MacCulloch on the Reformation and Homosexuality

At the very end of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s magisterial (what other word is there for such a book?) The Reformation: A History, he offers some brief assessments of where the various Christian churches are today. This is one comment he makes about the movement that arose out of the subject of his book:

Protestantism is faced with [a] momentous challenge to its assumptions of authority: the increasing acceptance in western societies of homosexual practice and identity as one valid and unremarkable choice among the many open to human beings. This is an issue of biblical authority. Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity, let alone having any conception of a homosexual identity. The only alternatives are either to try to cleave to patterns of life and assumptions set out in the Bible, or to say that in this, as in much else, the Bible is simply wrong. (681)

MacCulloch is himself homosexual and has lived out his convictions. Born to an Anglican priest and a long-time active participant in the Church of England, this is what he wrote:

I was ordained Deacon. But, being a gay man, it was just impossible to proceed further, within the conditions of the Anglican set-up, because I was determined that I would make no bones about who I was; I was brought up to be truthful, and truth has always mattered to me. The Church couldn’t cope and so we parted company. It was a miserable experience.

MacCulloch is—and clearly writes as—a “candid friend” of Christianity:

I have a strong appreciation of the importance of it all…. [But] I’ve struggled with statements of belief. I think it’s hugely important. It’s still very important to me. I play the organ and sing in a church choir and I can’t imagine life without Christianity. But I cannot sign up to doctrinal statements.

MacCulloch’s history of the Reformation was evenhanded and very knowledgeable. I recommend it.


Review: Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of MarketsWhat Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I find it incredibly refreshing to find any writer who sees through the tempting veneer secularism has laid not just on our politics but on our lives. It’s a tempting veneer, because it is very hard—impossible, intractable—to find agreement with those whose “vision of the good life,” whose ways of valuing things, are different from one’s own. But those differences must be solved: either we’re going to allow surrogate parenting or we’re not, either we’re going to sanction kidney sales or we’re not, either we’re going to see problems with advertisements on report cards/police cars/foreheads or we’re not.

So we outsource our moral disagreements to supposedly neutral concepts such as “equality” or “fairness” or (negatively speaking) “harm”—or, increasingly, we simply outsource them to the market.

Sandel’s book, following his similar but more wide-ranging book *Justice*, is undeniably brilliant. Sandel, a legendary Harvard professor, points out countless ways in which letting market norms into our lives has pushed out other norms, better ways of valuing things. Sandel makes the point (as he did in Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do) that it is impoverishing to our discourse to push metaphysical, yea, religious claims to the margins or further. Without exactly laying out his own vision of a good life, he insists that one’s vision “will out.” And an attentive reader can build up some understanding of Sandel’s vision by noticing what bothers him. He finds it demeaning to have an advertisement tattooed on one’s forehead, destructive of the goods that baseball was designed to foster when market reasoning is applied to the sport (see Moneyball), degrading of education when ads cover lockers in public schools.

I could possibly have wished for Sandel to have said more about his own vision of the good. I was surprised that almost the entire book was filled with analysis rather than evaluation (though the latter was often strongly implied, and sometimes briefly stated). I hoped for a final chapter in which he gave a constructive vision of that good life. But the meta-point of the book is excessively valuable: we will have a vision of the good shaped (I would specify) by our values, and letting the market decide questions of value is a self-harming cheat. I see in Sandel (and in Stanley Fish and in Steven D. Smith) something of a prophet pointing to massive cracks in our society’s foundation.

Two Pieces of Podcast News

  1. I recently talked to Isaac Dagneau of Back to the Bible Canada’s InDoubt podcast about English Bible Translations. Give a listen!
  2. I’d like to ask something I never have: would some of you, blog audience, be willing to pray just once for me as I go on another podcast this week? I’ll be on John McWhorter’s Lexicon Valley Friday morning (release date is later) to talk about my new book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. John is a hero of mine, the best popularizer I know in any field, and a public intellectual in his spare time. He’s also not a believer in Christ, and I am praying for wisdom and discretion, because it is possible/likely that I will have to explain briefly why my book was necessary: namely because of disagreements among Christian brothers. I want to obey 1 Corinthians 6:1–8 and focus on the nerdy linguistics stuff; I don’t want to throw any fellow believers under any buses. I won’t do it.

I’ve Got an Article in a New Book

The new Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia has an article in it from yours truly, namely “Love.”

A few friends have credits, too, including (but not limited to) Joe Tyrpak on David Brainerd (he wrote his DMin dissertation on Brainerd); Ryan Martin; and Nathan Lentfer.

I counted at least six graduates of my alma mater among the contributors. Congratulations to them. Where I’ve dipped in, the articles have been solid, and the editors are Edwards superstars. Neele and Minkema are associated with the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale. Neele teaches at Joel Beeke’s Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.