Signs of Hope

If we’re to believe movies like Grumpy Old Men, the 1993 Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau comedy about two feuding septuagenarian neighbors, then complaining is a sign of old age: things are never as good as they used to be.

If we’re to believe the New York Times, complaining is also a sign of being liberal: things are never the way they ought to be. An aging liberal might therefore also be expected to complain. Make him an aging liberal in the church, and he’s probably going to be even grumpier still.

That’s certainly the way I was feeling recently. I had written one more review critical of Vatican theology. My essay on the place of the theologian in the church tried to be constructive, but started with a complaint and ended in a caution (see “The Big Chill,” January 27). Does aging as a liberal mean being kindly in private and rude in print? How did my prose get so, well, bilious? And for how long has it been getting this way? Will I keep on getting more and more bitter, until I end up as a Walter Matthau of ecclesial disaffection?

I was asking myself such questions when, like the spirits of Christmas past, the memory of my heroes in adolescence, G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, floated to mind. Between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, I read everything by them I could find. The entire point of getting decent grades in seminary was to be free to read what I liked during study hall. As far as...

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About the Author

Luke Timothy Johnson, a frequent contributor, is the R.W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Two of his most recent books are Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity (Yale) and Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church (Eerdmans).