indeed contributed to the current ecumenical impasse. In a soon-forthcoming post I'll provide some information on "receptive ecumenism," a promising newer approach to ecumenical engagement that focuses on the local grassroots expressions of unity that are often neglected in a "top-down" focus on the negotiation of communion agreements. Stay tuned!

  6. Steven,

    I will be watching forthcoming posts. Please remember I am not a student of ecumenism. Please carefully define the terms as you use them.


  7. Lee,

    Will do. Please feel free to call for clarification anytime.