Monday, October 11, 2010

Return to Rome has moved to

Beginning today, October 11, 2010, this blog, Return to Rome, has permanently moved to You can find it here. You can also access it directly via one of two urls, or

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.

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).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

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..

Return to Rome is moving to on October 11, 2010

Starting on October 11, 2010, this blog, Return to Rome, will move permanently to You can find it here. You can also access it directly via one of two urls, or For the next couple of days I will be blogging on both platforms. 

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

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, Dyl-an’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.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why Everything Sucks by Craig Ferguson

(HT: Southern Appeal)

The Perils of Intra-Christian Apologetics

That is the title of an essay of mine that was published today on The Catholic Thing, an online periodical for which I am a regular columnist. Here's how the essay begins:
"St. Paul in Athens," a window in Baylor's Robbins Chapel
In March 2006 one of my graduate assistants, a Baylor doctoral student, visited my office to discuss with me his personal journey in the direction of Catholicism. An alumnus of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an ordained Baptist minister, this student,  I’ll call him Joseph, told me that he and his wife were on the brink of choosing to seek full communion with the Catholic Church.  He wanted to know from me, President-Elect of the Evangelical Theological Society, if I could give them any reasons why they should not make the move.  Much to Joseph’s surprise, I said “no.”  
Although I was a year away from my own Catholic moment, I had reached a point in my Christian journey where I began to see more peril than promise in intra-Christian apologetics. This is not to say that I did not believe, or do not continue to believe, that when one is asked about one’s faith that one should not offer reasons for why one is Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox. I do not doubt that one has a responsibility, in the words of St. Peter, “to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15a). Thus, if Joseph had asked me to explain why I was a Protestant, I would have done so. But he did not ask me that. He asked me to give him reasons why he should not become Catholic. 
There is a question here that many Catholics eager to evangelize other Christian brothers and sisters may not appreciate. As someone who now has been on both sides of the Tiber, I need to explain precisely what I mean. I could not in good conscience provide what Joseph requested. For I did not know whether, at that time in his journey, Catholicism was becoming to him the only Christian tradition that he thought plausible to believe. Because he was a follower of Jesus and cared deeply about his walk with Christ, I had to treat Joseph’s inquiry with a certain delicacy, making sure that I did not place in his path a stumbling block.  Months after meeting with me, he and has wife were received into the Catholic Church, and I soon followed.
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