Communicants, Siblings, Friends, and Others

When you have a comprehensive view (w-w) of the world, when you think that your faith informs (or should) everything you do, hard are those distinctions that 2k so readily supplies, like — this is the church so Christian rules apply, this is not the church so freedom applies.

This problem is no less challenging for Roman Catholics than for neo-Calvinists since both are in the comprehensiveness business of showing how faith relates to EVERYthing a Christian does. Cathleen Kaveny took the comprehensiveness and catholicity of Rome in an arresting direction when she accused Richard John Neuhaus and the First Things crowd of partisanship and undermining the bonds of Roman Catholic unity:

Some conservative Catholics have blamed Pope Francis for sowing division among the members of the Body of Christ. But the charge is more properly lodged against one of the heroes of conservative Catholicism: the late Richard John Neuhaus.

It was Neuhaus, after all, who advanced the view that conservative Roman Catholics have more in common with orthodox Jews and Evangelical Protestants than they do with progressive members of their own religious communities. In fact, that view was an operational premise of First Things magazine under his leadership. This approach is based on a thoroughly distorted view of religious realities and commitments.

Does honoring Jesus as the Son of God count as a commonality? Like their conservative counterparts, progressive Roman Catholics acknowledge the divinity of Jesus Christ, and find the interpretive key to the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament. Orthodox Jews do not—indeed, must not—treat Jesus as the Messiah foretold in the Book of Isaiah. It would be blasphemous for them to do so.

Does living in the grace imparted by the sacraments count as a commonality? Both progressive and conservative Roman Catholics believe that God’s grace is channeled through the seven sacraments. Many Evangelical Protestants do not have the same view of grace or the sacraments; they often view the Eucharist as a memorial of a past event, not a way of being present with Christ here and now.

In trying to find common ground with evangelicals, then, Neuhaus was not truly Roman Catholic but actually Protestant:

Ultimately, Neuhaus’s focus was on nurturing these commonalities in the American political context—he was building a political movement. For a variety of partially overlapping reasons, conservative Roman Catholics, Evangelical Protestants, and orthodox Jews were inclined to vote Republican in political elections. Along with George Weigel and Robert George, Neuhaus coached Republican politicians in Catholic-speak to win national elections. . . . But here’s the irony of Neuhaus’s project: in treating theological belief and commitment as mere instruments of political will, Neuhaus’s view of religion resonated more with Feuerbach, Marx, and Leo Strauss than with the church fathers. In separating his own church of the politically pure from the hoi polloi of the body of Christ, his ecclesiology better reflects Protestant sectarianism than Roman Catholicism.

For the record, I too took issue with Evangelicals and Catholics Together for putting politics ahead of theology and for locating Christian unity not in ecclesiastical contexts but in parachurch groupings.

But Rusty Reno didn’t particularly care for Kaveny’s shot at Neuhaus. And so he tried to justify finding fellowship among religious people who were political liberals and then got mugged by reality:

many of the founding figures who played such a prominent role in First Things, as well as early readers like me, came to some shared conclusions. We became less and less impressed with the modern conceit that ours is a time of the unprecedented. We became more and more convinced that our traditions contained an inherited wisdom—a divine revelation—that provides greater insight into the human condition than any modern method, mentality, or revolution. Again, in the magazine’s early years, it was an exciting and invigorating to find others who were coming to the same post-liberal conclusions, whether they were Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant.

That is mainly true but does not represent the nature of Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Otherwise, ECT should have been called Evangelicals and Liberal Protestants and Roman Catholics and Mormons and Jews and Stanley Hauerwas Together. But at least Reno recognizes different layers of commonality:

When it comes to many things that are important to me, I have more in common with friends than with my brother. But my brother’s still my brother. It in no way compromises the truth of our fraternal bond for me to link arms with those with whom I have more in common politically, intellectually, or even theologically. The same goes for the sacramental bond that units us in Christ.

That is more or less a 2k point. But a 2ker would not call a magazine about religion and public life First Things. It’s not elegant but Penultimate Things or Proximate Things or Common Things would work better.

That left Michael Sean Winters to settle the debate and he did so (in neo-Calvinist-friendly ways) by taking issue with Reno’s separation of life into different spheres:

There may be “other dimensions” as Reno notes, but surely, for the Christian, those other dimensions need to be related to “what matters most.” It was this dualism between the Catholic faith and Catholic morality that stalked Neuhaus’s writings and continues to afflict the journal he founded. This dualism not only colored Neuhaus’ judgment, but it kept much of his otherwise enjoyable controversial writings at a fairly superficial level. It also led him to overlook the failings of his own team, both in politics and in religion: His defense of the Iraq War and of Fr. Maciel were stains on Neuhaus’ intellectual project that deserve attention and explanation by those who champion him.

. . . Reno, too, puts his sacramental beliefs in one silo, and his moralizing in another, and never the two need challenge each other. That is not how Catholics think when we are thinking at our best.

Apparently, 2k thinking is a no-no for Roman Catholics as much as it is for neo-Calvinists. Everything belongs to God. Or the papacy has universal jurisdiction (which is a topic for discussion in its own right). Which makes it hard to justify solidarity with people of a different faith.

But if you limit that solidarity to the church and find all sorts of room for cooperation outside the church, problem solved. Why does that solution seem so impious?

10 thoughts on “Communicants, Siblings, Friends, and Others

  1. Like their conservative counterparts, progressive Roman Catholics acknowledge the divinity of Jesus Christ, and find the interpretive key to the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament.

    My progressive RC professors as an undergrad in a religion department at a secular university believed that the deity of Christ was later invented by the church and that the NT ways of saying Jesus fulfilled prophecy were completely bogus. Which progressive RCs are being referred to here?


  2. DGH, did you have personal contact with Neuhaus? How do you summarize his contributions to the public square?


  3. Forget mere grace alone, sola spiritual salvation won’t be enough.

    Richard Pratt, Reformed Seminary—“The doctrines of grace without covenant theology have led some to believe that Reformed theology is primarily concerned to teach that God’s grace sustains the Christian life from beginning to end. Of course, this is certainly true. YET the covenants of both testaments consistently teach that God has always required determined effort from His people in response to His grace and that He will reward obedience and punish disobedience.”

    “The doctrines of grace easily give us the impression that Reformed theology is only concerned with spiritual matters. Yet, we often neglect the physical and social effects of sin and salvation. Covenant theology gives us a far larger and more compelling vision of our hopes as Christians. In both testaments, believers extend God’s kingdom both to spiritual and earthly realms. We are to teach the gospel of Christ to all nations so that people may be transformed spiritually, BUT this spiritual renewal is for the sake of extending the lordship of Christ to every facet of culture around the world.”



    David Van Drunen — “Kuyper saw the organic church, whose task it was to pervade all of life’s spheres with Christian influence, as existing before, lying behind, and alone giving substance and value to the institutional church. Because, according to Kuyper’s own claims, the means of grace—the preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments—are received only in the institutional church, one might wonder how, apart from the institutional church, the organic church would attain any resources to support its own existence.”

    Klaas Schilder —“In the Head of the Church the sum of all things is drawn up. This statement destroys the theory according to which the Church itself is a cultural state or is allowed to become one. No encouragement is here given to any suggestion that the Church—which….never gives away the name of Church to whatever else, in order to characterize the Christian communion in school, family, social life, political life, etc. is falsely called ‘the church as organism’—is directly a practical cultural business, let alone an exponent of culture. This sort of concept of the church would murder her, violate her. In a service in which the word is preached, the Church does not present a direct lecture on culture that goes into all sorts of technical details, a thinly disguised university of the peoples. But, on the other hand the administration of God’s Word does put the whole of life under promises and norms. . . . From the Church, where the Spirit of Christ distributes the treasures of grace obtained by Him, the people of God HAVE TO pour our over the earth in all directions and unto all human activities, in order to proclaim over all this, and also to show in their own actions, the dominion of God, the Kingdom of heaven. From the Church the fire of obedience, the pure cultural glow included, must blaze forth all over the world.”


  5. Phillip Cary complaining about individual Christians not trusting the church for their salvation.

    Cary—What the sacramental word tells me is not: “You must believe” (a command we must choose to obey) but “Christ died for you” (good news that causes us to believe).

    Cary—It is sufficient to know that Christ’s body is given for me. If I cling to that in faith, all will go well with me. And whenever the devil suggests otherwise, I keep returning to that sacramental Word, and to the “for us” in the creed, where the “us” includes me. Thus precisely the kind of faith that is insufficient to get me admitted to the Reformed sacrament

    Cary—-Mere belief in the truth of the creed and trust in my baptism—is all the faith I have. If Luther is right, it is all the faith I can ever have, and all the faith I need. The Reformed tradition generates pastoral problems that cannot be helped by the sacrament, because neither word nor sacrament can assure me that I have true saving faith.

    Cary—-Some time in the middle ages the term “justification” came to be used to describe the outcome of sacramental penance . This means justification is an event that recurs many times in life, beginning with baptism and repeated every time we truly repent of our sins and are forgiven—in contrast to the classic Protestant doctrine of a single event of justification that is closely connected with, if not identical to, a once-in-a-lifetime conversion.

    John Calvin, Institutes 3:11.15: “Even though Augustine admirably deprives man of all credit for righteousness and transfers it to God’s grace, he still subsumes grace under sanctification, by which we are reborn in newness of life through the Spirit. But Scripture, when it speaks of faith leads us to something far different: namely, to turn aside from the contemplation of our own works and look solely upon God’s mercy.”:


  6. Dr. Hart says: “When you have a [biblical] view (w-w) of the world, when you think that your faith informs (or should) everything you do [that is not morally neutral], [easy] are those distinctions that [God] so readily supplies, like — this [upholds or violates His law] so Christian rules apply, this [does not uphold or violate His law] so freedom applies.
    I was feeling generous again, so I threw in another remedial reformed theology lesson and fixed that for ya Darryl. I keep threatening to charge ya for these, but things are tight on yer end too, so it’s on me.


  7. George Weigel, echoed Neuhaus’s claim that this encyclical was part of a “hermeneutic of discontinuity.”

    Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute— “Centesimus Annus represents the beginnings of a shift away from the static zero-sum economic world view that led the Church to be suspicious of capitalism and to argue for wealth redistribution as the only moral response to poverty.”

    Cardinal Peter Turkson— “I should note that some have claimed that Centesimus Annus changed the tenor of Catholic social teaching, and even abrogated prior teaching on the market economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Saint John Paul II follows directly in the footsteps of his predecessors. And like his predecessors, he recognized the twin dangers of both collectivism and individualism.”


  8. Nathan Finn—In his final book, the late Richard John Neuhaus provocatively compared modern America to ancient Babylon, a place where truth and justice are perennially compromised and committed believers are increasingly marginalized. Less than a decade removed from Neuhaus’s death in 2009, his words seem prescient. I argue the Paleo-Baptist Option has much to commend it for believers living in American Babylon. Baptists will best thrive in American Babylon by self-consciously framing ourselves as an ecclesiological renewal movement within the Great Tradition of catholic Christianity.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.