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Jesus in Islam

In “Jesus the Muslim Hippie” (December), Gabriel Said Reynolds demonstrates the dissonance within the Muslim community between what the Qur’an says about Jesus and what later Muslims wrote about him. This helpful distinction notwithstanding, his article fails to discuss how to reconstruct the Christ of Islam, or whether it is even feasible to do so. The inevitable conclusion of Reynolds’ argument is that such a reconstruction is an impossible task, or at least would result in an erroneous portrayal.

While this appears to be true if we only examine the later Muslim interpretations, I argue that limiting our focus to the Qur’an could still yield an important portrayal of Jesus. Though conflicting with the biblical portrayal of Jesus, the qur’anic view still tells much about the uniqueness and supremacy of Jesus.

In the Qur’an, for example, Jesus is born from Mary, who is better than all women (3:42). While God is the only creator (3:47), Jesus also creates (3:49; 5:110), though granted, he does so “by God’s permission.” But then, one may ask, how can a mere human, even if he was a prophet, possess such a divine attribute? Muslim exegetes typically downplay these verses, but they still afford Jesus qualities that are shared by no other human.

Moreover, Jesus is given the title “the Word of God” (3:45; 4:171), which suggests that Jesus manifests who God is and that he was with God since the very beginning, for God was never wordless. Furthermore, Jesus is called “sign and mercy” (19:21), “truth” (19:34), and even “illustrious” (3:45).

Most of these titles only appear in the Qur’an in reference to Jesus. Taken together, these texts represent a valuable and unique portrayal of Jesus that even elevates him above other messengers of God.

When compared to the Bible, the qur’anic picture of Jesus is incomplete and inaccurate on important matters, but it should not be dismissed as irrelevant. For the Qur’an sheds light on the uniqueness of Jesus both in its similarities to the biblical witness and in its divergence. This qur’anic portrayal is important to keep in mind as Christians engage with their Muslim neighbors.

Ayman Ibrahim
Fuller Theological Seminary
Pasadena, California

Limited Government

The sad state of Christianity in America is demonstrated by the fact that R. R. Reno could write a piece headlined “How to Limit Government” (“Public Square,” December) and say nothing about what Scripture says is the limited purpose of civil government (Rom. 13:1–7).

John Lofton
Institute on the Constitution
Pasadena, Maryland

Being a person who clings strongly to conservative values and believes in absolute truth as revealed in Holy Scripture, I eagerly read R. R. Reno’s article “How to Limit Government,” looking for a remedy to restore limited government. But I found none.

As I read his observations on how the disintegration of marriage and family over the past fifty years has paved the way for government to assume the role of God, I was disappointed that this thought was not pursued to the full. The paganization of our culture, the banishment of God from the public square, the “women’s movement,” the Second Vatican Council, the normalization in society of what the Church teaches is sinful behavior, and the almost complete blackout from the pulpit of teaching the truths about marriage, contraception, and abortion are important factors that should have been exposed in great detail.

Perhaps I am being naive, but I believe it is the minority—the ruling class in government and a highly educated group of intellectuals—who has succeeded in overriding the majority. The majority still holds fast to conservative values in faith, marriage, and family. Only by the cunning of the minority have they been tempted to accept what has been unacceptable for thousands of years.

Louis P. Prete
Desert Hot Springs, California

Rarely do I take exception to what R. R. Reno writes. However, limiting government is so important from the standpoint of family and faith that his argument could be enhanced by a different point of view.

His unresolved opening observation—that because “marriage and family are increasingly dysfunctional” the government expands, “of necessity claiming responsibilities once discharged by the now much depleted little platoon [the nuclear family]”—raises the question of cause and effect. Reno seems to suggest that government expands to fill the void created by and as a consequence of the dysfunction and failure of marriage and family. However, progressive secularists, seeking to create “an integral and all-powerful government,” have been engaged in a hundred-year cultural war intended to weaken and ultimately nullify marriage and family.

Children, the next generation of families, are being alienated from the influence of religious institutions that once but no longer support and protect the family unit from intrusive government. The cause of government’s expansion is not dysfunctional families but an aggressive and powerful political philosophy that is gradually overwhelming its archenemies: traditional marriage, family, and faith.

Why are American families increasingly dysfunctional? As with any human entity whose survival is threatened, the cause is chronic rising anxiety. Sources of anxiety, both free-floating and institutional, are mass media, cultural and social change, entertainment, pluralism, information overload, war and terrorism, economic uncertainty, underemployment, unemployment, drugs and alcohol, the failure of social and religious institutions, secularized public education and higher education, health care, and welfare, to name but a few.

As anxiety rises, the ability to function intellectually decreases and reactive emotional functioning increases, leading to dysfunctional behavior. In highly anxious situations, individuals and families become vulnerable and stuck in chronic dysfunction.

If there can be any hope to limit government and restore strong families and vibrant religious communities, the religious must create a new future grounded in an active faith and trust in Almighty God, reclaim control of their communities and schools, ignore the false crises of a biased media, lower public anxiety by taking responsibility for themselves, and regain their ability to function intellectually with the moral integrity of their faith.

Eugene C. Buie
Harrisonburg, Virginia

The hubbub surrounding the pope’s spontaneous interviews brings to mind the quaint story of obtuse reactions to Jesus’ preaching (­Matt. ­11:16­–19). This generation, says Jesus, “is like children shouting to each other as they sit in the market place: We played the pipes for you, and you wouldn’t dance; we sang dirges, and you wouldn’t be mourners. For John came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He is possessed.’ The Son of man came, eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

It seems that the targets of this criticism were the Scribes and Pharisees. How sad that in our day, when the children in the market place are deaf to the words of a pope, our scribes write that the pope has “been a bit naive.”

Orley Swartzentruber
Sarasota, Florida

R. R. Reno replies:

John Lofton confuses me. I spent not a few words outlining the way faith pinions the state from above. The analysis amounts to a conceptual exegesis of Romans 13:1: “There is no authority except from God.” One need not cite Scripture to say something about it.

There was a time when I agreed with Louis Prete. I also thought the majority of Americans culturally conservative. I also viewed the culture wars primarily as resistance to the imperialism of our ruling class.

Now I’m not so sure. Most Americans today endorse a nonjudgmental mentality. They’re generally in favor of faith, marriage, and family, but they shrink from judging those who aren’t. As a consequence, they’re not conservative because they don’t conserve. They aren’t willing to venture the judgments necessary to buttress faith, marriage, and family.

I’m not sure why and how this happened. But I’m confident it wasn’t “the cunning of the minority.” In Europe, postmodern skepticism about moral truth came about in part because of the ideological catastrophes of the first half of the twentieth century. So many institutions and belief systems failed that sanity seemed to dictate believing in nothing, or at least very little.

In America, the original sin of slavery and racism caused a similar reaction. How can we avoid repeating the evils of discrimination? One way is to adopt an “inclusive” ethic—the strategy of multiculturalism.

These are both “post-traumatic stress disorder” responses. To them I would add the broadly therapeutic turn in the West. My grandmother saw service to the community primarily in terms of sustaining traditional institutions and getting people on track according to tried and true standards of regular churchgoing, marital fidelity, responsible parenting, thrift, and a good work ethic. Today we tend to view service to others as liberation of the inner self, empowerment, and encouragement.

Finally, capitalism undoubtedly has played a very important role. Creative destruction extends to culture, which can never be entirely distinguished from economics. In Japan the government is trying to put in place policies to encourage women to leave the home and enter the workforce, all for the sake of better economic growth. The women’s movement intertwines with market imperatives.

So now I worry about blaming elites. The rot is not only at the top. It’s widespread, including in our churches—and in our own hearts. We’ve got to be sober-minded about the depth of the challenge we face so that we can get to the work of re-evangelizing the world as it is rather than the one we imagine it to be.

Eugene Buie helpfully points out that from Plato through Rousseau to Marx, idealistic political philosophies have been hostile to marriage and the family. That’s largely because the family, like faith, competes with the political for ultimate significance. There’s no theoretical way to mitigate this hostility.

The solution, as he rightly observes, is to strengthen family and faith so that we can reestablish a greater balance of powers, as it were. A culture of freedom flourishes when ordinary people have a place to stand outside the expansive control of government, as well as the marketplace. Family and faith provide exactly that.

I fear Orley Swartzentruber isn’t being naive but instead ill-informed. Have the pope’s words not encouraged the New York Times to pen editorials announcing the moral capitulation of the Catholic Church? Have they not encouraged Catholic legislators in Illinois to cite his authority as justification for their votes in favor of same-sex marriage? Unless that was his intention, it’s the very definition of naive not to foresee that they would.

Catholic Letters

I commend Dana Gioia for his appeal for a renewal in Catholic literature (“The Catholic Writer Today,” December), but I am appalled by his assertion that it will best be accomplished by marginalizing the Catholic hierarchy. Is “ecclesiastical indifference” really such a “great blessing” for a renaissance in Catholic letters? Would it not be an even greater blessing if bishops—most of whom, I would wager, have read O’Connor, Waugh, and Percy—expected their seminarians to have read these same authors (not to mention Shakespeare) before ordination?

And is the hierarchy really only capable of interfering with a “cultural awakening,” or might it not be one of its greatest catalysts? If Gioia is right in making the “cultural community” a main ingredient of “a vibrant Catholic literary culture,” then his exclusion of the hierarchy from that community is a recipe for disaster. And if Pope Francis is right that “every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the ‘way of beauty’” (Evangelii Gaudium,167), then the bishops not only have much to contribute to the desired renaissance, they have much to gain.

Daniel B. Gallagher
Rome, Italy

My father, the late Riley Hughes, was actively involved in the Catholic literary scene of the post-war era, being personally acquainted with many of the writers Dana Gioia mentions, from Flannery O’Connor to Muriel Spark. As a professor of English at Georgetown University and a book critic for publications like Catholic World and Columbia, he helped foster the brief literary flowering Gioia describes.

Gioia addresses some of the causes of the rapid disappearance of this apparently vibrant literary culture. It seemed to me, in the wake of Vatican II, that many Catholic professionals sought to break out of the “Catholic ghetto” and make it in the culture at large. My father was content to be known as a “Catholic writer and critic,” but many of the younger generations of writers saw the qualifier “Catholic” as restrictive.

This was often true even for those who remained practicing Catholics. It seemed as if there was a rapid secularization within Catholic literary circles, symbolized for us by the decision of another family literary friend, John L’Heureux, to leave both the Jesuit order and the priesthood, though not the faith.

Given the shallowness and group-think mentality of today’s literary culture, accurately described in the essay, I wonder whether future literary historians will value the contributions of Catholic writers in the post–Vatican II era more highly than do current mainstream critics. Given a longer historical perspective, writers such as Ron Hansen, L’Heureux, and Gioia himself will be seen in continuity with the tradition of O’Connor and Bernanos, of Hopkins and Claudel. I’d be willing to wager that a century or two from now, the recent hot writers and even most Nobel Prize winners will be long forgotten, but some of our current Catholic writers will still be read.

The Catholic sensibility provides an unerring understanding of the human heart, which will always be in season. Our contemporary literary culture, with its aggressive promotion of a view of human nature that is both shallow and false, will be seen for what it is—of no more lasting artistic value than any other form of agitprop.

Austin L. Hughes
Columbia, South Carolina

Dana Gioia’s essay on the alleged dearth of Catholic writers omitted one of the greatest American writers alive: Gene Wolfe. If Gioia cannot be persuaded to invite the epiphany brought about by reading Wolfe’s sci-fi retelling of the gospels, The Book of the New Sun (itself occasioned by Wolfe’s perceptive insight that the only material object the Bible tells us Jesus the carpenter’s adopted son fashioned was a whip), perhaps reading a short Wolfe tale such as “The Packerhaus Method” or “The Tree Is My Hat” will serve to reveal Wolfe as an author short on neither faith nor hope nor ingenuity. Fans of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman will want to start with Wolfe’s novel Peace.

I’d prefer one Wolfe to twenty mid-century Catholic writers, Flannery O’Connor excluded.

Jeff Veyera
Matthews, North Carolina

The credibility of Dana Gioia’s essay is seriously flawed by his attempt to disconnect politics from the arts. His admonition that the Catholic media stay out of politics is blatantly wrong precisely because Catholic literature needs good laws in order to thrive.

Surely Gioia is aware that the great art and literature of the Western world was created in a political climate that was overwhelmingly Christian. Likewise, in America, Catholic literature flourished when Christian laws prevailed. In the last sixty years, the collapse of literary life parallels the legal changeover of Christian laws to pagan laws.

Clearly the Catholic media need to take a firm stand and be a leader in a crusade for good laws that will foster a transformation of the culture and revitalize Catholicism in literature and in the arts.

George Koenig
St. Francis, Wisconsin

I have published ten books, four of them novels. I’m always acutely aware while at work that fictional characters who are practicing Catholics, priests especially, are unlikely to make many powerful commercial editors “flip” (as one once put it to me); neither are developed Catholic themes. So I resort to smuggling in material and ideas that I assume will be noted by Catholic readers, having been missed by the acquiring editor.

Why not try self-professedly Catholic publishers? The answer is that they seem interested in novels that are didactically and satisfyingly Catholic, the sort of novel I don’t write.

As a vocal soloist with a classical repertoire, I require a skilled accompanist to work with me. Unfortunately, the parish has no such person, and I’m compelled to hire pianists from the University of Wyoming. As non-Catholics, however, they have no Sunday obligation, and so I cannot always count on them to be present. There is virtually no young talent coming along among the parishioners, all of us performers being of a certain age.

Why is this so? The other denominations in town appear not to be in this predicament. Gioia seems to imply conclusions I reluctantly reached long ago.

Chilton Williamson, Jr.
Laramie, Wyoming

Although beautifully written—poetic at times—Dana Gioia’s piece failed to convince me that there is no longer a place for the “Catholic writer,” or for any “Catholic” artist, for that matter, in present-day American culture. There are several reasons for my skepticism.

Who, exactly, is a “Catholic writer”? I doubt that many of the authors named by Gioia would have considered themselves as such, or as expressing attitudes toward life that were somehow “Catholic” in their perspective. The requirements and tastes of literary editors mostly determine what gets published here in the U.S.A., and tastes vary widely among editors.

In America at least, I don’t believe you can designate an artist’s religious orientation merely on the basis of his parentage. To be described as a “Catholic writer,” an author should have declared his or her allegiance to the “Catholic” religion and its beliefs and doctrines, unique to that faith.

Any literary person who today exhibits a religious orientation toward his subject, even if he is a Southern Baptist or Holy Roller, will probably be regarded as a member of a “marginalized subculture,” unless he writes openly for the purpose of satire, regardless of the population of his denomination.

In a century that may witness the lamentable renewal of religious wars, where doctrinal differences begin to take on life-versus-death significance, all this may change. Young men and women may be required to be far more explicit as to exactly what set of religious beliefs they adhere to. Then there may be ample justification for labeling a writer as “Catholic,” since he will have so identified himself, if only for reasons of self-protection and survival.

Barton L. Ingraham
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Dana Gioia replies:

Daniel Gallagher would have raised a valid point if my essay had been about sacred architecture or devotional painting and sculpture. Those arts necessarily require the sanction and support of the Catholic hierarchy, since they adorn our churches. (Whether the hierarchy has done a good job in administering this cultural responsibility is a question that I shall charitably ignore for the moment.)

But the hierarchy has less claim on the subject of my essay, namely imaginative literature. During the past few centuries, the Church has played virtually no role in fostering serious literature beyond a few isolated cases—unless one counts the generally good publicity that comes when a worthy author, such as Flannery O’ Connor, is banned, as she recently was by a bishop in Louisiana. Even Gerard Manley Hopkins was never published by anyone in the Church but only by an Anglican nearly thirty years after the poet’s death.

I am respectful of the bishops in matters of faith and morals, but I have no confidence in either their competence or commitment in literature. Leave American Catholic literature to writers. They have done a pretty good job of it so far.

I thank Austin Hughes for his remarks on Catholic literary life. He makes me sad that I never met his father, Riley Hughes, who embodied so much of what once made Catholic literary life so vital.

Jeff Veyera is right to praise Gene Wolfe, one of the great masters of science fiction and fantasy. I did not mention him in my essay, though I have half a shelf of his books at home, because my essay did not offer a comprehensive canon of living Catholic writers. I only listed the handful of Catholic writers that the secular cultural press recognizes. My point was how few Catholic artists the critical establishment actually knows about.

George Koenig misunderstands me. I don’t want the Catholic media to stay out of politics. My criticism was that serious Catholic magazines have become so consumed by partisan politics that they neglect almost everything else—not only culture but even how Christian political vision transcends party ideology. For this reason, Pope Francis’ papacy fills me with joy.

Chilton Williamson, Jr.’s description of the cultural situation seems painfully accurate. I’m sure many Christian writers have similar ­experiences.

I’m not sure where Barton Ingraham disagrees with me since he echoes my points, except in one regard. He cruelly accuses me of inflating my list of mid-century Catholic writers by including those who belonged to the Church only by “parentage.”

I can lay his “doubts” to rest. Every writer I listed was a practicing Catholic—not necessarily a saint, mind you (though a few might qualify), but a communicant. A few, such as the convert Robert Lowell, later left the Church, but this vast company of mid-century Catholics was the real deal.

In my extensive and obsessive research to verify their status, I was chastened by how many of these writers attended daily Mass. If I had included cultural Catholics and Catholics by “parentage,” my list would have been at least five times as large. I do thank Ingraham for caring about this issue, however. He is correct in considering it essential.

Campus Mission

Owen Strachan accurately captures the reigning orthodoxy on a secular college campus (“The Naked College Quad,” December). As a Brown University professor and a newly ordained Roman Catholic deacon, I certainly agree with him that there is an unsigned privatization contract that faculty will largely hold their theological convictions in check. Religious views are both subtly and not-so-subtly marginalized and derided.

On the other hand, college students face the existential anguish of answering the eternal question of who they are, how they came to be, and wherein lies the meaning of their lives. They often search for heroic causes, while the “dictatorship of relativism” scorns the premise of heroism.

Five years ago, I started offering a seminar course for upperclassmen to read and discuss ten books by C. S. Lewis. From day one, the course was oversubscribed, and I now have to teach two sections. The questions posed in the space trilogy, The Great Divorce, and A Grief Observed are antidotes to the glorification of self-expression and the ­unrestricted empowerment of self on college campuses.

I certainly do not lecture on Lewis. How could I explain Lewis better than he explains himself? We read Lewis together and discuss his thoughts. In addition, as Strachan suggests, the naked college quad is all about our search for truth. What is needed on more campuses are faculty who have the gumption to offer courses such as these. You would be surprised how many students sign up!

Timothy P. Flanigan, M.D.
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island

Owen Strachan replies:

I am thrilled to hear of Timothy Flanigan’s work in both the hospital and the classroom. I see a distinct overlap between these vocations. He cares for the physically sick in his research and his rounds, and he cares for the spiritually sick in the classroom, reading Lewis with students who must cope with “existential anguish” on a daily basis. I commend him for this work in the strongest possible terms.

It is my hope that his model will inspire other professors at secular schools teeming with disordered though vibrant young collegians to go and do likewise. Many faculty might initially resist the classification, but there is a sense in which every Christian professor is a missionary on the naked college quad. What profiteth it a professor, after all, if he gains tenure and every good thing, but will not bring his convictions to bear on his discipline?

Troubling Torrance

Douglas Farrow has written an accurate and admirable critique of the theology of Thomas F. Torrance from the perspective of a Catholic theologian. He rightly commends Torrance’s relentless theological mind, which encouraged “repentance” of the mind as well as the will, devotion to the Christ of the creeds as well as the Christ of the heart. His entertaining memories of “TFT” echo with many of us who knew him. This, indeed, is a fine tribute.

Contributing to its quality is the fact that it is a critical tribute. Particularly, Farrow raises questions concerning Torrance’s criticism of what he called “the Latin heresy.” It is fascinating to hear a Catholic theologian respond to this, although, as Farrow acknowledges, the West Torrance critiques is found in Protestantism as well.

The author is particularly troubled by the influence of Karl Barth’s “actualism” in Torrance, as Torrance frequently spoke of God’s Being as known in his Act. For Torrance, the doctrinal expression is the Nicene homoousion, the deity of Christ.

Farrow sees this as dissolving the being of God into actus purus. Rightly, he does not want Jesus’ acts to be overcome by his divinity. “Jesus’ acts are full and proper expressions of his person; there is no alienation in him between who he is and what he does.” This was Torrance’s concern. Was not this also the concern of Nicaea?

Farrow sees disastrous implications of an “unintended Eutychianism that obscures the humanity of Christ,” the Church, Marian devotion, and the Spirit. What the author seems to neglect in Torrance, however, are two key components of his thinking: the vicarious humanity of Christ and contingency.

The vicarious humanity of Christ, not just his vicarious death, is also an answer to “actualism,” for this is a genuine movement toward the Father that continues today in the high priesthood of Christ. This is an all-sufficient response through which the Church participates through the Spirit.

Those adhering to Marian devotion might consider the place of Christ’s humanity in a vicarious, not just imitative, sense, as our one true Priest and Worshipper, interceding for us at the right hand of the Father. Thus the Church is truly the body of Christ, but only as it relates to Christ in a contingent, non-necessary way, always depending on Christ, not on any “reconciling or mediating function of its own.”

Christian D. Kettler
Friends University
Wichita, Kansas

Douglas Farrow replies:

In response to Christian Kettler’s gracious (but not altogether clear) letter it should be said, first, that there is no dispute over the creedal homoousion. The Incarnation is not merely an act of God that reveals God through some creative or redemptive effect on the world; it is God’s own being in action within the world in such a way as to belong to the world. Jesus himself, as the eternal Son incarnate, is God’s own being in action.

Nor is there any dispute over the actus purus notion, insofar as it safeguards (as for Aquinas, so for Barth and Torrance) the truth that the divine being, as such, is never in an unrealized state of mere potency. There is, however, a dispute over the way in which the divine nature and the human nature of the Son are related, and hence about the integrity of those natures. It is Chalcedonian rather than Nicaean territory that is here revisited.

Torrance, I happily allow, is good on the idea of contingency in creation and good also on the humanity of Christ in its vicarious function both on earth and, through the ascension, in heaven. This is the aspect of Torrance on which I tried myself to build. But his work is both aided and blighted by Barth, the blight arising from the latter’s actualist construal, not of God, but of Christ’s human nature—a construal that does not support but undermines the homoousion hemin that Chalcedon adds to the homoousion to patri.

I argued this before I became a Catholic (see, for example, my essay in Colin Gunton’s The Theology of Reconciliation). Dare I now suggest to some of my Protestant friends, including those among the Friends, that they, together with Barth and Torrance, have misunderstood the contingency of Mary and of the Church?

That they have indeed devalued Mary and the Church, not, as they suppose, for the sake of a proper affirmation of the uniquely vicarious humanity of Christ, which the Church has never ceased to confess, but rather because (or partly because) they have allowed that very humanity to be obscured? To be drawn into God in such a way that it is no longer able to cooperate fully with man or to support man’s authentic cooperation with God?

Evangelical Differences

Russell Moore (“Evangelical Retreat?,” December) is an eloquent proponent of the best sort of Evangelicalism—that which recognizes the need to read the Bible with the Great Tradition, holds on faithfully to dogmatic and moral orthodoxy, and does not shrink from going public when the culture attacks the Gospel on issues such as sanctity of life, religious freedom, and the meaning of sex and marriage. It rolls up its sleeves to run adoption agencies, soup kitchens, and halfway houses for released prisoners.

But I wish he had stuck to the exhortatory and optative rather than speaking so often in the indicative. In other words, when he speaks of “the center of American Evangelicalism” and what “the new kind of Evangelical church” does, he suggests that the majority of younger Evangelicals and their churches have forty-five-minute Calvinist sermons, strict membership requirements, and hymns with Puritan lyrics.

This is no doubt true of the Reformed branch of the Southern Baptist Convention, where he is situated. But there are more Arminian Evangelicals than Reformed, and there are tens of millions of charismatic and Pentecostal Evangelicals whose churches would gag on Calvinist lyrics—even if the number of Reformed charismatics is rising because of the popularity of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Thankfully, many non-Reformed are also holding fast to the same vision and practice that Moore proposes.

But the Evangelical world is not as solidly orthodox as Moore suggests. It is not just “the professional dissidents who make a living marketing mainline Protestant shibboleths to Evangelical college audiences.” The students who listen to them and read their books are often persuaded.

Michael Brown’s new book Hyper-Grace shows the rising tide of antinomianism in charismatic circles using a radical grace message similar to that taught in mainline Protestant revisionist churches: Christ has done it all, hence talk of morality or eternal hell is false legalism. In the last fifteen years, more books have been published by Evangelicals recommending universal salvation than warning against it. Most Evangelicals know of friends who have departed the fold because the cultural tsunami of support for gay marriage has made them question the Church’s moral authority. A March 2013 PRRI/Brookings poll shows slippage: While only 15 percent of white Evangelical seniors support gay marriage, 51 percent of white Evangelicals under thirty-five do.

Not all Evangelicals are Great Tradition Evangelicals. While the two greatest minds at the headwaters of Evangelicalism—Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley—were guided by the Great Tradition, many other Evangelicals have followed the “no creed but the Bible” hermeneutic.

Pastors in this stream will sometimes tell their auditors, “Don’t believe what I am telling you on my authority; go home and read the Bible for yourself and make up your own mind.” The final authority then becomes the autonomous ego, and all traditions on principle are rejected. If the individual reader of the Bible reaches a conclusion different from the Great Tradition, so much the worse for the Great Tradition. And if spiritual experience is considered more important than doctrine—as is often taught in contemporary Evangelical churches—then tradition matters very little, even Evangelical tradition.

This is not a disagreement between low church and high church, or between Baptists and Anglicans. For Baptists have their own theological tradition rooted in the Reformation tradition, as Timothy George and David Dockery have shown.

I agree with Moore that Evangelicals and Catholics can learn from each other. While Catholics can learn much from the historical Evangelical imperative to mission (the pope’s new apostolic exhortation notwithstanding) and its practice of church discipline, Evangelicals need to learn from Catholics that true faith cannot be reduced to subjective experience or even the knowledge that Jesus died for my sins. Instead, it is a “thick” world of mutually reinforcing dimensions—seeing the beauty of God in Christ, as taught in Scripture, summarized by the creeds, enacted in liturgy, developed by the great theologians, displayed in the saints (Evangelicals should think here of their “heroes of faith”), and beheld in icons.

Gerald McDermott
Roanoke College
Salem, Virginia

Election’s Direction

The answers to the questions that Jerome Gellman and Shalom Carmy (“Love’s Scandal,” December) struggle with—What does it mean that the Jews are the “Chosen People”? Why were they chosen?—are painfully obvious if, in fact, Jesus was who Christianity says he was. What were they chosen for? To bring redemption to all of mankind through “hosting” the incarnation of God as man. Hence their chosenness does not imply that they are of more intrinsic value to God than non-Jews (“Gentiles”); rather, their chosenness was primarily for the benefit of Gentiles, in that their task was to reconcile all of humanity (99 percent Gentile) to God through Christ.

Why were they chosen? There are at least three answers, obvious in the light of Christianity. The first is that God had to choose some ethnic group to be separated out from the rest of humanity for about two thousand years in order to receive a tremendous amount of divine revelation so that they could know God. God had to choose someone; whoever he chose, we would today be asking, “why them?”

The second reason is given in Ezekiel 16, in which God explicitly compares Israel to an infant considered so worthless that she was discarded after birth, until God found her, cleaned her, and raised her until her “renown went forth among the nations because of [her] beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor which I had bestowed upon [her], says the Lord God” (Ezek. 16:14). God usually chooses the most insignificant for his special roles—Bernadette at Lourdes, the children at Fatima, etc.—precisely so that it is evident that the special role they receive is a sovereign act of the mercy of God.

Finally, the third reason is given in Genesis 22, which recounts ­Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice to God “his only begotten son” (v. 2), whom he had waited all his life for. Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, was asked by God to sacrifice Isaac. Because Abraham was willing to do this, the Lord says, “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice.”

In Judaism, this has always been understood as the promise to send the messiah through the seed of Abraham—the heart of the Jews’ chosenness, of their special role. As Christians, we know that not only was this promise fulfilled, but Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only begotten son was reciprocated by God’s willingness to sacrifice his only beloved son Jesus. When Abraham said “God himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice,” he was speaking prophetically.

None of us wishes to be offensive to Jews or Judaism (I grew up Jewish and consider myself to be a Jew in the Catholic Church), but it is only logical that if Christianity is true, then of course the true meaning and significance of Judaism is revealed in Christianity. Gellman’s book and Carmy’s review of it inadvertently serve as a powerful illustration of this.

Roy Schoeman
Gloucester, Massachusetts

Shalom Carmy replies:

Roy Schoeman makes much of Ezekiel 16, from which he infers that God chooses the seemingly worthless or insignificant. He does not mention Jeremiah 2, where God states explicitly that he “remembers the loving kindness” of Israel’s youth “when you followed me in the wilderness in unsown land.” The simple meaning of this verse, and countless others, is to recognize merit in Israel’s obedience.

Schoeman states explicitly that Abraham was rewarded for his willingness to offer up his son. The simple meaning of this verse affirms Abraham’s merit and desert. Nothing in the text implies that Abraham is referring to a metaphorical lamb, as opposed to the ram he actually offers.

According to Schoeman, the verse “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” has always been understood in Judaism as the promise to send the messiah through the seed of Abraham. The belief in messiah son of David is indeed part of our creed. This belief, however, is rooted in the promise to David (2 Samuel 7 inter alia) rather than Genesis.

It is not for me to tell Christians how to understand the historical unfolding of divine revelation. But Schoeman seems to have inadvertently missed much about Judaism and its sources.

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