Paradigm lost?

I first came across Thomas Kuhn's theory of the "Structure of Scientific Revolutions" in my first week at university, presented as a tool used by some economists to explain why economic theories change over time:
Broadly, this concept draws attention to the tendency for groups of intellectuals to become totally absorbed in the logical puzzles of a particular theory. When outside change occurs, then the intellectuals have to be wrenched reluctantly back from metaphysical speculation to the problems of the real world and a new theoretical formulation, or paradigm, may become dominant. For instance, the intricacies of a theory suitable for an economy based on steam technology with small-scale firms run by owner-managers will not be suitable for large-scale, multinational, joint-stock corporations operating in the nuclear age. (Cole et al, Why Economists Disagree, pp.11-12)
This is what is called a "paradigm shift," though Kuhn himself, was reluctant to apply his theory to social science. A decade or so later, Konrad Raiser applied the theory of paradigm shift to the ecumenical movement in his book, Ecumenism in Transition. In his book, Raiser contended that the old paradigm of the ecumenical movement is being superceded by a new one. The old paradigm Raiser characterises as "Christocentric universalism", marked by "the Christocentric orientation, concentration on the church, a universal perspective, and history as the central category of thought" (p.41). Against this background, Raiser identifies three main emphases for a new paradigm: a Trinitarian understanding of the divine reality and of the relationship between God, the world and humankind; "life", understood as a web of reciprocal relationships, as a central point of reference (instead of history); and an understanding of the one church in each place and in all places a fellowship in the sense of a community of those who are different from one another (p.78). Central to this new paradigm is an understanding of the oikoumene as a household, an "oikos", the "one household of life created and preserved by God, that extends beyond the world of humankind, of the one human race, to creation as a whole" (pp.87-8). Elements of this new paradigm could be observed in the 1990s in the WCC in such areas as the "Theology of Life" programme, the process to develop a Common Understanding and Vision for the WCC, and in Raiser's WCC general secretary report to the 1998 Harare assembly.

Raiser drew up his sketch of a new paradigm for the ecumenical movement shortly before the series of events at the end of the 1980s that marked, in one sense, the end of the post-war world of which the WCC was part. Konrad Raiser's sketch of an emerging paradigm was aimed at doing justice to an ecumenism of diversity. Yet both the old and the new paradigms identified by Raiser had one thing in common: both are an attempt to explicate the significance of the ecumenical movement through a comprehensive meta-narrative. Yet one challenge identified as facing the WCC and the ecumenical movement since 1989 has been precisely the lack of a such a paradigm, recognised and accepted by all participants. As Minna Hietamäki noted in her presentation to the Faith and Order plenary commission in 2009:
The unity and diversity of the Church cannot be separated from the concrete contexts and the concrete web of relations where the relations exist. As in the koinonia-relations described earlier, also in concrete life situations we are faced with relations which can be described by mutual dependency, where logical priority or priority-in-status does not destroy the mutual indwelling and which are not interchangeable. This leads me to the practical challenge that follows from describing the Church as essentially diverse in its unity. If we are not to fall into an unspecific pluralism, we need to retain the possibility to say and show what is and what is not properly Christian. But how is it possible to identify the “true Christian community” when the Church’s oneness can essentially be described only by diversity that reaches from the very being of God to the variety of cultural and linguistic contexts and when the essence of the community lies in noninterchangeable relations?

Looking to unity with Benedict XVI

Rather overshadowed by the sexual abuse scandal engulfing the Catholic Church (and others as well), Pope Benedict XVI for the first time visited the Lutheran church in Rome, only the second time that a pontiff has visited the place of worship (the first was Pope John Paul II in 1983, the year of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther). Benjamin Lassiwe has an article (in German) about the papal visit in the Rheinischer Merkur, and there is a report on The visit comes less than two months before the second Ecumenical Kirchentag in Germany, organized by Protestant and Catholic lay movements - the first such gathering in Berlin in 2003 heard calls for a common celebration of the Eucharist for Protestants and Catholics. Here's what Pope Benedict had to say about ecumenism in a sermon the Lutheran church in Rome (from the text published in German and Italian by the Vatican):
Today there are many complaints that ecumenism has come to a standstill, mutual reproaches, but I think, first of all we should be thankful that there is as much unity as there is. It is a wonderful thing that today on Laetare Sunday we can pray together, sing the same hymns with one another,hear the same Word of God with one another, interpret it and attempt to understand it together, that we look to the same Christ whom we see and to whom we want to be obedient, and that we witness to the fact that he is the One who has called us and to who we profoundly belong. I think we should not being showing the world all kinds of quarrels and disputes but joy and gratitude that this has been given to us by the Lord and that there is genuine unity, that may become increasingly deeper and increasingly a witness for the word of Christ, for the path of Christ in this world. of course we must not be satisfied with this, even if we are filled with gratitude for this fellowship. that is nevertheless in essential things, in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, are not able to drink the same cup, nor stand at the same altar, must fill us with sadness, that we are guilty of obscuring the witness; it must make us inwardly restless, to set us on the path to greater unity in the knowledge that ultimately can be given only by him, for a unity that we ourselves would negotiate, would be made by humans and as brittle as everything that is made by human hands. We give ourselves to him, seek to know and to love him him more and more, and leave to him that he will fully lead us to unity, for which we in the hour pray to him in all urgency.
(Photo from

It's time for 'civil disobedience' to advance ecumenism

Without "civil disobedience" from below, there will be no movement forward in ecumenism - the words of German Lutheran theologian Joachim Track when presenting his new book, "Kirchengemeinschaft jetzt" ("Ecclesial communion now" doesn't have quite the same ring in English), with co-author Catholic theologian Johannes Brosseder, in Munich on 11 March. It's one of what is likely to be a flood of publications in advance of the Ecumenical Kirchentag in the Bavarian capital in May  "We won't get any further at the moment if there is no pressure from below," the German Protestant news agency epd quoted Track as saying. Te  first Ecumenical Kirchentag in Berlin in 2003 was marked by an unofficial event at which Protestants were invited to share in a Eucharist presided by a Catholic priest - something that later to sanctions against the priest, Gotthold Hasenhuttl, himself an academic theologian. 

Speaking at the book launch, Brosseder said that between Protestants and Catholics there are no differences in the basic understanding of the church, while the practice of faith is necessarily ecumenical, as both church traditions believe in the same God. However, ecumenical progress is still hindered by church leaders. Anyway this is what the book blurb say (apologies for the scratch translation):
The fundamental issues and insights regarding the understanding of church and ministry are discussed in an ecumenical perspective, making clear where there is an existing consensus, studying more contentious issues and examining possible solutions.
It is shown that there is no difference in the insight that there is the necessity of a ministry of Word and Sacrament, including the ministry of episkope (supervision, church leadership)but that there are differences in the way in which this ministry is embodied. But in making a distinction between content and form this does not have and should not have a church-dividing character. The book sets out an analysis of the ecclesial communion that already exists and the models that have been drawn up for future ecclesial communion (Fries-Rahner-plan, conciliar fellowship, unity in reconciled diversity). This leads to the last chapter, under the heading "Unity in that which is necessary, freedom in controversial issues, love in everything", to the concluding considerations on the existing consensus about basic doctrinal and ethical issues, an analysis of the controversies that remain on these issues and their importance, and concrete proposals as to how ecclesial communion towards a mutual recognition as churches can already be practised and put into effect.

The globalisation of the World Council of Churches

Following its third assembly in 1961 in New Delhi, the World Council of Churches developed from being a body with a mainly North American/European orientation to one with a global scope.The integration of the WCC and the International Missionary Council opened the council to the churches of Africa and Asia.  At the same time, the broader Orthodox participation that followed New Delhi meant a greater role for churches from Eastern Europe. In Latin America, the movement for liberation theology was emerging, charted by Protestants as well as Roman Catholics. The holding of the Second Vatican Council created a new openness in the Roman Catholic Church offering cooperation with the WCC not only in Faith and Order issues - but in the second half of the 1960s, at least, also on issues relating to society, development and peace. The civil rights movement in the United States and the student protest movements in North America and Western Europe impacted on the churches, and were reflected in the World Conference on Church and Society in Geneva in 1966 and the WCC's fourth assembly two years later in Uppsala.

An international conference from 4 to 6 March 2011 at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey organized under the auspices of the  research project,  “On the Road to a Global Christendom: European Protestant Ecumenism and the ‘Discovery’ of the ‘Third World’”, is to examine this these changes from a global historical and ecumenical perspective. It will be of particular importance to analyze the historical, sociopolitical and theological developments in the 1960s and 1970s which contributed to this change (decolonization, liberation movements, revolutions, human rights, the Second Vatican Council, the rise of contextual theologies and so on.).

A call for papers has been addressed to researchers working on areas concerning the WCC since the 1960s, from a historical or theological perspective, or those researching the “getting global” of churches during the 1960s and 1970s from other angles.More details here (scroll down for English).

Looking to transcend capitalism and communism in Seoul

Today - 5 March 2010 - marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the World Convocation on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC) . Planned as the culmination of the JPIC process - better known in the then two German states as the "Conciliar Process" - delegates from all parts of the world converged for a week's deliberations in the South Korean capital of Seoul. It was intended to express "the urgent call for authoritative witness by the churches" in the face of injustice, hunger and poverty; war and violence; and destruction of the environment, stemming from an initative at the WCC's 1983 assembly in Vancouver, which, in large part due to efforts of the delegates from the German Democratic Republic, called on the WCC "to engage member churches in a conciliar process of mutual commitment to justice, peace and the integrity of creation".

Here, a key role had been played by the GDR theologian Heino Falcke, both in the run-up to the Vancouver assembly and in subsequent elaboration of the Conciliar Process in the GDR and at the global level.

In the GDR, the high point of this conciliar process was an Ecumenical Assembly of Churches and Christians which met in three sessions in 1988 and 1989, and which, not least because of the involvement of peace, environmental and human rights groups, made unprecedented demands for the reform of the GDR and influenced the citizens' movements and political parties formed at the time of the peaceful revolution of autumn 1989. According to Heino Falcke:
The ecumenical assembly raised the floodgates enough to release the log-jam of change. It gave an ecumenical inspiration to the dynamic for change, which also in a way gave it legitimacy; and above all, it gave it a direction that was set by the gospel.
An ecumenical gathering was held in 1988 in the Federal Republic of Germany, and in May 1989, the first European Ecumenical Assembly, "Peace with Justice", took place in the Swiss city of Basel. By the time the Convocation met in Seoul, however, the world had experienced a change of momentous dimensions. The epochal shift can be seen not least in the chronology of the GDR itself. The Basel assembly took place just after the widespread rigging of already undemocratic municipal elections in the GDR that was one of the triggers for the "peaceful revolution" of autumn 1989. The world convocation the following year took place immediately before the elections of March 1990 in the GDR that led to the first freely-elected Volkskammer, the GDR parliament. Many of those - like Falcke - involved in the events that led to the "peaceful revolution" considered that they had taken part in a movement for liberation and a new more just, peaceful and sustainable world order.

Yet, for many of those in Seoul from the Global South, the events in Europe at the end of the 1980s were being regarded with suspicion. Certainly, in his address to the Seoul convocation, Frank Chikane, then general secretary of the South African Council of Churches - from a country where the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the African National Congress was also experiencing an epochal shift - described the changes in Europe as an opportunity to leave behind old models based on capitalism and communism and to replace them with new models "aimed at moving towards the Kingdom of God". However, he warned also that if the "First and Second World come together on the basis of the old system ... the remaining two-thirds of the world will be in trouble".

At the same time, the voices of Christians from the two German states (and especially the GDR), who had in many ways provided the motor for the conciliar process, were muted in Seoul. The specific conditions within the GDR which had given such force to the conciliar process disappeared with the autumn revolution. The conciliar process, whose origins lay in an initiative at a time of heightened East-West tension, was being overshadowed by the process of German unification. By the time the world convocation took place in Seoul, immediately before the GDR's free elections of March 1990, the collapse of state socialism in Eastern Europe and the accelerating process towards German unification had fundamentally shifted the terms of the debate.

In a recent paper, Falcke noted how East Germans themselves had little time after the opening of the Berlin wall on 9 November 1989 to reflect on the significance of the epoch-changing events. Instead, they were fully consumed by the "breathtaking processes" in their own country that led to the unification of Germany, 11 months later, in October 1990.

Falcke said that travelling to Seoul for the World Convocation had allowed him to gain a different perspective:
While I was there. I was often greeted with the joyful words, "The wall has been broken down!", but was made to feel very clear just how this process was seen from the perspective of other problems in the world and especially about the hopes and fears in Central America and Asia about the revolutions in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War.
[The photo shows the closing worship at the Seoul convocation. Souce:]

:: Crosspost from Holy Disorder.

'Unity is strength, but diversity is wealth'

Some years ago, while working in Brussels, I wrote an article (posted here) looking at the parallels between the European Union and the ecumenical movement. The starting point was the widespread feeling in the early 1990s of stagnation in the European Union, with the Single Market not being able to meet the challenges posed by the disintegration of communism and the end of the Cold War. There were parallels, I argued, with the challenges facing the ecumenical movement, which in its institutional form at least, was, like the EU a product of the post-Second World War era. Again like the EU, the ecumenical movement was predicated on the promotion of unity as a central task, while also having the pragmatic function of representing their still separate members. The article explored the extent to which the "paradigm shift" outlined by ecumenical theologian Konrad Raiser in his book Ecumenism in Transition might be applied also to the European Union based on the "house rules" of self-limitation and the renunciation of violence; dialogue and striving for truth; sharing in solidarity; ecumenical learning; and ecumenical hospitality.

I was reminded of all this when reading a recent blog post by Dan Smith on the "long term view" for the new EU high representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton.

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