Every Advent, I try to meditate on Richard Wagner’s painting “The Harvest is the End of the World, and the Reapers are Angels”. Few pieces of art have ever rooted me to the spot on a first sighting–this is one of them. The portentous blue of the storm clouds and their contrast with the whiteness of the fields; the unexpected workaday style of the angels with their sun hats and bare calves like some Van Gogh peasants; the sight of Christ’s angels sent out to work yet he himself being off screen–all gathers to a potency that enlivens me to the reality of the Lord’s return. I remember that, one day, I will give an accounting.
Although Advent marks the start of the Christian year, I find it fitting that it overlaps with the end of the calendar year. This is a time to reflect on what we have done with the year given to us.
What accounting can we give for 2023 at Ad Fontes? In something of an answer to that question, I have been looking back over our output this year. Assembled here are not necessarily our most read pieces (though some are), but ten of my highlights as Senior Editor.
“Wisdom” is our byword at Ad Fontes and the Davenant Institute more broadly, and the writers I have been privileged to work with this year are wise to a man. “Send a wise man on an errand, and say nothing unto him”– so says George Herbert in one of his collected proverbs, and so I have found it with these writers, to whose thoughts I have been but the midwife. And these thoughts have not been arch and detached, but engaged always with the pursuit of Christian wisdom on the ground. Each writer here evidences another Herbertian proverb: “The wind in one’s face makes one wise.”
One year ends. God helping, we face the winds of another–until the angels come, and gather us from those winds into the kingdom.
“This Article is About Tim Keller” by James R. Wood
In the very necessary ongoing discourse about “winsomeness” and Christian witness in the “Negative World”, one cannot avoid James Wood’s words on the legacy of Tim Keller. As James notes in this piece, it is the irony of his life that he has been dawbed “the Keller Critic”–an accolade given him by the shrill and disingenuous. It was a privilege, then, upon Keller’s untimely death in May this year, to commission James for an obituary. Sometimes, immense warmth and gratitude can stop up a man’s pen with incarticulation, but this piece flowed free, and I remember smiling when I saw how swiftly it arrived in my inbox after my initial commission. This was our most read piece of 2023, and deservedly so.
“No Ashes to Ashes: An Anglican History of Ash Wednesday” by Steven Wedgeworth
Ad Fontes is very much in the business of retrieval. Yet part of the task of retrieval is calling people out when they are not retrieving, but innovating. In this characteristically detailed piece, Steven Wedgeworth exposes how the use of ash Wednesday ashes, despite its ancient aura, has little pedigree in Anglicanism. I predict that this article will come round again every year, much like Steven’s excellent pieces on Halloween, which he revisited for us this year.
“A Tale of Two Churches: Lessons from Swedish and Finnish Lutheranism” by Tapani Simojoki
It has been a tumultuous year for historic Christian denominations. The Church of England has crossed what many orthodox members long regarded as a red line by moving to bless so-called same-sex marriages. Meanwhile, over the Tiber, the Madness of Pope Francis has continued apace as he dismisses traditionalist bishops and carts in busloads of transgender perverts. Amid such ructions, Tapani Simojoki’s reflections on Nordic Lutherans this year were prescient. The Swedes, in short, tried to play the establishment game and lost; the Finns opted out and are thriving. Anyone staring down the barrel of a liberalising denomination would do well to read this piece.
“The New Mainline and the Politics of Reality” by Onsi Aaron Kamel
Back in November, we launched Commonwealth, a new wing of Ad Fontes devoted to Protestant political retrieval. Of our launch essays, my personal highlight was my colleague Onsi throwing down the gauntlet to the postliberals. It is easy for them to poo-poo both American liberalism and its cousin, the Protestant mainline, but they have yet to reckon with what the loss of either of these would entail. Onsi’s piece was picked up in other outlets (see here and here), and I have a feeling that, much like his piece on the “Catholic intellectual ecosystem”, this one will keep cropping up for a while.
“Are BS Jobs Vocations?” by John Ehrett
Here, John did all I could ever ask for in an Ad Fontes piece: with understanding and erudition he took an established Protestant doctrine and applied it to a contemporary problem which seemed to vex the whole question. A revived theology of work in recent years makes it easy for us to invoke Luther’s “doctrine of vocation” when counseling uninspired employees, but John reveals it’s just not that simple.
“The Blood Brothers of Jesus” by Andrew Koperski
With his expertise in late antique history, Andrew is a consistent highlight of the AF site for me. His learned snippets from the ancient world routinely inform and stimulate and, a fair bit of the time, serve as excellent historical support for key Protestant ideas–to wit, his linguistic observations here.
“Shakespeare Notebook 2023: The Merry Wives of Windsor” by Rhys Laverty
I pray your indulgence as I highlight a piece of my own–perhaps the most fun I had writing all year. My attempt to do “Shakespeare in a Year” lasted until late April when it floundered upon a string of family illnesses (a third of the year though, not bad I felt). My reading confirmed, again, Henry IV 1 & 2 as my favourite play(s), but reading these in quick succession with The Merry Wives of Windsor gave me a chance to reflect philosophically upon our love for Jack Falstaff, before transposing into a distinctly Christian key via Lewis’ Great Divorce and Prince Caspian.
“W.H. Auden’s Prosaic Faith” by Stephen J. Schuler
Auden is always in my mind at this time of year as I take For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio off the shelf for annual Advent reading. In our most recent print edition of Ad Fontes, Auden scholar Stephen Schuler wrote a piece I have always wanted to exist: a clear-eyed assessment of Auden’s faith, written from an orthodox Christian perspective. In just 4000 words, Stephen sketches out Auden’s sincere conversion (re-conversion?) experience and its clear impact upon his poetry and personal acts of charity. Yet Stephen is clear, as too few are, that Auden’s unrepentant homosexuality contradicts his professed faith, and likely damned him. This piece is still paywalled–why not subscribe to read it?
“‘Perfect Submission, Perfect Delight’: Fanny Crosby, Spousal Piety, and Muscular Christianity“ by Jacob Huneycutt
Jacob’s article on Fanny Crosby is another which epitomises the best of Ad Fontes. He zeroes in on a distinctly Protestant source (the lyrics of Fanny Crosby), carefully contextualising them historically and theologically. He then brings his discoveries to bear on contemporary contentions about “muscular Christianity”, troubling the narratives of both its current advocates and critics. It was especially stimulating to see this treatment given to such popular hymns, which may often be considered beneath serious scholarly consideration.
“Revisiting Platonic Education: The Ever Shareable Feast“ by Colin Redemer
Yet another ongoing discourse into which Ad Fontes has ventured is in-house debates within the classical Christian education world. Last year, Davenant Press published Reforming Classical Education (which I co-edited), which features a provocative and subtle chapter by my colleague Colin on the dangers of teaching Plato. Feathers were ruffled, reviews were written, and Colin responded in characteristic fashion. I have learned most of what I know about Plato from Colin; it tickles (and energises) me to no end to see him publicly cautioning Christians against Plato.