Ever since listening to a lecture from Peter Leithart here in Austin, I have been ever eager to get my hands on his recently published The End of Protestantism. I have been able to dive into it recently and wish to begin blogging some of my thoughts on the book.
My first thought is that excellent reviews already exist from Carl Trueman, Scot Mcknight, and Fred Sanders. My credentials don't compare and I won't seek to provide such reviews. But I would like to write about some of the thoughts that strike me as of particular importance even if they seem minor.
One of the first things that I have noticed is that Leithart seems especially less clear in this work than in his more theological pieces. I'm not sure if it is just the order of his presentation or some previously undetected fault in his writing style — I'm leaning toward the former. In discussions of Letihart's book I have heard the comment that Leithart merely wants everyone to become liturgically minded, paedocommunion Reformers. And at points (Chapter 3), he certainly comes off this way. If we do not read Leithart carefully prior to these sections, we will mistake his target,
"In so far as opposition to Catholicism is constitutive of Protestant identity; in so far as Protestants, whatever their theology, have acted as if they are members of the different church from Roman Catholics and Orthodox; in so far as Protestants defined themselves over against other Protestants, as Lutherans are not–Reformed and Baptist are not–Methodist-in all these respects, Jesus bids Protestantism to come and die. And he calls us to exhibit the unity that the Father has with the Son in the Spirit.
To persist in a provisional Protestant-versus-Catholic or Protestant-versus-Protestant self-identification is a defection from the gospel. If the gospel is true we are who we are by union with Jesus in his spirit with his people. It then cannot be the case that we are who we are by differentiation from other believers." (6)
The first point in the discussion is that Leithart is speaking to Protestants about a very specific form of Protestantism. This Protestantism that Leithart is critical of is tied directly to being "anti" something — basically, "we are such because we don't hold to the thing those others hold to." For Leithart, Protestantism is supposed to be primarily about being Biblically oriented and thus willing to adopt correction from Scripture. To this, all Protestants might say "duh," but this answer does not explain why Protestant denominationalism exists. Leithart envisions a church truly reformed by Scripture that lets go of it denominational markings as they grow closer together on doctrine.
This leads us to be careful about how we define the future church catholic. Many expect Leithart to just presume his way is right and everyone must bend. Of course, he would be foolish to think otherwise but he specifically remain agnostic to how the future church will look when it truly undergoes reformation,
"Today's churches are not blank slates. Our history division is real, and we have to journey through it to reach a destination past it. Divided, we share in the agony of the cross, and future reunion is a promise of resurrection after the cross. What is needed is not to return to one or the other existing churches but faith to walking away of being church that does not yet exist. You must walk by faith to be what we will be. What is needed is a death to our present divisions so that we may rise reconciled. This book offers an 'interim ecclesiology.'" (26)
Or as he recently said in his reply to Carl Trueman,
"At this moment in time, of course, the church doesn’t have a consensus about what ought and oughtn’t be retained from the Christian tradition; that is one of the many, many points to fight through in prayer and charitable debate. And the same goes with Trent and Westminster. But by what calculus do we determine that today’s lack of consensus will last forever? By what theologic do we conclude that today’s impasses are fixed forever?
Carl doesn’t consider the possibility that neither Trent nor Westminster will win. He doesn’t consider the possibility that Roman Catholics and Protestants might prayerfully hit on formulations of disputed points that satisfy everyone."
People are reading Leithart under the presumption that he has all the answers. But he never claims such. He sees the unification of the church as a pneumatological event. In his reply to Trueman he gives perhaps the best answer to those pragmatists who wish to discard his writing as impractical,
"Given our deep differences, how can Protestants and Roman Catholics ever unite? I have no earthly idea. But I’m confident that the church isn't confined to earthly ideas."