One thing needful?

The announcement that The King's College, New York, has appointed Dinesh D'Souza as its new President is interesting for a number of reasons.  D'Souza undoubtedly makes a good choice for an institutional president -- articulate, dynamic, and learned, as well as being a public figure of considerable stature.  He has also in recent years earned a reputation as a gracious apologist for Christianity.

What makes the appointment surprising is that he is a Roman Catholic.  Now, I trust that I have written appreciatively enough about Catholicism over the years for no-one to accuse me of being some anti-Catholic bigot; indeed, my friend, Francesca Murphy, former colleague, and ardent No. 1 fan of Benedict XVI, was happy enough recently to treat me to a bowl of her home made ice cream whilst I was in Aberdeen.  I may not believe in purgatory, but, as she once told me, `two out three isn't bad, I suppose.'

What perplexes me about the D'Souza appointment is the fact that The King's College sees itself as rooted in the Protestant, evangelical tradition, and sells itself on training young people in terms of a Christian worldview and then sending them out to be cultural leaders.

Clearly, if the school can now be headed by a Roman Catholic, the Christian worldview of The King's College presumably sees issues of authority, the Bible, the interpretation of the Bible, the sacraments, justification, and the church (among numerous other doctrines) as negotiable, as areas where there can be significant disagreement and which are, by inference, only tangential to a Christian view of the world.   This is not to denigrate either Protestant or Catholic views in these areas, but merely to point out the fact that there are huge differences here which yet are not seen as impinging on the worldview being taught.  One is left to assume that this "Christian" aspect of the worldview consists, theologically, in little more than agreement on the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Filioque, and not much else.  `Generic and minimalist' seem scarcely adequate as a description at this point.

As I have argued before, if these issues really are negotiable, then we should all return to Rome.  Not to do so is an act of schism, as disagreement over them drove the Reformation in the first place and gave Protestantism its reason -- its only reason -- to exist.   Francis Beckwith realised this and, with honesty and grace, returned to the church of his childhood.  And when a college which plays on its Protestant, evangelical identity appoints a Roman Catholic as president, the theologically vague coalition that is evangelicalism is once again exposed in all of its basic theological incoherence and indifference.

OK.  So evangelicalism writ large verges on the theologically incoherent and indifferent.  That's not news.  But why pick D'Souza?   What is it he offers that is so distinctive?   Could it be his commitment to conservative economic and social policies?  Is that the essence of the  really important world view at the King's College, compared to which disagreements over the Pope and justification are mere sideshows?   If so, we can see this appointment as a certain strand of evangelicalism definitively coming clean: it is not  the theological issues listed above that are considered critical; it is rather the conservative political and social vision of thinkers such as Marvin Olasky.  Again, just to clarify -- this is not in itself to criticise such a  position (though my critical views of such are surely no secret); but to point to the skewed priorities of `the Christian worldview.'

In a week abuzz with the hoo-hah over whether Jim Wallis took money from George Soros (and, given Soros' fantastic wealth and interest in currency trading, it's likely we've all been financed by him at some point --- after all, for 24 hours in the early 90s, he functionally controlled the UK as we crashed out of the ERM), there is another interesting story out there in evangelical-public-figures-vying-for-political-influence land: what is the one thing needful in evangelicalism and her future leaders?   Is it for many, perchance, not so much a good understanding of the Reformation but rather a commitment to right wing economic policies?