For Those Curious Young Minds

From First Thoughts

Some of my fellow staff members here at First Things have written reflections on what sets First Things apart for them, and why our magazine is worthy of support—see Matthew Schmitz’s, Alexi Sargeant’s, and Carl Trueman’s here. They’ve covered a lot of ground. I will add this: There is a . . . . Continue Reading »

Who Were the Inklings?

From First Thoughts

The name they chose for their group was, J. R. R. Tolkien self-effacingly recalls, “a pleasantly ingenious pun . . . suggesting people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas plus those who dabble in ink.” The description conjures a picture of “donnish dreaminess,” a rag-tag band of tweed-clad writers who met for a pint from time to time. Continue Reading »

Notre Dame's Core Curriculum Review

From Web Exclusives

Much has already been written on the University of Notre Dame’s current core curriculum review—and on its toying with the idea of dropping the two undergraduate theology requirements. The question has been addressed from a number of angles: Margaret Blume, a doctoral student in theology at ND, . . . . Continue Reading »

Lots of Options

From First Thoughts

There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about which “Option” the Church in this country should take in the face of an encroaching and unflinching “new world liberalism” and the accompanying disintegration of the long-trusted “built better argument.” In his column last month, C. C. Pecknold considered the “Benedict Option” but ultimately opted for the “Dominican Option” because it was less of a “withdrawal” and more of a dynamic “engagement with the world.” Dale Coulter then criticized Pecknold’s argument—and rightly—for being, first, a little narrow-minded in its construal of the Benedictine charism as “withdrawal” but then, more broadly, for being a little narrow-minded in its attempt to hold up one paradigmatic charism. “The beauty of Christianity,” he writes, “has been that cultural engagement emerges from the variety of charisms that the Spirit bestows. There will always be a Benedictine option and a Dominican option.” Amen to that. But I’d like to take this a little further. Continue Reading »

No Fear Mysticism

From First Thoughts

Walk into any Barnes & Noble and it won’t be long before you’re confronted with rows and rows—and rows—of self-help books, all different and yet all the same. They’ll usually have covers with a blown-up torso-up shot of their respective authors, arms crossed, sporting an immensely self-satisfied pearly white grin, or at the very least a knowing, penetrating look. They’ll almost certainly have titles which include colons, such as–and I’m now culling from a random selection of books that have been published within the past few months–“Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message,” “Goals Suck: Why the Obsession with Goal-Setting is a Flawed Approach to Productivity and Life in General” (note that this author is making a valiant effort to be different), “Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative,” and on and on. There are also often numbers involved, because steps are comforting. Joel Osteen is the king of these—“Your Best Life Now Study Guide: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential,” “Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day,” etc. Even “Religion” and “Theology” sections of bookstores seem to have been encroached upon by this insidious book breed, so much so that I’ve often seen about one hundred titles like, “Sow and Grow: Planting God’s Word and Manifesting a Breakthrough” and only two or three of the spiritual classics a la Thomas a Kempis’s “The Imitation of Christ” or Augustine’s “Confessions”—and those tucked hastily into a corner. Continue Reading »

Wild Grace

From First Thoughts

To some, writing and reading poetry amidst the ruthless violence in the Middle East, the trials of the Church at home, and the general anxiety of our time, may seem cutely whimsical at best, and shamefully detached from reality at worst. But, I maintain, it can be quite the opposite. Continue Reading »

Theology Through Friendship

From Web Exclusives

In over two decades of friendship, Richard John Neuhaus and Wolfhart Pannenberg conspired together to bring religion back to the forefront of the public square. Their correspondence speaks of many things—the joys of intellectual conversation, the driving, dogged hope for ecumenical unity, and the intimacy of genuine friendship. Some letters focus on the mundane—logistics and inquiries about health—others rise to questions of the divine, and still others slide fluently from the mundane to the divine and back again. This ease of conversation is rare, and both Neuhaus and Pannenberg knew it. Their friendship was a private manifestation of their public commitments, and their public collaboration spoke of their deep friendship. Continue Reading »

Take Me to Church

From First Thoughts

Dear Hozier: Your overtly theological song titles lured me in. “From Eden”? “Take Me To Church”? Once I read some of your anti-Church comments, I girded my theological loins for a smackdown; I didn’t want to like you. But, as it turns out, I think you’re really good. Your sound is hypnotic, many of your lyrics poetic (comparatively speaking). I like the fusion of blues, jazz, pop, and gospel. There is a pulse and a crackling sparseness and a dark beauty to many of your songs. I’ve had your album on repeat on Spotify for the past week, despite myself. You’ve stirred my lingering desire to become a singer-songwriter—nearly enough for me to pick up my guitar. Continue Reading »

Pushy Pilgrims

From First Thoughts

I was bemused—also mildly bruised—by the violent elbowing and shoving of my fellow pilgrims as we approached what are arguably the holiest sites in all of Christendom.