I am spending a twenty-four hour sabbath, after a busy six weeks of travel and speaking, at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois. Frankly, this 80 acre campus is one of the most gorgeous places in all of Illinois. It is about an hour’s drive north of my home. Last evening I had a lovely dinner, in a very wonderful Sicilian restaurant, with my good friend Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Baima, the provost of Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary. Tom and I met about four years ago when a group of evangelicals in Naperville, Illinois, arranged a Catholic and evangelical dialogue for us. It was well-attended and well done. We formed a friendship through that evening and have since explored ideas that will lead, we trust, to a larger Catholic/evangelical forum in Chicago in 2007. (Stay tuned for details!) Tom is also a contributor to my forthcoming Zondervan book on four views of the Lord’s Supper (It has a late 2007 release date, with the corresponding book on Baptism due out in January of 2007.)
I asked Tom, as we drove back to the seminary last evening, “How do you explain the growth of your student body to its present high of 260 students after it hit rock bottom in 1991-92?” (The school was even larger, like all Catholic seminaries, in the 1950s, following world War II.) After the 1960s, and the turn to the left in the American Catholic Church, the number of priests, and thus the number of students preparing for the priesthood, declined sharply. I thought I knew the answer to my question but I wanted to hear Tom’s answer. Without hesitation he said, “John Paul II.” Tom then added that John Paul II pulled this renewal effort off not only because of his commitment to a more orthodox and robust Christian position but because he lived the Christian faith and incarnated the graces of Christ in ways that made him so fruitful in demonstrating the love of Christ. Tom went on to say that even the “priest scandals” of the 1990s had not slowed this growth. Why? Truth lived, and resolutely applied, makes a difference. Humility and courage go together. Standing for something is very important but how you stand is even more important! As evangelicals sort out the Ted Haggard scenario I pray to God this very day that they will more fully understand this same point. We need to stand for something orthodox and we need to do it with courage and humility.
John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."