+Father Richard John Neuhaus, by Mollie

This morning I asked my daughter to go get a book off of her shelf and bring it to me so we could read together. Usually the request to my 16-month-old leads to such well-known books as “That’s Not My Bunny . . .” “Animal Noises,” or “Mommy and Me.”

This morning, she instead grabbed my latest copy of First Things, a journal about religion and public life. Knowing that editor Richard John Neuhaus was in poor health, my thoughts immediately went to him and how he was faring. Try as I might to get my daughter to read something else, she carefully paged through First Things from front to back. It was charming.

I soon got the word that Father Neuhaus had died and I’ve been mourning the loss all day. Today I think of him as a a great apologist for the sanctity of life, and an expert on religion in the public square. I first knew of him, however, as the very frustrating Lutheran pastor. With all due respect to his pastoral work in Brooklyn, he worked quite hard to liberalize the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He became much more conservative — and eventually converted to Roman Catholicism. You can read his Lutheran-influenced but Catholic understanding of justification here.

He never stopped reading Lutheran journals — you could regulary read in First Things his witty mentions of something Professor Scaer or other great Lutherans had written. And when my daughter was babysat by one of his employees last year — during which they prayed Vespers at the apartment complex shared by many in the First Things family, he assured me that they always did evening prayer out of The Lutheran Hymnal and under the watchful eye of his huge mural of Martin Luther. His office included work by Lutheran artists.

The first time he took up my work in the pages of First Things — a brief mention of a book review I’d written — it was a heady experience and I felt honored. He would drop me notes if I wrote something he felt particularly noteworthy and they were always brief and witty. He was funny and thought-provoking and one of the best writers I’ve ever read.

May he rest in peace. Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”


+Father Richard John Neuhaus, by Mollie — 14 Comments

  1. I always have been curious as to why he left the Lutheran Church to become a Roman Catholic. I did not know his theological positions while in the Lutheran Church and Molly seems to have a lot more insight into that. I know he did a rather extensive interview with Michael Horton in Modern Reformation magazine when the Catholics and Evangelicals came out with that document of areas of agreement which stirred a bit of controversy and caused R.C. Sproul to write the book Getting the Gospel Right.

    In the interview with Horton he did not deny the positions held by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent. It was a very revealing interview which I thought was fascinating.

    I have read a couple of Richard John Neuhaus’s books including The Naked Public Square and gained a lot of insight through them.

    I find it fascinating when well known theologians switch to other theological positions due to their changing theological convictions and wish they would feel more open to write about the reasons why they did. Usually they have to be careful about what they say so they are not real open about it. This seems to be a growing trend among evangelicalism and Richard John Neuhaus was one of the first to do it.

  2. Just thought of something else to say about Neuhaus. I stated that those who change theological positions are not usually open about it. That probably is not true. They are usually open about it but very gaurdedly so. They seem to be careful about trying not to be so controversial.

  3. I just read the links Mollie (sorry about the misspelling in the earlier post)had on the Neuhaus story. I would encourage others to read them. What a humble and gracious man.

  4. I understand his movement into Rome, he’s written about that. I don’t understand the dynamics of his movement from the LC-MS to ELCA. There have been several children of the LC-MS who have become known to the greater public and have left i.e. Martin Marty. Father Neuhaus did not look back in anger; better yet, from his own understanding, he was not leaving at all. He and I will share cigars in Heaven.
    God bless,
    Pastor Spomer
    New Mexico

  5. Mollie,
    I found this quote by Neuhaus on National Review Online:
    “When I come before the judgment throne, I will plead the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I will not plead any work that I have done, although I will thank God that he has enabled me to do some good. I will plead no merits other than the merits of Christ, knowing that the merits of Mary and the saints are all from him; and for their company, their example, and their prayers throughout my earthly life I will give everlasting thanks. I will not plead that I had faith, for sometimes I was unsure of my faith, and in any event that would be to turn faith into a meritorious work of my own. I will not plead that I held the correct understanding of “justification by faith alone,” although I will thank God that he led me to know ever more fully the great truth that much misunderstood formulation was intended to protect. Whatever little growth in holiness I have experienced, whatever strength I have received from the company of the saints, whatever understanding I have attained of God and his ways—these and all other gifts I have received I will bring gratefully to the throne. But in seeking entry to that heavenly kingdom, I will, with Dysmas, look to Christ and Christ alone.

    Then I hope to hear him say, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” as I hope with all my being—because, although looking to him alone, I am not alone—he will say to all.”

    Regarding his move from LCMS to ELCA, you have to remember the history of ALPB which is headquartered in New York. The move at that time would make sense for him and his theology. He quickly saw problems with the liberal Lutherans and their tendencies away from historic Christianity. He then turned to Rome.

  6. After looking over the contents of The Naked Public Square and Father Neuhaus’s propensity to involve himself in liberal political movements I am wondering if someone might do a worthwhile study on his understanding of Two-Kingdom theology. Was there something that caused him to reject that portion of the Lutheran confessions? Or, did he just find some things in the confessions not relevant and up-to-date for the issues he was confronting in the culture and in his life?

    D.G. Hart and John Muether wrote a book on the history of Presbyterianism called Seeking A Better Country which shows with much empirical data that when Ministers in a denomination lose their confessional convictions they quickly replace it with activism in political affairs. It was a fascinating read. I’m wondering if perhaps that is what happened to Father Neuhaus. Just a thought- am not trying to bring to light anything negative about an obviously brilliant man. However, I think it would be a worthwhile study and an interesting debate. Do Christians in politics really accomplish that much when they bring their faith into affairs of the state? This seems to me to be a huge issue these days.

    For example, with the upcoming economic debates on the horizon will Christians claim that one economic theory is more compatible to the Christian faith? This was an issue in the 80’s and 90’s which was brought to the forefront by the Reconstructionists who claimed that Austrian economics was more of a biblical theory of economics then the other theories. They rejected Keynesianism and one of the arguments they used was that his homosexuality perverted his views of economic policy. Well, Obama’s new economic policies are strict Keynesian economic theory. Some of the other major theories are Moneterism advocated and the brain child of Milton Friedman and the University of Chicago economics department and John Kenneth Galbraith’s theories. If you watch the debates which will take place in Congress in the upcoming months you will see each of these positions argued and upheld by certain individuals.

    My question is should we really bring our faith to bear on policy issues? From a standpoint of reason Keynesian economics makes sense for the dire state the economy is in right now. It holds out the best hope for getting the economy out of recession. If they do not implement the policies properly and political agenda’s become more important than dealing with economic issues squarely then the possibility of huge national debt with big increases in taxes later on are a realistic concern. Also, with all the lending the Fed is doing and the extra money being printed can easily escalate inflation if the they are not careful about interest rate changes.

    So, what I am trying to say here is that I hope Christians do not look at this economic issue squarely from a theological standpoint. The solutions will come more from sound reasoning and a vigourous debate between the competing economic theories. How much one’s theology can be brought to bear on this issue gets very confusing. Some more food for thought I guess.

  7. John,

    I once heard a theologian smarter than me assert that capitalism squares with the doctrine of original sin. Any sort of socialism does not make sense since man is competitive by nature, that is by his fallen nature.

    Pastor Rossow

  8. Pastor Rossow,

    I would tend to agree with that but the issue begins to get complicated when man’s falleness causes markets to be inefficient-especially when very wealthy CEO’s begin to collude with other wealthy CEO’s and empirical evidence has shown that they can even manipulate markets to their advantage to the detriment of everyone else in society. Of course, there have been arguments raised by others about the creative destruction of capitalism (I forget now the guy who proposed this theory) which claims that CEO’s are unable to do this. Markets will eventually thwart their conniving desires. However, they can still do damage which can really only be regulated by the state. But this is still open to debate. At least that is what I learned from my economic professors at Calvin when I went their from 1989 to 1994.

    For the most part markets tend to level the playing field and lots of government intervening (which is what many people call socialism which I would tend to disagree with)into the economy can cause others sets of problems if not done wisely and effectively. So, the issue gets more complicated then many would make you believe. A short answer to a rather complex problem which has thwarted greater minds than my own.

  9. I went back and looked at some of my old notes from Calvin and found the guy who coined the phrase capitalism’s creative destruction. His name was Joseph Schumpeter and he is required reading at the University of Chicago’s economics department. Naomi Kline just wrote a book called the Shock Doctrine which questions some of the ideas of the University of Chicago clan and how they use disasters as a backdrop to push their economic ideas into a country.

  10. I agree John that it is a very complex matter. I am a big capitalism guy but realize that there needs to be some intervention. Like you, I am not able to state exactly where the line should be drawn. I guess you almost just have to say “I’ll know socialism when I see it.”

    Pastor Rossow

  11. from his own understanding, he was not leaving at all

    There are those who do believe that Rome has reformed and so they can go home to Rome.

    You can follow this logic however, if Rome has become Lutheran, well, what is the point of leaving and going there?
    He quickly saw problems with the liberal Lutherans and their tendencies away from historic Christianity. He then turned to Rome.

    I think this is correct. I think he saw the fluidity of structure in Lutheranism only that he ignored that there are liberal sections of Rome as well.

    Rome is very big, and very massive, she can allow you to be a crypto-whatever and be counted in her ranch.


  12. Oh btw, Fr. Neuhaus compared LCMS’ Concordia Seminary to a type of Vatican, where doctrines are sourced. Of course, if that is the paradigm one uses, the Vatican wins, all the time.


  13. L P Cruz,

    Interesting web site you have- love the Dawkins and that other mathematicians videos. Will be checking out your site on occasion to get another point of view on certain issues. There are some very thoughtful blogs on your site.

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