The fourth annual “Austin Graduate School of Theology – First Things Lecture” is now complete. Once again, the event was a great success.
On Monday evening, October 8, about 130 people braved the heavy rain to hear Ephraim Radner, Professor of Historical Theology at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto. The lecture topic was “Ecumenism in a Post-Christian Society.”
Radner began by defining “ecumenism” as the deliberate search and prayer for the unity of the divided church. “Post-Christian” describes a society that has a civil polity that no longer operates from a substantive Christian base. What does ecumenism look like in a post-Christian society?
Radner summarized a society’s stages as pre-Christian, Christian, late Christian, and post-Christian. In some places, such as Burundi in East Central Africa, society has rushed through these phases in a comparatively short amount of time. Radner witnessed first-hand Burundi’s transition from a late Christian to a post-Christian society and was forced, along with other Western missionaries, to leave the country. In the global West, the transition through these stages has been a longer and more gradual process. North American society is now moving into the post-Christian phase, if it is not already there.
The ecumenical forms that we have inherited in the West are derived from the late Christian social order; they have run their course and are rapidly disappearing. Recent, mainstream ecumenism has not successfully bridged the divide or created actual communal life and possessions, the kind of unity witnessed, for example, in Acts 2 and 4. Christians must cooperate on a daily basis—sharing possessions, praying, worshiping, and serving together.
Post-Christian society has stripped Christianity of its former privilege. According to Radner, post-Christian ecumenism must be from the ground up. There is no “how-to” manual for a new and successful ecumenism, but it must be discovered as it is lived. For the church to be one, it will require members to follow the way of Christ, who emptied himself and made himself vulnerable to suffering and death. Christians, in being stripped of status and called on to give up something, may be on the way to achieving and maintaining the unity that our Lord desires.
We at Austin Grad are grateful to Ephraim Radner for sharing his insights with our community, and we are grateful again to First Things magazine for co-sponsoring the event. We look forward to future collaboration with First Things.