I am writing this response from the viewpoint of a former insider who is both critical and sympathetic towards contemporary Evangelicalism.
I grant his viewpoint as a former “Evangelical insider.” I firmly deny he has sufficient knowledge of Magisterial Protestantism, as will be evident below.
OB then analyzes Leithart’s own presentation. It’s mostly accurate though I do want to call attention to his use of the Mercersberg school later on.
Many of the original Reformers would question whether present day Evangelicals are Protestants.
I heartily agree. The Reformers will ask where is mention of the covenant or theocracy or Psalm-singing. In fact, even among Reformed circles the latter is an embarrassing point. OB doesn’t bring this up, but an interesting suggestion would be that “convertskii” are seeking to be an army of psalm chanters (of course, I maintain they will get buyer’s remorse).
If one takes a rigorous theological approach one could deny low church Evangelicals and their Pentecostal brethren are Protestant. Charity and intellectual flexibility are needed to classify modern Evangelicals as Protestant.
It’s not a matter of charity at all. By denying them to be Protestant, I make no judgment about their Christian profession. In fact, I heartily rejoice in their claim to rest on Jesus’s Blood and Righteousness. Will the EO make the same claim to resting only on Jesus’s Blood and Righteousness?
If Pastor Leithart is calling for Evangelicals to return to their Reformational roots one has to ask why they do not join up with the church bodies with the most direct ties with the original Reformation, the mainline denominations. The answer is: For the most part mainline Protestant denominations have become apostate. Many mainline liberals deny the divine inspiration of Scripture, the divinity of Christ, and even his bodily resurrection. One has to ask: Why have so many of the mainline Protestant denominations and seminaries succumbed to the anti-supernaturalistic rationalism of the European Enlightenment? In military terms it would be like an embattled battalion retreating to a position that has been taken over by enemy forces.
This is as effective a rebuttal of Leithart’s project as one can imagine. I need not add any more.
I expect that postmodernism will take its toll leaving only a few congregations and seminaries unscathed. I expect the Protestant brand will still be around by the year 2100, but the content of that future Protestant brand will have been redefined to the point that many of us today will not be able to recognize them as Protestants or even Evangelical!
At the risk of the committing the tu quo que fallacy, the changes in Orthodoxy are just as significant. Any Old Ritualists around? How about the Lavender Mafia in the OCA? And these are the conservative failings. We can get much worse.
My pessimism is rooted in what I call Protestantism’s fatal genetic flaw. Lacking a stable binding hermeneutical framework (Holy Tradition) sola scriptura gives rise to multiple readings of Scripture. This gives Protestant theology a fluid quality, one that results in theological incoherence. It also results in numerous church splits as evidenced in Protestantism’s fractured and decentered denominational landscape. Leithart’s failure to address the sociological consequences of sola scriptura constitutes a serious weakness in his presentation.
This would be a cogent critique if he could demonstrate an apostolic connection between traditions today (iconostasis, etc)and what the apostles actually practiced, using only apostolic documents. It can’t be done and they know it!
The implications for the future of Protestantism are troubling. The more conservative, classical Protestantism of Luther and Calvin has no future. It will continue on in declining isolated pockets, while the ahistoric low church Evangelicalism that Leithart deplores will increasingly dominate the Protestant landscape. Evangelicalism will continue to mutate and adapt to post-modern American/Western society while oblivious to its Reformation heritage. Pastor Leithart rightly waxes eloquent about the need for Christians to band together but there is little evidence of this becoming a broad trend among Evangelicals and Pentecostals.
In logic these are what we call “assertions.” Rarely does this website give logical arguments so I won’t belabor the point.
Pastor Leithart’s call for a Reformational Catholicism is fraught with practical difficulties. He failed to inform his audience how to get there from here. One, isn’t it likely that a Baptist pastor who institutes weekly communion services and accepts as valid infant baptism will be fired by the church board? Two, how many independent congregations would be willing to come under a higher church authority with the possibility that they might be forced to embrace foreign or exotic teachings and practices? Three, who will have the authority to determine doctrine and worship where Scripture is silent or ambiguous?
This is correct, though there is a healthy return to the Lord’s Feast in Reformed churches today.
This raises the question: Can Reformational Catholicism have a future if so many of its best and brightest are converting to Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy? The numbers may be small but the caliber of their intellect is impressive. We are talking here of pastors and theologians exiting Protestantism! I wish Peter Leithart had spoken on the irony and significance of Jason Stellman who sought to try Leithart on grounds of heresy only to soon after become Roman Catholic! Then there is Scott Hahn, a Gordon-Conwell Seminary graduate and Presbyterian seminary professor, who converted to Roman Catholicism. Francis Beckwith was president of the Evangelical Theological Society until he stepped down as a result of his conversion to Catholicism.
These exit numbers are wildly inflated. I’ve challenged these guys on Orthodoxy’s Own Revolving Door. People aren’t leaving Protestantism in droves. It only seems like it because Protestants make the best converts because they employ Luther’s dictum of bible and reason. They are very loud on the internet but they are not the norm. Further, I don’t see how anyone can take Hahn seriously (something about Gordon Conwell is floating around in my mind). Are there really the best counter-examples one can bring up?
Then one has to wonder about Jarsolav Pelikan, a Lutheran pastor and eminent professor of church history, who late in life joined the Orthodox Church. The group of former Campus Crusade for Christ staff workers and their followers numbering two thousand joined the Orthodox Church in 1987. Frank Schaeffer, the son of the famous Francis Schaeffer, became disenchanted with Evangelicalism and became Orthodox.
Please continue that thought on Frank Schaeffer. How did Orthodoxy work out for Franky? Is he a fair representative of Orthodoxy? Is there perhaps a connection between Franky and the aforementioned Revolving Door?
Missing from the conversation were representatives from mainline Protestant denominations. I would suggest that Leithart and his fellow panelists ask their mainline Protestant brethren: What accounts for the theological collapse of the church bodies that have the most direct ties to the Reformation? And, what lessons does the mainline debacle have for Pastor Leithart’s vision of a Reformational Catholicism?
Believing in a real Jesus is probably a prerequisite, and since there wasn’t a motion about apologizing to feminists or using tax dollars to silence the middle class, I doubt the mainline are too interested. The writer seems to suggest a connection between Protestantism and mainline Christianity. He needs to logically demonstrate such a connection instead of asserting it.