This letter appears in our mid-year 2018 newsletter, marking the end of our fifth fiscal year.
Ronald Reagan had a plaque on his desk that read “There is no limit to what a man can accomplish if he does not care who gets the credit.” Over the past decade I have spent navigating the world of Christian scholarship, I have returned over and over to meditate on this arresting maxim. We live in a world obsessed with credit. Unlike centuries past, ours is a world of intellectual property, a world fixated with the curious notion that you can patent an idea, claiming exclusive credit for it and controlling where it goes, who gets to use it, and how much they have to pay. In academia, this fixation means an obsession with the new—after all, you can’t very well claim credit for an old idea, much less publish it. Read more…
The Davenant Institute is pleased to announce the hiring of Dr. Alastair Roberts as a long-term Teaching Fellow. Dr. Roberts, who has taught summer intensive programs and lectured on behalf of the Davenant Institute in the past, will continue to teach residential courses and lecture on a larger scale, as well as writing, developing online courses, and recording Davenant Discussions and podcasts on our behalf. Read more…
A funny thing happened a couple weeks ago in Washington, D.C. On a Friday night not far from the city’s most boozy blocks near Adam’s Morgan, a dozen or so Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars, practitioners, and aspiring practitioner-scholars gathered to discuss a great text and its relevance to the political and intellectual life of the West. The text was The Laws of War and Peace, the magnum opus of Dutch Reformed thinker Hugo Grotius, who is often credited as the father of international law.
What Was the Meeting?
We gathered to conduct an experiment, of sorts. Our goal was to explore whether thoughtful Christians involved someway in religion, public service, or the intersection thereof could hold court on a foundational work of political significance and come away enriched intellectually, with deeper insight into the nature of the secular order in which we serve and inhabit. Rubbing shoulders were folks in academia, think tanks, journals, and current and former military members.
The night opened with Peter Escalante of New St. Andrews College, who presented remarks based on preassigned readings and guided us to the focal questions of Grotius’s work. In any Socratic dialogue, the purpose is to chip away at the rough impressions of a text to unearth the foundational concerns, problems, and intellectual moves of the author. We proceeded that night at a jackhammer’s pace. It’s a pleasure to behold intelligent men and women from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints united in purpose and passion for drilling to the root of a subject.
What unfolded was a dazzling display of erudition on the nature of law, sovereignty, international relations, general and special revelation, modernity, Christendom, Protestant and Romanist political theologies, espionage, and just war tradition, punctuated with humor and breaks for hors d’oeuvre andbiblical beverages. Welcome to conversation about Christian tradition and great books.
This sort of evening might be dismissed as a typical “drink and think” soiree engaged in by rarefied social circles in Coastal or university towns. If it was about seeing and being seen, networking, or performing intellectual pantomime, you’d be right. Except it wasn’t. That Friday was what people intend when they valorize the “life of the mind.” Our Federal City needs more of this: sober-minded, public spirited men and women who wear lightly their professional status and analyze complex moral problems together.
If law is to be guided by right reason, and state power exercised in the light of wisdom, ongoing conversation by those involved in the worlds of thought and action must be joined. Nights such as this, sponsored by organizations dedicated to retrieving the past for the sake of orienting us to our present difficulties, must happen more often. Thanks to the Davenant Institute, Philos Project, and the Institute for Religion and Democracy, mature Christian deliberation in Washington, D.C. took a couple steps forward.
Written by Nathan Hitchen
Nathan Hitchen is a member of Equal Rights Institute’s Board of Directors. He completed his M.A. at the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Prior to Johns Hopkins, Nathan participated in the John Jay Institute fellowship, a program in theology and political philosophy, and then worked at a number of domestic and foreign policy think tanks in Washington, D.C. After graduate school, Nathan worked for the Corporate Executive Board and currently is an analyst. He and his wife and daughter live in Virginia.
Here’s what we’ve been up to.
The Davenant Institute has been hard at work these past six months. Here’s the rundown of what we’ve done towards our goal of resourcing Christians with wisdom from the past, for the life of the church today.
We are pleased to announce the publication of the third installment in our Davenant Guides series, Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense. Davenant Guides seek to offer short and accessible introductions to key issues of current debate in theology and ethics, drawing on a magisterial Protestant perspective and defending its contemporary relevance today.
In this volume, David Haines and Andrew Fulford, Canadian Reformed scholars, collaborate to explain the philosophical foundations of natural law, clear up common misunderstandings about the term, and demonstrate the robust biblical basis for natural law reasoning. In doing so, they help bring clarity to recent debates about how Protestants can understand the role of reason, the moral knowledge and ability of unbelievers, and how Christians can engage the public square.
The book has received warm praise from leading Christian philosophers. J.P. Moreland of Talbot School of Theology writes:
“Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense could not have come at a better time. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to see that the increasing secularization of Western culture has lead to ethical, theological and behavioral chaos and relativism. Christians must speak clearly and convincingly about the messy issues of our day, but they, especially Protestants, are ill-prepared to engage the world of ideas without citing the Bible. Among other things, this implies that Christians should be laboring for a theocracy, but this is not what is needed and the state must have some sort of guidance to carry out its mission of punishing wrongdoing in Romans 13 without the scriptures. The existence, nature and knowability of natural moral law is what meets these needs.
Fulford and Haines have provided an outstanding work that must get a wide readership if Christians are to re-engage the public square thoughtfully and appropriately. They follow a carefully developed order of presentation in this book. Before giving what may be the best recent biblical defense of natural law theory, they rightly are concerned to make very clear exactly what natural law is. Refreshingly, they ground natural law in solid metaphysical treatments of God’s relation to the natural law and in the metaphysics of the creation within which natural law makes sense. This is followed by unpacking the claim that natural moral law is knowable by human beings. Given this treasure-trove of background, the biblical defense of natural moral law is clarified. I am excited about this book! And I thank God for Fulford and Haines who took great effort and much time to serve the church with this resource.”
We are pleased to announce that The Davenant Institute has just concluded a contract with Truman State University Press to take full possession of the Peter Martyr Library. Effective Jan. 1, 2018, TSUP will transfer all rights, electronic files, and hard copies of the ten volumes of the Peter Martyr Library (including its accompanying Peter Martyr Reader) to Davenant, and Davenant will assume responsibility for their continued distribution as well as the publication of the final volume, Vermigli’s Commentary on Genesis, edited by John Patrick Donnelly, S.J. As part of this extraordinary gift, Davenant will gain possession of over 1,000 copies of the published volumes of the series, which we plan to make available to scholars, students, and libraries at significantly reduced prices beginning early next year. We will also be able to make widely available digital editions of these volumes, reissue them in inexpensive paperback editions, and excerpt from them for anthologies.
Although largely unknown today outside the circle of Reformation scholars, Peter Martyr Vermigli was a true giant of the 16th-century Reformation, a man who left an indelible influence on the churches of Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and England where he spent his pilgrim life, and who through his writings left an even wider legacy. Standing as he does at the intersection of humanism and scholasticism, with a profound concern for Biblical exegesis and the renewal of preaching, but also for linguistic study, educational revival, Christian philosophy, ethics, and political thought, Vermigli sums up the broad and bold mission of the Davenant Institute to renew Christian wisdom through resourcement.
Over the past couple years, we have sought opportunities for closer involvement with Vermigli scholarship, adopting the Peter Martyr Society in early 2016 and beginning a collaborative project to re-translate Vermigli’s Common Places earlier this year. We are thus immensely excited at the opportunity that this acquisition offers us to begin enabling the writings of this great Reformer to finally reach the wide audience they deserve.
Profs. Torrance Kirby and Gary Jenkins, the President and Secretary of the Peter Martyr Society and longtime contributors to the Peter Martyr Library project, had this to say about the acquisition:
“This transfer has been the culmination of efforts by several parties for the future of the Peter Martyr Library and the Society. It grew out of a mutual concern by both the Davenant Trust and the Peter Martyr Society that an established center devoted to the vital importance the Reformation, its thought and heritage, should be found to help nurture the scholarship of Vermigli and insure his rightful place in the continuing historical and theological pursuits of our own day. Placed now fully in the hands of those who not only care about such pursuits as part of an academic life, but value them as proper and virtuous ends in themselves, this can only harbinger good things for research and publishing in all things Vermigiliana. We are happy indeed.”
Stay tuned early in the new year for opportunities to purchase heavily discounted copies of the PML volumes, and for other developments on the Vermigli front.
On October 31st, The Davenant Institute published Reformation Theology: A Reader of Primary Sources with Introductions. Edited by Bradford Littlejohn and Jonathan Roberts, this work reflects the clarion call of the Protestant Reformers, “Ad fontes!—Back to the sources!” for our own generation. Just as they recognized that renewal of the church in their era depended upon a clearer understanding of the church’s past through the writings of its greatest early theologians, so renewal of the church in our era depends on grasping anew what the Reformation was all about, why it happened, and why it still matters. The best way to achieve that, we believe, is through reading the primary sources. Read more…
The following letter from the President, Brad Littlejohn, was sent out to all Davenant subscribers on October 31, Reformation Day
CELEBRATING IS NOT ENOUGH
There are few enough historical anniversaries that seem to merit even passing recognition in our forgetful age, so we can be grateful for the crescendo of Reformation 500 commemorations throughout the Western world that today is reaching its highest pitch. And while some may sit on the sidelines lamenting the Reformation’s flawed heroes and ambiguous results, these ought rather to remind us of those hard-won Reformation truths, sola gratia (by grace alone) and soli deo gloria (to God alone be the glory).
The Reformation, we contend, is still well-worth celebrating. In it, the two-edged sword of God’s Word was unsheathed again to cut away the cloaks of confusion and the bonds of oppression under which God’s people labored. Through it, a new era was opened in the life of the church, transforming the Western world and renewing many fields of inquiry.
So celebrate we must, and boldly. But if that’s all we do—belt out a chorus of A Mighty Fortress, have a bonfire, knock back a pint of doppelbock, and get on with our lives—the Reformation 500 commemoration will have been in vain. So let’s get busy.
Remembering is not enough, but it’s not a bad place to start. Few Protestants today understand the basics of their history, and the rotten fruits are not hard to see. Cheap sentimentality and nonjudgmentalism, unwilling to draw the most basic doctrinal or ethical lines, dominate our churches, and those who crave more substance totter uncertainly toward Rome and the East. We must recover the depth and breadth of our heritage, and that is at the heart of Davenant’s mission. To this end, we really cannot tell you how excited we are to announce at long last the publication of Reformation Theology: A Reader of Primary Sources with Introductions. (http://www.davenantinstitute.org/reformation-theology) Thirty-two texts spanning three centuries are brought together, with lively historical introductions, to give the modern reader a sense of what the Reformation was all about, and why it still matters.
We remember our heritage to learn from its mistakes, be inspired by its examples, and retrieve its principles—all so that we can equip today’s pastors, laypeople and Christian leaders for faithful witness and reasoned discourse. This means distilling the fruits of evangelical scholarship into forms easy to understand, share, and apply. The Davenant Institute has been hard at work over the past year publishing a growing library of resources that do just that—and we have a lot more on the way. At the beginning of next year, in partnership with BibleMesh, leaders in online theological education, we plan to launch Davenant Hall: A Virtual Theological Study Center, to keep the candle of the Reformation burning bright.
What is all this for? Just because we like history or find it a convenient stick with which to beat theological opponents? No! A quick glance around at the confusion in our churches and the chaos in our commonwealth is enough to show that we are in urgent need of fresh reformation. This will require retrieving the principles that animated our forefathers’ Reformation, but also creatively re-applying them to contemporary challenges. And this cannot be done by books alone, but requires friendships. Too often we think of Luther as a lone ranger who had a “Eureka!” moment poring over the text of Romans and then took Germany by storm. Hardly. His hard-won insights and harder-won reformation were the fruit of a devoted circle of extraordinary friends, and everywhere the Reformation went it was sustained by intimate friendships of dedicated scholars and pastors. It is such a circle of friendships that we aim to rekindle today with an
ever-growing number of convivial events across the country. Next spring, we hope to see you in Portland, Oregon; in Greenville, SC; in Lincoln, NE; in Minneapolis, MN; in Washington, DC; in Denver, CO; and in Moscow, ID. Stay tuned for details.
ARE YOU IN?
We invite you to celebrate the Reformation with us today, but also to do much more than celebrate. We hope you will join our mission of remembering, resourcing, and reforming to carry the legacy of the Reformers into a sixth century. Please consider making a donation for fresh reformation today. And pay close attention to these emails in coming weeks, as we will be outlining concrete things that you can do (financial and non-financial) to help us in our project.
But for now, go ahead and knock back that pint of doppelbock.
We are pleased to announce the recipients of this year’s Davenant Fellowships.
As part of our ongoing commitment to help equip and support emerging scholars committed to renewing the life of the church through their research, we sponsor a scholarship competition each year, the Davenant Fellowship, with two $2,500 awards going to exemplary doctoral or post-doctoral researchers in Protestant theology and ethics. Candidates are evaluated not merely on their academic promise and the value of their research projects, but on their Christian testimony and commitment both to the life of the local churches to which they belong and to the building up of the church universal. We were extremely impressed with the quality of the applications we received, and are very excited to announce the worthy recipients today. Read about Alex Mason and Tim Baylor as well as a description of their projects below. Read more…
This is a report on Teaching Fellow Colin Chan Redemer’s debut event for the Davenant Institute in San Luis Obispo.
I worshiped God last week in San Louis Obispo with a small group of leaders from the University of the Pacific Intervarsity chapter. If you looked in on us it wouldn’t have looked like worship; our instruments were books, paper, a whiteboard, and pens. The sheet music was mostly the letter of Ephesians. But we worshiped. We had met to look deeply into three questions, to help them get ready for the next season of ministry on their campus. What is the relationship between Justice and Evangelism? What is distinctive about the Christian understanding of Justice? What is the role of the life of the mind in the life of a Christian? They had chosen the questions, I chose the music. Read more…