In Search of Ecumenical Theology

Posted: December 3, 2012 by Ty in Spirituality
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English: Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Roman...

English: Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Roman Catholic Church, 168 Hill Street, Southampton, . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Since the Ascension of Jesus circa 30-34 CE in which afterwards the disciples answered the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 (Contemporary English Version):

16 Jesus’ eleven disciples went to a mountain in Galilee, where Jesus had told them to meet   him.17 They saw him and worshiped him, but some of them doubted.

                        18 Jesus came to them and said:

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth! 19 Go to the people of all nations and make   them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 20 and             teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.

Each disciple brought their own flavour and understanding of the Cross to the disciple making policy. This has created a glut of divergent theologies throughout the history of the Christianities. From the pseudo-unity of the early church, that was held together by spit and bailing wire of the Ecumenical Councils that came undone with the Patriarch-Pope spat that culminated in 1054 CE with the mutual excommunications. From there the tree would continue to create new buds with the religious orders within the Roman Catholic Church, that then created whole new branches with the Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s CE with Zwingli, Calvin, and Luther, eventually Henry VIII that then would continue with multiple denominational fractionizing that has brought us to the 1000’s of variances within practice that keep the church apart.

These micro-walls need to be overcome by the macro bridges of interdisciplinary theology. A theology that is ecumenical, that bridges across the small dissimilarities and unifies the Body of Christ within our similarities, which are far more plentiful than we wish to admit on a daily basis. Canate’s paper Interdisciplinary Method in Christian Theology? In search of a working proposal is an attempt to create these bridges and present an understanding of God that is not so much encyclopedic as it is living (p.3).

This paper will not only summarize Canate’s thoughts, but spend time unpacking if this proposal is workable or if there is another way to build an interdisciplinary theology for the church of the 21st Century.


Canate took a leap of faith in producing this proposal. As he aptly pointed out for 200 years and beyond the practice of theology was one of encyclopedic reference, unfortunately with the information explosion of the 21st century this way of practice has become impossible (3). The role of the proposal is to overcome the divisive glut of theology and to build into an ecumenical theology for the new millennium (Canate, 1). To continue to build upon what Biblical scholar Childs’ stipulates success in our ability to engage within an interdisciplinary dialogue (Canate, 3).

Canate grows from this into a discourse within the confines of Sola Scriptura, the standard of the Protestant Reformation and that this method should not only be identified within the scientific context (4). The definition of method is “with or in the way” (5), as a result then method is an action (6) and to broaden within theology there are two main methods: Structural (inherent complexity in the teleogical principal) and Hermeneutical (diversity of ways: cognitive & hermeneutical principals are interpreted by theologians) (10).

Canate takes a short detour of a meta-analysis of the history of western theology, before stepping out into the idea that for 17 centuries Christian Theology was done in the confines of systematic (dogmatic) theology (13) and it was not until the mid-18th Century Biblical Theology rose to prominence (13). It was this stylistic, Biblical Theology that centered on historicity by adopting the historical critical method of the Enlightenment as a critique of the systematic method (14).

From the history Canate moves to the proposal for interdisciplinary theology that is needed due to the historical process in which the science of theology has divided itself (16). The approach to the field is presented from a fundamental theological perspective (18) that lends itself to the Sola Scriptura. Within Sola Scriptura Canate presents three levels (20):

  1. Foundations: philosophy and disciplines of theology.
  2. Theory: biblical & systematic studies.
  3. Practice.

The main thrust being that Biblical & Systematic Theology need to realize that they are not only theoretical (Canate, 22), but also must be practically applicable within the life of the Body of Christ. Canate has crafted an intriguing proposal, but the question is does the proposal work?


Canate hit the nail on the head with the idea that the church theology is divisive. Canate lends this to the confessional and philosophical thinking of modern theologians (Canate, 2). Canate does on to define philosophical as transcendental, existential, empirical, and socio-phenomenological while confessional is the Roman Catholic and Protestant explanations of their faith (2). The nail was hit because this once more shows the modern practice of compartmentalization, instead of presenting the holistic form and the organic growth we have gone through we as a people like to say well this is philosophical, this is church, instead of realizing it all comes from the same source.

Which is the underlying and presented thesis of Canate, this divisiveness is not healthy or useful in this third millennium. In a world that is smaller and more connected than any time in human history, more specialized, and with more information available it is impossible for any one voice or person to be the final authority on all. God’s revelation needs to be grown to include all disciplines and understanding that have been given to humanity throughout history. It is through dialogue with one another that we can truly illuminate the stories of God with Her people, and His people with God. Through dialogue that we can see how the social sciences, sciences, and liberal arts speak into and throughout theology, not only that drawn out of the scriptures but into the scriptures.

This dialogue is then taken one step further, or needs to be taken one step further, for it is not only the academic disciplines in this day and age that need to be in conversation, but an acknowledgment of the individual circumstances and context of not only the time of the original story, but the time in which the story is being heard today.

The next step though is also to be prayerful, for it is the moving of the Holy Spirit within the discourse that will open up the will of God and the Truth to those gathered within the Body of Christ in this millennium. We tend to look back on the past and the ancient practices and say how simple they were, or they did not have this or that, but what they had was faithful hearing of the Spirit and this is what truly needs to be recaptured within the church.

As for Canate’s stance that it needs to be within the Sola Scritpura that this dialogue happens (4) is selling short the 1500 years before the Protestant Reformation for having anything to lend to the process. Acts 15 opens us up to the first Ecumenical Council held in Jerusalem to decide prayerfully what new converts to the way had to adhere to. This is a strong example that Sola Scriptura may not be the methodology to adhere to, for it is within the council that they practiced what Jesus practiced on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Not the letter of the Law, or the adherence to the commentary on the Law, but cutting to the spirit of the Law and what it truly meant for believers. This was done in healthy discourse by those anointed to the Apostolic Office

At first blush it appears as if the Ecumenical Council method is contrary to Sola Scriptura yet according to Canate brings in three levels (20):

  1. Foundations: philosophy and disciplines of theology.
  2. Theory: biblical & systematic studies.
  3. Practice.

Canate actually presents his own three legged stool for theological discourse. The stool holding to the idea of Tradition, Scripture, and Reason (with a fourth leg added recently for Experience) here there is somewhat of a parallel with Foundations which can be viewed as Tradition that which builds the bedrock the rest comes upon. Theory can parallel Reason, and practice culminates with experience. Scripture and Sola Scriptura becomes the seat that is held up by the other three legs.

Unwittingly Canate shapes a theory based from the last few centuries, referencing a point from the Protestant Reformation 600 years ago, which parallels a theory that has grown from the Ecumenical councils that can then be tied back to scripture itself from the Jerusalem Council of Acts of the Apostles chapter 15.

The core of the proposal being to answer the question being can there be an interdisciplinary method in Christian Theology? The answer is that we have always had an interdisciplinary method whether or not we have recognized it. The new question that arises is can we get back to our roots and grow an interdisciplinary method that can give the multiple Christianities a strong root system in our tree of life that is the Body of Christ within the world? If the Body is willing to heed to words of St. Paul around the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:12 (New Living Translation): “12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.” We are divided only because we choose not to recognize that one another’s language is saying the same thing.


Whether one titles it the three levels of Sola Scriptura or the Four Legged Stool or the Ecumenical Councils what arises is a confirmation that St. Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition):

          One Body with Many Members

                12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body,      though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized        into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

                14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say,       “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a       part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong         to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were       an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the       sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as   he chose. 19 If all were a single organ, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are             many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor            again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the         body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those parts of the body which we         think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are        treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God            has so adjusted the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, 25 that there may be       no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26      If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

                27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has            appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of         miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. 29            Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all     possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly             desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way

The essence of interdisciplinary theology is like the move of missiology to intercultural studies, no longer one does all know, but rather collaboratively we will work to discern the calling and Truth of God upon our lives. The move from encyclopedic to specialize becomes irrelevant because it is the Biblical concept that each of us has our role to play within the Body of Christ, and it is time we honoured that vocation.

By honouring the individual’s vocation within the community we are able to see the whole picture, come together and share in an open and honest dialogue. This being done prayerfully, allows the micro walls of denominationalisms to crumble within the Christianities, and macro bridges to be built. It allows for a truly catholic (universal) discourse of beliefs of followers of the Living Cosmic Christ.

These discourses can then move us from narrowed Christianities, to a truly inclusive Christendom, neigh better, Body of Christ to reach out to and transform the world. The first step is whether or not the Body of Christ in the here and now 21st Century is willing?


Canate, F. (2012) Interdisciplinary Method in Christian Theology? In search of a working             proposal retrieved from   24   November 2012.


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