Life is often filled with surprises. One such surprise is to meet a person in a public setting very serendipitously. That is precisely what happened to me Thursday evening when I went to eat dinner alone in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. I was in Bryn Mawr because I serve on the board of Biblical Theological Seminary and was there for a board retreat on Friday-Saturday. I arrived early to be at a committee meting on Friday morning, thus I had a free evening to relax.
As I sat down to eat I looked to my right, not three feet away, and realized the man I was looking at was Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things (FT). Not only am I a devoted subscriber to FT but I have read a good bit of Father Neuhaus’ writing for many years. I once thought of him as a dangerous man, after all he was a convert to Rome from Lutheranism, but that was before I dropped my virulent sectarianism about eight years ago. Of course I disagree with Neuhaus, on both a number of specific doctrinal and cultural issues, but I find him an important Christian thinker. He is also a man who has a warm commitment to Christ and his people, including evangelicals like me.
Father Neuhaus was quite interested to hear about my own journey. I told him that we once had a bit of a small live debate on radio (when the first ECT was published.) Thankfully he did not remember it. I asked him if I could do an interview with him for our journal and he expressed interest. I will write him soon and pursue this idea.
In Father Neuhaus’ comments at the Bryn Mawr Barnes & Noble bookstore he referred to the popularity of John Paul II with young people. In a Q & A time he was further asked why the pope was so respected by young people when the media thought that he would be found old and out-of-touch when he first came to America. He said the reason John Paul II was so respected and loved by young adults was that his message was always the same and it rang true to young people today. And it was both challenging and simple. He consistently told young people one thing, Neuhaus noted: “Don’t ever settle for less than moral and spiritual greatness.” That’s good advice for any age but especially for young people in a morally confused and relativistic West.
Evangelicals could stand to listen to this counsel now more than ever. We would be wonderfully helped if someone in our circles of influence said the same thing very clearly. When the best and brightest at Enron, and some corrupted leaders in conservative circles of political power in Washington, are from large evangelical churches we have a problem. Far too many of these people do not seem to know right from wrong, especially from within their leadership in corporate culture. I suggest we need to hear this type of faithful counsel more than ever. I wonder, could evangelicals learn from the pope?