‘Enclave’ vs. ‘Ecumenical’ Theology

Michael Bird has an interesting blog post this week on so-called ‘Enclave Theology’. I’m still pondering the outworking of this, but for now here is the quote he cites from George Hunsinger’s The Eucharist and Ecumenism:

By ‘enclave’ theology, I mean a theology based narrowly in a single tradition that seeks not to learn from other traditions and to enrich them, but instead to topple and defeat them, or at least to withstand them. Enclave theology is polemical theology even when it assumes an irenic facade. Its limited agenda makes it difficult for it to take other traditions seriously and deal with them fairly. Whether openly or secretly, it is not really interested in dialogue but in rectitude and hegemony…Because of its temptation to misrepresent or devalue traditions with which it disagrees, such theology is finally divisive and futile … Enclave theology makes itself look good, at least in its own eyes, by making others look bad. (The Eucharist and Ecumenism, p. 1)

Bird suggest as an antidote to ‘enclave theology’ something akin to the ‘Reformational Catholicism’ of Leithart or Vanhoozer. But another reader shows that Hunsinger himself offers a solution:

“It presupposes that every tradition in the church has something valuable to contribute even if we cannot discern what it is. The ecumenical movement will succeed not when all other traditions capitulate to the one true church — whether centered in Geneva, Constantinople, Canterbury, Wittenberg or Rome — to say nothing of other symbolic locales like Lima, Cape Town, New Delhi, Canberra or Beijing. On the contrary, it will succeed only by a deeper conversion of alltraditions to Christ. Ecumenical theology, though properly grounded in a single tradition, looks for what is best in traditions not its own. It seeks not to defeat them but to respect and learn from them. It earns the right to speak only by listening, and it listens much more than it speaks… Each will contribute to the richness of the whole, and all will be expected to stretch to accept some things that at first do not seem possible” [my italics]. (The Eucharist and Ecumenism, p. 2.)

What would this look like in practice? I’m sure we can all think of bad examples from both viewpoints. Is there a middle ground? And is ‘enclave theology’ really a bad thing, or can it have benefits? Finally, (and related to my current area of research), how could we classify the early church using these (limited) definitions?



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