The good points about marital preparation that Robert Spaemann makes in “Divorce and Remarriage” (August/September) are obscured by some important insensitivities. Spaemann scornfully categorizes second marriages as “adulterous concubinages,” a term apparently chosen for its provocative connotations. He leaves little room for any nuanced account of the complexities of ascertaining God’s will as it works in this world.
The example he cites at the end of the piece is, I think, most telling. He describes a scenario of a woman whose husband has abandoned her and her children. In his rather implausible scenario, her ex-husband, now remarried, seeks re-admittance to the Church and is granted it. Spaemann describes the first wife as now being a “victim” of an excessively liberal Church, “abused” as she must watch her ex-husband be accepted into the Church. This “abuse” of her is painted as morally similar to the Church’s handling of the abuse of minors. Can he be serious?
The more likely outcome of that story of the abandoned woman is that she, through the grace of God, finds another man who loves her. Spaemann would close the door forever to her for all but “adulterous concubinage.”
Robert Spaemann’s article needs to be read not only by the ordinary Catholic but by the Church hierarchyup to and including Pope Francis. Everyone gushes over the emotional push-button issue of the poor, poor divorced and remarried, who can’t receive Communion because of their willful violation of God’s commandments and Church law. And yet, few ever write about the true victims in this debate: the innocent, whether that be the innocent spouse or the innocent children.
I have been and remain one of the victims of an unwanted divorce and annulment that has decimated a family of ten. Taking the easy roadwith assistance from the Churchdid nothing but embolden a former spouse to destroy a family rather than to preserve a marriage. This is what makes all the talk of relaxing current Church practice such a travesty! Relaxing the requirements that the majority followfor the sake of a minoritywill do nothing but continue to neuter the marital good of fidelity.
The innocents in this debate have been shunted aside and forgotten and need to be moved to the front. They are as much victim as, if not more than, the divorced and remarried. The Church hierarchy needs to strengthen the sacrament of matrimony rather than allow its dilution into a secular practice that is only as strong as the civil courts allow.
saint marys, kansas
Carl R. Trueman’s well-framed defense of Reformed theology and practice invigorates the conversation and may well stimulate confidence for many Christians, Reformed or not (“A Church for Exiles,” August/September).
I might quibble (and I would and do) with his emphasis on a “realistic” social engagement, but a more important reminder and rejoinder is that Trueman’s ecclesial vision and hope neglect the important term “fellowship.” The earliest Church formed an alternative fellowship-society and, as a Church, witnessed to the reality of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God through King Jesus and the empowerment of the Spirit.
In other words, “Yes” to much of Trueman’s proposal for the vitality of a faithful Reformed approach to the ecclesial life, but “No,” the Word, the liturgy, and the “realism” need more. They need to be embodied in an ecclesial life that anchors both the activism and the hope of the Christian. The Reformed approach can be expanded toward biblical vision if it embraces not only Zwingli but also those radicals who had the audacity to wonder if the Reformation needed to go yet further.
northern baptist theological seminary
I’m afraid that while Carl R. Trueman stirs my heart to a fresh love and reverence for Holy Scripture, he simultaneously depresses my hopes for a Protestant reclamation of the Eucharist. It seems that in his passion to see the Bible have its rightful place in Protestant and Evangelical worship, he has succumbed to an all too common dichotomy between Word and table.
His piece reminds me of a time in seminary when one of my professors, an outstanding Old Testament exegete, became disturbed when the chapel was refurbished and the Communion table was elevated to the same height as the pulpit. He was grieved at the thought that the Word of God would have to play second fiddle to the liturgists of the seminary. I had, and have, great respect for my professor, but he and Trueman could not be more confused. Church history teaches us that far from being opposed to each other, Word and table are the melody and harmony of worship.
Carl R. Trueman’s confidence in Reformed Christianity is moving and inspiring, and contains much that this Catholic can agree with. In fact, his description of Reformed worship bears a remarkable resemblance to our Liturgy of the Wordthough I would find that incomplete if it weren’t followed by our Lord’s priceless gift of himself in the Holy Eucharist (making me thankful that we didn’t jettison the “mediation” of priests and sacraments). Also, we have the opportunity to worship every day, which I find a good antidote to the secular culture.
All serious Christians can agree with Trueman that, at present, we are the counterculture. However, he never actually tells us which church(es) he’s counting on to see us through this “exile.” He dismisses Evangelicals and has serious doubts about Catholicism, but his “Reformed Christianity” doesn’t sound much like any contemporary mainline Protestant denomination I’ve heard about. Every non-Catholic church has long accepted contraception and remarriage after divorce, the original enablers of the sexual revolution. And these days it’s unusual to read the daily newspaper without learningthat yet another “Christian” group or individual is embracing abortion “choice,” euthanasia, and/or same-sex “marriage.” I can’t help suspecting that anyone searching for the Reformed church may end up feeling like the people in that old TV commercial who visit every burger joint in town, asking, “Where’s the beef?”
While I agree with Trueman’s assessment of the “basic irrationality and emotional passion” of the pro-death crowd, it unfortunately seems to lead him to a “realistic” resignation, bordering on quietism, that expects “little or no success,” “irrelevance,” and “exile.” Meanwhile, we Catholics, along with our Evangelical allies, just keep on fighting no matter how many times the secular establishment tells us we’ve lost. Perhaps our penchant for “rational discussion” enables us to see through the superficial logic of rationalizations such as “Women will have abortions no matter what, so it should be safe and legal,” or “It’s unjust not to let same-sex couples marry.” Or maybe it’s our stubborn old Irish rootsso if we are “shunted to the margins,” we still may know a thing or two about weathering persecution.
Anne G. Burns
As scientism displaces spirituality in our increasingly secular culture, Carl R. Trueman presents Reformed Christianity as the best formula for a cocoon-like survival of an exiled Christian culture in a growing sea of indifferenceif not outright hostilityto religion. Although Trueman wants us to emulate St. Paul, I doubt that St. Paul would adopt the inherent pessimism in a religious view that merely tries to survive rather than to thrive.
Dostoevsky, in my opinion, provides a more optimistic Christian view. In The Brothers Karamazov, there is a discussion that has modern relevance. Atheist Ivan Karamazov is discussing with monks at the local monastery the Orthodox Church’s relationship to the tsarist state, and he takes the ironic position (probably with subtle mockery) that the Church, if it is to be true to Jesus and St. Paul, must eventually totally take over the statelaws, punishments, and all. Otherwise the Church will be absorbed into the state and, at best, be given only a small corner of culturally irrelevant authority (sound familiar?). Most of the monksperhaps being taken in and seduced by Ivan’s ironyagree that the Church should prevail over the state, saying in unison, “So be it!”
However, the highly respected elder Zosima interrupts the discussion. He says that the Church must never take over the state, not even for a time, and especially not the courts, because the criminal, when sentenced or banished, would not then have recourse to Christ and Christian forgiveness. On the other hand, if Church and state are separate, then the criminal, although mechanically imprisoned, can still find peace with his spiritual beliefs and not despair from abandonment, which ultimately leads to nihilism.
Today’s modern secular citizen also risks despair and nihilism. Because of this, the Christian churches should not retreat but regroup and show their spiritual arms open to those suffering from the pressures of modern life, providing the opportunity to awaken their consciences. Although Catholics as much as anyone have anxiety over their place in civil society, they, along with Protestants and Jews, should strive primarily to secure and publicize a proper moral place within the secular state based on service and charity, and not on superior dogma. If the truth is allowed to compete, the Holy Spirit will do the rest, and perhaps show the world that virtue and morality can thrive independent of one’s beliefs (or nonbelief) in a particular form of immortality.
san luis obispo, california
It was encouraging to see Carl R. Trueman put in such a clear and bold way what I have intuitively believed to be true for many years now.
I am in continual ecumenical dialogue with various Christian friends in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical traditions. As I’ve contemplated my next conversations, I’ve realized I can choose to use Trueman’s article in one of two ways. On one hand, I could use it as but yet another weapon in my arsenal in my attempts to convince other Christians of the superiority of the Reformed Protestant Tradition.
But I’ve been down this road many times before, and I know where it usually leads: My point will be met with counterpoints, and after heated back-and-forth squabble, we will return to our respective corners bloodied and bruised. I’m increasingly finding this strategy frustrating and counterproductive, for the trickle of converts that switch sides is offset by the damage done to the larger Body of Christ.
But there is a second path I could take. Instead of primarily trying to convert other Christians to my church tradition, I could bring my tradition’s gifts to the ecumenical table and seek to work as partners with fellow Christians toward our common goal of faithful and holistic witness to Jesus Christ in the midst of a culture that increasingly has little patience for orthodox Christianity. Christians across the traditions need each other, and a genuine working together does not mean papering over our real differences.
When holding firmly and unashamedly to traditional sexual ethics lands us in jail, maybe then orthodox Christians will place a higher priority on unified cultural witness than on inter-tradition evangelism.
I appreciate Carl R. Trueman and others who perceive a coming cultural exile for the Church in the West, but we ought to consider what that means from a biblical perspective. In the Scriptures, the exile is always a direct result of the rebellion of God’s people, and its stated goal is, among other things, to cleanse God’s people of their homegrown injustice and rebellion. This is clear throughout the prophetic corpus of Scripture but can be clearly seen in the parable in Isaiah 5:17. For Isaiah, the coming destruction of Judah and Jerusalem is triggered by their own “wild grapes”the oppression and exploitation of the poor and the weak in their midst.
The restoration from exile comes on the condition of repentance (Lev. 26:4042; Deut. 30:110; Jer. 29:13). In this way, the city of God will be transformed through exile into the city it was always meant to be, a city of righteousness and faithfulness (Isa. 1:26). The people’s injustice is the trigger of the exile, and their repentance is the purpose of the exile (this is true in the New Testament, too; see 2 Pet. 3:9).
Instead of obsessing over the failures of their neighbors, the prophets implore, Israel should turn inward. The proper response is not to decry the Assyrians or the Babylonians but to reflect humbly on their own grievous failure and repent. As the prophet Jeremiah discovered, that is the kind of teaching that gets you thrown in a cistern.
To be sure, the biblical exile provides vivid imagery. While I am not saying that exile is inappropriate for the current situation of the Church in the West, we should be aware of what such imagery implies. If we invoke the notion of exile today, we should be ready to accept that we are indicted by implication.
John Scott Redd Jr.
reformed theological seminary
Carl R. Trueman replies:
If my article made two claims that might potentially be seen as contentious, that Christianity in America is set for exile and that the Reformed faith is the best way to address this, then only the second seems to have proved particularly contentious.
Scot McKnight and I have privately discussed these issues before and I am willing to concede that the kind of church I envisage bears some analogy to Anabaptist models. If nothing else, the lack of a formal Churchstate link demands that the Reformed faith in America look different from its sixteenth-century ancestor. McKnight’s call to learn from Anabaptist thinking on community is a healthy challenge and, as one who has benefited in the past from reading the works of men such as Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, not one I intend to ignore.
Rich Wollan says that I offer a church with Word but no sacrament. True, I do not offer sacraments as my Roman Catholic friends understand them, but I made it clear that Word and sacrament were to be defining features of the Church’s life, as did John Calvin and indeed the great Reformed confessions and catechisms. Perhaps I might have emphasized it more, but my article was intended to be programmatic, not exhaustive. Certainly, sacramental action is a vital part of a self-conscious pilgrim identity in the present age.
Anne Burns believes that my approach represents too much of a passive surrender to the forces of the culture and also wonders where the church I describe might be found. On the former, I would make a distinction between the Church and Christians as members of civic society. I certainly do not think that Christians should so separate their faith from their civic life that it does not affect how they vote or how they engage in the public sphere. In fact, Burns herself seems to operate with that basic distinction when she talks about Catholics and Evangelicals fighting the secular establishment. When pro-choice politicians remain welcome at Mass, and when the Church does little or nothing to require obedience among her members to her teaching on contraception and abortion, it is arguable that countercultural activism is by and large not driven by the institution but by committed individuals.
Having said that, I agree that no mainline Protestant church embodies that for which I am calling. The PCUSA, the largest Reformed church in the U.S., is a great example of cultural values expressed through a vaguely Christian idiom. I believe that it is only among the smaller, confessional Reformed groups that one will find a vibrant counterculture.
Dan Biezad sees me as being happy merely to survive rather than to thrive. Here we have a clash of visions of thriving. For me, a church that nurtures her people by Word and sacrament and that prepares individuals both to fulfill their earthly callings to the glory of God and then to die in his grace is thriving. That is where I think Biezad’s vision is itself an impoverished one: If we are only striving to create a moral space in the contemporary world, then that is most limited. Notions of immortality set greater visions before us and demand richer notions of success that transcend, and perhaps even contradict, more-earthly ambitions.
Kevin Offner offers two ecumenical uses for my article, one as a means of demonstrating the superiority of the Reformed faith to other options, one as a means of bringing the riches of the Reformed faith to the table in a more dialogical manner. I would suggest that these two approaches need not be antithetical. Certainly I wrote the article to extol the virtues of my own tradition as I might extol the beauty of my own wife: not primarily to disrespect the traditions or wives of others, but to accent unique features while allowing Catholic and Orthodox to see how these connect to history. Much of my own scholarly work has been given to demonstrating the connections between Reformed orthodoxy and the patristic and medieval traditions. Ecumenical discussion that is robust in content, gentlemanly in tone, and oriented both to Church history and to practical relevance will, I believe, allow the Reformed faith to make its case with power in the field of Christian discussion.
Finally, John Scott Redd Jr. brings biblical teaching on exile into play. There is much to be said here, and, indeed, it may well be that Redd and I disagree on whether exile is normative. I would argue that the Church is always in exile; what is changing now is that the exile is more obvious and becoming more uncomfortable. I welcome that, as I believe it will make it clear who has conviction and who is simply identified with the Church for the sake of convenience.
Yet I also take his call to repentance seriously: As the exile begins, churches of all varieties need to ask themselves some hard questions. For example, have we been complicit in redefining marriage by an easy acceptance of no-fault divorce? Has our use of worldly power set the precedents for the kinds of boycotts and judicial activism we now see being used against us? Exile might well be our status within our own culture. But we do indeed need to ask if we have helped to create such a situation. I am most grateful to Redd for making that clear.
I just finished reading Nora Calhoun’s “Learning from Bodies” (August/September). Her exceptional piece should be mandatory reading for all bishops, priests, and deacons, all seminary students, and especially all those who work as I do at “institutions of higher learning.”
Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that Christianity is not the result of noble sentiments or lofty ideas, and yet every day I encounter far too many people whose approach to every facet of lifein the bodyhas been reduced to abstractions (sadly this includes many Christians). Calhoun reminds us in such a clear and compelling way, not of the theology of the body, but of the language of the body without which the theology is merely an abstractionhowever lofty. I look forward to sharing her insights about “the richest vocabulary of human dignity” with my students.
Gary C. Caster
I am astounded that Nathan Schlueter suggests libertarians would put rape in the category of a “preference,” akin to liking or disliking bananas (“Libertarian Delusions,” August/September). Every libertarian I know would correctly judge rape to be what it clearly is: an act of unjust coercion, and therefore rightly subject to moral judgment.
downers grove, illinois
I have three comments for Nathan Schlueter. First, a case for libertarianism and libertarian policy prescriptions can be based on some combination of ethical and practical considerations. For example, is it ethical for government to force workers and employers to negotiate a wage above a legal minimum? And if it’s ethical, will the benefits and costs be a practical improvement over a world without that minimum?
Second, it’s important to distinguish between positive and negative cases for “Christian libertarianism.” The former is a sophisticated exercise, which requires careful caveats. The latter is relatively easy. In a word, when should Christians actively pursue government as a biblical and practical means to godly ends? The list turns out to be quite shortand consistent with libertarian policy conclusions.
Third, to Schlueter’s important comments about public choice economics, I would add an explicit reference to Austrian economics. In a nutshell, where public choice focuses on the motives of those in political markets, Austrians note the impact of highly imperfect information on policy outcomes. To use the Affordable Care Act as an example: Public choice would start with questions about agents in political markets (members of special-interest groups, politicians, bureaucrats) benefiting themselves at the expense of others. Austrians would begin by asking how thousands of bureaucrats in the federal government might reasonably be expected to implement effectively a gargantuan public policy in a complex policy arena. Good policy requires good motives and good knowledge. Public policy rarely combines both.
We’re blessed to live in a country where we don’t need to think much about politics. But the flip side of this coin is that few people have a coherent approach to politics and public policy. Especially for Christiansand especially given what’s at stakewe should take great care before we try to wield such a powerful instrument.
indiana university southeast
new albany, indiana
I was glad to read Nathan Schlueter’s explanation of the minarchist principle but dismayed by his criticism of it as a cornerstone of libertarianism. The significance of this principle far transcends libertarianism, in the same way as “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” transcends particular theologies. Like the golden rule, the minarchist view that “the only legitimate use of the state power is to prevent coercion” is an axiomatic principle: A viable and just society is impossible to imagine without it.
Schlueter, however, claims its consistent application results in an unwarranted exclusion of government funding for “a wider range of public goods than securitysuch goods as roads, education, and assistance to the poor” and supports this contention by speciously linking minarchism to libertarianism, then criticizing both by citing the premises of some libertarians: moral relativism and an interpretation of the social contract as a means of advancing private interests. But minarchism per se is free of these premises.
Consider, for instance, John Locke’s contention that the only proper end of government is to protect man’s natural state of perfect freedom in a social context: “to unite for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general nameproperty.”
This is a minarchist view, yet Locke considered ethics a demonstrable science, and so would have scorned moral relativism. He also understood the social contract, not as a means of advancing private interests but rather as the rationale for conditions needed by all citizens to pursue those interests. This is reflected most famously in the wording of the Declaration of Independence, where Thomas Jefferson, influenced by Locke, refers to the right to “the pursuit of Happiness.” Also in a letter to Isaac H. Tiffany in 1819, Jefferson identifies “Rightful liberty” as “unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”
Schlueter further attempts to undercut the minarchist principle by identifying it with Kant’s concept of self-ownership and “bodyself dualism.” A distinction between body and self, however, is not a necessary premise for individual freedom, and makes the concept of self-ownership seem a rather inadequate metaphor for our intrinsic self-worth and dignity, terms of which Schlueter does approve. He is even willing to concede that “the principle of intrinsic human dignity” needn’t be rejected “altogether.”
What a relief! But why should human dignity, and its corollary freedom of “unobstructed action,” be rejected at all? I would ask Schlueter to answer this question, and continue his discussion unencumbered by libertarian and Kantian ideas.
brooklyn, new york
Nathan Schlueter replies:
Elizabeth Quaintance will be relieved to know that I do not believe “libertarians would put rape in the category of a ‘preference.’” To the contrary, I purposely chose an act libertarians would recognize as immoral for my illustration, in order to highlight (for them) the difference in structure and intentionality between moral and gustatory judgments. The judgment that rape is immoral does not rest on subjective tastes but on objective reasons that all human beings can and should recognize. Moral judgments, therefore, can justify legal prohibition, whereas mere subjective tastes cannot.
The whole issue between libertarians and non-libertarians, then, is not between those who believe coercion may be used only for moral ends and those who believe coercion may be used to promote private preferences. The issue is between competing judgments on the nature and scope of moral action. Libertarians often deny that there are any moral wrongs other than unjust coercion, whereas non-libertarians argue that there are moral wrongs, and harms, other than unjust coercion. And often there is no neutral ground between these two judgments. As Anthony Esolen recently observed, opening a public beach to nudists is not neutral between nudists and non-nudists. It makes the beach a “nude beach.” Nudists will have gained a certain kind of freedom, but no one should pretend that the freedom of non-nudists has not been lost.
I agree with much of what Eric Schansberg writes. Public policy, like ethics more generally, is about more than good intentions. It is about achieving real goods. A well-intentioned anti-poverty program that hurts the poor is wrong. It is important, therefore, for policy makers to draw upon sound social-scientific data in the advocacy, design, and implementation of public programs. This bears upon Schansberg’s third point: Both public-choice theory and Austrian economics, although severely limited in their capacity to account for the fundamental nature of the political order, offer invaluable insights that public-policy makers ignore at their peril.
I am not quite sure what Schansberg means when he asks, “When should Christians actively pursue government as a biblical and practical means to godly ends?” I am inclined to say, “Never.” The nature and purpose of government are set by general revelation, not special revelation (to use the Protestant terminology). We know by general revelation that government exists to secure justice and to protect and promote the common good. It is very doubtful to me whether these ends “are consistent with libertarian policy conclusions.”
Finally, Bruce Marr takes me to task for conflating the minarchist principle with libertarianism. I am not sure where he is getting his understanding of minarchy. In his classic defense of minarchy, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), Robert Nozick argued that if one takes individual rights seriously, then the only legitimate form of government is the minimal state, limited to the “narrow functions” of protecting against force and fraud, enforcing contracts, and nothing more. Marr never addresses Nozick’s argument, pointed out in my article, that when government takes from person A and gives to person B (as it does when it taxes A for B’s public roads, schools, and assistance to the poor), it is not protecting A’s rights but violating them.
It is true that Locke and Jefferson were neither minarchists nor libertarians. Neither should Marr be. Between libertarian minarchy and progressive statism is the decent form of limited government bequeathed to us by the American founders. Let us join together in defense of that.
My family agrees with Peter J. Leithart that all true believers should unite under one Churchwith one difference (“The Future of Protestantism,” August/September). We think everyone should unite under our system rather than his. (You can laughthis is Presbyterian levity. Although we sometimes disagree, we have a great deal of respect for other Christian persuasions.)
With this difference in mind, my oldest son would like to know what Leithart’s commitment is to biblical revelation. He is astonished that Leithart makes no clear biblical defense of his wish list, particularly the non-traditional paedocommunion. He would also like to know whether Leithart believes Christianity to be a matter of outward form or inward work of the Holy Spirit.
My husband and I would like Leithart to explain what he means by “classic” Protestantism. Would Leithart consider Calvin a representative? Calvin comments in chapter 14 of the fourth book of The Institutes, “Assurance of salvation does not depend upon participation in the sacrament. . . . For we know that justification is lodged in Christ alone, and that it is communicated to us no less by preaching of the gospel than by the seal of the sacrament, and without the latter can stand unimpaired. Augustine’s statement is just as true: there can be invisible sanctification without a visible sign, and on the other hand a visible sign without true sanctification.”
Leithart’s emphasis on the sacrament of communion with no mention of our sin and need of a savior causes us to wonder if he views these things as the Sophists did, who, according to Calvin, “taught . . . that the sacraments . . . justify and confer grace.” We wholeheartedly concur with Calvin and the rest of the Reformers inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church that this “is diabolical. For . . . it binds men’s pitiable minds . . . in this superstition, so that they repose in the appearance of a physical thing rather than in God himself.” We hope we are entirely mistaken about Leithart’s opinion and ask that he would make himself clear to avoid appearing to be party to such deception.
Peter J. Leithart mixes for himself and his fellow “Reformational Catholics” a tempting but illusory cocktail of false premises, fuzzy history, and wishful thinking in order to help them envision with him a “Reformational Catholic Church.” This church will afford them the trappings of true religion while freeing them to take or leave any aspects of Catholic doctrine that they deem distasteful.
Leithart commendably prescribes more-open discussion about doctrinal differences. However, he betrays his postmodern and relativistic presuppositions when he in the next breath rebukes the Catholic Church for being too exclusive and tribal.
When a Catholic at Mass says the “Great Amen,” he is proclaiming his belief in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharistand, by extension, in the magisterium of the Church that defines that doctrine, in the validity of the priest’s faculties that make that presence possible, in the necessary and extant communion of that priest with his bishop that makes his faculties valid, in that bishop’s valid succession in authority from the Twelve Apostles through the laying on of hands, and ultimately in Christ’s commission to those Twelve to preach to, teach, and sanctify his people in visible unity.
To say that it is tribal for the Catholic Church not to extend the Eucharist to those unable to echo this “Amen” is to argue that either truth does not matter or that it cannot be known. Is this Leithart’s position? Leithart’s jab at exclusive communion reveals his fallacious zeal for a type of religious unity that is imagined and unreal because untrue.
This type of ecumenism advocated by Leithart has run its sterile course. True ecumenism entails meaningful collaboration between Catholics and Protestants in the culture war, as well as open and honest theological discussion, but it does not include theological negotiation. This can often be understandably aggravating for Protestants, who, not possessing the authority of a magisterium, must choose their individual theological position; thus, they don’t understand why, if they are willing to budge theologically, the Catholic Church is not willing to meet them halfway.
Lastly, I should like to point out that “Reformational Catholic Church” can also be translated “Evangelical Catholic Church.” I would politely suggest that what he is looking for already exists: Pick up a copy of George Weigel’s book of the same name, and then come on in. The (Tiber) water is fine.
Timothy J. Nielsen
greenville, south carolina
Carl R. Trueman and Peter J. Leithart capture the biggest divide between orthodox believers within Protestantism. Are Protestants permanently or only temporarily separated from Rome? If we envision this separation as temporal, then we need to do everything in our power to heal the divide. But how?
Protestantism is a house divided, and it will continue to fragment. Certainly there are, and will be, pockets of fidelity and fecundity. However, this picture of the ecumenical future seems very bleak to me. But how and where do we begin to reconcile separated brethren?
I suggest that the time has come to appeal directly to the pope. We should request the creation of an Evangelical rite of the Mass for reconciled Protestants. This has already happened with the Anglicans, and Eastern-Rite Catholics are simply part of the larger Roman Catholic family.
The growing ecumenical consensus between magisterial Protestants and Rome over the past fifty years has brought us to the place in which our theological disagreements pale in comparison to the things that unite us. We have the Nicene Creed and, very recently, “The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.”We also share strong ties of agreement on issues such as abortion and marriage.
Certainly there are difficulties to overcome. Some of the Marian dogmas are problematic, but these can and should be interpreted evangelically. If such an appeal were taken seriously, it would allow Protestants to keep the best of our traditions and confessionswhich can and should be interpreted Catholically.
The future of a robust Protestantism does not lie outside the Roman Catholic Church, but within it. If we truly believe this, if we’re not just giving lip service to an ideal future, then we should make the appeal to Rome.
Eric M. Riesen
Peter Leithart replies:
Dana Bertino’s letter takes us far afield, and would require a much longer response to answer adequately. I can offer only brief rejoinders. I support the “non-traditional” practice of paedocommunion precisely because Scripture teaches it. There are no biblical feasts that include lay adults but exclude their children. Her son’s question about “outward form or inward work” poses a false dichotomy, since Christianity is equally both. The first Calvin quotation supports my emphasis on sacraments, since Calvin says that the justification that is lodged in Christ is communicated “by the seal of the sacrament,” though no more than by preaching. In the spirit of Presbyterian levity, I would observe that her letter contains no biblical defense of anything at all, though it does include an appeal to tradition and quotations from the non-canonical Calvin.
Against Timothy Nielsen, to say that the Roman Catholic Church exhibits “tribalism” by denying the Eucharist to other Christians is neither postmodern nor relativistic; it does not imply that truth doesn’t matter or that truth is unknowable. Some are right and some are wrong about Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. I happen to believe Calvin and the Reformed tradition to be largely right and the Catholic Church to be wrong at critical points. That’s not the issue. Agreement about the mechanics of real presence is not a prerequisite to sharing the table. Faith in Jesus is the prerequisite, as Paul long ago made clear to Peter (Galatians 2). To say that all disciples should share the table of Jesus together is not relativism. It is catholicity.
To Eric Riesen, I am grateful for the offer, but the thrust of my argument is that ecumenical efforts should focus locally. We do not need to wait on the pope to pursue reconciliation. Not waiting on the Vatican is what we Protestants do best.
Matthew Schmitz offered some wise thoughts and grist for reflection with regard to the Bible and the issue of same-sex “marriage.” Yet, as I was reading his piece, I got the sense that helike many, perhaps even millions of othersmay be laboring under the false impression that the majority of the American people have changed their minds on the subject of same-sex “marriage.”
I know that pollsters and “experts” of public opinion have been telling us repeatedly for years now that the American public has shifted its attitude on this topic, but the real change has taken place in two places: the courts and the media. In state after state, the issue has been decided not by popular vote but by “our black-robed masters”usually in response to pollsters, arbiters of the supposedly objective analysis of a purported “shift” in public attitudesfinding in the Constitution the “emanations and penumbras” that demand a recognition of gay “marriage.”
Even in the most liberal of liberal states, California, the majority of the people rejected same-sex “marriage” only to have their votes invalidatedas the will of the people in several other states was invalidated by judges and media who know better. Think for a moment: In 2008, Proposition 8 passed in California. That is the last time the people actually had a voice on the issue. Are we to accept the pollsters’ canard that massive numbers of people just woke up one day and changed their minds in the space of six years?
If there is anywhere where a popular vote went in favor of same-sex “marriage,” I’d like to see it. Otherwise, we must all face the fact that we no longer live in a representative democratic republic, and a tyrannical oligarchy has taken power over us. But let us call a spade a spade and refuse to go gently into the night of falsity by accepting the media’s constant mantra that we, the people, changed our attitudes with regard to a subject on which we did not, and probably never will.
Larry A. Carstens
Matthew Schmitz wants marriage to “be made more inclusive.” “Where [the gay marriage movement] goes wrong is in supposing this can be done by asserting a free-floating right to marriage. . . . We need more than one form of solidarity.”
What I understand Schmitz to be indicating here is precisely what I have thought for some time: Considering the insistence on legal recognition of homosexual relationships, why not find another (different) name for a relationship between two people of the same sex? That would certainly be much more acceptable than trying to expand the definition of “marriage.” “Marriage” is the primordial institution for the propagation of the human race; it is being contested in ways like never before in the history of man. “Marriage,” the exclusive relationship between one man and one woman, needs to be protectednot expanded.
st. petersburg, florida
Matthew Schmitz replies:
I write from Manhattan, where support for gay marriage is overwhelming. I don’t suppose opinion will ever become so monolithic in my hometown of O’Neill, Nebraska, which, like the rest of the country, generally supports a broader range of views than does my swath of New York. There and everywhere else, though, opinion is shifting.
Recognizing that shift is especially important for those who decline to go along with it. Larry Carstens asks for an example of popular support of same-sex marriage: On November 6, 2012, voters in Washington approved a referendum supporting gay marriage 53.7 percent to 46.3 percent. To observe that there is elite support for this change is banal, for no cultural change is likely without it. The observation may be additionally harmful if it inclines us to a populist politics incapable of cultivating the institutions and habits that transmit culture, elite ones included.
This cultural change, of course, affects our lexicon. The Oxford English Dictionary has supplemented its definition of marriage to say that it is “(in some jurisdictions) a union between partners of the same sex.” To hope, as Pamela Haines does, that we can preserve the longstanding definition of marriage by inventing a new word for gay unions is to hope in vain. The prestige of marriage is precisely what’s being contested: the allure of exclusivity, the pride of parenthood, the reach for permanence in the binding of flesh. Gay marriage promises access to these ideals, even while shirking the strictures that make them possible.
For now there will be no term other than marriage for expressing the aspiration of gay love. Indeed, we are now facing the need to invent new terms to denote the older sense of marriage. Hideous neologisms like “traditional marriage,” “manwoman marriage,” and “conjugal marriage” are the current terms on offer. None are likely to be great aids in conveying the shimmering coherence of a view that more and more find obscure.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?