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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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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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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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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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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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