- Leveraging the Smartphone
- The Nashville Statement’s backdrop
- Are you now or have you ever been …
- Soulless Monsters
- Healing Liberalism
- The need for intimacy
James K.A. Smith published a challenge to the recent use of “orthodox Christian” in polemics. He did so in a blog he describes as “my space for ‘thinking out loud,’ an arena for practice at writing quickly and off-the-cuff.” Comments are not an option, and I had no immediate response to his challenge anyway.
But I’m now ready to respond to this sort of thing:
Historically, the measure of “orthodox” Christianity has been conciliar; that is, orthodoxy was rooted in, and measured by, the ecumenical councils and creeds of the church (Nicea, Chalcedon) which were understood to have distilled the grammar of “right belief” (ortho, doxa) in the Scriptures. As such, orthodoxy centers around the nature of God (Triune), the Incarnation, the means of our salvation, the church, and the life to come. The markers of orthodoxy are tied to the affirmations of, say, the Nicene Creed: the creatorhood of God; the divine/human nature of the Incarnate Son; the virgin birth; the historicity of Jesus’ life and death; the affirmation of his bodily resurrection and ascension; the hope of the second coming; the triune affirmation of Father, Son, and Spirit; the affirmation of “one holy catholic and apostolic church”; one baptism; and the hope of our own bodily resurrection.
Contrast this with most invocations of “orthodox Christianity” today. In some contexts, the use of the word “orthodox” seems to have nothing to do with these historic markers of Christian faith. Indeed, in many cases “orthodox Christianity” means only one thing: a particular view of sexuality and marriage ….
You probably can imagine where the off-the-cuff comments go from there. Smith allows that the “particular view of sexuality and marriage” is “traditional,” but not orthodox, properly speaking.
My own response is two-fold:
First, the use of “orthodox” that Smith complains of is not inappropriate.
Smith’s conception of orthodoxy is unduly narrow. On this, he “had me going for a minute” because of my love of the creed and its importance.
But the Creed is not a comprehensive expression of orthodoxy, and was never meant to be. It (as tweaked at Chalcedon) was first and foremost a repudiation of fourth-century Christological heresies. It is silent on things that were not at serious issue.
But the view of sexuality and marriage in question is “orthodox” because it is within the scope of the Vincentian Canon, that “all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.” (I cringe when I hear someone say things like sexual morality is “at the heart of the faith,” but that’s a different matter.)
I do thank Smith, however, for giving me at least this one opportunity to feel smarter than him about something, to-wit: the purpose of the Creed, and indeed of the Councils in general.
Second, the people who thus use “orthodox Christianity” are onto something important even if the questioned use of “orthodoxy” were inappropriate or inadvisable. That something is far more important that Smith’s derision allows:
So when people are said to suffer for their “orthodox” beliefs, or when we are told that “orthodox” Christians will be hounded from public life and persecuted in their professions, a closer reading shows that it is not their beliefs in the Trinity, Incarnation, Virgin Birth, or Resurrection that occasion these problems, but rather their beliefs about morality, and sexual morality in particular. There don’t seem to be any bakers refusing to bake cakes for atheists,* and I’ve yet to hear of Silicon Valley CEOs being fired because they affirm the Incarnation of the Son or the resurrection of the dead.
The important thing they’re onto, that Smith misses or pretends to miss, is related to why Donald Trump is President today.
Smith’s derision suggests that so long as “orthodox Christians” can worship and believe as they wish within their four walls, everything is copacetic. I’m sniffing at least the beginning of a sequel to “keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” and more than a whiff of the cribbed locution “freedom of worship” rather than “free exercise of religion.”
Evangelical voters (and some other religious) knew that the Democrats, at the top levels including President Obama and Hillary Clinton, have taken the unhistoric and subversive “freedom of worship” tack, and opposition to that was a significant factor in electing the non-Democrat narcissist adolescent currently holding forth at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
So even if “orthodox Christian” is inappropriate, something along the lines of “robustly and actively Christian” is surely appropriate — robust and active Christians not being willing to confine their faith to one hour per week and the four walls of a church building.
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So why do I think it’s worth responding to Smith?
Last September, “Richard Swinburne, emeritus professor of philosophy at Oxford University, author of many highly influential books, and among the most eminent of contemporary Christian thinkers,” gave a mild keynote address defending traditional “Christian Moral Teaching on Sex, Family and Life,” to a midwest meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers. That stirred up ugly and even scatalogical controversy because Christian philosophers are wavering before the Zeitgeist.
Philosopher James K.A. Smith’s employer, Calvin College, highly values its reputation for a very strong philosophy department — a reputation recognized not just in Evangelical/Calvinist subculture, but throughout academic philosophy.
But standing up for robustly and actively Christian sexual morality, the morality held ubique, semper et ab omnibus, is becoming worse than unfashionable. It may leave all the cool philosophers saying you’re ugly and your mom dresses you funny, or even stealing your accreditations out of your lunch box as you gape helplessly:
The expansion of the scope of Title IX legislation by the Obama administration makes colleges that hold to traditional Christian moral positions on homosexuality and transgenderism vulnerable to loss of government funding and to damaging legal actions. We might add the related matter of accreditation: Failure to conform to Title IX will be punished with notations and probable loss of accreditation. Perhaps even more deadly than these threats is the role of the NCAA, as schools that are not “friendly” to LGBTQI students will find that they are unable to compete in sporting events. Sadly, while the choice between sport and one’s faith should not merit a second thought, I expect that this will be the point at which many colleges crack.
How Christian colleges respond to all this will be critical. The desire expressed by some to dialogue with their opponents on this matter is not a good sign. At worst, it represents the cynical prelude to capitulation: “We listened, we heard, we changed.” …
I do not trust Calvin College, which I respect, to stand firm. I do not trust Wheaton College, which I have loved, to stand firm. I do not trust any Evangelical college to stand firm, including Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (on the fundamentalist end of the Evangelical spectrum) inasmuch as Jerry Falwell Jr. has shown himself a man of poor judgment and flexible moral standards in his Bromance with Donald Trump.
And I do not trust James K.A. Smith to stand firm.
I think he knows the context and purpose of the creeds better than he’s letting on. I think he knows that the sexual standards he’s backing away from are “orthodox” in a non-trivial and unequivocal sense.
If not, I hope he reads this. The Comments are moderated, but on.
I can only hope that this really was an off-the-cuff quickie, but I fear it’s a white flag running up the pole, looking for folks to salute it.
I can only pray that many Roman Catholic educational institutions and our few Orthodox institutions will stand firm, even at the cost of accreditation.
UPDATE: After a good night’s sleep, I re-read Smith’s off-the-cuff challenge, word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase, and I now think I was too gentle, giving him too much benefit of the doubt.
UPDATE 2: I’m glad I’m not the only one who has registered and objected to Smith’s trial balloon. Had I been, it’s unlikely I ever would have noticed it, since I don’t follow the blog where it appeared (though I first encountered it somewhere other than a blog praising or objecting to it). Anyway
- Alastair Roberts is very good and charitable engaging Smith.
- Alan Jacobs engages Roberts on Smith, then comes back again. Both are excellent in different ways, though I’m quite resistant to the concluding paragraph of the first for reasons I’ll not go into (basically, I see that the debate is in good hands and I’ll be bowing out of active commentary).
- Andrew T. Walker makes some good points, in a blog that could have used at least a second set of eyes for proof-reading.
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* “There don’t seem to be any bakers refusing to bake cakes for atheists” is inapposite to the facts of actual cases where Christian bakers have refused not to serve “homosexuals” but to use their creative skills to help celebrate “same-sex weddings.”
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There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)
It sounds as if the President’s speechwriters gave him some very lofty things to say in Poland. I almost laughed out loud, derisively, at the thought of Donald Trump as the defender of what’s noble in the western tradition.
I wish I could credit him with believing — even understanding while uttering hypocritically — any of the better things he said. But I can’t.
If he follows through, he will enhance my faith in miracles.
* * * * *
I had every intention of leaving Trump’s Warsaw comment there, with nothing more said. But something bizarre has happened:
The shocking thing here is that this is controversial at all. It shows how decadent we’ve become.
Let’s sample some of the left-liberal freakout, shall we?
In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to “the West” and five times to “our civilization.” His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It’s important that other Americans do, too.
… The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white.
The most shocking sentence in Trump’s speech—perhaps the most shocking sentence in any presidential speech delivered on foreign soil in my lifetime—was his claim that “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” On its face, that’s absurd. Jihadist terrorists can kill people in the West, but unlike Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, they cannot topple even the weakest European government. Jihadists control no great armies. Their ideologies have limited appeal even among the Muslims they target with their propaganda. ISIS has all but lost Mosul and could lose Raqqa later this year.
Trump’s sentence only makes sense as a statement of racial and religious paranoia. The “south” and “east” only threaten the West’s “survival” if you see non-white, non-Christian immigrants as invaders. They only threaten the West’s “survival” if by “West” you mean white, Christian hegemony. A direct line connects Trump’s assault on Barack Obama’s citizenship to his speech in Poland. In Trump and Bannon’s view, America is at its core Western: meaning white and Christian (or at least Judeo-Christian). The implication is that anyone in the United States who is not white and Christian may not truly be American but rather than an imposter and a threat.
Poland is largely ethnically homogeneous. So when a Polish president says that being Western is the essence of the nation’s identity, he’s mostly defining Poland in opposition to the nations to its east and south. America is racially, ethnically, and religious diverse. So when Trump says being Western is the essence of America’s identity, he’s in part defining America in opposition to some of its own people. He’s not speaking as the president of the entire United States. He’s speaking as the head of a tribe.
Let’s move on. Here’s a tweet by Slate’s Jamelle Bouie:
Imagine being a political writer in this moment and being utterly unable to identify clear white nationalist dogwhistles.
— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) July 7, 2017
Has Donald Trump ever heard of Leni Riefenstahl?
These are collected by Rod Dreher, who detests Trump about as much as I do. I don’t recall much about Peter Beinart and nothing at all about Jamelle Bouie, but this kind of crap from James Fallows is bitterly disappointing. No, it’s worse than that: it’s unhinged. The real paranoiacs in this story are the deranged eisegetes.
I can’t give Trump credit for playing the media like a violin this time because I don’t think he intended anything provocative. He neither intended nor uttered anything racist or white nationalist, and the grievance-mongers aren’t likely to persuade me otherwise.
Dreher explains pretty well why Trump’s themes are legitimate and timely while David Frum and Ross Douthat explain what really was jarring about the speech (articulating what I had only intuited).
One key to understanding Trump, always, is that he appeals to people by attacking the decadence that he himself also embodies.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) July 7, 2017
As presidential speeches go, Trump’s address in Warsaw was fair. Ish. If you forget who is speaking and what that person has been saying and doing since Inauguration Day—since the opening of his campaign in 2015—and really through his career.
But if you remember those things, the speech jolted you to attention again and again.
[T]he most troubling thing about the speech was the falsehood at its core; the problem is not with the speech, but with the speaker. The values Trump spoke for in Warsaw are values that he has put at risk every day of his presidency—and that he will continue to put to risk every day thereafter. Trump’s not wrong to perceive a threat to the Euro-Atlantic from the south and east. But the most recent and most dramatic manifestation of that threat was the Russian intervention in the U.S. election to install Donald Trump as president. The threat from outside is magnified by this threat from within—and it is that truth that makes a mockery of every word President Trump spoke in Warsaw.
Maybe this is analogous to the trick bag the Left thought Trump was in on immigration (the one President, in all of American history, forbidden to limit immigration is Donald J. Trump because he promised to do so in terms connected to the religion of Islam): the one person forbidden to defend Western Civilization is Donald J. Trump because we know it’s racist dog-whistles when he does it.
Back to Dreher, who says what I was starting to feel:
If you tell people that to love and to want to defend the culture of the West is a racist act, then they will cease to care about your judgment on the matter, because you are requiring them to hate themselves as an act of virtue. In that regard, Jamelle Bouie’s sentiment here is a much greater gift to the racist alt-right than anything Donald Trump said in Warsaw.
I mean, really, how ignorant and provincial do you have to be, Messrs. Beinart and Bouie, to hear Trump’s speech and think of it as a #MAGA version of a Nuremberg Rally Address? Is the degree of self-hatred of the West required to be a virtuous, woke person such that you cannot tell the difference between Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and the Horst Wessel Song? Do they really think Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation (all of which is available on YouTube, starting here) is a plummy version of Triumph of the Will? If standing against this kind of liberal insanity means I have to stand with Donald Trump, well, okay, I’ll stand with Donald Trump. I won’t like it, but at least Donald Trump doesn’t hate his own civilization.
It is necessary to criticize ourselves constructively, for the sake of growing in virtue.But that is not what these people are doing. By anathematizing any and all who cherish the culture and history of the West, they will ultimately force conservatives to embrace Reaction as the only bastion of resistance to their nihilistic crusade. But they don’t see it anymore than the Social Justice Warriors grasp that their militant illiberalism is calling up and equal and opposite reaction from the people they have demonized.
“Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?” Trump asked. Maybe he was thinking about Islamic terrorists. I’m thinking about the educated barbarians who cannot create a living culture, only live off the last vestiges of one they inherited, even as they scatter salt in its fallow fields. Donald Trump may be the enemy of culture in many respects, but he is in no way as potent an enemy as these mad evangelists for the Anti-Culture.
But then here comes respectable commenters on the left, like Bouie, Beinart, and Fallows, yammering about fascism, Leni Riefenstahl, and racist dog whistles, and you realize that whether he meant to or not, Trump’s speech was clarifying. I don’t think Donald Trump could write ten meaningful sentences explaining why the West matters, but that’s beside the point. The point is, when talking about the worth and the defense of Western civilization makes you into Hitler McGoebbelsface in the eyes of liberal commentators, then you suddenly see the situation in starker relief.
Finally, I really want to share Dreher’s beautiful response to the “‘Western civ’ is white nationalist and racist” crap:
Broadly speaking, what we call the West are the countries and peoples formed by the meeting of Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Hebrew religion. There’s a great deal of diversity within the West, but religion, ideas, art, literature, and geography set it apart from other civilizations …
Go to Istanbul. Turks are heirs to a great civilization; you have to look no further than the religious architecture of the city to know that. But you also would never mistake Istanbul for a city of the West. So what?
Every descendant of Africa and Asia who lives in the West and broadly affirms the values that shaped Western civilization is a Westerner. Louis Armstrong and Muddy Waters are as much sons of the West as J.S. Bach and Ludwig von Beethoven. I wrote a book about how reading a poem written by a 14th century Tuscan, Dante Alighieri, utterly changed my life. I have no Italian blood in me at all, but I am part of Dante’s civilization in a way that I simply am not part of the civilization that produced, say, the Analects of Confucius. If not for my mind having been shaped by the Christian narrative, and by Greco-Roman narratives, the poem would not have meant at much to me. Again: so what? This is normal human experience the world over. The civilization shaped by Islam have broad diversity too, but they all share a core belief and experience that binds them.
Thank God that the deracinated, de-Christianized EU elite plan to integrate Turkey into the European Union did not work. And if I were a Turk, I would thank Allah for preserving my Islamic country from that fate too. Elites in both countries wish to deny the religious basis of their respective cultures, and pretend that we’re all a bunch of universalists. We’re not, and never will be.
* * * * *
“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)
Let’s get this out of the way: James K.A. Smith reviewed Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option book in a way that struck Dreher and (assuming Dreher was truthful about Smith’s efforts to woo him to Smith’s publisher) me as low-down and deceitful. Since March 10, I don’t think Dreher has mentioned him nor, I believe, have I.
But I, too, have been accused of betrayal — unjustly, in my opinion, but this isn’t about me. My devastatingly effective boycott of Smith must now come to an end. Smith is saying too many important things to ignore him.
For Smith, we are not primarily “thinking things” we are “loving things,” and people pursue what they love. Smith writes: “Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behavior flow. Our wants reverberate from our hearts, the epicenter of the human person.” This prompts an obvious question: what if you don’t love the right things? Going further, Smith observes that “you might not love what you think.” For fallen people, that will always be true to greater and lesser degrees. The remedy to disoriented loves is to be immersed in a liturgy that reforms your loves, pointing you in the right direction, to use Smith’s metaphor of the compass. The majority of the book then provides ways to work that liturgy down into your bones, so that you begin to long for the right things.
When hearts are pulled to negative things that work against flourishing, that life starts to be characterized by vice. Smith observes that humans “can’t not be headed somewhere,” and those liturgies, those stories, that capture our hearts move us to action for good or for ill. Unfortunately, many Americans are listening to a story that praises consumption over production and pulls people toward the path of least resistance, or sloth …
Smith is using this model to aid churches and communities in forming citizens of the Kingdom of God—pilgrims on the way to the New Jerusalem, paying attention to the liturgy of God’s people and letting it form and remold their affections. [Sen. Ben] Sasse wants to use the model to form citizens dedicated to republican virtues: commitment to neighbor, affection for their inherited Western tradition, engagement in Puritan-style industriousness, and appreciation for the diverse regions and cultures of the United States. Sasse proposes a liturgy to create mature, honorable citizens—and rulers—of the Republic. Indeed, he believes that this is not just an ideal that Americans could pursue it; it is a mandatory component of the American project. If families do not raise children who exhibit these traits, we might as well call it quits, warning that “if the idea of America is not reborn in our children’s hearts, we will all suffer a shared orphanhood.“
Sasse’s American liturgy is certainly not a know-nothing patriotism committed to “blood and soil.” Instead, it is one that is committed to the republican ideals of the Founding, which spoke of the American government as securing rights and privileges guaranteed by God. Indeed, the patriots made an “appeal to heaven” in their cause, believing they were engaged in a godly, and righteous movement. Sasse sees this American liturgy as a positive, and one that he, a Christian, can heartily embrace. Yet, Smith has emphatically warned Christians about the dangers of the American liturgy. In Desiring the Kingdom, Smith highlights that we are being formed when we are standing for the national anthem, reciting the pledge of allegiance, and praising members of the military for making the “ultimate sacrifice,” and for Smith, this forming tends to push Christians away from the Kingdom of God; instead of being compatible with the Christian liturgy, it, subtly, erodes allegiance to Christ and his kingdom by communicating that the defining characteristic of a person is his or her citizenship in an earthly kingdom. Though he allows that it can ‘make room for additional loyalties,” he believes “it is not willing to entertain trumping loyalties.”
If that is true, then patriotism seems to be antithetical to a religion that claims Jesus is Lord, not Caesar. Sasse and Smith, ultimately have a disagreement over the nature of the American liturgy ….
(Ben Sasse, James K. A. Smith, and Smuggling in Virtue, emphasis added) This article, by the way, summarized Sasse’s book in a way that sort of moots my prior mild dismissal:
Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has written a book about raising children to be adults, and strangely for a book written by a sitting politician, it contains no concrete policy proposals. It’s a truism, especially on the political right, that politics is downstream of culture. From this perspective, politics and politicians are limited. The problems plaguing our society are rooted in communities and families; and the solutions must be formed by communities and families. Instead of passing the buck impotent politicians, Americans must take a long, honest look in the mirror. Sasse acknowledges this and writes from the point of view of a husband, father, historian, Augustinian, and American.
The aim of his book then is to help parents recalibrate their family culture in order to produce someone who is habituated toward doing virtuous deeds. Sasse wants to help parents in “nudging affections” toward a shared conception of the good ….
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There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)
I’ve been out of blogging commission for a week because of vacation with a strangely buggy internet connection. Everything worked, albeit a bit slowly, except my WordPress blogging platform, which consistently wouldn’t let me save my work and presumably wouldn’t have let me publish, either.
It was a very eventful week in “public affairs,” but I was kind of glad for the excuse to take a break from commentary. And at least today, I’m focusing on things more eternal than urgently timely.
My traveling soundtrack with Mrs. Tipsy invariably includes Mars Hill Audio Journal, this time Volume 134, which included retired history professor Chris Armstrong, author of Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis.
Excerpts, including a striking suggestion about the primary value of C.S. Lewis — a suggestion which makes a lot of things about Lewis fall into place for me:
Ken Myers: Now again, you repeatedly in this book, deal with mistaken assumptions that many Christian people have about medieval faith, and you’ve already alluded to one. And that is I’ve heard many Protestants say that before the Reformation, Christians weren’t concerned with all of life and one of the great boons of the Reformation was that, suddenly, people realized that the Gospel had consequences for all of life, and God begat Abraham Kuiper.
Chris Armstrong: Yeah, Grant Wacker said once, and I think this may have ultimately come from David Steinmetz, that ever since the Protestant Reformation broke Christendom, Protestants have been trying to figure out how to get back to that original concern for these questions, I suppose you might say, of Christ and culture. And so it’s certainly true that there was a great concern for that in the Reformation and after the Reformation, but it seems to have come not from a previous lack, but from having broken an earlier synthesis.
Chris Armstrong: … As it turns out, [C.S.] Lewis in fact was not just a professional medievalist, but what I call an intuitive Medievalist …
Ken Myer: His consciousness, if you will, was more Medieval than modern, or so it seems.
Chris Armstrong: In fact he claimed that … when in the ’50s he was made Chair of Medieval and Renaissance studies … when he said that “I am a dinosaur. I am an artifact, a creature of the past. You should use me as an example as much as a teacher.” … He uses the distinction between contemplating and enjoying something. If you contemplate something, you look directly at it in an analytical mode. If you enjoy it, you begin to look along it, like along the sunbeam, to see what it illuminates ….
Ken Myers: … Given Lewis’s popularity among Evangelicals, and particularly the popularity of the Chronicles of Narnia — but also I suppose you could include a lot of his books of apologetics — that given the popularity of this person with a pre-modern mentality, pre-modern disposition, who seems to be so affable and helpful as guide to seeing the world and understanding how we understand God, how is it that the Medieval mentality that he embodied is still regarded with such suspicion among people who otherwise might really like his work?
Chris Armstrong: I think that’s a wonderful question. What I would say is the more I read Lewis, the more I thought that his primary value is as a conduit of The Tradition. And I just don’t think that people have seen him that way often. They see him say something that deeply affects them, or that strikes them as being deeply true, and they assume … that he’s simply telling them in a clearer way what Scripture already says, and “Isn’t it good that he’s such a good rhetorician and that he helps us understand these things that are so clearly in Scripture.” What they don’t know is that what he’s doing is actually channeling The Tradition to them. They won’t read those sources, probably, most Evangelicals won’t read Athanasius’s On the Incarnation … of Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. But he had read both ….
A podcast I recently began following is Albert Mohler’s Thinking in Public. Last September, he interviewed Alan Jacobs, a regular on Mars Hill Audio Journal as well, following up on Jacobs’ Harpers article The Watchmen: What Became of the Christian Intellectuals?
One thread of their discussion reminds me that Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, insofar as it stands for building parallel consciously Christian institutions to preserve and channel the tradition, even at the price of less “public involvement,” is nothing new:
Mohler: … I was reminded of the fact—and this was important to my response to your article—just how important Reinhold Niebuhr was in the Cold War, and the fact that his realism, in terms of prescriptions for American foreign policy, became very much appreciated by the Truman administration, also by the Eisenhower administration, and by Henry Luce who was the founder of TIME, who put Reinhold Niebuhr on the cover. But at the same time I was reminded again of how routinely Niebuhr was dismissed by the academy. I was reminded of James Conan, the President of Harvard, trying to bring him to Harvard and to no avail. This is such a mixed picture.
Jacobs: Yeah, it really is a mixed picture. In the article, there’s a point where I’m putting what I think to be the key issue, the key issue is this: for the Christian public intellectual, if there is to be such a thing, that person has got to be both audible and free. That is, if you’re going to be genuinely public, then you’ve got to be audible, you’ve got to be somewhere where people can hear you, people across the range of the culture can hear you. But you’ve also got to be free. You’ve got to be free to be able to speak out of genuine Christian conviction or else what’s the point of you? Why would you even be there if you don’t have that to say? And finding that audibility, along with the freedom, has been really problematic for a long time. And you can lose freedom, not because people are constraining you, but because you’re constraining yourself. And I think that is—you mentioned this in your response—the downfall of liberal Protestant establishment in America. And I think that that downfall happened. Now what a lot of people will say in the liberal Protestant world is that well, we lost our—people stopped listening to us, and so we became marginal. And my argument is that they stopped listening to you because you ceased to have anything distinctive to say; when you didn’t want to say anything that was distinctly or particularly Christian; when all you could really do was to say “Me too” to what the rest of the world was saying. Then why should they listen to you anymore? You became inaudible because you chose to speak in ways that were no longer particularistically, distinctively, recognizably Christian. So everybody else was already saying that stuff, who needs you? So I think they marginalized themselves in that regard. There was a certain self-marginalizing by evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics also, but for almost opposite reasons.
Mohler: … I want to ask you—because this is also something that engendered controversy in your essay—and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but you basically say, or imply, that evangelicals, or Christian intellectuals, a better way to put it, willingly withdrew and that it’s largely our fault that there are no Christian intellectuals in the larger public square. And let’s go back to Mannheim for a minute with the cultural production. What didn’t happen that should have? Even trying to take it on those terms, I’m up against a hard place trying to answer the question, What didn’t happen that should have?
Jacobs: Well, Dr. Mohler, I’m not sure that there was anything that should have. Here’s what I mean by that: Christians—orthodox, biblical, Nicene Christians, evangelicals, yes, but also traditionalist Catholics—found themselves in a situation where the intelligentsia and educated classes were to some degree drifting away from them. It was becoming more difficult for them to get a hearing. They became concerned, I think, to make sure that their positions didn’t get lost, that their positions were passed down to the next generation of believers. They chose to do that primarily—not exclusively by any means—but primarily by building up Christian institutions, which in the post-war years with the economic boom there was some money to do. This is an analogy, rather than example. But, Father Hesburgh at Notre Dame was able to transform Notre Dame into a research university because those poor immigrant Catholics in the pre-WWII era, who didn’t have much money to support Notre Dame, had a lot more money after the war and were able to support it. And I think you see the creation of institutions like the National Association of Evangelicals, the founding of Fuller Seminary, and then, existing institutions like Wheaton College, where I taught for 29 years, were able to develop their resources to have, for instance, smaller class sizes, more individual attention to students. They were able to hire people who were more academically ambitious. They were able to build themselves up, and strengthen themselves in such a way that they were able to pass down core Christian convictions to the next generation. But the more energy you spend doing that, the less energy is left over to be a player in the larger, broader, especially secular, culture. And, I’m not sure, I don’t think any of those people were wrong to make the choice that they made.
(Emphasis added) After carefully transcribing audio, I discovered that Dr. Mohler has provided a complete transcript at the site above linked. Help yourself.
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There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)