Tuesday, 17 November 2009

First Things and its strange Calvinist bedfellows

I'm not sure what First Things thought it was getting when it signed up a couple dozen mostly Reformed conservative evangelicals to blog on its pages.

First Things is an American journal of religion and public life with a reputation for being Roman Catholic - although I was informed by one of its own editors that it is actually ecumenical. The Catholic association probably owes a lot to its former editor, the late Richard John Neuhaus, who famously converted to Catholicism from Lutheranism. I've never been a regular reader, but on the few occasions I've read it in recent years, it has had a decidedly neoconservative, "culture wars" bent.

Evangel is one of a few new blogs to be hosted on the site. Its authors include Frank Turk, Jeremy Pierce and David Wayne, all well-known voices in the Reformed blogosphere. We're talking hardline Calvinists, what the folks at the vaguely evangelical Boar's Head Tavern call the Truly Reformed - the TRs - on account of their unswerving dedication to smoking out anything that doesn't conform to Calvin's Five Points. (I'm caricaturing here, but there's more than a kernel of truth to it.)

When Evangel opened for business a few weeks ago, it puzzled me what First Things thought it was going to achieve. Were they going to have an ecumenical dialogue? No chance. It is obvious by now that few of the most prominent Evangel authors even believe in ecumenism, although those familiar with the Reformed blogosphere knew that already. Most don't believe the Roman Catholic Church can even be called Christian.

It wasn't long before Frank Turk revealed his discomfort, asking whether it bothered anyone else that the site had banner ads for a movie about the visions at Fatima and (steel yourselves) books by the current pope. The guy accepts an invitation to blog at a place well known - perhaps chiefly known - for its Catholic allegiances, and is then surprised that he has to share the site with Catholic content?

So if First Things wasn't looking for ecumenical dialogue, what did it want? Allies in the neoconservative war on liberalism? Perhaps. But I think what it mostly ended up with was just the same Reformed blogs writ large. The same Reformed-centric voices continue to have the same Reformed-centric discussions and reach the same Reformed-centric conclusions. Judging by the comment threads, they appear to be attracting the same Reformed-centric, anti-Catholic audiences they attract on their own blogs.

To be fair, there are a few writers in there that don't fit the mould. There's Jared C Wilson, for example, a BHT fellow who early on conflicted with co-authors and readers alike. But it seems dominated by the same Reformed types preaching to the choir.

Hey, I don't really care that there's another culture-war/Reformed blog out there. I'm just confused what First Things expected to get from it is all.

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