From the Dean

News items, published articles, and reading recommendations from Dean Timothy George

Page 4 of 147

In Honor of David Steinmetz

By Timothy George
January 11, 2016

David Curtis Steinmetz, one of the leading church historians of our time, died this past November at age 79 on Thanksgiving evening. He spent most of his distinguished academic career at Duke Divinity School, where he was the Ragan Kerns Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the History of Christianity. Steinmetz was a brilliant scholar who shaped much of the way study of late medieval and early modern Christianity is conducted today, and many of his former students are now leaders in their respective fields. A native of Ohio, he studied at Wheaton College, where he majored in English and graduated with highest honors in 1958. He completed seminary studies at Drew University, where he came to know Franz Hildebrandt, a refugee from Nazi Germany and a close personal friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. From Drew, he moved to Harvard to study with the Dutch scholar Heiko A. Oberman, whose groundbreaking work on the late medieval context of the Reformation Steinmetz would deepen and extend. In 1967, Steinmetz received the Th.D. for a brilliant dissertation he had written on the Augustinian theologian Johannes von Staupitz, Luther’s mentor and father in God.

I first met Steinmetz a decade later when he returned to Harvard as a visiting professor. I took his class on “Calvin and the Reformed Tradition,” the same course he himself had once taken with Oberman. Steinmetz also served on my doctoral examination committee.

Patrick Collinson, the great historian of Puritanism, once said that it is better to be wrong than to be boring, but that to be neither is best. Steinmetz was seldom wrong, and he was far from boring. He was simply the best classroom teacher I have ever had. Blessed with a brilliant mind, he taught with passion and insight and never lost sight of the larger context of the texts and traditions he was so adept at bringing to life. I shall never forget his early morning lectures in Andover Hall as he presented Calvin’s life and thought like a great actor commanding the stage. He never took roll; no one dared miss his lively lectures—replete with chalk-drawn diagrams on the blackboard, lively interrogations of sixteenth-century texts, and dramatic reenactments of Reformation debates. You were there with Luther and Zwingli at Marburg, with Calvin and Bolsec in Geneva. Read the rest at First Things.

Posted by Kristen Padilla at Monday, January 11, 2016
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The Dean Recommends: Subversive Virgnity

The Reverend Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson gave the annual Reformation Heritage Lectures at Beeson Divinity School in October 2015. Wilson is married to Andrew, and they have one son.

By Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

October 1998


Okay, I’ll admit it: I am twenty-two years old and still a virgin. Not for lack of opportunity, my vanity hastens to add. Had I ever felt unduly burdened by my unfashionable innocence, I could have found someone to attend to the problem. But I never did. Our mainstream culture tells me that some oppressive force must be the cause of my late-in-life virginity, maybe an inordinate fear of men or God or getting caught. Perhaps it’s right, since I can pinpoint a number of influences that have persuaded me to remain a virgin. My mother taught me that self-respect requires self-control, and my father taught me to demand the same from men. I’m enough of a country bumpkin to suspect that contraceptives might not be enough to prevent an unwanted pregnancy or disease, and I think that abortion is killing a baby. I buy into all that Christian doctrine of law and promise, which means that the stuffy old commandments are still binding on my conscience. And I’m even naive enough to believe in permanent, exclusive, divinely ordained love between a man and a woman, a love so valuable that it motivates me to keep my legs tightly crossed in the most tempting of situations.

In spite of all this, I still think of myself as something of a feminist, since virginity has the result of creating respect for and upholding the value of the woman so inclined. But I have discovered that the reigning feminism of today has little use for it. There was a time when I was foolish enough to look for literature among women’s publications that might offer support in my very personal decision. (It’s all about choice, after all, isn’t it?) The dearth of information on virginity might lead one to believe that it’s a taboo subject. However, I was fortunate enough to discover a short article on it in that revered tome of feminism, Our Bodies, Ourselves. The most recent edition of the book has a more positive attitude than the edition before it, in that it acknowledges virginity as a legitimate choice and not just a by-product of patriarchy. Still, in less than a page, it presumes to cover the whole range of emotion and experience involved in virginity, which, it seems, consists simply in the notion that a woman should wait until she’s really ready to express her sexuality. That’s all there is to say about it. Apparently, sexual expression takes place only in and after the act of genital intercourse. Anything subtler—like a feminine love of cooking or tendency to cry at the movies or unsuppressable maternal instinct or cultivation of a wardrobe that will turn heads or even a passionate good-night kiss—is deemed an inadequate demonstration of sexual identity. The unspoken message of Our Bodies, Ourselves is clear enough: As long as a woman is a virgin, she remains completely asexual.

Surprisingly, this attitude has infiltrated the thinking of many women my age, who should still be new enough in the web of lies called adulthood to know better. One of my most vivid college memories is of a conversation with a good friend about my (to her) bizarre aberration of virginity. She and another pal had been delving into the gruesome specifics of their past sexual encounters. Finally, after some time, my friend suddenly exclaimed to me, “How do you do it?”

A little taken aback, I said, “Do what?”

“You know,” she answered, a little reluctant, perhaps, to use the big bad V-word. “You still haven’t . . . slept with anybody. How do you do it? Don’t you want to?”

The question intrigued me, because it was so utterly beside the point. Of course I want to—what a strange question!—but mere wanting is hardly a proper guide for moral conduct. I assured my concerned friend that my libido was still in proper working order, but then I had to come up with a good reason why I had been paying attention to my inhibitions for all these years. I offered the usual reasons—emotional and physical health, religious convictions, “saving myself” till marriage—but nothing convinced her until I said, “I guess I don’t know what I’m missing.” She was satisfied with that and ended the conversation. Read the rest at First Things.

Posted by Kristen Padilla at Thursday, January 7, 2016
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The Dean Recommends: Joyous Surrender - A Rhapsody in Red (and Green)

By Joseph Bottum
December 22, 2015

I love the elegant Christmas-dining pictures in Bon Appétit. The holiday dishes and cutlery in the pricey Williams-Sonoma catalogue. The winter ornaments and widgets arranged so beautifully by Restoration Hardware. The season’s advertisements in the New Yorker, the Sunday Times magazine, House Beautiful, and all the rest—clean, refined, sophisticatedly simple expressions of upper-middle-class taste, displayed in magazines for the rest of the middle class to gaze at in wonder. To aspire to in hope. To ache for in greed.

Not that I’m without the good old American impulse to ape the decorating manners of my betters. I can page through the exquisite pictures of Architectural Digest, unfazed by photo captions such as “A Dolce & Gabbana-designed Christmas tree shimmers in the Art Deco lobby of London’s Claridge’s hotel.” But mostly I love all the magazine pictures of elegance, this time of year, because they help me grasp the deep, true meaning of the Nativity—since whatever Christmas is, it ain’t this stuff. Oh, Santa Baby, it ain’t this stuff, at all.

Give me the vulgarity of inflated reindeer, bobbing out on the lawn. Give me trees drooping under the weight of their ornaments. Give me snow piled to the rafters, the dozen crèches my wife scatters wildly around our home, like breadcrumbs leading back through the woods. Give me houses so lit up that the neighbors dream at night of sunstroke. Fruit cakes so dense they threaten to develop their own black-hole event horizons. Gingerbread cottages and Mouse King nutcrackers and wreaths on every door and silly Christmas cards and eggnog so nutmegged that the schoolchildren carolers cough and sputter as they try manfully to gulp it down.

Tastefulness is just small-mindedness, pretending to be art. And Christmas isn’t tasteful, isn’t simple, isn’t clean, isn’t elegant. Give me the tacky and the exuberant and the wild, to represent the impossibly boisterous fact that God has intruded in this world. Give me churches thick with incense and green with pine-tree boughs, the approach to the altar that feels like running an obstacle course through the poinsettias, and a roar from the bell towers so ground-shaking that not even the deaf can sleep in. See these spires aspire to heaven, as I wrote in one of my new Christmas carols. Hear these bells rejoice to ring. Read the rest at Public Discourse.

Posted by Kristen Padilla at Friday, December 25, 2015
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