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Lindbeck on Ecumenism

“Unitive ecumenism, among other things, needs to be reconcieved.  It can no longer be thought of, as I have done most of my life, as a matter of reconciling relatively intact and structurally still-Constantinian communions from the top down.  Rather it must be thought of as reconstituting Christian community and unity from, so to speak, the bottom up.  it is here that the structuring of the Church in the first centuries is especially instructive.  The ecumenical journey when thus conceived will be longer but also more adventurous: renewal and unification become inseparable.”

–George Lindbeck, The Church in a Postliberal Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 8.


  1. Ben George wrote:

    “relatively intact”

    Is Lindbeck saying that these communions must be dismantled first?


    Which communions does he indicate are “Constantinian” and why?

    “It is here that the structuring of the Church in the first centuries is especially instructive.”

    The structuring of the Church in the first centuries were episcopal, intact and root-to-branches organically unified. Lindbeck seems to be proposing a branches-to-root unification, I mean to say: a unification of people with utterly contrary ideas about what it means to be Christian. The only kind of unification I currently see happening in this way is a lowest-common-denominator style Zondervan Saddleback Americanized Christianity. I know about the Taize experiment—It sounds nice, but is it lived on any real scale?

    And brass tacks: Does the unified church that Lindbeck imagines find its essence in gathering at the altar of the real real kneel-to-it real presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

    Monday, April 21, 2008 at 9:22 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Ben, if you’re interested in reading the article this quote originally came from it is here. I don’t expect you to agree with it of course, but if you’re interested, here it is.

    I would note that Lindbeck has been highly active in ecumenical dialogues throughout his life and was present for the Vatican II Council.

    Monday, April 21, 2008 at 9:36 pm | Permalink
  3. Ben George wrote:

    I can appreciate his desire to see the church in a more “Israel-like” way, though I’ve never noticed that this was lacking.

    His suggestion about “restructuring the churches into something like pre-Constantinian organizational patterns”–what does this mean? What pattern does he think existed before Constantine that did not afterward, or vice versa?

    Perhaps my problem is that when people make ecumenical suggestions, I really want to hear concrete prescriptions.

    Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at 9:18 am | Permalink
  4. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Ben, I’d recommend his book The Nature of Doctrine for a fuller account.

    Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  5. Phil Sumpter wrote:

    I skimmed through an review of a book by Ephraim Radner recently, which seemed to suggest a different understanding of ecumenism. Rather than trying to restructure anything, we should just bite the bullet and get unified, as unity is what the gospel is all about, including the willingness to suffer for other’s doctrinal mistakes. He used Israel as an example. The details are here.

    Friday, April 25, 2008 at 9:33 am | Permalink

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