It is not accidental that many of the original Davenant network discovered one another in the Wild West of the internet. As our President, Brad Littlejohn, has outlined elsewhere, it all began with him being wrong on the internet. Indeed, I too was there when the deeper magic from before the dawn of time was written, and thought that “William Bradford Littlejohn” was some homeschool LARPer in a comments section. But in the perennial words of The Big Lebowski, “Sometimes there’s a man. Well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.” And that was Brad Littlejohn, arguing with Steven Wedgeworth and Peter Escalante on a blog.
Campy as it sounds right now, one might suspect that the story of many networks and institutions fifty years from now will recount similar origins. Just as the printing press remade the intellectual ecosystem of early modern Europe, so too are we all experiencing the birth pangs of an ecosystem which has not found its mature and stable expression. And yet new instruments are not just tools that make already established custom more efficient. They likewise have the capacity to create spaces for the generation of new custom and renewed energy to focus on old, stubborn problems. The printing press forced European civilization to actually do something about laments that were (by then) centuries old. As in the early modern period, so today. The founders of TDI believed that there was a significant lack within the contemporary intellectual ecosystem of a robust Protestant intellectual network firmly rooted in the whole catholic tradition, conscious of the particular challenges of our time, and which refused guild protectionism about knowledge. Here, pastors, laity, professionals, were all discursive equals in station, but (and this was very much the point) none would say in wisdom. As it turns out, many were hungry for this kind of community, and these factors had already produced a proto-Davenant network of friends prior to Davenant’s formalization.
It is likewise worth pointing out that this community formed around the same time as the emergence of the so-called manosphere, which itself cannot be understood except in the context of a fatherlessness crisis in the contemporary West. Young men and women must navigate this noisy and overwhelming world with broken tools acquired in broken homes. The camaraderie and understanding sought in one’s fellows (whether male or female, woke or red-pill) is often sought in the context of a deep impoverishment of satisfied relational needs and healthy attachments. In the words of Matthew’s gospel, our world is full of those who are “despirited, like sheep without a shepherd.” The normal rhetorical posture toward such persons in our civilization is for everyone to shame one another. Both woke and manosphere culture are full of shame, winners and losers, with “loser” being defined by someone’s reduction of strength to their native virtues. It is almost certain that pastors who are my age will spend a good bit of their ministries ministering to refugees from such communities who didn’t measure up to such a collective gaze.
And it is especially here that my mind tends when I reflect upon all that Davenant is and has been. I have watched it become a robust institution without losing the dynamic of a living organism that fuels the mission. I have watched this network of friends navigate an extremely complicated ten years of American history. And I have watched it solve seemingly insurmountable internal conflicts and problems through the very exercise of love encouraged of Christians in the plain words of the New Testament.
What that has amounted to, in my judgment, is largely this: a fatherless world is one in which “elder brother” becomes a more prominent vocation. Sitting in fellowship with the Elder Brother of our race, He who bears our shame sends us to minister to our despirited fellows, Davenant contains all the fun, the joshing, the sparring, the competition, but also the more basic “taking seriously” that binds up those whose self-worth is shattered, and helps make of them strong elder brothers for the next group. The Davenant Institute is and has been many things, but for me, it has meant friendship with Steven Wedgeworth, Peter Escalante, Brad and Rachel Littlejohn, Andrew and Jenny Fulford, Dale Stenberg, Alastair and Susannah Roberts, Michael Hughes, Ryan Hurd, Colin Redemer, Justin Redemer, Paul Nedelisky, Eric Hutchinson, Eric Parker, Jake Meador, Jonathan Tomes, Craig Beaton, Ben Miller, Robin Harris, Tim Jacobs, Rhys Laverty, Mark Hamilton, Michael Riggins, and many others (including students who are now friends). It has, in short, meant an army of friends across a wide variety of vantage points, gifts, personalities, and dispositions. To find a community of robust intellectuals who are also spiritually encouraging and open to receiving wisdom from one another has been one of the great privileges of my life. I would have a radically different life without them.
And now I find myself ten years older. I was in my late 20s and early 30s when I first found mentorship in our network. I am now in my early 40s, working full time for TDI, and giving the same gifts that were given to me to other young men and women. My students are all familiar with my yammerings about “the simultaneous global renegotiation of all human custom”–my handy ™ formula for defining the condition of late modernity (though please do tell everybody about it).
One of my friends insightfully suggested to me recently that we might be as mentally sick as our ancestors were often physically sick. Minimally, this is an extremely loud and confusing world that is hard to endure, and where cheap ideological reliefs and cathartic rage communities are attractive options. But I have watched actual love, and the painful labor of friendship, make possible something far more rich, profound, and enduring. And this is not to the praise of ourselves, but the praise of God without whom we’d fall apart.
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Joseph Minich is a Teaching Fellow for The Davenant Institute. He is the author of Enduring Divine Absence (Davenant Press, 2018) and Bulwarks of Unbelief (Lexham Press, 2023).