Unlearning Protestantism

Just finished Unlearning Protestantism: Sustaining Christian Community in an Unstable Age (Brazos Press, 2010) by Gerald W. Schlabach, the founder of “Bridgefolk” an organization of Catholics and Mennonites who hope to learn from one another’s traditions.
The thrust of the book is that what he sees as the Catholic tradition of stable community, is much needed by those in the Protestant tradition. He holds the so-called “Protestant Principle” of a Church always in need of reform is indeed true, but that Protestant history shows that it is destructive of community (and Church) if held as an absolute, unbalanced by the Catholic understanding of community, stability and tradition.
A Benedictine Oblate, Schlabach puts forward the Benedictine tradition’s vow of stability as a model of the Catholic approach, and notes the post-Vatican II tendency for vigorous theological debate within the Church as models for our Protestant brothers and sisters. By contrast he sees the Second Vatican Council (correctly in my view) as an example of the Church’s acceptance of the Protestant principle that the Church is in constant need of reform.
I must say that his models for “loyal dissent” within the Catholic tradition (Joan Chittister anyone?) didn’t give me a clear sense that Schlabach has fully grasped the Catholic principle of authoritative magisterial teaching. It’s one thing to debate theological issues before the Church has spoken authoritatively, it’s an entirely different thing after that event. His contemporary authorities seem limited to the writers of Commonweal and America, certainly an interesting bunch, but hardly representative of the breadth of the tradition he affirms so strongly. Stanley Hauerwas and Alasdair Macintyre are two of his more academic influences, and there is an interesting discussion of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s ecclesiology as well.
Originally a Mennonite, the author has entered the Roman Catholic Church while maintaining a connection with his original Mennonite Church, as well as with Bridgefolk. Definitely worth a read, but not the whole story in my view.
Dn. John Redmond
Diocese of Hamilton

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