Caritas in Flagrande

Caleb Stegall over at Front Porch Republic has already asked a good question about a recent evangelical statement, “Doing the Truth in Love,” that commends the pope’s recent encyclical Caritas in Vertate to the wider evangelical world. Caleb asked, “how many evangelicals does it take to comment on an encyclical?” The answer is a whole lot more than the teamsters it takes to change a lightbulb. The answer to Caleb’s question is 68, the number of evangelicals who signed “Doing the Truth in Love.” The answer to the question about the teamsters is “10, you gotta problem with that?”

Maybe it is oldlife’s current obsession with neo-Calvinism, but we couldn’t help but notice a strong attraction of Kuyperians to Benedict’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 church’s pontiff does not prove our repeated contention here that a preoccupation with worldview turns the confessional and ecclesial lobes of one’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 – 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 – say Niall Ferguson or P. J. O’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 “thought globally” (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. (“Out of your Car, Off Your Horse,” 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 didn’t take the Bishop of Rome to get us to do it. And we didn’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, “globalization 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 exclusion—including the persistent social exclusion of women in many parts of the world—and materialism that continue to ravage human communities, with destructive consequences for our shared planetary habitat” – if that’s what the encyclical affirms, then maybe a Berry declaration is in order. As Stegall notes, “Take it from me, sitting in the belly of the beast, when Evangelicals ask you for a ‘serious dialogue’ about ‘new models of global governance,’ reach for your gun. Or your rosary.”

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 don’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.

6 thoughts on “Caritas in Flagrande

  1. As a neocalvinist, I was significantly disappointed by the CPJ statement. Frankly, it wasn’t representative of neocalvinist thought at all.

    Tom Woods (a Papist himself) had a far and beyond superior read on the Pope’s blather. Woods response merits a close read by Romanists and nonRomanists alike.

    My fellow (often begrudgingly admitted fellow) neocalvinists have been buying into the lie of global governance for the common good for far, far too long and should wake-up and re-affirm Dooyeweerd’s understanding when he said that “the common good has at all times been the slogan of state absolutism.”

    Dooyeweerd makes utterly explicit that there can be no legitimate state (ie, coercive) governance of the market when he said: “in view of the inner nature of the public justice, [such government] does not have the competence to bind the exercise of ‘civil private rights’ [such as economic exchange in the market] to a specific social-economic destination, simply because the public justice intrinsically lacks any specific economic qualification.”

    Dooyeweerd knew what these backslidden neocalvinists willfully neglect: any attempted use of state power (globally or otherwise) to manage money, banking, or economic exchange in the so-called public interest is inevitably at odds with the proper role of civil government itself, and brings about state absolutism and untold horrors. In fact, the present financial crisis is loud creational evidence that “better governance” must mean no state governance in the matters at issue.

    Here I stand.


  2. But Caritas in Vertate (2009) makes a lot of sense after a lovefest kickoff Evangelicals and Catholics Together (1994). After all, Rome and Muenster have always had a lot more in common with each other either had than with Geneva, and some romances just need time to finally come around to being nurtured.


  3. 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 sounds vaguely similar to Wesleyan prevenient grace…


  4. Dooyeweerd was a straightforward confessional Reformed churchman, but he was a legal scholar and doctor of jurisprudence, not a professional theologian. He fastidiously aimed to avoid doing amateur theology. When he infrequently referenced Scripture directly in his writings, his points are simple. When there was a rare theological point to make, then he is quoting the Patristics, Luther, Calvin, or Kuyper and Bavinck.

    As a member of the church (and a faculty member of the VU), he explicitly stated that it was his obligation to believe all the doctrines of the Three Forms, to which he never demurred on any point.

    Other than that, I’m not aware of any specif comment he made about his views of any given Pope or the papacy. But you get where he’s coming from.


  5. I admire your energy in arguing about what true neo-Calvinist thought is, Baus. And I largely agree. But, realistically, what “neo-Calvinism” refers to in common parlance isn’t doctrine but a movement of people bound up with certain traditions and institutions. I no longer wish to be called neo-Calvinist.

    (I’m sure there will be rejoicing in Hamilton!)

    The neo-Calvinists do a lot of great things, and best of good luck to them. The idea of “Doing the Truth in Love” was a nice one, even if I object to some of the content and the elitist tone. (And I think we should show special respect to the Pope because of the special nature of his office within Roman Catholicism; but respect involves straight talking).


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