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Pro Ecclesia Vol 18-N4: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology

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Pro Ecclesia is a quarterly journal of theology published by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. It seeks to give contemporary expression to the one apostolic faith and its classic traditions, working for and manifesting the church's unity by research, theological construction, and free exchange of opinion. Members of its advisory council represent communities committed to the authority of Holy Scripture, ecumenical dogmatic teaching and the structural continuity of the church, and are themselves dedicated to maintaining and invigorating these commitments. The journal publishes biblical, liturgical, historical and doctrinal articles that promote or illumine its purposes.

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Explosive Devices and Rhetorical Strategies: Appreciation for Steven R. Harmon’s Towards Baptist Catholicity

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Explosive Devices and Rhetorical Strategies: Appreciation for Steven R. Harmon’s Towards Baptist Catholicity

Richard Crane

The first edition of Karl Barth’s Römerbrief was described as a bombshell on the theologian’s playground. In similar fashion, Steven R. Harmon’s Towards Baptist Catholicity issues a radical challenge to dominant interpretations of Baptist identity in North America.1 To borrow a bumper-sticker cliché, Harmon is seeking to subvert the dominant paradigm. Harmon calls Baptists to retrieve “the ancient catholic tradition that forms Christian identity through liturgical rehearsal, catechetical instruction, and embodied ecclesial practice,” leading to a renewed awareness that Baptists belong to “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” (xix, 18). Harmon’s theological project, following classical Faith and Order ecumenism, is “to call the churches to . . . visible unity in one faith and one Eucharistic fellowship” (202). However, his implied agreement with Church Fathers such as St. Ignatius, who link full catholicity with communion with Rome, raises the question, is “Baptist Catholicity” the ultimate goal of “Baptist catholicity”? Such a proposal would indeed be an explosive device on the “Baptist playground.”

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Traditions, Authorities, and the Individual Christian

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Traditions, Authorities, and the Individual Christian

Nicholas M. Healy

Steven R. Harmon’s wonderfully erudite argument is too convincing to challenge, in my view, and I can’t think of why I’d want to anyway. Instead, I will address a set of questions that I think would likely occur to Roman Catholic readers of the book, questions that turn about Harmon’s use of the words “tradition” and “authority” and their relation to ecclesiology. Roman Catholic theologians do not have to argue for the benefits of an authoritative tradition in the life of the church. But we also have some experience of the problems that come with such a tradition.

In laying out his thesis, Harmon seems to use the word “tradition” in two somewhat different ways, though he himself does not make the distinction. The first—let’s call it “Tradition 1”—refers to the beliefs, practices, and theological reflection produced over the course of the church’s history. Harmon argues that this tradition offers vital resources that should be critically and constructively appropriated by all churches, including the Baptist.

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Remembering How to Remember: Harmon’s Subversive Orthodoxy

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Remembering How to Remember: Harmon’s Subversive Orthodoxy

Elizabeth Newman

Towards Baptist Catholicity is a subversive book in the sense that Steven R. Harmon seeks to destabilize a modern telling of the Baptist story. This modern telling claims, among other things, that Baptists are not a creedal people, hence the slogan “no creed but the Bible” (which Harmon notes did not originate with Baptists though many contemporary Baptists have claimed it as their own). An aversion to the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed might strike Christians from other traditions as puzzling. Yet a crucial theme in this modern telling of the Baptist story emphasizes the freedom of the individual to interpret the Bible for him or herself. As Baptist scholar Edwin Gaustad summarizes: “Baptists indeed stand for individualism above institutionalism, for the reforming prophet more than the conforming priest, for a pietism that is private and personal before it can properly become public and social.”1 Underlying these emphases is the concern that faith should not be coerced by any external authority or institution (including both the church and the civil government).

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Towards a Baptist (and Roman Catholic) Catholicity

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Towards a Baptist (and Roman Catholic) Catholicity

Maureen H. O’Connell

Steven R. Harmon’s Towards Baptist Catholicity left me with the impression that Baptists and Roman Catholics have even more in common than contemporary ecumenism leads us to believe, particularly when it comes to hammering out the “catholic” nature of our Christianity. Faith communities in both traditions struggle to perfect our catholicity, or our commitment to “visible unity in one faith and one Eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and in common life in Christ,” language from the World Council of Churches which Harmon uses to orient his project.

For example, from my perspective in the Roman Catholic tradition, I recognize Harmon’s desire for Eucharistic fellowship in the charismatic crowds that participated in the public worship services and liturgies related to Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to the United States in April 2008. I can also appreciate his yearning for a visible unity that can shrewdly navigate the dangerous extremes of exclusivity, privatization, and politicization in light of divisive Roman Catholic communion-rail controversies and single-issue voting guides in the 2008 presidential election. And as a member of a Catholic university community that constantly deliberates the constitutive elements of our Catholic identity, Harmon’s frustrations with the difficulties of living that common life of Christ within religious institutions of higher education resonate with me.

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Why Baptist Catholicity, and by What Authority?

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Why Baptist Catholicity, and by What Authority?

Steven R. Harmon

Professors Newman, Crane, O’Connell, and Healy have accurately discerned my intentions in writing Towards Baptist Catholicity as well as the rhetorical strategies I employed in its writing, often grasping just what it was that I was attempting to do better than I did when I was trying to do it. Their insightful responses have prodded me to address more fully two questions raised by the book’s arguments: Precisely why should Baptists embrace catholicity as essential to their identity? And by what authority would they do so?

In the book’s epilogue I defined the catholicity toward which Baptists should move in qualitative terms: beyond the quantitative recognition that Baptists belong to the whole church and the whole church belongs to Baptists, the catholic wholeness currently wanting in Baptist ecclesial life entails “the fully orthodox pattern of faith and practice that distinguished early catholic Christianity from Gnosticism, Arianism, Donatism, and all manner of other heresies and schisms” and is therefore “a qualitative fullness of faith and order that is visibly expressed in one Eucharistic fellowship” (204). Baptists need this sort of catholicity first and foremost because it will help their churches form more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.1 To the degree that Baptist communities identify themselves as other than catholic in this qualitative sense, they are forming their members in a quasi-Gnostic pattern of faith and practice that is perilously close to being sub-Christian. I hope the book made that much clear.

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Aquinas’s “Perspectives” on Paul: Thomas, Paul, and the “Problem” of Torah

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Aquinas’s “Perspectives” on Paul: Thomas, Paul, and the “Problem” of Torah

J. Mark Armitage

During the 1190s the Jewish writer Moses Maimonides composed his Guide to the Perplexed. The Latin translation, which became available during the 1220s, was used by William of Auvergne in his De Legibus in the early 1230s and also by John of La Rochelle, and became a major influence on Aquinas’s treatise on the Old Law in Summa Theologiae I–II.98–105.1 John Y. B. Hood suggests that, in his Lectures on Romans and in his treatise on the New Law, Aquinas adopts a Pauline and essentially negative attitude toward Torah, whereas, under the influence of Maimonides, his account in the treatise on the Old Law is far more positive. Hood concludes that “either Thomas did not see the chasm between Maimonides’ positive evaluation of the Old Law and Paul’s radical critique, or he chose to ignore it.”2

Hood’s analysis of this dichotomy within Aquinas’s understanding of Torah presupposes a reading of Paul on the law which remains normative in German scholarship but which has been challenged (controversially) by increasing numbers of (mostly Protestant) Anglophone writers. The publication in 1977 of Paul and Palestinian Judaism by E. P. Sanders revolutionized the way in which scholars understood Paul’s answer to the question, what is wrong with the law?3 The work of Sanders and of those who have followed in his footsteps is frequently classified as “the New Perspective on Paul,” though many associated with the “New Perspective” have distanced themselves from such easy categorization.4 Following Veronica Koperski, we can identify three basic approaches to Paul’s verdict on what is wrong with Torah—the “Old Perspective” idea that Torah is good inasmuch as it exposes pride, but bad inasmuch as it is radically unable to deal with pride (Rudolf Bultmann); the “New Perspective” idea that Torah is good in itself, but bad inasmuch as it is “not Christ” (Sanders); and the alternative “New Perspective” idea that Torah was once good inasmuch as it prepared Israel for the coming of Christ, but has subsequently become a barrier to the incorporation of the gentiles into Israel (James D. G. Dunn).5 More recently, Matthew Levering has proposed a reading of Aquinas which has many features in common with the “New Perspective on Paul” and which centers round the idea that “at the heart of Thomas Aquinas’s scientific theology of salvation lies the narrative of Scripture—the fulfillment of Israel’s Torah and Temple through the New Covenant of Christ Jesus.”6 In the light of these insights it is my purpose in this study to examine how Aquinas might have responded to each of the three analyses, and to elucidate his understanding of the “problem with Torah” in relation to debates current in the world of contemporary Pauline scholarship.7

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Enlightenment and Ecumenism: Dom Beda Mayr, O.S.B. (1742–1794)

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Enlightenment and Ecumenism: Dom Beda Mayr, O.S.B. (1742–1794)

Ulrich L. Lehner

The contribution of monasticism to Christian theology’s framework in almost all periods is undisputed. However, the eighteenth century as a period of monastic theology is still—unjustly—overlooked. That was precisely the time when monks, mostly Benedictines, challenged the traditional ways of theologizing and, along with a number of dedicated individuals, initiated what came to be called the Catholic Enlightenment.1 This movement worked not only for a renewal of ecclesiastical practice and thought, but also for a peaceful dialogue between the Christian churches and even toward an ecumenical theology. One of the most intriguing figures of this enlightened theology is the Swabian Benedictine Beda Mayr (1742–1794)—the forgotten “grandfather” of ecumenical theology.

1. Benedictine Enlightenment

There is no clear, monocausal explanation of why the Benedictines became the champions of the Catholic Enlightenment. However, a number of factors contributed to this phenomenon.

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Being and Bearing the Witness of the Spirit: Toward a Postcolonial Missional Politics

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Being and Bearing the Witness of the Spirit: Toward a Postcolonial Missional Politics

Derek Alan Woodard-Lehmann

One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

The Third Article of the creed affirms belief in the Holy Spirit, and correlatively asserts that there is but one church. Responding to the incommensurability between this creedal affirmation and the historical existence of many churches, Lesslie Newbigin and John Howard Yoder stand out as towering exemplars of the twentieth-century ecumenical movement’s attempt to recover the visible unity of the church. Perhaps an odd pairing, Yoder and Newbigin were contemporaries who emerged in the years surrounding the Second World War as prolific writers on the margins of the theological mainstream. Yoder, a Mennonite theologian, wrote as a professor within a tradition richer in activists and martyrs than academics. Newbigin, a Reformed missionary, wrote as a pastor and bishop of the Church of South India on the edge of a waning empire. Though rooted in their respective particularities, each offers the resources of his tradition as practically oriented theology refusing to divorce faith and action—orthodoxy and orthopraxy. They do so by employing an ad hoc occasional style responsive to immediate contextual exigencies, eschewing systematization.1 And despite their somewhat marginal positions and relative obscurity, both maintain the ecumenical and catholic purchase of their work, especially in their insistence that the absence of visible unity imperils the intelligibility of Christ’s gospel of reconciliation and impairs the visibility of the church.

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