touchstone archives


Piquant excerpts lifted from Touchstone editors' own reading & listening.

Topic: Christianity

Men often willfully isolate and emphasize one side of a double truth, because for various reasons they are determined to see one side only; and by so doing they miss the meaning, and fail to realize the full consequences, of the truth with which they are concerned. In these days we do not like to talk about orthodoxy and heresy; or if we do, we are apt to assume that orthodoxy is only another name for the bigotry of ignorance, and that heresy is synonymous with fearless devotion to truth. We ought, however, to look at the right meaning of the words, and behind the words to the things they represent, and to recognize that the things they represent have vital and eternal issues. . . . The heretical temper may show itself in defense of the articles of the Creed; and the spirit of orthodoxy may co-exist with ignorance. All depends on line of development, and not on degree of progress. . . .

The history of the church affords many examples of heretical tendencies in ultra-orthodox circles. Most famous heretics were not assailants of Christian truth as a whole, men who had assumed an utterly un-Christian standpoint, but zealous Christians whose orthodoxy was narrow and one-sided, who out of devotion to one truth, or to one side of truth, resolutely refused to look at any other. . . . The attitude of mind which invariably leads to error and inefficiency pounces on a pet principle, isolates and exaggerates it, and is hysterically blind to every other.

Frederick Joseph Kinsman
Catholic and Protestant (1913)

Christianity Commonplaces #9 May/June 2020

A theological statement—especially when made by a churchman to a mass audience—should be clearly orthodox on a natural reading, not merely arguably orthodox on some creative reading.

Edward Feser
LifeSite News (May 8, 2019)

Christianity Commonplaces #14 March/April 2020

It is the common experience of all, that humanity moves between these two poles of simplicity and complexity. People who have the sort of mind that sees only one side of every question tend toward vigorous action. They succeed in everything they do because they do not stop to split hairs and have abounding confidence in their own abilities. Your successful journalist, for instance, is inclined to simplify every problem and condense it into an arresting phrase. On the other hand, those with subtle and cultivated minds tend to get lost in a maze of fine distinctions. They always see how complicated things really are, so their powers of persuasion are nil. That is why the world is led by those who are least suited to raising its cultural and moral standards. It is only very few who manage to combine both tendencies, and in my view a lively Christian faith is the best precondition for the accomplishment of this miracle, because it gives both profound understanding and simplicity of heart.

Paul Tournier
The Person Reborn (1966)

Christianity Commonplaces #16 March/April 2020

When we [as a church body] "study" a question to which we already know the answer it does not help the church but wounds her. I am not saying we should not restate our position over against new challenges, but a study implies that we just might come to a different conclusion, that the question is a real question without a certain answer, and that there might be hope for those who disagree with tradition. This is not merely foolish but dangerous. It is a threat to the doctrinal unity and integrity of the church and, indeed, of the faith itself, to proceed with study after study as if there were no real answer or no abiding answer to the question. It is a deception designed to placate those who want change, but it will only alienate them and make it harder to convince them of the one and always answer. Sometimes "no" is the kinder word than "let's see"—children already know that, so why don't the adults who are in charge of the structures of the church? Finally, studies hang onto exceptions as evidence against the rule and [as] presumption for changing the rule when everyone already knows that exceptions make terrible rules. Exceptions are not analogies of how we might proceed, but real exceptions. We have had tons of them in Christian history and every time we presume to use those exceptions . . . we have ended up with chaos that had to be cleaned up by the next generation (hopefully it did not last any longer).

Larry A. Peters
Pastoral Meanderings blog post (June 1, 2019)

Christianity Commonplaces #21 Jan/Feb 2020

Post-Christian man is not the same as pre-Christian man. He is as far removed as a virgin from a widow . . . there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse sent away.

C. S. Lewis
in a 1953 letter to Don Giovanni Calabria (as translated from Lewis's original Latin by Martin Moynihan)

Christianity Commonplaces #23 Jan/Feb 2020

Beware lest your religion be one of feeling merely, not of practice. Men may speak in a high imaginative way of the ancient Saints and the Holy Apostolic Church, without making the fervour or refinement of their devotion bear upon their conduct. Many a man likes to be religious in graceful language; he loves religious tales and hymns, yet is never the better Christian for all this . . . and he who does one deed of obedience for Christ's sake, let him have no imagination and no fine feeling, is a better man, and returns to his home justified rather than the most eloquent speaker, and the most sensitive hearer, of the glory of the Gospel, if such men do not practise up their knowledge.

John Henry Newman
from Parochial and Plain Sermons, Sermon XX

Christianity Commonplaces #25 Jan/Feb 2020

Of both God and the world it must be said that they have their being in relation. . . . Redemption thus means the redirection of the particular to its own end and not a re-creation. The distinctive feature of created persons is their mediating function in the achievement of perfection by the rest of creation. They are called to the forms of action, in science, ethics and art—in a word, to culture—which enable to take place the sacrifice of praise, which is the free offering of all things, perfected, to their Creator. . . . The created world becomes truly itself—moves toward its completion—when through Christ and the Spirit, it is presented perfect before the throne of the Father. The sacrifice of praise, which is the due human response to both creation and redemption, takes the form of that culture which enables both personal and non-personal worlds to realize their true being.

Collin E. Gunton
The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity (1993)

Christianity Commonplaces #26 Nov/Dec 2019

My son once wrote to a friend saying something to this effect: that we are God's witnesses necessarily, because the world will not read the Bible, but they will read our lives. Their belief in the divine nature of the faith we possess will be influenced by our lives. We must present to the investigation of the critical minds of our age the realities of lives transformed by the mighty power of God. . . .

The standard of practical, holy living has been so low among Christians that the least degree of real devotedness of the higher Christian walk is looked upon with surprise and often even with disapproval by a large portion of the church. For the most part, the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are satisfied with a life so conformed to the world in almost every respect that, to a casual observer, no difference is discernible.

Hannah Whitall Smith
The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life (1875)

Christianity Commonplaces #28 Nov/Dec 2019

The theological virtue of faith enables one not only to know the truth of what God has revealed but also to savor it, and thus to come to a deeper understanding of the relationship of the mysteries to one another and to their singular origin, the Blessed Trinity. This means, in addition, an ongoing adaptation of the mind to the mysteries as expressed in the traditional dogmatic formulas. Note well: it is not the mysteries that need to be adapted to the human mind (as the Modernists would have it), but rather the human mind that must conform itself to the mysteries, submitting to their demands, humbly bearing their yoke. This is the narrow path trodden by the saints in their pilgrimage to the beatific vision.

Peter Kwasniewski (April 2, 2019)

Christianity Commonplaces #29 Nov/Dec 2019

Therefore your end is on you,
Is on you and your kings,
Not for a fire in Ely fen,
Not that your gods are nine or ten,
But because it is only Christian men
Guard even heathen things.

G. K. Chesterton
The Ballad of the White Horse (1911)

Christianity Commonplaces #30 Nov/Dec 2019

Sometimes the most dangerous thing you can be as a pastor (or priest) is to be a faithful example of what your church believes, teaches, and practices. We live in a world in which it is considered good to press even further the progressive edge of your church body but not so good to hold to what your church body has believed, taught, and confessed. This is true whether you are a Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or Roman Catholic.

Rev. Larry A. Peters (March 25, 2019)

Christianity Commonplaces #32 Nov/Dec 2019

Then shall Religion to America flee:
They have their times of Gospel even as we.
My God, thou dost prepare for them a way
By carrying first their gold from them away:
For gold and grace did never yet agree:
Religion always sides with poverty.

George Herbert
"The Church Militant," from The Temple (c. 1633)

Christianity Commonplaces #34 Sept/Oct 2019

Dostoevsky famously said: "If there's no God, then everything is permitted." It's a view the west might consider more often. Dostoevsky's not saying that if there's no God then no one's watching us and we can do what we like. He's really asking: what's the rationale for living this way and not otherwise? If there's no God, then there's no shape to our lives. Our behaviour needs to be in tune with something. If there's no divine tune, how do you know where to go, what to do? To believe in God is not a business of rewards, but an ability to make sense of things.

Rowan Williams
Prospect Magazine (May 2007)

Christianity Commonplaces #35 Sept/Oct 2019

The expressions commonly used [to describe “religious freedom”], such as “freedom of conscience” or “freedom of profession of faith” should be rejected as inexact; conscience is always free and no one can prevent a martyr from confessing his faith.

Vladimir Solovyev
Russia and the Universal Church (trans. Herbert Rees; 1948), VI, note 2

Christianity Commonplaces #46 July/Aug 2019

Conversions to other religions may also in their own ways be describable as "forgiveness" or "liberation" and so on. To such possibilities the gospel's messengers can only say: "We are not here to entice you into our religion by benefits allegedly found in it. We are here to introduce you to the true God, for whatever he can do with you—which may well be suffering and oppression."

Robert W. Jenson
Systematic Theology, vol. I, part 3 (2001), iv

Christianity Commonplaces #47 May/June 2019

Nowhere else is truth regarded with such horror as in the domain of our Church administration; nowhere else is there greater servility than in our spiritual hierarchy; nowhere is the "salutary falsehood" practiced on a larger scale than in the place where all falsehood should be held in detestation. Nowhere else are there admitted on the grounds of policy so many compromises which lower the dignity of the Church and rob her of her authority. The root cause of it all is the lack of a sufficient faith in the power of truth. And the most serious part of it is that though we are aware of all these evils in our Church we have come to terms with them and are content to live at peace. But such a shameful peace, such dishonorable compromise, can never promote the true peace of the Church; in the cause of truth it signifies defeat if not betrayal.

I. S. Aksakov
Complete Works IV (ca. 1870), 43

Christianity Commonplaces #49 May/June 2019

The greatest obstacle in the way of acceptance [of one's lot in life] is the appearance of acceptance. The greatest obstacle to virtue is the appearance of virtue. The greatest obstacle to humility is the appearance of humility. The greatest obstacle to faith is the appearance of faith. The greatest obstacle to love is the appearance of love. What I say here in regard to celibacy is true of every kind of trial, of infirmity, and of frustration. Whatever our life and its burdens—there is no life that does not have to carry some burden—we never find fulfillment except in living it with conviction. And to live one's life with conviction is to live it in a spirit of adventure, as an adventure.

Paul Tournier
The Adventure of Living (1965)

Christianity Commonplaces #55 Sept/Oct 2020

"You can't just twist Scripture as if it were a rubber nose!"

Carl E. Braaten
(recalled from a conversation with S. M. Hutchens, ca. 1985)

Christianity Commonplaces #56 Sept/Oct 2020

Those who by insincerity and falsehood close their deeper eyes, shall not be capable of using in the matter the more superficial eyes of their understanding. . . .

A man may be haunted with doubts, and only grow thereby in faith. Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to the honest. They are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet, but have to be, understood. . . . Doubt must precede every deeper assurance, for uncertainties are what we first see when we look into a region hitherto unknown, unexplored, unannexed.

George MacDonald
from "The Last Farthing" and "The Voice of Job," Unspoken Sermons, second series (1885)

Christianity Commonplaces #57 Sept/Oct 2020

Our intellects stammer and boggle when they try to reach the truth about Divine things, not because the other world is a reflection of ours, but because ours is a reflection, and how pale a reflection, of the other. That was what our Lord wanted us to see when he turned our metaphors, even, inside out for us, as you may read in St. John. The water in Jacob's well isn't real water; the real water is the living fountain of grace which he will unseal for the woman of Samaria, if she will only stop to listen. The vine that grows on yonder wall is not a real vine; the only real Vine is his own mystical body. The things we see and touch are only the shadows cast by eternal truth. What marvel if we, to whom shadow is substance, cannot raise our minds to contemplate the substance by which the shadow is cast?

Ronald A. Knox
The Hidden Stream, chapter 4, "Our Knowledge of God by Analogy" (1953)

Christianity Commonplaces #58 Sept/Oct 2020

With respect to the Church as a whole, all her aspects are centered on the presence of the Lord in her midst. This presence of God is the Church's core and center, the protected concentration of her being. This living center is made up of the Divine Mysteries: the confessed and unaltered Faith once given to the saints, the integrity of her sacraments, the canon of her Scriptures, the inviolable purity of the Tradition by which she is defined. The Church lives from that precious nucleus, which is to be safeguarded at all costs.

If that living and life-giving center does not "hold," we are no longer the people of God. It may appear, for a while, that we are more "successful" in some respects. If we abandon, for instance, certain components of our inherited worship in order to make the worship more accessible to our contemporaries, it is possible that our membership will initially grow, because we make better contact with the religious aspirations of the world around us.

This experience of success, however, is deceptive, and even dangerous. In due course we will learn that we have betrayed our identity in the Lord by permitting the world to change the Church, whereas it is the vocation of the Church to transform the world. It is impossible for the people of God to transform the world by giving up its own form. . . .

Some have remarked that apologetics is the most dangerous part of Christian thought, and the reason for this is simple. Apologetics is the discipline of making the Gospel accessible to the world's understanding. This discipline is a necessary and important aspect of evangelism. There remains the ongoing danger however, that our efforts to make the Gospel more accessible to unbelievers may, if only by inadvertence, alter some important and essential dimension of the Gospel. . . .

Virtually every major heresy condemned by the early Church took its rise in the effort to render the Gospel accessible to unbelievers. To return to the image of our metaphor, this activity directed to the world outside the Church runs the constant danger of putting the core of the Divine Mysteries in peril.

Patrick Henry Reardon
excursus on Numbers 3, from Out of Step with God (2019)

Christianity Commonplaces #60 Sept/Oct 2020

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