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Many thanks for publishing David Novak’s learned and perceptive essay “The Jewish Mission” (November), which takes up the question of whether Jews can and should proselytize, seeking the conversion of Gentiles, including Christians.

It strikes me that the factor most commonly used to justify proselytization in the contemporary West is not theological, but demographic. All religious traditions face the rise of the “Nones.” Statistics suggest that 50 percent of American Jews marry non-Jews. They also reveal that children from such marriages are not likely to be raised in the Jewish faith. The more focused question Novak might profitably address in a future essay, therefore, is whether there is a good reason to seek to convert to the Jewish faith Gentiles in mixed marriages.

What would such a conversion to Judaism require on the part of a Christian? Novak passionately declares that for a Jew “to convert is to commit religious and political suicide.” When I contemplate the possibility of converting away from Christianity, my passion runs along somewhat different channels. At the most visceral level, I would consider renouncing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to be an act of betrayal on my part. It is repugnance at the thought of betraying Jesus personally, rather than a more general commitment to my religious identity and community, that makes formal conversion to another religious tradition unthinkable for me.

So my question for Novak is this: How exactly would a Christian converting to Judaism need to reconfigure his or her thinking about Jesus of Nazareth? Clearly, it would no longer be possible to see him as the Messiah promised in the Hebrew Bible. But would there be any room to continue to view Jesus in a positive light”say, as an insightful teacher, or even as a prophet, rather than as simply a false messiah? What is the current Orthodox Jewish teaching about Jesus of Nazareth?

M. Cathleen Kaveny
University of Notre Dame
South Bend, Indiana

David Novak uses tortured and inconsistent logic in arguing for his position on Jewish mission and proselytizing. On the one hand, he asserts that he does not “regard attempts to proselytize Jews as illegitimate.” On the other hand, he insists, “Nothing is more offensive to Jews than concerted programs targeting Jews to convert to another religion.” He further argues that “a specific mission to Jews makes dialogue with Jews impossible”; in other words, if you want to proselytize me, then I’m not talking to you, or if you want to dialogue with me, then you had better not proselytize.

Evangelizing (the term I prefer) Jews is a mandate of the Christian religion. Jesus instructed his followers to “go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” to begin their mission “in Jerusalem and then Judea.” Paul insisted that the gospel was “to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.”

Novak would prefer that Christians avoid specifically targeting Jews but instead would have the Church proclaiming the gospel to everyone generally. If you speak to everyone in general, you will reach no one in particular. Paul knew better, which is why he insisted “to the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.”

Rather than denigrating Judaism or any other faith, isn’t it possible that “proselytizing” is in fact not only an act of obedience to God, but is also a demonstration of supreme love for the individual who is the so-called target of proselytizing? For the Christian, to leave off bringing the message to Jews is a show of disdain, even of anti-Semitism. Jews who truly believe in rabbinic Judaism should recognize their responsibility to do as Maimonides instructed, “to proclaim the true religion” and not fear reprisal. In fact, this is the original meaning of the word proselyte: a convert to Judaism.

The days of Christian reprisal against the Jewish people for proselytizing are long gone. If, as Novak argues, Gentiles who convert to Judaism are potentially noble in their intentions and “have greatly enriched the Jewish community,” then Jews who become Christians may be equally noble. There have been Jews for Jesus in every generation since Jesus walked the planet.

The question is, as Novak asks, how do we conduct our mission without “the false proclamation of our own righteousness”? If we are concerned to maintain such a posture in our approach while refusing to accede to the relativism Novak wants to eschew, humility is a good ground for “proselytizing” and for dialogue as well.

David Brickner
Jews for Jesus
San Francisco, California

I would like to thank Rabbi David Novak for his recent article on “The Jewish Mission.” Although I would never presume to challenge his observations about Judaism, he made one statement about Christianity that should not go unchallenged.

Programs that target Jews for conversion, he writes, “denigrate Judaism as a religion, by declaring it insufficient for the salvation of the Jews who live it, if not a false religion altogether.” That statement, insofar as it relates to the Catholic Church, is entirely unjustified. Catholic doctrine (see Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium ) makes it clear that conversion to Christianity is not per se necessary for salvation.

A Catholic’s interest in evangelizing a Jew is not based on the belief that it is the only way he can be saved. Rather, simple charity dictates the desire that others be brought to the fullness of divine grace and intimacy with God that has been made available to all mankind only through Christ and his Church. This desire should extend to all men, but in a particular way to Jews, since it is to them that the rest of the world owes a debt of gratitude for having brought Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, to the world.

As to the Church’s considering Judaism “a false religion altogether,” nothing could be further from the truth. The Church in fact considers Judaism an entirely true religion (see Lumen Gentium and Nostra Aetate ), except for its rejection of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and the changes in the relationship between God and man that ensued. Programs that target Jews for conversion do not “denigrate Judaism”; in asserting that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, they actually laud it by affirming that Judaism did bring, in Novak’s words, “the full and complete working of God’s righteousness . . . for the whole world.”

Novak’s closing paragraph, in which those words appear, inadvertently highlights both issues. In saying, “the full and complete working of God’s righteousness through us [the Jews] and ultimately for the whole world will come only with the coming of the Messiah,” he is stating precisely how Christianity is fulfilled Judaism and Judaism is proto-Christianity. And his closing sentence”“May he come soon!””should fill the heart of any believing Christian with a longing to bring him the good news that the Messiah has, in fact, come, and is available daily”body, blood, soul, and divinity”in the sacraments of the Catholic Church.

Roy Schoeman
Ave Maria University
Naples, Florida

David Novak replies:

In answer to Cathleen Kaveny’s question about “whether there is a good reason to seek to convert to the Jewish faith Gentiles in mixed marriages,” I think (and many other rabbis agree with this) that there is good reason to do so, because I have discovered that many Gentiles who marry Jews are actually attracted to the “Jewishness” of the Jew whom they desire to marry, whether they are initially conscious of that attraction or not.

When the reason for that attraction to the Jewishness of the Jew becomes evident, it can lead (with sensitive guidance) to Judaism , i.e., living a religiously observant Jewish life with their Jewish spouse and the Jewish children they hope to have and raise to be faithful Jews, according to the Torah. After all, it is Judaism that has engendered the Jewishness all identifiable Jews exude, even unconsciously.

As for the question of “How exactly would a Christian converting to Judaism need to reconfigure his or her thinking about Jesus of Nazareth?”, since the Jewish tradition has been unanimous in rejecting Christian claims that Jesus of Nazareth is a divine person, any former Christian would have to eschew any kind of Christian worship or religious observance, public or even private.

Yet I would say that a former Christian could look upon Jesus as a Jew who tried to do what he believed God wanted him to do, which was to bring the Jewish people closer to God. In that sense, I have known former Christians who are now complete Jews, who have told me that it was the Jewishness of Jesus that inspired them to become one with his Jewish people and our service of God. Moreover, if the Jewish Jesus were to return to the world, the first thing he might well do would be to seek out the nearest synagogue to become one with the subjects of Jewish worship rather than be the object of Jewish worship, who is God alone: one person only.

David Brickner knows quite well that there is no inconsistency between my assertion that it is not politically illegitimate in a democracy to proselytize Jews, or anybody else, for whatever cause (religious, political, etc.) and my assertion that Jews find, as do members of other religions, attempts to proselytize us morally offensive, whatever beneficent motives the one doing the proselytizing thinks he or she has.

Hence, just as those who proselytize have a democratic right to do what they do, so do those of us who are the objects of these attempts have a democratic right not only to avoid such people, but also to tell those like “Jews for Jesus,” who are particularly aggressive in their proselytizing, to leave us alone. And, following Maimonides’ telling Jews “to proclaim the true faith,” I am more than happy to do so when Gentiles, of their own accord, ask me to do so for them.

I am surprised that Roy Schoeman thinks that “the rest of the world owes [the Jews] a debt of gratitude for having brought Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, to the world.” Wouldn’t it be better Christian theology to say that Jesus was brought or sent to the world by God? That we Jews did not and have not accepted Jesus as the Messiah is because he did not bring the Kingdom of God with its universal justice and peace to this world, which is what we have been promised by God that the Messiah will do.

Nevertheless, as Maimonides taught, we Jews should be grateful to God that Jesus (through his Christian disciples) has brought so many Gentiles to the worship of the Lord God of Israel. Therefore, both Christians and Jews, albeit in essentially different ways, should be grateful to God for what Jesus of Nazareth accomplished during his brief life on earth, and posthumously.

Tilting Titles

Oxford University Press deserves commendation for advancing, in Beth A. Rath’s words, a “lucid and civil” debate between John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher on marriage (“Briefly Noted,” November). Yet while the publishers surely intended to avoid editorial bias, a truly objective title would have been Debating Marriage rather than Debating Same-Sex Marriage . The title gives credence to one view of marriage (Corvino’s) and holds it as a criterion to argue for or against.

There is some consensus that marriage promotes the common good and thus deserves legal recognition. Yet all sides debate whether marriage is essentially a primal, pre-societal institution rooted in human nature or merely a civil and contractual arrangement.

“Traditionalists” or “conservatives” who subscribe to the positivistic view of marriage and favor “traditional” marriages”in the sense of reserving the institution for one man and one woman”have gradually given less importance to the procreative aspect of marriage and thus unintentionally ceded ground to deconstructive re-definitions of marriage. In many cases, they deployed the technique of defining procreation and even fidelity so broadly as to render the terms meaningless. Ironically, this is precisely the technique those with Corvino’s views often use to give their arguments a “traditional” or “conservative” appeal.

The question “What is marriage?” remains, and goes beyond a debate among those who argue whether the institution is uniquely heterosexual or not.

Andrew Favata
Yonkers, New York

Council Debates

The article “The Tridentine Genius of Vatican II” by Thomas Joseph White (November) is a refreshing treatise about the two opposing camps that struggled (and still struggle) for the “true meaning” of Vatican II.

But the article neglects to demonstrate the effect of the Catholic Church’s capitulation in the realm of authority and internal discipline since the council. If Dignitatis Humanae (a product of the council) had not sidestepped the all-important issue of the Church’s authority to discipline its baptized members, especially clergy high and low, Catholics would be more effective in evangelizing our mortally unhealthy society.

I agree with his metaphor that a “plant under attack from disease will protect the roots and the stem and let the flowers go””the roots being the theology of Trent, the stem being the theology of Vatican I, and the flowers being the theology of Vatican II. The scandals of clerical sexual abuse and dissent are symptoms of disease gone rampant due to what seems to be the deliberate refusal of Church authorities to treat the disease still spreading through those of the “progressive camp.” Without discipline, how can the flowers of Vatican II survive? How can the stem and roots be saved?

Michael P. Diepenbrock
Santa Rosa, California

Thomas Joseph White accuses Catholic progressives of being nihilists who have essentially abandoned the sacred tradition so as to instill their own doctrinal preferences in its place.

Who, precisely, are these nihilists he is referring to: Edward Schillebeeckx or Hans Küng? Is anybody who disagrees with his reading of Vatican II a nihilistic progressive? Which book or essay exhibits this nihilistic vision? Not a single quotation from any author or document is produced to substantiate his “extreme claim,” which we are nevertheless assured is “accurate.”

It seems, however, that in an effort to secure a “hermeneutic of continuity” White has lost sight of a central fact: The pre-Tridentine Church was much more decentralized, un-clericized, and doctrinally diverse than the Church that emerged at the end of the sixteenth century. Reading the history of the Church through the dogmatically triumphalist lens of Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum results”as Cardinal Yves Congar reminds us”in a wildly inaccurate portrait of rigid, even stultifying, uniformity.

Some among the progressivist wing of the Church”to which I do not belong”are surely guilty of grave excesses. Yet, through close historical research, some of the best theologians in their ranks have attempted to retrieve once-vibrant aspects of our common Catholic tradition that were deemed unacceptable for various reasons at particular historical moments, even as such beliefs or practices now appear quite sound in retrospect. A prime example is the restoration of the chalice to the laity, which had only been officially removed in 1415 at the Council of Constance.

The recovery of traditions” ressourcement ”remains a vital component of doctrinal development; it tempers the Church’s assessment of her own tradition and thus allows for genuine reform” ecclesia semper reformanda est . Theologians will not always agree with the conclusions to be drawn from such efforts of recovery, but to denounce progressive Catholics as nihilists for contesting some”certainly not all”recent implementations of the living tradition is not only to misread this same tradition; it is also an action wholly lacking in Christian charity.

Ian Christopher Levy
Providence College
Providence, Rhode Island

Thomas Joseph White replies:

I would like to thank Michael Diepenbrock and Ian Levy for their frank letters. It is hard to tell if either of them really disagrees with me in a substantive way.

Michael Diepenbrock intimates that the doctrine of Dignitatis Humanae undermines internal ecclesial discipline after the council. That would seem to entail a misreading of the document, which addresses the rights of religious believers in the face of the secular state. I’m not enthusiastic about the spirit of Vatican II. Let’s go back to the letter, since that resolves many problems.

One can ask prudentially whether the Church in her current pastoral practice stands in need of greater internal measures of discipline and accountability on the part of her membership. In an increasingly secularized culture, perhaps we should mark the cost of discipleship in more objective, public terms. I would tend to think that this is the case.

However, if we are to receive the benefit of belonging to the Church in her stability, we must also accept that the condition for this is that we accept the governance of the successors of the apostles and their ongoing prudential discernments. We are in no way obliged to think that all of the pastoral decisions of bishops are ideal or correct, but we do have to believe that God will only eventually renew the Church with and through the episcopate and priesthood (if not exclusively through them!).

Ian Levy seems agitated by my use of the word “nihilism” to describe belief systems that (arguably) lack a sufficient degree of internal methodological consistency, and therefore intrinsic intelligibility. He has, I think, an overly moralistic conception of nihilism. On that we differ.

I meant to indicate nothing about the moral status of persons by using the word. As best I can understand him, Nietzsche takes nihilism to be something epistemological. There are worldviews that fail to articulate an intelligible meaning to life. Is Nietzsche right to say that certain forms of Christianity are nihilistic?

Arguably there are antimodern variants of Christianity that reject modern historical and scientific study and thereby abolish any possibility of a viable and authentic account of the truth. They don’t have the internal consistency and relevance to maintain themselves amidst the ongoing pressures of the evolution of modern intellectual culture. But if it is true for conservative pockets of Christianity, it is true for liberal variants as well.

Newman didn’t ignore the complexity of history. Pace Levy’s reference to Denzinger, I was not advocating legal positivism. The difficult discernment begins not in spite of, but rather once we truly acknowledge, the complexity of history. Where is there any kind of unity across time in Christian doctrine? As Newman saw, that question cannot be answered without recourse to the magisterium, and that recourse requires the study of history. Theological scholarship and historical study must look to the magisterium if there is to be a structured, principled theological enterprise that endures across time.

Levy suggests that I have committed a sin against the Holy Spirit simply because I have said that Catholic theology, despite its historical subtleties, or because of them, depends upon both historical tradition and infallible authority in the Church, read intelligently in harmony. Nothing else works. But at the end of the day, he believes just the same thing as me.

Scruton’s God

Roger Scruton is undoubtedly one of the most original and culturally informed theists today. But what kind of theist is he? Matthew O’Brien rightly draws attention to this all-important question in his review of Scruton’s The Face of God (“Scrutinizing the Sacred,” November). He describes Scruton’s project as a “recapitulation of nineteenth-century idealism””which is not far off the mark, considering that he opts for Christianity because it “gives the greatest insight into our situation” rather than giving us the most coherent account of God’s nature.

The advantage of Scruton’s approach is that it places the God question on an entirely different level without undermining science. This was brought to the fore in a widely viewed debate aired by the BBC and dedicated to the resolution “We would be better off without religion,” during which the late Christopher Hitchens implored the audience to focus on the beauty, symmetry, and majesty of the universe seen through the Hubble telescope rather than worry about a “burning bush.” Scruton immediately responded that the words spoken through the burning bush, “I am who I am,” were far more revealing of transcendence than anything seen through the Hubble telescope.

Scruton’s point is that empirical science cannot hope to explain what happens when you recognize another subject through the human face, what it means to look into the eyes of an “other” and to see her looking back at you. He argues that this phenomenon hints at a ground for the “whole of things,” but as a reason for them rather than as a “cause” of them in the traditional sense. This in turn entails that God reveals himself to us just as we reveal ourselves to one another: person to person, subject to subject, lover to lover.

As O’Brien suggests, the Scrutonian view essentially equates God’s supernatural revelation with human self-realization. It accounts for guilt, shame, and remorse as “necessary features of the human condition” but frames them as a sort of falling short of the ideal rather than as an offense against the Creator. In terms of Catholic teaching, we might say that Scruton reflects Gaudium et Spes 22 but glosses over Lumen Gentium 14. In short, he gives an insufficient account of sin and leaves little room for a thick Christology.

I am not expecting Scruton to be a theologian. He has denied the label on several occasions. But a philosopher who deals with theological matters and accepts supernatural revelation must articulate more clearly the distinction between philosophy and theology and delineate their respective competencies. Noting this would have strengthened O’Brien’s critique of Scruton’s idealist tendencies.

Daniel B. Gallagher
The Pontifical ?Gregorian University
Rome, Italy


Peter Berger’s “A Friendly Dissent from Pentecostalism” (November) reminded me of some critiques of charismatic renewal that swirled around in Lutheran circles forty years ago. I thoroughly appreciated Berger’s friendly description of Pentecostalism, but he rests his dissent on the incorrect assumption that “Pentecostals place supernatural charismata at the center of the Christian faith.”

In 1974, Lutheran theologian William Lazareth made a similar statement to a group of three hundred charismatic Lutheran pastors. “We meet in local ministeriums with Pentecostal pastors,” they told him. “Salvation and justification are as central for them as they are for us. Baptism with the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts are for ministry, are an aspect of sanctification.” Lazareth responded graciously that he had been misinformed.

Despite his wholesome appreciation for Pentecostalism, Berger does not seem fully to appreciate the scope and depth of the intellectual challenge that Pentecostalism’s realistic biblical worldview presents to our culture. The issue at stake, both in classical Pentecostalism and in the charismatic view that has developed among classical Protestants and Catholics, goes beyond mere “supernaturalism.” Luther set himself against the “Zwickau prophets,” the so-called Schwärmer of his day, not because of their supernaturalism, but because they set their alleged revelations above Scripture.

In regard to ministry, Luther would be quite at home among Pentecostals. He wrote a letter to a pastor in Torgau, Germany, giving detailed instructions for ministering to a person being harassed by the devil. When his co-worker, Melanchthon, lay deathly ill, Luther prayed at his bedside and “told God, I cannot continue to believe in you if You do not heal Philip.” Melanchthon was healed.

I do not begrudge Berger’s preference for a “quiet version” of counter-secularization. I once participated in a conference on spiritual healing that was written up in Time magazine under the title, “Quiet Healers.” After more than fifty years in the charismatic renewal, I still prefer a quiet version myself.

Larry Christenson
Northfield, Minnesota

In his “friendly dissent,” Peter Berger offers praise for Pentecostalism as a counter-secularizing force for good, while registering his desire for a more “quiet” version of a Christianity that “re-enchants” the world. I am grateful for his respect and appreciation of Pentecostalism, especially since my early academic life as a Pentecostal was spent politely refusing to apologize to non-Pentecostals in the way Berger does to Pentecostals. Pentecostals need more friends like Berger.

Yet I find his article misses the mark in at least three ways. First, he claims that the terminology surrounding Pentecostalism is confusing “in part because Pentecostalism has affected the mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches” and cites the Catholic charismatic Francis MacNutt and the Reformed charismatic James K. A. Smith. They do illustrate the complexity of identifying a movement the center of which is a spirituality that can be made to fit a number of theological and/or confessional identities. But because of their confessional identities, neither MacNutt nor Smith could serve on a team of Pentecostal scholars in international ecumenical dialogues between Pentecostals and Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed.

Second, he compares apples and oranges by selecting a practice among global Pentecostals (physical healing) and bringing it into dialogue with his theological account of the Lutheran view of the Eucharist. He shows how the Lutheran view of the Eucharist intersects with a number of doctrines to form a more robust theological account of the Church and divine activity within creation. Why not inquire as to how a theological account of physical healing intersects with other Pentecostal beliefs?

The Pentecostal attitude toward miracles and gifts sits firmly within a theological framework that Berger ignores. For example, many Classical Pentecostals approach physical healing pneumatologically and Christologically. They hold that physical healing is an extension of Christ’s atoning work in which he triumphed over sin and death, and that this same Christ sends his Spirit into the world to baptize, empower, and heal.

For Pentecostals, because God’s reign abounds, the world is charged with his grandeur. It is a fundamentally sacramental view of life akin to the “symbolist” mentality attributed to the twelfth century by the great medievalist Marie-Dominique Chenu. Berger’s focus on the practice causes him to miss the theological similarities to the Lutheranism he describes. He seems more concerned with the volume attached to Pentecostalism’s proclamation of this view than with its underlying theological rationale.

Finally, Berger’s desire for a worldview in which the supernatural is at work within nature has already been embraced by many Pentecostals. Most Pentecostals I know pray for healing and go to the doctor, as Berger suggests.

In the same way, they see tongues as both human expression and mystical rapture; they are synergists. I recently heard a cardiologist give a testimony of how he turned to prayer when his son was diagnosed with leukemia. As a charismatic and a cardiologist, he recognized the power and limits of modern medicine. Even though his son succumbed to the disease, he still both performs surgeries and prays for his patients, asking God to breathe life where there is death.

Berger seems to miss that Luther partly grounded his view of the Eucharist in the resurrection body of Jesus, filled with the life of the world to come. It is this overcoming life that Pentecostals see bubbling up, yes, “in, with, and under” the natural in all kinds of ways and, yes, with much more volume.

Dale Coulter
Regent University
Virginia Beach, Virginia

When Peter Berger says “the universe itself is the primary miracle,” he reminds me of an exchange in the 2004 animated film The Incredibles . When the super-powered Helen tries to encourage her super-powered son Dash with the words, “Everyone’s special, Dash,” Dash shoots back: “Which is another way of saying no one is.” If you call everything in the universe a miracle, you have inflated the term to the point of meaninglessness.

Jesus worked “signs and wonders” because they were extraordinary actions that were beyond the conventional naturalistic understanding of the time. The witnesses of the feeding of the five thousand or the raising of Lazarus didn’t turn to each other and say, “Well, well, don’t we live in a miraculous world?” They were shocked and alarmed at seeing things that were inexplicable and out of the ordinary. This is the type of miracle Berger says non-Pentecostal Protestants do not expect.

While Pentecostals do ask for and hope for such miracles, I must disagree with Berger’s statement that Pentecostals as a group place “supernatural charismata at the center of the Christian faith.” All the Pentecostals I know (including myself) would say that at the center of their faith is Christ, not some set of special gifts. While enthusiasm for miracles can become excessive and some Pentecostal groups allow their focus to shift from Christ to charismatic gifts, this is a deviation from what God intends and not characteristic of the movement as a whole.

My most favorable interpretation of Berger’s remarks is that he refrains from Pentecostalism not because he doesn’t believe in miracles (he allows for their possibility), and not because he thinks Pentecostals have gotten large parts of Christian doctrine wrong, but simply as a matter of taste. Some people, especially those with a Northern European heritage, just feel uncomfortable in the disorganized football-crowd atmosphere that prevails in many charismatic and Pentecostal services.

Craig Keener’s book Miracles , reviewed in the same issue, suggests that dismissal of the miraculous may be a type of ethnocentrism and will eventually decline as the supernaturalist Global South becomes more dominant culturally, as well as in terms of raw population growth. As membership in many mainline Protestant churches declines, we may come to view Berger’s attitude toward Pentecostalism as a vestigial remnant of a passing era. But one of the beauties of Christianity is that people like Berger and myself can look forward to a shared eternity in which to discuss these matters.

Karl D. Stephan
Texas State University
San Marcos, Texas

Peter L. Berger replies:

So my friendly dissent received some friendly comments. I appreciate that.

Larry Christenson says that I am wrong in thinking that Pentecostals place supernatural charismata at the center of the Christian faith. Rather, he says that justification and salvation are central. I am sure that he is right”after all, most Pentecostals are Evangelical Protestants. But the distinguishing characteristic (the differentia , as logicians would put it) of Pentecostals is, precisely, their emphasis on the charismatic “gifts of the spirit.”

If it were not for that, they would simply be a more exuberant group of Evangelicals. Take an analogy: Salvation in Christ, not the papacy, is central to the faith of Roman Catholics”after all, they are Christians. But what distinguishes them from other Christians is, precisely, their adherence to a hierarchy headed by the pope as Christ’s vicar on earth. Without that, they would be Presbyterians with elaborate rituals.

Dale Coulter, if I understand him correctly, makes a similar point. He says that physical healing must be placed in a larger theological context, in which case Pentecostals appear more like other Christians. That is probably correct. But what sticks out in any Pentecostal service one attends are, again, the charismatic practices”healing, speaking in tongues, exorcisms.

Whatever affinities Pentecostals may have with Lutherans, these practices are not among them. To be sure, there is a charismatic movement within Lutheran churches”as among other mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, and even Eastern Orthodox churches. This is the phenomenon that has been called “Pentecostalization.” That is, however, a marginal trend within those communities. A person attending a Lutheran service, anywhere, on a Sunday morning is very unlikely to encounter these practices.

I certainly look forward to sharing eternity with Karl Stephan, though I doubt that we will have many theological conversations”all the issues that now divide us will have been resolved. But I take his point that my saying that the universe is the primary miracle stretches the notion of miracle.

He is right: A narrower notion of miracles is more useful. Signs and wonders that amaze those who witness them may, from time to time, occur. However, the sacramental view of the universe that I suggest makes one less interested in such amazing occurrences”something, not so incidentally, Jesus taught his disciples.

The supernatural may sometimes break into the natural order of the world. But the natural world as it is already contains signs of God’s presence (I have called them “signals of transcendence”). To be satisfied with these signs, rather than looking for amazing miracles, is not just a matter of taste.


Chris O’Carroll was the author of “Bah!”, the witty poem about Christmas over-spending that appeared in the December issue. We thank Chris for the poem and regret the misspelling of his name.

Paul Lake