Skip to content

McCarraher at TOJ, ctd.

The final, and in my opinion the best, part of The Other Journal’s interview with Gene McCarraher is live now. Definitely check it out. The stuff on Herbert McCabe is really worth your time. Especially if you have committed the grave sin of not reading Herbert McCabe.

This section of the interview also includes Gene’s evisceration of the Manhattan Declaration. Here’s just one quote from him on the folks behind this rather lazy and windbaggy document:

If they want to be the intellectual shock troops of a counterrevolution, they’re going to have to amass a better arsenal than what’s on display in the Manhattan Declaration. David Fitzpatrick’s hagiography in the New York Times Magazine made it appear that Robert George is a real intellectual juggernaut, but this document is really lame. (Having met George once, I can attest that he is indeed a learned and gracious man.) The preamble, for instance, is a farrago of half-truth, untruth, and middlebrow history. We’re told in the very first sentence that Christianity has a two-millennium “tradition” of “resisting tyranny” and “reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed, and suffering.” Not a mention of the two-millennium tradition of sanctifying tyranny—imperial conquest from the Romans to the Americans, monarchical rule from the Dark Ages to the twentieth century, dictatorships from Francisco Franco to Ríos Montt. Not a mention of the many blessings showered on feudal and industrial squalor, the oppression of slaves with the authority of the Bible, the infliction of suffering on Indians and other non-Christians. Later, we’re regaled that Christians “challenged the divine claims of kings,” but nothing about how Christians also, and more forcefully, sustained those claims. We’re reminded that Christians liberated “child laborers chained to machines,” but we’re left unenlightened about Rev. Thomas Malthus, Rev. Thomas Chalmers, and later evangelical apologists for laissez-faire and wage labor, often the very same evangelicals who fought for the abolition of slavery. And that’s not to mention the impact evangelical thinking had on exacerbating the Great Famine in Ireland. (Those interested in early 19th-century evangelical social thought must read Boyd Hilton’s The Age of Atonement.) We’re informed that Christian women “marched in the vanguard of the suffrage movement,” but not that Christians of both sexes also barred the door to the franchise for women, bolstered, I might add, by centuries of tradition. The authors think they’ve covered their backsides by writing that they “fully acknowledge the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and communities in all ages,” but the survey they offer betrays no sign of humility or contrition.

Yeah. Humility and contrition never seem to go with conservative Christian sloganeering, does it?


  1. Theophilus wrote:

    So the Manhattan Declaration shows one side of Christian history. This would be problematic if it was written for people who didn’t know the darker side of that history. It wasn’t written for those people. It was written for people who are fully aware of the dark side of Christian history and would use this history as grounds to ignore religious objections to expanded abortion rights and rights for same-sex couples. The acknowledgement of “imperfections and shortcomings” is weaker language than it should be, but considering the document’s intended audience, this simply isn’t the one-sided triumphalism it’s being made out to be.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink
  2. Nancy Nolan wrote:

    While I concur with the description of the sorry history of the Christian church, I think your concluding comment, “Yeah. Humility and contrition never seem to go with conservative Christian sloganeering, does it?,” unfairly lumps all conservatives in the same camp on this and other issues. Personally I don’t think that it’s a very humble or contrite approach.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:15 pm | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    Nancy, sorry if I wasn’t clear. I did not mean to lump all conservatives into the same category. If you’ll notice my phrase was “conservative Christian sloganeering”, by which I meant the particular sort of theocon political advocacy and orientation exemplified in the Manhattan Declaration. I did not intend that as a macro-critique of anyone who considers themself a conservative.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:21 pm | Permalink
  4. Nancy Nolan wrote:

    Appreciate your clarification–you may be aware that a number of prominent conservatives have come out against the Manhattan Declaration.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 11:33 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    I’m glad to hear that. Do you have any names? (Just our of curiosity)

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:47 am | Permalink
  6. Brad A. wrote:

    Halden, might I suggest you post the few paragraphs of Gene’s critique of RO? I think that would be an interesting discussion.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 7:27 am | Permalink
  7. Paul wrote:

    One of many very quotable portions:

    “If there’s anything new about this Obama Doctrine, it’s that the United States will now feel a bit worse when it imposes its will on the powerless of the earth. When we have to bomb a village or support a tyrant, we’ll shed a tear about the Tragedy of It All. Unlike the Romans or the Spanish or the British, we’re the imperialists who feel your pain.”

    Halden, if you had not posted about this interview, I would have never read it, and I would have never discovered Gene McCarraher. This interview is easily one of the best, most insightful things I have read in months. And I’ll definitely check out Origen’s Contra Celsum when I get the chance.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  8. Brad A. wrote:

    About this point on Obama, though: from what I’ve seen/read, it’s under Obama that drone activity has actually picked up. So maybe we won’t be shedding a tear after all…

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  9. Nancy Nolan wrote:

    In response to your request for names of conservative Christians who have come out against the Manhattan Declaration: Michael Horton (link below), Alistair Begg, RC Sproul and John MacArthur. I would be interested in hearing your comments about Michael Horton’s statement. He has been a vocal critic of the evangelical church’s tendency to confuse Christianity with Western civilization or identify it with a particular political party, economic model, etc.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  10. Nathan wrote:

    So they came out against the Manhattan Declaration because they don’t like conservative Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

    How noble.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink
  11. Gene McCarraher wrote:

    I second Nathan’s reading of Horton’s statement. I break out in hives when I see the name R. C. Sproul.

    I also second Brad’s suggestion that Halden post my remarks on RO. I intended them to be incendiary. Stoke up the fire.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Permalink
  12. Hill wrote:

    Yeah… nothing to see here, folks.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Permalink
  13. Nancy Nolan wrote:

    Hmmmm…it seems to me that Horton’s objections to the MD are theological–not because he doesn’t like Catholic and Orthodox Christians (or breaks out in hives when he sees them :). Sounds like you guys just enjoy preaching to the choir instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue with others outside your circle.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Permalink
  14. John Stackhouse:

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Permalink
  15. Nathan wrote:

    I thought my response was rather generous.

    Here is Sproul in his own words: “While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel.”

    His is MacArthur in his own words: ” Instead of acknowledging the true depth of our differences, the implicit assumption (from the start of the document until its final paragraph) is that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant Evangelicals and others all share a common faith in and a common commitment to the gospel’s essential claims.”

    Here is Begg in his own words: “I wonder whether it might not have been more advantageous for evangelicals to unite on this matter, rather than seeking cooperation with segments from Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy and the Latter Day Saints.”

    Here is Horton in his own words, although less explicit: “Many true and wonderful things were affirmed in that ECT document, but the gospel without “justification through faith alone apart from works” is, as I said then, like chocolate chip cookies without the chips.”

    Horton is the only one who is diplomatic about the thing. Could be that he is of Rome by way of Geneva, but hell if I really know.

    So there it is.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 9:00 pm | Permalink
  16. Nathan wrote:

    I second Gene MacCarraher’s appreciation for John Berger. One of my favorite novelists, and a believer and Marxist. Go figure!

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Permalink
  17. Nathan wrote:

    Excuse me. The Begg quote I should have used is this: “I do not believe it is possible to embrace the premises of ecumenical strategy and still draw the conclusions of evangelical orthodoxy.”

    Also, Horton appears to be more open to dialog between “reformed” Evangelicals and Catholics that the others, sure, but given the cast he runs with and the seminary he teaches at I think our presumptions and cursory readings of his statement are more than justified.

    Anyway, don’t presume anything about me, or the limits to my own ecumenism. This isn’t personal.

    I’ll shush up now.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Permalink
  18. Nancy Nolan wrote:

    But that’s my point–their objections to the MD have to do with the blurring of the distinctives of Protestant theology NOT because they don’t LIKE Catholic and Orthodox Christians. I don’t see in any of the above quotes a personal attack–just the expression of “deep differences” about the nature of the gospel. (That’s why I find it so perplexing that Episcopal priests are converting to Catholicism over the issue of the ordination of homosexuals.) At any rate, there seems to be a double standard at work here–we expect “diplomacy, humility and contrition” from our conservative brethren when we don’t agree with them but our comments can be sarcastic, dismissive and condescending. But I guess that’s what makes a blog lively.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Permalink
  19. Saint Egregious wrote:

    IMHO Gene McCarraher may be the re-incarnation of Reinhold Niebuhr. Now I know, given the ass-kicking Niebuhr’s getting over at Faith and Theology, this might sound like an insult. But I am hoping against hope that just as Gene has utterly demolished the liberal bashing perpetrated by RO to great effect, so he will demolish the caricature of Niebuhr perpetrated by Hauerwas and Milbank. If McCarraher will rescue Niebuhr from the Obamaites and the Neuhaus’s, I will light a votive candle to in his honor. If not, we may have some ass-kicking in our future.

    Friday, January 29, 2010 at 3:16 am | Permalink
  20. Violet wrote:

    Who knows, maybe John (Reformedispy) MacArthur is right and the greatest Greek scholars (Google “Famous Rapture Watchers”), who uniformly said that Rev. 3:10 means PRESERVATION THROUGH, were wrong. But John has a conflict. On the one hand, since he knows that all Christian theology and organized churches before 1830 believed the church would be on earth during the tribulation, he would like to be seen as one who stands with the great Reformers. On the other hand, if you have a warehouse of unsold pretrib rapture material, and if you want to have “security” for your retirement years and hope that the big California quake won’t louse up your plans, you have a decided conflict of interest – right, John? Maybe the Lord will have to help strip off the layers of his seared conscience which have grown for years in order to please his parents and his supporters – who knows? One thing is for sure: pretrib is truly a house of cards and is so fragile that if a person removes just one card from the TOP of the pile, the whole thing can collapse. Which is why pretrib teachers don’t dare to even suggest they could be wrong on even one little subpoint! Don’t you feel sorry for the straitjacket they are in? While you’re mulling all this over, Google “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” for a rare behind-the-scenes look at the same 179-year-old fantasy.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site