Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Reno and Marsden

R.R. Reno
As what I'll call "Sign my Bible" week continues here at millinerd, I should relate that R.R. Reno is also in Princeton working on his upcoming Theological Commentary on Genesis, a fact which led to a last minute chance to hear him speak on the future of Roman Catholic Theology. Philly Emergent gave a helpful profile when he spoke to them (to which I will append one detail).

R.R. Reno, along with theologians Reinhard Huetter and Bruce Marshall (et. al.) are all continuing their academic work from the far side of the Tiber, that is, they are members of a generation of professional theologians who have converted, as adults, from various forms of Protestantims to Catholicism. Reno was trained at Yale under George Lindbeck and teaches theology at Creighton, a Jesuit school. He gave a very interesting account of his transition. Conversion for Reno was not a process of rifling through his Protestant intellectual scruples, but of yielding to the "default option" in Western Christianity. His mind hasn't changed as much as his spiritual life has. Reno expressed the refreshment he has found in not having to re-invent orthodoxy with his own cleverness as is sometimes the Protestant case. He spoke of many in his generation who enjoyed deep engagement with and admiration for Karl Barth, but ultimately with their having to plead guilty to the cult of theological genius, and their frank inability to follow suit. Nevertheless, he heartily recommended Barth to the group, specifically in the form of one of his latest and perhaps most accessible book.
The fact that Reno lacks the questionable zeal one might expect from a typical convert illustrates that just as there are 50 ways to leave your lover and skin a cat, there are at least as many by which to swim the Tiber.
And this is not remarkable, for church history often reveals more variety within Catholic Christianity than outside of it. As commented a somewhat influential Catholic recently, the unity the Church seeks
"does not mean uniformity in all expressions of theology and spirituality, in liturgical forms and in discipline [but] unity in multiplicity, and multiplicity in unity" (from an interview at World Youth Day in Cologne, 2005).
What is remarkable however, at least to my preconceptions, is that Reno seems to be experiencing more intellectual freedom within Catholicism than he did within the supposedly more open-minded Episcopal Church. In short, the impression that converts to Catholicism are all hopeless conservatives would have a difficult time surviving a meeting with Rusty Reno.

Rather than seeing his new faith with rose-colored glasses, Reno had a realist's perspective on the future of Roman Catholic theology. Vatican II was split, he suggests, between the aggiornamento ("updating") camp, whose most articulate representative was Karl Rahner, and the ressourcement ("going back to the sources") camp whose best advocate was probably Henri de Lubac. Reno was apprecitative of both sides, but was most critical of "pop-Rahner" theology that seeks to update Catholicism to contemporary culture while always being a decade behind the times (not unlike what one might call "pop-Bultmannian" or "pop-Tillichian" Protestantism). Unfortunately Reno fears that academic theology in the Catholic Church is still weighted towards just this kind of stale Aggiornamento, putting it at increasing odds with the magisterium. He pointed to the work of Matt Levering as one of several sophisticated alternatives.

George Marsden
No need to go into detail on George Marsden's talk when the details can be found in the new preface to the second edition of his respected historical treatement of Fundamentalism (which by the way is worth it if only for the fundies' polemical cartoon reproductions). My summation:
Fundamentalism is what happens when the immovable object of conservative values meets the unstoppable force of radical social change.
Marsden went through the standard fundie to evangelical 20th century transition, and while presenting the movement warts n' all (surely to the delight of many attendees), also remarked on the failed ability of early 20th century modern scientific liberalism to provide an enduring consensus, thinking as they did that fundamentalism of all forms would vanish in the morning light of higher educational standards. Marsden ended by quoting one journalist's describe of William Jennings Byran, who was
"always right in his political prognosis but always wrong in his prescription."
So Marsden said it is with Fundamentalism - right about a society that has lost its way, wrong about how to fix it.