Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Help Wanted: Christian Polemicist

Further to my recent post about whether Christians should become more strident, I call to the stand Dr. Thomas Oden, former liberal and great classical theologian.

In his book, After Modernity: What? Agenda for Theology (1990), Thomas Oden says that in a discussion with colleagues on curriculum he "testily suggested that what today's seminary most needs is a polemicist, trained in the rough and tumble give and take of old-fashioned scholastic Protestant polemics." (p. 171) After they challenged him to write an ad for the Chronicle of Higher Education to attract a good polemicist, he did. Here is it is:
"HELP WANTED: Christian polemicist, Ph.D. Must be courageous, honest, and thoroughly schooled in the exacting logic of orthodoxy and the sciences of modernity; intelligent, witty, committed, tough; hard as nails in public debate, but with a warm heart and human touch; must be able to sharpen with precision the fine theological distinctions that modern audiences often find irritating and difficult to grasp, yet make them clear and as interesting to us as they have been for the ancients. Must be morally incorruptible and willing to die for the cause. We are an equal opportunity employer." (pp. 171-2)
I haven't seen an ad like that in the Chronicle lately, but if I did I might be tempted to apply. How about you? Anybody want to apply for that job?


Peter W. Dunn said...

Sounds like fun. Maybe we could do it in teamwork in our new think tank that we're going to start.

Craig Carter said...

Email me at ccarter@tyndale.ca I don't know you email and I'd like to talk to you offline.

Gordon Hackman said...

I'm not sure I'm sharp enough for the job, but the person who comes immediately to mind when I read this is David Bentley Hart. He may not fit the description entirely, but he fits it enough to qualify for the job, I think.

Gordon Hackman said...

I'm familiar with Tom Oden and I own "the Rebirth of Orthodoxy" (which I confess I haven't read much of), but I didn't realize that he was a polemicist. I agree about Peter Kreeft, though I didn't think of him at first. Kreeft, it seems to me, generally offers his polemics against the contemporary cutural situation in general, while Hart often gets much more individual or personal in his polemics (ie saying Daniel Dennett is a bad philosopher or Joseph Fletcher is a proto-Nazi, etc.).

I agree about Chesterton. One of the things I love about Chesterton, though, is his jollity and generousity such that even when he is engaging in polemics against someone it never comes across as mean spirited. This impression is also helped by knowing that he was personal friends with people like G.B. Shaw and H.G. Wells even though he took them apart in his writings.

Another possibility that just came to my mind, but who is no longer with us, is Malcolm Muggeridge. Some of his polemical writings really expose the hollow silliness of so much of what passes for enlightened though in our times. Father Neuhaus was also able to write some pretty good polemics often in his "The Public Square" column at the back of First Things and it looks like Joseph Bottum is working hard to try and fill his shoes.