Lasch, Populism, and Conservatism

From First Thoughts

The recent issue of Modern Age contains a commemorative essay by Susan McWilliams marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of Christopher Lasch’s The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics. McWilliams reminds readers that Lasch offers a positive analysis of populism that speaks to the current political malaise. As part of his critique of the cult of progress, Lasch attempted to ground politics in the intuitions of the petty bourgeoisie and the populist tradition that gave life to those intuitions. He saw in petty-bourgeois culture a moral realism that recognized the cost and limits of human existence, reinforcing a healthy skepticism of progress. The “small proprietors, artisans, tradesmen, and farmers” of the petty-bourgeois world were the least likely “to mistake the promised land of progress for the true and only heaven.” Continue Reading »

The Pope, Protestantism, and Reformation

From First Thoughts

The recent visit of Pope Francis to the Cathedral of Lund was an historic occasion. The Holy Father joined the Lutheran World Federation’s president, Bishop Munib Younan, and the General Secretary, Rev. Martin Junge, as part of a joint commemoration that celebrated the Reformation. Both in Junge’s homily and the statement signed by Pope Francis and Bishop Younan, there were calls to push forward in the dialogue with the goal of a common Eucharistic table, even if both sides recognized the ongoing obstacles to attaining it. While the choice of Lund was related to its being the place where the Lutheran World Federation began in 1947, the celebration set in relief just how deep the ecumenical challenges are. Continue Reading »

To Uproot or To Plant

From First Thoughts

Christianity lives in the tension between its apocalyptic vision of life and its creational mandate to occupy. The former pushes Christians to uproot and pull down the orders of society while the latter draws them back toward the earth and roots them in the orders of creation. Continue Reading »

The Ties that Bind

From First Thoughts

Recently I attended my son’s installation ceremony as a member of the student government at his elementary school. The passage into office was marked by a series of oaths in which students made vows to uphold the integrity of their charges and the duties that flowed from those vows. In the ancient Roman world, the term most employed to refer to the civic relationship to which such vows bound a person was pietas. Continue Reading »

Evangelical Universities, Activism, and the Life of the Mind

From First Thoughts

I have made no secret of my disagreement with the historical and theological reasoning Mark Noll employed to lump together dispensationalists, holiness churches, and Pentecostals in his indictment of evangelicalism’s anti-intellectual impulse. Yet Noll and George Marsden, among others, have rightly pointed out how activism operates as a fundamental force within evangelical identity. This operation has both positive and negative consequences, one of which is, no doubt, a culture that devalues the characteristics necessary for the cultivation of the life of the mind. Continue Reading »

Wesleyans and the Reformation

From First Thoughts

It’s that time of year again, when Protestants begin to reflect on what the Reformation has meant and continues to mean. It is a contested legacy, the interpretation and appropriation of which depends upon historical trajectories and contemporary concerns. Within the evangelical world, the legacy of the Reformation unfolds in different ways depending on whether one identifies primarily with the confessional or the pietistic wing. Continue Reading »

Managers, Therapists, and Saving Democracy

From First Thoughts

Lurking in the shadows of Marsden’s argument is a running twentieth-century debate over the culture created by what Lasch called “bourgeois society.” With its Marxist sheen dulled, much of this debate has ceased to be about class divisions (although it retains that edge in certain thinkers) and more so about mentalités—mindsets or common outlooks—that comprise the beliefs inhabiting the social imaginary. Continue Reading »