The Calling/Episode 3 |48min

Peter Leithart's Theology of Defeat

How the prolific theologian learned to face down failure.
Peter Leithart's Theology of Defeat

If you’ve ever spent much time over at First Things, you’ve probably come across the blog of writer, pastor, and theologian Peter Leithart, the journal’s resident Renaissance man. With an omnivorous mind and an eye for the unusual, Leithart seems to have written about almost everything, from Shakespeare’s plays and Jane Austen’s novels to the meaning of baptism and the legacy of Athanasius. Whatever he’s working on, though, he always aims to connect the mind to the soul—especially when it means helping ministers to minister better.

Before his present successes, however, Leithart encountered his fair share of ministerial tribulation. Coming out of seminary, he intended to move straight into a career writing and teaching theology. Instead, he found himself stepping into a head pastor position with little experience and a host of demands, including helping a couple whose failing marriage was tearing his church apart. The experience taught him a lot about failure—especially how God redeems it:

I think the general flaws in my pastoral care have had to do with basic vices—sins—and I think the two main ones are fear and sloth. . . I had this really intense family situation, and I’d not encountered anything like that before. And it frightened me. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know how to handle it. I had a conviction that I was supposed to fix it somehow, because I was a pastor, but I didn’t really have much of a sense of how to do it. I was just frightened by it. And the fear and the sloth kind of go together: I’m frightened by it, and I just want it to go away. I don’t want to do the hard work that it takes to confront bad behavior ...
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Posted:
July/August
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