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).