A couple of years ago Richard disliked something I had written and chided me for it in “The Public Square.” He began: “Richard J. Mouw and I have been friends since we were both young and irresponsible.” There was more than a little hint there that he thought that at least one of us had not quite yet left all of the sins of our youth behind us!
Actually, the point he made in his brief critique of my views in that instance was well taken. And even on those occasions¯which happened with increased frequency in recent years¯when I disagreed with this or that of the positions he articulated, I always attended carefully to what he had to say. In those earlier days of our shared “irresponsibility,” he was a highly influential mentor in my life, and I never stopped seeing him in that light.
I was only two years into my academic career when Richard contacted me about publishing something I had written. I had sent an essay on “divine commands” to Paul Ramsey, in the hopes of getting his critique. Instead he sent it on to Richard, with the recommendation that it appear in Worldview , the journal Richard was editing at the time. Richard called me to tell me he would like to publish my piece. After that I became a regular participant in Richard’s consultations on civil religion, multinationals, liberation theology, Jewish-Christian relations, and the like. More importantly, he enlisted me as an active drafter and participant in the “Hartford Appeal” project, where I got to work with Avery Dulles, Alexander Schmemann, George Forrell, Peter Berger, George Lindbeck, and others.
That was in the early 1970s, when evangelicals were typically not yet welcomed into broader theological discussions. I never doubted that Richard’s friendship with me as genuine, but it was also clear that his reaching out to me was a part of a larger strategy. He was forming new alliances, and he saw evangelicalism as an important part of the picture, well before others in the mainstream grudgingly decided that the evangelicals deserved a place at the intellectual table. This strategy blossomed into a marvelous reality in First Things , where evangelical names regularly appear alongside those of mainline Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, and Jews.
There was a time when Richard considered the establishing of a formal ecumenical entity, one that would convene a coalition of individuals and groups that would function as an alternative to the conciliar organizations. Several of us argued against that option, and he abandoned the idea. What he ended up doing instead was a far more significant contribution to the broader religious community. The informal consultations he convened, the wonderful journal he established, the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” movement¯all of these accomplished great things. And although these projects were clearly stamped with the influence of his powerful personality, they have set things in motion that will continue to bear much fruit. I thank the Lord for what Richard Neuhaus was able accomplished as a gifted visionary¯including the formative personal influence that began in the shared experiences of a youthful “irresponsibility”!
Richard J. Mouw is president of Fuller Theological Seminary.