Theology and Unity in World Christianity

Article excerpt

1. The Future of Theology in Europe and Beyond

It is a great privilege to welcome you on behalf of the WCC to this international consultation, which has been developed as a joint initiative between the WCC-ETE programme, the MF Norwegian School of Theology and the Conference of European Churches. While the organizers of this conference for good reasons have decided to focus on "The Future of Theology in the Changing Landscapes of Universities in Europe and Beyond," I would like to take the liberty of widening our perspectives and to contribute some reflections specifically related to the WCC under the title "Theology and unity in the changing landscape of world Christianity."

The context for this consultation offers different perspectives for reflection on theology and unity. Let me mention some of them:

* It is a personal privilege to welcome you in this theological faculty in Oslo as an important part of my own theological journey and formation, which is connected to this house. The theological understanding of unity as a gift given in the gospel and the sacraments, as this is particularly developed and shaped in the Lutheran tradition and confession, has a potential for the ecumenical movement I have come to appreciate very much. As a student of this faculty and as a pastor and servant of the ecumenical movement I have tried to use this gift in many contexts. As the 500th anniversary of the 1517 publication of university professor Martin Luther's radical and critical theses approaches, we are reminded about the potential of theological reflection and discussion. If the upcoming anniversary is to have an impact on theology and the unity of the churches, it is crucial that it becomes a new reflection--and celebration--of the meaning of the gospel for us today. It is also an uncommon privilege to welcome you together with other Norwegian colleagues to this country, Norway, which has an important Christian heritage and long history of state-church relations that just recently has entered into a new stage: The dissolution of the traditional state-church status that we have welcomed as a way to strengthen the independence of the Church of Norway and thereby also the public relevance of Christian theology in this country. This new situation raises several questions to the dynamic between theology and church unity. The Church of Norway needs to reflect on its identity and structure as to what unites this church, as the state and the king are not offering a framework for the unity of the church any longer. The relevance of ecumenical theological reflections for this process is quite obvious. Second, these changes reflect the changes in the Norwegian society, moving from a rather monocultural and monoreligious society toward one that is more multicultural and multireligious. A substantial part of the immigrants in Norway are Christians, and the landscape of worshipers is rapidly changing in a city like Oslo. The theological institutions and educational systems have new challenges to face here and in Europe--and they can benefit from the work done by ETE and connect to different church traditions and new developments through the theological institutions.

* The role of theology to reflect and to make relevant contributions to the unity of humankind, within this nation and beyond its borders, is particularly challenged by the ongoing trial against a terrorist and mass murderer claiming to serve an ideology of protecting the European culture and Christian heritage. The bottom line of this ideology--as with any other ideology favoring one group against another--is that we as human beings equally share the same dignity status, but that some humans should be regarded as "animals," as it was literally said in the Norwegian court just the other day.

* Facing these disastrous ideological distortions of what truly constitutes humanity the public relevance and role of Christian theology has become even more manifest and obvious after the recent horrible Utoya massacre, as everybody has become aware how much we need (and cannot just take for granted) solid ethical values in society and good theological reflections on the religious foundations of peaceful coexistence in our country and much beyond. …