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Thread: The End of Protestantism...?

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    tWebber JB DoulosChristou's Avatar
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    The End of Protestantism...?

    Hi, everybody! I recently started reading Peter J. Leithart's new book The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church. In it, he offers reflections on the need for the assorted Protestant confessions to be subsumed in a new "Reformational Catholicity," which is the church's future. I'd like to start a discussion here of the thoughts that Leithart is putting forward. (Naturally, our Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends will look somewhat askance at some of Leithart's proposals vis-a-vis their groups, for fairly traditional reasons. I'd like, if possible, for this discussion not to lapse into a rehash of that.) For those who don't have the book, Leithart has already sketched some of these ideas in some freely available articles:



    Is Leithart thinking rightly about the current state of the church?
    Is his vision for a future Reformational Catholic Church a good and healthy one?
    Is it a feasible hope?
    "The Jesus Christ who saves sinners is the same Christ who beckons his followers to serious use of their minds for serious explorations of the world." - Mark Noll

    "It cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading." - John Wesley

    "Wherever men are still theological, there is still some chance of their being logical." - G. K. Chesterton

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    Must...have...caffeine One Bad Pig's Avatar
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    Thanks Old Man... Bill the Cat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JB DoulosChristou View Post
    Hi, everybody! I recently started reading Peter J. Leithart's new book The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church. In it, he offers reflections on the need for the assorted Protestant confessions to be subsumed in a new "Reformational Catholicity," which is the church's future. I'd like to start a discussion here of the thoughts that Leithart is putting forward. (Naturally, our Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends will look somewhat askance at some of Leithart's proposals vis-a-vis their groups, for fairly traditional reasons. I'd like, if possible, for this discussion not to lapse into a rehash of that.) For those who don't have the book, Leithart has already sketched some of these ideas in some freely available articles:



    Is Leithart thinking rightly about the current state of the church?
    Is his vision for a future Reformational Catholic Church a good and healthy one?
    Is it a feasible hope?
    My cynical 2 cents...

    Many of the Protestant churches in America are rotting from the inside out. From ordaining open and active homosexuals to treating the Lord as an ATM card to blatant power-hungry independent leaders of blind cult-of-personality congregations, sin is the order of the day, not any desire to unify under Christ and the Word.


    Without a clear-cut definition of sin, morality becomes a mere argument over the best way to train animals --- Manya the Holy Szin --- The Quintara Marathon ---

    I may not be as old as dirt, but me and dirt are starting to have an awful lot in common --- Stephen R. Donaldson ---

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    tWebber JB DoulosChristou's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill the Cat View Post
    My cynical 2 cents...

    Many of the Protestant churches in America are rotting from the inside out. From ordaining open and active homosexuals to treating the Lord as an ATM card to blatant power-hungry independent leaders of blind cult-of-personality congregations, sin is the order of the day, not any desire to unify under Christ and the Word.
    Sadly, there's all too much truth to that. In particular, I think the distancing of many mainline churches from the historic faith and its summons to holy living - that's perhaps one of the biggest two obstacles on the road toward a Reformational Catholicism. I know Leithart addresses it briefly toward the close of Chapter 11, so once I get there, I'll sum up what he has to say. I wish he'd discuss it in greater depth. In the meantime, we can focus on moving faithful fellowships toward Reformational Catholicity, perhaps. And I appreciate that Leithart isn't shy about saying that the path there will involve plenty of repentance.
    Last edited by JB DoulosChristou; 10-28-2016 at 01:47 PM.
    "The Jesus Christ who saves sinners is the same Christ who beckons his followers to serious use of their minds for serious explorations of the world." - Mark Noll

    "It cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading." - John Wesley

    "Wherever men are still theological, there is still some chance of their being logical." - G. K. Chesterton

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    tWebber Meh Gerbil's Avatar
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    What is a Catholic who doesn't submit to the authority of the pope?
    What is a Catholic who doesn't hold to the sacraments?
    What is a Catholic who doesn't believe that confession to a priest is necessary for forgiveness?

    It seems to me that the author is willing to throw essential/defining elements of Catholicism under the bus to extend an invitation to Protestants to be a part of what they already are, which is Protestants.
    Actually YOU put Trump in the White House. He wouldn't have gotten 1% of the vote if it wasn't for the widespread spiritual and cultural devastation caused by progressive policies. There's no "this country" left with your immigration policies, your "allies" are worthless and even more suicidal than you are and democracy is a sick joke that I hope nobody ever thinks about repeating when the current order collapses. - Darth_Executor striking a conciliatory note in Civics 101

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    tWebber Meh Gerbil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JB DoulosChristou View Post
    Sadly, there's all too much truth to that. In particular, I think the distancing of many mainline churches from the historic faith and its summons to holy living - that's perhaps one of the biggest two obstacles on the road toward a Reformational Catholicism.
    You mean that Catholics have a great deal to confess in order to make the trek to Reformational Catholicism?
    Actually YOU put Trump in the White House. He wouldn't have gotten 1% of the vote if it wasn't for the widespread spiritual and cultural devastation caused by progressive policies. There's no "this country" left with your immigration policies, your "allies" are worthless and even more suicidal than you are and democracy is a sick joke that I hope nobody ever thinks about repeating when the current order collapses. - Darth_Executor striking a conciliatory note in Civics 101

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    tWebber JB DoulosChristou's Avatar
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    Some of my own thoughts:

    I think Leithart gets it exactly, uncontrovertibly right on one major score: The present contours of Christian division are not what God wants to see. Leithart is right, I think, to call the church not to be satisfied with a denominationalism that "allows us to be friendly to one another while refusing to join one another," that "allows us to be cordial while refusing to commune together at the Lord's table." (Leithart may overstate the impediments to intercommunion within at least the Protestant world.) What we need is a visibly united church.

    On the other hand, Leithart (in the book) may be a bit incautious when he speaks of the church as not being one - because we do confess that in the creed, in the present tense. In one of the two articles, he says it better by calling us to act as if we're one. In fairness, even in the book, he goes on to say that the church is "one now" in important ways - but Leithart also criticizes Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox attempts to minimize the seriousness of the current state of affairs; he calls this "cheap solace, which only makes us complacent in the face of disunity."

    Leithart is at his best when hammering home the importance of Christian unity, reviewing the legacy of unity and division in both Old and New Testaments. "God made humanity to be one," but a united humanity in faithfulness - hence his judgment against false union at Babel, for "Babel was a perversion of God's own intention for humanity." The true project is Abrahamic unity, which is glimpsed from afar in the prophetic books: "The nations will stream to Zion and worship the God of Israel, beating their swords to plowshares and their spears to pruning hooks. It will be impossible to distinguish the homeborn children from the adopted. Egypt and Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia will be registered as if they were Zion's own children." And Jesus came to establish that promise: "Jesus died and rose to repair the breach in the human race, to gather the scattered, to form one new man. ... The reunion of humanity in Christ is the gospel, the revelation of the one God against his many rivals."

    Another bright point: Leithart's vision of what a Reformational Catholic Church would look like is, with maybe a few quibbles here and there, absolutely beautiful. This is the centerpiece of the third chapter. This "reformed, united church of the future" will draw on the full riches of Christian history as a united treasure, even the now-divergent confessions which will "cease to serve as wedges to pry one set of Christians from another." This Reformational Catholic Church will "subject all teaching and preaching, every theological formulation, to the judgment of the Bible, the whole Bible," and "Leviticus, Proverbs, and the Epistle of James will loom as large as the Epistles of Paul." He describes the worship of the Reformational Catholic Church as beginning with sin and absolution; saturated with scripture all the way through; consistently eucharistic every week; involving all the people; physical, spiritual, passionate, colorful, beautiful. And Leithart makes an excellent case that this was what the Reformers actually wanted - that they would be happy with an "end of Protestantism" where Protestantism achieves its original chief end.

    And, to Leithart's credit, he does not pretend that this vision is a utopian one. He acknowledges theological diversity and indeed says that "there will be more theological battles in the reunited church than there are today, because in a reunited church believers will be reluctant to relieve pressure by breaking from the church and because Christians of different views will have to learn to live together, dwelling in each other as the Son dwells in the Father. ... Some opinions and teachers will be judged a threat to the gospel itself, and impenitent teachers will be expelled from the church. It will get ugly."

    That said, when Leithart speaks of removing liturgical 'division,' and when he gets fairly specific on the polity under which any given congregation in a future Reformational Catholic Church is governed, or the way it practices the sacraments, I get a bit uneasy. Perhaps he'll clarify this later, but I'm concerned that his project would involve a reduction of healthy diversity, God-glorifying diversity, in the direction of undue homogeneity.

    One example: in his original article, he writes, "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." That gives me pause: do we really need to say that a cassock and stole are the universal uniform of the clergy? Is uniformity on that point really essential to the worship of the Reformational Catholic Church?

    There are other examples, too. Granted, he does rightly talk about the Reformational Catholic Church drawing on "the whole tradition of church music - medieval chant, sung with energetic rhythm, as it was composed; Reformation hymns and metrical psalms; Wesleyan communion hymns; and contemporary hymns from the global South. The church's musical culture will draw its inspiration more from the tradition of church music than from the sounds of commercialized pop music." (There's some good and bad in that sentence already: on the one hand, yes to the musical contributions of multiple current traditions and ethnic backgrounds; but even some of what sounds similar to 'commercialized pop music' is part of that heritage and should be retained.) On the other hand, it's hard to see how all of this can be done in equal measure by every congregation on a consistent basis, without some naturally gravitating one way and others another way, more or less. And in one of his articles, he suggests that "non- or anti-liturgical Protestant churches should adopt liturgies that more closely resemble the Roman Mass or Lutheran and Anglican liturgies." Why must a journey toward a Reformational Catholic Church involve those particular templates, to the limiting of further exercises of liturgical creativity within the flow of the Christian tradition?

    So I do have some very minor misgivings about some elements so far of how Leithart discusses church, and somewhat larger misgivings about the potential for effectively reducing the celebratory creativity of the church (which is also one of the more serious objections I actually have toward Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy in their present state). That said, I don't think these need to be insuperable. I think there's plenty of promise here, and Leithart is certainly right that Jesus wants us to pursue something in this general direction.
    "The Jesus Christ who saves sinners is the same Christ who beckons his followers to serious use of their minds for serious explorations of the world." - Mark Noll

    "It cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading." - John Wesley

    "Wherever men are still theological, there is still some chance of their being logical." - G. K. Chesterton

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    tWebber JB DoulosChristou's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Meh Gerbil View Post
    What is a Catholic who doesn't submit to the authority of the pope?
    What is a Catholic who doesn't hold to the sacraments?
    What is a Catholic who doesn't believe that confession to a priest is necessary for forgiveness?

    It seems to me that the author is willing to throw essential/defining elements of Catholicism under the bus to extend an invitation to Protestants to be a part of what they already are, which is Protestants.
    Leithart's work is explicitly addressed to "theologically conservative evangelical Protestant churches"; he suspects that Roman Catholics may be less ready to really receive what he has to say. (And "Reformational Catholicism" and "Roman Catholicism" are different things.) But he isn't shy about saying that both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism must, in a measure, die to self, "because death in union with Jesus is the only path toward resurrection." Leithart does note in one of the articles that a Reformational Catholicism pursued from the Protestant end has a good chance of shaking hands with an Evangelical Catholicism (a la Weigel) pursued from the Roman Catholic end.
    "The Jesus Christ who saves sinners is the same Christ who beckons his followers to serious use of their minds for serious explorations of the world." - Mark Noll

    "It cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading." - John Wesley

    "Wherever men are still theological, there is still some chance of their being logical." - G. K. Chesterton

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    tWebber Meh Gerbil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JB DoulosChristou View Post
    Leithart's work is explicitly addressed to "theologically conservative evangelical Protestant churches"; he suspects that Roman Catholics may be less ready to really receive what he has to say. (And "Reformational Catholicism" and "Roman Catholicism" are different things.) But he isn't shy about saying that both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism must, in a measure, die to self, "because death in union with Jesus is the only path toward resurrection." Leithart does note in one of the articles that a Reformational Catholicism pursued from the Protestant end has a good chance of shaking hands with an Evangelical Catholicism (a la Weigel) pursued from the Roman Catholic end.
    That is agreeable to me and something I've seen in out in the wild - rare, but it does exist.
    That said, I have to wonder what distinguishes a 'Reformational Catholic' from a 'Protestant'.
    They sound like the same animal who has thrown off different sorts of evil to arrive at the same spot.
    Actually YOU put Trump in the White House. He wouldn't have gotten 1% of the vote if it wasn't for the widespread spiritual and cultural devastation caused by progressive policies. There's no "this country" left with your immigration policies, your "allies" are worthless and even more suicidal than you are and democracy is a sick joke that I hope nobody ever thinks about repeating when the current order collapses. - Darth_Executor striking a conciliatory note in Civics 101

  13. Amen Rushing Jaws amen'd this post.
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    tWebber JB DoulosChristou's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Meh Gerbil View Post
    That is agreeable to me and something I've seen in out in the wild - rare, but it does exist.
    That said, I have to wonder what distinguishes a 'Reformational Catholic' from a 'Protestant'.
    They sound like the same animal who has thrown off different sorts of evil to arrive at the same spot.
    Leithart spends most of his original "The End of Protestantism" article explaining where he sees the distinctions between Protestantism and Reformational Catholicism. In brief, Protestantism is defined over-and-against Roman Catholicism, whereas Reformational Catholicism isn't, and retains healthy aspects of Roman Catholicism that Protestantism has at times jettisoned or forgotten.
    "The Jesus Christ who saves sinners is the same Christ who beckons his followers to serious use of their minds for serious explorations of the world." - Mark Noll

    "It cannot be that the people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading." - John Wesley

    "Wherever men are still theological, there is still some chance of their being logical." - G. K. Chesterton

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