evangelical Ecumenism

I’ve spent the last few months finishing up a book with Bob Kolb, the Luther scholar, entitled Between Wittenberg and Geneva: Lutheran and Reformed Theology in Conversation.  It is due from Baker later next year.  Bob is, for my money, the greatest living Luther scholar in the English-speaking world.  Working with him, I felt rather like this.


The project arose out of a three-way conversation between Bob, myself, and Dave Nelson at Baker.   We were concerned about three things.  First, many Lutheran students do not understand Reformed theology.  Second, as a tit-for-tat, many Reformed students do not understand Lutheran theology.  Third, many Evangelical students do not understand either Lutheran or Reformed theology and tend to identify the bits they like out of both traditions with their own while viewing the bits they don't like as aberrations or of marginal importance.  Something needed to be done.


Both Bob and I wrote the book as catholic Christians – those who hold to the creeds of the ancient church – and as evangelical Christians – those who believe in justification by grace through faith and identify with ecclesiastical bodies which subscribe to Reformation confessions.   To use Bob’s distinction, we do not write as Evangelicals whose movement is rooted in the revivals of the eighteenth century and which draws much of its strength from Baptist and parachurch circles.   Thus, the volume has sections on some things of interest to Evangelicals, such as the doctrine of scripture, but also on matters of comparative indifference to Evangelicalism while yet of great importance to the Reformers, such as the Lord’s Supper.


The joy of the project lay much in our friendship but also in the fact that we allowed the history of our creeds and confessions and churches to guide our priorities and our discussion.   A common commitment to Nicaea and Chalcedon, and a trust in God’s word and in the righteousness of Christ was the foundation which allowed then for substantial engagement.  It also meant that we could disagree while yet preserving a common Christian bond of friendship.   Further, it was good to have confessional history set the framework for our discussion.   If nothing else, the debate over the Trinity of the last six months has pointed to how contemporary economies of power and money, detached from ecclesiastical accountability, profoundly shape the American Evangelical landscape.  It has also revealed how the Evangelical mind is gripped by the notion that, while any deviation on scripture is lethal, considerable flexibility on the doctrine of God is tolerable.   History indicates otherwise and Evangelicals need to understand that. 


So as we head into 2017 and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Bob and I hope that our volume will contribute to mutual understanding between the Lutheran and Reformed heirs of the Reformation. And we hope too that it might encourage Evangelicals to think more seriously about the historical and ecclesiastical implications of the Reformation for the faith today.


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