Pitiful

January 9, 2009

So, guess who took the opportunity provided by the death of Fr. Neuhaus in order to denounce his “apostacy” from Protestantism and chastise all those wishy-washy evangelicals who followed him into the dark, malignant world of meaningful ecumenical work? None other than Dr. R. Scott Clark (Westminster Seminary California), of course: “What Richard John Neuhaus Means to Me.”

And you wonder why I occasionally deride the mentality and ethos of current Reformed confessionalism. It is not healthy.

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26 Responses to “Pitiful”

  1. Thanks Kevin. This doesn’t really surprise me. In this sense, Clark seems to be taking up the mantle of Robbins.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  2. Francesca said

    Hello devout Baptist. Here is a good Bap blog

    http://www.civitate.org/

  3. Why is signing away the good news “meaningful” ecumenical work? Did the Apostle Paul fail in his ecumenical duties when he refused to accommodate the Apostle Peter’s seating arrangements, when he called those seating arrangements a denial of the gospel?

    Why is it evil of me to confess the Reformed faith?

    If you don’t like the Reformed faith, I quite understand, but I’ve taken vows before God and man to confess and defend the faith. I may be misguided and you’re welcome to correct me but why is it unhealthy?

    Is your problem with me or with what the Reformed Churches confess?

    rsc

  4. Scott,

    If Fr. Neuhaus believed what he said he believed, do you think he went to heaven or hell?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. Bryan,

    That’s none of my business. Jesus warned against making that sort of judgment. Deut 29:29 warns against making that sort of judgment.

    I only know what he professed and what his communion promulgated as dogma. I know what my communion confesses and those are the things I was comparing. I also know what happened in 1994 et seq. and I can see how, for most evangelicals, cultural influence has completely trumped fidelity to the Reformation aolas. I expected to take some flack for it, but why should it be a bad or controversial thing for a confessional Protestant, who confesses the evangel, to confess it in the concrete?

  6. philip said

    Mr. Clark,
    It seems to me that what is lacking in your post is not your sense that there are distinctions between the Roman Church and the Reformed Church; rather, what you lack is tact. As you rightly note, many people are grieving the death of a noted public Christian intellectual and I’m not sure I understand why you feel the need to insert your views into that process. So, I’ll ask, “why exactly do you feel the need to write on this topic?” Is it possible (and I certainly think it is) for Protestant believers to differ with the Roman Church on questions of great importance and yet be grateful to God for the work that someone like Father Neuhaus has done? If that is possible, how would one go about doing that?

  7. Philip,

    Believe it or not I thought about that and I’m not surprised that some thinks that my post wasn’t tactful. The reason I decided to write as I did was to offer a necessarily contrarian perspective.

    We’re he just a Romanist social theorist or writer. I might have lamented the death of Buckley much the same way people are lamenting the death of RJN. Buckley had a big influence on me and I’m a fan. I enjoyed his novels (read ’em all), his wit, and his intellect.

    RJN, however, wasn’t wasn’t just a good guy who did good things who happened to be RC. He was a former confessional Protestant who publicly rejected the doctrine of justification sola fide, in other words the gospel, and was ordained into a communion that we confess to be a false church.

    As I noted in the column, he wasn’t content merely to serve his fellow man as a social worker or even as a parish priest. He helped to facilitate the beginning of the end of the old neo-evangelical movement. I suppose if it wasn’t RJN it would have been someone else, but it was RJN.

    More to the point, my critique wasn’t really focused on RJN. The point is the Evangelical reaction to RJN and what it says about the nature of evangelicalism. The evangelicals aren’t noting the death of a former respected opponent but they are bewailing the loss of someone with whom they have a much deeper kinship. They are not evaluating RJN theologically and ecclesiastically but culturally and politically. The point is to note how culture and politics has come to trump all in evangelicalism.

  8. Scott,

    If you think it is possible for people who “publicly reject the gospel” and die in that condition to go to heaven, then it seems that the gospel and salvation have nothing to do with heaven. Or do you think that what is so easy and obvious that any child can grasp, Fr. Neuhaus was not sufficiently intelligent to understand, and therefore that he was quite possibly not culpable for “rejecting the gospel”? If even those highly intelligent persons who know the Bible very well, and who “publicly reject the gospel” and die in that condition go to heaven, then, a fortiori, those who have never heard the gospel are in great shape. If one does not lose one’s salvation and heaven by being reconciled with the Catholic Church and affirming all her dogmas, then let’s be done with this 488 year old schism. Apparently Protestants have nothing to lose in doing so.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  9. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for stopping by. I’m all for Protestants and Catholics defending their respective positions with fervor and clarity. For what it’s worth: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s engagement with Barth’s work is the epitome of fruitful ecumenical engagement. My problem is not the Reformed confessions, whether strictly or loosely considered, though I disagree; my problem is the lack of charity for a man who sincerely followed Our Lord, with humility and to the best of his judgment, in his confession of the Roman Catholic faith. Charging him with sin (apostasy from Christ and His gospel) is not the best way to go about critiquing a man’s beliefs and work, especially when that man just died.

    Francesca,

    Thanks for the link. It looks good.

  10. Bryan,

    You’re making a number of assumptions that I cannot. You asked me to make a judgment. I refuse. I’m agnostic. It’s not my business. I mean that. I confess that I hope that I do not die in a state of having rejected what the Protestant confessions uniformly understand to be the gospel but I hope you will not find me making judgments about who is and isn’t “saved.” That belongs to Christ not to me. I hope you accept my sincerity on this.

    These sorts of judgments are for ecclesiastical assemblies. Were RJN a member of a confessional Reformed congregation he would have been disciplined for apostatizing from his confession of the gospel. If he remained impenitent, he would have been placed under the final step of discipline. Whether those things happened when he left the LCMS, I have no idea.

    Kevin,

    I take your point, but my approach to ecumenism with Rome is to call all Roman Catholics to faith and repentance. For me it’s not mere theological polemics but mission. Part of my vocation as a minister is to call everyone who is apparently outside the visible church to faith in Christ and that includes calling those who’ve confessed the gospel and rejected it for the Roman dogma.

    Are you suggesting that sincerity is the measure of truth? I’ve read enough of RJN to doubt that RJN thought that. He would be amused by such a subjectivist criticism of one of his critics. As far as I know he would understand at least some of my criticisms completely. He would not agree, of course, but he would understand.

    So we’re really just talking here about good taste. In that case, was Paul tasteless in his dealings with Peter? Was it tactless of him to rebuke Peter and then to record it in holy Scripture?

  11. I figured you would pick-up on “sincerity,” so I hesitated to use the word. But, the point is not that we should collapse the objective into the subjective; the point was that subjective considerations are exactly what must be considered when making accusations about someone’s faultiness or otherwise in beliefs. In Neuhaus’ conversion and subsequent ECT work, was he intentionally disobeying Our Lord and contemning the free grace so eloquently defended by Paul? From an objective consideration, you give one answer; from a subjective consideration, you give a different answer or, at least, a more nuanced answer. If you can’t see that, then we have fundamentally different ideas about how to do critical and personal engagement. That is why I pinpointed a “mentality” and “ethos” at work that is problematic (not the actual doctrinal positions) — it is a mentality that simply would not work in the sort of undergraduate and graduate study that I have done. You can continue to posture yourself as the Paul of the 21st century, but in the world of academic Christian scholarship, with 2000 years behind us all, perhaps there are some other considerations that Paul was not dealing with. It is people like Neuhaus and Colson that understand this, and I am saddened that you do not.

  12. Kevin,

    You’re still talking like a subjectivist, as if intent determines all. I understand. I used to talk and think that way too. Intent matters but so do actions. When it comes to fiddling with the gospel, intent matters but actions matter more. When it came to Peter Paul was concerned about his intent but also his actions.

    As to citing Paul, well, I’m a Protestant! We do that. Sue me.

    I’m also a historian and I’m quite aware of the history and development of doctrine. I realize that neither the Roman communion nor the Protestant communions dropped out of the sky. I’m not a biblicist. I’m a confessionalist. I just wrote a book part of the burden of which is to outline the difference between the two.

    As to academia, call me when you’ve put 15 years into the guild.

  13. Francesca said

    The expression ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ floated into my mind.

  14. Clark,

    I’ll let any readers of this thread decide if my points are entirely subjectivist. I do appreciate your input.

    Francesca,

    It is an ever-pertinent expression.

  15. Bill said

    As an occasional reader of this blog and someone with no previous knowledge of the personalities involved, what strikes me about Mr. Clark’s posts is his lack of charity and surfeit of pride. I could not help but be amused at his statement, “my approach to ecumenism with Rome is to call all Roman Catholics to faith and repentance.” Perhaps the appropriate response to such a lofty mission statement is Matthew 23:27 (or Luke 9:50), but (to paraphrase) my approach to ecumenism with Westminster is to call blinkered confessionals to charity and repentance.

  16. ken oakes said

    Wow.

  17. Graham MacFarlane said

    KD: ‘my problem is the lack of charity for a man who sincerely followed Our Lord, with humility and to the best of his judgment’

    Kevin I’m not sure what you’re getting at with you subj/obj thing. I mean heretics by definition think that they’re right and that they’re preaching the true gospel. Augustine doesn’t seem to have shown much charity to Pelagius, who was by all accounts a very well-intentioned person. Ecumenism is not about the people’s intentions being good, or else we would engage in ecumenical dialogue with say Mormons, which would be pointless. My attitude toward Mormons is the same as RSC’s attitude toward RC’s: proclamation of the gospel.

    Perhaps I’m saying that ecumenism only functions properly between communions that do NOT regard one another as irremediably heretical and apostate.

  18. Graham MacFarlane said

    O’Donovan: As the divided communions of christendom look at one another, they are likely to see in each other important elements of the church present, and important elements lacking, as the vatican council’s decree on ecumenism did. We may even say that they are bound to see this, since all formal manifestations of the church will lack something for as long as they are not gathered into one communion. If formal perfection is lost to one part, it is lost to all; none are ‘catholic’ in the their institutions. On the other hand, if an important formal element is truly held by one part, it is held for and on behalf of all.

    “What Kind of Community is the Church?”

  19. Irene Garcia said

    The expression ‘douchebag’ floated into my mind.

  20. Irene,

    I take it this is your way of demonstrating charity and building unity?

  21. Iohannes said

    What a sad conversation.

    Charles Hodge’s Reformed credentials cannot be impugned. Yet in the Roman baptism controversy he acknowledged that there were a number of Roman Catholics who sincerely took the Tridentine decrees “in a sense consistent with their saving efficacy.” The context shows he was speaking about theologians, not just confused laity.

    In a non-polemical setting, when leading Sunday afternoon devotions at Princeton, Hodge taught his students thus:

    Greeks, Latins, Lutherans and Reformed, if one with Christ, are one body; and this we are bound to recognize. It is a great sin against Christ and against his body, if we refuse to recognize as a fellow-Christian, or refuse Christian fellowship to any true Christian because he differs from us in anything whatever.

    And even when denouncing the papacy in his systematics’ section on the antichrist, he said this:

    That many Roman Catholics, past and present, are true Christians, is a palpable fact. It is a fact which no man can deny without committing a great sin. It is a sin against Christ not to acknowledge as true Christians those who bear his image, and whom He recognizes as his brethren. It is a sin also against ourselves. We are not born of God unless we love the children of God. If we hate and denounce those whom Christ loves as members of his own body, what are we?

  22. Iohannes said

    What a sad conversation.

    Charles Hodge’s Reformed credentials cannot be impugned. Yet in the Roman baptism controversy he acknowledged that there were a number of Roman Catholics who sincerely took the Tridentine decrees “in a sense consistent with their saving efficacy.” The context shows he was speaking about theologians, not just confused laity.

    In a non-polemical setting, when leading Sunday afternoon devotions at Princeton, Hodge taught his students thus:

    Greeks, Latins, Lutherans and Reformed, if one with Christ, are one body; and this we are bound to recognize. It is a great sin against Christ and against his body, if we refuse to recognize as a fellow-Christian, or refuse Christian fellowship to any true Christian because he differs from us in anything whatever.

    And even when denouncing the papacy in his systematics’ section on the antichrist, he said this:

    That many Roman Catholics, past and present, are true Christians, is a palpable fact. It is a fact which no man can deny without committing a great sin. It is a sin against Christ not to acknowledge as true Christians those who bear his image, and whom He recognizes as his brethren. It is a sin also against ourselves. We are not born of God unless we love the children of God. If we hate and denounce those whom Christ loves as members of his own body, what are we?

  23. Jim Lynch said

    I’m with Irene – the word “douchebag” came to my mind too.

  24. Note: The only person allowed to be called a douchebag on this blog is me.

    Graham,

    I’m sure I need to refine my understanding on the issue, but all I was trying to get at was that an objective/subjective distinction needs to be made and taken into consideration when dealing with those in other confessions. We have all made false choices which we believed to be ordered toward the good, beautiful, and true. I assume Fr. Neuhaus, in converting to Rome, acted without malice or pride; I presuppose this, unless evidence to the contrary. With that in mind, I approach others, even a convert from evangelicalism to Mormonism, with a different attitude toward accusations. Jesus’ words come to mind: you have a speck in your own eye. And, frankly, I probably would have been nicer to Pelagius than Augustine was. If indeed Augustine did not “show much charity” toward his enemies, then he stands condemned for this by Jesus’ statements. As do I.

  25. Mike said

    Psalm 119:63 comes to mind, which says in part: “I am a companion of all who fear thee …” Jesus’ words also come to mind “He who is not against me is for me”

    Calling people names is very regrettable.

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