A Porch to Talk On by S. M. Hutchens

A Porch to Talk On

We at Touchstone have been criticized more than once for calling our magazine “A Journal of Ecumenical Orthodoxy.” I cannot think of a better name for what we are interested in here, but I understand that not every Christian will be able to resonate well to our call. Not everyone has an instinct for what the expression tries to describe, nor are all who do have this intuition able to sense its boundaries or see the importance of its cultivation. My own experience leads me to expect ambivalence or hostility towards the idea in Christians who are angry at some other segment of the Church, or among those who practice their religion mostly “at home.” The impressions that make “ecumenical orthodoxy” a plausible idea most frequently arise from encouraging contact with believers of fellowships other than one’s own, and the conviction gained in these experiences that genuine and robust Christianity can exist in these places, too.

On this we cordially agree with those who (mistakenly, we think) accuse us of minimalism—watering down the faith to make it go further: A hail-fellow-well-met ecumenism infected with the desire to be well-spoken of by all is cowardly, uncharitable, and futile. The kind we seek arises from discovery of the appearance that Christians of other communions, in accordance with their level of understanding, believe in and confess the same Jesus Christ—yes, that is the center, and is why the ecumenical creeds are important to us. The perception that this belief and confession is that of the Christian Church as a living, historical entity, rises like a mountain of light above our many disagreements. We are dealing here, as C. S. Lewis said, with “no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible.”

That, however, is insufficient basis for a reunion celebration. You will find none of that nonsense in Touchstone. We are realists who never have had the intention of reducing Christian belief to the lowest common denominator so as to include as many as possible, rejoicing when we can expand the periphery enough to let yet another odd duck slip in. We do not require the hope of better agreement, much less union (on this earth) to keep us going. Rather, we begin with the vision of an already existing family, divided so far that it has become difficult even to understand each other’s speech. Like brothers who have quarreled in our youth and gone our separate ways, we are now getting older, finding the world cold, stale, and hostile to the name we share, wondering whether we might now be able to at least sit on the porch and try to talk, our differences notwithstanding.

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S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor and longtime writer for Touchstone.

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