“Things just aren’t that simple.” This can be a trite phrase at times–something which, as you reach the end of your teens, you find adults telling you constantly. Of course, you begin to feel it, even at that age–both in your personal life, and as you get the lay of the land in the wider world. In your own life, you have competing loyalties–do I stay in my hometown, or hit the road for new opportunities? Out in the world, you start to develop competing principles–should people be left to themselves, or should the state get involved in their lives? Christians find that this becomes true in their faith as well. The realities of adulthood and survival in the big bad world can leave us yearning for the clarity and certainty we experienced as children or back in church youth group–simpler times. While there are certain things that never change of course–the core of the Gospel, the reliability of the Scriptures–we inevitably realize there’s a lot more to life than those. And, indeed, the way that those things play out in life is often not simple–despite the fact that many Christians may insist otherwise.
This is why The Davenant Institute has, for the past decade, sought the renewal of Christian wisdom for the benefit of the contemporary church. Wisdom is what sees us through when the world is more complicated than we expected, and when we find ourselves navigating things which Scripture does not explicitly address. In an increasingly polarized evangelical and Reformed church, in which people on all sides offer simple explanations and dubious panaceas for all our cultural ills, true wisdom seeks a better course. This is not a course which simply reduces to a lowest common denominator “third-wayism”, which smugly pats itself on the back for being “too liberal for the conservatives, and too conservative for the liberals.” Rather, it is a course which pays close attention both to God’s spoken Word and his created world, and seeks to live in harmony with both.
The reality of things not being as simple as we would like seems to pervade the essays and reviews in this issue of Ad Fontes. In our opening essay, Jacob Huneycutt explores how simplistic narratives about a division between “muscular” and “feminine” forms of Christianity in the early twentieth century simply don’t hold up, examining the widespread popularity of Fanny Crosby’s highly affective hymns in unlikely places. Tim Perry then illuminates what the Protestant confessions reveal about the early Reformers’ attitudes toward the Virgin Mary, with surprising results. Onsi Aaron Kamel then considers Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s mature thought on the question of lying, unpacking the ethical moves which the great anti-Nazi pastor made as he wrestled with what exactly truth-telling meant in a land under tyranny. Robert Strivens then explores some of the roots of Reformed anti-confessionalism, unearthing the problems caused for orthodox faith when nonconformist Protestants attempted to keep the Christian faith “simple” by rejecting extra-biblical theological terminology.
In our book reviews, E.J. Hutchinson tackles both a new book about Bob Dylan and Dylan’s own recent book The Philosophy of Modern Song, skewering simplistic readings of our greatest living singer-songwriter and inviting us to consider the complexities which Dylan hides in plain sight. Ephraim Radner then reviews R.R. Reno’s recent book on biblical exegesis, largely positively, but taking issue with the Catholic author’s restrictive magisterial safeguards. Our President, Brad Littlejohn, then reviews a recent volume on sixteenth and seventeenth century political theology and, amid some disappointing chapters, has high praise for one entry on the complicated relationships between divine will and natural law, as well as Church and state.
Even our poetry entries, ably assembled by Colin Redemer, continue this theme of complexity over simplicity. E.J. Hutchinson’s verse translation considers the paradox of Palm Sunday, and original works by James Matthew Wilson and Tom C. Hunley find themselves in the murky shadows of the Vietnam war.
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There are, of course, things in life that are simple. Hard, perhaps–but simple. As we build our journal of Protestant letters at Ad Fontes, we hope to always be clear on the heart of the Gospel, the central teaching of Scripture, and the key foundations of the Protestant Reformation. But outside of that, we must stick closely to Lady Wisdom, and remember what she promises: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me” (Proverbs 8:17).