Ecumenical Dialogue – A Waste of Time?
If I were invited to participate in a formal ecumenical dialogue, a big part of me would start scrambling for an excuse not to go. What could be more bland and disheartening than trying to eke out a sliver of unity from a group of disagreeing (and possibly disagreeable) Christians? So when Matthew Lundberg mentioned to me that he has been surprisingly enriched and challenged by his work with the National Council of Churches, I wanted to know more.
Like me, Matt worried that the world of ecumenical dialogue might be filled with “watered-down Christianity where orthodox doctrine is cast aside in favor of left-leaning political advocacy.” After all, if we focus on what we have in common, we might well be left with a mere hollowed-out shell around some vacuous Jesus-concept. Surely there is nothing to be gained and much to lose!
It would be easy to think the same of The Colossian Forum. Imagine a young-earth creationist and an evolutionary creationist talking to one another with respect. What could they possibly say to each other without getting angry and stomping out of the room? Is there anything beyond “let’s just agree to disagree”? As it turns out, a conversation marked by love and hospitality is far from empty. In the same vein, Matt found something surprising at the NCC: “robust, meaningful theological conversation in which historic Christian orthodoxy is highly valued and contributions from particular confessional traditions are taken seriously because of, rather than in spite of, their distinctiveness.” Matt even found it a gift to have his own views “critiqued probingly by folks whose theological vision is tuned to a slightly different frequency than mine, yet who have also invariably treated my own theological perspective with respect, appreciation, and grace.”
But as with our forums, Matt was enriched by more than the exchange of ideas. He found shared, robust worship and new (and surprising) friendships to be much more than fringe benefits.
So now I’m wondering: how I can get invited to one of these things?
Matthew Lundberg is Associate Professor of Religion at Calvin College.
Rob Barrett is the Director of Fellows and Forums at The Colossian Forum.