Letter from the Editor
One surprise for Wendy and me when we moved from Pasadena to Wheaton 20 years ago was the strong Catholic presence here—not surprising, really, despite all we'd heard about this "evangelical hub," given the town's proximity to Chicago and the history of immigration to the Midwest. In downtown Wheaton there's a store serving the Catholic population: "religious supply," books, icons, and so on. Wendy and I often dropped in there for one reason or another, and at some point we encountered a devotional magazine called Magnificat. It was small (like a paperback book) and beautifully produced. (Each issue is devoted to a single month; there are special seasonal issues as well.) I picked up a copy.
Neither Wendy nor I had ever practiced the "liturgy of the hours," though Wendy had used a daily devotional for years. We were attracted to this format, and we began using it every day, praying and reading Scripture (and reading some of the essays and meditations in each issue, including the piece on the cover illustration). Eventually we subscribed to the magazine. We liked it very much—why hadn't we started this much earlier?—but after a couple of years, the emphasis on Marian devotion became too heavy for us. We had routinely skipped certain prayers from the outset, but there was a sense of disjunction, even as we were nourished by truths that all Christians, in all streams of the faith, share in common.
Around this time, Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours was published. The three volumes covered the span of the year, with prayers and readings adapted from the Book of Common Prayer and other sources. We took this up with gratefulness (and we have since given many copies as wedding gifts). We have never done anything like the full course; we do the morning reading and compline, and occasionally one of the others. For some years we kept this up very faithfully; in recent years, our practice has been much more sporadic, and we are currently in a phase of trying to return to consistent daily observance.
I thought about this personal history when Wendy & I were in San Antonio between Christmas Day and New Year's Day and again at the end of January and the beginning of February spending time with our daughter Mary (third of our four children), son-in-law, John, and our five grandchildren: Theresa (nine years old); Gus (Augustine, that is; seven), Clare (five), Johnny (about to turn three), and Edith (named after Edith Stein; one in May).
Of all our kids, Mary was by far the most spiritually inclined, the most devout, as was evident from a very early age. To say that is to risk giving a false impression, of a child who was set apart in some way, or perhaps an awful "goody-goody." Mary wasn't like that at all. But by the time she was starting high school (she was ready to begin 8th grade when we moved to the Midwest), friends at our church—Faith Evangelical Covenant in Wheaton—were asking if Mary might be interested in going into the ministry.
As it happened, she wasn't. At Wheaton College, she majored in philosophy, and in a seminar on Kant's Critique of Pure Judgment, taught by Steve Lake (thank you, Steve!), she met her husband-to-be, John Puryear, a double major in philosophy and math (now working as an engineer), homeschooled in his native Texas as the middle of seven children. A couple of months after Mary's graduation in 2003, they were married, and very soon after that, they told us of their decision to begin rcia classes and enter the Catholic Church, into which they were received on Easter of 2004.
In one respect, this decision came as a surprise to us: we hadn't known they were thinking along those lines. In another respect, it wasn't surprising at all. For instance, I had loaned Mary several books by Cardinal Ratzinger as well as a book of conversations between the future pope and the German journalist Peter Seewald, and she greatly enjoyed them. Also, she was drawn to the devotional life of the Catholic Church. John in particular, but Mary too, had been very critical of a perceived flabbiness in evangelical thinking, prompted by a desire to be seen as "respectable" (the opposite of the complaint so often heard from secular observers, who cast evangelicals as fearsome zealots acting in lockstep—"Christofascists," as Chris Hedges and others put it). Mary and John were both intense, morally serious, in a way that many adult converts are.
For Wendy & me it has been a joy to see Mary & John grow in faith and devotion, raising their children in the same spirit. We have often worshipped with them (not least, on occasions when John & Mary have been on trips, to Israel or to Germany, and we have been taking care of the grandkids). Several years ago, we began giving them a subscription to Magnificat as a Christmas present. I read in the February issue when we were with them a few days ago. God works in mysterious ways. Alas, we cannot share in the Eucharist when we go to mass with them, but someday, we hope, all of us will be sitting around the table for the Great Feast.
Oh young woman at Starbucks, bending over your laptop in your hoodie, your hair charmingly askew, I saw you while I was waiting to order an ice-grandé whole-milk latté. There was a double cd of Leonard Cohen on sale, and the conjunction made me want to break into song. Wisely, I refrained. But I did offer a silent prayer of thankfulness for the moment.
In this issue, reviewing Matthew Avery Sutton's American Apocalypse and Kathryn Gin Lum's Damned Nation, John Turner asks, "[H]ow is it that most American Christians believe in hell and the Second Coming (with its associated judgments) but rarely discuss them?" John's question made me think about heaven—the same is true for that subject—which in turn made me think about a certain tendency in theology today (both popular and academic). Many writers (including some whom I greatly admire) assert with no evident fear of contradiction that "evangelicals" are talking about "heaven" all the time in a way which is, first, distracting attention from what God wants us to attend to here and now and which, more generally, misconstrues the eschatological vision of Scripture.
I find this fascinating and a bit puzzling. The evangelicals I'm in frequent contact with are emphatically NOT talking about "heaven" all the time. In fact, they rarely mention the subject (in marked contrast to the evangelical circles in which I was raised). Of course, as Mark Noll observes in this issue—he too takes up Matt Sutton's American Apocalypse, along with Grant Wacker on Billy Graham, America's Pastor—"no one … has ever precisely defined what makes someone an 'evangelical.' "
Also striking in this tendency I have in mind are certain dogmatic emphases about the nature of the New Heaven and the New Earth and how we will be occupied therein. To me it seems that all our conceptions of these matters must be filed under "Seen Through a Glass, Darkly." The hope is fundamental; the details are not. But here are X and Y and Z, estimable interpreters of Scripture and tradition, telling us that in heaven we will be very BUSY. The underlying tone reminds me of a corporate pep-talk. Whereas, when Wendy & I returned from San Antonio and I was able to soak in our own bathtub, book in hand, for the first time in more than a week, I thought: "This is what heaven will be like." And who knows? Maybe sometimes (whatever "sometimes" will mean in that setting), it will.
On p. 31 of this issue (where Alan Jacobs is writing about The Complete Cosmicomics of Italo Calvino), there is a list of some coming attractions in Books & Culture. We continue working toward our goal of securing funding for 2015-18. When I look at what's ahead—Scot McKnight on Richard Hays' Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, Sarah Ruden on Augustine, Alan Jacobs on Coleridge, Philip Jenkins on James Hogg, Lauren Winner on Step-Families in Early America, Alissa Wilkinson on David Foster Wallace, and much more—I'm thankful all over again for your support. And of course we're particularly looking forward to our September/October 20th Anniversary Issue.
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