ACT3 Monday Evening Forum

The first ACT3 Monday Evening Forum of 2016 takes place this evening at 7:00 p.m. My guest is Dr. Jon Nilson, professor of theology emeritus at Loyola University in Chicago. The topic is:

“Good Theology Must Be Ecumenical: Why & How?”
Dr. Jon Nilson in dialogue with Dr. John H. Armstrong

We begin at 7:00 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. We meet at Lutheran Church of the Master, 580 Kuhn Road, Carol Stream, IL 60188. There is no charge and no registration. Please come and share your questions with us all. There will be no audio or video taping. I do not have the resources to do this well and no one to help me do it.

Are You Ready to Become an Empowered Missional-Ecumenist?

Since 2013, I have trained almost fifty people in how to become bold risk-takers for unity in Christ’s mission. In addition, I have taught about 10-15 graduate students. The number is not large but the impact can be immense if the Holy Spirit uses this experience to ignite a fire in his people. I am persuaded that great things do not generally come in huge events but in small groups.

I hope many who watch this video will consider becoming such a risk-taker for unity. The need is obvious and the time is now.

Steve Bevans: A Missional-Ecumenist Catholic Theologian

Stephen Bevans is Louis J. Luzbetak, S.V.D., Professor of Mission and Culture. He is a Roman Catholic priest in the Society of the Divine Word, an international missionary congregation, and served for nine years (1972-1981) as a missionary in the Philippines. He has been on the Catholic Theological Union faculty for 26 years. He is also a very dear friend to me and the work of ACT3 Network.

Steve’s publications include: Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004, with Roger Schroeder), Evangelization and Freedom (2009, with Jeffrey Gros), An Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009), Prophetic Dialogue: Reflections on Christian Mission Today (with Roger Schroeder, 2011). In 2012 Steve edited Mission and Culture: The Louis J. Luzbetak Lectures. All of Steve’s books are works of mission, ecumenism and deep reflection on God and the Word.

Steve is also the past president of the American Society of Missiology (2006) and past member of the board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America (2007-2009). In March, 2012 Steve was part of the official Vatican delegation to the assembly of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism in Manila, Philippines. He has taught and lectured in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Italy, Ireland, Taiwan, Ghana, Thailand, and Hong Kong.


Salvation and the Christian Life – Doing Theology in the Era of Global Ecumenism, Part 5

Unknown-1What I have written in my previous four posts on salvation and the Christian life can be stated very precisely in the following way – we are saved by grace alone, but we are saved for works and through works in the sense that such works are evangelical and always proceed from faith and serve the advancement of our real sanctification. Our good works do not increase God’s grace but neither are they merely a by-product. Said Bloesch, “They signify not an appendage to our salvation but the flowering and fruition of our salvation” (18). The Christian life is thus a real working out of our salvation so that faith comes to real fulfillment in transformation and Christlikeness.

As some of you know I have been working on a book on love. During the last year or so I have come to this understanding again and again in my theological outlook. Salvation really does alter my heart and life or it is not God’s grace at work in me, but something akin to notion

Salvation and the Christian Life – Doing Theology in the Era of Global Ecumenism, Part 4

UnknownSixteenth-century Protestant Reformers stressed that we are justified while still in our sins. I believe they were right. We are, as they put it, simultaneously justified and still sinful. The Reformers, including the Augustinian Martin Luther, were zealous for the sovereignty of God. Many of their modern heirs remain zealous for this great truth. I see this zeal as inherently good. Yet this Reformation emphasis on God and free grace can very easily create a new imbalance, one which I think has been emphasized by Reformed and Lutheran scholasticism and its profound impact upon modern conservatives. It is a fact that post-Reformational orthodoxy tended to ignore the devotional life, or at least downplayed it considerably. (Again, John Calvin is a wonderful exception!) This over-emphasis on grace – especially the emphasis on right doctrinal concepts – led to a sterile and dead orthodoxy in some contexts.

Servile and dead orthodoxy became the deep concern of three groups of Protestants who had a great impact upon the eighteenth-century awakenings; e.g. the Puritans, the Pietists and the Evangelicals who

Salvation and the Christian Life – Doing Theology in the Era of Global Ecumenism, Part 3

51GKY541PRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When Catholics and Protestants engage in the polemics of theological polarities they quite often misrepresent one another. In the process they miss the deeper fruit of real ecumenism in doing confessing Christian theology. Non-theologians often do this more poorly because they adopt the views they have been taught by their favorite teachers and then treat them as the gold standard.

One of the central issues between Protestants and Catholics has always revolved around the subject of God’s grace and our(human) response to divine grace. We can very easily get the wrong end of the stick in this debate. On one side we separate the life of the Spirit from the salvation of God. This can be seen in a number of Protestant and evangelical responses to grace and works. Donald Bloesch noted: “To separate the life of the Christian from the salvation of God is to divorce ethics from religion. It was precisely this non-ethical religion or religiosity that was attacked by the Old Testament prophets and by many saints and reformers through the ages” (The Christian Life

Salvation and the Christian Life – Doing Theology in the Era of Global Ecumenism, Part 2

51GKY541PRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When the Holy Spirit revealed to me the truth of John 17:21 I felt I had no choice but to commit the rest of my days to humbly learning from other Christian traditions and teachers. Both my theology and practice necessitated a more humble epistemology and a deeper personal tone anchored in love. I did not jettison what I believed. I opened my mind and heart afresh to “seeing” truth in a far different way, a way that led me to listen more carefully and respectfully to the global catholic church. I realized that over the centuries the faith has been debated and understood and far too much of our history has been about pursuing truth without grace. But I am reminded that the Word was himself “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). If I was to faithfully follow Jesus my life should more nearly be one where grace and truth were both present in abundant measure.

I soon discovered that the present ecumenical era gave me a compelling opportunity to reexamine the role the Christian life

Salvation and the Christian Life – Doing Theology in the Era of Global Ecumenism, Part 1

Global-Ecumenical-PictureWe live in the era of global ecumenism. The word ecumenism is actually derived from the Greek oikoumene, which literally means “the whole inhabited world.” It was originally used with reference to the whole of the Roman Empire. In the ancient Christian Church the word was first used in contexts such as an “Ecumenical council” or the “Ecumenical patriarch.” Here the meaning pertained to the totality of the larger Church (e.g. the Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church) rather than to one of its constituent churches or dioceses. Used in this original sense, the term was expanded in the last century or more to refer to the re-uniting of the historically separated Christian denominations. I use it in both senses – for the reality of the global church and the work of reuniting historic churches, though I take it that this work will likely follow patterns yet to be seen in the Spirit’s creativity and timing.

Ecumenism has plainly become a definite movement within visible Christianity. To varying degrees Christian leaders and theologians now recognize this reality. Sadly,

The Mercersburg Movement: How Reformed Theology Helped Me Become a Missional-Ecumenist

Yesterday. I quoted nineteenth century theologian-historian Philip Schaff (1819–1893), a Swiss-born, German-educated Reformed Protestant minister who became a widely regarded church historian at the end of his life. Schaff spent most of his adult life living and teaching in the United States. His works are still read though his history is now dated by the simple fact that he died in 1893.

Phillip_SchaffPhilip Schaff, along with John Williamson Nevin, were the highly regarded leaders of what became known as Mercersburg Theology. This Mercersburg Movement began in the mid-nineteenth century in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, the home of Marshall College from 1836 until its merger with Franklin College (Lancaster, PA), in 1853. It was the home for the seminary of the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) from 1837 until its relocation to Lancaster in 1871. This seminary was connected to what was known as the German Reformed Church, a church family that eventually merged into a union that became the Evangelical and Reformed Church. In 1957 the Evangelical and Reformed Church merged with the Congregational Christian Church, a decision

Glorifying God in Our Cultural Pursuits

3768Last week I asked a much-debated question raised by the patristic theologian Tertullian: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” I observed that Tertullian was primarily concerned about what role philosophy had in dealing with the Christian faith. The same question, as I showed previously, can be applied to popular culture. What place does Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue have with Christ?

I am persuaded that far too few Christians have a serious view of culture, especially of popular culture. From TV shows to modern fiction we range from the extreme of “total separation” all the way to “uncritical acceptance.” Without a carefully developed theology of culture it seems to me that wide pendulum swings will inevitably characterize the Christian’s engagement with popular culture. Reconciling one’s faith with art, for example, has troubled more than a few Christians that I have known over the years. In my early Christian experience I personally ranged from general confusion, into a brief period of separation and then toward a wide-scale (uncritical) acceptance. Because I did not dig into the content