Caleb Stegall over at Front Porch Republic has already asked a good question about a recent evangelical statement, â€œDoing the Truth in Love,â€ that commends the popeâ€™s recent encyclical Caritas in Vertate to the wider evangelical world. Caleb asked, â€œhow many evangelicals does it take to comment on an encyclical?â€ The answer is a whole lot more than the teamsters it takes to change a lightbulb. The answer to Calebâ€™s question is 68, the number of evangelicals who signed â€œDoing the Truth in Love.â€ The answer to the question about the teamsters is â€œ10, you gotta problem with that?â€
Maybe it is oldlifeâ€™s current obsession with neo-Calvinism, but we couldnâ€™t help but notice a strong attraction of Kuyperians to Benedictâ€™s encyclical. The Protestant statement backing the pope originally stemmed from a Center for Public Justice effort, and a number of neo-Calvinists added their signatures, among them our favorite Byzantine-rite Calvinist. The convergence of neo-Calvinists and the Roman churchâ€™s pontiff does not prove our repeated contention here that a preoccupation with worldview turns the confessional and ecclesial lobes of oneâ€™s brain into jello. But it does add to the mix of examples that show neo-Calvinists to be promiscuous in their discernment.
Meanwhile, the neo-Calvinist theological interpretation of Benedict is not reassuring. DTL states:
In Christ’s death and resurrection, God removes all that stands in the way of right relationships between God and the world, among humans, and between humanity and the rest of creation. Human development is included in this restoration of all things to right relationship.
This is the typical neo-Calvinist cosmological rendering of redemption, the license that tells Christians they need to save the world â€“ not just the lost tribes in Africa, but also the kitchen sink. Is it really possible that Benedict is a neo-Calvinist? What would Abraham Kuyper, who thought Rome had nothing to offer the modern world, say?
We do not want to suggest that Benedict or any other pope cannot be read for insight and wisdom. In this case, oldlife has yet to read the encyclical. But would the evangelical signers of DTL also be willing to draft and sign the books by other authors who possess a lot of wisdom about the economy and globalization â€“ say Niall Ferguson or P. J. Oâ€™Roarke?
And what about Wendell Berry? Is he chopped liver? Almost twenty years ago he wrote:
Properly speaking, global thinking is not possible. Those who have â€œthought globallyâ€ (and among them the most successful have been imperial governments and multinational corporations) have done so by means of simplifications too extreme and oppressive to merit the name of thought. Global thinkers have been and will be dangerous people. National thinkers tend to be dangerous also: we now have national thinkers in the northeastern United States who look on Kentucky as a garbage dump. A landfill in my county receives daily many truckloads of garbage from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. This is evidently all right with everybody but those of us who live here. (â€œOut of your Car, Off Your Horse,â€ 19)
So why no statement recommending The Unsettling of America to evangelical readers. Berry had some of us thinking about the problems of globalization a while ago. It didnâ€™t take the Bishop of Rome to get us to do it. And we didnâ€™t have to issue a declaration and seek signatures to call attention to our debt to Berry.
Mind you, if Benedict actually agrees with DTL when the statement says, â€œglobalization has indeed lifted millions out of poverty, primarily by the integration of the economies of developing nations into international markets. Yet the unevenness of this integration leaves us deeply concerned about the inequality, poverty, food insecurity, unemployment, social exclusionâ€”including the persistent social exclusion of women in many parts of the worldâ€”and materialism that continue to ravage human communities, with destructive consequences for our shared planetary habitatâ€ â€“ if thatâ€™s what the encyclical affirms, then maybe a Berry declaration is in order. As Stegall notes, â€œTake it from me, sitting in the belly of the beast, when Evangelicals ask you for a â€˜serious dialogueâ€™ about â€˜new models of global governance,â€™ reach for your gun. Or your rosary.â€
Beyond globalization, Benedict, and Berry is the cringe produced by watching low church Protestants jump on the papal bandwagon. Could it be that evangelicals get more mileage out of siding with the pope than even a popular American author? Impugning motives is always unwise, but why donâ€™t these evangelicals worry just a little bit about coming off as Vatican groupies?
Sorry for the cynicism, but any good Protestant knows something is wrong when those who are not in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome, and who remain tarnished by the condemnations of Trent, are so eager to recommend the chief officer of the church whose jurisdiction their communions have purposefully renounced.