Friday, October 5, 2012

Reshaping Ecumenical Theology

Reshaping Ecumenical Theology: The Church Made Whole?
By Paul Avis, T&T Clark, 2010, 209 pp., ISBN 978-0-567-19433-5, $34.95.

This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:

Catholic Library World, Sep2011, vol. 82 Issue 1, p40-41, 2p.

Has the ecumenical movement reached a dead end? Paul Avis says no. He believes the movement can be revived and moved forward. He explains how this can be accomplished in his new book, Reshaping Ecumenical Theology: The Church Made Whole. Paul Avis is the General Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity and Canon Theologian of Exeter and a long-time leader of the ecumenical movement in the Anglican Church in England.

Avis emphasizes and celebrates the diversity and unity of Christianity and the Church. He does not ignore the difficulties facing the ecumenical movement in the modern day. He asks the question: “when does multiplicity become fragmentation?” (p. viii). Avis thinks that the fragmentation of the church is a scandal to the non-believing world. He believes all Christians are called to work for the unity of the church. He believes this unity is both physical and spiritual. Most people think that spiritual unity of the church is enough. For example, all Christians are spiritually baptized into one body of Christ. Avis accepts this, but he does not think this is enough. The church must also work for physical union too. He says that “the spiritual cannot flourish without the structural” (p.44). He notes that the Church’s “existence is patterned on the Incarnation: divinity is embodied, united with humanity” (p.44).

Avis shows where the ecumenical movement has failed and where it has succeeded. For example, Avis notes that “ecumenism clearly needs to take more seriously … the huge diversity of Christianity that is reflected in the churches — a diversity of spirituality, worship, theology and organization” (p. viii). This would be a helpful correction in the ecumenical movement. It would make it much stronger than it has been in the past. By adequately dealing with the differences, the substance of Christianity existing in multiple traditions would be more clearly shown. On the other hand, Avis believes that all Christians are to work for the unity of the church. He understands the ecumenical movement as “a quest for the mutual understanding between churches” (p.62). This unity is provided for us in Christ and the Holy Spirit; but is also something we must do. Avis notes that this is “both a gift and a task” (63).
The chapters include materials that Avis has presented on other occasions that he has “rewritten, expanded and corrected extensively” (p. ix). It also includes new material that presents ideas to move the ecumenical movement forward. This book is an excellent introduction to the ecumenical movement. It helps to see where the ecumenical movement has been and how to move it forward.

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