Monday, February 18, 2008

Elephant? What Elephant?

Now that we're all Tractarians, engaging in practices that would horrify the more principled minds of the Reformed tradition, one can be forgiven for wondering whether Protestant theology can ever catch up with current practice. What would Increase Mather think of Evangelical Lent? I'm a big fan of such developments, but at best, we're playing Catholic better than many Catholics do. At worst, we're just playing Catholic.

The "Ancient/Future" inclination isn't just a mood (those for whom it is simply aren't serious), but it actually leads somewhere. Small wonder that those at the forefront of the Bob Webber-initiated Evangelical incline towards tradition often end up actually Catholic. The anxiety this generates perhaps explains the defensive undertone to Chris Armstrong's helpful cover story, which besides referring to Catholicism and Orthodoxy as "the other two great confessions," contains this astonishing statement: "in short, the search for historic roots can and should lead not to conversion..." (emphasis added).

Such underlying anxiety might also explain why Betty Smartt Carter would review Son of a Preacher Man without even mentioning that in it, Franky becomes Orthodox; or why Alan Jacobs would mention In the Ruins while sidestepping its belated appendix; or why such a careful thinker as Mouw would write as he did.

I'm not blaming these thinkers as much as commiserating with them. It's not easy when the Anglican house where such tensions are normally entertained is on fire. The recent quality and quantity of conversions to Catholicism or Orthodoxy are among the more serious challenges American Protestantism has ever had to face: For rather than threatening the best Protestant principles, this opponent fulfills them.