Watching (d)evolution of the lumbering organism that is First Things is certainly interesting. One of the latest developments in this conservative bazaar is the recent addition of a group blog by evangelicals. The lineup is rather interesting, consisting of the sort of usual suspects one might expect to see on a blog by politically conservative evangelicals (i.e. plenty of the Biola types). However, when you starting looking though the posters more deeply, and some of the posts, things start to look quite odd, considering the deeply Catholic nature of First Things.
To take the most extreme example, at least one of the posters on this new blog is ardently anti-Catholic. Like, extremely so. Think rabid fundamentalism meets the New Calvinism meets a loud person with an IQ of around 75 and you’ll have a slight idea of what we’re dealing with here. What are people like that doing posting on the same site as David Bentley Hart and Rusty Reno? It boggles the imagination.
But if you really think about it, all the pieces fit. At the most fundamental level the “first thing” which this publication concerns itself is simply neoconservatism. And really nothing more than that. To be sure there are exceptions that prove the rule, and occasionally a good article or post peeks its head through the quicksand, but the fact remains that at a basic level as long as you’re a political conservative, nothing else matters at First Things. You can be an Ultramontane Caesaropapist or a Fundamentalist who thinks the pope is the antichrist as long as you’re both glad to be conservative together.
As such, I submit that First Things is only serving to perpetuate what they so often deride: the privatization of religious and theological convictions. For them, the most central claims of the church’s life and doctrine are swept aside so that all can come together in the embrace neoconservative ideology, the master story that supersedes all religious and theological trivialities. Oddly enough, this predominately Roman Catholic publication actually offers a goofy and contrived alternative form of catholicity, namely that of neoconservative ideology. It is conservatism rather than the faith of the church that will bind us together in common mission, concord, and purpose. Truly a bizarre, though not unpredictable ideological development. A publication dedicated to theology’s public importance has ultimately become nothing more than the obviation of theology itself. As such all we have left is a half-baked neocon ideology in the ruins of what was once a sort of okay publication.