48th International Ecumenical Seminar, Strasbourg,
July 2-9, 2014
Members of the historic Christian churches are often baffled by the new face of Christianity springing up all around them. Entirely independent congregations meeting in warehouses suddenly have ten times the weekly attendance of the long-established parishes that meet in beautiful old churches. The secularization of Europe and North America seems to mean the withering of Christianity, while at the same time immigration from other parts of the world leads to a vibrant renewal in the very same places. Confessional and structural boundaries are still major topics of discussion between Catholics, Orthodox, and Reformation-era Protestants, but otherwise unconnected Evangelicals and Pentecostals seem to have no trouble sharing altars and pulpits. This year’s Summer Seminar set out to make sense of the baffling landscape of twenty-first century Christianity.
The Institute’s André Birmelé began the discussion with an overview of the landscape and its impact on ecumenism as it has developed in the past fifty years. From there we leapt into one of the most controversial features of some newer Christian movements, namely the prosperity gospel. Kate Bowler, a church historian at Duke Divinity School in the United States, described the history of the movement, its best-known proponents, and its basic beliefs, offering a critical view while at the same time helping us to understand why exactly prosperity has been so successful.
From there we turned to a closer look at the Evangelical world, which is comprised of denominations, networks, and congregations that claim a Reformation heritage without formally belonging to the historic confessional churches and that place a strong emphasis on personal renewal and evangelism. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School in the United States, illustrated the American scene with special reference to Evangelicals and Catholics Together, an ecumenical initiative that brought together historic enemies for conversation and joint action. Thomas Schirrmacher, Rector at the Freie Theologische Hochschule Gießen in Germany, shared a more global view of the Evangelical movement and its complex interrelationship with ecumenism. Wolfgang Thönissen, Director of the Johann-Adam-Möhler-Institute in Germany rounded out the discussion with a description of how the Roman Catholic church sees and relates to Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and other new Christian communities.
From the distant and general we shifted focus to the very local. Three representatives of local migrant churches in Strasbourg described the situation of their immigrant communities who have brought their faith and practice with them and have a variety of kinds of relationships to the churches around them. Vasile Iorgulescu talked about the Romanian Orthodox in Strasbourg as they relate to other Orthodox and other Christians. Bio Terrence informed us about the variety of West African Pentecostal groups in the city. Zaka Habberstad described the various Malagasy congregations, from Lutheran to Reformed to United to Anglican.
The next series of lectures addressed trans-confessional efforts at renewal. Andy Buckler, a Reformed pastor in France, explained the “Fresh Expressions” movement in the Church of England that has allowed for a greater variety of worship styles and liturgies. Adam Strojny presented the Chemin Neuf community of which he is a member, a largely Roman Catholic movement stressing lay participation and charismatic renewal, that is devoted to ecumenism. Friedrich Degenhardt, a pastor, described the efforts of Lutheran congregations in Hamburg to create friendships with African Pentecostals for the sake of mutual renewal in worship. Hubert van Beek followed up with a presentation of the Global Christian Forum, of which he is the former Secretary, which fosters friendship and conversation on a much wider scale between longterm ecumenical churches and more recent arrivals on the scene, such as Evangelicals and Pentecostals.
We concluded the Seminar with two lectures, wrapping up many of the themes we had heard throughout the week. Jean-Daniel Plüss, a leading Pentecostal scholar and ecumenist from Switzerland, discussed the place of Pentecostals in the ecumenical movement, from their early passionate commitment to unity to more recent forays into bilateral and multilateral ecumenism. Ephraim Radner, a professor at Wycliffe College in Canada, concluded the Seminar with a reflection on how we all Christian churches, despite divisions, can be mutually accountable to one another and to the gospel.
As usual, throughout the Seminar there were many opportunities for group discussion and questions for the speakers. On the Sunday outing we visited popular sites in Alsace such as Colmar to see the Isenheim altarpiece but especially for this year, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, we visited the preserved battlefield of Col du Linge—a beautiful place with a terrible history.
Some of this year’s Seminar lectures will be available for download; see below. It’s not too soon to start planning to attend next year’s Seminar, which will be on the topic of Ecumenism in the Arts.
[box title=“Lectures“ color=“#326565″]
Kate Bowler: A History of the Prosperity Gospel
Timothy George: American Evangelicals and Christian Unity_ The Case of ECT
Thomas Schirrmacher: Evangelicals in the Global Ecumenical Momement
Wolfgang Thönissen: Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and New Christian Communities in Roman Catholic Perspective
Vasile Iorgulescu: The Romanian Orthodox Church in Strasbourg
Bio Terrence: West African Pentecostalism in Strasbourg
Zaka Habberstad: Malagasy Congregations in Strasbourg
Andy Buckler: “Fresh Expressions” and the Church of England
Adam Strojny:The Charismatic Movement and the Ecumenical Community of the Chemin Neuf
Friedrich Degenhardt: Präsentation Degenhardt Straßburg 2014
Hubert van Beek: The Global Christian Forum
Jean-Daniel Plüss: Pentecostalism and Ecumenism of the Spirit