Friday, December 24, 2010

And the Word became flesh and lived among us

That is the title of my latest column at The Catholic Thing. Here is how it begins:
During the Season of Advent, one often hears in Church circles and even in the popular media the plea, or something similar to it, “Let’s keep the Christ in Christmas.” But before we can take that plea seriously (as we ought to), we have to first understand what it means to keep Christ in Christianity.

In the first chapter of his Gospel, St. John eloquently provides an account of the divine paternity of Jesus of Nazareth, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:14-NRSV). On the other hand, both the Gospels of St. Matthew (1:1-17) and St. Luke (3:23-38) offer accounts of Jesus’ human genealogies, revealing that He is, like each of us, connected to generations of predecessors, flesh and blood human beings, without whom he would lose his earthly identity. For in order for Jesus to be the Son of David, he has to be the Son of Mary. And in order to be the Second Adam, he has to share Adam’s nature, and hence, he is one of us, “yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15).

>>>continue reading

Monday, December 20, 2010

Conference on Natural Law and Evangelical Political Thought (17-19 February 2011), at Westmont College

(HT: Micah Watson)

This looks like a terrific conference. You can read more about it here. The featured speakers are J. Budziszewski (University of Texas) and Robert P. George (Princeton University). Among the other speakers are J. Daryl Charles (Bryan College), Micah Watson (Union University), Paul DeHart (Texas State University), and Bryan McGraw (Wheaton College).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Schism for thee but not for me?

A former professor of mine, a well-known Lutheran theologian, told me in private conversation several weeks ago that he was upset that I had returned to the Catholic Church while in the middle of my service as president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), arguing that my public reversion could have harmed ETS irreparably. Because it was a matter of conscience that forced me into the confessional earlier than I had planned,[1] I was tempted to respond like the founder of his denomination did at the Diet of Worms, “There I stood, I could do no other.” The irony was indeed delicious, but I simply thanked him for his counsel and bid him peace. Apparently, unlike the Word of God, schism is not a two-edged sword.


[1]Seven months before my ETS term was to end, my nephew, Dean Beckwith, asked me to be his Confirmation sponsor, and this required that I be in full communion with the Catholic Church. If Dean had not made the request, I would have completed my term as ETS president and then entered the Catholic Church.  Because Dean’s decision to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation was influenced by a letter I wrote to him about what it means to follow Christ, I could not reject my nephew’s request.  I document this in greater detail in my Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009), 17-25

The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church

That is the title of the book I received in the mail today. What an amazing surprise! Signed by its editor/author, Jimmy Akin, I am looking forward to going through it over the Christmas break. Knowing Jimmy (who is a friend) and the scope and depth of his intellectual powers, I suspect that this will go to the top of my list of books on the Fathers. You can order it through Jimmy's website here.

It should come in handy while I am working on my 13,000-word contribution to the forthcoming book, Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism (Zondervan, forthcoming in 2011), edited by Robert L. Plummer (professor, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Philosophia Christi article of Feser's Aquinas book is now accessible online

As I mentioned in a prior post, I just published in the recent issue of Philosophia Christi a review essay of Edward Feser’s latest book, Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide.

Thanks to the Editor of Philosophia Christi who granted me permission, you can now access the article online here. For those who are interested in the entire issue of Philosophia Christi (12.2, Winter 2010), you can read a profile of it here.

As I noted in the prior post, a portion of my article deals with Feser’s take on St. Thomas and Intelligent Design (ID). As readers of Return to Rome know, I am critical of ID, having published several articles in the past couple of years in which I make this plain. (See here,here, and here, but especially read my four part series on the BioLogos blog in which I tell about my initial and developing misgivings about ID. Here is part 1part 2part 3, and part 4). In any event, you can read the whole article on Feser's book here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My latest article: "Guidance for Doting and Peeping Thomists: A Review Essay of Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide."

This just appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Philosophia Christi (429-439).  It is a review essay of Edward Feser's latest book, Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide. Although you cannot presently get the article online, you can see the issue's table of contents here. (Update: It is now accessible online here. Special thanks to the PC editor for granting me permission to post it on my website. For a profile of the entire issue of PC, go here). In the same issue is a review essay of  my book, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007). It is written by Calvin College philosophy professor Kevin Corcoran, who I had the pleasure to meet three years ago at the 2007 meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.  He was a discussant in a session on Defending Life.  I have not yet read the review essay. But since he's a very bright philosopher, I should get a run for my money.

A portion of my review essay deals with Feser's take on St. Thomas and Intelligent Design (ID). As readers of Return to Rome know, I am critical of ID, having published several articles in the past couple of years in which I make this plain. (See here, here, and here, but especially read my four part series on the BioLogos blog in which I tell about my initial and developing misgivings about ID. Here is part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4). In any event, here is an excerpt of the Philosophia Christi review essay that may interest readers of Return to Rome (notes omitted):
Even though some attribute an ID-approach to Aquinas, Feser argues that the attribution is mistaken and reveals a misunderstanding of what Aquinas was trying accomplish in his Fifth Way. For Aquinas, the design or purpose of nature refers to the interrelationship of “all things” in the universe, including scientific laws and all inanimate and animate things and their powers, which have their own natures that direct them to certain ends. And they are all kept in existence by the God Who brought the universe into being ex nihilo. Thus, writes Feser, “Aquinas . . . takes the Fifth Way to entail the existence of nothing less than the God of classical theism, who sustains the order of the world here and now and at any moment at which it exists” (111) That is, “Aquinas’s argument is intended as a metaphysical demonstration” and not as a “quasi-scientific empirical hypothesis” that claims to offer a probable and provisionary answer, which is precisely what the ID advocates claim of their view (111). As Dembski writes, ID “depends on advances in probability theory, computer science, molecular biology, the philosophy of science and the concept of information—to name but a few.” Thus, without the assistance of these advances, belief in design in nature is imperiled. For this reason, according to Stephen Meyer, ID must exclusively bear the burden to ward off philosophical materialism. Or, as Dembski puts it: “Naturalism is the disease. Intelligent design is the cure.”

As Feser suggests, this posture does to Christian metaphysics what some prominent analytic philosophers are suggesting every branch of philosophy should have done to it: naturalize it. As Brian Leiter puts it, the first half of the twentieth century’s “linguistic turn . . . . has either been supplanted or supplemented by the naturalistic turn, in which traditional philosophical problems are thought be insoluble by the a priori, armchair methods of the philosopher, and to require, instead, embedding in (or replacement by) suitable empirical theories.” And this naturalistic turn requires a particular approach to metaphysics that is informed by an empiricist epistemology found in modern science. As Leiter writes: “Philosophical understanding, in short, must be the same as scientific understanding: it must employ the same methods of understanding that the sciences deploy with good effect elsewhere.” Although ID advocates reject methodological naturalism (MN) in science when it comes to excluding ID conclusions a priori, they in fact emulate the methodological posture of their opponents when it comes to embracing the “naturalistic turn.” That is, when it comes to doing philosophy, Dembski and Leiter are two peas in a pod. The only difference is that Dembski thinks he has evidence for design whereas Leiter disagrees. But they are both operating under the aegis of the “naturalistic turn.” This is why ID advocates claim they are no less “scientific” than their critics, except that each comes to different conclusions. As Dembski puts it: ID “takes a long-standing philosophical intuition and cashes it out as a scientific research program.”

ID advocates are, of course, foes of naturalism, and Feser is not suggesting otherwise. What he is suggesting, however, is that they want to use the naturalist’s own methodological assumptions against naturalism, but in doing so concede so much to naturalism that they end up with a radically distorted theology and a dubious metaphysics.

This is why Feser argues that ID’s scientific research program, like Paley’s natural theology or philosophy’s naturalistic turn, takes for granted “a mechanistic view of nature” that “denies that purpose or teleology is immanent or inherent in nature” (115) Aquinas, according to Feser, rejects this view because it seemed to him that “every agent has a final cause; that is to say, that everything that serves as an efficient cause `points to’ or is `directed at’ some specific effect or range of effects as its natural end” (114) This is why, for the Thomist, chance and law—the two explanations that Dembski must eliminate in order to detect design in natural objects —are not defeaters to teleology in nature. For chance and law—the natural processes themselves—reveal the final causality immanent and inherent in nature....

Thus, for the Thomist, Darwinian mechanisms and pathways, as well as scientific laws and other natural processes, no more count against the existence and necessity of God (or even final or formal causality) than does the account of my conception by the natural processes of human reproduction count against the claim that God is Creator of the universe. This is because the Fifth Way, like each of the other Five Ways, is not an argument from some inexplicable facts in the universe to the existence of God, as if the Divine were a hypothesis provisionally embraced until further evidence turns up.  Rather, according to Aquinas, the universe is a radically contingent being requiring a Necessary Being, God, for its genesis as well as its continued existence including the development and order (τέλοϛ) within it. But if one embraces the naturalistic turn, which assumes a methodological stance that excludes immanent final causality as empirically detectable because it eludes the strictures of modern science, then ID and naturalism seem like the only two philosophically attractive options. The Thomist, as Feser ably argues (36–51, 110–20), rejects this as a false choice.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Richard Posner does not know much about theology, especially the Catholic sort

Read Judge Posner's original piece here (and especially the replies in the combox). And then read John Breen's response at the Mirror of Justice.

I have, for years, been in awe of Judge Posner's imposing and impressive intellect. In fact, in my philosophy of law class I require my students to read several of his articles. But on the matter of Catholic moral theology, I will pass on the prince of law and economics and defer to the wisdom of the Prince of Priests.

Center for Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue

You can find out more about the Center here. The following is its Mission Statement:
The Center for Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue is an independent research center. Catholic and Evangelical scholars are increasingly discovering that we have much to learn from each other, not least in revitalizing our theologies and our study of Scripture.

Sharing a common bond in worship of Jesus Christ and dependence upon the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit, Catholic and Evangelical theologians and historians can greatly enrich each others' ability to hear and proclaim the gospel in contemporary North American culture. The Center for Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue aims to sponsor conferences and research projects that nourish the ability of our communities to understand, appreciate, challenge, and benefit from each other. We hope thereby to enrich the faith and practice of contemporary Christians.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Church Fathers on Transubstantiation

Another terrific essay on one of my favorite websites, Called to Communion. Authored to Tim A. Troutman, it begins this way:
This article is intended to be a resource showing the support for the doctrine of Transubstantiation in the Church fathers, and not a robust defense of the doctrine as defined by the Council of Trent. The Church fathers did not believe in a mere spiritual presence of Christ alongside or in the elements (bread and wine). This can be shown by three different types of patristic statements. The first and most explicit type is a statement that directly affirms a change in the elements. The second type is a simple identification of the consecrated species with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Because unconsecrated bread is not called the Body, and consecratedis called the Body, this directly implies a belief that a supernatural change has taken place at the point of consecration. The third and final type is a statement which attributes or demands extraordinary reverence for the consecrated species itself, and not merely the solemnity of communion in this sacrament.

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Was Aquinas a Proto-Protestant?

That is the title of my latest column at The Catholic Thing. It is a very brief summary of the paper I delivered in November at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society in Atlanta, "Doting Thomists: Evangelicals, Thomas Aquinas, and Justification."  Here's how The Catholic Thing column begins.
Catholics are often surprised to learn that there are Evangelical Protestants who claim to be Thomists.  When I was a Protestant, I was one of them. What
attracts these Evangelicals are Thomas’s views on faith and reason, his philosophy of the human person, command of Scripture, and intellectual rigor.  Some of them think that on justification, Thomas is closer to the Protestant Reformers than to the Catholic view (as taught in the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church). The late Presbyterian theologian John Gerstner, for instance, claimed that with St. Augustine, St. Thomas “taught the biblical doctrine of justification so that if the Roman Church had followed Aquinas the Reformation would not have been absolutely necessary.” Others have made similar arguments, but they are spectacularly wrong. As usual, it all hinges on understanding faith and works.

For St. Thomas, justification refers not only to entrance into the family of God at Baptism – administered for the remission of sins – but to the infusion of sanctifying grace at Baptism and all the subsequent graces that work to transform the Christian from the inside out. Consider, for instance, Aquinas’s explanation of sanctifying grace as habitual grace: “a double effect of grace, even as of every other form; the first of which is `being,’ and the second, `operation.’” For example, “the work of heat is to make its subject hot, and to give heat outwardly. And thus habitual grace, inasmuch as it heals and justifies the soul, or makes it pleasing to God, is called operating grace; but inasmuch as it is the principle of meritorious works, which spring from the free-will, it is called cooperating grace.”

Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More than meets the eye?: Dinesh D'Souza's presidential photo

(HT: Carl Trueman). According to Michael McClenahan, "The King’s College, an evangelical college in Manhattan, is officially distributing this photograph of the inauguration of their fifth President, Dinesh D’Souza." (Click presidential photo below for full size). If you look closely, the portrait on the wall behind President D'Souza is that of St. Thomas More. This is immensely interesting given the controversy over whether or not President D'Souza is or is not a Catholic. (See my comments on the matter here.).  There is no doubt that President D'Souza recognizes the historical, theological, and literary significance of More in shaping the trajectory of Protestantism and Catholicism in the United Kingdom. After all, President D'Souza is the editor of an outstanding volume, The Catholic Classics, published in 1986 by Our Sunday Visitor. (It includes introductory comments by two of the most important American Catholics of the 20th century, the late John J. Cardinal O'Connor, Archbishop of New York City, and  the late William F. Buckley, Jr., conservative public intellectual and founder of National Review magazine)




Sunday, December 5, 2010

My review of Abortion: Three Perspectives, by Tooley, Wolf-Devine, Devine, and Jaggar

I recently published this review in the journal Faith &  Philosophy 27.4 (2010): 478-482.  Here's how it begins:
It has been nearly four decades since the U.S. Supreme Court held that there is a right to abortion protected by the U.S. Constitution. Yet, the question ofabortion’s moral and legal permissibility, and all the attendant issues about the nature of law, human persons, and morality, continue to be seriously (and sometimes not so seriously) engaged in the public square. Given the metaphysical, ethical, and political issues on which abortion’s moral and legal status seems to hinge, philosophers have had a special interest in offering their own assessments of the subject.

In this book, three philosophical perspectives on abortion are offered for our consideration. The first, defended by Michael Tooley, is a liberal perspective on abortion. For Tooley, abortion is morally and legally permissible because the fetus, the unborn human being that dies as a consequence of an abortion, is not a person, and only persons can have a right to continued existence. Celia Wolf-Devine and Philip E. Devine are the authors of the second chapter, a communitarian prolife perspective. They offer arguments to support their belief that the unborn human being is a full-fledged member of the human community from the moment it comes into existence, and thus it is no different in its intrinsic dignity than you or me. For this reason, abortion, except for in the case of endangerment to the mother’s life, is unjustified homicide, and thus ought to be forbidden by our laws. Allison M. Jaggar asks us to consider a third perspective in a chapter entitled “Abortion Rights and Gender Justice: An Essay on Political Philosophy.” Jaggar maintains that the right to abortion is essential to women’s equality, because child bearing and child rearing are burdens peculiar to women, and because prolifers have not met their philosophical burden to demonstrate the unborn’s personhood. These three presentations are followed by three separate rebuttals. In each of these chapters each author rebuts the arguments of the initial chapters of the other two.

You can read the rest of the review here.

Catholics are Cannibals!

You just can't make this stuff up.  (HT: combox at Pilgrim's Daughter). Apparently, they're burning the cross at both ends this weekend on the blogosphere.




Friday, December 3, 2010

The brilliance of St. Augustine on grace and free will

St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430), the most influential theologian in the history of Western Christianity, is cited by both Catholics and Protestants in support of their respective views on the doctrine of justification. The following is an example of St. Augustine's brilliance. In these paragraphs, from his On Grace and Free Will (AD 426 or 427), he offers an interpretation of Scripture that, in my judgment, reconciles the apparently contrary passages on grace and reward:
Chapter 18.— Faith Without Good Works is Not Sufficient for Salvation.

Unintelligent persons, however, with regard to the apostle's statement: We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law, Romans 3:28 have thought him to mean that faith suffices to a man, even if he lead a bad life, and has no good works. Impossible is it that such a character should be deemed a vessel of election by the apostle, who, after declaring that in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, Galatians 5:6 adds at once, but faith which works by love. It is such faith which severs God's faithful from unclean demons—for even these believe and tremble, James 2:19 as the Apostle James says; but they do not do well. Therefore they possess not the faith by which the just man lives—the faith which works by love in such wise, that God recompenses it according to its works with eternal life. But inasmuch as we have even our good works from God, from whom likewise comes our faith and our love, therefore the selfsame great teacher of the Gentiles has designated eternal life itself as His gracious gift. Romans 6:23

Should Bob Dylan retire?, or Everybody must get old!

John Jurgeson at the Wall Street Journal says "yes." Here's an excerpt:
Most alarming to listeners devoted to his seminal recordings: the state of Mr. Dylan's voice, decades on from its first signs of deterioration. Dr. Lee Akst, director of the Johns Hopkins Voice Center, says it's impossible to diagnose Mr. Dylan without an examination, but that rock singers are especially prone to scarring or other damage to the vocal cords. Such trauma can be cumulative, he says, compounding the risks for the perennially touring singer. What's obvious: Though he never had a conventionally pretty voice—that was part of its power—lately he's been sounding like a scatting Cookie Monster. On stage, he strums an electric guitar and blows on a harmonica but spends more time at an upright organ, vamping.

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Big man Keith Olbermann goes after Bristol Palin

Keith Olbermann, a truly loathsome piece of work.  Writes Bristol Palin on her Facebook page:



Mr. Olbermann--Sorry We Can't All Be As Perfect As You


by Bristol Palin on Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 2:11pm


Recently, a left wing commentator named Keith Olbermann attacked me for being a spokesperson for abstinence education and for being an Ambassador for the Candies Foundation, which promotes teen pregnancy awareness and prevention education. He went so far as to call me "the worst person" he knows, apparently, for my efforts to educate teenagers about the real world risks of premarital sex.


Accusing me of hypocrisy is by now, an old canard. What Mr. Olbermann lacks in originality he makes up for with insincere incredulity. Mr. Olbermann fails to understand that in order to have credibility as a spokesperson, it sometimes takes a person who has made mistakes. Parents warn their children about the mistakes they made so they are not repeated. Former gang members travel to schools to educate teenagers about the risks of gang life. Recovered addicts lecture to others about the risks of alcohol and drug abuse. And yes, a teen mother talks about the benefits of preventing teen pregnancy.


I have never claimed to be perfect. If that makes me the "worst person in the world" to Mr. Olbermann, then I must apologize for not being absolutely faultless like he undoubtedly must be.


To Mr. Olbermann let me say this: you can attack me all you want. But you will not stop me from getting my message out about teen pregnancy prevention. And one day, if you ever have a daughter, you may change your mind about me.


Bristol Palin




Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The King James Bible and the World It Made, 1611-2011: a conference of Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion

Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion is hosting a major conference April 7-9, 2011, The King James Bible and the World It Made, 1611-2011. Confirmed speakers include: Robert Alter (University of California, Berkeley), David Bebbington (University of Stirling), Philip Jenkins (Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion), Laura Knoppers (Penn State University), Alister E. McGrath (Kings College, London), Mark Noll (University of Notre Dame), Lamin Sanneh (Yale University), N.T. Wright (University of St. Andrews). There is a call for papers, if you are interested in submitting a proposal.

The ISR page for the conference reads:

The year 2011 marks the four hundredth anniversary of one of the landmark events in the history of Christianity: the publication of the King James Bible.


In 1611, England issued its official translation of the complete Bible, a masterful work that laid the foundation for an emerging Christian culture in the English-speaking world. At the time, it was not obvious that the new translation would have the impact that it did, but it was soon clear that the King James Bible would overcome its competitors, as it provided a magnificent new standard by which all later works would be judged. It would indelibly mark the literature and culture of England, America, and all regions across the globe touched by Britain’s empire. From small rural churches to great halls of power, the ideas and words of the King James Version helped form a new culture rooted in the Bible: the modern culture of the English-speaking world.

To celebrate and reflect upon the incomparable influence of the King James Bible, Baylor University will host “The King James Bible and the World It Made, 1611-2011,” on April 7-9, 2011. Organized by Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, this conference will be one of the preeminent international events recognizing this auspicious moment in the history of Anglo-American and world Christianity. It will assemble distinguished scholars from around the globe to consider the history and ramifications of the Bible in English.

Major conference themes will include the way that the King James Bible created a common literary and religious culture in the English-speaking world; the significance of vernacular translation for Christian growth and development; and the challenges posed by recent declines in biblical literacy and the end of the King James’s dominance as the Bible translation for English-speaking Christians.

I am proud to say that I serve as a resident scholar in the Institute for Studies of Religion.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Book Recommendation: Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings by James R. Payton, Jr.

Published by InterVarsity Press, I picked this book up at the IVP book table 10 days ago while I was in Atlanta at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. It's a terrific read. The author is a Protestant historian who is a professor at Redeemer University College in Ontario, Canada. He offers a compelling  account of the Reformation, the history leading up to it, its chief architects, the Catholic Church's response, and the disputes and disagreements between the different factions of the Reformation.  I highly recommend this book. You can get it via Amazon here.

Today I'll be on Kresta in the Afternoon, 4 pm EST

Read about it here. I'll be talking about relativism, the topic of my 1998 book with Gregory P. Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankfully, for America's megachurches Christmas does not fall on a Sunday this year

Derek at Stand to Reason brought to his reader's attention this jaw-dropping 2005 New York TImes article, "When Christmas Falls on Sunday, Megachurches Take the Day Off."  Reminded me of that line in an old Keith Green song, "Jesus rose from the grave. And you, you can't even get out of bed."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Today would have been William F. Buckley, Jr.'s 85th birthday

His work had a big impact on my life. Here is an excerpt from my book, Return to Rome, in which I discuss Bill Buckley's influence:
Probably my most memorable encounter at UNLV occurred in 1996 and involved another Roman Catholic intellectual. The conservative writer and thinker, William F. Buckley Jr., was at UNLV for a debate with John Kenneth Galbraith, the economist with whom he debated numerous times. Mr. Buckley was the founder of the magazine National Review, to which I had subscribed during my years at Fordham. Three of my books have received positive reviews in National Review, and I have contributed articles to National Review Online over the years.

[caption id="attachment_387" align="aligncenter" width="361" caption=""a rose between two thorns""][/caption]

Frankie and I snuck into the room where Mr. Buckley was resting before the UNLV debate. We were amazed to find him alone. We introduced ourselves to him. He immediately began asking me questions about my academic work. I told him that I had published a book.. that had been one of the two featured volumes by the Conservative Book Club during a month in 1994. I proudly told him that the other selected book for that month was one of his. He then said, in his distinct style, “That’s similar to when my son Chris and I both had books on the New York Times bestsellers list at the same time.” I thought to myself, “No, it isn’t.” He, of course, was just trying to be kind. And I very much appreciated that. He then turned his attention to my wife and asked her a variety of questions about living in Las Vegas with a philosopher.

Frankie then asked Mr. Buckley if he would allow one of my students to take a picture of the three of us. He agreed. Right before the photo was taken, I was standing next to Mr. Buckley and my wife was to his left. He then gently grasped her shoulders from behind, escorted her between us, turned to me and said, “A rose between two thorns.”

A university official then arrived to take Mr. Buckley to the theater at which the debate was to take place. I didn’t get a chance to tell him that his work—especially the 1959 book Up From Liberalism—strongly influenced my developing political views while I was in college and graduate school. While reading the book as an undergraduate I found myself agreeing with its arguments before I knew that the author was a “conservative.” In fact, when I told one of my professors that I was reading Up From Liberalism and thought it was terrific and compelling, my professor said, “But Buckley is a conservative. You can’t possibly agree with him.” I then said, “I guess I am a conservative.”

Eternal rest grant unto William, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May William rest in peace. May William's soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

The Conversion of Annie Witz

You can listen to her story here at Called to Communion.  She is interviewed by Tom Riello. Annie is a Catholic convert from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Her father is on the board of Westminster Theological Seminary.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Aquinas, Justification, and Evangelicals

I'm writing from the 62nd annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta, Georgia. This morning I presented one of the two papers I am slated to deliver at the meeting. The paper, "Doting Thomists: Evangelicals, Thomas Aquinas, and Justification," was well-received. The room, which fit about 100, was standing room only. I brought 50 copies of the paper, and they were snapped up quickly.

What a delight it is to be here with so many of my Evangelical friends.  Because I have not given a formal paper at ETS since 2006 (In 2007 I participated in a panel discussion on my book, Defending Life), and thus before I had returned to the Catholic Church, I was overwhelmed by the welcoming spirit I encountered this morning as I delivered my paper.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Back at the Evangelical Theological Society: 17-19 November

I'm preparing to fly out to Atlanta, Georgia to participate in the 62nd annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (17-19 November). You can find the program for the meeting  here. I will be delivering two papers at the conference. I will also be participating in a lay conference sponsored by the Evangelical Philosophical Society on November 18-20, 2010 at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. You can find about that here.

Here's a little something about the two papers I will be delivering at ETS:

One of them, which I was invited to deliver by the Bioethics Study Group, is "Recent Challenges to Fetal Personhood: A Critical Analysis." Here is the abstract:
Christians oppose embryonic stem-cell research, abortion, and embryo and fetal experimentation because they believe that the human being is a full-fledged member of thehuman community from the moment of conception. This view has been challenged for several decades, with some of us offering a variety of responses. However, during the past decade three philosophers have offered new and innovative arguments in order to establish the view that the unborn human being, during at least most of its gestation, is not a moral person.  In this paper I will critique the arguments of three of these philosophers: Dean Stretton, Jeff McMahon, and David Boonin.

My other paper will be delivered at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS), a group whose complete docket is part of the ETS meeting.  My paper is entitled: "Doting Thomists: Evangelicals, Thomas Aquinas, and Justification." Here is the abstract:
Over the past several decades a growing number of Evangelical philosophers and theologians have described their views, on a variety of issues and arguments, as Thomistic.  That is, they claim to be, on certain questions, followers of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Although these thinkers often claim to be Thomistic almost exclusively on questions in  philosophical theology, metaphysics, philosophical anthropology,  and apologetics, a few of them have gone so far as to claim that Thomas’  views on justification are either (1) consistent with, or not obviously opposed to, a Reformed perspective,  or (2) inconsistent with the doctrine of justification expounded by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent and the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Among the thinkers who embrace this understanding  of Thomas are Norman L. Geisler, R. C. Sproul, and John Gerstner.  In this paper, I argue that their reading of Thomas is mistaken and that in fact Thomas’ soteriology was integral to the Council of Trent’s expounding of the doctrine of justification and that the Catechism’s presentation of justification is thoroughly Thomistic.  I also argue that because Thomas was not writing in response to, or in the aftermath of, the Protestant Reformation, his work on justification is not driven by the issues over which Protestants and Catholics wrangle today. For this reason, these thinkers’ misreading of Thomas and his subsequent influence on the Catholic Church’s articulation of its soteriology is a hopeful sign that Evangelical Protestant friends of Thomas may also come to see that many who are in communion with Thomas’ Church are friends as well.

The theme of this year's conference is "Justification by Faith," and its plenary speakers are Professor Thomas Schreiner, Bishop N. T. Wright, and Professor Frank Thielman. So, my EPS paper should fit right in.

I had attended, and delivered a paper at, every annual ETS meeting from 1988 until 2007 with the exception of 2000 (when I was in law school). So, I am really looking forward to seeing many of my dear friends.

Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic

St. Joseph's Communications has just released the CD, "Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic." It is an interview of me conducted by Terry Barber and Joshua Betancourt. Joshua is the co-author with Norman L. Geisler of  Is Rome the True Church?, a book in which he and Geisler critique a variety of Catholic beliefs about ecclesiology and papal authority.  Several months after the release of the book, Joshua announced his intention to seek full communion with the Catholic Church.  You can obtain the CD via St. Joseph's Communications here. The following is the description of the CD:

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Future

That is the title of my most recent column at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul….


– Leonard Cohen (“The Future,” 1992)


These amazing lyrics by Leonard Cohen came to mind after my friend, Lydia McGrew, brought to my attention a court case in the United Kingdom. It concerns Eunice and Owen Johns, a Pentecostal Christian couple, who were rejected as foster parents by a panel of the Derby City Council. They were not rejected because they were child abusers, unstable, or lacked the requisite skills or background. In fact, according to one account, the couple has already been foster parents to twenty children.

The Johns were denied foster children because they believe that human sexuality has a certain intrinsic purpose that may only be consummated by one man and one woman within the confines of matrimony, and that it is their responsibility to properly instruct the children in their care of this truth. This, of course, entails that non-marital sex, including homosexual conduct, is immoral. But as we have come to realize in these post-modern times, sex is merely an act between consenting adults while a moral judgment about consensual sex is not an act in which consenting adults may engage, especially if they do so while congregating under a cross on Sunday mornings. Because the Johns could not in good conscience embrace this secular shibboleth, they were denied by their community an opportunity to love and care for vulnerable children who would benefit from their selfless charity.

According to Mrs. Johns’ account, “The council said: ‘Do you know, you would have to tell them that it’s OK to be homosexual?’ But I said I couldn’t do that because my Christian beliefs won’t let me. Morally, I couldn’t do that. Spiritually I couldn’t do that.” And for this reason, the council declared that the Johns were no longer fit to be foster parents. This is why last week they found themselves before the British High Court.

>>>Continue Reading

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Faith, Reason, and the Christian Citizen" lecture at the Cambridge School in Dallas on November 11.

I am honored to be delivering the 2010 annual faith and culture lecture tomorrow night at The Cambridge School in Dallas, Texas. You can read more about it here.



My lecture is entitled "Faith, Reason and the Christian Citizen." If you are in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, please consider attending. There will be Q & A session and reception following the lecture.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Reformation Day 2010: A word from Peter Kreeft

Today, October 31, is Reformation Day, a day on which many Protestants commemorate Martin Luther's nailing of his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral on October 31, 1517. Writes Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft, "The Protestant Reformation began when a Catholic monk rediscovered a Catholic doctrine in a Catholic book. The monk, of course, was Luther; the doctrine was justification by faith; and the book was the Bible."

Continue reading....

Friday, October 29, 2010

Weird: Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) omits "under God" in leading the House in Pledge of Allegiance

This is deeply troubling,  since the purpose of inserting "under God" in the Pledge was to distinguish America's belief that human rights and dignity have their source in God with the Soviet belief in philosophical materialism and that it is the State that exclusively imparts to us our rights.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6evyllqZAw&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reformation Day and Schism

That's the title of my latest column on the Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
Sunday, October 31, is Reformation Day. It marks 493 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to that famous door in Wittenberg, Germany.  The Augustinian monk set in motion a sequence of events that reverberated through Western Christendom and continues to mark and separate us today.

Since returning to the Catholic Church in late April 2007,  Reformation Day has taken on a different meaning than it did when I stood on the other side of the Tiber. Nevertheless, even as a Protestant, my enthusiasm for October 31 never rose higher than modest appreciation for what I thought were Luther’s, and later Calvin’s, significant contributions in helping Western Christians to retrieve what had been lost. I say “modest appreciation,” since it always seemed to me rather unseemly to get too excited about schism and mutual charges of apostasy and heresy.   It would be like celebrating the 10th anniversary of your divorce.  You may think that the divorce was a good idea, but not because you think divorce itself is the proper end of a marriage.

Luther himself, though excommunicated by the Catholic Church, never saw his movement as anything more than a renewal movement within the Church.  We, of course, know now that the movement he started had a life of its own, resulting in scores of different and often conflicting understandings of Scripture, sacrament, and Church, and each finding something of Christianity’s traditions to challenge.

But in order to arrive at this present state of theological diversity and ecclesial fragmentation, you needed more Luthers, of which there has been an endless supply.  His success made Luther a towering example to emulate.  Combine that with an ever diminishing memory of a unified Western Christianity, along with the spirit of the Enlightenment—that detachment from familial, ecclesial, and cultural traditions is the beginning of reason—and schism then becomes a sort of secular sacrament. Although Luther argued that justification is by “faith alone,” it is clear that he did not anticipate or support the modern idea that Church is by “the faithful alone.”

Continue reading here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Louis Bouyer on the Reformation

Three days before Reformation Day (October 31), I bring to your attention one of my favorite essays, penned by the president of Ignatius Press, Mark Brumley. Entitled, "Why Only Catholicism Can Make Protestantism Work: Louis Bouyer on the Reformation," Brumley writes:
Interpreting the Reformation is complicated business. But like many complicated things, it can be simplified sufficiently well that even non-experts can get the gist of it. Here's what seems a fairly accurate but simplified summary of the issue: The break between Catholics and Protestants was either a tragic necessity (to use Jaroslav Pelikan's expression) or it was tragic because unnecessary.

Many Protestants see the Catholic/Protestant split as a tragic necessity, although the staunchly anti-Catholic kind of Protestant often sees nothing tragic about it. Or if he does, the tragedy is that there ever was such a thing as the Roman Catholic Church that the Reformers had to separate from. His motto is "Come out from among them" and five centuries of Christian disunity has done nothing to cool his anti-Roman fervor.

Yet for most Protestants, even for most conservative Protestants, this is not so. They believe God "raised up" Luther and the other Reformers to restore the Gospel in its purity. They regret that this required a break with Roman Catholics (hence the tragedy) but fidelity to Christ, on their view, demanded it (hence the necessity).

Catholics agree with their more agreeable Protestant brethren that the sixteenth century division among Christians was tragic. But most Catholics who think about it also see it as unnecessary. At least unnecessary in the sense that what Catholics might regard as genuine issues raised by the Reformers could, on the Catholic view, have been addressed without the tragedy of dividing Christendom.

Yet we can go further than decrying the Reformation as unnecessary. In his ground-breaking work, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, Louis Bouyer argued that the Catholic Church herself is necessary for the full flowering of the Reformation principles. In other words, you need Catholicism to make Protestantism work — for Protestantism's principles fully to develop. Thus, the Reformation was not only unnecessary; it was impossible. What the Reformers sought, argues Bouyer, could not be achieved without the Catholic Church.

You can read the whole thing here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) says Joe Miller "not fit to lead." What would be your comeback to that accusation if you were Miller?

According to The Weekly Standard:
Senator Lisa Murkowski, the write-in candidate in the Alaska Senate race against Republican Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams, oozed with contempt for Miller during a debate last night, which was televised on Alaska's KTUU:


MURKOWSKI: Scott is not ready to lead. Joe is not fit to lead. I have been leading this state [crowd boos]--I have been leading this state for 8 years. And I will continue to do so, bringing the seniority that I have built, the work ethic that I have built, and the passion for a state that I love.


Senator Murkowski was appointed to the U.S. Senate by her Daddy after he resigned from the U. S. Senate to assume the Alaska governorship. So, here are some possible comebacks that Miller could have employed if he had interrupted her:
MURKOWSKI:  Joe is not fit to lead.
MILLER: Since Frank Murkowski is not my father, I can understand why you don't think I'm fit to lead.

MURKOWSKI: Joe is not fit to lead.
MILLER: If I'm not fit to lead, and I beat you in the Republican primary and you are now running as a write-in candidate, aren't you really saying that the voters are not fit to vote?

What's your comeback? (Make it clean and clever)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My conservative journey on a liberal road; an excerpt from Return to Rome

Jonah Goldberg of the National Review just published an edited volume, Proud to be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation (Harper, 2010). It consists of 22 chapters by young conservatives telling their stories about why they tilt right. I have not read the book, but the names of some of the contributors I know well, including the insightful Matthew Lee Anderson of Mere Orthodoxy.

There was a time when I was a young conservative. (I turn 50 in two weeks). In my book, Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic (Brazos Press, 2009), I briefly recount my political change of mind--when I shifted from liberal to conservative--in my early 20s:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dallas Willard's Knowing Christ Today; an excellent treatise on faith, reason, and the Christian university


Over a year ago Harper Collins sent me a gift copy of Dallas Willard's new book, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge. Soon after I received the book I came across Stan Guthrie's review of it in which Guthrie quotes from a piece I published in First Things' On the Square. It is an essay in which I offer an assessment of Notre Dame's awarding an honorary doctorate to President Barack Obama.

In that piece I make these comments, which Guthrie quotes in his review:
Unless the university does not believe that the Church's understanding of the moral law is true and knowable, it can no more in good conscience award an honorary doctorate of laws to a lawyer who rejects the humanity of the proper subjects of law than it could in good conscience award an honorary doctorate in science to a geocentric astronomer who rejects the deliverances of the discipline he claims to practice.

At some point, a Christian university must recognize that the truth it claims to know matters, even if the truth is unpopular, and even if the propagation and celebration of that truth may put one's community at odds with those persons and centers of influence and power that dispense prestige and authority in our culture.

Willard, a philosophy professor at the University of Southern California, overtly defends what I merely suggest in my piece: the loss of confidence in theological truths in both inside and outside of Christian communities is the result of the academic and popular culture abandoning the idea that theological traditions, and moral notions deeply connected to them, can be real and trustworthy sources of knowledge.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What the Tea Party Movement believes, parts 1 and 2

I found these videos to be clear and compelling.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLD6VChcWCE&feature=related[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0MESB6VZM4&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Neuhaus' Law confirmed again

(HT: Carl Trueman)

The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus proposed what came to be known as Neuhaus' Law: "Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed." Over at Reformation21, Liam Goligher shares this tale from the Church of England. Apparently, in the Anglican communion, opposing the ordination of female bishops has gone from optional to proscribed.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Evangelical Catholicity and "The New Evangelical Scandal"

I published this last year in Houston Baptist University's periodical The City. My essay is one of two responses to Matthew Lee Anderson's insightful piece, "The New Evangelical Scandal." The other response was penned by my friend, John Mark Reynolds, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Torrey Honors Program at Biola University. As you can probably tell, I had a lot of fun writing it. Here it is republished in toto.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chris Castaldo on the Catholic Church and the New Evangelization

My friend, Chris Castaldo, an Evangelical Protestant pastor, has posted an entry on the Gospel Coalition blog ("Pope Unveils Agency for New Evangelization") in which he invites input from his readers. If you want to read the post and the comments, go hear. Although Pastor Castaldo's post is well-written, informed, and thoughtful, as many of us have come to expect from him over the years, I can not say the same for the public witness of some of the post's commentators. Thus, Catholics easily offended by incendiary and uncharitable descriptions of their faith should avoid reading the comments. And if you do the read comments and choose to opine, do so with a spirit of charity.

My sister, Elizabeth, in action

My sister, Elizabeth Beckwith, on the Late, Late Show ten years ago (June 2000):

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZ4gSNJK9A4&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Don't know much about theology

That is the title of my latest essay published on The Catholic Thing. Here is how it begins:
A few weeks ago, my wife and I were watching an episode of “The O’Reilly Factor” in which the host, Bill O’Reilly, was interviewing Bill Maher, a comedian and host of HBO’s “Real Time.” They were discussing religion, with the focus on Christianity. Neither one seemed to know much about the topic, though Mr. O’Reilly seemed slightly better informed. And this on the Fox News channel, which is supposed to be friendly to traditional religious faith.

Mr. Maher, if you did not know already, is particularly hostile to Christianity, saying things about Christians – their intellectual powers and the rationality of their beliefs – that would not be tolerated if it were one religious believer speaking about another. If Maher, for example, were a Fundamentalist Christian and said on national television that Islam is a false religion, he would be excoriated for being “Islamaphobic.” But because Maher maintains that all religions are false, he is hailed as an edgy freethinker and a courageous comic willing to speak truth to power. You are a bigot, apparently, if you think one religion is true and all others false. But if you think no religion true and thus all of them false, you are a paragon of cultural sophistication.

To give you an idea of Mr. Maher’s intellectual acumen, consider this comment, from his 2008 documentary, “Religulous”: “The only attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt.” Yes, arrogance is bad, to be sure. It is a character flaw that each of us should avoid. But if “arrogant certitude” about the big questions is to be shunned, and the nature of man is a big question, then is it not arrogant certitude for Mr. Maher to claim that he offers to his audience the “only attitude for man to have about the big questions?”

>>> continue reading

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October 15 on Catholic Answers Live!

On October 15 3-4 pm PDT I will be the guest on Catholic Answers Live to discuss my recently published article in the September/October 2010 issue of The Rock, "Government Forms (and Deforms) the Soul."

Portions of the article are adapted from my latest book, Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010)

Going to Ole Miss - October 18

On Monday, October 18, I will be in Oxford, Mississippi speaking at the law school at the University of Mississippi on the topic, "Disenfranchising Believers: Why the Religious Motive Test Violates Religious Free Exercise."

Is Catholicism Rational?: Reflections on the Catholic-Protestant Divide

Suppose someone, like me, a life-long Christian, after considering the arguments for and against Catholicism, decides that the case for Catholicism makes more sense to me than does the case for Protestantism, even though I believe that one can become and/or remain a Protestant without being unreasonable in doing so.

I raise this query because there are some--on both sides of the Catholic-Protestant divide--who think that if you don't see the obvious truth of either position (depending on which side is arguing) you either (1) suffer from an epistemic defect in your cognitive equipment, (2) fail to appropriate to your noetic structure, either as a consequence of oversight, ignorance, or stubbornness, that one essential argument, book, or article written by this or that fabulously gifted apologist, or (3) have a sub-rational motive or cause for maintaining, or converting to, your current ecclesial home.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My two appearances on EWTN's "The Journey Home"

New readers to Return to Rome may not know I have appeared twice on the EWTN program, The Journey Home, hosted by Marcus Grodi. On both programs I discuss my return to the Catholic Church after 30 years as an Evangelical Protestant. Just click either one to watch the video:

Sister Mary Ann and the Conversion of Baptists

I posted this at my old Return to Rome blog earlier this year. But it's worth a repost.

Over at Chris-tocentric (clever name), Chris Castaldo shares this humorous story:
Sister Mary Ann, who worked for a home health agency, was out making her rounds visiting homebound patients when she ran out of gas. As luck would have it, a Texaco Gasoline station was just a block away.

She walked to the station to borrow a gas can and buy some gas. The attendant told her that the only gas can he owned had been loaned out, but she could wait until it was returned. Since Sister Mary Ann was on the way to see a patient, she decided not to wait and walked back to her car.

She looked for something in her car that she could fill with gas and spotted the bedpan she was taking to the patient. Always resourceful, Sister Mary Ann carried the bedpan to the station, filled it with gasoline, and carried the full bedpan back to her car.

As she was pouring the gas into her tank, two Baptists watched from across the street. One of them turned to the other and said,

‘If it starts, I’m turning Catholic.’

Monday, October 11, 2010

Not exactly the Arian controversy

Over at several blogs, the "future of Evangelicalism," as they like to think of themselves, is debating who and what counts as a "hipster" and whether it matters or not. See here, here, here, and here. My own sense is that if the past is any guide, today's "hipster" is destined to become retro-humor. This means that Brian McLaren, for example, is just Henry Emerson Fosdick who listens to Steely Dan on his iPod. He's rougly a decade away from becoming the ecclesial equivalent of another victim of a bad 8-track album cover photo-op. Eternal truths don't go well with polyester, Che t-shirts, or even vinyl. Consider these examples:

[caption id="attachment_135" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Evangelical Hipster "band" circa 1962"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_141" align="alignright" width="231" caption="Christian Hipster "mag" circa 1968"][/caption]

Tim McGrew's article on "Miracles" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Timothy McGrew, a philosophy professor at Western Michigan University, has just published a very nice entry on "Miracles" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. You can read it here.

What is his best song?


I'm totally taking this idea from my fellow patheos blogger, Scot McKnight, who on Jesus Creed asked this question about the Beatles, "What is their best song?"

[dailymotion]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xhyfn_neil-youngdylan-my-back-pages_music[/dailymotion] (Bob Dylan with Roger McGuinn, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, George Harrison, and Neil Young singing "My Back Pages"- click for lyrics)

Sacred Texts, Holy Images: Baylor's historic exhibition of religious art

The Baylor press release reads:
From September 25 until November 28, 2010, Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum will have the privilege of housing two of the greatest masterpieces of modern religious art: Georges Rouault’s Miserere and Marc Chagall’s Bible series.  The opportunity to exhibit these two remarkable collections is made possible by the generosity of the Mark Foster Foundation, which has established Fine Arts in the Academy to “advance the serious study of art, history, and Western civilization on America’s college campuses by putting students face-to-face with masterpieces of our own Western tradition.”  Initiated in2009 as a response to the declining role of the fine arts in the liberal education of college students, Fine Arts in the Academy enables students to examine the cultural, moral, and spiritual foundations of Western civilization through direct participation in the art itself.  Bruce Cole, president and CEO of the American Revolution Center at Valley Forge, art historian, and former director of NEH, has outlined the importance of such engagement with the arts: “In this age of uncertainty, we can draw from the humanities’ deep well of wisdom.  For perspective, guidance, and even consolation, we can look to the arts and letters.... We cannot neglect the great democratic imperative: to give each succeeding generation a brighter light, a broader perspective, and an enriched legacy with which to face the future.”

You can read the entire press release here. However, if you want to find out more about visiting Baylor in order to view the exhibition as well as to attend community lectures and a symposium, go here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Greetings from Waco, Texas - Welcome to Return to Rome at Patheos.

This is the first official day of Return to Rome on Patheos.com. For those patheos readers who don't know much about me or this blog, let me encourage you to read my website bio and then my May 5, 2007 Right Reason posting on my return to the Catholic Church.  Other prior postings and published articles of mine that may interest readers are the following:

(Photo: Me in 1968 [in Las Vegas] at my First Holy Communion)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Can We Be Good Without God? Natural Law and the New Atheism

That's the title of the talk I am giving tomorrow, October 9, at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. It's scheduled for 11 am. For more info, go here.

Can We Be Good Without God? Natural Law and the New Atheism

That's the title of the talk I am giving tomorrow, October 9, at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. It's scheduled for 11 am. For more info, go here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Christianity Today's strange story on Al Mohler

This story is the buzz on the Evangelical blogs, the most important of which is Justin Taylor's at the Gospel Coalition. (He has the whole skinny here). As a Catholic, I have no dog in this fight, but it seems to me that the article's author, Molly Worthen, a PhD candidate at Yale, pens a few cheap shots that should cause any well-known religious figure with theologically traditional sensibilities to think twice about agreeing to an interview with her.

There are two passages that stand out as particularly outrageous. Here is the first:
Mohler has gone to great lengths to counteract this assumption, to nurture a polished, well-read breed of fundamentalism that is a far cry from H. L. Mencken's caricature of the literalist bumpkin. "He knows he's carrying the mantle of Southern Seminary, which has been, at its best, patrician in its appreciation of culture and learning," says J. Ligon Duncan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi, and a friend of Mohler. Students at Southern are not sawdust-trail Baptists but the smartly dressed sort who can make small talk about literature and art.

Imagine it was not 2010, but 1910, and it was H. L. Mencken writing about American blacks attending college for the first time: "Students at Howard are not ordinary sharecropper Negroes but the smartly dressed sort who can make small talk about literature and art." The bigotry would be obvious (as, no doubt, Mencken, with no temptation to court subtlety, would have wanted it).

Dr. David Anders on relics and intercession of the saints

(HT: Called to Communion) On Marcus Grodi's radio program, Deep in Scripture, Dr. David Anders offers a biblical and historical account of the theology of relics and the intercession of the saints. Listen here at Called to Communion..

Dr. David Anders on relics and intercession of the saints

(HT: Called to Communion)

On Marcus Grodi's radio program, Deep in Scripture, Dr. David Anders offers a biblical and historical account of the theology of relics and the intercession of the saints. Listen here at Called to Communion.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ralph Wood's Providence convocation address: "From the Bible Belt South to the Deep Catholic North: A Four-Act Drama"

On September 15, 2010, my Baylor colleague, Ralph C. Wood, gave the academic convocation address at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. Ralph is spending the 2010-2011 year on the Providence faculty as the Rev. Robert J. Randall Distinguished Professor of Christian Culture. A couple of nights ago he emailed to me a copy of his September 15 address. While I sat reading Ralph's talk in the Starbucks at the Barnes & Noble in Waco, I found myself emotionally gripped by Ralph's powerful words. Although I am neither a Baptist nor from the South, I seemed to know the roads he traveled and the characters he encountered, though for me they had different faces and names and reside in different places. Here are some excerpts:
The second most crucial religious event beyond my baptism also occurred during my undergraduate years. Prospective Baptist preachers who were serious about their vocation wanted to be educated at Baylor University. I was one of them, and I yearned for "Jerusalem on the Brazos," there in the heart of Texas, at the school that was the veritable buckle on the Bible Belt. Yet in 1959, the total cost for a year's education at Baylor was $2,000. My schoolteacher parents were earning $300 per month. And while this not a negligible income in the late 50s, it was clear that my matriculation at Baylor would work a financial hardship on them. While they didn't forbid me to enroll there, I elected not to do so. Instead, I enrolled at the former East Texas State College in the town of Commerce 60 miles east of Dallas on the blackland prairie. Little did I know the difference this decision would make.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ralph Wood's Providence convocation address: "From the Bible Belt South to the Deep Catholic North: A Four-Act Drama"



On September 15, 2010, my Baylor colleague, Ralph C. Wood, gave the academic convocation address at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. Ralph is spending the 2010-2011 year on the Providence faculty as the Rev. Robert J. Randall Distinguished Professor of Christian Culture. A couple of nights ago he emailed to me a copy of his September 15 address. While I sat reading Ralph's talk in the Starbucks at the Barnes & Noble in Waco, I found myself emotionally gripped by Ralph's powerful words. Although I am neither a Baptist nor from the South, I seemed to know the roads he traveled and the characters he encountered, though for me they had different faces and names and reside in different places. Here are some excerpts:

The second most crucial religious event beyond my baptism also occurred during my undergraduate years. Prospective Baptist preachers who were serious about their vocation wanted to be educated at Baylor University. I was one of them, and I yearned for "Jerusalem on the Brazos," there in the heart of Texas, at the school that was the veritable buckle on the Bible Belt. Yet in 1959, the total cost for a year's education at Baylor was $2,000. My schoolteacher parents were earning $300 per month. And while this not a negligible income in the late 50s, it was clear that my matriculation at Baylor would work a financial hardship on them. While they didn't forbid me to enroll there, I elected not to do so. Instead, I enrolled at the former East Texas State College in the town of Commerce 60 miles east of Dallas on the blackland prairie. Little did I know the difference this decision would make.

Baptist version of via negativa

My Baylor colleague, Roger Olson, writes in a blog entry entitled, "Me and Al Mohler":
Just for the record (in case anyone cares), as an unapologetic, unashamed and determined evangelical I wish to state for the record that Al Mohler (cover story subject, Christianity Today, October, 2010 and picture story at AOL’s Welcome Page, October 4, 2010) does not speak for me.  Thank you very much.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bob Dylan & America - The Augustinian Artist

That is the title of a conversation that appears in the most recent issue of The City, a publication of Houston Baptist University. I am honored to be one of the discussants, along with Paul Cella III, Sean Curnyn, Benjamin Kerstein, and Benjamin Domenech.  However, my contribution is dwarfed by those of my fellow discussants, who offer a lot more insight than I can possibly muster.  Here is an excerpt from Mr. Domenech's opening comments:


Today we’ve gathered a group of five friends and colleagues—includinga Catholic, an Evangelical, an Anglican, an Orthodox Christian and an Atheist Jew—to discuss Bob Dylan, perhaps the most influential musician alive today, and particularly his fascinating approach to the spiritual realm, and how he writes about faith and God.

Forgive me if I start with a memory, which seems less wrong if only because the subject we have in Bob Dylan is the king of reminiscing, mostly about what never was and what never will be again.The first time I heard Dylan—reallyheard him—was a decade ago, my freshman year in college, when the top ten single list included songs from R. Kelly, Celine Dion, Britney Spears, Ricky Martin, Christina Aguilera, and Destiny’s Child. Standing out from a sea of cliche-ridden Pulp Fiction posters and ludicrously over-sexed pinups, there was one guy on the hall, a short guy dressed in black who had put up just one poster: a vast picture of Johnny Cash. He had moved in ahead of us all, and was listening to an album that I would only later come to adore, Dylan’s Time Out of Mind. I, still stuck in the shallow rut of teen angst songs, listening in the pre-iPod age to a mash of eighties guitar rock, hippie reboots, and hip hop, mocked it like the young foolI was. “Hey, it’s The Frosh in Black,”I said to the guy. He did his part to reinforce the image by wearing a lot of black—and eventually the whole hall called him that.

You can read the whole thing here.