Friday, July 22, 2011

Towards Baptist Catholicity's fifth anniversary

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the publication of my book Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision (Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol. 27; Milton Keynes, U.K.: Paternoster, 2006 / Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2006).

Later this summer Ecclesial Theology will feature a couple of posts related to Towards Baptist Catholicity, partly because its reception is still an ongoing process and partly because a book project on which I'm currently working picks up where Towards Baptist Catholicity left off, extending the argument to its implications for the ecumenical future that Baptists and other Christians will inhabit. The working title for the new book is The Baptist Vision and the Ecumenical Future: Radically Biblical, Radically Catholic, Relentlessly Pilgrim. I'll provide details about this book and its publication in due course here on Ecclesial Theology.

Interested in Towards Baptist Catholicity? Order the book from Amazon.

Posts in this series:

Towards Baptist Catholicity's fifth anniversary

Towards Baptist Catholicity book description

Towards Baptist Catholicity endorsements

Towards Baptist Catholicity contents

Towards Baptist Catholicity reviews

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Baptists and History" seminar in Prague

In a few days I and my family are off to Prague, Czech Republic, where I will share in the leadership of the Young Scholars in the Baptist Academy seminar on "Baptists and History" July 25-30 on the campus of the International Baptist Theological Seminary. Sponsored by Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky and Baylor University in Waco, Texas and funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, the Young Scholars in the Baptist Academy program annually convenes a select group of participants from across the academic disciplines, from Ph.D. candidates to mid-career professors along with senior scholars and other scholarly consultants, to explore a theme of relevance for the work of Baptist higher educators. This year's seminar focuses on the art of narrating the Baptist story and issues related to Baptist historiography and its theological underpinnings.

Along with David Bebbington, Professor of History at the University of Stirling in Scotland, I will serve as a scholar/consultant, in which role I will participate in the seminar discussions, deliver an evening lecture titled "The Baptist Vision and the Ecumenical Future," and offer a concluding evaluation at the end of the seminar. Biographical sketches of the seminar participants and a seminar schedule are available on the Young Scholars in the Baptist Academy web site hosted by Georgetown College, along with information regarding past seminars and past participants. Below are links to drafts of the papers to be presented by the young Baptist scholars during the seminar:

Philip Thompson, “Defining Theological Identity in Unsettled Times: The Strange Union of Dogmatics and History in Baptist Life and Thought”

Tommy Kidd, “From Dissenters to Patriots: Baptists and the American Revolution”

Jenny Howell, “Reading History with the Saints: An Examination of McClendon’s Biography as Theology”

Andrew Black, “Thank God, It (Never Should Have) Happened”: Historiography and Theology in John Howard Yoder and Herbert Butterfield”

Jordan Rowan Fannin, “Historiography as Healing: Reassembling a Narrative of Clarissa H. Danforth, Freewill Baptist Female Preacher, 1815-1822”

Jake Myers, “In Search of a Baptist Homiletic: The Legacy of John A. Broadus”

Mack Dennis, “Preaching the Sovereignty of God: How Will Campbell’s Radical Christian Witness Informs a Reconciling Homiletic”

Friday, July 15, 2011

American Catholic-Reformed mutual recognition of baptism

As a consequence of a trio of annual denominational meetings in the United States this month, a "Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism" has now been approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and four Reformed denominations: the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church of America, the Christian Reformed Church, and the United Church of Christ. The press release from the National Council of Churches follows:

Catholic Church and four Reform churches recognize validity of one another's baptism

New York, July 13, 2011 – The general secretary of the National Council of Churches today celebrated an historic agreement among the Roman Catholic Church and four historic Protestant reform churches to recognize the validity of one another's baptism.

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, staff head of the nation’s leading ecumenical body, said, "these five churches have taken a significant step on this road to unity."

The United Church of Christ was the most recent church to adopt the "Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism" during its synod earlier this month in Tampa, Fla.

The agreement was approved by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. in 2008, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops in November of last year, and the Reformed Church of America and the Christian Reformed Church at their denominational meetings last month.

"The National Council of Churches is an expression of the ecumenical desire of the churches to be one," Kinnamon said. "It exists to manifest the visible unity of the Church, to the degree that we are already united in our common confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and to foster greater unity until such time that the churches are fully united around a common Eucharistic table."

Kinnamon said, "Knowing that your churches have proven faithful in responding to the Lord’s own prayer that his followers be one (John 17:21), all of the churches in the NCC join you in celebrating this important milestone."

The Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, the UCC’s Minister of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, said the next step with these partners will be conversations around the Eucharist.

"We are looking forward to our continued ecumenical engagement with our Formula of Agreement partners as well as the Roman Catholic Church," she said.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Peacemaking and the unity of the church

In a pair of 2009 posts on this blog I gave attention to aspects of the ecumenical theology of the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder (see "John Howard Yoder on the ecumenical potential of 'gathered church' ecclesiologies" and "A non-Baptist (though a McClendon lower-case 'b' 'baptist') perspective on Baptists and ecumenism"). One of Yoder's contributions to the worldwide ecumenical movement as a member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches was his insistence that the church's stance on violence and peace cannot be overlooked as a matter that must be addressed before the divided churches can move toward full visible unity. The Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches in New Delhi, India in 1961 issued what is now regarded as the classic definition of the visible unity sought by the ecumenical movement. Drafted by Methodist theologian Albert Outler (1908-1989), the statement reads:

We believe that the unity which is both God’s will and his gift to his Church is being made visible as all in each place who are baptized into Jesus Christ and confess him as Lord and Savior are brought by the Holy Spirit into one fully-committed fellowship, holding the one apostolic faith, preaching the one Gospel, breaking the one bread, joining in common prayer, and having a corporate life reaching out in witness and service to all and who at the same time are united with the whole Christian fellowship in all places and all ages, in such wise that ministry and members are accepted by all, and that all can act and speak together as occasion requires for the tasks to which God calls his people [emphasis added].

It goes without saying that the church is not currently ready to act and speak together regarding issues of violence. The Baptist World Alliance, however, took a small step in that direction during its annual gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last week in adopting a resolution encouraging Baptists to learn the “ten practices of ‘just peacemaking’” and “to incorporate them … in our congregations and institutions.” The BWA press release follows:

BWA endorses 10-point peace plan

The Baptist World Alliance is encouraging its member conventions and unions, churches and Baptist individuals to learn the “ten practices of ‘just peacemaking’” and “to incorporate them … in our congregations and institutions.”

In a resolution passed during its Annual Gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 4-9, the BWA also urged governments to pursue the ten practices “in their leadership, policies and actions.”

The “just peacemaking” formula was developed by scholars led by Glen Stassen, a Baptist and professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, in the United States. The peace plan includes support for nonviolent action; cooperative conflict resolution; the promotion of human rights, religious liberty and democracy; economic development that is just and sustainable; a reduction in offensive weapons and weapons trade; the support of grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations; and the strengthening of the United Nations and other international organizations.

The BWA recalled Jesus’ cry over Jerusalem in Luke 19:42, when he bewailed ignorance of “those things that make for peace.” We, the BWA said, “envision Jesus weeping over many cities and nations of our world because we do not know those things that make for peace.”

In a separate resolution, the BWA endorsed the peace agreement signed by three Naga factions in the Northeast Indian state of Nagaland in 2009.

“We give thanks to God for the remarkable efforts of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation under the leadership of Wati Aier to bring peace to the Naga people,” the resolution states. “We commend those parties who signed the 2009 Covenant of Reconciliation and urge them to fulfill its promise.”

The 2009 covenant was further endorsed at a “high level” meeting of Naga leaders on September 18, 2010.

For decades, several Naga groups have been in conflict with each other and with the Indian government over issues of autonomy and sovereignty for Nagaland state and the Naga people. Between 1992 and 2009, more than 2,330 insurgency related fatalities have been recorded in Nagaland.

At the meetings in Kuala Lumpur, Aier was presented with the BWA Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award for his role in brokering peace among the Nagas, a group that is predominantly Christian with a large Baptist population.

© Baptist World Alliance
July 13, 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Laura Barclay reviews Ecumenism Means You, Too

Rev. Laura Barclay
Laura Barclay, Social Ministries Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, has posted a review of my book Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010) on the CBFNC-connected blog The Winding Labyrinth. The review concludes with these recommendations for the book's use:

This book would be great for a Sunday School or book club to read and discuss chapter by chapter, and then decide how they want to act. Maybe your church would like to partner with a church from a different tradition for prayer and community work. Maybe you can learn from one another about the origins of your denomination, and in so, grow in appreciation of both your own tradition and your neighboring church!

Read the full review here.

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

Monday, July 11, 2011

Vacation Bible School as grassroots ecumenism

I wrote Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010) to encourage various expressions of grassroots-level ecumenical engagement. Chapter 4 of the book suggests specific things local congregations and their members can do locally to make substantial contributions to the quest for Christian unity. I could add to that chapter something happening this week in Shelby, North Carolina, where Ross Grove Baptist Church and The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer are teaming up to offer the children of the community a jointly sponsored Vacation Bible School (which my son is attending). An article in The Shelby Star explains how this cooperative venture came to be.

As a member of the Baptist delegation to the North American phase of the 2000-2005 international conversations between the Anglican Consultative Council and the Baptist World Alliance, I'm especially pleased to see this local embodiment of ecumenical cooperation between Baptists and the ecclesial tradition from which they separated in the seventeenth century. It occurs to me that churches that plan similar cooperative Vacation Bible Schools could also offer an adult track jointly exploring the respective traditions of the sponsoring churches and studying any reports or joint statements issued by ecumenical dialogues which those communions may have held with one another (such as the Anglican-Baptist dialogue report).

Friday, July 8, 2011

Global Baptists plan dialogues with Orthodox, Pentecostals

The Baptist World Alliance, a fellowship of Baptist unions from around the world, has actively engaged in bilateral ecumenical dialogues during the past four decades. The BWA has held conversations with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (1973-1977), the Lutheran World Federation (1986-1989), the World Mennonite Conference (1989-1992), the Anglican Consultative Council (2000-2005), and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (1984-1988 and 2006-2010); preliminary conversations were held with the Eastern Orthodox churches early in the 1990s but were suspended due to internal Orthodox matters. I had the privilege of serving as a member of the BWA delegations to the conversations with the Anglican Communion and the second round of Catholic conversations, and I am delighted with the developments communicated in the following BWA press release:

BWA to explore talks with Orthodox and Pentecostals

The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) is to engage in preparatory discussions aimed at formal dialogue with Pentecostals and the Orthodox Church.

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam made the announcement at a meeting of the Executive Committee which convened during the BWA Annual Gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 7.

The BWA Executive Committee, in its March 2011 meeting in Virginia in the United States, had authorized Callam to identify a small work team “to explore the commencement of BWA/Pentecostal bilateral dialogue.”

Callam told the Executive Committee in Kuala Lumpur that the first meeting with the Pentecostals will take place in the city of Birmingham, Alabama, in the United States, from December 13-15.

The BWA team will comprise Timothy George, dean and professor of divinity, history and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham in the US, and chair of the BWA Commission on Doctrine & Christian Unity. Other members of the BWA team are William Brackney, director of the Acadia Centre for Baptist and Anabaptist Studies in Nova Scotia, Canada; Curtis Freeman, professor of theology and director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke University in North Carolina in the US; Fausto Vasconcelos, director of the BWA Division of Mission, Evangelism and Theological Reflection; and Callam.

A four-person team appointed by Callam will also meet with representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Crete in November to discuss the possibility of future talks. Members of that team are George; Callam; Paul Fiddes, professor of systematic theology in the University of Oxford and formerly principal of Regents Park College in the United Kingdom; and Parush Parushev, academic dean, lecturer in applied theology, and director of the Institute of Systematic Studies of Contextual Theologies at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, Czech Republic.

More than 300 Baptist leaders and delegates are gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from July 4-9 for the BWA Annual Gathering. It involves yearly meetings of a number of BWA groups, including the General Council and the Executive Committee; executive sub-committees and divisional advisory committees; women’s, men’s, and youth departments; regional groupings; and commissions of the divisions of Freedom & Justice, and Mission, Evangelism & Theological Reflection, and others.

© Baptist World Alliance
July 7, 2011

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

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

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 (updated from a previous post).

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

“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.

Friday, July 1, 2011

More on Baptists and Freedom

Following up on yesterday's post regarding Lee Canipe's book A Baptist Democracy: Separating God from Caesar in the Land of the Free (Mercer University Press, 2011):

The current issue of Christian Reflection, a publication of the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, addresses the theme of freedom in Christian perspective with several substantive articles, reflections on artistic renderings of Christian freedom, worship resources, and reviews of selected books that frame freedom theologically. Jason D. Whitt's article "The Baptist Contribution to Liberty" is of particular interest in connection with my previous post. Here's a snippet from Whitt's introduction:

Baptists have long considered themselves to be at the forefront of calls for religious liberty. From their origins in seventeenth-century England to the early days of the fledgling American republic, and now into the twenty-first century, Baptists have claimed religious liberty as one of the characteristics that distinguishes them as a unique people. It was this commitment to religious liberty that spurred Baptists such as Isaac Backus (1724-1806) and John Leland (1754-1841) to call on the framers of the American Constitution to instantiate the separation of church and state as a hallmark of the new nation.

For most Baptists in the United States today a corollary to their understanding of religious liberty is the belief in soul competency, the idea that each individual believer stands before God alone in a relationship that is a personal matter between that soul and the divine. They say that religious liberty secures every individual’s freedom to determine his or her own religious beliefs apart from coercion by government (or any other institution).

While this understanding of religious liberty as individual freedom has become the standard for contemporary Baptists in the United States, it is not the conception of religious liberty first promulgated by Baptists in England. This contemporary view—that each individual has the right to choose theological beliefs from a vast array of options based on which ones best suit the individual’s desires apart from coercion by any authority—misses completely the intent of the early Baptist calls for religious liberty. The early English Baptists were not primarily concerned with individual human freedom, but with divine freedom. Religious coercion of belief was not primarily an affront to the individual’s rights, but to the sovereignty of God. It was God’s freedom that was at the center of Baptist calls for religious liberty.

Contemporary accounts of religious freedom that isolate the individual from all sources of authority save for personal reason betray a deep influence from Enlightenment thought rather than Baptist origins. These accounts tempt us to think of ourselves as isolated individuals whose faith is solely interiorized and who have no true connection with fellow believers other than our voluntary and changeable associations with them. How did we arrive at this point of confusion, and what are the implications of this turn from original Baptist ideals for believers today? (read more)