Academic journal article Theological Studies

Creation as an Ecumenical Problem: Renewed Belief through Green Experience

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Creation as an Ecumenical Problem: Renewed Belief through Green Experience

Article excerpt

Ecumenism has been called "a new way of being a Christian." (1) This does not mean, of course, that either the ecumenical movement or the World Council of Churches (WCC) has superseded churches. Rather, for more than a century concern for Christian unity has altered the self-understanding of members, leaders, and the churches themselves, and has awakened potential for institutional change. The underlying realization has been that more unites than divides Christians. All Christians believe, for example, that God is the Creator and that the world (all finite reality) is creation.* 2 This article focuses on that element in the common heritage of Christianity. Many committed to ecumenism, however, think 2014 is not a propitious time for anything ecumenical. Despite the 2009 Lutheran/Catholic Joint Agreement on Justification, a common evaluation had emerged describing the glacial pace of movement toward unity as part of an ecumenical winter. (3) Yet I agree with fellow inhabitants of northern latitudes, Finnish Minna Hietemaki and Canadian Bruce Myers, who provide thoughtful alternatives to dismay at winter in ecumenism. (4) Others--and I agree with them--see a timely advantage in receptive ecumenism that shifts interest toward taking account of what each church has received from others, thereby relieving pressure toward institutional mergers. (5) Cardinal Walter Kasper in his book Harvesting the Fruits discountenances the wintry trope altogether in view of substantial advances in four international, bilateral dialogues, and advises patient further inquiry. (6) Yet his book's title invokes autumn, not spring or summer.

Writing in the midst of what may be an ecumenical winter with negative and positive aspects, or in a time of receptivity, or simply in a period demanding patience, I do not wish to propose any structural redefinition or actual change. But cooperation is not to be rejected as only half a loaf. With a modest aim for ecumenical cooperation in reevangelization, I wish to reflect on the secular context of belief in God as Creator and finite reality as creation. Besides presenting a challenge, the secular context also offers a point of access to belief in God as Creator through the "green" experience of physical nature. That experience, understood in light of Bernard Lonergan's faith/ belief distinction and a principle in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, can be conceived as "primordial faith" open to belief in God as Creator and the world as creation. That concept provides a platform on which to consider cooperative reevangelizing in an ecological era on the basis of already present Christian unity.

The Secular Context

Ecumenism in the West, both wintry and receptive, takes place in a secular context. The secular context affects awareness of the creature-Creator relationship within which monotheistic religions live, believe, and act. Moreover, the secular context has an interior dimension. It does not simply surround belief as an external historical circumstance but forms an arc in a circumscribing social imaginary within the otherwise culturally variegated common sense of people in the West. So I will use the term "context" to denote an internal as well as external relation between secularity on the one hand, and the churches, faith, and Christian life on the other. A secular context varies somewhat from society to society in the West. In each society the context and faith are copresent in Western Christians in distinctive ways. My focus here will be on how the context makes a difference to common Christian belief in God as Creator within one society, the United States. Turnabout in relations between context and faith is fair play. Max Weber showed in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism that belief affects the internal and external aspects of the secular context in economic life, but that direction of influence is not the topic here.

About the Western context Charles Taylor asks, "Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable? …

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