I read through Steve Camp’s The Top Ten Turkey Awards of 2005 and his post Double standards. Number eight on the list is Russell Moore (the Henry Institute and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) for having Roman Catholic Joseph Pearce speak at the Gheens Lectures. Dr. Moore is, however, a very solid theologian. These lectures are not tough to track down so you can listen to them. Russell Moore actually posted about the whole event here.
Dr. Moore makes no bones about Joseph Pearce being a professor at Ave Maria University is in the blog post. So he isn’t trying to hide nor make excuses for having Pearce speak. At least one person protested Camp’s post and disagreed the Moore does not deserve the Turkey Award. One reason given is that the Gheens Lectures are not chapel services, but they are academic. Well, I am not going to decide that here as I have search, but not been able to find a statement as to the purposes of the Gheens Lectures. I do understand that they are once a year and I imagine that it is an honor to be asked to speak during that time.
So who is Joseph Pearce? You can read about his conversion story here. It’s definitely a Roman Catholic story of “conversion.”
It was the Real Presence of the Eucharist working on me, even without my knowledge of it.” The road to the Savior and His Church was filled with numerous obstacles, but Pearce came home safely. In 1989 he entered the Catholic Church of Our Lady, Mother of God, in Norfolk, north of London.
I don’t find the centerpiece of his “conversion” to be the work of Christ. Rather he states
“Chesterton is by far the most important individual figure in my leaving behind bad and wrong ideas and in my approach to Christianity. He is by far the most important single figure in my conversion. . . . Through Chesterton I obviously developed an interest in religion and have subsequently read lots of other books by various people, but he was the initial person that sparked an interest, and throughout the whole period of about the decade it took from the reading of The Well and the Shallows in 1980 until I became a Catholic in 1989, it is Chesterton, his work, his writing, and his thoughts that accompanied me closest.”
Concerning the Gheens Lectures, Pearce was there to speak to Baptist seminary students about the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The whole of the first lecture focused on Lord of the Rings by Tolkien who himself said he was Roman Catholic.
I listened leisurely to these lectures and I don’t intend to pick everything apart. Though not a Chapel service at about 39:12 in the first lecture Pearce states, “The will has to cooperate with grace to overcome sin.” I just wanted to briefly state that this is definitely a common theological position heard today. I would argue that the Lectures aren’t solely academic as it’s tough to separate the two at a seminary. As a Christian it’s probably impossible in many circumstances to truly separate them.
In the concluding minutes of the second lecture around the 30 minute mark Pearce makes some interesting statements. He mentions that “We have free will and responsibility.” He speaks of folks that do evil that “they forget their place in the order of created value.” “They forget their purpose to love and serve God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And they forget their responsibility which is that in order to do that you have to live lives of heroic self-sacrifice.”
It really seems like Pearce is mainly trying to defend certain literature such as Tolkien, for example, as Christian. That’s Pearce’s way of reclaiming the culture. Good motive and many could learn from his example, but the means to what end? The Roman Catholic end? Is having a Roman Catholic speak “academically” at a Southern Baptist Seminary dangerous? I don’t know. Could it be dangerous? Yes. I say yes because Roman Catholics are very good at embracing the culture. There are many politicians, talk radio hosts, moral social organizations, etc. that are Roman Catholic. It’s easy to be captivated by a cause. The problem is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t put forth as the cornerstone for the cause. And when the Gospel is put forth what Gospel is it? Is it the Gospel the Russell Moore stands for or the gospel that Joseph Pearce stands for? Pearce is related to as talking about Christian literature and seems to be accepted as such. So which Gospel is it? Is reaching the culture through literary means more important than blurring the lines of the Gospel? It’s tough to tell. (Pun intended.)
Some may object that we don’t need to go into Pearce’s background for to bring these things to the surface only cause problems and diverts from the purpose of the lectures. I don’t believe this is so since the whole reason Pearce was speaking is to look into the background of Lewis and Tolkien to understand where they come from and what they express. So looking into Pearce’s influences is equally relevant. One’s worldview and presuppositions can shed a lot of light on a person and their work.
I think the Rick Warren comparison by Camp is right on. Rick Warren has been criticized for things he said on Good Morning America and Larry King Live neither of which are chapel services. Yes, that’s a double standard. We seem to criticize persons’ whose theology isn’t like ours or is seen as compromising. Yet, when those with same theology are seen as not being consistent in its presentation to an audience that person gets a pass. Why? At least the folks who have a different theology are being consistent with their own beliefs as they express them to an audience. Hey, even Joel Osteen preaches morality, forgiveness and being nice to our fellow man.
I may be wrong and totally miss the purposes of the Gheens Lectures. Maybe this is a good thing to have seminary students exposed to these things to think through them. None of the students asked about the presence and importance of the Gospel in these literary works. The word “Christian” modifier was certainly used a bit. Pearce even closes the lectures with a prayer of which he jokes is not “catholic”. Where is the Gospel in all of this and is it important in our embracing and changing of the culture in which we live? The irony I see is that in this realm of cultural “apologetics” that the Gospel was neither being defined nor defended. Apologetics huh?
Maybe it’s just me.