Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nurturing Faith draws on Ecumenism Means You, Too

Nurturing Faith, a new Bible study curriculum for adults and youth published in the monthly issues of Baptists Today and supplemented by online resources, included references to/quotations from my book Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010) along with a series of follow-up questions for discussion and a suggested "transformational exercise" in the supplemental online adult teaching resources for the lesson dated September 25, 2011 (click on hyperlink to read the lesson supplement).

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Baptists and Catholics on Scripture and Tradition: Irreconcilable Differences or Differentiated Consensus?

The promotional flier above advertises my upcoming public lecture "Baptists and Catholics on Scripture and Tradition: Irreconcilable Differences or Differentiated Consensus?" which I will deliver as part of the Joyce Compton Brown Lecture Series at Gardner-Webb University on Monday, October 3, at 7:00 PM in the Ritch Banquet Hall in the Dover Campus Center at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina.

In this lecture I will argue that Baptists and Catholics share surprisingly much in common in their perspectives on the relationship between Scripture and church tradition—the very matter on which the two communions would seem to be polarized. The Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum is replete with affirmations about the nature of revelation and the authority of Scripture which Baptists can affirm, but the seeming equation of the authority of Scripture and tradition in article 9 is a sticking point that must be addressed before proceeding to other points of difference that owe much to differing perspectives on the authority of tradition. A close reading of article 9 highlights points of Baptist disagreement even while revealing some openings for a Baptist appreciation of the trajectory in the development of Catholic teaching on tradition evident in this text. Baptists cannot offer an unqualified endorsement of article 9, but they can find a place within the pattern of theological contestation that produced it. This text with which Baptists cannot unequivocally agree thus points to a larger opening for convergence between Catholics in their practice of conciliar contestation and Baptists in their identity as dissenting catholics.

This lecture is rooted in material that will appear as a chapter in my forthcoming book with working title The Baptist Vision and the Ecumenical Future: Radically Biblical, Radically Catholic, Relentlessly Pilgrim. I'll post details about its publication here on Ecclesial Theology as they're available.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Ecumenism Means You, Too" story wins Australasian Religious Press Association award

Last year a post at Ecclesial Theology called attention to the August 2010 issue of Insights, the official publication of the Synod of New South Wales of the Uniting Church in Australia, which began with editorial reviewing my book Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity (Cascade Books, 2010) and included a feature story on the importance of grassroots ecumenical engagement that borrowed "Ecumenism Means You Too" for its title. Earlier this month the Austalasian Religious Press Association awarded Insights its Gold Award for Best Feature for Emma Halgren's story "Ecumenism Means You, Too."

I'm glad for this well-deserved recognition of the good work being done by Insights and its writers, and I'm grateful for the publicity not only for the book but also for the practices of grassroots ecumenism encouraged in the feature story (and the book that supplies its title).

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

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Baptist BCP?

In a previous post I mentioned the use I'm making this semester in my Christian Theology course of the worship book Gathering for Worship: Patterns and Prayers for the Community of Disciples published in 2005 by the Baptist Union of Great Britain. While Baptists do not have a fixed or mandated liturgy, many Baptist churches are beginning to draw selectively and creatively from the liturgical riches of other Christian traditions, adapting these resources in light of Baptist ecclesiology and incorporating them into distinctively Baptist patterns and practices of worship. Gathering for Worship is both a significant exemplar of the liturgical dimension of Baptist receptive ecumenism and a resource with much potential for enriching Baptist worship beyond the context of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

Gathering for Worship is published by Canterbury Press, which can be forgiven for describing the book on the Canterbury Press web site as "the authorised service book of the Baptist Church in England and Wales." While in certain respects Gathering for Worship is the Baptist worship book that most closely approximates the Book of Common Prayer, it is not only not an "authorised" liturgy for "the Baptist Church" (an inaccurate description of the ecclesial status of the Baptist Union of Great Britain besides); it is a much more flexible and adaptable collection of worship resources than the BCP, though Gathering from Worship does draw upon the BCP (and the liturgical resources of other traditions) for a number of collects, forms, and other liturgical texts, guided by the "core worship values" of Baptist communities identified in the rich theological account of Baptist worship elaborated in the book's preface:
  • attention to scripture
  • a devotional relationship with God and an openness to the Holy Spirit
  • an understanding of the church as community
  • a concern for the kingdom of God
  • the Lordship of Jesus Christ, which is an over-arching commitment that binds these other values together (p. xvi)
In Gathering for Worship one will find multiple patterns for celebrations of the Lord's Supper, meaningful rites of dedication at the beginning of life, baptismal and baptismal renewal services (which include several options for use of the Apostles' Creed as a baptismal confession--in keeping with its ancient origins and use), congregational covenant-making, ordination and commissioning (including services for "Inducting a Chaplain into a Chaplaincy Team" and "Inducting a College Tutor or Principal"), marriage ceremonies, funerals, prayer services, hospital and home visitations, and services related to various Sundays and seasons of the full Christian Year, along with extensive collections of prayers for various circumstances and for personal devotion. A CD-ROM included inside the cover contains the full text of Gathering for Worship in PDF format along with some additional resources, facilitating easy electronic cutting-and-pasting into printed orders of service (though American users will probably want to alter British spellings, and all users will need to proof carefully, as there are several typographical errors scattered throughout the text).

Gathering for Worship is a treasury of resources that deserves to be better known and widely utilized throughout the English-speaking Baptist world. Baptists in my own American context have long needed such a resource, and I hope that my students as well as others will begin turning to it regularly when they plan and lead worship.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On divinity school theology papers

Across the almost fifteen years I've spent teaching theology in graduate/professional divinity school/seminary settings, my customary research paper assignment for the introductory M.Div. courses in systematic theology has been a paper exploring a particular doctrine in the thought of a theologian of the student's choosing. Students have learned from this assignment how to do a certain sort of academy-oriented theological writing and have been able to explore their interests in particular doctrines and specific theologians much more deeply than the course content would otherwise provide. Some students have been able to re-task these papers successfully as writing samples for applications to Ph.D. programs. I've long had the nagging feeling, however, that this assignment has not done the best job of encouraging what a seminary/divinity school course in theology ought to encourage: the integration of the practice of theological reflection with the practice of ministry in congregational settings (though I should point out that these papers did include the requirement of a concluding section reflecting on the implications of the chosen theologian's articulation of that doctrine for the life of the church).

Thanks to inspiration from a conversation last year with my fellow Baptist theologian Mark Medley, Associate Professor of Christian Theology at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky in Georgetown, Kentucky, my theology students at the Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity are working on a different kind of theology paper this semester, which I'm provisionally calling their "Lex orandi, lex credendi worship service/sermon project." Students will choose one of the following Sundays in the Christian year that begins this Advent (Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary) with particular connections with the doctrines explored in this course:
  • The Epiphany of the Lord (January 6, but with optional observance on the nearest Sunday—January 8, 2012)—the doctrine of revelation. Lectionary readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
  • Trinity Sunday (June 3, 2012)—the doctrine of the Trinity. Lectionary readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17.
Students will then plan a worship service for the chosen Sunday and prepare a sermon manuscript intended as an act of worship within this service, drawing upon two of their required textbooks--Baptist Union of Great Britain, Gathering for Worship: Patterns and Prayers for the Community of Disciples, ed. Christopher J. Ellis and Myra Blyth (Norwich, U.K.: Canterbury Press, 2005) and the Celebrating Grace Hymnal (Macon, Ga.: Celebrating Grace, Inc., 2010)--as the primary worship resources for the project (in addition to the lectionary texts) and giving special attention to the theological framework that informs and is informed by these acts of worship on these particular Sundays of the Christian Year. The final paper presenting this project will consist of three parts: (1) 4-5 double-spaced pages offering a theological commentary on the order of service and sermon manuscript; (2) an order of service of 1-2 pages; and (3) a sermon manuscript of 8-10 double-spaced pages. (In addition to the requisite introductory theology textbook, we're using the Baptist Union of Great Britain's Gathering for Worship book of worship and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-connected Celebrating Grace Hymnal throughout the course as resources that help us explore the connections between theology and liturgy suggested by Prosper of Aquitaine's lex orandi, lex credendi tag ("the rule of praying is the rule of believing.") By mid-December I should know whether this new approach to the theology paper is accomplishing my intentions for it.