Levels of Alliance by S. M. Hutchens

Levels of Alliance

Touchstone Is a League of Divided Men

A correspondent wrote to Mere Comments: “Timothy George, the dean of Beeson Divinity School, writes not irregularly for Touchstone.

Beeson as official policy grants Master of Divinity degrees to women, and even has a few women professors. Beeson (and George) grant their M.Div. degrees knowingly to women who will and do go on to positions of pastoral authority. Then there is Phillip Johnson, who is an elder at First Presbyterian (PCUSA) Berkeley, which has sponsored women (albeit quite orthodox ones by their own lights) for ordination. Given S. M. Hutchens’s vigilance on this issue, I’m wondering how these men made it into the pages of Touchstone, and why they remain there.”

This is a reasonable question. I have described the egalitarianism in which they are involved as the principal heresy of our day, and Touchstone has no intention of softening its position on this. These men appear in our pages, however, writing as “mere Christians,” the value of their contributions for mere Christianity being more important here than their connections, even if their opinions are different from ours on matters we consider important.

Touchstone’s principal strength is inescapably aligned with what reasonably might be seen by critics as its principal weakness—determination of where mere Christianity begins and leaves off. It is, paradoxically, a league of divided men who do not agree on the proximate identity of the Church, but have, while never forgetting that disagreement, placed it to the side in this age while it unites on matters of common understanding and conviction. One of these common understandings is that the egalitarianism that justifies women’s ordination is false anthropology that infects, through its inevitable corruption of Christology, every Christian doctrine.

A High Bar

This conviction presents a high bar to interest and publication in the magazine. There is some material we will not (without criticism) publish; there are many who have no interest in writing for us because they do not wish to be identified with Touchstone. There is another group, of which Professor Johnson and Dr. George are a part, who may not feel comfortable with Touchstone’s conviction on this point, but whose work we have liked very much, and who are willing to submit it for publication.

It is not that their connections or beliefs are disregarded when we assess their writing, but that when all the relevancies are registered and weighed, if the consensus is that the submission supports the mission of the journal and will edify our readers, this will result in publication, unless the senior editors judge that some scandal would result. Despite our reputation, we—and yes, even the fire-breathing Hutchens—try to be as reasonable and flexible as possible in the manifold circumstances under which we work.

This involves consideration of levels of involvement with the magazine. While strongly intuited agreement on its mission and character is expected of the members of the governing and editorial boards, somewhat less is demanded of contributing editors, less yet of contributors.

We tend to be less interested in establishing laws and policies on these matters than in discerning the spirit of the enterprise and working in accordance with it. This will produce some apparent anomalies in our selections, and of course, we will make mistakes. In the pursuit of our work we try to be gentler with people than we are with bad ideas, regarding this as necessary for our own salvation as well as theirs. We don’t wish to alienate anyone unnecessarily, but pray for the courage to do it without hesitation when necessary.

Speaking here for myself, I will say that as much as I like the learned and very personable Dr. George, and while I could no doubt in good conscience mow the grass or clean the floors at his divinity school, I could not join a faculty that believes part of its Christian duty is to train women for the pastorate. I have turned down positions that required this of me; it is why I work in a public library.

S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.

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