Saturday, November 09, 2013

"The End of Protestantism"

I'm going to comment on this post:

When I studied at Cambridge, I discovered that English Evangelicals define themselves over against the Church of England. Whatever the C of E is, they ain’t.

Since most English Evangelicals are Evangelical Anglicans, his statement is demonstrably false.

What I’m calling “Protestantism” does the same with Roman Catholicism. Protestantism is a negative theology; a Protestant is a not-Catholic. Whatever Catholics say or do, the Protestant does and says as close to the opposite as he can.

That wasn't even true of the Protestant Reformers, who were ex-Catholics. They had a positive identity. They defined themselves in reference to the faith of the Old and New Testaments. And, with due qualifications, they identified with certain church fathers. 

Leithart's statement is even more inaccurate this far down the pike. Protestant theology has continued to develop internally. It's focus on Scripture has meant continuous engagement and reengagement with the text of Scripture. To pick some names at random, it's preposterous to say Tom Schreiner, Darrell Bock, Bruce Waltke, Desi Alexander, Jim Hamilton, Daniel Block, D. A. Carson, John Currid, Gregory Beale, Frank Thielman, Peter O'Brien, J. A. Motyer, and O. Palmer Robertson are defined by their opposition to Roman Catholicism.  

A Protestant exaggerates his distance from Roman Catholicism on every point of theology and practice, and is skeptical of Roman Catholics who say that they believe in salvation by grace. 

That's because, when Roman Catholics say they are saved by grace, we read the fine print. The riders.  

A Protestant believes (old-fashioned) Roman Catholic claims about its changeless stability. A Reformational Catholic knows that the Roman Catholicism has changed and is changing.

Which doesn't mean it's changing for the better.

Some Protestants don’t view Roman Catholics as Christians, and won’t acknowledge the Roman Catholic Church as a true church. 

For good reason. 

A Reformational Catholic regards Catholics as brothers, and regrets the need to modify that brotherhood as “separated.”

Leithard is unwittingly giving us reasons not to be Reformational Catholics. 

 To a Reformational Catholic, it’s blindingly obvious that there’s a billion-member Church of Jesus Christ centered in Rome. 

Which says everything about Leithart's values, and nothing about the church of Rome. 

Because it regards the Roman Catholic Church as barely Christian, Protestantism leaves Roman Catholicism to its own devices. “They” had a pedophilia scandal, and “they” have a controversial pope. A Reformational Catholic recognizes that turmoil in the Roman Catholic Church is turmoil in his own family.

First of all, why the past tense. They had a pedophilia scandal? That's not a thing of the past.

They have it, in part due to their policy of mandatory priestly celibacy, and in part due to a permissive theology that's all about unconditional forgiveness. 

That's not a case of turmoil in the Protestant family unless your denomination has the same theology and/or policy. 

A Protestant views the Church as an instrument for individual salvation. A Reformational Catholic believes salvation is inherently social.

Societies aren't justified by faith. Individuals are. Societies aren't redeemed by the penal substitution of Christ. Individuals are. Societies don't go to heaven or hell when they pass away. Individuals do. 

A Protestant’s heroes are Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and their heirs.

To the extent that I have a "hero," that would be Jesus. 

 If he acknowledges any ancestry before the Reformation, they are proto-Protestants like Hus and Wycliffe. A Reformational Catholic gratefully receives the history of the entire Church as his history, and, along with the Reformers, he honors Augustine and Gregory the Great and the Cappadocians, Alcuin and Rabanus Maurus, Thomas and Bonaventure, Dominic and Francis and Dante, Ignatius and Teresa of Avila, Chesterton, de Lubac and Congar as fathers, brothers, and sisters. A Reformational Catholic knows some of his ancestors were deeply flawed but won’t delete them from the family tree. He knows every family has its embarrassments.

Ignatius Loyola was the spearhead of the Counter-Reformation. He was militantly anti-Protestant. 

Protestants are suspicious of a public, “Constantinian” church. 

That's a matter of definition.

A Protestant mocks patristic and medieval biblical interpretation and finds safety in grammatical-historical exegesis.

Modern Catholic Bible scholars like Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, John Meier, John Collins, Luke Timothy Johnson are scarcely any different.    

A Reformational Catholic revels in the riches, even while he puzzles over the oddities, of Augustine and Origen, Bernard and Bede. He knows there are unplumbed depths in Scripture, never dreamt of by Luther and Calvin.

When you adopt the hermeneutics of Origin, Augustine, and Bernard, et al., you're not plumbing the depths of Scripture. At best, your plumbing the depths of Origin, Augustine, and Bernard. What they project onto Scripture. You're exploring their minds rather than the minds of the Bible writers. 

When Leithard turns to the fanciful, allegorical expositions of Origin or Bernard to discover the depths of Scripture, he's inadvertently disclosing that he thinks Scripture is shallow. It has to be supplemented by pious nonsense. 

In addition, life is short. If you spread yourself as thin as Leithard, something has to give. The more time you spend on Bernard or Teresa of Avila, the less time you have for Scripture, or a serious commentary on Scripture. And by looking for direction from the wrong guides, he is missing out on the truly unplumbed deaths of Scripture.

A Protestant wears a jacket and tie, or a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, to lead worship; a Reformational Catholic is vested in cassock and stole. 

Did Jesus wear a cassock and stole at the Last Supper? Or did he wear his ordinary work clothes? 

To a Protestant, a sacrament is an aid to memory. 

Sounds good to me. 

A Reformational Catholic believes that Jesus baptizes and gives himself as food to the faithful, and doesn’t avoid speaking of “Eucharist” or “Mass” just because Roman Catholics use those words.

I don't avoid the word Eucharist. However, the "Mass" is a brand name. No point calling a communion service a "Mass" unless you espouse the theology of the Mass. 

Protestantism has had a good run. It remade Europe and made America. It inspired global missions, soup kitchens, church plants, and colleges in the four corners of the earth. But the world and the Church have changed, and Protestantism isn’t what the Church, including Protestants themselves, needs today. It’s time to turn the protest against Protestantism and to envision a new way of being heirs of the Reformation, a new way that happens to conform to the original Catholic vision of the Reformers.

Well, Jesus warned us to be very particular about our spiritual genealogy:

29 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers (Mt 23:29-32).


  1. Leithart needed this fisking.

    Thanks for doing a medicinal work that benefits the bystanders.

  2. A comment was accidentally deleted. Yes, it could be a reference to Ignatius of Antioch. However, the other examples group rough contemporaries and there's a chronological progression.

  3. How can we be the same church as the RCC when we patently teach two different gospels? (Not that there is another one...)

    Also, why can't we honour men like Augustine whilst believing he got a lot wrong? And isn't bothering oneself over what the preacher wears rather shallow?

  4. Also, as an Anglican Evangelical, I can confirm that what Leithart says is rubbish (I also attend one of two Anglican Evangelical churches in the centre of Cambridge where Leithart studied). Many Anglican Evangelicals regularly fight to reclaim the C of E's evangelical heritage. I agree with C of E doctrine in many cases, and disagree on others.

  5. Just waiting for Leithart to go Catholic.

  6. "They have it, in part due to their policy of mandatory priestly celibacy, and in part due to a permissive theology that's all about unconditional forgiveness."

    No, what they HAVE is a criminally predatory homosexual scandal. There has NEVER been a "pedophile" scandal to speak.

    And it's not at all "due to a permissive theology that's all about unconditional forgiveness." It's about self-preservation at all costs,

    1. Chris Candide

      "No, what they HAVE is a criminally predatory homosexual scandal. There has NEVER been a 'pedophile' scandal to speak."

      What makes you think those are mutually exclusive explanations? Mandatory priestly celibacy becomes a recruiting tool for homosexuals, who then seduce underage males.

      "And it's not at all "due to a permissive theology that's all about unconditional forgiveness." It's about self-preservation at all costs."

      It's not "all about" any one thing. Certainly institutional self-preservation is a factor. But treating abusive priests as a therapeutic issue also reflects an antinomian theology. Modern Catholic theology is functional universalism.