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Pro Ecclesia Vol 22-N4: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology

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Pro Ecclesia is a quarterly journal of theology published by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. It seeks to give contemporary expression to the one apostolic faith and its classic traditions, working for and manifesting the church's unity by research, theological construction, and free exchange of opinion. Members of its advisory council represent communities committed to the authority of Holy Scripture, ecumenical dogmatic teaching and the structural continuity of the church, and are themselves dedicated to maintaining and invigorating these commitments. The journal publishes biblical, liturgical, historical and doctrinal articles that promote or illumine its purposes.

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Preaching Heaven and Hell

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Preaching Heaven and Hell

Victor Lee Austin

1There are, I suppose, people in every congregation who wish their pastors preached more about hell. Generally speaking, these are not the people we want to encourage, at least in this attitude. God has always had followers who are keen on having the riot act read to other people; it is the role assumed in the Gospels often by the Pharisees. And indeed it may be said that the only people to whom Jesus read the riot act were the people who wanted him to read the riot act to others.2So we who preach naturally feel a reluctance to take up the topic of hell, lest we contribute to that unwarranted sense of self-righteousness. Rather than fall into the trap of T. S. Eliot’s Becket, who sees the greater treason is “to do the right deed for the wrong reason,” we preachers avoid doing the right deed in order to avoid acting from the wrong reason.3

I say that preaching on hell is an instance of “doing the right deed” because I assume that hell is an aspect of revealed truth and that to preach the fullness of revelation is the call of the preacher. Of course, one might decide that hell is in no way part of the Christian revelation—and if one came to that conclusion, one in fact should not preach on hell. For the rest of this essay, however, I assume there is something to be said about hell and that preachers should attempt to say it, despite the difficulty of doing so without encouraging self-righteousness.

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Saved from What? On Preaching Hell in the New Evangelization

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Saved from What? On Preaching Hell in the New Evangelization

Edward T. Oakes, S.J.

A Review of Ralph Martin, Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012)1

In the summer of 1551 St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint (along with St. Thérèse of Lisieux) of missionary endeavors, was spreading the gospel in Japan, where he ran into this well-nigh inevitable objection: “If God was merciful, why had he not revealed himself to the Japanese before the priests came from Tenjiku? And if it was true, as they taught, that those who do not worship God go to hell, God had had no mercy on their ancestors, since he had let them go to hell without granting them a knowledge of himself.”2

The dilemma is obvious: either Xavier could answer that God gives sufficient grace to all human beings to be saved, even before they had ever heard of the gospel, an answer that would seem to render his labors superfluous; or he could answer that he had been sent by the Jesuit order to save at least them from hell, an answer that would make God seem arbitrary—and which would, moreover, cut off these Japanese interlocutors from communion with their ancestors, a key element in their religious culture.

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A World Undone: Brad Gregory’s Critique of the Reformation

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A World Undone: Brad Gregory’s Critique of the Reformation

Kenneth G. Appold

Brad S. Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation1 has received a great deal of attention since its publication, not only in academic venues but even in popular media. That is unusual for any work written by a Reformation historian. But this is an unusual work. Gregory accomplishes something that few in the field have attempted: he makes the Reformation “relevant” to a remarkably wide range of readers by connecting it, “genealogically,” as he says, to a comprehensive critique of modern society. While some books make the past come alive, this one aims to show us where the past has been living all along.

Gregory’s book consists of six chapters, each analyzing a different aspect of the road that leads from the pre-Reformation “world we have lost” to the contemporary crisis the author perceives. It is a road marked by failure: “Judged on their own terms and with respect to the objectives of their own leading protagonists, medieval Christendom failed, the Reformation failed, confessionalized Europe failed, and Western modernity is failing” (365). Chief among these failures, in Gregory’s view, is that of the Reformation, which more than any other era he holds responsible for constructing the contemporary “iron cage of secular discourse” (Max Weber) and launching the marginalization of religion that characterizes modern Western society and accelerates its failings. That outcome, he argues, may not have been the Reformers’ intention, but it is part of their legacy nonetheless.

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Against Nostalgia? Brad Gregory on the Divisive Character of the Reformation

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Against Nostalgia? Brad Gregory on the Divisive Character of the Reformation

Hans Boersma

According to Gregory, modernity’s problems—and in particular its hyperpluralism—should be traced to the Reformation. As he puts it in the introduction to his magisterial book, The Unintended Reformation, his principal argument is “that the Western world today is an extraordinarily complex, tangled product of rejections, retentions, and transformations of medieval Western Christianity, in which the Reformation era constitutes the critical watershed” (2). In Gregory’s genealogical account of modernity, it is the Reformation, and in particular its sola scriptura claim, that made it impossible to secure a unified, institutional life and that ultimately led to the individualism of modernity with its lack of resources to shore up even the most basic common moral, political, and legal claims. No doubt—and not entirely unsurprisingly considering his genealogy of failures—Gregory will be accused of nostalgically looking back to the institutionalized worldview of medieval sacramentalism.

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The Modest Claim of an Immodest Book

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The Modest Claim of an Immodest Book

William T. Cavanaugh

When historians in the twentieth century began writing books titled A History of . . . instead of The History of . . . , it was a challenge to the idea of history as an objective science that simply reports the facts without making value judgments. This implicit questioning of the fact/value distinction could be taken in many different directions. One direction is toward the diminishment of the idea of historical truth: all history can be understood simply as an expression of the interests and preferences of the teller, and there is no true story underneath. Another direction is to claim that some stories are truer than others, but to discern the difference one must appeal not simply to some neutral facts attainable by objective research; one must make philosophical and theological judgments in order to tell history rightly.

Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation falls into the latter camp. When Gregory writes, for example, that Enlightenment figures “could not see clearly that once intentionality and linguistically mediated meanings are extruded from human actions they cease to be intelligible as human actions at all, and thus cannot in principle be understood on the model of the natural sciences” (347), he is making a judgment that is at once historical and philosophical. He appeals to principle, not simply fact, and it is a principle he judges to be true. This principled rejection of the fact/value distinction and rejection of the Enlightened abandonment of teleology follows philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. Gregory clearly does not operate as a historian with no philosophical or theological principles.

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“One World or Two?”

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“One World or Two?”

Ephraim Radner

In what ways did the Reformation give us the world we live in?

We might consider some exegetical questions. When Calvin comments on Eph 6:5ff., he confronts the reality of slavery as something from the ancient past that no longer exists. Paid service, he says, is all we know today and it is a far cry from what Paul was talking about (although what Paul says about slaves nicely fits our wage-earning subordinates). Indeed, for the next century, there is a studied concern, when dealing with this passage, to talk about “servanthood” in its modern European form, and even Calvin’s nod to another world of the past is no longer mentioned. What is important is the order of society and its stability, and Paul’s injunctions make sense just there. Not really until the later eighteenth century does slavery as a contemporary practice even get acknowledged as perhaps being within the scope of the New Testament’s application, although social stability—and the amelioration of “savage” lifestyles—is usually seen as demanding slavery’s maintenance. Only a few voices are openly raised against the practice of slavery, and scriptural exegesis forms little part of their argument. By the mid-1800s, of course, the explicit “slavery” of Ephesians is now in the fore: the brutal realities of its form are acknowledged by many, as is its general incompatibility, especially as practiced in the United States, with Christian values. The issue for exegetes is no longer what the Bible “says,” but what is the best way for slavery to disappear—“gradually” through the dissemination of Christian character or through civil opposition. While the Bible has a role in the debate, it emerges from the argument’s settled dust more as a casualty than as an adjudicator. Other forms of moral discourse have taken the Bible’s place.

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From Tragedy to Apocalypse: Gregory’s Narrative and the Call to Resistance

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From Tragedy to Apocalypse: Gregory’s Narrative and the Call to Resistance

John D. Roth

In November 1520 a young Augustinian monk in the backwaters of northern Germany published the third in a series of pamphlets that roundly criticized the political, economic, and religious foundations of western European society. In the preface to “A Treatise on Christian Liberty”—dedicated to Pope Leo X—the reformer, Martin Luther, repeatedly declared his loyalty to the Catholic Church and his hope that the tensions occasioned by his critique could soon be resolved. But he also made it clear that he was not about to retract his convictions. “Moreover,” he insisted, “I will accept no rules for the interpretation of Scripture, for the Word of God, which teaches liberty in all things, cannot be bound.”

For most modern Christians today, the right of every individual believer to interpret and act upon Scripture according to the dictates of one’s conscience is a self-evident truism—an unassailable beginning point for “authentic” belief. Yet as Brad Gregory argues in his magisterial survey, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, the reforms set in motion by Luther’s simple hermeneutical assertion marked a symbolic turning point in the Western tradition. Indeed, as Luther himself was soon to realize, this new understanding not only challenged the religious authority of the pope and the institutional church, but it also opened the door to a multiplicity of other readings of Scripture, including ones that Luther found abhorrent. Within a few short years after Luther’s break with the Church of Rome, other reformers—including Andreas Karlstadt, Thomas Müntzer, Ulrich Zwingli, and a host of Anabaptists—also claimed the right to interpret Scripture according to the dictates of conscience. What began as a reform movement within the Catholic Church quickly splintered into a host of competing, and even contradictory, understandings of the gospel.

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Responses to the Reviewers

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Responses to the Reviewers

Brad S. Gregory

I am grateful to Pro Ecclesia for devoting space to my book, and to these five colleagues for reading and commenting on it. I am pleased that all regard The Unintended Reformation as an important achievement and view it as a spur to discussions about the Reformation and modernity, secularization, and the character of contemporary Western society—a discussion to which their own reviews contribute. The Unintended Reformation is an ambitious and closely argued book that covers considerable ground in a compressed way. Nearly all the issues it analyzes can and should be discussed in more detail than was possible in an exposition focused on explaining concisely the historical formation of present-day Western ideological and institutional realities. Constraints of space prevent me from replying to all the questions raised and criticisms articulated in these reviews, but I will address those that seem most important.

If Professor Appold’s review had given any examples of “counterarguments” or “alternative readings” about the past that I ostensibly ignore, “weaknesses” in my critique of the present, or ways in which supposedly the book’s “facts and observations align all too neatly,” I could have responded. But he offers none. I had never before heard “tour de force” used as a term of criticism. The book’s very point is to provide insights that permit the incorporation of as much evidence as possible so as to maximize explanatory power. I have no idea what he means by a “golden age of pre-Protestant harmony” given my repeated references to multiple shortcomings of medieval Christendom (on its own terms). Following decades of recent research, the book notes late medieval Christianity’s “combination of unity and heterogeneity” without emphasizing either. Examples of what I mean by “identifiable unity” are not “something of a mystery”: they are drawn from the late medieval church’s liturgy, art, and theology and given on the same page (84) from which Appold quotes. They could have been extended to include locally specific examples of devotional practices such as prayers to saints and processions, institutions such as the sacerdotal priesthood and religious orders, moral norms such as the centrality of particular virtues and sins, and so forth. But doing so would have distended the book’s exposition. That late medieval Latin Christianity exhibited more coherence in practices, institutions, and (often implicit) beliefs than characterizes present-day Protestant churches cannot be denied by anyone even cursorily familiar with both, unless one in advance restricts the range of “Protestantism” (members of the World Council of Churches, Pentecostal churches) and thus avoids the point, as Appold does.

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Church, Cross, and Caritas, Or, Why Congregationalism Is Not Enough: A Reply to Stanley Hauerwas

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Church, Cross, and Caritas , Or, Why Congregationalism Is Not Enough: A Reply to Stanley Hauerwas

Joseph L. Mangina

The essay “Which Church? What Unity? Or, an Attempt to Say What I May Think About the Future of Christian Unity” casts Stanley Hauerwas in the unlikely role of ecumenical ecclesiologist.1 The occasion is provided by George Lindbeck, who, in an essay written in 2003, asked why Hauerwas had had nothing to say explicitly about ecumenism.2 Given his influence across a broad spectrum of Christian theologians and traditions, and given that the ecumenical movement has been an enabling condition of his authorship, it seemed odd to Lindbeck that he had never explicitly addressed the topic. While the response was a decade coming, we may be grateful that Hauerwas in the end could not resist taking up the challenge.

The first part of the essay has a memoir-like character, sounding at times a bit like Hannah’s Child.3 Here Hauerwas rehearses the many reasons he has found little to say about Christian unity. The exercise seems fruitless, he writes, since it is a fantasy to assume that anyone cares what he might think about the ecumenical movement or that he would have anything significant to add to the labors of those who have devoted their lives to the cause. Moreover, there is the problem of his “ambiguous ecclesial status,” what he calls the “promiscuous character of my ecclesial practice and theology.” To be sure, Hauerwas shifts some of the blame for this promiscuity onto Methodism, the church of his youth, which he says never developed a coherent ecclesiology. Although he learned from scholars like Robert Cushman and Albert Outler to see Methodism as a “free church in the Catholic tradition,” the empirical reality of Methodism in America was altogether different—a form of revivalism. While Hauerwas at one point entertained the hope that a Methodism properly reconnected with its Wesleyan roots might serve as an ecumenical model, he eventually came to see this hope as naive.

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Signa Unitatis: Communion and Scriptural Exegesis in the Thought of Geoffrey Wainwright

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Signa Unitatis : Communion and Scriptural Exegesis in the Thought of Geoffrey Wainwright

William Glass

They said, “You have a blue guitar,

You do not play things as they are.”

The man replied, “Things as they are

Are changed upon the blue guitar.”

And they said then, “But play, you must,

A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar

Of things exactly as they are.”

—Wallace Stevens, “The Man with the Blue Guitar”

The long ecumenical twentieth century saw voices both Catholic and Protestant calling for a return to Scripture as the book of the church. “Before greater visible unity can be achieved,” wrote John Paul II in the justly famous encyclical Ut Unum Sint, “fuller study” must be done on “the relationship between Sacred Scripture, as the highest authority in matters of faith, and Sacred Tradition, as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God.”1 These words both expressed the Roman Church’s irrevocable commitment to ecumenism in general and diagnosed quite a large pothole in the road toward it.2 Along similar lines, then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger observed and applauded in Vatican II’s reflection upon the Scriptures a “hermeneutic of unity” (Hermeneutik der Einheit), made possible in our own day by “new understanding” of the Scriptures in the light of biblical criticism, and necessitated by the ecumenical agenda if “apparently irreconcilable elements” are to “be fused together into the wholeness of the one truth.”3 By applauding such a hermeneutical development, Ratzinger implicitly suggests a problem of incompleteness in the absence of it. Interpretation of the Scriptures, however carefully done in the case of a divided church, was discovered to be (at best) the shining up of some element in the whole that remains to be put together. The Catholic Church has come to recognize the need for a fusion of hermeneutical horizons. And from the Protestant side, in answer to that summons, Geoffrey Wainwright has advanced a powerful, as yet largely unnoticed proposal on just how the Scriptures might be read together across traditions. Specifically, he appropriates medieval exegesis (traditionally shunned in many Protestant circles) via a powerful argument about the liturgical origins and nature of scriptural text, allowing exegesis of this kind to sidestep Protestant suspicion while receiving into itself many of the most powerful insights of modern (mostly Protestant) critical methodologies. The multiple senses of Scripture, it will be seen, open hermeneutical space in which disagreeing ecclesial communities can articulate worthwhile differences while remaining connected to one another as worshippers of God and receivers, in their common worship, of His Word.

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