The Illusion of Respectability, by Allen Guelzo

A wonderful piece from one of my favorite historians

Our mission is simple. And it means death to one of our greatest lusts.

by Allen Guelzo, PhD in Christianity Today

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Allen Guelzo of Gettysburg Colllege

It is very nearly four decades since, as a terribly callow graduate student with an interest in philosophy, I made a pilgrimage with a friend to the home of a professor of Christian apologetics. I was looking for direction, and even though Cornelius Van Til had been retired for many years, he was known to welcome inquirers—whom he often greeted on his front porch with a rake in hand, suggesting that perhaps they could pile-up his leaves for him before they talked.

I was hoping to hear an intimidating, intellectually-convoluted, scholastic, metaphysical strategy for blowing the philosopher’s version of Gideon’s trumpet. Van Til, then pushing 80 stood with his hard white comb of hair brushed back from his cliff-like brow, and the smile of an old Dutch dairy farmer (which his father had been). I asked, “Dr. Van Til, why did you decide to devote your life to the study of philosophy and the teaching of apologetics?”

And I then sat back to allow the metaphysics free room to roll. Van Til never blinked.

“Why,” he said, “to protect Christ’s little ones.”

The surprise that could have dropped me to the floor that afternoon has never quite evaporated. Why, to protect Christ’s little ones. Not only because those words express a great nobility in a few syllables, but because, remembering them, they cast down every castle of intellectual folly I erect, or am tempted to erect. And because, at the end, I am not worthy of them, and because anyone who understands that the kingdom of God is our true home, that God’s people are truly our people, and that this is a world by turns indifferent and hostile to both, must see those words as a true reminder of what we owe to each other as Christians, and in what relation we stand to each other.

I recall those words—Why, to protect Christ’s little ones—with tears, both because I have not always lived according to them, and because it is precisely the world of the scholar and historian that encourages me to ignore them…

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Allen Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, where he serves as Director of the Civil War Era Studies Program. He is widely recognized as one of the leading scholars of the Civil War in general and Abraham Lincoln in particular. He is also a committed Christian and churchman. Though far better known for his work on Lincoln and the Civil War, he has also written noteworthy studies on Jonathan Edwards and free will and on the Reformed Episcopalians, as well as co-editing a book on the New England Theology. (Bio by Justin Taylor, who I gratefully thank for pointing me to Allen’s article.)