The long-unreported story

wheaton collegeMany of you faithful readers have been notifying us about this Wall Street Journal article published Saturday (for non-WSJ subscribers, this article is thankfully available to all) on the firing of former Wheaton College assistant professor Joshua Hochschild, who was quite popular with students and highly skilled, before and after his conversion to Catholicism.

I apologize for being late on the story, but for me this is old news. The Wheaton College Record, a newspaper operated by students of the college, including my younger sister Sarah Pulliam, wrote about the subject more than a year ago (before I joined GetReligion). No thanks to the Record for not having a website — I’m told that the school’s administration prefers to keep its students’ news and views confined to campus — but the articles I saw were comprehensive and balanced (OK, disclaimer, my sister wrote at least two articles on the subject). This was old news as far as most familiar with the matter were concerned.

Who knows what took the WSJ so long to take up the subject, but when it did, it sure did a heck of a job. Rather than focusing on the individual case of a young college professor fired for converting to Catholicism, reporter Daniel Golden took the subject and used it to explore the world of religious higher education from both the Protestant and Catholic perspectives. Golden even delved into the subject of the “weak scholarly tradition” among evangelical Protestants and the issue of whether Catholics believe the Bible is the supreme authority.

It’d be impossible for me to pick out highlights of this piece, so here’s Golden’s lead:

WHEATON, Ill. — Wheaton College was delighted to have assistant professor Joshua Hochschild teach students about medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas, one of Roman Catholicism’s foremost thinkers.

But when the popular teacher converted to Catholicism, the prestigious evangelical college reacted differently. It fired him.

Wheaton, like many evangelical colleges, requires full-time faculty members to be Protestants and sign a statement of belief in “biblical doctrine that is consonant with evangelical Christianity.” In a letter notifying Mr. Hochschild of the college’s decision, Wheaton’s president said his “personal desire” to retain “a gifted brother in Christ” was outweighed by his duty to employ “faculty who embody the institution’s evangelical Protestant convictions.”

The first half or so of the 2,800-word article is spent discussing current and past trends among Christian/Catholic colleges and the dilemma they face as they grow larger and more diverse. Apparently 400 colleges in the United States cite a religious element in their hiring practices, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act allows religious colleges an exemption for hiring practices that would be illegal at most other universities.

LitfinBut Golden didn’t lead with Hochschild for nothing. He digs into the nitty gritty of Hochschild’s firing and conversion. Here is Wheaton President Duane Litfin’s explanation in the article for why Catholics must be excluded from the college:

Wheaton has a handful of Catholic students, houses papers of Catholic authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and welcomes Catholic visiting professors. But it has never hired a Catholic professor full time and tells Catholic applicants it won’t consider them for such posts.

In 1993, Wheaton’s English department did venture outside Protestant circles, bringing in visiting professor Thomas Howard, whose conversion to Catholicism had cost him a job at an evangelical school in Massachusetts. That same year, Wheaton hired a minister from an evangelical church in Tennessee, Duane Litfin, as its president. One of Mr. Litfin’s early acts was to prevent Mr. Howard from giving a speech in the college chapel. Mr. Litfin says his decision was in line with college rules.

Since then, Mr. Litfin has mostly stuck to tradition. An exception in 2003 was easing Wheaton’s ban on faculty drinking, which was considered a disadvantage in recruiting.

In a 2004 book titled “Conceiving the Christian College,” Mr. Litfin argued that hiring Catholics would start Wheaton down a slippery slope. Wouldn’t having Catholic faculty, he asked rhetorically, “lead to a gradual sacrificing of Wheaton’s distinctives?”

In an interview, Mr. Litfin acknowledges that a ban on Catholic faculty “narrows the pool that you can draw from.” But he says that the school’s niche is also a key to its success. “If you look at the caliber of our faculty, this is an amazing place. It’s thriving. Why do genetic engineering on it? Why muck up its DNA?”

As president, Mr. Litfin was forced to tackle that question, which came unexpectedly from a young professor traveling a roundabout spiritual journey.

I highly recommend you read what follows on that roundabout spiritual journey. It reflects a trend in America of evangelicals being attracted to the Catholic church’s “self-assurance and intellectual history.”

Hochschild2I should say that I was left relatively dumbfounded last year as to why Litfin found it necessary to fire Hochschild and why he even suggested that the rules needed to be updated to reflect that fact. Apparently Hochschild tried to argue that he could subscribe to Wheaton’s faith statement — which is the basis for employment at the college and does not explicitly exclude Catholics. It is Protestant with its emphasis on the Scripture as the “final authority,” but Hochschild disagreed that this was the reason for his firing two years before he could have received tenure:

The Bible, he wrote, is indeed the supreme authority for Catholics, who turn to the Church hierarchy only as Protestants consult their ministers. While acknowledging the college’s right to exclude Catholics — and knowing his position was endangered — he replied that as a matter of principle, “I see no reason why I should be dismissed from the College upon joining the Roman Catholic Church.”

Mr. Hochschild was “quibbling,” the president retorted four days later. “Perhaps Wheaton College has come to a point where, because of challenges such as yours, it must revise its documents to make more explicit its non-Catholic identity.”

Mr. Litfin said the college would terminate Mr. Hochschild’s employment at the end of the 2003-2004 school year. He later agreed to let Mr. Hochschild stay another year to find a job. On the eve of Easter 2004, Mr. Hochschild was received into the Catholic church.

My big question is where was the national press on this issue a year ago when it was first raised in the school newspaper? And why only now is the WSJ following on the story? Most media outlets had no problem publishing stories on the college when it finally allowed the students to have a formal dance.

Reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics has always been a big story. Shouldn’t a clear attack on that reconciliation at the major evangelical university be a bigger story? Perhaps Protestants and Catholics are not as close as some would like and these types of stories have been kept quiet — perhaps a reason Wheaton doesn’t allow its student newspaper to have a website? Or is this type of story too complicated and intricate for most religion reporters to follow?

The Chicago Sun Times followed in the WSJ‘s footsteps a few days later with this piece. Oddly, the Sun Times decided to post a number of comments gathered from the conservative Free Republic blog. I can’t figure out the logic for this, but whatever. In no way does this story compare with the WSJ piece, but it is interesting to see how the local paper tried to follow in the big national paper’s steps after it was scooped in its own backyard.

I should note that a Wheaton source (OK, fine, I have a brother named John Pulliam who also attends the school and majors in economics) tells me that the reporter goofed on the size of its endowment. As of the last quarter, the endowment surpassed $300 million, but the number Golden reported, $294 million, was for the last fiscal year. I guess when you sit on a story for a long time some of your facts will get old.

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  • dk

    Despite the fact that he is a contributing editor at the New Pantagruel, I have no special insight into Mr. Hochschild’s life. That said, it is not clear to me at all that “self-assurance and intellectual history” were “the main attraction” for him re. the Catholic church. This sounds like the thesis presented in a rather reductive article recently published by an evangelical scholar on evangelical-to-rome conversions. Serious conversions usually have something to do with deeper things, like the doctrine of the church, sacramental theology, and the orthopraxic worship of the mass. Additionally, episcopalians who convert to Rome (like Mr. Hochschild) usually have motivators in the perceived (and I think here we can say *very real*) corruption of their church. There are a number of Anglicans/Episcopalians at Wheaton, and the campus is well represented in a popular local Anglican-mission-in-American church. Mr. Hochschild’s conversion is an implicit rejection of all this, which presents intellectual and practical problems for that community, doesn’t it?

    FYI, J. Bottum supports Wheaton’s actions on the FT blog, but Fr. Neuhaus’s writings there and in FT in recent times about Evangelicalism, Ecclesiology, and Noll’s Is the Reformation Over? suggest deeper problems and questions.

    E.g., Litfin’s assumption that Wheaton is nurturing a specific tradition inimical to Catholicism is ludicrous on its face. Evangelicals couldn’t agree on a tradition to save their lives, certainly not in any meaningful sense where exclusions within Protestantism have to be made.

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    As a Catholic deacon I am conflicted by what Wheaton College did to the Catholic convert–as Gordon College did to Tom Howard.
    I firmly believe a religious college must do what is necessary to protect its unique witness and not become a valueless, doctrineless blob -which is the first step to a secular-minded takeover. (This is virtually the case of supposedly “Jesuit” Boston College–which from a traditional Catholic persepective is now a joke and a farce.)
    I also have a problem with the concept of the Bible being the “final authority” on matters religious and Christian. The Bible–just like the U.S. Constiitution–needs to be interpreted. But look at the powerful, vigorous–almost violent–disagreements on the Supreme Court and in the country over what the Constitutional word means.
    The “final authority”, I believe is the Holy Spirit who makes His Presence and Wisdom known in the interplay between the Magisterium (“teaching authority”) of the Church and the Bible (which was written by and within the Church community).

  • shane wilkins

    Here are my two questions:
    1.) Given that ‘evangelical’ does not pick out a specific denominational identity (i.e. there are evangelical lutherans, evangelical baptists, evangelical methodists, etc.) why is it not possible that there be an ‘evangelical’ catholic?

    2.) Suppose wheaton has a ‘protestant’ tradition. isn’t the essence of protestantism that traditions can sometimes be wrong and have to be overturned for the sake of the gospel? And why then should we not seriously consider whether it would help the college fulfill its mission of educating students ‘for christ and his kingdom’ to hire catholic faculty?

    I have asked these questions of president litfin and many, many other people at wheaton have never been answered to my satisfaction.


  • Andy Crouch

    I thought the real service of the piece was to get Litfin on record saying that the school might need to more explicitly enshrine its non-Catholic identity. That is fascinating. It would be remarkable to see what form that took, and how the institution addressed questions like Shane Wilkins’s above, not to mention the claims of the Reformation being (nearly) over coming from the office of the school’s most distinguished scholar.

    The rest is a bit musty, it’s true. But that’s what the WSJ Saturday middle-of-the-front-page well seems to be for!

  • Linda Lindley

    In my Orthodox parish, there was a professor who taught at the Josephenum Pontifical College in Delaware, Ohio. She was asked to leave after a year’s employment, because this Roman Catholic college wanted its faculty to be Roman Catholic only. The Eastern Orthodox perspective was no longer welcome. This wasn’t picked up by the Wall Street Journal, but it was the same story.

  • Kevin Jones

    I’ve been wondering who is stirring this pot. Did somebody seek out this professor, or did he seek out the media? This is an intra-Evangelical issue, too, so perhaps those Evangelicals aiming for academic respectability have adopted the man as a cause celebre to loosen up the old rules.

    Also, I’m one of those Free Republic commentors who was quoted in the Sun Times article sidebar. The comments are from this web page. This is the second time in a month that my words have made it into a mainstream news story. Though it was novel the first time, the practice helps make the papers look like they’re just recycling other people’s hastily-written content found in a lazy googling.

    Terry Mattingly’s successor at the Rocky Mountain News, Jean Torkelson, also lost a bit of my respect when she quoted’s wildly varying estimates of the US muslim population in her article today on Eid celebrations.

    When my own comments get into news stories and when I have the same information sources as journalists, my respect for newspapers dies a little more.

  • John

    As a Catholic loyal to the teaching magisterium of the Church (translation: doctrinally conservative), I salute Wheaton College for doing what it needs to do to preserve its own religious identity. I disagree with their doctrine, but I’m glad they have the gumption to manage their own house as they see fit. I wish Catholic Colleges (most of which ignored recent Vatican directives to at least look to the orthodoxy of their theology departments)had even a tenth of the determination that Wheaton College has shown to fight the good fight on behalf of its students.

    I have every confidence that Prof. Hochschild will be picked up by one of the few thoroughly orthodox Catholic Schools such as Franciscan of Steubenville, Christendom, Aquinas, or Ave Maria.

  • dk

    Readers may be interested in Prof. Hoschschild’s 2004 ruminations on the arch-convert to Rome from the Church of England, John Henry Newman:

  • Will Reaves

    As a former student of Dr. Hochschild who was confirmed in the RCC last Sunday (quite independently of Hochschild’s influence, I should note), I’m actually more in support of his dismissal now than I was when I was an Anglican.

    Despite both Shane and DK’s quite accurate assessment that evangelicals do not have a denominational identity, or even a very clear identity at all, virtually every attempted definition winds up including positions like Sola Scriptura (read: without any dependence on the Magisterium and Holy Tradition), “personal relationship with Jesus” (read: without the mediating influence of sacraments or priests), etc. So I don’t think Litfin’s “anti-Catholic assumption” is ludicrous at all. Regardless of how nebulous the Evangelical movment is, I don’t think (anymore) that it’s so nebulous as to include Catholics, Orthodox, or even high-church Anglicans–and even when I did think it was, I wasn’t surprised that Litfin and others disagreed.

    As to Shane’s second question: Well, I’m certainly not going to claim that Protestant and Evangelical traditions can’t go wrong. But I would not expect Wheaton to go hiring professors who believe that, anymore than I’d expect them to hire atheists or agnostics who dispute the basics of Christianity. Wheaton isn’t a “mere Christian” college, it’s an Evangelical college. However that’s defined, I don’t think it can be made wide enough to extend to non-Protestants. There is a reason that “Evangelicals and Catholics Together”, by its very title, assumes that the two, however reconciled, are distinct entities.

    On that note: I don’t think, contra Pulliam, that this is “a clear attack on that reconciliation” between Catholics and Protestants. Is it so hard to believe that Catholics and Protestants are really and truly different, and that ultimate reconcilation can only happen when one side or the other (or both) finally abandons its distinctives?

    I only think that Wheaton should have kept Hochschild on faculty to the extent that I think that the Evangelical movement and indeed Protestantism as a whole is flawed and in deep need of correction. While I do, in fact, believe this (I’m a new convert; I suspect I’ll be obnoxious about it for at least another few months or so), I can’t say I’m surprised that Wheaton–or at least its administration–doesn’t. Why is anyone else?

  • shane wilkins

    I think that it would behoove wheaton college to hire catholic and orthodox faculty, even if it wants to retain its (protestant) evangelical identity. I suggested creating a special chair of catholic philosophy and theology. wheaton college relies heavily on catholic thinkers and offers courses on catholics and catholicism, so why not have a real, living breathing catholic teaching them?

    Litfin said no, because wheaton wasn’t an ‘umbrella model’ school.

    well, then why don’t we become an ‘umbrella model’ school, if it will help advance the college’s mission?

    i have no idea how this article got to press, though i was part of a group of students who were scheming ways to get it noticed in the MSM. Hochschild himself dissuaded us, saying that he preferred to go quietly, so i don’t imagine that he tipped the WSJ. If anyone finds out, i’d love to know.


  • Harris

    Focussing on Wheaton misses the other part of the article, namely the push by religious schools to better establish their “brand.” As the church- or faith-based schools become viable educational options, they face the paradox of distinguishing themselves from one another, and so of safe-guarding their respective traditions. It is not enough to be “religious” in a secular sea; religion has a particular wineskin.

    The article placed the Wheaton conflict in the context of other changes at Notre Dame and Baylor. I suspect that the occasion for the article is more determined by the recent Vatican push for a more Catholic higher education. The Wheaton story would seem to be a sort of Protestant balance.

  • Ryan Richard Overbey

    I think everyone here agrees that institutions have every right to define and defend their own identity.

    But the most interesting part of this story is the specific statement Wheaton asks its professors to sign, and whether one can be said to violate this contract by joining the Catholic church. Yes, this is “nitpicking”, but don’t contracts exist precisely for the purposes of precision and clarity?

    The dilemma for Liftin is how to define the amorphous blob of “evangelicalism” in a way that consistently excludes Catholics but maintains a large tent for the diversity of non-Catholic evangelicals. One can imagine that a more specific contract, one that goes into deeper theological detail than “the final authority of the Bible,” could end up not only excluding Catholics, but all sorts of evangelicals.

    The easiest way out, one that Liftin hints at, is to keep the theological details of the contract as they are, and simply to add a provision “no Catholics allowed.” And perhaps this actually does preserve Wheaton’s essential identity in a way that no statement of precise theological principles ever could.

  • Mark

    As a former student of Hochschild’s and a Record staffer when the story broke, I’ve been asking many of the same questions as Shane and Ryan Richard Overbey (the Record’s staff editorial next week will cover essentially the same area as Overbey’s post).

    Here’s the pertinent information from the Record’s initial story on Hochschild’s firing in March 2004:

    [In an interview, Litfin] talked about the importance of the Statement of Faith in setting theological boundaries for faculty. Litfin described Wheaton as a “confessional institution” with a Protestant identity that “goes back 144 years.”

    When asked whether Catholics could sign the Statement of Faith in good conscience, Litfin replied, “They wouldn’t be able to affirm it in the way the college intends it.”

    My take: “affirming it in the way the college intends it”? That’s really unfairly and duplicitously vague and subjective. If the college wants to exclude Catholics, then it should change the Statement to do so. If not, it needs to play by its own rules and allow its Statement itself to do what it’s intended to do: act as a litmus test as to who should and shouldn’t be allowed to teach at the school.

  • dk

    “the way the college intends it” suggests a magisterium exists, except–who is “the college?”

    The problem of Evangelicalism is that to the extent it has a tradition, it is one that involves anti-intellectualism and world-withdrawal. To remedy this, appropriations have had to have been made from the oldline, neo/calvinism especially, e. orthodoxy and catholicism. Evangelicalism which does this is arguably no longer evangelical–certainly not by these definitions: “sola scriptura” (no dependence on tradition or ecclesial bodies); a “personal relationship with Jesus” (no mediating influence of sacraments or clergy).

    I doubt there are many faculty at Wheaton who accept this popular solipsist evangelicalism which has the practical manifestation of “moralistic therapeutic deism.” That is a good thing, but on the negative side, what is often the case at the more elite CCCU institutions is that many faculty tend to be Jim Wallis evangelicals who hold the rank and file (i.e., the sources of their students and endowmeents) in considerable contempt as brain-dead, politically right-wing pietists. The upshot is that it’s a safe bet that the future will not see greater unity and coherence in Evangelicaldom. Rather, I expect to see Calvin, Wheaton, and a few others pushing the “orthodoxy” envelope on gay marriage, hiring actively gay faculty, etc. As Mark Noll recently mentioned to a journalist interviewing him, he and many Wheaton faculty would be happy if they had students who became socialists. But if they became supporters of gay marriage, that would be a problem. A problem with the faith statement or a problem with the invisible magisterium of presently dominant administrative prejudices and mores? They’re eventually going to need some kind of political litmus test as well, although I’m sure some informal measures are already in place.

  • Scott Allen

    Gotta agree with most of Will Reeves’ post, particularly when he refutes DK by saying “Regardless of how nebulous the Evangelical movment is, I don’t think (anymore) that it’s so nebulous as to include Catholics, Orthodox, or even high-church Anglicans—and even when I did think it was, I wasn’t surprised that Litfin and others disagreed.” Shane, what’s so hard to understand about Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, and no Magisterium? “Evangelical” is certainly non-descript (and there are definitely denominations that claim the term, like ELCA) but there is an entire universe of belief that is clearly excluded. Wheaton is thriving and Litfin has no reason to reduce its “distinctives” and is correct in trying to make them more…distinct.
    As a positive, I agree with DK when he says “episcopalians who convert to Rome (like Mr. Hochschild) usually have motivators in the perceived (and I think here we can say *very real*) corruption of their church.” My parents recently transferred to a splinter Episcopalian group, if none existed I could see my father at least reverting to RCC. Overall I am puzzled when folks like Deacon Bresnahan (and apparently Prof. Hochschild) maintain that the Magisterium is important but simultaneously contend that Litfin is wrong when he recognizes its function. I recognize that it’s possible to think of yourself as an “evangelical Catholic” but respect the fact that the content of your “evangelizing” matters to the board, alumni, and leadership of a protestant college.

  • Steve Nicoloso

    “Evangelical” is certainly non-descript (and there are definitely denominations that claim the term, like ELCA) but there is an entire universe of belief that is clearly excluded.

    Yes, and that universe of excluded belief would include a conscientious Anglican just as well as Catholic, if in fact the exclusion is based on a tight Evangelical parsing of Wheaton’s statement of faith. What in the statement of faith, as it now stands, will exclude Evangelical Queer Theorists, Evangelical Eco-Terrorists, and (God forbid!) post-modern Evangelical House Church Emergents with a side of Icons, Candles, and Cigars?

    So in order for Wheaton to maintain its “identity”, for which (BTW) they absolutely have every right, they will have to bulk up a bit on their “Statement of Faith”. By my estimation, in order to be effective, clear, and non-arbitrary (as this particular firing appears), the increased bulk will amount to something very much like a Magisterial Statement (a dogmatic constitition on how Sola Scriptura must herein be applied, leaving it no longer alone), which by the very principles of Evangelicalism is excluded. And where will Wheaton be then? They’ll be just fine, I’m sure, but they won’t be Evangelical.

  • Scott Allen

    Steve Nicoloso, you want to “have your cake and eat it too.” You say Wheaton has absolutely every right to maintain its identity, then state that because they (naturally) have a group of leaders define this “identity” that this group is then a Magisterium. By your “logic” any church or parachurch group creates a Magisterium any time it makes a decision about what to leave in, or what to leave out. Do the elders in a congregational church, by your logic, constitute a Magisterium? Is each person his/her own Magisterium? Where does it start and where does it end? Overall, I believe you understate the size and scope of a true Magisterium. Witness the RCCs abolition of Purgatory. “Poof” a historic teaching (major insofar as it is needed to support other doctrine) is gone. ELCA decides Scripture is incorrect about homosexuality. “Poof” we see who is the ultimate authority, the Bible or the Magisterium (hint — Scripture loses). By all appearances, you confuse Evangelicalism with Ecumenism. Evangelicalism is not one-size-fits all. Either you consistently look to Scripture in a prayerful and honest way as the source of your authority, or you make up your own mind as a Magisterium and force others under your authority to get on board or get out. Evangelicals reject the latter. Evangelicalism lives. Your dichotomy of absolute individualism versus total human authority never existed in Evangelicalism, it is false and dead on arrival.

  • dk

    A different take (than Bottum’s) at Touchstone:

  • Steve Nicoloso

    Magisterium is, by definition AFAIK, the authoritative teaching authority of the Church. So by my reading of Scripture, yes, the elders of a congregational church are the magisterium of said church. What does one do, however, when said elders don’t see it this way? Find some elders who do, I think, because the alternative (I’m convinced) is, yes, that each person becomes his own mini-pope. And I’ve actually encountered this view (viz., the right of conscience being absolute) among congregational elders who were otherwise quite godly. (BTW, on what planet has the RCC abolished Purgatory? It is, last I heard, infallible doctrine and quite secure.)

    Now I’ve no wish to have my cake and eat it too, but rather have no objection to Wheaton trying to (and in fact encourage them to) preserve their “distinctives” at any cost. It’s simply that I don’t think they can. Evangelicalism IMO simply isn’t sufficiently distinctive to act in its own self-preservation. To wit, DK’s comments and the aforementioned merecomments (Touchstone) article (by Evangelical Steve Hutchens, btw) that evangelicalism consists two opposite and unstable (or not long stable) impulses, one liberalizing and one re-racinating. The former leads unflinchingly to what is now seen in mainline Protestant Liberalism, the latter towards Fundamentalism. Since it is the latter that is more strongly eschewed (for complex psychological more than historical reasons I think) by mainstream Evangelicalism, liberal Protestantism will win out… and probably in about one generation. One need only compare, now that you’ve mentioned it, what the ELCA is today versus what its constituent parts were 40 years ago. The ELCA has no magisterium. Those who refuse to allow the Church to interpret Scripture authoritatively in a manner binding on the consciences of the faithful are either heretics or soon will be.

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Scott Allen– I think you have Limbo confused with purgatory. I’m 62 years old, always interested in religion, and always have understood Limbo to be merely a theologian’s guess about what happens to unbaptized babies clearly innocent of no sin of their own (and is why modern theologians feel no problem in tossing it aside to emphasize they are probably in heaven with a merciful God.) The teaching of purgatory, however, goes back to trying prayerfully to understand why Christians have always prayed for the dead which makes no sense if there is only heaven and hell. There are also passages in the Bible–that combined with the constant prayer for the dead Tradition–confirm this Catholic teaching (although one of those passages is in a book of the Bible the apostles used but which Protestants have censored out::Maccabees.)

  • Scott Allen

    No, I’m not confused. Just “Google” on the subject of Limbo and Catholic church and you’ll see many recent articles on the subject. Regarding Purgatory, your claim that “Christians have always prayed for the dead” has no substance in Scripture. It is a tautology to cite a “tradition” to support authoritative “Tradition.” Also, it is true that by some of the church fathers quoted Apocypha like I and II Maccabees as canonical, but they were not looked on in this light; nor were their titles included in any list of canonical writings during the first four centuries. It was not until Trent, in 1545, that they were definitely declared to be an integral portion of Holy Scripture by Rome.

  • Scott Allen

    Steve Nicoloso, thank you for your thoughts on the Magisterium, I believe I agree with your definition as applied in the last post. On a different subject, vould you expand on your statement “liberal Protestantism will win out. . . and probably in about one generation.” What will they win? I ask this because I am a bit confused by your conclusion about ELCA. It is part of liberal Protestantism, right? Is ELCA heretical? If they are, and if they are part of liberal Protestantism, pleast let me repeat my earlier question: “what will they win?” They are losing membership…are you saying they will take over evangelicalism in some form/fashion?

    Regarding Limbo and the Vatican, recommend you “Google” a bit on the subject. Here’s one article “Stuck in the Middle No More The Catholic Church ends ‘limbo.’ What now?” BY KENNETH L. WOODWARD
    Friday, January 13, 2006
    The article recognizes that limbo was not itself a major teaching (as Deacon Bresnahan says, it is a “theologian’s guess”). Nonetheless, to repeat my statement from an earlier post, limbo is a historic teaching that is major insofar as it is needed to support other doctrine (for example, RCC’s teachings on the importance of infant baptism).

  • Steve Nicoloso

    Scott, the confusion to which Dcn. John was pointing seems to be between “Purgatory” (which is what you wrote) and “Limbo”, which (apparently) you meant. And you seem to STILL be confused. Limbo has never, NEVER been declared dogma, much less infallible dogma, by any pope or council. It is not particularly relevant to infant baptism, nor does it occur in the (864 page) Catechism of the RCC. So stop telling Catholics what they believe and how important it is to them. And this is no place to argue the Scriptural and rational support (or lack thereof) regarding Purgatory.

    As to the question of what the deracinating elements of evangelicalism “win”, save for lower birthrates and the attendant aging in their pews, I don’t really know. I’ve never claimed that the deracinating movement was rational. It is, however, quite rationalistic.

  • Scott Allen

    Steve and Dcn Bresnahan, you’re right, I used the word “Purgatory” instead of “Limbo” in my original post. I should have said “Limbo.” One minor correction: you say that Limbo “is not particularly relevant to infant baptism.” Try this discussion of Limbo from the Catholic Encyclopedia on CD-ROM and look for “limbus infantium.” You say I am “telling Catholics what they believe and how important it is to them.” Guilty as charged. Limbo may not be dogma, but the debate developed due to logical inconsistencies in church teaching. I find it entertaining when you say “And this is no place to argue the Scriptural and rational support (or lack thereof) regarding Purgatory.” The original discussion was about Wheaton deciding what is/not Evangelical in its decision to exclude a professor who joined the RCC. The beliefs of Catholics are therefore relevant, including where they look for Authority. (FYI, I was baptized Catholic, went to Mass until high school, had 1 priest and 1 nun as “first cousins once removed” and most of my friends were Catholic. This hardly gives me license to tell you or the Pope or anyone in between what you believe, but I do know what many parishioners believe). Overall, I am honestly grateful to you and the Deacon for your patience with me and I sincerely apologize for my sloppy mis-use of the term “Purgatory.”

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  • Steve Nicoloso

    Scott says:

    I find it entertaining when you say “And this is no place to argue the Scriptural and rational support (or lack thereof) regarding Purgatory.” The original discussion was about Wheaton deciding what is/not Evangelical in its decision to exclude a professor who joined the RCC. The beliefs of Catholics are therefore relevant, including where they look for Authority.

    What I find entertaining, and is in fact my main contention, is that there is nothing in Wheaton’s Mission Statement that would fairly and objectively exclude a conscientious Catholic. An argument can be made from “the scriptures (even without the deuterocanon) and plain reason”, Luther’s famous formula employed by Litfin here (scroll 1/3-way down), for Purgatory (e.g., see here for one Wesleyan’s view) and virtually every essential Catholic dogma. It is actually humorous to consider that one can come up with a compelling sola scriptura argument against sola scriptura (see Philip Blosser’s excellent article part of which does precisely this). It is perhaps even more ironic that one can make a very compelling sola scriptura argument for the Catholic view of the apostolic authority of the Church to be in fact the final authority in how scripture must be interpreted.

    So yes, Catholic beliefs are relevant to the discussion, but only in that there is nothing in Wheaton’s “distinctives” to fairly and objectively exclude a certain critical mass of those beliefs, and yet still allow “in” most Protestants of various stripes. Which is to say that those “distinctives” are insufficiently distinctive. In the final analysis (IMO), Wheaton’s attempt to be merely Evangelical is simply self-defeating in that there is no such state.

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  • Scott Allen

    Steve, thank you for taking the time to provide the references. We’ve circled back to Wheaton’s right (and obligation) to define where it “draws the line” between evangelical and non-evangelical (and your comment on January 13th). Please excuse phrases like “I find it entertaining” — obviously they can come off as demeaning, but they were intended to counter your sometimes “on” sometimes “off” contention about Authority. Sure, Wheaton’s mission statement is vague, and yes, they need to clarify it. There are many Catholic students at Wheaton and they are rightly curious about such matters. That said, there’s a difference between being a student and a teacher: students make the decision on which college to attend and the administration makes the decisions on faculty. I know from your previous posts that you recognize Wheaton’s right to make these decisions, but I believe at the heart of your problem with their mission statement is an ecumenical definition of “evangelical” that renders the term meaningless.

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