Last fall I began my first ACT 3 Missional-Ecumenical Cohort Group. This group consists of fifteen men and women who are deeply committed to learning how to be practitioners of what I call missional-ecumenism. They have committed themselves to reading over 1,500 pages of printed text, meeting for four whole (long) days spread out over eight months, to small group dialogues and to interaction via social media. I have learned a whole lot more than I've taught in the past six months. I have also seen a number of things that need to be altered to make the ACT 3 Cohort Groups more effective. These students have encouraged me and helped to build a foundation for future groups. On April 17 this first class will graduate from the program. Then our second year begins in September-October. A group may be coming to a city near you. 

If you would like to learn a lot more about these groups go to ACT 3 and check out the material about the groups on our home page. This link will take you into a series of three videos and a number of documents explaining the group and what is required, etc. We have scheduled ACT 3 Cohort Groups for Chicago, Philadelphia and Phoenix for this fall. We may also have groups in Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Dallas and San Francisco. The first three are 99% certain. The other cities are being determined between now and June 1. Dates will be available in June for each location where we can have a Cohort Group in 2012-13. Again, go to the site and click on "The Unity Factor" to learn more. 

One of my current students, Sharon Shafer, has written a blog about something she learned in the ACT 3 Cohort process about the cross and relational dialogue. This blog will give you an idea of how one person thought very deeply and faithfully about the missional church and unity and then put her ideas down in a clear and succinct way. I am so proud of Sharon for thinking and reflecting deeply about mission. Check out her post. You will get a great idea of some of the ways people learn to think because they share in this learning process together. 

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  1. Bryan Cross March 8, 2012 at 6:16 am

    I agree that the way of the cross is dialogue. On Monday Devin Rose posted a thoughtful and thorough Catholic reflection on *Your Church is Too Small* over at Called To Communion. I look forward to your dialogue with Devin regarding the substance of his reflection.
    In the peace of Christ,
    – Bryan

  2. John H. Armstrong March 8, 2012 at 7:17 am

    Thank you Bryan. I have read Devin Rose’s fine review. I have responded to him personally and thanked him. I will likely post it on my Facebook page. I will not, however, review a review. It is never normal practice for authors to do this unless they agree to enter a review and counter-review agreement process in advance. (I have done this a few times.) I cannot review the reviews of my book(s) since it would begin a process that would eat hours and hours of time. I respect such good/fair reviews by encouraging everyone to read them. He has written the best conservative, traditional Catholic reply to my book that I have read. His tone is measured and his spirit is Christ-like. I respect him and obviously agree with some points and disagree with others. Thanks for the reference and for your kindness.

  3. Joe Schafer March 8, 2012 at 7:37 am

    John, being in your first cohort has been a life-changing experience for Sharon and me. We have been learning so much, both from the reading material and from one another. If anyone is interested in joining a future cohort, I would encourage you do so, with your spouse if at all possible. It’s wonderful to have someone close at hand to do the readings with and discuss at length.
    Thank you for helping Sharon to find her voice. I’m very proud of her, as you can tell. Her article has sparked some intense online discussion that is demonstrating in real time how awkward, painful, redemptive and wonderful it can be when Christians with deeply felt differences attempt to engage in dialogue. Missional ecumenism in action.

  4. Bryan Cross March 8, 2012 at 7:56 am

    I understand and respect the limitations of time. And of course I don’t expect a review of a review, or anything like that. But, there are *substantive* points Devin has raised in his review, and I can’t see how anything less than engaging and addressing those points (when you do have time) is taking up the cross of authentic dialogue with orthodox Catholics such as Devin. It seems to me that part of what makes ecumenical dialogue a cross is that it is often with ecumenical partners *not* of our own choosing, perhaps even those we are least likely to choose ourselves. So, I hope your dialogue with Devin will (when you have time) be more than an expression of gratitude for his engagement with your book, but also address the substance of his arguments. Thanks John.
    In the peace of Christ,
    – Bryan

  5. Chris Criminger March 8, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Hi Byran and all,
    I just read Devon Rose’s book review of John’s book. Like John, there are parts I agree with and parts I disagreed with some parts. I suspect even John and I would have a different understanding on a few of the issues listed. So here are a few highlights from my perspective:
    1. Rose focus on a wounded church contra John’s divided church (I will say I like Rose’s focus here on unity over division although I can not still help but think what Rose calls wounded and John calls divided, this is more an issue of vocabularly of the same phenomena).
    2. The two major criticism he hits several times with John is that John supposedly believes in the branch theory of the church (a typical argument that is true of many Protestants but I am not sure is true of John?) and John’s ecumenism is the lowest common denominator type. I know this last charge is patently false. If that was true, you would have John whole heartedly endorsing the WCC which he does not.
    3. Other issues: Does John reject apostolic succession and baptismal regeneration which were part of the great tradition? My quess is probably and this is a noteworthy point. If John wants to respond to this, so be it but I sometimes think this can just cause more heat than light when one is aiming for missional ecumenism which is what John desires.
    4. Some issues I had with Rose’s very good and engaging book review:
    a) He seems to use apostolic succession as traditional catholics do as a wedge for separation (unless you convert and come home to mother church) rather than a unifying doctrine of the church. Rose really shows his bias against protestants when he says that even if Protestants agree with Catholics on the doctrine of apostolic succession, it doesn’t matter since they don’t posses it. Even if Protestants agree with Catholics, they are still wrong!
    b) This raises another issue for me where the Catholic church has two unifying doctrines of baptism and the eucharist and in regards to baptism, protestants are christians but in regards of the eucharist, we can not partake of it. No matter how catholics want to argue why this is so, its amazing from an ecumenicist’s viewpoint that one doctrine makes us one in Christ while the other keeps us separated.
    c) Lastly, Rose says that Catholics and protestants have real disagreements, I agree. He then lists several issues which again are pretty accurate. What troubled me is he names justification as a major doctrinal disagreement. All I can say is there has been huge agreements by both Catholics, Lutheran, and other protestants on ecumenical dialgoue and joint statements. You would think none of this has happened and everything is the same under the conditions of the 16th century break on this issue which they are not from my perspective.

  6. John H. Armstrong March 8, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    As I’ve already noted I will post this review on my Facebook page. I am very pleased if readers of the blog, and not of my Facebook page, wish to read this review as Chris has clearly done. For the record, Chris has rightly understood my viewpoint and represented it quite well in his response to Devin. My greatest disappointment with Devin’s review is that he does not seem to recognize the very “real gains” in doctrine that Chris points up, especially on justification by faith through grace. The Lutheran-Catholic Accord is testimony to real progress without any liberal sell-out on either side. Devin has given us a good critique from a strong Catholic position that I think misses the amazing gains of true ecumenism. This is not to undermine his character regarding every point that he makes but to frame his points in a context that makes my ecumenism very different than his own.
    I hope this helps. It also underscores why I do not review such reviews. I would be doing that for days if I started a response. It would then lead to one door to go through and then another and another. We can go “back and forth” (graciously I would hope) but I do not think this serves the ecumenism I engage in daily and am called by God to pursue. It would only reveal how and where Devin and I disagree and in the end it would likely make for interesting apologetical debate/discussion. I thus pass on this approach again and again for the reasons that my whole life and ministry speak to everywhere else.
    Thanks Chris for taking the time to respond carefully. You have invested a great deal into this ecumenical conversation and thus you grasp my thoughts pretty well. 🙂

  7. John H. Armstrong March 9, 2012 at 11:43 am

    I have decided to post Devin Rose’s review of my book here, on my blog spot, on Monday, March 12th. I will also make some comments about it, though not offer a highly detailed critique of all his points. I aim for fairness and a generous spirit and hope this response will accomplish that end. The ultimate end is God’s glory which comes by revealing his love in Jesus Christ. This brother has responded to me seriously and carefully. I will honor that and thus will link to his review and give you a bit of my thinking about his review and my missional-ecumenism and why we differ.

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