Friday, August 29, 2014

Associated Baptist Press on Freeman's Contesting Catholicity

A previous Ecclesial Theology post linked a notice by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology blog of Curtis Freeman's new book Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists, due for release September 15 by Baylor University Press. Now Associated Baptist Press has issued a story by Bob Allen titled "New Book Proposes a Theology for 'Other' Baptists" offering a substantial preview of Freeman's book. Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the article:

Four centuries after originating as a protest movement within the church, Baptists today have evolved into a distinct sect committed to preserving its place in a hierarchy of denominations, Baptist theologian Curtis Freeman argues in a new book.... (read the full article at

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fr. William Henn on Pope Francis and Ecumenism

Fr. William Henn, O.F.M.Cap., has been one of the Catholic Church's leading ecumenical theologians since the 1987 publication of his dissertation on The Hierarchy of Truths According to Yves Congar. Currently serving as the Robert Bellarmine Professor of Ecclesiology and Ecumenism at Gregorian University in Rome and consultant to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Henn represents the Catholic Church as a member of the Standing Commission of the World Council of Churches Commission on Faith and Order and has served on the Catholic delegations to international bilateral dialogues with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, representatives of Pentecostal churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the Mennonite World Conference, and the second phase of conversations with the Baptist World Alliance. I had the privilege of serving as a member of the Baptist-Catholic joint commission with Fr. Henn, for which we both presented papers on the relationship between Scripture and tradition in the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum and co-drafted a preliminary version of the section on "The Authority of Christ in Scripture and Tradition" in The Word of God in the Life of the Church: A Report of International Conversations between The Catholic Church and the Baptist World Alliance 2006-2010.

A month after the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis last year, Fr. Henn granted an interview to the National Catholic Reporter offering his perspectives on the ecumenical implications of the beginning of Pope Francis' papacy. I discovered it only today, but it's such an insightful article, with observations that hold true a year-and-a-half later, that I thought it worth calling to the attention of readers of Ecclesial Theology now.

Here's an excerpt from the beginning of John L. Allen, Jr.'s interview article:

Rome – For years, experts on ecumenism have said that the main stumbling block to putting the divided Christian family back together again isn’t so much the papacy, but a certain overly monarchical model of it. If we could find new ways of exercising primacy, they prophesied, unity might move a massive step closer to reality.

One veteran expert believes those “new ways” may have arrived with Pope Francis, predicting that this pontiff will prove a “boon” to ecumenism.

“He’s bringing to life what Vatican II added about the role of the papacy being understood from within the college of bishops and the communion of churches,” said Capuchin Fr. William Henn of Rome’s Gregorian University....(read the full article at National Catholic Reporter)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology on "Baptist Catholicity"

The Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology blog has posted a notice for Curtis Freeman's book Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists, about which I'll say more here at Ecclesial Theology when it's released by Baylor University Press next month. The post situates Freeman's book in a trajectory of Baptist theology that includes my book Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision; it mentions Ecclesial Theology, too.

Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the post:

An interesting development of the last decade or so has been the appearance of a distinctively Baptist strain of “evangelical catholic” theology.  It is strongly ecumenical and seeks to affirm Baptist links with the larger tradition of the Church  Perhaps the most prominent advocate of this approach has been Steven Harmon.... (read the full post at Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ecumenical Perspectives on the Filioque for the 21st Century--now available

Ecumenical Perspectives on the Filioque for the 21st Century, ed. Myk Habets (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark), a book to which I contributed the Foreword "Ecumenical Reception of Ecumenical Perspectives on the Filioque," has now been released in the North American market. It's available directly from the publisher and from (in both hardcover and Kindle formats). The book description and Table of Contents appear below.

About Ecumenical Perspectives on the Filioque for the 21st Century

The volume presents a range of theological standpoints regarding the filioque. With some contributors arguing for its retention and others for its removal, still others contest that its presence or otherwise in the Creed is not what is of central concern, but rather that how it should be understood is of ultimate importance. What contributors share is a commitment to interrogating and developing the central theological issues at stake in a consideration of the filioque, thus advancing ecumenical theology and inter-communal dialogue without diluting the discussion. Contributors span the Christian traditions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and Pentecostal. Each of these traditions has its own set of theological assumptions, methods, and politics, many of which are on display in the essays which follow. Nonetheless it is only when we bring the wealth of learning and commitments from our own theological traditions to ecumenical dialogue that true progress can be made. It is in this spirit that the present essays have been conceived and are now presented in this form.

Table Of Contents

Foreword: Ecumenical Reception of Ecumenical Perspectives on the Filioque. Steven R. Harmon
List of Contributors
1. Introduction: Ecumenical Perspectives and the Unity of the Spirit. Myk Habets
Part 1: The Filioque in Context: Historical & Theological
2. The Filioque: A Brief History. A. Edward Siecienski
3. Theological Issues Involved in the Filioque. Paul D. Molnar
4. The Filioque: Reviewing the State of the Question, with some Free Church Contributions. David Guretzki
Part 2: Developments in the Various Traditions
5. The Eternal Manifestation of the Spirit ‘Through the Son’ According to Nikephoros Blemmydes and Gregory of Cyprus. Theodoros Alexopoulos
6. The Spirit from the Father, of himself God: A Calvinian Approach to the Filioque Debate.
Brannon Ellis
7. Calvin and the Threefold Office of Christ: Suggestive Teaching Regarding the Nature of the Intra-Divine Life? Christopher R.J. Holmes
8. The Baptists ‘And The Son’: The Filioque Clause In Noncreedal Theology. David E. Wilhite
9. Baptized in the Spirit: A Pentecostal Reflection on the Filioque. Frank D. Macchia
Part 3: Opening New Possibilities: Origin, Action, & Intersubjectivity
10. Lutheranism and the Filioque. Robert W. Jenson
11. On Not Being Spirited Away: Pneumatology and Critical Presence. John C. McDowell
12. The Filioque: Beyond Athanasius and Thomas Aquinas: An Ecumenical Proposal. Thomas Weinandy
13. Beyond the East/West Divide. Kathryn Tanner
14. Getting Beyond the Filioque with Third Article Theology. Myk Habets

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pacific Journal of Baptist Research 9, no. 1 published

The most recent issue of the Pacific Journal of Baptist Research, for which I serve as a member of the Editorial Board, has now been published and is available online. Vol. 9, no. 1 (May 2014) is a Festschrift issue in honor of New Zealand Baptist theological educator Laurie Guy, with contributions from John Tucker, David Bebbington, Peter Lineham, Allan Davidson, and Martin Sutherland, along with a bibliography of Guy's published work. Click the embedded reader above to read the issue here; it is also available as a PDF download on the Pacific Journal of Baptist Research web site, where back issues are available in PDF as well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

AAR-SE Constructive Theologies 2015 Call for Papers

As chair of the Constructive Theologies section of the American Academy of Religion--Southeast Region meeting in connection with the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion, I am pleased to call attention to the Call for Papers for our upcoming meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, March 6-8, 2015:

(AAR) Constructive Theologies

Themes: (1) Invited panel responding to Amos Yong’s work on theology and disability, with response from Professor Yong. (2) “Theological Anthropologies” (open call). Proposals engaging theological anthropologies with implications for theological reflection on disability are encouraged, but this session is not limited to papers making such connections. Submit all proposals to Steven R. Harmon, Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity (

Further instructions and guidelines for paper proposals are available in the full 2015 Call for Papers on the SECSOR web site.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Matthew Emerson on Towards Baptist Catholicity

I'm grateful for the appreciative response to my book Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision offered by Matthew Emerson on his blog Secundum Scripturas. I'm also grateful to know that eight years after its 2006 publication, the book is still finding readers and eliciting response.

Here's an excerpt from the beginning of Emerson's post:

I recently read Steve Harmon’s Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision. I’m beginning some sustained work with my friend and colleague Luke Stamps on Baptist life and its relationship to the larger Christian tradition, and Harmon’s collection of essays is one of the most prominent works on the subject. In this post I hope to affirm much in Harmon’s book, but also offer some pointed questions and critiques from a different perspective (i.e. conservative Southern Baptist evangelical) than his own.

First, the affirmations. I cannot say strongly enough how much I agree with Harmon on the need to position Baptist life within the larger body of Christ.... (read the full blog post at Secundum Scripturas)

I am currently wrapping up work on a follow-up to Towards Baptist Catholicity (under contract with Baylor University Press with working title The Baptist Vision and the Ecumenical Future: Radically Biblical, Radically Catholic, Relentlessly Pilgrim), which will more fully develop and extend some themes from the earlier book in ways that may answer to some of the questions and critiques expressed in Emerson's post. In the meantime, I'll offer some brief responses below.

1. The role of liturgical practices

I'm with Emerson (and Augustine and James K. A. Smith) on the role of embodied liturgical practices in the holistic Christian formation of persons. There is a reductionistic cognitive emphasis in the Baptist appropriation of Zwingli on the anamnetic function of the Supper as a memorial meal, for example, that extends to other dimensions of worship, and I'm on board with efforts to resist such a reduction. I grant that there is something of a lingering cognitive emphasis in the chapter on worship in Towards Baptist Catholicity--e.g., "As worshippers have the divine story imprinted upon their consciousness and find their place within this story week after week over a long period of time, they are formed in the faith and fitted for the practices that constitute the Christian life" (p. 157). However, the over-arching concern of that chapter was the retrieval in contemporary Baptist worship of the patristic coinherence of liturgy and theology as summarized in the formula lex orandi, lex credendi drawn from Prosper of Aquitaine, with the theological formation of Christians through what happens in worship as a particular point of application. Thus there is a focus on the cognitive in that chapter, but it is not intended to be exclusive of the other dimensions of formation through liturgical practices. A broader application is suggested by my descriptive and prescriptive definition of worship therein as "the participatory rehearsal of the story of the Triune God" (p. 155), a definition that I've tweaked slightly for a somewhat different application in a chapter on the function of Scripture in the life of the church in my forthcoming book, where its current formulations is "the participatory rehearsal of the biblical story of the Triune God." The more broadly suggestive term is "participation." The practices of worship are intended to draw us into ever-fuller participation in the life of the Triune God, a participation that cannot be merely cognitive. I'm in the midst of preparing a response to Sarah Coakley's God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay 'On the Trinity', the first volume in her projected four-volume systematic theology On Desiring God, for a panel discussion of the book at next week's annual meeting of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion in Atlanta (my particular responsibility is assessing her re-reading of the formative, patristic sources for the origins of the doctrine of the Trinity). A significant contribution of Coakley's work is her recovery of a neglected dimension of the patristic concept of the Trinity, namely its pneumatic orientation in which the Spirit draws us ever more fully into participation in the life of the Triune God through practices of prayer and asceticism. I'm on board with this, too, and see it as connected with my proposals about the role of liturgical practices.

2. Scripture and divine revelation

My intention in distinguishing between the ultimate authority of the Triune God and the derivative authority of the Scriptures was not to dichotomize them, but rather to characterize properly the dynamic and integral relationship between them in an economy of revelation. (Yes, speech-act theory does have a finely nuanced way of doing this, as seen not only in Vanhoozer but also Stanley Grenz.) I do, however, think it important to qualify the relationship between revelation qua revelation and Scripture's participation in that revelation in a way that is not "direct," and that qualification is related to my reply below regarding Emerson's concerns about my treatment of the relationship of Scripture and tradition.

3. Scripture and tradition

Revelation, in Christian understanding, is mediated. To be sure, revelation is first and foremost God speaking and acting, but this speaking and acting is received, remembered, and recorded by a community that mediates revelation by handing on--traditioning--what it has received, remembered, and recorded. My characterization of the coinherence of Scripture and tradition is not intended as an anthropocentric account of Scripture's participation in divine revelation, for the Spirit is at work among the people of God in its traditioning of revelation. (With reference to the development of the New Testament canon, by the way, I do not intend to suggest that it was merely decided by the church in the fourth century. In fact, the fourth-century definitions of the scope of that canon--in regional synods and episcopal communications, it should be noted, rather than in ecumenical councils--are affirmations of a long-developing consensus in the early church, with substantial second- and third-century attestation to the early formation of this consensus.)

4. Authority and community

Emerson writes that I "seem to root the church’s beliefs about the Trinity, Christology, and Scripture in a communitarian practice rather than in revelation." Here what I intend is not a contrast between the authority of the community and the authority of divinely-given revelation, but rather one between the authority of the community and the authority of the individual. Furthermore, the community that functions in a pattern of authority is not community per se, but the community that is actively seeking to participate ever more fully in the reign of God by bringing its life together under the rule of Christ through the guidance of the Spirit. This vision of Christian community belongs, I think, to the essence of the Baptist vision and serves to correct a reductive individualism that became intertwined with the Baptist tradition in the wake of the Enlightenment, especially in its American instantiation. Here it's also important to keep in mind that the concrete ecclesial community of reference from which I write is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which has its origins in controversy within the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1970s through early 1990s. Emerson's concrete ecclesial community of reference is the continuation of one trajectory within that tradition; mine is one with a trajectory that once co-existed with it but has continued differently. That different trajectory has historic affinities with mainline Protestant liberalism, and I think the way forward for this trajectory is along the lines of postliberal theology--thus the invocations of Lindbeck. Another postliberal/narrative influence closer to home is the late Baptist theologian James Wm. McClendon, Jr. I agree that if Emerson's "conservative Southern Baptist evangelical" trajectory is to engage fruitfully the issues I treated in Towards Baptist Catholicity, it will have to be done in a different manner--not along the lines of Lindbeck/McClendon but probably in a postconservative path as exemplified by Vanhoozer. But I think that when the two trajectories, postliberal and postconservative, take up the concerns that are important to both Emerson and me, they are angled toward many of the same ends. Thus there is the potential for good developments in intra-Baptist relations as well as in Baptist interdenominational ecumenical relationships.

5. Church-dividing doctrinal differences

I don't mean to suggest that there are no significant remaining church-dividing matters of doctrine, though I do think the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification has rendered soteriological objections moot, and while Mariological concerns do remain significant, the progress in mutual understanding of one another's perspectives on the role of Mary in the life of the church reflected in that section of the report from the 2006-2010 conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church offers hope that this too is not insurmountable. (Emerson also refers to Peter Leithart in this connection; I have my own issues with Leithart, but I think he's cleared himself of the charge of sliding over doctrinal difference with Catholicism and Orthodoxy in his post "Too catholic to be Catholic"--see especially his comments on "liturgical idolatry" therein.) Rather, my intention with the final chapter of Towards Baptist Catholicity was to make clear my conviction that there are more significant reasons than doctrinal disagreement with Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or Anglicanism for remaining Baptist (or some other tradition) instead of following the yearning for a fuller qualitative catholicity to Rome, Constantinople. or Canterbury. In that chapter I suggested that the quest for the visible unity of the church at present calls for the fuller cultivation of this catholicity within our divided churches rather than moving to another church we might believe already possesses that catholicity to a greater degree than our own. That's a conviction that I'm developing more fully in my current project, with "receptive ecumenism" as a paradigm.

There's much more that could be said in response, but for now I'm going to return to crafting my response to Coakley's engagement with patristic trinitarian theology. I'm grateful for Emerson's interest in my work and for the constructive and cordial manner in which he's engaged it. This sort of theological dialogue is surely a good thing for the church, within and beyond Baptist ecclesial life.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Fr. Gregory Fairbanks on dialogue and unity

Fr. Gregory J. Fairbanks
Fr. Gregory Fairbanks has responsibilities for relationships with ecclesial communities of the West in his role as an official with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In that connection he was one of our dialogue partners in the conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church in which I participated from 2006 through 2010. (The report from those conversations, The Word of God in the Life of the Church, is available online on the Vatican web site.) In comments offered to the Catholic News Service for its May 8 story "Hope and hard work: U.S. priest trusts Christian unity is possible," Fr. Fairbanks reflects on these conversations in testifying to the surprising work of the unifying Spirit that can emerge from honest dialogue between divided Christian communities. Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the article:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The issues dividing Christian communities have changed over the past 50 years, but a Philadelphia archdiocesan priest working in ecumenical dialogue at the Vatican is confident that Christian unity is possible.

"We are people of hope. We trust we have the same Scriptures, the same belief in Christ," said Msgr. Gregory J. Fairbanks, an official at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.... (read the full article at Catholic News Service)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Don Draper's Progress" (ABPnews Blog)

Today the ABPnews Blog maintained by Associated Baptist Press/Religious Herald published my post "Don Draper's Progress," which originally appeared as a guest commentary for ABPnews/Herald under the title "'Mad Men' as an exploration of human fallenness" last week. Here's an excerpt from the opening; full text will appear here on Ecclesial Theology in a few days.

“I keep wondering: have I broken the vessel?”

Don Draper’s mid-flirtation confession to his airline seatmate in the April 13 premiere of the seventh (and final) season of the AMC drama Mad Men may prove to be the single most theologically significant line of the series.

Man Men has been rich in material that evokes theological reflection on the human story, for this tale of the excesses of 1960s-era Madison Avenue advertising executives is really an exploration of the fallenness of the human condition. Lest anyone miss what the show is really about, the opening sequence features an image inspired by the falling man poster for the Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo — a silhouetted businessman falling from a Manhattan skyscraper, tumbling through the advertised symbols of American affluence.... (read the full post on the ABPnews Blog)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

'Mad Men' as an exploration of human fallenness

Every now and then I engage in a little theological reflection on expressions of popular culture. My guest commentary "'Mad Men' as an exploration of human fallenness" for ABPnews/Herald is one such excursion.

Here's an excerpt from the opening:

“I keep wondering: have I broken the vessel?”

Don Draper’s mid-flirtation confession to his airline seatmate in the April 13 premiere of the seventh (and final) season of the AMC drama Mad Men may prove to be the single most theologically significant line of the series.

Man Men has been rich in material that evokes theological reflection on the human story, for this tale of the excesses of 1960s-era Madison Avenue advertising executives is really an exploration of the fallenness of the human condition.... (read the full article on ABPnews/Herald)