Papal Economics

R. R. Reno blew it rather badly (“Francis and the Market,” ­February). He writes, “and there’s the mother of all questions, the one Francis brings to the fore: How can we include as many people as possible in the prosperity being created by the capitalist revolution sweeping the globe?”

But this is not the “mother of all questions,” and it is not the question that Evangelii Gaudium addresses. ­Indeed, the pope himself states directly, “This Exhortation is not a social document.” Instead, he refers his readers to the “Compendium” of the Church’s social doctrine. Evangelii Gaudium does not attack that powerful tool, global capitalism. Much less does he propose socialism. As to the use of these tools, the pope would probably agree with Reno’s penultimate and most of his ultimate paragraphs. 

The aim of the exhortation is “to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of ­evangelization marked by this joy” of the Gospel. The first danger—the “great” danger—to this goal lies in consumerism, in the “complacent yet covetous heart.” If one has the capital and the talent, perhaps one can benefit many people by creating more wealth. But in itself, that is not the same as loving them. To build a factory employing a hundred workers is a good thing, but it does not of itself make one virtuous or merciful.

A wise priest once asked me how much more I could love if I had a lot of money (I didn’t then and don’t now). No doubt with a lot of money I could do some good (and someone who had the know-how could do much more good). But his point was that I can love. So can we all, even the man in the corner office. That’s what Pope Francis wants us to do.

Adrian J. Reimers
university of notre dame
notre dame, indiana

R. R. Reno’s interpretation that the pope’s economic comments in Evangelii Gaudium were meant as a challenge for free-market capitalism to be more inclusive in creating prosperity in our societies, in conjunction with his assertion that socialism is no longer a threat, places Pope Francis’s divisive anti-free-market capitalism rhetoric in a more benign light than it deserves.

Socialism and its corollary, central government economic control, are not irrelevant in the twenty-first century, and its proponents are working assiduously to promote it: Witness the programs and philosophies promoted by our president, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, and statist economic governments such as Argentina and Venezuela. A fair interpretation of the pope’s critique of free-market capitalism could lead one to infer that he is supportive of the antithesis of free market capitalism: socialism.

Due to the stature of his office, the pope’s words do matter. Consequently, his irresponsible criticism of free capital markets (not to mention his lack of discussion of personal responsibility), unsupported by facts, must be starkly challenged without mitigating interpretations.

John Gilsenan
south windsor, connecticut

R. R. Reno replies:

Adrian Reimers is quite right. Evangelii Gaudium is not a social document. It’s a call for us to take up our vocations as witnesses to the Gospel. There’s no doubt that Pope Francis wants us to obey the Lord’s command and base all we say and do in love. That said, Pope Francis has a tendency to make broad, sweeping claims about the economic and moral challenges we face. That’s what the secular press fixes on, which he surely knew would happen. A global leader can’t denounce trickle-down economics, as he did, without knowing he’s weighing in on an important social question: whether the common good is best served by largely free markets or largely state-directed economic relations. It seems to me that a journal of religion and public life like First Things ought to address papal provocations of this sort.

Although John Gilsenan agrees with me about the pope’s passing comments on the economy matter, I can’t agree with him about the dangers of socialism. When the most important economic advisor to the Chinese Communist Party is a product of the University of Chicago—which is the case today—you can be sure that the socialism-versus-capitalism debate of the last century has lost a great deal of its relevance.

So I reject out of hand the notion that Pope Francis supports “socialism.” I do agree, however, that we should challenge his too-facile generalizations. I fear that he perpetuates the illusion that our many social problems stem from our captivity to a bad “system.” It’s not a theory, trickle-down or otherwise, that explains the bad circumstances of the poor in Buenos Aires. Argentina is a failed state, or at least a partially failed state. That’s why its economy has been hobbled for two generations. The market reforms needed there are reforms. They must be acts of political will—actions of the state—for the sake of the ­common good.

I also suspect that Pope Francis is ill-informed about what sorts of reforms are likely to serve the common good, overestimating the ability of state action to lift the poor out of poverty and underestimating the empowering potential of economic freedom. (In all fairness, there are plenty of free-market proponents who make the opposite mistake.) But he’s surely right to highlight inclusion and empowerment as key elements of the common good. Man does not live by GDP alone.

Empirical Politics

In “Bloodless Moralism” (February), Helen Rittelmeyer recommends that we rehabilitate the role of non-expert, unquantifiable intuition in our moral discourse. I’ll second her recommendation—along with her warning against trying to answer all social and political questions by appeal to the facts and figures offered by social scientists. But her brief for intuition inadvertently demonstrates the insufficiency of naked intuition as a basis for social criticism. As an elegant writer, ­Rittelmeyer is far too confident of the moral ­authority of elegant writing. But quite apart from the question of whether dullness is really such a serious and “regressive” fault in politics, there is an empirical question: Is dullness ­really a serious problem in U.S. politics today? Sure, no matter how dumbed down and tarted up our political campaigns become, they will never be as dumb or titillating as the rival entertainments offered by our popular culture; in that relatively unimportant sense, they are relatively dull.

But I think most people who take democratic politics seriously lament the replacement of sober, fair-minded, and, yes, sometimes dull debate with tendentious polemics and sound bites designed to charm, soothe, or foment outrage rather than to get things right. I agree with Rittelmeyer about the declining quality of the prose in our political magazines, but I can’t accept her suggestion that inelegant writing is a reliable indicator of a political culture in disarray. Clarity of expression is not, after all, the same thing as wisdom, and elegance may even be at odds with wisdom when it comes at the expense of adequacy to a subject’s real complexity. Aphorisms can be as reductive as statistics.

Rittelmeyer writes, “I will listen to econometricians as soon as you show me one that can write with more ­fluency than a high-school sophomore.” That sentence would be silly even if it were true that all “econometricians” write badly. As it happens, it isn’t. Paul Krugman—to name just one obvious Nobel ­Prize–­winning example—is a very good writer: He ­expresses himself clearly and ­forcefully, if not beautifully. Are there many high-school sophomores or college sophomores or freelance social critics or other New York Times ­columnists who write better than he does?

But why should Rittelmeyer’s willingness to listen to an economist depend on his literary talent? Does she not trust the diagnoses of doctors who don’t write as well as she does? After praising Hitchens for the beauty of his prose style, Rittelmeyer writes that being well-read and writing well are both “forms of authority. Things that require discipline often are.” Agreed. But social science also requires discipline, and challenging its real though limited authority in our culture requires more than a good prose style.

Matthew Boudway
commonweal magazine
new york, new york

Helen Rittelmeyer replies:

To consider whether modern politics is, in fact, dull, I would like Matthew Boudway to imagine that “politics” referred only to politicians themselves and not to those media profes­sionals who comment (or commentate) on them. Breathes there a man with ear so tin who is not repelled by the sheer blandness of their remarks, both formal and informal? Perhaps focus-grouping is to blame, perhaps the twenty-four-hour political news cycle that turns the smallest display of literary imagination first into a story, then a controversy, and finally a meme and a punchline (cf. “binders full of women”).

Whatever the cause, politicians guard their words more carefully than criminal defendants giving testimony, and this is the dreary center around which our political conversation revolves. No wonder Vice President Joe Biden passes for a colorful character, with that kind of competition. Of course, for all I know ­Boudway finds the vice president’s wearisome speeches genuinely thrilling. If he admires the prose of Paul Krugman, I wouldn’t put it past him.

Debating Design

As Catholic philosophers in the Thomistic tradition with an interest in teleological arguments, we looked forward to Stephen Meredith’s discussion of “the philosophy and theology behind Intelligent Design” (“Looking for God in All the Wrong Places,” February). However, we were quite disappointed.

Meredith claims that Intelligent Design (ID) posits God as the sole efficient cause in nature and that it is necessarily committed to God’s intervention in nature. How he arrived at these conclusions, however, is unclear, since by his own admission ID proponents do not consider themselves occasionalists. And ID’s claim that the effects of intelligence in nature are empirically detectable clearly does not commit them to the stronger claim that God intervenes in the natural order by directly creating organisms.

Regardless, how can ID proponents be both interventionists and occasionalists? Occasionalists can’t believe in intervention, as they deny the existence of an order of natural causation in which to intervene. So Meredith must pick. If he says ID proponents are occasionalists, then the charge is false and lacking textual support in ID proponents’ ­writings. If he says ID proponents are ­necessarily committed to intervention despite their protests, then he owes them an argument that they are so committed.

At any rate, one may wonder why Christians (people already committed to divine intervention) would be fearful of divine intervention in so important a thing as the origin of life and especially human life. Meredith gives the false impression that the Thomistic or broader Catholic intellectual position supports his position that God only acts directly in salvation history (rather than natural history). St. Thomas himself believed in the direct creation of Adam by God from the slime of the earth. In fact, ­Thomas held that God sometimes directly acts apart from the natural order so as to display his power and indicate that he did not create of necessity but of his own free will.

Robert C. Koons
university of texas
austin, texas

Logan Paul Gage
waco, texas

Though he avoids using the phrase “God of the gaps,” Stephen Meredith trots out yet again this tired old argument. Intelligent Design does not argue from what we do not know but from what we know. Using abduction (inference to the best explanation), ID theorists argue, on scientific rather than theological or philosophical grounds, that what we know about the fine tuning of our universe, the fossil evidence, DNA, etc., points to an intelligent designer rather than undirected time and chance.

Yes, evolution may explain the phenomenon of homology, but so does the existence of a common designer. Indeed, the efficiency of ­homology is better explained by such a designer than by natural selection. Abductive reasoning underlies archeology and anthropology, where scientists have methods to determine whether a grouping of stones was the result of intelligent agents or the impersonal forces of weathering and erosion. Why are ID theorists to be denied the same method? Underneath Meredith’s critique lies a presupposition shared by many other theistic evolutionists: namely, that it would be somehow unseemly for God to monkey with scientific laws that he himself created. Such an argument would hold weight if ­Meredith were a deist, but he believes in the miracle-working, intensely involved God of the Bible. Just as God established the laws of nature, so did he place a conscience in all people.

And yet, the same God who established and implanted the laws of conscience broke into human ­history, met Moses on Mount Sinai, and ­delivered to him the Ten Commandments. If God’s dignity is not violated by this seemingly unnecessary imposition on the established laws of morality, why should it be incredible that he might, say, “invade” the realm of “science” to create DNA or establish the major phyla (during the Cambrian period)?

Finally, Meredith, like many other theistic evolutionists, seems to think Darwinism is (or should be) a non-issue in terms of individual faith. He appears to critique Stephen Jay Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria of science and religion, but what he proposes is not all that different.

Yes, speaking in theoretical terms, our belief or non-belief in the efficacy of Darwin’s theories is not a creedal issue, but the fact remains that significant numbers of people have been driven away from Christianity by the (false) belief that science has proven that Darwinian macroevolution (natural selection plus common descent plus mutations in the replication of DNA) can account for all that is.

Louis Markos
houston baptist university
houston, texas

Stephen Meredith’s piece detracts from the reputation of First Things. Not only does he claim that Intelligent Design proponents lack “intellectual honesty,” but he refers readers to websites like The Panda’s Thumb, apparently so they may learn about why ID proponents are so dishonest.

That website is a haven for ad hominem attacks. Perusing its blog posts and comments, one finds that ID proponents are regularly subjected to invectives like “liars for Jesus” and “mendacious intellectual pornographers,” as well as to comparisons to members of the KKK, Holocaust deniers, or worse. PZ Myers, the virulently anti-Catholic atheist blogger, is a longtime contributor to The Panda’s Thumb, where he enjoys ­accusing ID proponents of “stupidity and dishonesty.”

It is equally unfortunate that ­Meredith was so dismissive of ­Stephen Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt, failing to engage its major arguments. Contrast Meredith’s dismissal with the praise Meyer’s book has received from prominent scientists like paleontologist Mark McMenamin of Mount Holyoke College, State University of New York evolutionary biologist Scott Turner, and Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, a plant geneticist who spent his career at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research. Harvard geneticist George Church has said that Meyer’s book “represents an opportunity for bridge-building, rather than dismissive polarization—bridges across cultural divides in great need of professional, respectful dialog—and bridges to span evolutionary gaps.”

Meyer’s book—and the intelligent design position as a whole—deserved a far more thoughtful review, one that actually engaged the arguments made by ID proponents.

Lynette Renner
san diego state university
san diego, california

Stephen Meredith wants to label ­theories as nonscientific-by-­definition if they have theological implications. “God is not really an empirical ­datum,” he explains. But definitional gerrymandering has a very poor track record in science. Many people think the Big Bang theory has theological implications, including scientists who declare it to be nonscientific because of that.

For example, in the 1930s the ­Nobel-winning chemist Walther Nernst angrily denounced the staggering idea that the universe had a beginning. The physicist-philosopher Carl von Weizsäcker recalled, “[Nernst] explained that to deny [the infinite duration of time] would mean to betray the very foundations of science.” In 1989, Nature ran an editorial titled “Down with the Big Bang,” calling the theory “philosophically unacceptable” for its theological overtones. Yet the Big Bang is completely scientific, justifying itself with empirical data, not with scriptural citations.

In this respect, Intelligent ­Design in biology is like the idea of a ­beginning to the universe in physics: Both may have theological implications, ?but both are based entirely on ­empirical evidence.

Michael J. Behe
lehigh university
bethlehem, pennsylvania

Stephen Meredith calls “wishful thinking” the IDEA Center’s claim that we can empirically show “humans exist because an intelligent being did ‘have them in mind.’” Having taught statistics for nearly four decades, I believe I can confidently say that the methods used by the Intelligent Design movement to detect design are far more rigorous than “wishful thinking.”

ID theorists detect design using the classical scientific method of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and conclusion. Of course, we cannot “prove” that complex biological systems are intelligently designed, any more than observations of common body functions between animals and humans “prove” Darwinism. But the pathway from observation to the ­conclusion of design has far more behind it than “wishful thinking,” and meets the standards accepted by ­historical sciences.

It appears to me that Meredith’s arguments attacking ID should give anyone pause to reflect on who it is that is really engaging in “wishful thinking.”

Stephen Huxley
idea center board of directors
san francisco, california

In my forty-year career in science and engineering, I have come to appreciate this important cautionary note: “Science continually raises philosophical questions that go beyond the competence or purview of science.”

This is why I find Stephen Meredith’s critique of Intelligent Design a bit too harsh. I do appreciate his careful attempt to bring the philosophical underpinnings of the ID movement to light. But I think there is a way of avoiding the statement used in ID that invokes intervention by God in his creation. God is the same God who has created the material world as well as the unseen spiritual world.

I prefer to use the phrase, “God interacts with both worlds.” As C. S. Lewis suggested, God weaves the supernatural with the natural in a seamless manner, without the need of so-called “gaps.”

I find most people, including most atheists and agnostics, unable to distinguish between methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism. They confuse the mechanical/scientific theory approach of Darwinian or neo-Darwinian evolution with its comprehensive worldview implications. Thus, Dawkins’s notorious statement that “Darwin made the world safe for atheism” is gaining foothold everywhere.

Perhaps the proper approach for Christians in science would be to use the term “intelligent design,” with lowercase letters, which allows us to appreciate God’s wonders in our world, whether in nature or as revealed in the Holy Writ, without getting entangled in the debate of exactly how God interacts with his creation.

Kenell J. Touryan
american university of armenia
oakland, california

The unhelpful scientific mindset is captured nicely by Stephen Meredith’s anecdote of his friend who, as a student, expressed religious awe at the subtlety of organelles, and was sternly rebuked for it by his instructor. But I must disagree with Meredith that “religious awe is not particularly helpful in doing science.”

On the contrary, I think religious awe, or something like it, is essential. Doing cutting-edge ­science is frightfully difficult work, and many leading scientists have said that what keeps them going is an appreciation for the beauty and elegance in the structure of the universe, from microscopic organelles to ­astronomically large black holes. While this appreciation does not always lead to conventional religious faith, the feeling of awe itself is a type of embryonic religious sense.

All ID is trying to do is to give a scientific rationalization for the intuition that the beauty and truth of science (biology in particular) have an intelligent origin. While their means may be faulty in some cases, as ­Meredith points out, I think the motives and intentions of ID proponents are worthy of respect.

Karl Stephan
texas state university
san marcos, texas

Stephan Meredith replies:

Robert C. Koons and Logan Paul Gage state that “by [my] own admission ID proponents do not consider themselves occasionalists.” I never contended that they call themselves occasionalists, but that they are occasionalists nevertheless—meaning that their position is similar in some respects to the occasionalism of ­Nicolas Malebranche.

It is very much within the “Thom­istic tradition” to argue against occasionalism, since Thomas Aquinas himself did so. While he acknowledged that occasionalists were attempting to strengthen the case for God’s omnipotence, and while he allowed that God must concur with creatures, he argued that creatures are true causes (albeit secondary ones) in producing effects. I did not use the term “interventionism,” but used the common parlance of “divine intervention,” which is far from inconsistent with an occasionalist position. (Malebranche used such wording in Dialogues on Metaphysics and Religion.)

In response to Louis Markos: I did not say that ID argues from what we do not know; I argued, instead, that ID makes unwarranted extrapolations from what we know. My objection to such “abductive” arguments is not that they include probabilities, but that they don’t have sufficient data to calculate probabilities ­validly; that many of their hypotheses are negations (for example, that natural selection cannot have led to upheavals in biological history) rather than assertions; and that the hypotheses their probability analyses yield, even if their calculations were correct, cannot be tested empirically, since God is not an empirical datum.

Markos may be correct in saying that many people have been driven away from Christianity or other religions by a belief in “Darwinian macroevolution,” and if he is correct, this would be a shame, since it is possible to believe in both. My argument, however, was directed against an overly narrow definition of “Darwinism” or “Darwinian evolution.” Evolutionary biology is a lot further along now than in Darwin’s time.

I certainly do not condone the particular remarks Lynette Renner quoted from The Panda’s Thumb, and I did not cite them. Many websites engage in invective, and this is wrong. As for Stephen Meyer’s book, I agree that it is worth reading, although I do not agree with the praise it received from a number of reviewers.

To Michael J. Behe: I do not want to “label theories as nonscientific-by-definition if they have theological implications”; I want to label theories as non-scientific if they are theology disguised as science. As for the theological implications of science, far from denying that these exist, I argue that all science has theological implications, but that it may be difficult or impossible to reach universal agreement on what these implications are.

Thus various scientists who do—or don’t—believe the universe had a beginning have argued that God does—or doesn’t—exist. This situation today is not so different from that of Thomas Aquinas’s time. After concluding that even Aristotle did not know whether the universe had a beginning, Thomas wrote, “By faith alone do we hold, and by no demonstration can it be proved, that the world did not always exist.” He did not consider this an empirical ­question.

Likewise, I stand by my statement that “God is not an empirical datum.” Thomas supports me—“It is impossible for God to be seen by the sense of sight, or by any other sense, or faculty of the sensitive power”—as does his source, St. Paul, who refers to God’s “invisible nature.”

To Stephen Huxley: To say that a conclusion is the result of careful statistical calculation does not show that it is not also an act of wishful thinking. Statistical arguments purporting to show that naturalistic evolution “cannot” account for upheavals in biological history are only as good or bad as their assumptions—which I do not believe are especially strong. Evolutionary biology is a young science, and it is premature to decide what is or is not possible or even likely. One can counter that, therefore, one does not know whether an “Intelligence” intervened in the upheavals of natural history, such as the Cambrian period, but I maintain this is not a scientific argument in favor of ID: It is a postulate, not a ­demonstration.

I believe Kenell J. Touryan and I are in agreement about the distinction between methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism. A scientist is also a human being, and while the “doing” of science may require the methodological exclusion of some beliefs, reality is a great deal more complex and miraculous than even the most complex science. As Étienne Gilson has argued, teleology may be beyond science, but this does not mean that it is beyond nature. Karl Stephan and I agree that the fact that there are many scientists who are not religious or are even vehemently atheistic, has not, in itself, deterred them from doing excellent science. Of course, many other ­scientists are inspired by religious awe, but many of them engage in a type of compartmentalization, and exclude such awe as a methodological procedure when they do science in the laboratory or field.

For awe, to put it in shocking terms, can be a waste of time: hence, Francis Bacon’s criticism that though ­Aristotle loved to contemplate nature, he didn’t ever explain much about it. To do ­science, one needs to move ­beyond awe and make all of those (sometimes tedious) measurements. I do not deny that religious awe is important to (some) scientists qua human beings, but argue only that it can, under some circumstances, interfere with the performance of scientific investigations.

Work Ethic

David and Amber Lapp’s first example of the disadvantaged, Anthony, got a 40 percent raise and an offer of a partial scholarship to culinary school after just four days of working as a cook at a nursing home (“Alone in the New America,” February). Anthony quit that job because the thought of doing it over a long period was just “too depressing.”

I wonder how Anthony would view a job fastening bolts on an assembly line eight hours a day for thirty years. That was what previous generations did to earn the appellation “working-class.” Anthony is probably not salvageable, but the next generation might be if we can break the monopoly of a secularized public school system, teach children traditional morality and a work ethic, teach them to make change and to think well enough to avoid being taken advantage of by con men.

This country needs people who can work competently with their hands. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, heating and air conditioning repairmen, auto mechanics—these are all good-paying jobs that don’t require a six-figure education. They do require a work ethic, and until we find a way to instill one in our youth, there are going to be a lot of people like Anthony.

J. R. Dunworth
holly springs, mississippi

David and Amber Lapp reply:

We agree with J. R. Dunworth’s observation that today’s youth generally lack the work ethic that older ­generations had. This important point is frequently omitted in accounts of working-class troubles. Even if the Rust Belt could get back a lot of the factory jobs that went overseas, it’s unclear how easy it would be for businesses to keep a reliable workforce. (Even now, U.S. manufacturing companies warn of a shortage of workers because of a “skills gap.”)

In our experience, the lament that poor people don’t have a good work ethic usually ends up as the last word on the matter. People shake their heads and lament the welfare state. But there are at least three problems with this last word. First, that account doesn’t say anything about employers who forfeit their responsibility to employees by failing to pay a living wage.

Second, young people like Anthony are alienated from work in part because they are alienated from family. It is difficult to adequately describe the inner turmoil that family fragmentation causes. As Anthony said, his parents’ divorce was his formative experience in adolescence, and he was never the same again. Young people don’t willy-nilly craft a good work ethic; they receive it from somebody, or some community.

Finally, for vexing social problems, accuracy in pinpointing a problem doesn’t always get us very far in crafting solutions. We need mercy and compassion and solidarity. Within a relationship of solidarity, there is room for “words spoken at the proper time.” This requires a willingness to enter into the world of young people like Anthony, to share their suffering, and to invite them into community. Even when they quit their jobs and “live off the government.”

Conviction Divides

While reading Eduardo Echeverria’s piece on Christian ecumenism (“The Accidental Protestant,” February), I could not help but think of the union that citizens of the United States enjoy (or don’t, depending on your perspective). Over 600,000 soldiers died in a war fought at least in part to preserve the union of the United States of America. But that remarkably tragic loss of life has not enabled Americans to arrive at more than an organizational unity embodied by a national government. Americans are no closer than they were in 1861 to possessing a common understanding of national life and purpose. Does America stand for limited government? Many conservatives—both thoughtful and media-driven—think so. Does that political conviction help with budget compromises or foreign policy? Not so much. 

If the experience of limited-government Americans is in any way comparable to what essential Protestants—those who need Roman Catholicism to be reminded of their Protestant identity—might experience by following G. C. Berkouwer’s views on ecumenism, then I am less hopeful than Echeverria about the value of such an enterprise. It is hard enough to gain some kind of collective understanding of the United States, its history, and its mission even though the nation is 1,740 years younger than Christianity and has deliberative structures that afford citizens and rulers the chance to find such a resolve.

As a traditionalist Protestant with admiration for those who engage in ecumenical discussions, I respectfully doubt that Berkouwer’s proposals can do justice to the much longer history of Western Christianity and the paucity of mechanisms for serious dialogue about matters that still are of uppermost concern to serious Protestants and Roman Catholics, namely, how am I right with God and how do I find out.

Darryl Hart
hillsdale college
hillsdale, michigan

Eduardo Echeverria replies:

If I understand Darryl Hart correctly, he is doubtful that the “essential Protestant”—“those who need Roman Catholicism to be reminded of their Protestant identity”—will find persuasive Berkouwer’s views on ecumenism. He doesn’t say exactly why. Although Hart admires those who engage in ecumenical discussions, he identifies himself as a “traditional Protestant” rather than an “accidental Protestant”—essentially one who sees the Reformation as a renewal movement within the Church catholic and does not identify the Reformation with Protestantism. Why the apparent reluctance to describe himself as an accidental Protestant? Why only admiration for those who engage in ecumenical discussion? Does Hart hold that all Christians share responsibility, as Berkouwer wrote, for “the Church as it is now, with its tensions and problems, its guilt and ­dividedness”? Respectfully, is Hart not committed to the ecumenical imperative of the Christian faith as it is paradigmatically expressed by Christ in the Gospel of John 17:20–26?

Hart expresses a less-than-hopeful attitude, in light of Berkouwer’s mature ecumenical views as I expressed them in my article, for the restoration to visible unity of all believers in Christ. Oddly, he doubts whether Berkouwer’s ecumenical proposals can do justice to the two-thousand-year history of Western Christianity.

This construal of Berkouwer’s ecumenical views is a stretch beyond what Berkouwer intends. He is mainly and most deeply concerned with getting at the real meaning of the Rome and Reformation controversy, from the sixteenth century to the present, and opening up new perspectives to that controversy. To this end, he hopes that “popular caricatures that each side holds of the other can be corrected.” ­Berkouwer adds, “But the desire to get rid of misunder­standings is motivated by an ­equally strong will to get at the real and abiding ­differences. And it is at these points of differences that the ecumenical dialogue comes alive with both urgency and desire.”

Berkouwer opts, following Yves Congar, for “realism about ecumenicity”: “Realism will keep us from misjudging the present situation, but it must not keep us from a believing consideration of the unity of all ­believers in Christ, of the reality of the One Shepherd and the one flock. . . . The Shepherd will not let the Church escape the question of its divisions, will give the churches no rest as long as they are guilty of dispersing His one flock and of making a travesty of His one sheepfold.” Berkouwer was persuaded that the Church’s spiral of division stands under Christ’s judgment.

Hart expresses doubts about the availability of avenues for ecumenical dialogue. I don’t share his worries. It is precisely ecumenical views like those of Berkouwer, which are the fruit of his engagement with the nouvelle théologie and Vatican II itself, that motivate the Catholic Church to establish deliberative structures for ­serious ecumenism. Consider the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, by means of which the Catholic Church is in ­inter-confessional dialogue with a variety of traditions. Significant to these dialogues is the distinction between the unchanging truths of Christian revelation (depositum fidei) and the formulations through which these truths are expressed, keeping the same meaning and the same ­judgment (eodem sensu eademque sententia).

One outstanding fruit of these dialogues is the Joint Declaration on Justification, a 1999 agreement between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation. In a more local context, the North American ecumenical initiative Evangelicals and Catholics Together may also rightly be considered a deliberative structure for serious ecumenical dialogue. Of course, deliberative structures in themselves are not sufficient for restoring the visible unity of the Church. “The commitment to ecumenism must be based upon the conversion of hearts and upon prayer, which will also lead to the necessary purification of past memories” (John Paul II).

Forging Covenants

I certainly admit that those who think that the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad are forgeries have their reasoned arguments, but those who consider them largely genuine also have theirs; John Andrew Morrow, though he leans heavily toward the validity of most of these documents, presents arguments from both sides.

I wish Gabriel Said Reynolds had framed the controversy in terms of the arguments themselves rather than the conclusions (“Briefly Noted,” February)—not just “this I believe” but “this is why I believe it.” Scholars unwilling to marshal their arguments have lost by default.

One reason peace is so hard to achieve is that we’ve learned how to define the situation in terms of our known enemies, which makes friendly overtures from them hard to accept, both because trust first needs to be established, and also because change in our basic assumptions, even change for the better, entails ­suffering. I’d hate to think that it’s easier for certain Christians to believe that some of their coreligionists were liars than that Muslims might sometimes be just and honest.

I am no lover of the mindless slogan that “Islam is the religion of peace,” since it possesses the most explicit just-war doctrine of any religion, or of the notion that all fear of Muslims on the part of ­non-Muslims (and other Muslims) can be put down to “Islamophobia.” There are some Muslims that Christians and others definitely ought to be afraid of; the terrorists presently massacring Christians in Syria and elsewhere (some apparently with U.S. aid) certainly believe themselves to be Muslims, and their crimes in the name of Islam, in clear violation of the ­traditional ­Sharia, are making all Muslims of good will complicit by our very silence.

That’s why we must speak out. And when we do, I hope Christians will not take this as just another ­attempted whitewash job for Islam, but as a sincere attempt on the part of traditional Muslims to cut out the cancer affecting our religion. Even according to the Sahih Bukhari, the main Sunni hadith collection, the Prophet said: “As for those who oppress Christians and Jews, I myself will testify against them on the Day of Judgment.”

Charles Upton
lexington, kentucky

Gabriel Said Reynolds replies:

Charles Upton’s letter is reasonable and well argued, and his commitment to the Covenants Initiative is well intentioned. I am, however, troubled by one point, namely how he reprimands Christians for believing “that some of their coreligionists were liars” and suggests that they do so because of a refusal to accept that “Muslims might sometimes be just and honest.” Should Christians believe other Christians simply because they are coreligionists? And who are these Christians (other than me), after all? How does he know that their scholarly judgment has been corrupted by anti-Islamic bigotry?

Moreover, to phrase the matter of these covenants in terms of “lying” is simplistic. Christians forged these documents because of the constant threat of persecution under Islamic rule. I hardly think of them as “liars,” any more than I think of Moriscos who feigned conversion to Christianity under Spanish rule as liars.

But then my goal is not to think of these things as a Christian at all. The point about the covenants is that they have all of the traits of late medieval forgeries (such as the handprint of Muhammad that appears on the “covenant of the Prophet with the monks of Mt. Sinai”). A good scholar, of any or no religion, will recognize such traits. These documents, in ­other words, simply cannot form a solid basis for our ­mutual quest to ­promote harmony in ­Muslim–­Christian ­relations.

Grace and Freedom

As an Arminian theologian, I found Bradley Green’s review of Jacob ­Arminius: Theologian of Grace generally fair and accurate (“Alien Development,” February). However, as usual in the case of non-Arminians attempting to explain Arminianism, Green gets one major thing wrong.

Green says for Arminius “the functionally autonomous person” is the “decisive player in the beginning of salvation.” That’s simply not true. That is the very definition of semi-Pelagianism, which Arminius and all Arminians reject. Part and parcel of classical Arminianism is the divine initiative in salvation, Charles Wesley’s “quickening ray” that frees the will from bondage to sin and liberates the sinner under the pressure of God’s Word to respond with faith. Arminianism admits of no “autonomous person.” All people are either under the sway of sin or grace. But, like any gift, saving grace can be resisted. Therein lies the “mystery of iniquity.” Although Green does not say that all Arminians believe in middle knowledge (Molinism), the suggestion is there. Arminius may have relied on it once or twice to explain God’s foreknowledge, but it is not central to Arminianism and, at least in many Arminians’ opinion (mine included), it is contrary to basic impulses of Arminian theology. Most Arminians believe in God’s “simple foreknowledge,” neither middle knowledge nor open theism.

Roger E. Olson
baylor university
waco, texas




Brad Green replies:

Roger Olson suggests that I get things right on the whole, but that I do get one thing wrong: I construe (if ­implicitly) Arminius as semi-­Pelagian. I happily grant that ­Arminius taught the initiative of God’s grace. I chose my language carefully, deciding to speak—within Arminius’s ­system—of the “functionally autonomous ­person.”

No traditional Christian can contend that man is completely or ultimately autonomous. We are created beings, and thus however a traditional Christian construes human freedom and willing, such realities must always be seen in the light of the fact that we are created (and now fallen) beings. Arminius was concerned to carve out some space for an act of human ­willing and believing in which God does not efficaciously bring the sinner to faith.

Whereas the Reformed believe one can affirm human freedom and responsibility while also affirming divine sovereign control (even divine sovereign willing of whatsoever comes to pass), Arminius wants to work out a position in contradistinction to such thinking. While I appreciate Olson’s critique, I think I will stick to my guns: Arminius “left an irreducible space for human acts that resist God’s grace.” Indeed, “the decisive player” truly is “the functionally autonomous person.” On the issue of Arminius and middle knowledge, I am intrigued by Olson’s response. It seems clear that Arminius did indeed affirm middle knowledge, and it was a central means by which he construed his doctrine of providence. A quick search reveals three places where he mentions by name (and affirms) middle knowledge. If I am asked to read and review a book on the history of Arminianism, I would enjoy the task. But this review was of a book devoted to Jacob Arminius himself. And for him—and Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall, the book’s authors, agree—middle knowledge was ­central.

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