Four years ago, friend and long-time friend of Davenant, Brittany Hurd (née Petruzzi), invited me to drive up to Virginia for a conference at Patrick Henry College. I didn’t find out any particulars until we had almost arrived, only that an old classmate whom I hadn’t seen in years, Brad Littlejohn, had started some organization with some friends, the purpose of which I could not discern even after Brittany’s best attempts at describing it. But Brittany had told me that this event would be, and I quote, “a theology nerd-fest”, and for someone more or less starving for theological and intellectual engagement, that was enough. As we did on such occasions, Brittany and I spent the drive from Raleigh up to Northern Virginia listening to musical theater and arguing about whatever the kids were debating on Twitter those days. As promised, the event was indeed a theological nerd-fest.
I was, however, baffled by the topic, which I only found out as I slid into my seat and saw the title on the handout: “Why Protestants Convert.” I didn’t understand why that was worth a whole conference, but I did greatly enjoy the individual sessions. I’m sorry to say that at one point the words, “why do we care so much if Protestants become Catholic?” actually left my mouth. But no one kicked me out or even mocked me (to my face). In addition to reuniting with old friends and giving me a long, hastily jotted down list of books to read, that weekend was my introduction to a whole new Christian ecosystem.
I had seen tribal Protestantism. I knew their rallying cries, the theological works considered second only to Scripture itself, the tut-tutting of less enlightened souls from other denominations. But here was a new thing: men and women (okay, mostly men) from many different denominations eating together, sharing the best of their tradition, debating, and reveling in an unabashedly rigorous pursuit of wisdom. Without fully understanding what Davenant was doing, I was fully sold on the vibe.
Since that first event, I’ve been in the Davenant network, attending events, doing some editing work for them, and working as their communications director for a year. And after a few years of being in the Davenant hive-mind, a new vision of the church has begun to form in my imagination: the body of Christ stretched out throughout time. For many years now, we have been aware of the reality of Christ’s body around the world. Now, with unprecedented online resources and availability of historical texts and new translations, we are experiencing a growing awareness of the body of Christ through time. We can honor our brothers and sisters in Christ in fifth century North Africa, Anglo-Saxon Normandy, seventeenth century Leipzig, or colonial America, the same way we honor the friends currently around the table: by listening to them.
But this new comradery with past minds is not for its own sake. The Davenant Institute is not interested in erecting a kind of Reformation branded Renaissance-Fair. Rather, it looks forward even while it looks behind. The Davenant network is uniquely suited to the project of honing ideas in conversation with those past voices. I have on several occasions texted a friend something like, “what should I read if I want to write a paper on virtue ethics in Jane Austen” or “who has written about the Jewish concepts of soul and spirit” and had PDFs and links appear within minutes (shoutouts to Tim Jacobs and Joe Minich here). There is always someone (to paraphrase Jane Austen) to make reading useful by talking to you of what you have read. Davenant combines subject-matter expertise with an ever-widening pool of excavated–sometimes recently excavated–intellectual resources from our shared Christian past. I have such deep gratitude for my friends at Davenant who, whether in online discussion rooms or over meals through lectures or text-threads, have sharpened and refined my thinking, and expanded my vision of Christ’s church.
In the end, I found out the meaning of that first event’s theme. I realized that Roman Catholicism is too small to be able to contain the fullness and breadth of our Christian tradition. And so is Protestantism, which is why many Davenant folk will call themselves “reformed catholic.” We want it all. Any friend–whether contemporary or historical, whether local or on the other side of the world–who can draw us closer to Wisdom Himself is a friend worth listening to.
Robin Harris is a Bible curriculum writer based in North Carolina.
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