The ecumenical honeymoon is over.” So writes Albert C. Outler in his recent book The Christian Tradition and the Unity We Seek. Appraising the progress of the ecumenical movement, Outler finds that the first phase of finding and charting areas of agreement and disagreement must now yield to the second phase of grappling with the residual problems of disagreement which are “acute, urgent, and desperately difficult.”
One of the most noticeable disagreements within the World Council of Churches, apparent at the Amsterdam Assembly in 1948 and rudely shocking to many at Evanston in 1954, is that between what are frequently called, not altogether accurately, the “Anglo-Saxon” and the “Continental” theologies. The one it criticized as activism, the other as quietism. The one finds its antecedents in the social gospel, the other in crisis theology. The one stresses God’s immanence, the other his transcendence.
The “Anglo-Saxon” approach accents God’s role within history; the “Continental,” God’s role beyond history. The first calls the Church to broad cultural responsibilities in realizing the Kingdom of God here and now. The second insists that all the Church can do is to point to the Kingdom of God as an eschatological reality. The first recognizes biblical norms as they emerge through cultural interaction. The second seeks to apply biblical norms quite without regard for cultural context. The first tends to regard institutional church union as the summum bonum of the ecumenical movement. The second is more easily satisfied with fellowship and discussion as the expression of ecumenicity.
It may be recalled that at the time of the Amsterdam Assembly, Reinhold Niebuhr, certainly not entirely representative of the ...1
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