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Presentation: College Theology Society Annual Conference (Minneapolis, Minn.)
May 31, 2018 - June 3, 2018
I will be presenting a paper at the forthcoming CTS conference in Minneapolis, Minn. at Saint Catherine’s University
Gregory Baum’s ‘Revolutionary’ Ecclesiology: 1968 and Beyond
Reaching out from a North American and Roman Catholic context, and with an eye towards significant trends in global Christianity, Canadian theologian Gregory Baum (1923-2017) presented revolutionary ways of perceiving the relationships between communion, communication, and conflict in the church throughout his over 60-year career as a theologian. Notably, his career included a most important role in the drafting of significant parts of the Decree on Ecumenism and the Declaration on the Relationship of the Catholic Church to Non-Christian Religions – two documents within the corpus of official church teaching from the Second Vatican Council which were, in their time, considered revolutionary. Furthermore, a most significant contribution to Catholic and ecumenical ecclesiology can be found in his book, published in 1968, The Credibility of the Church Today.
Given Gregory Baum’s recent death, and in light of this year’s CTS theme with its focus on cultural, social, political and theological revolutions of that pivotal year – and their relevance and intellectual resonance with today’s socio-political context – the time is opportune to further examine the influence of this seminal post-conciliar book in Baum’s career and the continued relevance of his ecclesiology for today’s church and world.
This paper makes the case that Baum established, in Credibility, a locus of themes that he maintained throughout his career: overcoming institutional pathologies, an ecumenical vision of the church which emphasizes graced relationship, personal and ecclesial renewal and transformation, as well as dialogue and prophetic witness, in order to help the church address the challenges and possibilities within its own life, and in the life of the world today. His efforts in this regard focused on enhancing communication within the communion of the church by identifying the links between these two realities and by identifying and seeking to respond to conflicts, both within the church and between the church and wider society. This presentation will examine these key themes in Credibility, and how they contributed to the longer arc of Baum’s subsequent ecclesiological contributions.
Particularly in an era in which Pope Francis has identified a church that is caught up in its own concerns and not engaged with addressing the concerns of the world as “sick,” Gregory Baum’s ecclesiological assessment of, and responses to, pathology in the church are piercingly relevant. The Pope has also spoken of the dangers of turning the Christian faith into an ideology that distorts and disrupts communion and communication. Baum’s ecclesiology not only acknowledges this reality, but seeks to draw upon an understanding of the relationship between communion, communication, and conflict in the church so as to delineate the concrete implications of that understanding for the church’s missional capacity and its concomitant need for institutional structures of mutual accountability. As a result, Baum’s theology of the church can provide a salient entry point into ongoing consideration of these contemporary global ecclesial needs.