It may be that Wheaton College’s termination
of Joshua Hochschild as a professor of philosophy because of his
conversion to Roman Catholicism will eventually be looked upon as a terminus a quo in its departure not simply from Evangelicalism, but from Christianity altogether. I know this may sound hyperbolic, but
if I am right in my belief that the deracinate Evangelical intellectual has
only two well-marked paths of forward thought-movement open to him, the
catholicizing or the liberalizing, this action represents an understandable but nonetheless ominous choice of the latter, and so a path out into the void.
To be sure, the vicissitudes of history may be expected to complicate the exeunt stage-left. Nor is it obvious
on its face to the majority of the players in this drama that the action was
symbolic of a deep and fatal ambiguity that links Evangelicalism with the
fallen Protestant mainline, once evangelical itself. It appears that President Litfin did the right thing–or at least the properly Evangelical thing, as
First Thing’s Joseph Bottum and others have remarked–in identifying his
school’s statement of faith as Protestant and therefore as excluding Roman
Catholic teachers. On the bright surface of things the hard but defensible
decision was made. Dr. Hochschild was told to go his way not simply
because his continued presence would offend a significant body of donors, but because
Wheaton is a Protestant school and Dr. Litfin is a principled man.
A deeper problem for Wheaton, though, the problem of which the rejection is
ultimately a symbol, is that in rejecting a Catholic in accordance with
Evangelical principles, it has passively endorsed the continued tenure and
influence of its liberalizing Evangelicals whose anti-Christianity Litfin and
Wheaton, along with almost every major Evangelical institution, have admitted
as fully Evangelical. The path to
secularism–of which egalitarianism is the principal gate and adornment in our
time, and successful resistance to which is our own day’s peculiar
test of fidelity to the Christian faith in this part of the world–is being kept
wide open by the more respectable sections of the Evangelical academy.
Wheaton may be devoted to the Bible, but its interpretation is, among
Evangelicals, falling into much worse hands than those of the Catholics.
In valiant, Protestant resistance to the authority of the pope, Wheaton, with
high principle and courage, is solemnly submitting to that of the devil.
I would be surprised if Wheaton will be able to survive as a Christian institution by force of the
shame it will allow itself to feel for the illiberality behind this act. The
ejection of a Catholic will provide yet another opportunity for liberals to express their contempt for conservative Christians, driving
those Evangelical intellectuals who are petrified at the prospect of this disdain further than ever from their faith. They will oppose the ejection, and actions like it, not because they have any particular sympathies with Catholicism in general or people like Joshua Hochschild in particular, but because these
stand, among the company they wish to keep, for the fundamentalism they
above all things despise, and with which the Evangelical intelligentsia will do almost anything to avoid
The Evangelical progressives’ deep and abiding fear of the charge of fundamentalism by their secular peers will support the rejection of
anti-Catholicism for the same reason it supports their rejection of Christianity’s patriarchalism. To the degree they are
able to gain power in the Evangelical institution, the old-style, anti-Catholic
Protestantism represented by President Litfin will be replaced by the
new-style religion of the Evangelical egalitarian, which will welcome Catholics (of a certain type) with chortles of joy and wide-spread ecumenical arms. The problem with this
is that the former, despite its strictures, is identifiably Christian while the
latter, despite its emancipations, is not.