L’affaire Hochschild

Much has been written, indeed perhaps too much, about the dismissal of Prof. Joshua Hochschild from Wheaton College upon his conversion to Roman Catholicism.  However, I ran across a new article in Books and Culture (yes, if you caught yesterday’s post before I retracted it, I am not their biggest fan in general) that offers something new on the issue:

In short, it’s a failure to understand that cultural authority necessitates greater magnanimity toward others, and that Christ’s words about Christian unity remain an imperative, not an option. Evangelicals need not fear the occasional non-evangelical Christian scholar in their midst, treating her like a infection to be excised. Rather, evangelicals should and can develop the institutional self-confidence to play the role of magnanimous host, recognizing in fact that there are certain crucial “other” voices that they should want among them. Indeed, what reflective evangelical parent in America today would not want the future Flannery O’Connor, G. K. Chesterton, or J. R. R. Tolkien to instruct their children?

But at an even deeper level, evangelical institutions should question the wisdom of current arrangements because they work against one of evangelicalism’s strengths: taking seriously the Great Commission. In Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, He prays explicitly for the unity of the church: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” Unity, and the fellowship it presupposes, makes truth attractive to those outside the fold; for, as Christ continues, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, … so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (NRSV).

In the final analysis, the decision to welcome sympathetic Catholic scholars in the house of evangelical education should flow from the heart of the Gospel itself: from the evangelical concern about the Great Commission. Evangelism divorced from ecumenism, rightly understood, vitiates the cause it putatively serves. Evangelical liberal arts colleges are neither missionary agencies nor churches; they are not, in other words, on the front lines in proclaiming the gospel, baptizing and making disciples. But they are seats of intellectual growth, where young people can learn to think seriously and theologically; where ideas can be exchanged and improved upon; and where divisions within the church’s history might be understood and, with grace, worked to be overcome. Without an occasional flesh-and-blood Catholic on the faculty, this task is enormously compromised. And herein lies the cause of a new uneasy conscience.

(italics are Dr. Howard’s; bolding is mine)

In other sections of the article, Howard discusses the “new ecumenism” that is sweeping the more orthodox (but yet not fundamentalist) wings of Evangelicalism and Catholicism.  It’s well worth a read.  I would say, as a slight caveat, that he may be reading too much into Vatican II and post-Vat II statements by Pope John Paul II.  To my knowledge, there has not been an abrogation of the traditional teaching that “outside the Church there is no salvation,” simply a broadening and refining of the notion of “outside the Church.”  Nevertheless, we’re living in exciting times.  I think Mark Noll may be right, more right than he knows, that the Reformation may be over.

(HT: On the Square)


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