Tag Archives: Protestantism

Where have all the artists gone? Protestant suspicion – and Catholic celebration – of the arts


English: Madonna and child, thought to have be...

English: Madonna and child, thought to have been damaged during the English Civil War, at St Mary’s Roman Catholic church, Brewood, Staffordshire, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the “creation chapter” of my forthcoming Getting Medieval with C. S. Lewis, after a brief reflection on the opposite-but-the-same Western tendencies that have crept into our Protestant churches – Gnosticism and materialism – I turn to the arts to see how these tendencies have manifested themselves there.

Evangelicalism and the arts

Let’s put a finer point on the issue by looking briefly at the evangelical Protestant churches and the arts. Where are the arts in modern orthodox Protestantism? One author looks at the century from 1860 to 1960 and finds only C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot practicing the creative art of literature to a high degree from an orthodox Protestant stance. During the same period, the Catholics produced an embarrassment of literary riches, from Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor to Gerard Manley Hopkins and Evelyn Waugh. All these, and many other Catholics, were “world-class writers,” and all orthodox Christians. The same seems to be true – perhaps even more so – in other fine arts. Similarly, few evangelicals have excelled in the worlds of television and movies. Indeed, “evangelical Protestants, especially, have not only not shone in the fine arts, they have often opposed such arts or valued them only as vehicles for evangelism, objecting to much of their subject matter.”[1] The author concludes that the problem for Protestants (and the superiority of Roman Catholics) in the arts stems from a difference in approach to Creation. Whereas Protestants often emphasize how fallen Creation and human society are, the theology of the Roman Catholic Church has proved more Creation-positive, and thus more likely to affirm and create images of the world, whether literary or in the visual arts. Continue reading

Max Weber was wrong: greed does not make capitalism thrive, it ruins it


My friend Greg Forster has written a thought-provoking article on the humane roots and recent corruption of capitalism. I recommend this as well worth reading. Here’s the first bit, to whet your appetite:

Last week John Starke wrote for TGC about “The Myth of the Protestant Work Ethic.” I’m grateful to Starke for exposing the egregious theological errors in Max Weber‘s theory of capitalism’s origins. But Weber’s theory of what happened next, the “cultural contradictions of capitalism” thesis, has done just as much damage. Christians ought to understand how Weber’s view of capitalism undermines the moral foundations of a humane and genuinely productive economy, promoting materialism, greed, faith/work dualism, debt, and crony capitalism. Continue reading

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

Protestants need a positive reason not to be Catholic: Reflections from Carl Trueman


H/t to friend and former student Matt Crutchmer for this:

I have had occasion to appreciate Westminster Seminary’s Carl Trueman before (to be precise: here and here). Now I find myself nodding in appreciation as I read Trueman’s side of a thoughtful conversation with a Roman Catholic, Bryan Cross.

Though this appears on the website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals–a group that gives me the willies–I find Trueman’s even-handed discussion of the links between the two great confessions a breath of fresh air, if a bit too focused on the importance to the church of confessional theology for my taste. Continue reading

Debunking the Protestant “T” word part V (conclusion): Learning to love tradition


This article is continued from “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ word: An edifying tale, part I,“ “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part II: How to spot a heresy, “Debunking the Protestant ‘T’ Word part III: What was the beef at Nicea?“ and “Debunking the Protestant “T” word part IV: How sausage was made.”

So now in conclusion: Some of you may be inclined to say: “All I need is my Bible, and I know everything about God and Jesus and salvation that I need to know.” I hope you’ll see the moral of this story about the Council of Nicea. The doctrine of the Trinity—that is, the doctrine that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all uncreated, all co-eternal, all equal in divinity—is, in one sense, all over the Bible. But in another, very literal sense, the Trinity is never mentioned even once in the Bible. Nor is the exact nature and relationship of the “two natures of Christ”—his divine nature and his human nature. Those were clarified at later councils. Nor will you find in the Bible every detail of the right way to run a church—including church government, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and so much more. (That’s why there are so many denominations!) Nor, of course, does the Bible contain instructions about what job each of you should take, or who you should marry.

You can and should ask the Bible each of those kinds of questions. But it’s not a great idea to just ask the Bible. Continue reading

Debunking the Protestant “T” word: An edifying tale, part I


Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Icon of the First Council of Nicea

Once in a while I get to talk to a group of Protestants about one of our shibboleths, the “T word”–that is, tradition. And I make the case that tradition is not the sort of extra- and anti-biblical “rules of man” thing that they think it is. It’s not “stuff added to the Scripture to which the consciences of good Christians have been bound by an evil hierarchical church.”

In fact, tradition has been for 2,000 years the stuff of the faith of quite possibly the majority of world Christians. And it was the stuff of the faith of almost every Christian not just before the Reformation, but right through the Reformation, including the thought and commitments of Luther, Calvin, and other great Reformers. Calvin’s Institutes are full of footnotes to the church fathers. Why do that if Scripture is your only authority and is perfectly clear on all matters? Continue reading

Monastic habits for non-monastics–Glimpses from Dennis Okholm


Cover of "Monk Habits for Everyday People...

A fascinating modern exploration of Benedictine ways

The following are brief excerpts and quotations I marked while reading Dennis Okholm’s Monk Habits for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007). Along with works by Kathleen Norris, Phyllis Tickle, Leighton Ford, Karen E. Sloan, Tony Jones, and a growing group of other Protestant authors, Okholm’s book explores medieval monasticism–especially the Benedictine tradition. The forward is by Kathleen Norris.

As with the David Bell and Jaroslav Pelikan “glimpses” and the glimpses of Benedict and Francis by Columba Stewart, William Short, G. K. Chesterton, and Mark Galli, I thank my t.a., Shane Moe, who transcribed these and inserted  brief contextual tags where helpful. Page numbers are at the beginning of each excerpt. The designation “Q” means I wanted to save the text as a quotation, for use in teaching and writing. D means the definition of a term. “U” means I want to use an idea or statement in my teaching:

Q, 9 (from Kathleen Norris’s forward to the book, on Ockholm’s discussion of Protestants being attracted to monasteries): “He demonstrates that it is not just another case of Americans shopping around for their spirituality, but a genuine reclaiming of the taproot of Christianity, a reconnecting with a religious tradition and way of life that predates all of the schisms in Christendom.” Continue reading

C S Lewis’s spiritual formation: confession, purgatory, Mary, and other Catholic dimensions


Cover of

Cover via Amazon

I’ve long thought Protestantism has been hasty (as Luther himself was not) to eliminate the practice of confession to a priest–among other Roman Catholic (or the larger category: “catholic”) practices and beliefs. Once one clears away the typical Protestant misunderstandings (that the priest is a mediator who somehow offers absolution by his own authority, that he imposes penances as a way to “earn salvation,” etc.), this seems to me a healthy Christian discipline. Particularly it seems it would be helpful if the person to which one confessed were also one’s spiritual director, in the old tradition.

What follows are some notes taken at the Marion Wade Center, from a couple of sources by Lyle Dorsett. The first is an article peering into C S Lewis’s own practice of confession. The second is a group of excerpts from Dorsett’s book on Lewis’s spiritual development, and talks again about Lewis’s practice of confession, then also about his views on purgatory, Mary, and the Protestant-Roman Catholic divide.

Summarizing: Lewis shared some broadly “catholic” beliefs and practices with both the Roman Catholics and the Anglo-Catholics within his own Church. But he was far from teetering on the edge of conversion to Roman Catholicism, as Joseph Pearce has incorrectly (in my opinion) argued. Nonetheless, Lewis makes a good study in appropriating long-standing catholic practices while remaining Protestant in conviction and worship:

[Note: as you'll see, my inclusion of Mary in the title of this blog post is a bit of a red herring: Lewis was averse to Marian devotion.]

Dorsett, Lyle W. “C.S. Lewis and the Cowley Fathers.” Cowley 32 n.1 (Winter 2006): cover, 11-12.

In this article Dorsett writes especially about CSL’s Anglo-Catholic confessor and “director,” Father Walter Adams. Lewis began to see Adams in late October 1940, saying after his first confession to Father Adams “that the experience was like a tonic to his soul.” (11) Continue reading

Foundations of a free and virtuous society:


What follows are my sketchy notes on a session at Acton University yesterday, June 16, 2010. The presenter was Dr. Stephen J. Grabill. Dr. Grabill received his Ph.D. from Calvin Theological Seminary. He is a research scholar in theology and editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is the general editor of The Stewardship Resource Bible: ESV, which was released in November of 2009. He is the author of Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics and is currently editing Sourcebook of Late Scholastic Monetary Theory.

Foundations of a Free and Virtuous Society, Dr. Stephen J. Grabill

Christian social thought is distilled wisdom over the ages . . . Christian thought will be anti-revolutionary, as Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer and Kuyper used the term. The former offer titled a book Unbelief and Revolution. A Protestant Lord Acton. He thought false dichotomy between spiritual destiny and earthly _____. Thought Christians should see selves as the people God had called to shape history according to God’s ordinances. But saw conflicting religious visions at work. Autonomous vision of French Rev at odds w/ Christian vision. That vision couldn’t be carried on by preserving orthodox church in secularized world, but must be carried out in all departments of life. Continue reading

Re-rooting our understanding of the Reformation in medieval and classical thought: A website worth visiting


Tim Enloe is “a professional educator involved in the classical Christian school movement.” This already warms my heart, as several of our children have been going to a classical charter school for a number of years. Yup, learning Latin and the whole nine yards. What warms my heart even more is that Enloe is convinced, as I am, that to be a good Protestant one must recover the goodness from which the Reformers drew: the goodness of the medieval and classical traditions.

Enloe works this theme out on his website The Discarded Image, which is well worth visiting, though right now it contains only a few articles and a number of audio talks–check out his “Setting our Minds To the Track” talk. The Discarded Image is a continuation, in a different format, of his now inactive WordPress blog Societas Christiana: Adventures in Medieval Protestantism–also worth browsing.

Moreover Enloe, who is completing an M.A. in Humanities at the University of Dallas, is also interested, as I am, in the work of those great scholars of the medieval period C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. He has (self-)published a book on Lewis & Tolkien and the uses of the imagination in Christianity (as well as another book on the impact of medieval Catholic conciliarism on the Reformation). Descriptions of the two books may be found here.

Here is Enloe on the mission of his website (the site’s name comes from the title of C. S. Lewis’s book of Cambridge lectures on the medieval worldview):

The “image” that we as Modern Protestants have “discarded,” then, is the full-orbed view of the Christian life as being aimed at salvation, but as encompassing the whole of the world as well.  One excellent way to do this is to become acquainted with the cultural context of the Reformers, to learn about the things that made them the kinds of men they were, the things that helped them to do the world-changing deeds that they did.

While it is possible to gain a generalized familiarity with the outlines of the thought of the Reformers as it appears “in black and white” on the pages that they wrote,  I do not believe it is possible to appreciate their work in a full-orbed sense without also understanding the roots of their thought.  This necessitates gaining familiarity with the Renaissance, and behind the Renaissance, with Medieval Christendom, and behind Medieval Christendom, with the classical heritage upon which the Christian society which the Reformers ultimately sought to reform had been built.

What does Cicero have to do with Calvinism? Why should Reformed people be interested in Plutarch’s Lives and Herodotus’ Histories? Who were Wessel Gansfort and Nicholas of Cusa? What was Nominalism, and how did it affect Luther’s and Calvin’s approach to the Bible? What do Medieval canon law, Petrarch, conciliarism, and the Devotio Moderna have to do with the Protestant Reformation?  Why shouldn’t we just stick with our traditional heroes, Gottschalk, Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, Calvin, the Puritans, and the like? Why should we bother learning about Peter Martyr Vermigli or about complicated issues like Natural Law theory and the rather Medieval dualist political theory that was enshrined in the Reformed Confessions? Why can’t the “the five solas,” “the doctrines of grace,” and traditional polemics against Romanists and Arminians be enough for us?  Why can’t we just “preach the Gospel” and let everything else fall into desuetude?

The answer is because this is not what the Reformers themselves did.  Since Protestants today frequently debate the question of how far we should follow the Reformers’ own examples, this website aims to help the debate along by means of closely interacting with the sources and context of the Reformation.  Whatever your own position on how far we ought to follow the Reformers’ own examples, this website aims to increase your appreciation for what is too often simply discarded in Protestant talk about the Reformation.