Friday, December 25, 2015

Born in time

For some reason one of the most moving portions of the Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter's Basilica for me each year is the reading of the Kalends from the Roman Martyrology at the beginning of the service. I think it's because of its placement of the Incarnation in relationship to the events of history--the broad sweep of history, the particularities of the first century and its prevailing powers, and that of our own contemporary world situation--at the intersection of the hope of the Incarnation and the realities that provoke our Advent yearnings. Here's the text from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops site:

The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ from the Roman Martyrology


The announcement of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord from the Roman Martyrology draws upon Sacred Scripture to declare in a formal way the birth of Christ. It begins with creation and relates the birth of the Lord to the major events and personages of sacred and secular history. The particular events contained in the announcement help pastorally to situate the birth of Jesus in the context of salvation history.

This text, The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, may be chanted or recited, most appropriately on December 24, during the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours. It may also be chanted or recited before the beginning of Christmas Mass during the Night. It may not replace any part of the Mass. (The musical notation is found in Appendix I of the Roman Missal, Third Edition.)

The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

The Twenty-fifth Day of December,

when ages beyond number had run their course
from the creation of the world,

when God in the beginning created heaven and earth,
and formed man in his own likeness;

when century upon century had passed
since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood,
as a sign of covenant and peace;

in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith,
came out of Ur of the Chaldees;

in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses
in the Exodus from Egypt;

around the thousandth year since David was anointed King;

in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

in the year seven hundred and fifty-two
since the foundation of the City of Rome;

in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus,
the whole world being at peace,

JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence,
was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

and when nine months had passed since his conception,
was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah,
and was made man:

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

40% off Towards Baptist Catholicity--now only $21

Wipf & Stock, the American co-publisher of my book Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision (published in the U.K. by Paternoster), offers a 40% off holiday sale through December 31 that applies to this book--retail $35.00, web price $28.00, but now $21.00 with discount. Follow hyperlinked title for ordering information; apply code "Noel" at checkout.

Friday, December 11, 2015

40% off Ecumenism Means You, Too--now only $9.60

Speaking of holiday offers: Wipf & Stock, publisher of my book Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity through its Cascade Books imprint, is running a 40% off holiday sale until December 31 that includes this book--retail $16.00/web price $12.80, but only $9.60 after discount! Enter code "Noel" at checkout (follow hyperlinked title for purchase details).

Thursday, December 10, 2015

35% off Every Knee Should Bow through December 31

Through December 31 Rowman & Littlefield is offering a 35% discount on my first book Every Knee Should Bow: Biblical Rationales for Universal Salvation in Early Christian Thought (2003). That takes the list price of $50.99 down to $33.14. Enter promotional code RLWEB3515 at checkout (follow hyperlinked title to ordering information on the Rowman & Littlefield site).

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

PJBR symposium on Curtis Freeman's Contesting Catholicity

The November 2015 issue of the Pacific Journal of Baptist Research, for which I serve on the editorial board, is devoted to a book symposium on Curtis Freeman's book Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Baylor University Press, 2014). Here's a link to the open-access PDF for this issue of the journal; the editorial introduction appears below:

The essays that follow were originally presented in the context of a panel discussion of Curtis W. Freeman’s book Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2014) in a plenary session of the annual meeting of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, May 18-20, 2015. The first two responses to the book are from specialists in Baptist history: Bill J. Leonard, James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and Professor of Church History at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, where he was the founding dean, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA, and C. Douglas Weaver, Professor of Religion and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, USA. The second pair of responses is offered by Baptist theologians: Adam C. English, Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, USA, and Fisher Humphreys, Professor of Divinity (retired) at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, USA. Finally, Curtis W. Freeman, Research Professor of Theology and Director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke University Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, USA, responds to these engagements of his work.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Ash Sunday"

In response to a request for a "linkable" version of a brief meditation I posted on Facebook this morning, here it is on Ecclesial Theology:

Advent has been called the "winter Lent." That makes today something like "Ash Sunday," for it begins a penitential rather than festive season--not yet "the most wonderful time of the year," though it should lead to wonderful things. Advent is a season of soul-searching, of serious reckoning with our failures, personally and corporately, to participate in God's ever-present Advent toward the world. Let us prepare the way of the Lord--which is to say, let us remove the impediments to our participation in this way.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Curtis Freeman to speak at Gardner-Webb University Oct. 26

Dr. Curtis Freeman, Research Professor of Theology and Baptist Studies and Director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke University Divinity School, will present a lecture titled "Undomesticated Dissent" on Monday, October 26, at 7:00 P.M. as part of the Joyce Compton Brown Lecture Series sponsored by the Life of the Scholar program at Gardner-Webb University. The lecture will be held in Faith Hall in Tucker Student Center on the Gardner-Webb University campus in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. A reception with light refreshments will follow.

Dr. Freeman is the author of Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Baylor University Press, 2014) and editor of A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth-Century England (Baylor University Press, 2011), Baptist Roots: A Reader in the Theology of a Christian People (Judson Press, 1999), and Ties That Bind: Life Together in the Baptist Vision (Smyth & Helwys, 1994). (Copies of Contesting Catholicity will be available for purchase and signing after the lecture.) Dr. Freeman is currently co-chair of the commission to the international ecumenical dialogue between the Baptist World Alliance and the World Methodist Council and has also served on the commissions to the international ecumenical dialogues the Baptist World Alliance has held with the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church.

The point of departure for Dr. Freeman's lecture "Undomesticated Dissent" is Bunhill Fields cemetery in London, where there are stone memorials to John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and William Blake. The lecture focuses on three narratives of dissent: Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and Blake’s Jerusalem. According to Freeman, "By telling the story of dissent in this way, it will become clear that the voices of dissent are always subject to the forces of domestication, by becoming 'hand-tamed' to the powers that be. At times the radical spirit slumbers away in uncomfortable dreams while the nations rage or becomes gentled to the touch and taste of polite culture, only to rise again unexpectedly in all its undomesticated fervor. Perhaps by remembering these stories of those memorialized in stone, the slumbering saints may be awakened and the voices of undomesticated dissent may arise yet again."

Dr. Freeman will also serve as guest preacher for the Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity chapel service earlier that day (Monday, October 26) at 1:00 P.M. in Dover Chapel on the Gardner-Webb University campus. His message, titled "Beastly Powers," will be based on Revelation 13:1-18. The public is invited to attend both the School of Divinity chapel service and the Joyce Compton Brown lecture (free of charge, no reservations required).

Auxiliary aids will be made available to persons with disabilities upon request 48 hours prior to the event. Please call 704.406.4264 or email with your request.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Judson University Founders' Day address

This Friday (October 16, 2015) I will deliver the Founders' Day Convocation Address at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois. I'll speak on the theme "Judson, Baptists, the Whole Church, and God's Mission." Information about the day's events is posted on the Judson web site in the linked articles below:

Judson University to Celebrate History and Heritage During Founders’ Day 2015

Founders' Day 2015 Featuring Dr. Steven R. Harmon

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope invokes MLK, a Baptist, as a Christian life to emulate (Baptist News Global)

Today Baptist News Global published the article "Pope invokes MLK, a Baptist, as a Christian life to emulate," which includes quotes with some of my reflections on Pope Francis' address to Congress yesterday (follow hyperlinked title to read the story at Baptist News Global)::

Pope invokes MLK, a Baptist, as a Christian life to emulate

Related post:

Baptists excited and hopeful about papal visit (Baptist News Global)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Baptists excited and hopeful about papal visit (Baptist News Global)

Last week I granted a telephone interview to Jeff Brumley of the Baptist News Global staff regarding Baptist perspectives on this week's papal visit to the United States. Some quotations from that interview appear in this story released today (follow hyperlinked title to read the story at Baptist News Global):

Baptists excited and hopeful about papal visit

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A benediction

As you go to worship, to study, and to serve, take with you these words of benediction:

May the maker of heaven and earth fulfill God’s creative purposes in you and through you;

May the Christ who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven extend God’s presence in the flesh in you and through you;

May the Spirit who gives us life breathe new life in you and through you;

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

---Steven R. Harmon, benediction for the School of Divinity Convocation Luncheon, Gardner-Webb University, Boiling Springs, North Carolina, September 7, 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Common story, community, and Christian higher education

(The following are my prepared remarks delivered as a devotion for the President's Prayer Breakfast at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina on September 2, 2015.)

The one unalterable date on our family’s summer calendar is the third week in July. That’s when Duraleigh Presbyterian Church in Raleigh hosts Camp Moo Gung Hwa each year. Named for the national flower of South Korea, Camp Moo Gung Hwa is a Korean Culture Camp for Korean adoptees and their families. It’s become one of the most important things our son Timothy, my wife Kheresa, and I do together for our family life.

When we first arrived at Camp Moo Gung Hwa three years ago, we didn’t know anyone. But that first day as our children played with kids who looked like themselves and who had parents who looked like their parents, and as we parents began talking with each other, we had the most profound experience of instant community we’ve ever known.

We lived in different parts of the country. We had different levels of education, widely varying professional lives, diverse religious commitments, and for all we knew divergent political inclinations. But we bonded immediately because for all our differences we knew that we shared a common story: struggles with infertility for many of us, the long roller coaster ride of the adoption process, the joy of our children and our pride in them, the challenges of being transracial families, the hope that we might help our children embrace their Korean heritage and grow into confident Korean-American adults.

Not all of us were Christian. But when Kheresa and I debriefed that first experience of Korean Culture Camp, we both said out loud, simultaneously, “That was like church.”

It was like church, because the church too is a diverse community bound together by a common story that relativizes all the other things that make us different. The Apostle Paul wrote about that in Galatians chapter 3, verses 28 and 27:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (NRSV).

In my church circles we often quote that text in support of the full equality of women and men in church, family, and society. I think that’s a good and proper application of the text. But in context Paul’s main point is that our baptism creates a new reality, a new basis for community in which all the ways the world categorizes people are no longer our primary identities. In baptism the story of the Triune God, made known to us by the story of Christ, becomes our story. The ancient baptismal confessions of faith were brief recitations of that story. All of us who have been baptized into Christ share that story in common, however different our individual stories may be. It’s what makes us church. “All of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

A Christian university like Gardner-Webb isn’t a church, strictly speaking. Gardner-Webb is not a baptizing community, but it is a community of the baptized. And in the Baptist understanding of the essence of church as happening wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Christ, we can recognize that something church-like happens when the baptized gather in a Christian university to engage in learning “for God and humanity.”

All of us who engage in learning for God and humanity—faculty, staff, and students—are different. In our differences, we’re going to disagree. And that’s a good thing—unless we earnestly contest our disagreements, our movement toward God’s truth is hindered. We can embrace our differences and debate our disagreements without demeaning each other when we remember that we share a common story—the story we claim and that claims us in our baptism, the story that makes us all one in Christ Jesus. May God help us remember that in this new academic year, through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Loving God, who desires to draw the world to share in your love: may your Spirit empower our work of fostering learning and leadership for God and humanity, so that division is overcome and true community established, on our campus, in your church, and in your world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

David Carter on "Baptist-Catholic Dialogue Today"

The current issue of the journal Ecumenical Trends published by the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute features an article titled "Baptist-Catholic Dialogue Today" by David Carter, a British Methodist church historian and member of the joint commissions of the British Methodist-Catholic dialogue and the international Catholic Church-World Methodist Council dialogue (Ecumenical Trends 44, no. 7 [July/August 2015]: 6/102-13/109). The article surveys the context and contributions of the second series of international conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church that took place from 2006 through 2010 and issued the joint report "The Word of God in the Life of the Church."

This issue of Ecumenical Trends also includes Edward C. Andercheck's article "Methodist-Catholic Dialogue: Ut Unum Sint and Geoffrey Wainwright's Response" (1/97-5/101, 14/110). While both articles and the issue in which they appear are available online only to subscribers, a subscription to either the print ($30 per year, including digital access) or digital-only version of the journal ($15) includes online access to the past two years of back issues.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Religious and theological studies books by Gardner-Webb scholars

Members of the Gardner-Webb University faculty have published several books in various disciplines of religious and theological studies during 2014 and 2015.

Oxford University Press has published Founding Sins: How a Group of Antislavery Radicals Fought to Put Christ into the Constitution by Joseph Moore, Assistant Professor of History in the Department of Social Sciences at Gardner-Webb. The book will be released in hardcover on September 15, but its Kindle edition is available now. According to the book overview on the Oxford University Press, Founding Sins "argues that America's original religious right, the Covenanters, shatter the conservative logic that America was founded as a Christian nation." Here's the full book description:

The Covenanters, now mostly forgotten, were America's first Christian nationalists. For two centuries they decried the fact that, in their view, the United States was not a Christian nation because slavery was in the Constitution but Jesus was not. Having once ruled Scotland as a part of a Presbyterian coalition, they longed to convert America to a holy Calvinist vision in which church and state united to form a godly body politic. Their unique story has largely been submerged beneath the histories of the events in which they participated and the famous figures with whom they interacted, making them the most important religious movement in American history that no one remembers.

Despite being one of North America's smallest religious sects, the Covenanters found their way into every major revolt. They were God's rebels--just as likely to be Patriots against Britain as they were to be Whiskey Rebels against the federal government. As the nation's earliest and most avowed abolitionists, they had a significant influence on the fight for emancipation. In Founding Sins, Joseph S. Moore examines this forgotten history, and explores how Covenanters profoundly shaped American's understandings of the separation of church and state. 

While modern arguments about America's Christian founding usually come from the right, the Covenanters have a more complicated legacy. They fought for an explicitly Christian America in the midst of what they saw as a secular state that failed the test of Christian nationhood. But they did so on behalf of a cause--abolition--that is traditionally associated with the left. Though their attempts to insert God into the Constitution ultimately failed, Covenanters set the acceptable limits for religion in politics for generations to come.

In March 2015 Fortress Press published The Divine in Acts and Ancient Historiography by Scott Shauf, Associate Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy at Gardner-Webb. The following book description is provided by Fortress Press:

Scott Shauf compares the portrayal of the divine in Acts with portrayals of the divine in other ancient historiographical writings, the latter including Jewish and wider Greco-Roman historiographical traditions. The divine may be represented as a single deity (in Judaism) or many (in Greek and Roman traditions) and also includes representations of angels, God’s spirit, Jesus as a divine figure, or forces with divine status such as fate, chance, and providence. Shauf’s particular interest is in how the divine is represented as involved in history, through themes including the nature of divine retribution, the partiality or impartiality of the divine toward different sets of people, and the portrayal of divine control over seemingly purely natural and human events. Acts is shown to be engaging historiographical traditions of the author’s own day but also contributing unique historiographical perspectives. The way history is written in Acts and in the other writings is shown to be intimately tied to the understanding of the role of the divine in history.

In June 2014 Pickwick Publications released The Topos of Divine Testimony in Luke-Acts by James R. McConnell, Jr., Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation in the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb. Here's the description of the book on the publisher's site:

In this study James McConnell addresses the concept of authoritative testimony in Luke-Acts. Specifically, he argues that particular elements in the narrative of Luke-Acts can be understood as instances of the topos of divine testimony through utterances and deeds, considered in some ancient rhetorical handbooks to be the most authoritative form of testimony when seeking to persuade an audience. McConnell claims the gods' testimony was used in ancient law courts and political speeches to persuade a judge of a defendant's guilt or innocence, and in attempts in public forums to convince others of a particular course of action. Similarly, the topos is used in ancient narratives and biographies to legitimate certain characters and discredit others. The instances of the topos of God's speech (both oral and through OT citations) and deeds in Luke-Acts are functioning in the same way.

In March 2014 Wipf and Stock issued How to Read the Bible Without Losing Your Mind: A Truth-Seeker's Guide to Making Sense of Scripture by Kent Blevins, Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy at Gardner-Webb. From the book description:

Does reading the Bible sometimes leave you confused? Do you have difficulty seeing the relevance of the Bible to modern concerns or to important issues in your life? Do you believe Bible reading and intellectual inquiry are mutually exclusive? This book explores how the Bible can serve as a resource for discovering truth. It provides a method that accepts and incorporates the knowledge gained from modern scholarship while also recognizing that truth-discovery is a personal, multifaceted journey. It honors the integrity of Scripture while remaining open to insight from additional truth-sources. In exploring what we mean when we speak of the Bible's authority, it is honest about the challenges presented to modern readers by the cultural chasm separating the biblical writers from today's world. How to Read the Bible Without Losing Your Mind shows how the Bible can be read with full engagement of both mind and heart.

Gardner-Webb alumni have also been making notable contributions to scholarship in religious and theological studies. In November 2015 Fortress Press will release Making Love with Scripture: Why the Bible Doesn’t Mean How You Think It Means by 2001 Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy graduate Jacob D. Myers, newly appointed as Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. Fortress Press provides this description:

Nothing has been more contentious in the history of Christianity than the meaning of the Bible, and that debate continues today. Arguments over Scripture have divided denominations, churches, and families, and these squabbles have led many to abandon the faith altogether. Jacob D. Myers, a rising young scholar, has a solution to the problem with Scripture. The instability of the Bible’s meaning, he argues, is not a weakness but a strength, and it can benefit conservatives and liberals alike.

In a conversational style peppered with pop culture references, Myers provides a variety of tools for readers of the Bible, helping the experienced and inexperienced alike appreciate the sacred text in new ways. Finally, he proposes the intriguing alternative of an “erotic” interpretation, one that makes love with the Bible and opens new vistas of understanding.

In June 2013 Oxford University Press published Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution by James P. Byrd, who graduated from Gardner-Webb in 1988 with a double major in Religious Studies and English and is now Associate Professor of American Religious History and Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee. From the OUP site:

On January 17, 1776, one week after Thomas Paine published his incendiary pamphlet Common Sense, Connecticut minister Samuel Sherwood preached an equally patriotic sermon. "God Almighty, with all the powers of heaven, are on our side," Sherwood said, voicing a sacred justification for war that Americans would invoke repeatedly throughout the struggle for independence. 

In Sacred Scripture, Sacred War, James Byrd offers the first comprehensive analysis of how American revolutionaries defended their patriotic convictions through scripture. Byrd shows that the Bible was a key text of the American Revolution. Indeed, many colonists saw the Bible as primarily a book about war. They viewed God as not merely sanctioning violence but actively participating in combat, playing a decisive role on the battlefield. When war came, preachers and patriots alike turned to scripture not only for solace but for exhortations to fight. Such scripture helped amateur soldiers overcome their natural aversion to killing, conferred on those who died for the Revolution the halo of martyrdom, and gave Americans a sense of the divine providence of their cause. Many histories of the Revolution have noted the connection between religion and war, but Sacred Scripture, Sacred War is the first to provide a detailed analysis of specific biblical texts and how they were used, especially in making the patriotic case for war. Combing through more than 500 wartime sources, which include more than 17,000 biblical citations, Byrd shows precisely how the Bible shaped American war, and how war in turn shaped Americans' view of the Bible. 

Brilliantly researched and cogently argued, Sacred Scripture, Sacred War sheds new light on the American Revolution.

Also in 2013, Faithlab published Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow: What All Christians Can Learn from LGBTQ Lives by Cody J. Sanders, a 2005 graduate of Gardner-Webb in Religious Studies and Psychology who now serves as Pastor of Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here's the book description from

Winner of the National Bronze Medal for Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans Non-Fiction in the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Awards, Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow is about changing the questions we ask about sexuality, gender identity, and faith. Sanders helps us imagine new pathways into old conversations by shifting our attitude from one of suspicious scrutiny toward LGBTQ people to one of compassionate curiosity. Less concerned with answering questions, it aims to cultivate our imagination for asking new questions. Sanders asks, "What can all Christians learn from LGBTQ people that will enhance our lives and strengthen our communities of faith?" Lessons are offered on the themes of relationship, community, faithfulness, love, violence, and forgiveness.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Radner on Freeman's Contesting Catholicity

First Things has posted on its web site a two-paragraph teaser snippet from Ephraim Radner's review of Curtis Freeman's book Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Baylor University Press, 2014) in the magazine's August 2015 issue. Non-subscribers and those without library access to First Things may purchase the full article for $1.99. Here's part of the review preview:

When I’m in a gloomy mood, sometimes I’d like to be a Baptist. Instead of all the venal bishops, political synods, and ignorant commissions, I’d have some controllable integrity to my church life: a good congregational polity with the folks in the pews in charge, Bible reading and preaching at the center, no-apologies evangelism and church planting, a limit on the intrusion of self-important experts and their crazy ideas, no liturgy to mess up, and (unlike their Pentecostal brethren with their shamanistic temptations) good old-fashioned fundamentalist biblical rationalism that makes it easy for most people to smell a pastoral rat in their midst when they have one....(continue reading at First Things)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Looking toward 2017

October 31, 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of one of the key events in the complex of 16th-century Protestant and Catholic reforming movements, the posting of Martin Luther's 95 Theses on the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg (traditional site in photo at left). The cover story of the July 8, 2015 issue of the Christian Century addresses well the ecumenical issues at stake in how the whole church and its divisions choose to mark this event. In "Repent and celebrate: The Reformation after 500 years," co-authors Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, assistant research professor at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, and editor of Lutheran Forum, and Thomas Albert Howard, professor of history and director of the Center for Faith and Inquiry at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, cite as a way forward the paradigm of "receptive ecumenism" that I've found fruitful for my own work in ecumenical theology:

What we are looking for is an elimination of the necessity of enemies, not an elimination of the necessity of arguments. We look forward to a multiplicity of purged confessional theologies, maintaining the particular gifts and insights on all sides while remaining open to the truly Christian insight of the other, even of the old enemy. In the words of the Catholic ecumenist Paul Murray, we propose a "receptive ecumenism" and encourage all parties to ask: What can we offer and what can we receive from others to foster a deepened communion in Christ and the Spirit?

The whole article is available on the Christian Century web site. In this connection I also commend From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017, a resource issued jointly by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation based on five decades of bilateral international ecumenical dialogue between the two communions. From Conflict to Communion offers helpful guidelines for ecumenically responsible observances of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (available online in PDF; click on hyperlinked title). Baptists and others in the free church tradition will find an account of Baptist/free church identity in ecumenical perspective that resonates with what Wilson and Howard propose in Curtis Freeman's book Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Baylor University Press, 2014).

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How the Pope Teaches

The Baptist News Global Perspectives blog has published my post "How the Pope Teaches." An excerpt from the beginning of the post follows.

Word is out that Pope Francis’ long-awaited encyclical on the environment will be published later this month with the titleLaudato Sii—“Praised Be You”—words from the Latin text of St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun. (Baptist News Global readers will be familiar with it in the form of the adapted hymn text “All Creatures of Our God and King.”)
This encyclical will not merely reflect the personal perspectives of the pope—contrary to what some critics with unfortunate access to news media seem to think. As an expression of Catholic magisterial teaching it will have undergone a process of thoroughly communal formulation with collegial input from others in the Catholic Church, including its theologians, ethicists, and Scripture scholars, lay as well as religious; collegial input from others in the wider church; and collegial input from the scientific community, including its Catholic, non-Catholic Christian, and non-Christian members....(read the full post at Baptist News Global Perspectives)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

SECSOR AAR Constructive Theologies call for papers

The call for papers for the next meeting of the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion, March 4-6, 2016 in Atlanta, is now available on the SECSOR web site. As chair of the American Academy of Religion--Southeast Region Constructive Theologies section, I'm also posting the Constructive Theologies CFP below. See the full CFP on the SECSOR site for information on requirements, guidelines, and deadlines for submitting proposals.

(AAR) Constructive Theologies

Themes: (1) joint session with Philosophy of Religion and Religions of Asia on “apophasis within or across religions”; (2) joint session with Religion and Ecology on the ecohermeneutics of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical scheduled for release this year; (3) open call for papers relating theologies of social location to the 2016 SECSOR theme “Translation and Context”. Submit all proposals to Steven R. Harmon, Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity, ( and Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo, Wake Forest University ( *For the joint session on apophasis within or across religions, please include also Lisa Battaglia, Rachel Pang (, and Nathan Eric Dickman (; for the joint session on the ecohermeneutics of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, please include also Todd LeVasseur ( and Jefferson Calico (

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Baptist Ecumenical Dialogue and Vatican II" (video)

In my previous post I passed along a link for downloading an audio podcast interview on "Baptist Ecumenical Dialogue and Vatican II" that I recorded for the Creighton University "Catholic Comments" program hosted by theology department faculty members John O'Keefe and Wendy Wright when I was there in February to speak at a conference on the legacy of the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio. The Creighton University Center for Catholic Thought has now uploaded this video of our studio recording session to YouTube:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Baptist Ecumenical Dialogue and Vatican II

While at Creighton University in February to speak at a conference on the legacy of the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, I recorded a podcast interview on "Baptist Ecumenical Dialogue and Vatican II" with Catholic Comments program hosts John O'Keefe and Wendy Wright of the Creighton Department of Theology faculty. That podcast is now available. Here's a link for listening to or downloading the podcast on the Catholic Comments site.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Book announcement: Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future

I'm pleased to announce that my book Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future: Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community has entered the production phase and is scheduled for a March 2016 release by Baylor University Press. I'll post updates regarding the book's publication, including pre-ordering information, here at Ecclesial Theology during the next few months. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here's a draft of the copy for the catalog and back cover description:

Baptists tend to be the “problem children” of the ecumenical movement. The Baptist obsession to realize a true church birthed a tradition of separation. While Baptists’ misgivings about ecumenism may stem from this fissiparous genealogy, it is equally true that the modern ecumenical movement itself increasingly lacks consensus about the pathway to a visible Christian unity.

In Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future: Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community, Steven R. Harmon explores the relationship of the Baptist calling to be a pilgrim community and the ecumenical movement. Harmon argues that neither vision can be fulfilled apart from a mutually receptive ecumenical engagement. As Harmon shows, Baptist communities and the churches from which they are separated need one another. Chief among the gifts Baptists have to offer the rest of the church is their pilgrim aversion to overly realized eschatologies of the church and their radical commitment to discerning the rule of Christ by means of the Scriptures. Baptists, in turn, must be willing to receive from other churches neglected aspects of the radical catholicity from which the Bible is inseparable.

Embedded in the Baptist vision and its historical embodiment are surprising openings for ecumenical convergence. Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future urges Baptists and their dialogue partners to recognize and embrace these ecumenically oriented facets of Baptist identity as indispensable provisions for their shared pilgrimage toward the fullness of the rule of Christ in their midst, which remains partial so long as Christ’s body remains divided.

Also in the meantime, check out some other forthcoming releases from Baylor University Press.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Harmon reviews Kinnamon in Christian Century


The May 13, 2015 issue of the Christian Century (vol. 132, no. 10) includes my review of Michael Kinnamon's book Can a Renewal Movement Be Renewed? Questions for the Future of Ecumenism (Eerdmans, 2014). The review appears on p. 39 of the print edition; an electronic version of the review is currently available on the Christian Century web site. Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the review:

Lament over the current “ecumenical winter” and analysis of the factors that have contributed to it have become commonplace in recent ecumenical literature. As he considers the future of ecumenism in Can a Renewal Movement Be Renewed? Michael Kinnamon gives four reasons for why the ecumenical movement stands in need of renewal: “loss of commitment among church leaders to the goal of Christian unity,” “divisions and other signs of weakness within the ecumenically supportive churches,” “an increasing split between two sets of ecumenical priorities,” and “diminishment of key instruments of the ecumenical movement, including councils of churches”....(read the full review at Christian Century)

Forthcoming/recent books on Baptist studies from Baylor University Press

Over the past few months, Baylor University Press has released several notable books on themes in Baptist studies. Now another is scheduled for a September 2015 release: Evangelical Christian Baptists of Georgia: The History and Transformation of a Free Church Tradition by Malkhaz Songulashvili, whose leadership of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia has been noted in previous Ecclesial Theology posts.

This will follow some significant titles in Baptist studies published by BUP in the second half of 2014:

Baptists and the Community of Saints: A Theology of Covenanted Disciples by Paul S. Fiddes, Brian Haymes, and Richard Kidd

Decoding Roger Williams: The Lost Essay of Rhode Island's Founding Father by Linford Fisher, J. Stanley Lemons, and Lucas Mason-Brown

Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists by Curtis W. Freeman

The Collected Works of James Wm. McClendon, Jr., edited by Ryan Andrew Newson and Andrew C. Wright, Volume 1 and Volume 2

Earlier in 2012, BUP re-issued the Systematic Theology of James Wm. McClendon, Jr. (originally published by Abingdon Press) with a new introduction by Curtis W. Freeman: Ethics: Systematic Theology, Volume 1; Doctrine: Systematic Theology, Volume 2; and Witness: Systematic Theology, Volume 3.

I'm looking forward to passing along information about another forthcoming BUP release in Baptist studies here at Ecclesial Theology in the near future. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Spirituality of the Johannine Jesus: Christ's Body as Embodied Fellowship

This past weekend I lead a breakout session on "The Spirituality of the Johannine Jesus: Christ's Body as Embodied Fellowship" for the annual General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina, held at First Baptist Church in York, South Carolina April 17-18. (The theme for this year's CBF of SC General Assembly was "A Place at the Table.) I've had several inquiries about my presentation from people who were unable to attend, so I've made the handout for the session available online (click on hyperlinked breakout session title).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Savoring the 'sacrament of the present moment,' with a little help from The Decemberists

The Decemberists perform "The Mariner's Revenge Song"
at The Fillmore in Charlotte, NC, April 9, 2015 (photo by Steve Harmon)
Baptist News Global has published my post "Savoring 'the sacrament of the present moment,' with a little help from The Decemberists" on its Perspectives opinion site. An excerpt from the beginning of the post follows:

Christian thinking about the world we live in and God’s goals for it wrestles with a tension. What God envisions for the world is already being made manifest in the Easter reality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and in the body of his church that strives to incarnate this reality in the world. But this reality does not yet fully embrace this world, as even a glance at it confirms.

In the art form of popular music, the Irish rock band U2 renders this tension well. By faith we believe that through Christ what ought to be is already here. But it’s plain to see that the world around us is not yet that, so we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

That’s not any easy tension to maintain. An over-emphasis on the “already” of the Christian life—what theologians call an “overly-realized eschatology”—can blind us to its “not-yetness,” the unfinished nature of God’s work with us, with the church, with the world. But an over-emphasis on the present “not-yetness” of the world can blind us to the things that ought to be that are already all around us—what 18th-century French Jesuit spiritual writer Jean Pierre de Caussade called “the sacrament of the present moment.”

Also in the art form of popular music, a song from the new album by Portland, Oregon folk-rock band The Decemberists renders well what it means to savor the sacrament of the present moment in the midst of all the things in the world that ought not to be....(read the full post at Baptist News Global Perspectives)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

More musings on Holy Saturday

A previous Ecclesial Theology post committed to writing some musings on a Holy Saturday in 2013. Here are some more.

With Christ on Holy Saturday we enter God's rest in the boundary between the work of creative suffering and the new creation it brings about. Christian theology has not fully explored the connections between Holy Saturday in Holy Week and Sabbath in the Jewish week that are latent in Christian liturgy. The week of creative work, the travail of creative suffering, culminates in Good Friday. On the Sabbath, Christ enters the rest that is death; the Christian tradition has developed the connection between rest and death liturgically in the office of Compline ("The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end," or in an older version, "The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect death"). The resurrection on the first day of the week is then the new creation, but first is the rest of death from the work of creative suffering that brings about the new creation of resurrected life. Today is the day of suspended in-betweenness. With Christ, it can be experienced as entrance into God's own rest. And just as both the cross of Good Friday and the resurrection of Easter Sunday function as ongoing paradigms of the Christian life, so may the rest of Holy Saturday.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sanctified Seeing (Baptist News Global)

Baptist News Global has included a link to the text of my Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity chapel homily "Sanctified Seeing" (posted originally here at Ecclesial Theology) as curated content for its "Perspectives" page. The homily is based on the Daily Office Lectionary readings for Tuesday in the Fifth Week of Lent (Jeremiah 25:8017, Romans 10:1-13, John 9) and draws illustratively on the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero, whose martyrdom on March 24, 1980 was commemorated Tuesday.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sanctified Seeing (Jer 25:8-17, Rom 10:1-13, John 9)

[The following is the text of a homily I preached earlier this afternoon in a School of Divinity chapel service at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina]

John 9 is all about seeing and the inability to see. That’s a Captain Obvious kind of observation, but the author of the Fourth Gospel makes sure we don’t miss the point. The text hits us upside the head with it. In those 41 verses there are 38 references to sight and the lack thereof—10 to the eyes, and an evenly matched 14 mentions of blindness and 14 uses of language for seeing and sight. Our Gospel lesson is saturated with blindness and seeing not just because it’s the story of Jesus’ healing of a man born blind. As you no doubt already know well from Dr. McConnell’s classes, whenever the Gospels tell a story about Jesus performing a miracle, it’s not just a story about Jesus performing a miracle. Jesus is teaching us something through what he does, and the Gospel writers try to help us learn what Jesus wants to teach us. John 9 is the story of how Jesus gives sight to a particular blind man, but it’s also the story of how Jesus makes us able to see. For apart from Jesus’ gift of sanctified seeing, we’re just as blind as the Pharisees who said, “we see”—which, by the way, is our clue in the text that we’re not doing unwarranted allegorizing to read this as a text about us. If we read it this way, we’re grasping something central to the whole Gospel of John: we learn from John’s prologue that this Gospel is all about seeing the glory of the one who is the light of all people, the true light which enlightens everyone. Jesus enlightened the man born blind; have we been so enlightened? Do we see with sanctified sight?

Kheresa and I recently got to witness the wonder of opthalmological intervention when we took our eight-year-old son Timothy to be fitted with his first pair of eyeglasses. As soon as he put them on, Timothy started offering excited commentary on what he could now see with clarity: the “Exit” sign at the eye clinic; road signs and billboards; food labels at the grocery store. And I share this with Kheresa’s permission: “Wow, Mom! I can really see your wrinkles now!” (He would have noticed mine if he’d looked at me right then.)

What do we see when Jesus helps us see? We see what Jesus sees; we see who Jesus sees. Jesus is always noticing those whom others ignore. In connection with verse 1 of our text, one of my favorite theological commentators on Scripture, Frederick Dale Bruner, observes: “One gets the distinct impression from the Gospels that it is people most hurting in any setting whom Jesus most quickly notices.” In this setting Jesus sees a blind beggar, just as in other settings he sees Gentiles and women and children and the poor and the hungry and the sick, and all sorts of outcasts. Jesus sees the marginalized and the oppressed, and Jesus seeks their liberation. Someone else who saw the marginalized and the oppressed and sought their liberation was Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, whose martyrdom thirty-five years ago today the church commemorates. We commemorate the saints because we need the lived Christian lives of people like Archbishop Romero to help us learn how to live out the biblical story. When we read Jesus urging us, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” mercy isn’t merely an abstract virtue for us. We have an inkling how we might perform the biblical virtue of mercy because we’ve seen it embodied concretely by the saints, some of whom have shown mercy directly to us. And so when we read about Jesus seeing the blind beggar and other marginalized and oppressed persons and seeking their liberation, we can imagine what it might look like to do that because others in the church have done it before us. Oscar Romero helps us envision the sanctified seeing Jesus helps us have.

Romero didn’t always see the marginalized and oppressed as the particular focus of Jesus’ seeing. In the early 1970s Romero was an auxiliary bishop, and one of his duties was editing the diocesan newspaper. He was deeply suspicious of the liberation theology that motivated the social justice activism of Jesuit priests in El Salvador. He used his newspaper editorials to denounce what he saw then as the dangerously subversive activities of politicized priests. When Romero became bishop of the rural diocese of Santiago de Maria, he was still blind. He was blind to the Salvadoran government’s violent repression. He was blind to the government’s support of the interests of the few rich—the “1 percent”—and its oppression of the poor majority in El Salvador. At that point Romero publicly supported the policies of the government and denied its complicity in the torture and “disappearing” and murder of its citizens. But his eyes soon began to be opened. On June 21, 1975, National Guardsmen shot and hacked to death six men who lived in a small village in Romero’s diocese. They were lay catechists in the church, working to evangelize and disciple their fellow campesinos, the “peasant farmers.” In the wake of this atrocity Romero started to see, but his eyes weren’t yet fully open. Like the blind man at Bethsaida Jesus heals in Mark 8, Jesus has to work on Romero some more. It happens in stages, not all at once. On July 30 of that year, the military opened fire on protestors against the regime’s occupation of their university. Forty unarmed students were killed. Romero began bit by bit to confront more and more directly what he’d previously defended. At the same time, he began to study seriously the documents issued by the Conference of Latin American Bishops at Medellin in 1968. He studied the social teaching of the Second Vatican Council that undergirded the teaching of the bishops at Medellin. He read Pope Paul VI’s encyclical On Evangelization in the Modern World. He discovered that the bishops of the Catholic Church, and even the pope himself, affirmed the very social teachings Romero had earlier opposed as subversive. (This is, by the way, a good argument for the importance of continuing theological education beyond seminary!) Rightly understood, orthodox incarnational theology is actually pretty subversive stuff—subversive of the powers that be in the present order of things.

When Romero became archbishop of San Salvador in February 1977, the aristocracy and government and the “religious right” of El Salvador saw him as the “conservative” candidate for the office, the one who would maintain the status quo ecclesially and politically. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Jesus had already been opening Romero’s eyes to see how things really were. Only three weeks after his installation as Archbishop, Romero’s friend Father Rutilio Grande was murdered by the military along with a 72-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy. Romero’s boldly prophetic response shocked the powers that be. It led to the military taking a stance against the progressive elements of the Church, Romero among them, that was nothing less than a policy of persecution. In the midst of it Romero’s homilies and other public communications made clear his new guiding convictions: God is on the side of the oppressed poor; the mission of the church is to join God on the side of the oppressed poor; Christ is incarnate in the suffering poor; Christ is being crucified in the persecution of the church of the suffering poor. Romero’s sight was now sanctified—Jesus had helped him see what Jesus sees and who Jesus sees.

When Jesus helps us see, he helps us see the new reality wrought by our baptism. The community for which John’s Gospel was written had already been practicing baptism for a good half-century by the time they read and heard this story from the Fourth Gospel. They likely would’ve connected the blind man’s washing in the pool of Siloam with baptism; they likely would’ve connected the name Siloam itself, which means “sent,” with the commission given in baptism to every follower of Christ, God’s “sent one.” The early church in its first few centuries customarily called baptism an “enlightenment.” Baptism immerses us into Christ and into the community of his body, and like the man who came up out of the pool of Siloam, we come up out of the waters of baptism seeing. We’re helped to see a new reality that negates the false realities propped up by the powers that be. We see the true reality in which “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Oscar Romero saw that new reality. He put it into practice by ending the custom of performing private baptisms for the children of the European-descended aristocracy, by which they segregated themselves from the families of the indigenous population. The 1989 film Romero starring Raul Julia dramatized the resulting conflict in one of its scenes. A woman from an aristocratic, government-connected family comes to Archbishop Romero and tells him, “It’s time to baptize my baby.” “It would be my privilege,” says Romero. “I would like to pick a date,” the woman says. Romero replies, “There are baptisms every Sunday, the choice is yours.” “I think the first Sunday in December would be fine,” she says. “That’s a good week,” says Romero, “not so crowded.” The woman stiffens and says, “I would like a private baptism.” Romero knows what’s coming and says apologetically, “We have so many to baptize now…we don’t have private ones anymore.” “Will you…you will make an exception, Monsignor?” “I am sorry,” he says. The woman snarls: “You expect me to baptize my baby with a bunch of Indians? You have deserted us!” She leaves, still very much blind.

When Jesus helps us see, he helps us see God’s salvation in a much more all-encompassing way. Influenced by American evangelicalism, when we hear today’s Epistle lesson we tend to associate certain things with the language of “being saved” that runs throughout the passage from Romans. But when Jesus helps us see, he helps us see that salvation is about so much more than “praying to receive Christ” and going to heaven at life’s end. Paul meant much more by that language. The man who came up out of the pool of Siloam seeing was embarking on a life that involved so much more than that, though we don’t know the rest of his story. Oscar Romero came to see that salvation meant so much more than his own ecclesiastical traditioning had inclined him to see. Jesus helped him see that the salvation of the soul for eternal life in heaven isn’t really salvation if it doesn’t also have to do with the embodied, the social, the political, the transformation of the present order of things into the reign of God. If we don’t see that as having to do with salvation, we’ve got some blind spots we need Jesus to work on.

When Jesus helps us see, he helps us see things we wish we didn’t see about the present order of things. By the second time the Pharisees interrogate the man who’d been blind, he’s beginning to see that they don’t really know what they claim to know and don’t really see what they say they see. He gives voice to that insight, and he finds himself expelled from the synagogue. In our Old Testament lesson, Jeremiah sees things he wishes he didn’t see about the empires of the world—about the fate of Judah and the fate of Babylon. In a lecture on “Prophecy and Art” at our sister school Logsdon Seminary at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, Hebrew Bible scholar Ellen Davis showed an image of a woodcut titled “The Prophet” by German expressionist artist Emil Nolde. She called attention to it to illustrate what she called “the prophetic discipline of bearing pain,” echoing what Abraham Heschel called “the pain of insight.” Nolde’s woodcut is a portrait of Jeremiah, depressed Jeremiah, with eyes sunken but wide-open in an expression of sheer terror at what he sees. It helps us imagine Jeremiah’s experience of what Davis called elsewhere in her lecture “the hell of the prophetic imagination.” Oscar Romero too took on “the prophetic discipline of bearing pain”; he too experienced “the pain of insight,” “the hell of the prophetic imagination.” He saw what the Salvadoran government was really doing to the Salvadoran people. He saw the complicity of the United States with the repression through providing financial and military assistance to the regime, which in the midst of the Cold War we blindly supported as a supposed deterrent to the spread of communism. He saw the systemic evil that blinded people to what was really happening. He saw the church’s failure to take a stand on the side of those God favored. Like Jeremiah, like the man Jesus helped to see not only physically but spiritually, so Oscar Romero bore the pain of prophetic insight—and so may we, when Jesus helps us see what he sees about the present order of things.

And thus when Jesus helps us see, he helps us see that being his disciple means carrying his cross. The formerly blind man in our text experiences a foreshadowing of Good Friday when he’s expelled from the synagogue. Following from Good Friday, the church’s martyrs like Oscar Romero and Rutilio Grande and the other Salvadoran martyrs have seen that being a disciple means taking up one’s own cross, suffering and even dying for the sake of others like Jesus did for us. Romero especially began to see that he should take up his cross in his preaching. As Archbishop his weekly Sunday homilies were broadcast by radio throughout El Salvador. He prepared to preach literally on his knees, praying before an open lectionary and open newspapers from the previous week. He would mention the names of the most recent victims of the government’s repression in each homiliy—Romero said, “to incarnate in the people the Word of God.” In one sermon he declared, “Above all I denounce the absolutization of wealth. This is the great evil of El Salvador: wealth—private property as an untouchable absolute.” His homily on March 23, 1980 included this section:

I should like to make a special appeal to the men of the army….Brothers! We are the same people! You are slaying your campesino brothers and sisters! When a human being orders you to kill, the law of God must prevail: “You shall not kill!” No soldier is obliged to obey an order in violation of the law of God….It is time you recovered your conscience, and obeyed your conscience instead of orders to commit sin. The Church is the defender of God’s rights, God’s law, human dignity, and the worth of persons. It cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We ask the government to consider seriously the fact that reforms are of no use when they are steeped in all this blood. In the name of God, then, and in the name of this suffering people, those whose screams and cries mount to heaven and daily grow louder, I beg you, I entreat you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”

The next day, Romero preached again, at a Monday evening Mass at a small hospital chapel. He finished his sermon and walked to the altar to celebrate the Eucharist. There he was fatally shot by an assassin from a death squad whose leaders were trained at the “School of the Americas” at Fort Benning, Georgia.

It wasn’t easy for Romero in particular to take up his cross in that way. Did you know that Oscar Romero suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder? I wasn’t aware of that until last month, when I spoke at Creighton University. There I had a conversation with a member of the theology faculty who mentioned a colleague’s research on Romero’s struggle with OCPD and what that meant for his spiritual development. Now OCPD isn’t precisely the same thing as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD. There are others here who are paid to be able to explain the differences to you better than I can. As I understand it, a person with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder would among other things find it extremely difficult to take risks, especially to risk doing something that others might perceive as unconventional or wrong or—God forbid—a mistake. For Romero to risk what he did to challenge the status quo took an extraordinary leap of faith, of trusting in the rightness of what Jesus helped him see in the midst of so many others’ blindness. But that’s not so different from what most of us have to do to follow through on what Jesus helps us see. As Damian Zynda wrote in her book about Romero’s struggles with OCPD, “What Romero struggled with was not unlike the personality struggles [other] people live with….‘Romero was only a garden-variety neurotic, like most of us.’” Like the ordinary and earthy means Jesus used to give sight to the blind man—a little dirt, a little spit, and some water—Romero’s mundane struggles with the challenges and limitations of his personality became a means by which he experienced the presence and power of God and came gradually to see what Jesus helped him see. Jesus wants to do that with us. Will we let him?

Let us pray: “Almighty God, you called your servant Oscar Romero to be a voice for the voiceless poor, and to give his life as a seed of freedom and a sign of hope: Grant that, inspired by his sacrifice and the example of the martyrs of El Salvador, we may without fear or favor witness to your Word who abides, your Word who is Life, even Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be praise and glory now and for ever. Amen.”

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"A Free Church Magisterium?"--Ph.D. Colloquium Lecture

This evening I'm delivering a lecture titled "A Free Church Magisterium?" for the Ph.D. Colloquium Series at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, with responses from Curtis Freeman (Duke University Divinity School) and Nathan Finn (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary). This lecture will offer a preview of some material that will appear as the seventh chapter (of ten) of my forthcoming book The Baptist Vision and the Ecumenical Future: Radically Biblical, Radically Catholic, Relentlessly Pilgrim, slated for publication by Baylor University Press in early 2016.

Friday, March 6, 2015

GWU's Dr. Steve Harmon Serves as Keynote Speaker at Vatican II Symposium (press release)

Gardner-Webb University has issued a story about my participation last month in Creighton University's symposium on the legacy of the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio. Read the linked press release:

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ecumenism Means You, Too quoted in Christianity Today

The March 2015 issue of Christianity Today includes Wesley Hill's article "Do-It-Yourself Church Unity: Healing the fractured body of Christ isn’t just for theologians to figure out," which includes a quotation from my book Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christ Unity (Eugene, Ore.: Cascade Books, 2010). (The online CT article linked here offers a partial preview, sans the portion with the quote, to non-subscribers.) Thanks to Hill for the shout-out and to Tony Tench of First Baptist Church Shelby, NC for calling my attention to it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Church: Towards a Common Vision at Louisiana Interchurch Conference

On March 2 and 3 I will deliver two keynote addresses for the annual assembly of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference, which has adopted as the theme for this year's assembly "The Church: Towards a Common Vision." The theme is related to the recent convergence text issued by the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches, The Church: Towards a Common Vision (Faith and Order Paper No. 214; Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2013). My two addresses are titled "How Might We Envision the Unity We Have? Engaging The Church: Towards a Common Vision, Part 1" and "What Can We Do About the Unity We Envision? Engaging The Church: Towards a Common Vision, Part 2." The notice of the assembly and a link to the assembly program from the Louisiana Interchurch Conference web site appear below.

45 th
 Annual Assembly
March 2nd - 3rd,  2015
  The general public is invited!
to all Speaker Sessions, and to the
Monday evening
Ecumenical Worship Service
Our 45th Annual Assembly will take place at the beautiful retreat center of the United Methodist Church called the Wesley Center, in Woodworth, LA, on March 2nd & 3rd, 2015  (noon to noon).  The working theme is: 
“The Church, Towards a Common Vision”
Photo of Steven Harmon
Dr. Steven R. Harmon
     The keynote speaker will be Dr. Steven R. Harmon, a Baptist theologian from Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity in North Carolina. 
     Dr. Harmon has made significant contributions to national and international ecumenical conversations and was actually part of the 2009 WCC Faith and Order Plenary Commission meeting that offered input on a draft of the WCC publication for which the theme of our Assembly is named.
    The Assembly Sessions will be held in the Jesse B. Stafford Bldg, in Woodworth, on the Wesley Center campus.   The public is invited to all speaker sessions, free of charge.  

   The public is also encouraged to attend the evening Worship Service:
      The Monday Evening Worship Servicewill begin at 7:30pm at First UnitedMethodist Church of Alexandria, 2727 Jackson St., Alexandria. 
      The Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Bishop of the Louisiana Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, will give the homily.   

First UMC, Alexandria
Click here for the overall tentative schedule

Again, the public is invited to all Speaker Sessions and to the Worship Service!