Part of the reason Richard John Neuhaus will be remembered is for his impact on Christians in higher education. There is no question that his seminal book The Naked Public Square and then his journal First Things changed the way many of us think about religion and culture. He also did something I think is nearly impossible with FT. He created a serious journal that causes many people (a great many of them professors) to do a little dance when they find it in their mailbox.
First Things is not an academic journal, but it is close and better. Instead of dividing knowledge up into a million little pieces and then writing ad nauseum about those subcompartments. First Things invites strong minds to contribute big essays about the intersection of religion, culture, law, politics, art, music, etc. The result is readable and edifying. When I was younger, I knew it was above my head, but I pursued it for improvement, just like a gangster listening to a pronounciation soundtrack to improve his speech. First Things took me places. Today, when I meet a fellow reader, I meet a friend.
Enough of the unsolicited advertisement. I saw a snippet of an email exchange about Neuhaus that is worth reproducing here. I won’t include the name in case the person wants that to remain private:
Converted (to Catholicism) about 1990 or 91. He is one of those Missouri Synod Lutherans who had a tremendous early education in their prep schools and liberal arts college…then a fine seminary education. It was the old German gymnasium system where young guys went off to prep school at 14 and learned German, Greek, Latin, church history, the confessions even before they got to college. The college at Fort Wayne gave them a terrific liberal arts education—classics, literature, history, languages—and then off to seminary. Pelikan, Wilken, Neuhaus, Marty, and many lesser lights came through that system. Valparaiso’s golden age occurred when these highly educated pastors also went into other fields and got doctorates. They had dual educations that made faith and learning engagement a natural thing. M.Divs with a degree in law, economics, literature. Very erudite types who occupied many positions at Valpo. But that has all disappeared….a great but probably necessary loss. How many families would send their boys off to prep school at 14 and what church could afford to run prep schools all over the country for their young men?
But Richard was one of that group….didn’t really need a doctorate.
No, he didn’t really need that doctorate. Wish we could reproduce that system for young people from families without tremendous means.