Monday, January 14, 2008


A friend, Daryn, points to Richard Mouw's recent Christianity Today article, "Spiritual Consumerism's Upside," in which Mouw asks,
Why is [a Methodist or Charismatic parish-hop] decision a manifestation of consumerism while, say, the moves of Lutheran theologians - I have in mind Father Richard John Neuhaus and Jaroslav Pelikan - to enter into Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy are not?
Mouw's concern in asking the question is to avoid elitism.
The consumption of sermons and worship styles by an ordinary Christian family looking for an enriching spiritual life may not be all that different from the scholar's consumption of theologies and liturgies.
He appears to playfully connect that ordinary family with those choosing between Quarter Pounders and Whoppers, and scholars who convert to Orthodoxy or Catholicism with those distinguishing between two types of Cabernet Sauvignon. It's all spiritual consumerism, you see, and it's not all bad.

Being a longtime church-hopper, I have sympathy with Mouw's arguments, but not with his equating - however indirectly - Protestant denominational leapfrog to Catholic/Orthodox conversion. That's like suggesting a person who moves from Cuba to Hispaniola is in the same geographical situation as one who forsakes the Carribean entirely to reside in North or South America.

The moves are different, for starters, because - to use Mouw's wine analogy - age matters. The Big Two, Catholicism and Orthodoxy, are simply of older and better vintage. The moves are also different because there has long been more genuine diversity within Catholicism (and, to a lesser extent, within Orthodoxy) than outside of those communions. A Big Two conversion is a choice for more choices. But Mouw, a Seminary President, already knows this. The article concludes,
The Roman church, perhaps more than any other, has encouraged many different spiritual flowers to flourish in its ecclesial garden - indeed, it has even been willing to live with considerable structural (and ecclesiological) messiness...
I suppose that answers his original question as to what sets someone like Neuhaus apart.