Category Archives: Uncategorized

Too catholic to be Catholic – Peter Leithart


As one who has heard, read, and appreciated Peter Leithart over the past few years, and who has recognize that Leithart values tradition and values a strong ecclesiology, I was particularly fascinated to read his account of why, in light of those values, he will  not become Roman Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox). I find this, on the face of it at least, a valid objection to a Protestant joining one of these older, closed communions. It seems a reason to pause, however much a Protestant (especially of the frustratingly amnesiac, hyper-pragmatic “evangelical” variety) may wish to affirm the greatness and integrity of much historic catholic theology and practice.

The executive summary of what Leithart argues here is this: true ecumenism is incompatible with joining either Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

Here’s a sampling of his thought on this score:

“Here’s the question I would ask to any Protestant considering a move: What are you saying about your past Christian experience by moving to Rome or Constantinople?  Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome? Continue reading

Time management for professors–wise words from Wheaton’s Alan Jacobs


Wheaton professor and author (e.g. The Narnian) Alan Jacobs’s Tumblr site (ayjay.tumblr.com) is a perennial source of illuminating and useful stuff.

In a recent post about time management for academics (that is, professors), a number of tips about how professors can make best use of their time caught my imagination. In particular, frankly, Jacobs is talking about clearing time for writing–always a pressurized activity in a busy academic activity. But he is doing so in a pedagogically sensitive mode. This is not a man who wishes to sacrifice his students’ experience to his own writerly ambitions. Here are the particular bits that I found most illuminating: Continue reading

New issue of Christian History looks at diversity and social impact of Christianity in America


Issue 102, in cooperation with the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicalism

Well, issue #102 of Christian History magazine has now rolled off the presses, and can also be read here (once you’ve followed the link, click twice to render the text a little larger, though it’s still unfortunately small).

What’s the issue about? Here’s the “Editor’s note” by project editor (and friend) Jennifer Woodruff Tait:

AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY IS, at the very least, odd. How odd is not always apparent to those of us who live inside it, for whom the story of denomina­tional competition, freedom from an established church linked with governmental power, and a marketplace of religious choices is the norm.

Yet for some two centuries now, outside observers have been remarking on its oddity, Continue reading

C S Lewis: The classical and medieval resonances of his moral teachings


A depiction of Boetius teaching his students (...

A medieval teacher to be named later in this post . . .

Just got back from the 2012 International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo’s Western Michigan University. Hands down my favorite meeting–and it’s not even in my primary area of research.

For the second year I was invited, by Crystal Kirgiss of the Purdue C S Lewis society, to give a paper at the congress on Lewis and a medieval theme. This all started because of the popular book I’m working on for Baker Books, Getting Medieval, with a Little Help from C S Lewis and Friends. Each chapter of that book will open with some Lewisian material related to the chapter’s topic (e.g. medieval theology, ethics, compassionate ministry, monasticism, affective devotion, etc.).

Here’s this year’s paper. Hope y’all enjoy it: Continue reading

How important was the closing of the NT canon to the early church?


St Athanasius at Clarence Gate

St Athanasius at Clarence Gate (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

In a recent short paper on the topic of Scripture and tradition, a student of mine wrote the following:

“While combating the Arian heresy, Athanasius, the Egyptian bishop of Alexandria, was exiled under false pretenses.  In 367, just returning from exile, he wrote perhaps the most important document to the early church, the Festal Letter. In it was a list of Christian books he said were inspired of God. Christians had long debated which books should make up the New Testament, but Athanasius’s list of 27 writings marks the first time a church leader identified the very books Christians today called the New Testament. (Stephen M. Miller, “How we got our Bible A Gallery of Mavericks and Misfits,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1994/issue43/4318.html). The books, which were declared as ‘sacred scripture,’ “were confidently believed to be inspired writings, divinely dictated word by word.”[1]“

This insistence that the Festal Letter was the most important document of its age seemed to me a typically Protestant misemphasis. Not that the books of the New Testament were unimportant. They were central to the life and thinking of the early church–indeed, in ways that we can only palely imitate. However, I wrote in the margin:

“Note that many other documents, including proto-creeds, were considered more important to the church at the time than the Festal Letter, which was something of a “blip” on the early church’s radar. Canon formation was just not a major issue for Christians of the time; they felt comfortable that the bishops, the church itself, the Holy Spirit superintending, the “rule of faith” in the proto-creeds . . . all of these would guarantee apostolic truth. It wasn’t that important to them whether this or that book was declared “canonical.” They were all edifying. They all had a certain authority. Whether some were of the highest authority or not (canonical) was a matter open to discussion, but they didn’t feel this threatened the integrity of the faith.”

I based my response to the student on understandings gained from Baptist patristics scholar D. H. Williams (Baylor University). I don’t think I am overstating the case: tradition, including the rule of faith and the teaching role of the bishops, was simply the primary guarantor of apostolic truth in those early years. Canon had not yet taken on that role, as it does with Protestants today.

What do you think? Did I overstate my case in the response to this student? I am not a Patristics scholar–hence my reliance on Williams (and other things I have read). I am open to correction and constructive debate on this.


[1] Evans, G.R., Faith in the Medieval World. 49.

 

Mark Galli on the recent troubles in AMIA (Anglican Mission in the Americas)


CT managing editor and AMIA minister Mark Galli on his denomination’s current troubles:

Some facts in the current crisis remain in dispute, and it will take months or years to sort them out. We need to understand what, in fact, was the relationship between Chuck Murphy and the Rwanda Province over the last few years. Continue reading

Alvin Plantinga, apologist and pro-science thinker


English: Image of Alvin Plantinga released by ...

Alvin Plantinga

Reading the New York Times article that appeared today on recently retired Calvin College philosopher Alvin Plantinga almost (only almost) makes me want to join the apologetic fray. I’m just not cut out for it. But I’m glad that there are people like Dr. Plantinga around to point out that science and Christian faith, far from being incompatible, are in fact twins in the womb (or to be more precise, Western science would not have happened without Christianity):

On the telephone Mr. Plantinga was milder in tone but no less direct. “It seems to me that many naturalists, people who are super-atheists, try to co-opt science and say it supports naturalism,” he said. “I think it’s a complete mistake and ought to be pointed out.” Continue reading

Baylor scholar Roger Olson on Pietism


Hat tip to my friend, IV staffer Charlie Clauss, for providing a link to video of two talks given by Dr. Roger Olson on Pietism. Thanks Charlie. You can click on the title, below, to access the videos:

AUS MEMORIAL LECTURE – MARCH 15, 2011

PIETISM: A WORLD WE HAVE LOST AND NEED TO FIND AGAIN

Roger Olson
Professor of Theology, George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University, Waco, Texas

Good grief: On attending to the body and not just the soul in death


[Viewing Casket, Museum of Funeral Customs, Springfield, Illinois, 2006]

Many thanks to Rob Moll for pointing me to the following wonderful article on death and funerals by Thomas Lynch. The article is years old now, but Lynch, who is a funeral director, has a message that we still need to hear. And because I know from looking at the statistics on this site that many readers don’t click through the links to articles that I provide, contenting themselves to read just the excerpt in the blog page, I want to excerpt here the part of the article that I found most powerful–its ending. 

But let me say: the whole thing is well worth reading (despite the frequent typos owing to poor scanning and editing). In the first half of the article, Lynch challenges eloquently and effectively the super-spiritualizing presumption that my body, your body, in death even as in life, is “just a shell.” The argument is particularly poignant for me, as I have just in recent weeks attended my grandmother’s memorial service–that convenient gathering at which the body (“shell”) is notably absent, except in this case by the representative urn of ashes. Here is the conclusion to which that argument leads:

Among the several blessings of my work as a funeral director is that I have seen the power of such faith in the face of death. I remember the churchman at the deathbed of a neighbor — it was four in the morning in the middle of winter — who gathered the family around to pray, then helped me guide the stretcher through the snow out to where our hearse was parked. Three days later, after the services at church, he rode with me in the hearse to the grave, committed the body with a handful of earth and then stood with the family and friends as the grave was filled, reading from the psalms — the calm in his voice and the assurance of the words making the sad and honorable duties bearable.

I remember the priest I called to bury one of our town’s indigents — a man without family or friends or finances. He, the gravediggers and I carried the casket to the grave. The priest incensed the body blessed it with holy water and read from the liturgy for 20 minutes, then sang In Paradisum — that gorgeous Latin for “May the angels lead you into Paradise” — as we lowered the poor mans body into the ground. When I asked him why he’d gone to such trouble he said these are the most important funerals — even if only God is watching — because it affirms the agreement between “all God’s children” that we will witness and remember and take care of each other. Continue reading

Is there really “no true Scotsman”? or “Amishman”? or “Quaker”?


Ever hear of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy? There’s a delightful exposition of it, with great relevance for the church, on the Slacktivist blog. It is by Fred Clark, and it makes me want to read more of Mr. Clark’s stuff. Here’s how it begins:

The “No True Scotsman” fallacy is a common way of exempting a group from any culpability for the bad actions of members of that group. More generally, the useful Wikipedia article linked to there describes it as:

An ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion. When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim, rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule.

The key point there is that final phrase: “without reference to any specific objective rule.” I want to clarify that even further, and say that such specific objective rules need to be credibly accepted as excluding the counterexample. But I also want to reinforce this aspect of the definition to ensure that we’re not seeing the “No true Scotsman” fallacy where it does not exist.

It’s helpful here to look at philosopher Antony Flew’s classic example of this fallacy, from which it derives its name. That example is structured, actually, as a joke: Continue reading