First Things...

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Speaking of being accountable to no one, First Things comes to mind.

It used to be the journal of record among orthodox Christian believers Protestant and Roman Catholic, alike. Founded out of the Sturm and Drang between Richard John Neuhaus and his former publisher which left Neuhaus put out on the sidewalk, down below the Rockford Center's editorial office in Manhattan. While the Rockford Center continued the publication Neuhaus had edited, replacing Neuhaus with Joe (Harold O. J.) Brown—who did a serviceable job, Neuhaus didn't miss a beat and started First Things.

At the time, Neuhaus's ministerial credentials were lodged with the mainline Lutheran Church of America (now the ELCA). Later, he converted to Rome. Despite my disappointment, Neuhaus's explanatory statement resonated with me and I've often thought of it since as I watched my own longtime denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. On the general assembly and presbytery level, too often it appeared that institutional advancement and the protection of its denominational trademark trumped its Biblical calling as the pillar and foundation of God's truth.

Neuhaus wrote...

With respect to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America of which I was a pastor, the evidence compelled me to the conclusion that its operative understanding of the Church is informed not by the ecclesiology of the New Testament, nor by that of the fathers, nor by that of the Augsburg Confession, but by American denominationalism. I can no longer persuade myself that Lutheranism is an evangelical catholic movement of Gospel reform within and for the one Church of Christ. It now seems to me that Lutheranism is a Protestant denomination among Protestant denominations, and is determined to remain so.[1]

Neuhaus died back in 2009 and I haven't been a regular reader since (although I've continued my subscription). The past fifteen years or so, I'd mostly stopped reading the articles. I realized how much their editorial style was harming my thinking, writing, and preaching. Everything was said as indirectly as possible, nuance googleplexed. There were some standout authors, Bob George and James Nuechterlein among them, but really, their preciousness became something up with which it became hard to put.  I'm also a subscriber to the The New Criterion and find it ironic that the men who write its pieces are more direct, and therefore more interesting and helpful. I enjoy most of each issue.

After giving up on their articles, I still found the letters to the editor good. The back and forth between the authors and their critics in a part of the magazine in which column inches are at a premium forced their writers to be direct. Also, I kept reading the book reviews which I've always found helpful for much the same reasons the letters to the editor were. Then I'd skim the ten or fifteen pages of observations on various issues by Neuhaus that appeared at the end of each issue titled "Public Square." Neuhaus was a voracious reader and held forth from the center of the universe known as Manhattan, so tidbits flowed from him each month in so many different directions that his observations ended up serving as my religious news aggregator.

The past six years since Neuhaus died, I've read almost nothing of First Things. I keep stacking the issues on the night table next to my bed, and after a while the pile is so unmanageable that dear Mary Lee straightens the pile and places it on the floor. This is my signal to keep or toss.

I toss the New Yorkers and New Criterions but keep Touchstone, E. Michael Jones's Culture Wars, and First Things, taking them to the office where I add them to the stacks in the library. Touchstone is mostly unread, although not for any good reason. Something it and First Things have in common is an absolutely unflinching commitment to oppose abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia at every opportunity that presents itself. That's won both journals a warm place in my heart.

There are a few other periodicals we subscribe to and do or don't read, but back to First Things. If you go to their web site, you find they are really into Peter Leithart now, and it makes sense. Peter is all about style and First Things is happy to provide a bully forum for a Bible-as-literature man with some Protestant leanings making another tilt at the windmill Neuhaus, Colson, and Packer tilted against as a part of the vanity they called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together." Back in the nineties, they got a bunch of their friends together, both semi-Protestant and semi-Roman Catholic, and wrote up a bunch of gibberish on a bunch of subjects, all with the goal of showing that, if they were allowed to be the ones dispensing Protestant and Roman Catholic doctrine, they could do it with enough ambiguity and equivocation that everyone listening might think the Reformation never happened or was no longer needed.

So with Peter Leithart calling for the end of Protestantism as the lead article of First Things one issue last year, water found its level.

Under Neuhaus, First Things defended the orthodox moral theology of Christendom. Not so much, now. Last year I got an e-mail from them announcing a book signing they were hosting for the release of Eve Tushnet's, Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith. This whole business taking the world by storm just now as "celibate gay Christian," "Side B," and Living Out is corrupt to the core, but no one seems to see it. Honestly, I can't imagine Neuhaus being bamboozled by their cant. If "celibate gay" is exotic, "gay Christian" is an oxymoron. No Christian has ever called himself "homosexual," "effeminate," or "gay." As I've said over and over, "of such were some of us (1Corinthians 6:9-11).

Sadly, the corruption of the Roman Catholics at First Things has metastasized and now is showing up among Reformed men at Covenant Theological Seminary and The Gospel Coalition. Having refused to teach Biblical sexuality to their children or congregations, it seems inevitable that Evangelical Protestants in denominations like the Presbyterian Church in America would come to cohabit the same "gay Christian' sweet spot as Roman Catholics now led by the populist incendiary, Pope Francis. Nevertheless, I didn't follow through on my intention of cancelling my quarter-century subscription.

Then the proverbial straw that broke the bareback mountain.

As readers know, this past week our two techies, Lucas Weeks and Joseph Bayly, moved Baylyblog's comments from a Drupal module, over to Disqus. Signing up, I noticed I already had a Disqus account and had used it to post a comment on First Things's web site eight months ago. I also noticed First Things's editors had remove that comment and wondered why?

The comment was a commendation of a piece they did on Governor Mike Pence's throwing in the towel on Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act last summer when he caved under pressure from the notorious sodomite, Tim Cook, and his fellow masters of the universe. The comment was short and I couldn't figure out why it would be removed, until I noticed that I'd used the two-thousand year old word, 'sodomite.' I wrote R. R. Reno, the editor of First Things, inquiring why the comment had been removed, and I received a response that said this and that about nothing. They studiously avoided answering my question, so, for me, that's the end of First Things

To paraphrase my favorite cartoonist, George Booth (this and this and this and this and this and this and this), magazines are like people; they has their Alpha and they has their Omega. In the Bayly household, First Things has met its omega.


[1] Richard John Neuhaus, “To Friends and Colleagues,” September 10, 1990.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

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