Over the latter years of the 1990s people discovered that I was rethinking this issue of Catholics, evangelicals and Christian unity. My name began to show up on blogs, in books and in various media outlets where I was criticized as Exhibit A of the real dangers of this whole ECT process.
So, the first reason for writing this book was to explain my own story. I wanted to write a narrative that showed how I had come to embrace catholicity and the oneness of the whole church. I wanted my people to hear from me what I had experienced and how. The book is the true story of my journey and if someone wishes to oppose me that is fine. If they oppose me in the wrong spirit, or without civility, then I leave to my readers to discern this as they will. I expect reviewers to praise and criticize the book.
Second, I wrote this book because I had come to see something that I felt the church desperately needed to hear and understand. I had wrestled with John 17:20-23 for many decades. I knew something was wrong about the way we continually divided the church into endless groups and tribes. I had studied no portion of Scripture as much as the Gospel of John. (There are several reasons for this. I was named after the apostle so his writings have always been mine in a unique way! I have, in fact, made John’s writings the central content of my biblical study for the rest of my life.)
What I finally came to see in this journey of almost two decades was what I call missional-ecumenism. Let me explain.
By its very nature the church was to be identified with the mission of the Triune God. We are a sent people. We are sent into mission just as the Father sent the Son into mission, through incarnation, human relationship and sacrificial love. This means that our mission as believers and churches is rooted in the very same DNA as this divine 'sent-ness' that we see in Jesus’ relationship with his Father. This is what I mean by the often misused word missional.
But the word ecumenism was a very bad word in my very conservative background. I had never even realized that this word was a biblical one. When I saw what ecumenism really was, especially in the terms of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and Paul’s strong ideas about our oneness in Ephesians 4, I began to put these two concepts, of mission and unity, together. In reality they already were together in John 17 as a careful reading of that prayer will plainly reveal. So I didn’t put them together, I simply discovered them in the Scripture and coined a phrase from my reading of history, missiology and the Scriptures. This is ultimately why I wrote my book—to explain this connection between unity and 'sent-ness,' between ecumenism and the mission of Jesus Christ.
Tomorrow: Part Three