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Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future
Story, Tradition, and the Recovery of Community
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, 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 are 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.
Part I: The Baptist Vision and the Ecumenical Moment
1. A Radical Baptist Proposal
2. Seizing the Ecumenical Moment
Part II: Baptists, Biblicism, and Catholicity
3. One Sacred Story
4. One Contested Tradition
5. Radically Biblical, Radically Catholic
Part III: Baptist Identity and Receptive Ecumenism
6. The End of Baptist Denominationalism
7. Receiving the Gift of Magisterium
Part IV: Baptist Theology and the Ecumenical Future
8. The Ecumenical Task of Theology
9. The Theology of a Pilgrim Church
10. The Baptist Eschatological Vision and the Ecumenical Future
"Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future should be required reading for Baptist leaders."
—Neville George Callam, General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Baptist World Alliance
"Harmon’s book is a thorough and challenging appeal for visible unity in faith and order between Baptists, Catholics, and all other Christians. After all, ‘Baptists are dissenting catholic Christians’—they are a pilgrim community brought to visibility by ecumenical engagement. This is a must read for every Baptist student."
—Henk Bakker, Professor of Baptist Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
"An important work in Baptist studies"
"Provocative, challenging, and forward-looking"
—Mitzi J. Budde, Perspectives in Religious Studies
"A dense and richly documented book"
—Molly T. Marshall, Perspectives in Religious Studies
“A promising way forward for Baptists”
—David E. Wilhite, Pacific Journal of Baptist Research
“[Harmon’s] work rests on the genuine hope of finding common ground across the body of Christ, ideally even the recovery of a cooperative Christian community that could see itself as part of one body, even as many denominations.”
—Courtney Pace, Pacific Journal of Baptist Research
“Harmon has done Baptists a service in offering us an understanding of tradition which frames it as an invitation to conversation and an opportunity to grow.”
—Andrew Smith, Pacific Journal of Baptist Research
"Steven Harmon challenges his own Baptist tradition to receive the gifts held in trust for the whole body of Christ by other churches, even as he implicitly challenges others to recognize the gifts that Baptists, with their 'pilgrim church theology,' bring to the wider church. I strongly endorse his essential premise: not only do Baptists need the ecumenical church, the rest of us need the full, mutually receptive engagement of Baptists if this movement for unity is to move. The book is creative, well researched, passionate, and practical."
—Michael Kinnamon, Former General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in the USA
"This book was written ‘in the hope that the tribe of those who long for the visible unity of Christ’s church might increase among Baptists, and that other Christians might recognize them, so that together we can make our pilgrim journey toward the ecumenical future.’ Based on extensive experience of dialogue with other Christians, his richly documented and insightful treatment of such crucial themes as scripture, tradition, sacraments, authority, and the pilgrim church open fresh avenues for moving toward the unity for which Jesus prayed."
—William Henn, Professor of Ecclesiology and Ecumenism, Pontifical Gregorian University
"Harmon’s Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future is a work that engages the current status of Baptist life in the wider context of the current ecclesial and ecumenical situation. It is not only the ambition of this book but its execution that establishes Harmon as the most accomplished Baptist ecumenist working in America today, and perhaps one of the most insightful ecumenists of any stripe, and it is thereby worthy of consideration not only by Baptists but also by all interested in the history and current state of ecumenical discussion.”
—Kimlyn J. Bender, Christian Scholar’s Review
"Harmon’s book offers the research and wisdom of a Baptist thinker at the forefront of ecumenical work. His methodical analysis of Baptist history and ecumenical documents, coupled with practical constructive proposals for congregations to change, has made this book original, essential, and necessary to the future of Baptist life."
—Spencer Miles Boersma, Reading Religion
Steven R. Harmon is Visiting Associate Professor of Historical Theology in the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University.