It is almost a clich‚ to describe the twentieth century as the ecumenical century. The Christian churches begin this century in a position very different than a century ago. The differences between Protestant and Catholic, East and West, denominational and free churches are been reduced greatly over the past decades. Yet many impediments to full church unity remain. The topic of Seitz's volume could not be more timely or more important: what is the future direction for the ecumenical movement? This book proposes is that the keystone of church unity is found in the Nicene Creed.
This volume of essays is the result of a conference of three groups held in the Episcopal Cathedral in Charleston, S.C.: the Scholarly Engagement with Anglican Doctrine, the American Anglican Council, and a predominantly Lutheran (though ecumenically diverse) Center for Evangelical and Catholic Theology. These groups are similar in that they are all on the Protestant side of the Reformation while retaining a catholic orientation. They are also as apt to be described as post-liberal or radical orthodox as they are traditional. It is not surprising that these groups would gather and find common ground in the Nicene Creed. What is surprising that the essays would be so uneven and at times divergent.
At its best, this volume of essays provides lucid and incisive reviews of theological issues which are both central to current ecumenical discussions each rooted in one of the lines of the creed. Essays such Susan Wood's chapter on baptism, Thomas Smail's work on the Holy Spirit and the Trinity, and William Abraham's essay on the catholicity and apostolicity of the church, are simultaneously wonderful summaries of the state of the question, and suggestions for future directions. The concluding essay by Ephraim Radner on the canonicity of the creed was an especially thoughtful essay and one ripe for ecumenical discussion. These essays are marked by even-handedness and balance that lead to often provocative suggestions for future convergence. This is especially true in Smail's essay, which seeks a synthesis of economic and immanent models of Trinity that honors the historical understanding of the divinity of the Holy Spirit, both East and West. Essays such as these make a helpful contribution to the creation of an environment for honest and constructive dialogue.
At its worst, this volume embodies the landmines encountered when ecumenical conversations take place. It is unfortunate that some essays that are carefully argued and well crafted should suffer from generalizations, stereotypes and exclusive phrases. It was disappointing to see otherwise excellent essays by significant theologians Carl Bratten and Robert Jensen marked by references to the loss of faith in mainline churches (Bratten, pp 117-18) and off-hand evaluations of churches as Pietist, post-Enlightenment, or Deist (Jensen, p 77). The ecumenical unity this volume seeks to achieve is only hindered by the use of stereotypes and labels, which reinforces the "we-they" of ecumenical dialogue, not the "we." Regardless of how these essays were first presented, they should have been more carefully and sensitively edited.
Yet when one considers the creative approach to the synthesis of science, creation and the theology of the Trinity offered by J. Augustine Di Noia, one can see the genius of grounding ecumenical conversations in the Creed and moving the ancient creed into dialogue with contemporary categories. Such an approach offers the possibility of bearing much fruit. This volume more often than not provides an opportunity to continue the work of the last century which, I pray, may lead to the growing unity of all Christians. This is a book that can spur conversation among clergy groups, seminary students, seminary faculty, and lay women and men involved in ecumenical ministries. Might these conversations be frequent and fruitful.