Friday, February 25, 2011

"A Methodist Chats About Catholic Baptists"

Readers of Ecclesial Theology may be interested in a recent post by Methodist blogger Brad Bunn, "A Methodist Chats About Catholic Baptists: Sacramental Theology on the Rise." Brad makes connections (rightly, I think) between the broader interest in the "New Monasticism," the Baptist theological trajectory I explored in my essay "Catholic Baptists and the New Horizon of Tradition in Baptist Theology" (published initially as a chapter in New Horizons in Theology, ed. Terrence W. Tilley [Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2005] and later in revised form as the first chapter in my book Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision [Milton Keynes, U.K.: Paternoster, 2006]), and Brad's own pilgrimage as a Methodist convinced that God acts powerfully to make brothers and sisters in Christ out of strangers as they gather around the table in Eucharistic celebration. Here's a quote from Brad's blog post (Brad is in turn quoting from Re-Envisioning Baptist Identity: A Manifesto for Baptist Communities in North America):

It is within the affirmations of such patristic traditions that Catholic Baptists are able to affirm the following in terms of sacramental theology: “We affirm baptism, preaching, and the Lord’s table as powerful signs that seal God’s faithfulness in Christ and express our response of awed gratitude rather than as mechanical rituals or mere symbols.” It is within those powerful signs that change is evoked. Methodists, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, and Lutherans should be waving on our Baptist brethren as they tentatively try to leave their sacramental closets and join the rest of us who hold to the notion that God does something to us in such a way that we're changed forever.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ecumenical institutions and organizations--Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

Established in 1960 by Pope John XXIII, convener of the Second Vatican Council, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is entrusted with the promotion within the Catholic Church of an authentic ecumenical spirit according to the conciliar decree Unitatis redintegratio and aims to develop dialogue and collaboration with the other churches and world communions. Since its creation, it has also established a cordial cooperation with the World Council of Churches, regularly names Catholic observers at various ecumenical gatherings, and invites observers or “fraternal delegates” of other churches or ecclesial communities to major events of the Catholic Church. The PCPCU publishes the journal Information Service four times a year, in English and French.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Episcopal-Moravian Full Communion Agreement

Last week the Episcopal Church in the USA and the two provinces of the Moravian Church in North America formally inaugurated a full communion agreement between the two churches in a February 10 Eucharistic service in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (click on hyperlink for news story from the Episcopal News Service). The agreement is not a merger of the two denominations, but rather an arrangement that makes possible not only Eucharistic sharing but also sharing of ordained ministries, similar to existing agreements the Episcopal Church has with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, the Philippine Independent Church and the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India. The full text of "Finding Our Delight in the Lord," the proposal for full communion, is available online (click on hyperlinked title). Thanks to Gerald Stover for calling this development to my attention.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Promoting International Christian (Comm)Unity, One Conversation at a Time"

The Office of University Communications at Gardner-Webb University has issued the following press release about my recent participation in the international ecumenical conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Thanks to Matt Walters of the GWU Office of University Communications for a well-written story based on the best media interview experience I've had to date.

Promoting International Christian (Comm)Unity, One Conversation at a Time

GWU Professor Dr. Steve Harmon Participates in International Baptist-Catholic Dialogue in Oxford

By Matt Walters

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – Gardner-Webb University’s Dr. Steve Harmon, professor of Christian theology, recently served as a member of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) delegation to the international theological conversations between the BWA and the Roman Catholic Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The conversations spanned five years and culminated with discussions at Regent’s Park College of Oxford University Dec. 12-18, 2010.

The goal of the conversations was to discover and illuminate the Biblical and theological principles that the Baptist and Catholic traditions hold in common – what Harmon calls the “convergences” between the churches that have long gone unnoticed – while also bringing to light the issues that continue to divide them. The delegations hope that by better understanding one another and illuminating those principles they hold in common, the churches might better represent the Gospel of Jesus.

“The conversations are a part of a larger ecumenical movement,” Harmon explains, “which seeks to find more visible forms of unity between the different churches that are currently divided. It has its roots in John 17, where Jesus prays for His disciples on the night before His death. In particular, He prays that they may be one as Jesus and the Father are one, so that the world may believe. That suggests that finding more visible forms of Christian unity is not an end in itself – it serves the greater end of evangelism.”

As a Baptist theologian, Harmon insists that the purpose of ecumenical discussion is not to water down core Baptist doctrines or to sacrifice congregational autonomy. Rather, Harmon explains, “ecumenists strive to clearly understand what other traditions believe and practice on their own terms, rather than our own caricatured images of them.”

Harmon argues that much of what Baptists and Catholics assume about each other is indeed “caricature.” The recent conversations revealed that several key theological tenets for Baptists – tenets like the doctrine of the Trinity, the understanding of the Person and the work of Christ, and even the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith – are held in common by the two churches.

Even as these unifying similarities were discovered through conversation, the delegations hope that similar conversations between Baptists and Catholics in their local communities will lead to better cooperation in ministry and a better manifestation of the unity of Christ’s body. “The delegations will issue a report in 2012 that will present all the convergences we’ve identified between Baptists and Catholics,” Harmon explains, “as well as points of ongoing disagreement. We hope the report will be used as an educational tool, in institutions of theological education but also by pastors whose congregations have personal relationships with Catholics in their towns. The ultimate goal would be some form of grassroots ecumenical engagement, perhaps with Baptists and Catholics finding common cause in local missions projects or developing study groups together to discuss the report and better understand each other.”

Harmon has made the ecumenical quest for Christian unity his life’s work. He teaches various courses on Christian theology, ethics, and ecumenism, and maintains an ecumenical blog at He also recently published his third book, “Ecumenism Means You, Too,” an accessible introduction to the ecumenical movement for a popular readership.

Located in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb University was founded in 1905 and is home to over 4,300 students from 39 states and 24 foreign countries. Gardner-Webb seeks a higher ground in higher education – one that embraces faith and intellectual freedom, balances conviction with compassion, and inspires in students a love of learning, service, and leadership.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Baptists Today articles on Baptists, ecumenism, U2 and more--full text PDF

Periodically I've posted notices here of articles I've written that have appeared in Baptists Today, noting that after a few months the full text of the article will be available freely online when Baptists Today posts a PDF of that issue in its public Back Issues archive. With each article notice I've promised to let readers know when the article becomes available publicly, but I've followed through inconsistently. Therefore I'm providing a complete list of these articles here, hyperlinked to the issue available online.

“The Baptist Passion for Christian Unity.” Baptists Today 29, no. 1 (January 2011), p. 25 (should be available in May 2011).

“Garrett Pens ‘Treasury of Baptist Theological Heritage’” (review of James Leo Garrett, Jr., Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study [Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2009]), Baptists Today 28, no. 5 (May 2010), p. 25.

“Exchanging Ecclesial Gifts.” Baptists Today 28, no. 1 (January 2010), p. 18.

“The Church Still Needs Baptists.” Baptists Today 27, no. 8 (August 2009), p. 28.

“How My Mind Has Changed...About Teaching Theology.” Baptists Today 26, no. 9 (September 2008), p. 17.

“Baptists and Praying for Unity.” Baptists Today 26, no. 1 (January 2008), p. 16.

“The Key to How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.” Baptists Today 23, no. 1 (January 2005), p. 37.

“Do Real Baptists Recite Creeds?” Baptists Today 22, no. 9 (September 2004), p. 27.

In addition to these, Bob Campbell's article "Baptist Theologian Draws on U2's Music: Harmon Book Calls for Christian Fellowship," Baptists Today 28, no. 7 (July 2010), p. 29, is available among the public back issues as well.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Celebrating the Celebrating Grace Hymnal"--a popular blog post

Last April I posted here at Ecclesial Theology some theological reflections on the newly published Celebrating Grace Hymnal. To the degree that the live traffic feed widget is a reliable indicator, "Celebrating the Celebrating Grace Hymnal" is the most widely read post among those in the Ecclesial Theology archives. Seldom does a day go by without someone at least landing on that post. Now and then someone makes use of it elsewhere online (for example, a church newsletter column by Paul Henderson, Minister of Music at Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, about the dedication of the Celebrating Grace Hymnal in that congregation last November). I'm glad to know some folks have found it interesting and useful.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ecumenical institutions and organizations--North American Academy of Ecumenists

Continuing a series of posts calling attention to selected resources featured in Appendix 1, "Resources for Ecumenical Engagement," in Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010):

Founded in 1957, the North American Academy of Ecumenists is a scholarly and professional community of those actively involved in making the unity of Christ’s church visible through their teaching, research, ecclesiastic work, and common witness. The goal of the NAAE is to inform, relate, and encourage men and women whose profession or ministry in the church involves them in ecumenical activities and studies. It understands its unique contribution to be providing ecumenists with an open structure for exploring issues too important to be left exclusively to official ecumenical agencies and projects. The NAAE holds annual conferences, is affiliated with the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, and publishes an occasional newsletter, NAAE Links (available online in PDF format). The NAAE has also launched a Facebook page.

Interested in Ecumenism Means You, Too? Order the book directly from Cascade Books or via Amazon.