|Peter J. Leithart|
I became aware of Leithart a couple of years ago when Robbie Crouse, my former student and graduate assistant at Samford University's Beeson Divinity School, introduced me to some of Leithart's emphases. I have to confess that I've read very little of Leithart's literary output (he's produced a good number more books than he has children, and he has ten of the latter), but I'm familiar enough with it to know that I'm too Baptist--and too influenced by people like John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, and James Wm. McClendon, Jr.--to join him in Defending Constantine. (Leithart is in fact deeply appreciative of Hauerwas even in disagreeing with his take on Constantinianism.)
I found myself nodding in hearty agreement, however, with much of Leithart's blog post "Too catholic to be Catholic." He begins:
My friends tell me that my name has been invoked in various web skirmishes concerning Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism, sometimes by people, including friends, who claim that I nurtured them along in their departure from the Protestant world. My friends also hinted that it would be good for me to say again why I’m not heading to
The whole post is worth reading, but this paragraph communicates its essence:
Catholicism and Orthodoxy are impressive for their heritage, the seriousness of much of their theology, the seriousness with which they take Christian cultural engagement. Both, especially the Catholic church, are impressive for their sheer size. But when I attend Mass and am denied access to the table of my Lord Jesus together with my Catholic brothers, I can’t help wondering what really is the difference between Catholics and the Wisconsin Synod Lutherans or the Continental Reformed who practice closed communion. My Catholic friends take offense at this, but I can’t escape it: Size and history apart, how is Catholicism different from a gigantic sect? Doesn’t Orthodoxy come under the same Pauline condemnation as the fundamentalist Baptist churches who close their table to everyone outside? To become Catholic I would have to contract my ecclesial world. I would have to become less catholic – less catholic than Jesus is. Which is why I will continue to say: I’m too catholic to become Catholic.
The final paragraph struck a chord with me in connection with my current book project:
One final reason has to do with time. I cut my theological teeth, and still cut them, on James Jordan’s biblical theology. At the end of Through New Eyes,
I'm in the midst of editing the manuscript for a forthcoming book under contract with Baylor University Press, tentatively titled The Baptist Vision and the Ecumenical Future: Radically Biblical, Radically Catholic, Relentlessly Pilgrim. Leithart's concluding paragraph expresses well the eschatological ecclesiology embedded in the "Relentlessly Pilgrim" portion of the book's subtitle. One dimension of the thesis that drives the book is that part of what is essential to the Baptist vision (and thus to the distinctive ecclesial gifts Baptists have to share with the whole church) is an aversion to overly-realized eschatologies of the church: i.e., a refusal to identify any past or present instantiation of the church as the full realization of what it means for the church to be under the rule of Christ. It seeks that sort of church in the future--as Leithart says, "Of that church we know nothing except that it will be like nothing we know."
Two follow-up posts by Leithart are worth reading as well: Israel, Idolatry, and Separated Brothers and We're All Protestants Now.