A Roman Catholic, a federal visionary, and a miserable crank go into a bar

Pressure of time means that I will not be able to respond to Peter Leithart's and Fred Sanders' reflections until next week, when I will offer some general thoughts here and more specific comments on Peter over at First Things.  Here I offer just two reflections from an outsider to Protestantism.

After the debate, I had the pleasure of riding with Peter in Rusty Reno's car on a kind of ecumenical First Things bar outing. And I can report that, whatever theology divides us, we do appear to be united in our selection of good beer.

I was interested to hear Rusty's take, from the perspective of a Roman Catholic, on the whole event.  First, he commented that any panel discussion on 'The Future of Catholicism' would have been very different and focused not on issues with other confessional bodies but on matters internal to Roman Catholicism itself.  If accurate, that observation confirms my scepticism with regard to ecumenism: does Protestantism matter enough to Rome to be of serious, major interest?  I doubt it very much. 

Second, Rusty saw a major underlying difference between Peter and myself in our understanding of the times.  Both of us, in a sense, see an epochal change taking place in American Christianity.  As far as conservative Protestantism is concerned, I connect this to the collapse of traditional Protestantism as a cultural force, and, more specifically, to the judicial and social ways in which gay marriage has come to function in society.  Peter (if I read him correctly) sees the epochal change in terms of the ecumenical opportunities that now exist.  For me, the answer to our problems is to be found in large part by recovering the theology, the categories, and the church practices of the Reformed of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  For Peter, it is by setting those largely aside and working with the ancient creeds as a basis for developing new modes of ecumenical engagement.

I had not thought of the contrast between us in those terms but am grateful to Rusty for raising the issue in this way.  Understanding the times has always been a powerful force in theological formulation.  Certainly his suggestion is worth considering as one grid for reading our differences -- though not, I hasten to add, for relativising them.

In the meantime, it seems appropriate to thank Peter and Fred for being such convivialmolesworth_reasonably_small.jpg dialogue partners.  And Rusty for the ride to the Elephant Club.