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Monday, January 11, 2010


David Bentley Hart--a personal favorite of mine--in his essay Notes on John Paul II's Pontificate 2001, recalls the tragic schism between the Western and Eastern branches of the church. Hart, himself a conservative Eastern Orthodox proponent, seems to hint that, not only is a more unified approach necessary, but that an ecumenical effort on behalf of the global church may well be needed.

According to Hart, we are confronted with three major religions: Christianity, Islam and mindless consumerism. Islam, in its most radical presentations, has a dogmatic license for violence at its disposal. Consumerism is nothing more than a sort of "comfortable nihilism," and a belief in nothing. Think of "Family Guy"; nothing is sacred.

The church may well be compelled to mobilize despite its many theological squabbles. There are hints in the essay that we are drawing inexorably close to events of cataclysmic proportions, but Hart is too subtle to be overt here. Hart is not without his own qualms of course; he is a scholar after all. He has some rather unflattering words for John Calvin and his followers (I'm among them, so reading those passages is humbling to say the least). But these are strange times, and Hart's words sound a note that is not so much radical as necessary. We no longer have the luxury of wasting words over the works of dead theological thinkers. In the wake of modernism, the church has often appeared dissolute and defunct, and internal struggles have done nothing to fortify the edifice, well-intentioned as they may seem. Hart seems to be saying that our collaborative efforts at evangelism and the Gospel imperative incumbent on all Christians just may aid us in leaving these shrill battles behind.

May God grant us the strength, maturity and the courage to make it so. We shall need plenty of all of three if we are to meet our most callous of critics.

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