The Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology is an ecumenical organization that seeks to cultivate faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the churches. The Center nurtures theology that is catholic and evangelical, obedient to Holy Scripture and committed to the dogmatic, liturgical, ethical and institutional continuity of the Church. The Center was founded through the collaborative efforts of Robert W. Jenson and Carl E. Braaten, two outstanding Lutheran scholars. I have had the distinct privilege of meeting with both of them over the years. They are two of the misty gifted theological writers of our time. I know Carl Braaten more personally since he came to Dubuque, Iowa, in 1999 to speak at our first Catholic-Evangelical Theology conference at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. This is the same event that I mentioned in my blog yesterday. We had five plenary speakers at this Conference on Catholic and Evangelical Renewal – Carl Braaten, Donald Bloesch, J. I. Packer, William Abraham and myself. I was clearly out of my league I confess but I enjoyed every second of those memorable three days.
It was this 1999 conference in Dubuque, a gathering that also featured numerous workshops on renewal led by speakers from various mainline Protestant traditions, as well as from the Catholic Church, that radically altered the direction of my own ministry. (As I drove back to Chicago with my friend Fr. Thomas Smith [Reformed Episcopal], himself a Baptist minister in West Virginia at the time, Thomas said something to me when we crossed the Mississippi River from Dubuque into Illinois that proved to be prophetic. His simple words were: “John, just as you are crossing this great river I believe that you crossed a river in your life this week and you are going home to never be the same again!”) Was he ever spot on. Within months I saw a different future for my ministry. Later we would rename the mission the ACT3 Network (Advancing the Christian Tradition in the 3rd Millennium) because we wanted to send the clear signal that we were both catholic and evangelical in an ecumenical way. Truly, this prophetic comment of Fr. Smith would play a major role in my life for the next fifteen years. I believe it will continue to do so into the future so long as God empowers me and keeps me in his grace.
This is why the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology means so much to me personally. It challenges the churches to claim their identity as members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It affirms the Great Tradition and seeks to stimulate fresh thinking and passion for mission. To achieve this goal the Center sponsors projects, conferences and publications. ACT3 Network serves churches and leaders by mentoring and empowering them more personally but our work is one in spirit and vision with that of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. I cannot think of a ministry that is more important to my vision of missional-ecumenism.
The best known work of the Center is its high-quality theological journal Pro Ecclesia: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology (Joseph L. Mangina, Managing Editor). Anyone seriously interested in deep Catholic and Evangelical collaboration, and careful interesting writing, should read Pro Ecclesia.
Pro Ecclesia 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.
Another major undertaking of the Center is its outstanding annual conference. This extremely worthwhile conference convenes next month, June 9-11. The meeting is at Loyola University in Baltimore. The theme this year is: “Life Amid the Principalities.” I will be present at this meeting, not as a speaker but simply as a participant. I hope that some friends of mine, and the great supporters we have of the work of the ACT3 Network, will join me. I will say more about this event in several future blogs. For now check it out and consider joining me in Baltimore in five weeks. We could share meals and fellowship in a wonderful context and experience if you can come. You can see the program and register here.