I believe that ecumenical dialogue is important. For one thing, the current divisions of the Church are not just a shame but a sin. For another thing, I think that Timothy Ware is correct in claiming that God intended for differing perspectives between different linguistic and cultural groups, and also between differing tastes and focuses to balance each other out. Instead (and let me, as a Protestant, admit that the Reformation only made this worse), we tend to congregate with people who think like us and look like us and talk like us and want the same styles of preaching and music we do. There are important theological differences between different churches, but there are also splits caused by unimportant theological differences, and even by matters of style, taste, or perspective without substantive theological disagreement at all. The Church is the body of Christ, his visible representation on earth, and we misrepresent him by splitting a hundred ways.
I have no idea how we go about un-splitting. But respectful dialogue can help to mitigate some of the damage caused by this state. First, by listening to and learning from other Christian traditions, we can help to balance out our own biases. Second, by showing respect and attention to other Christian groups, we can mitigate the scandalous public perception that different strains of Christianity are hostile and even hateful toward each other.
To this end, I try to frequent blogs that engage in dialogue on the issues that divide us. For instance, I regularly read Called to Communion (Roman Catholic), Energetic Procession (Eastern Orthodox), and Reason From Scripture (Calvinist). But I have a common complaint about all three of these blogs. All of the authors are quite intelligent and well-read. Yet each blog has a tendency to treat its own view as if it was obvious to anyone with half a brain (or, at least, anyone with half a brain who has read the Bible). Lately, Reason From Scripture has been the worst offender. For instance, a recent post includes the line, "If we take the baptists interpretation of this text then it would be incompatible with the Calvinistic doctrine of perseverance of the Saints which is clearly taught in Romans 8." (Of course it's true that Romans 8:29-30 does seem to affirm this doctrine, just as Hebrews 6:4-5 seems to deny it; the interpretive issues are complicated.)
Now, it's hard work to actually see thing's from the other side's perspective, and figure out which premises we can agree on and which we can't. It is also true that you can't defend everything at once. Called to Communion gets points for making a habit of building one post on another, and referring back to old posts to support controversial premises.
I don't have a problem with asserting one's own view as fact; it's not as if I'm trying to push some kind of relativism or pluralism here. I also realize that blog posts are often not really finished products - mine certainly aren't. But what I am saying is that if you want to have productive dialogue, it is worth the effort to clearly identify your premises and to give some sense of which ones might be controversial and who might controvert them. Once you have done this, it should take very little effort to adopt a respectful attitude toward those who reject your premises. (I've said that for treating controversial premises as controversial, Reason From Scripture gets the lowest marks; for respecting dissenters Energetic Procession gets the lowest marks. I no longer comment there.)
I take it that all three of these blogs want to engage in some kind of meaningful ecumenical dialogue, and doubtless there are many others like them. I don't mean to bash them; I value the enterprise they are engaged in, I read them regularly, and I commend them to my readers. I just often feel like they are talking past each other. In fact, I feel like even Reason From Scripture is often talking past me, and we theoretically belong to the same tradition. (Nathanael embraces that tradition much more fully than I do.) So what I really mean to do is to make these two suggestions to these blogs and anyone else trying to engage in ecumenical dialogue: identify your premises, and recognize that intelligent and well-informed people will disagree with some of them. If I could add a third suggestion as well, let me say that I'd like to see the blogs I've named engage each other directly, perhaps in a sort of symposium. I would be happy to act as moderator if one is needed.Posted by Kenny at July 13, 2010 9:23 AM
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