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In First Things, Alan Jacobs on the Wheaton College dust-up

Jacobs teaches at Wheaton himself and provides a fair and analysis of the situation. Many points worth considering, including this one, near the end:

I think it is important to avoid the claim that the differences between Protestants and Catholics are insignificant; they are not, and it is frivolous to think that they are. But it may well be that sufficient common ground in the gospel exists, and is recognized to exist, so that it makes sense for a college like Wheaton to take a significant step toward effective Christian unity. It was, after all, the prayer of our Lord that we be one as he and the Father are one, and if we neglect any legitimate and significant opportunity to pursue that oneness, great is our sin.

President Litfin, while seeing such a change as a kind of genetic engineering, has also noted that this is a “prudential judgment” for Wheaton’s leadership. After all, since the Congregationalists washed their hands of Jonathan Blanchard, Wheaton has been a self-defining entity, accountable to no other institution. Its leaders can engage in genetic engineering, if they so wish. And as they meditate on this issue, I would encourage them to reflect on the college’s mission statement: “Wheaton College exists to help build the church and improve society worldwide by promoting the development of whole and effective Christians through excellence in programs of Christian higher education.”

What elements of Wheaton’s mission are aided by its faculty being confined to Protestants? This, it seems to me, is the question that matters most. I must confess that I have difficulty in saying what such elements might be. Conversely, the riches of Catholic intellectual traditions, when embodied in persons of deep Christian conviction and piety, offer great resources for the fulfillment of that mission. Wheaton has never neglected the traditions themselves, but it has chosen to pass over brilliantly gifted proponents of those traditions when those proponents have also stood under the authority of Rome. At this juncture in the history of Christianity in the West—when it is besieged in so many ways by so many opponents—I am not sure that a school like Wheaton can afford to go it alone much longer. Even if we could, would it be wise and charitable to do so?

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