New center promotes unity in the church

For hundreds of years, evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians have been at odds over doctrine. Two professors want to make John Brown University a place where they can come together.

The Paradosis Center for Theology and Scripture is a research center focused on fostering dialogue between different branches of Christianity. The Center is a joint effort between John Brown University and Baylor University.

“The idea behind the center is that we are coming together as Catholics, orthodox and evangelicals in order to help one another live out that which has been passed on to us,” said Charles Raith II, assistant professor of religion and philosophy and director of the Paradosis Center. “We’re intentionally trying to get students involved in this conversation so they are trained to be peacemakers in the world … and contribute to healing divisions in the church.”

The Center is not a new organization, but a reconfigured one. It originally began as the Center for Evangelical-Catholic Dialogue. It was hosted by Regent University in Virginia Beach and Baylor. This March Raith was offered the position of director and the opportunity to host the center at the university.

Dr. Nathan Jacobs, assistant professor of religion and philosophy, was also made a director.

Orthodox Christians were added to the dialogue and the Paradosis Center was born. Raith said the culture of the university means it is ideal for an ecumenical center.

“This kind of center can flourish here,” said Raith. “Not only are we interdenominational, we have a lot of Catholic students, and a few orthodox students, too.”

Ed Ericson III, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty, thinks the missions of the center and the university are compatible.

“The idea is to have a larger interfaith conversation…fits well with JBU’s interdenominational background,” said Ericson. “Our students can be engaged in really high level discussions of issues that are crucial to what’s going on in intellectual and theological debates.”

The Center plans to a launch a fellows program next year. There are also plans for an ecumenical summit with around 20 of the top evangelical, Catholic and orthodox scholars coming to the university.

“It’s an opportunity to engage in the conversation of the ages. Our faith has a rich heritage of conversation and dialogue that’s been going on for a long time now,” said Maxie Burch, chair of the division of Biblical studies. “This is our opportunity to become a part of the conversation of the church.”