Monday, August 6, 2018

Our Focus

Christianity is big. It is under attack on so many fronts right now. It makes one wonder what is the most crucial. Of all the things we could work on what would have the most effect? I have been focusing a lot on logic. Making arguments for the Catholic faith and pointing out logical problems with Atheism and Protestantism. That has some value. I am wondering if it has the most value. There are actually not that many people who are logical. Everyone would describe themselves that way but very few actually change their life philosophy because someone made a good argument. They are more likely to get angry or question your motives if you prove to them their belief system is irrational. I know this. I was very hesitant to move from being protestant to being Catholic despite overwhelming arguments. I consider myself more of a thinker than the vast majority of people so if I was so slow to act on good arguments then how slow will others be?

So then what is it? If we should not spend out time repeating sound arguments then what should we do? i am not positive. I think these 2 verses might shed some light.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. John 17:20-21


A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35
Both these passages are quotes from Jesus where He tells us what we must do to spread the gospel. The first is unity. Christians have very little right now. They disagree about virtually every question of governance, doctrine and liturgy. It is a major source of doubt driving people away from Christianity rather than a sign of God's presence in this world. 

Catholicism provides some real answers to the unity question but it has its own troubles with widespread dissent and disinterest. There is a faithful core but it can be hard to find. Sometimes even the faithful ones are timid and almost impossible to hear among all the other folks talking more loudly about their own brand of Christianity. 

Then there is the second verse. This has often been held up as the alternative to doctrinal unity. They will know we are Christians by out love so it does not matter if we get the theology wrong. The trouble is that it does matter. You do convince the public of something but that something often does not mention God at all. Our love for the poor and disadvantaged has taken hold in society but it has not led to a love for Jesus. It has led to the notion that all we need is a few moral principles and we can jettison the rest of Christianity. 

The trouble is we have been taking these as an either/or. Either we focus on love or we focus on doctrine. When the church has been most effective it has done both. Looking at the early church and the way it converted the Roman Empire they were united not only in doctrine and liturgy but also in virtue. They lived together and died together and did so with joy because they loved God above all. 

So what would that look like? If we try and be faithful to the teachings of the church and try to love everyone, how would this be different? I think it involved finding those who are also serious about living the one true faith and trying to build a community of love with them. There is talk of the Benedict option that involves doing this by withdrawing out of society and just living with fellow believers. I don't think that is required. Yet being intentional about loving those that embrace the faith. Yes we love everyone but that community of love believers are supposed to share needs to take it to another level. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Eucharistic Debate Response


The debate is elsewhere. Malakye's  invited me to respond. His works are in green. Mine will be in black
"SUPERSTITIOUS, REVOLTING, BARBARIC, DEGRADING, INDECENT, PROFANE AND ABSURD"
1) C.H. Spurgeon was probably one of the greatest preachers who ever lived. He left such a spirit-filled paper trail, there can be no doubt he went straight to heaven on a direct line. Because my opponent is taking the position that John 6 refers to the Eucharist, I thought it apropos to mention that the very first sentence of one of Spurgeon's sermons begins with, "Our Lord Jesus did not in this passage allude to the Lord's Supper, as some desiring to maintain their sacramental superstitions have dared to affirm!" My feelings exactly. He continues... 
"Understood literally, it is horrible and revolting to the last degree! That there are millions of people who accept so monstrous an error and believe in literally feeding upon the body of the Lord Jesus, is probably the highest point of profane absurdity to which superstition has yet reached. While we wonder that the Jews so misunderstood the Savior, we wonder a thousand times more that there should remain upon the face of the earth men in their senses not yet committed to a lunatic asylum who endeavor to defend such a dreadful error from Holy Scripture. Brothers and sisters...it is a gospel certainly more fitted for savages and madmen than for persons in the possession of their senses...[it is] absolute barbarism! We are not required, however, to believe anything so impossible, so degrading, so blasphemous, so horrifying to all the decencies of life!" (Sermon 1288, delivered 4/9/1876). 

This is just terrible argument. I don't know how else to say it. Spurgeon is just asserting his interpretation is right and the Catholic one is wrong. He does not give any reasons. It is what we call begging the question. Then there are a bunch of insults thrown in. That is out of place in a discussion between Christians about what the Word of God means. So it is bad logic and uncharitable. I would like to offer a rebuttal to your argument but there is none. 

It has certainly been my experience that protestants show huge confidence in the strength of their biblical arguments even when the arguments are not very strong. I have fallen for it. I have jumped to the conclusion that protestant arguments were much stronger than they are based on the widespread confidence I saw. It was only when I dug into things more deeply I realized the emperor had no clothes. 

AN INFALLIBLE CHURCH ISN'T ALLOWED TO ERR
2) Before anyone calls Spurgeon over-dramatic, the Council of Trent said (in their decree on the Eucharist) that any metaphorical view of Jesus' words was, "satanic, godless, contentious and evil". How then can we determine whose righteous anger is justified? One way is to examine what the Roman Catholic Church says about the Eucharist under the magnifying glass of her claim to be infallible. To be infallible, Rome must not err while claiming to be guided by the Holy Spirit. If Rome makes even one mistake while claiming to speak infallibly about the Eucharist, then Jesus no more gave the gift of infallibility to Rome then there is a man in the moon. This then would classify Transubstantiation as an "unfruitful work of darkness" which must be exposed (Eph 5:11). 
BRINGING DOWN THE VATICAN GOLIATH 
3) In the same way it took David to bring down Goliath with one stone, all it takes to bring down Transubstantiation is one word. That one, single, solitary word is, "truly". If it can be shown that the word "truly" has been used in a manner that is factually and indisputably incorrect, then the monstrous claim of infallibility must fall to the ground, and Transubstantiation right along with it. 
Here is what I mean. Catholicism teaches that the Council of Trent was infallible (CCC 888-892). Trent announced they were being guided "day by day" by the Holy Spirit, (twice!) in their decree introduction on the Eucharist. They forbid anyone to even "dare" believe otherwise. The catechism quotes this council in #1376... 
"Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly His body He was offering under the species of bread".
No, he did not say any such thing. 
Let's unpack this statement. We notice that there are three distinct errors in this one sentence alone! Jesus did not "SAY" that he was "OFFERING" anything, let alone that the bread was "TRULY" his body. Trent's first error was the brazen lie of telling us Jesus said something, when he didn't.

You are finally sort of getting to a point. Sort of. You are objecting to the fact that the word used in the council is not the exact same as the word used in scripture? The last supper is in the context of the Passover so notion of sacrifice and offering is implied. Did Jesus use the word? He may have. If the council actually infallibly declared he used the word then it is easy to believe He did. Not all words Jesus used are recorded in scripture. Yet I don't think the doctrine of infallibility requires us to believe that. The Holy Spirit did protect the Council of Trent from error. Not so much in matters of technical detail but more in the theological teaching. For infallibility to apply to a specific detail then that detail must be stated quite emphatically.  

Their second error declares Jesus offered himself in sacrifice right there at the dinner table in the upper room before he went to the cross. We are told that even though all eyes were fixed on him, he began to co-exist, simultaneously, in the bread and wine by some eerie, metaphysical process unknown to man. Trent teaches, "At the Last Supper, on the night He was betrayed [He] offered up to God the Father His own body and blood under the form of bread and wine..." 
NO! Such words are a direct assault on the space/time dimension wherein God deals with us. In practice and in precept, Jesus offered his body, chronologically, only once (i.e., at the cross) and certainly not at the Last Supper, and definitely not at any Mass going on today. 

Again you are just rejecting something by simply asserting it is wrong and not saying why. The crucifixion is an even that occurred in time but it is also an event that transcends time. The Passover meal was one act with Jesus' suffering and death. Without Jesus' decision to offer Himself on Thursday we would never be able to see Friday as sacrifice for sin. We could only see it as a Roman execution. 

The Passover was also seen by the Jews as an event in history that transcended time. They really felt that God was delivering them from exile that night. The word they used to describe that concept is the same word Jesus used when He said, "Do this in remembrance of me."

The third offense was to shamefully put the word "truly" into the mouth of Christ at the Last Supper, where he did not "truly" affirm anything at all. No Bible on Earth records Jesus saying the bread was "truly" his body. With blood boiling in their veins in reaction to the Reformers, Trent was being guided by nothing more than their raw, unbridled emotions. 

Have your read John 6 lately: 
47 Truly, truly, I say to you, ywhoever believes has eternal life. 48 zI am the bread of life. 49 aYour fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and bthey died. 50 cThis is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it dand not die. 51 I am the living bread ethat came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give ffor the life of the world is gmy flesh.”
52 The Jews then hdisputed among themselves, saying, i“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of jthe Son of Man and drink his blood, you khave no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood lhas eternal life, and mI will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood nabides in me, and I in him. 57 As othe living Father psent me, and qI live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 rThis is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread3 the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus4 said these things in the synagogue, as he taught sat Capernaum.

Trent even contradicts the counsel of modern day Rome, when we read, "In him [Christ], he [God] has said everything; there will be no other word than this one" (CCC 65). Yet...Trent did indeed add a word, and it is by that single, erroneous word that exposes the "gift of infallibility" to be a farce. Catholicism has, "boasted of a false gift [making them] like clouds and wind with no rain" (Proverbs 25:14). This one, single, misapplied word is a crack in the armor of the Vatican when it comes to their claim of infallibility, and by extension, their instructions on the Eucharist. It results in a living nightmare of, "another jesus" per 2 Corinthians 11:4, a wolf in eucharistic clothing, who decides to shrink himself down to the size of a Ritz cracker so sins may be forgiven by consuming his physical body parts down to the last toenail. Essentially, this is nothing but salvation by a metaphysical form of cannibalism, which is, quite frankly, disgusting. 

You really need to try and understand what Catholics mean by infallibility before you try and disprove it. Every faith needs a final authority. It is either yourself or it is God. If it is God then how can I tell when God is giving me that final answer? I know you will say scripture but scripture can be interpreted many ways. I can pick the one that suits me. Even if I try and pick the one that is most likely God's truth I can make a mistake. Ultimately it is my own sinful, fallible self making the choice. 

The question is whether we really want to know God's word. Not just convincing yourself you are right about the bible but really knowing God's word. Do you think your opinion and God's opinion are the same? As a protestant, I would never have said that but I actually did think I was pretty close. When God suggested to me I might be wrong about the papacy and Mary and some other things i really had trouble believing my previous opinions could be that far off. I did not have an issue with the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. John 6 is quite clear. Still infallibility was the center. 

4) OBJECTION: Trent did not quote Christ. They were simply paraphrasing what he said. 
ANSWER: Anyone who knowingly paraphrases is obligated to reveal their intention at the get-go to prepare their audience that what follows is not word for word. Otherwise, we are to, "Let your yes be yes and your no be no; for whatever is more than this comes from evil" (Matt 5:37). Trent did not do this and so they are, by definition, "evil" when it comes to infallibility in general, and Transubstantiation in particular. They gave no indication whatsoever that they were trying to capture the literal meaning of "This is my body" with a paraphrase! They simply assert that Christ "truly" said the bread was actually his body, and leave it at that. But by doing so, they are guilty of adding to the Text. "Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee and thou be found a liar" (Proverbs 30:6, Deut 4:2, Rev 22:18). 

By definition evil? What is your definition of evil? When a council of the Church does not comply with your arbitrary rules? When God speaks you can count of people being around to tell God He spoke all wrong. People do it with scripture. You do it with the Catholic church. Absolutely something I would expect with a truly infallible council.   

Furthermore, the lack of quotes around what Christ allegedly "said" are, in fact, there by implication in the very same manner as anyone in the Bible who conveys what the Lord said---but with no quotes recorded around THEIR words. If the grandiose claim of Transubstantiation is on course, it should stand out like a ship in the night with the floodlights of Scripture to guide it without the need to misquote Christ. Based on the premise that, "God is not a man that he should lie" (Numbers 23:19), Trent is not free to teach that the Lord... "said"... the bread was "truly" his body to prove Transubstantiation is fact--- any more than I am free to report that he... "said"... the bread was not his literal body, to convey that Transubstantiation is false. Each of our respective cases must be based primarily on the biblical data without the need to put words in the mouth of our Savior so that the better argument is made manifest to all (1 Kings 18:24; Proverbs 18:17; 1 Cor 11:19). 

You are begging a different question here. You are assuming that Tent should only speak based on biblical data. That is what is called Sola Scriptura. It is not a Catholic doctrine. So you can't complain when Catholics don't follow it. You also out yourself on the same level as the Church Father at Trent. You are not. You are a guy on the internet. They are the successors of the Apostles gathered together at the request of the successor of Peter. The shoudl speak with authority. You should speak with humility.

THE EXACTITUDE OF GOD
5) The sanctity and exactitude of God's word is endorsed down to the last "jot and tittle" (Matt 5:18). That being so, the Holy Spirit would never...no, not ever... inspire Trent to misquote Jesus, even just a "tittle". Recall that God tells Moses to simply speak to the rock (Ex 20:8-12) promising to make water flow out of it. However, Moses changes just one word in that command, and instead, strikes the rock. This seemingly insignificant one word change, results in Moses not being permitted to bring the people into the Promised Land. The comparison with Trent's one word modification--- and what their consequences will be on Judgment Day, should be obvious. For if mere fallible human teachers will be judged more severely than the rest of us (James 3:1), how much more so will those who claim to speak infallibly for God? The Bible says, "When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken" (Deut 18:22). The same principle applies here in evaluating the claim of infallibility with regards to the Eucharist. By adding just one word into the mouth of Christ where it does not belong, Catholicism stumbles, and is guilty of breaking all the laws of infallibility in just the same way as anyone "attempting to keep the whole law but stumbles at just one point, is guilty of breaking all of it" (James 2:10). 
In John 21:22, we read of a rumor that was going around based on something Jesus supposedly said. But in the next breath, the Text reports that he did not actually say that at all. It is conclusive therefore, that I am in perfect harmony with the Spirit of Truth who is in favor of what Jesus actually said, rather than what he supposedly said. 
Having taken the Lord's advice to, "investigate, search out and inquire thoroughly" (Deut 13:14), I conclude the gift of infallibility is a sham and a hoax, and thus I would argue that Transubstantiation, as well as the entire Roman Catholic faith should be rejected, per Deuteronomy 18:22 and Jeremiah 23:30-40. 
It is promised in those passages that all false prophets who recklessly wag their tongues by asserting, "The Lord says", (when the Lord did not say), will be swiftly cast out of his presence (cf. Jeremiah 14:14, 23:16-21). Ultimately, there are only two choices. Either Jesus was speaking literally in John 6 and the Last Supper, or he was speaking metaphorically in those places. Based on the fact that the RCC has told us something..."infallible"...about God which is incorrect (Job 42:7), there is no other option but to dismiss the Catholic view and accept once and for all, that Jesus had no intention whatsoever for anyone to consume his physical anatomy. 

You do like to go on and on about nothing. Is this the best you can come up with in opposition to the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist? Really? The statement you keep harping on is not even all that important. I have read many debates on this topic and I am not all that familiar with it. Now if you were talking about the words of John 6 that I quoted or perhaps the words, "This is my body" which Jesus said then I could see spending a lot of time on a few words. These? No. 

WHAT THEN DID JESUS MEAN BY EATING HIS FLESH? 
6) The metaphorical "eucharist onion" that we're dealing with here has an outside layer of skin, "describing distinctly by metaphor the drinkable properties of faith" (says Clement of Alexandria). "Faith, which is the flesh of the Lord", says metaphorical Ignatius, shows that eating flesh and drinking blood is simply a mode of expressing one's faith that, "The word was made flesh and tabernacled among us" (John 1:14), not that he tabernacles in bread and wine for us to eat. When we peel back the layer of that onion, pungent fumes reveal that, "the drink is the word of knowledge [that] Christ...suffered according TO the flesh", says Origin, not that we are to actually eat his flesh. As Augustine said, "To believe [in his flesh and blood achievement] is to eat the living bread. He that believes, eats"... 

You need to understand that the early church fathers interpreted scripture on many levels. So they could interpret a passage metaphorically without denying it was literally true. They did that with John 6. They never denied that the obvious literal interpretation was true. It was obviously those present heard. There were 3 groups who reacted to Jesus' words. All took him literally and Jesus never corrected them. You have the Pharisees, the faithful disciples and the disciples who leave Jesus over this doctrine. Especially the last group you would assume Jesus has a responsibility to clarify his words with them if they are leaving over a misunderstanding. 

OBJECTION: But Augustine and others support Catholicism by saying.... 
ANSWER: Who cares! The point is that the Protestant position has a pedigree that did not just pop up in the 16th century. 

Actually No. There was nobody who denied the real presence for over 1000 years of Christian history. It was not as late as the 16th century. I think it was first suggested in the 11th. Still that is a long time for all of Christendom to believe something you ridicule as stupid and evil and whatever else. 

When we finally cut to the core of the onion, we smell the strong odor of metaphorical usage regarding eating and drinking in the Old Testament as well, to which we now turn. 
7) To suppose that the Savior means for us to consume his physique, is simply out of sync with the biblical precedent of "eating God" in a metaphorical sense. "Hearken diligently to me and eat" (Isa 55:2) is obviously metaphorical. The same goes for, " Oh taste and see that the Lord is good"(Psalm 34:8). The same goes for he being the "Fountain of Living Waters" (Jeremiah 2:13). The same goes for, "everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters...and draw water out of the wells of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3, 55:1; cf. Psalm 42:1, 63:1). The same goes for when Israel, "drank of that spiritual rock that followed them and that rock was Christ" (1 Cor 10:4). God quenched their thirst in the wilderness, splitting rocks and causing streams of water to flow out (Psalm 78:15-16). However, the rock was not literally Christ, just as the bread was not literally his body. They "drank" from their spiritual Rock, by faith, who was Christ supplying their need. Today, we "drink" the supply of all his promises, by faith (John 7:35-7). Today, we "taste the kindness of the Lord" , by faith (1 Peter 2:2-3). Today, we "drink the pure milk of the word", by faith (1 Peter 2:2). Today, we all, "drink into one spirit" by embracing all of his benefits, by faith (1 Cor 12:13). 

All these scriptures point to the Eucharist. OK, some that are just about water really refer to baptism. The point is sacramental imagery is used all over the place. It does not mean the Eucharist is not real. It actually fits with a sacramental spirituality. Even putting the words by faith in bold does not mean what you think. We come to Christ in the Eucharist through faith. This is not something apart from being saved by grace through faith. It is part of how we receive God's grace through faith.

That is 7 points. I know you made 16. I just found it long a repetitive. So I quit. If you want to pick up on a few points in the remainder I can respond. 

Rudolf Bultmann

Just thinking about some of the developments is the scholarship around the early church. Bultmann is a key figure. What he did was really broke the connection between the faith of historical Christianity and the reality of Jesus and what the apostles experienced. He traced a number of stages of development in 3 major areas: 

  1. The change of Christian community from ad hoc small groups of Christians to a more hierarchical church structure. 
  2. Moving from a word and preaching based spirituality to a sacramental spirituality. 
  3. Moving from a low Christology to a high Christology. That is believing moving from seeing Jesus as a remarkable human being to seeing Jesus as being co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. 
Bultmann maintained that in these 3 areas Christianity changed over time from Palestinian Christianity and slowly evolved through several stages into what he called Early Catholicism. 

Now it is difficult to overstate the impact his ideas had on modern scholarship. They were pretty much universally accepted. It is not hard to see why. They were perfect for Protestants because they asserted that the early church was basically protestant in nature. It seemed to address the objection that the reformation changed Christianity into something it had never been before. Of course the low Christology is not a protestant thing. They believe in the divinity of Christ. Still the principle they accepted. That the early church, the really early church, was nothing like the Catholic church. 

Atheists loved the theory because it removes the supernatural elements from the story. It seemed to give a path by which you could get from a nice Jesus who did not do any miracles or rise from the dead to the deified Jesus that Christianity defined in the 4th century. It all sounded good. It still sounds good. You talk to any atheist on line and you will quickly get bold assertions that the New Testament developed over time and mostly would have been completely foreign to the Jews of the early 1st century. 

The only trouble with this theory is it does not make any sense. It does not fit the data. There is simply nothing to indicate these stages happened. The earliest writings we have go back to the end of the 1st century and beginning of the second century. Clement of Rome, the Didache, Ignatius of Antioch, etc, etc. They are all clearly in the Early Catholic camp. So Bultmann has very little time for his 4 other stages. Really religions don't change their core beliefs that quickly and that silently. Even small changes happen slow and with much controversy. So it is massively implausible right out of the gate.

The evidence brought forward for such a proposal does not really work. The principle idea is the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke contain an earlier and lower view of Jesus. Except they don't. The Gospel of John contains more theologically explicit divinity claims like in John 1:1 and John 20:28. Still there are many things Jesus said and did in the synoptic gospels that point to His divinity.

Anyway, what strikes me is how protestant thinking really leads to atheism if you take it to its logical conclusion. When we see that the earliest church we have evidence for is very Catholic in its belief and practise then what do we do? If we imagine the church changed so quickly and so radically because we don't want to put Catholicism in such a central place then you have opened to door to any imagined starting point. A church that is constantly rewriting its scriptures starts to make sense to people. The scholars who should be able to tell what is plausible and what is not end up being willing to accept pretty much anything. Anything but a Jesus who actually rose from the dead. 

The fact is early Christianity came quite suddenly and changed the world quite dramatically. It is something that is not explainable in natural terms. By twisting the data for our own purposes we cause others to miss the significance of the incarnation and the resurrection. That Jesus really did bring something that humans could not have made on their own. That thing did not morph into the Catholic church. It is the Catholic church.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Jordan Peterson


I was reading Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life. He has a lot of interesting thoughts. I can see why people are fascinated by what he has to say. One thing that struck me is he does not have this artificial line between religion and non-religion that you see almost everywhere in our culture. Christians could learn a lot from him there. We tend to have religious conversations and music and movies and schools. Then we have secular conversations and music and movies and schools. We can live double lives. We can have people in our lives that we only see in a religious context and others who are barely aware we are Christian. Catholics are likely more known for this than Protestants. I have been the opposite. I was worse for this sort of thing in my Protestant days.

Peterson will jump into religion frequently. He does it in a way that secular people can accept. He does not treat the bible as the Word of God. He treats it as a collection of human stories with their own largely-unknown histories. What do they say about the human condition? That is interesting and frustrating. Interesting because he has read a lot of scholars, and looking at scripture from that angle can bring out things we have never seen. It is frustrating because he never really deals with the question of is the bible the Word of God or not? Or the related question of is Jesus Christ what He claimed to be or not? He has such a style of being willing to ask the tough questions and even being willing to interact with some horrible potential answers to those questions. So why are these questions out of bounds?

He does tread a strange middle ground. For example, when asserting we should do what is right he gives good reasons for rejecting the idea that nothing is right or wrong. He does a Pascal’s wager type of argument. If it leads to nihilism he just dismisses it with an assertion that if that is right everything is hopeless. So, he is not in line with any of the New Atheism thinkers. This is good because many people disillusioned by Christianity also find atheism problematic. Yet he rejects all the major religions as well. He has said he is a Christian, but he does not go to church anywhere. So, he is leaning a bit further in that direction but not hugely. In areas where Christians are counter-cultural he does not seem to take a clearly Christian position on any of those. He says if you are doing something you know is wrong then stop it. He does not say pornography is wrong so stop it. He does not even seem to tell us where he has personally landed on these questions.

On the problem of pain, he does a good job of pointing out the atheist problem with pain. That the only real answer they have is suicide. Again, he uses Pascal’s Wager type reasoning to dismiss it. I did not know that Tolstoy said the only reason he did not kill himself was because he lacked courage. He really believed his life’s pain out-weighed its value. If a man as impressive as him can believe that, then who am I to say otherwise? Peterson details huge pain in his daughter’s life. Interestingly enough, he dismisses thinking as a response. He suggests maybe there is something higher than thinking. I thought he was going to say Faith. He doesn’t. He waffles again.

Really when faced with such pain we need to either take the plunge of faith or let despair take over. We can choose to believe God is all-powerful and all-loving and this pain is not meaningless, or we can choose to believe God is either not loving or not powerful and judge him inadequate or even impossible. When life seems hopeless and God seems absent, we either accept that as the truth that or we refuse to believe that because it contradicts our faith. That in the end, God will give an adequate answer to evil and pain and injustice and everything else. In the meantime, we need to trust Him.

I was struck but how he talked about one positive thing from his daughter’s life. She was given yet another terrible diagnosis. Yet something they thought was scientifically impossible happened. She got better. Not only did her ankle pain go away and not require surgery, but her knee got better as well enabling her to walk long distances. Quite something. I noticed how he did not want to use any language of grace or miracles to describe this.

Anyway, we are already seeing some people talking about Jordan Peterson as a stepping stone towards Christianity. People follow him and that prepares them to follow Bishop Barron or others who previously they would never have come near because of all the God talk. I can see that. So many people today just shut down when you bring up the topic of God. If he can do it in a way that does not shut them down, then that is great. Yet they can’t really stop with him. He leaves them in the mushy middle and that is not a great place to be. We need to evangelize him for sure but also those who are following his thinking.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Incomplete Christianity

Last post I reflected a bit on what Christians teach about pain and suffering. How many Christians get the traditional Christian teaching wrong and that leads many to reject religion entirely because their wrong ideas don't pass the scrutiny of modern secular people. Andy Stanley saw this but he did not see the Protestant Reformation as being the ultimate source of many of these wrong ideas and the Catholic teaching on suffering as being right. He flirts with the Catholic notion on suffering but does not go there completely. Still he sees quite rightly that the incomplete answer is inadequate and causes people to lose their faith.

This pattern is more common. Sexual morality is one key area. The Protestant decision to accept artificial contraception has rendered their philosophy of sex incoherent. If it is OK to separate sex from child bearing then why it is not OK to separate it from marriage? You remove the one key piece and it become impossible to make the puzzle fit. So what most understand to be Christian sexual morality is really not it. It does not ring true to people because it is not true. True Christian sexual morality was abandoned by Protestants in the last 100 years. Catholics still teach it officially but many Catholics reject it as well. So modern man is rarely exposed to true Christian sexuality either in the form of teaching or in the lives of Christians. The rules are arbitrary and inconsistent and don't appeal to people at all.

In my devotions I have been reading about spiritual dryness and the dark night of the soul. I start to realize that this can be another area where many people are not exposed to actual Christian teaching. Atheists point to Mother Teresa's admission of spiritual dryness as proof Christianity is false. Why? Because they Christianity they understand does not have an explanation for this. The conversion is everything and the struggles you experience later are not really talked about. You are saved and you are not committing any big sin so what is the issue? Yet you don't exactly have the joy and the fruitfulness that will make others want to become a Christian.

Mother Teresa had dryness but managed to have joy and fruitfulness anyway. Why? She was a Carmelite nun. She started her own order later but she was formed in the Carmelite way. So she would have been very familiar with the great Carmelite doctors of the church, St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. These people understood spiritual dryness as a gift. It gives you the ability to choose Jesus not for the consolations you receive from Him but because you love Him. You have to live on faith and not on sight so you know your faith is real. This is something she would know about and expect as part of her walk with God. She did not expect it for as many years as it happened but that was just a surprise in intensity not in kind.

The trouble is that post-reformation Christianity has trouble getting past the ABC's of the faith. They disagree enough about those. Once you get past that you get so much disagreement that you are pretty much on your own. Lots of good advice. Lots of bad advice. All of it claiming to be biblical and most seem to take that seriously. So how do you find truth in that mess? You deal with spiritual dryness and you get a lot of answers. Some tell you to just lower your expectations of what religion is supposed to be. Some say to find a funkier worship experience and manufacture some excitement. Some will tell you to quite the ministry you and try something new. Good thing Mother Teresa did not do that.

So what you end up with is Christianity looking very unimpressive to the outside observer. Lots of testimonies that say I found Jesus. Yet the strong feelings that are at the core of those testimonies often go away. Then what? Really it is like the Israelites. They had their huge experience of being saved from the Egyptians through the 10 plagues and parting of the Red Sea. They experienced God at Mt Sinai in a powerful way. Then what? There was 38 years in the dessert. Lots of hard days. They actually pointed out many days were harder than what they experienced in Egypt as slaves. Yet the reality was they were not slaves and that was a big deal. Yet wandering in the desert for so long is not is hard to take. People who were expecting something easier can get disillusioned. 

The true Christian faith is beautiful enough and strong enough to attract people to it. Yet we need to get it right and we need to do it in enough detail to live it out. Stanley talked a lot about the Christians of the first few centuries. How they lived the truth despite persecution was such a strong witness and attracted pagans to the faith. How we live it actually sends people back to a modern version of paganism. Somehow we have lost the true faith. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Problem Of Pain


Still moving through Andy Stanley's series on Who Needs God. Like I said, he does take seriously the problem of people choosing to give up on religion entirely. He things Christianity has done something wrong but he does not go deep enough. He sees that the way many Christians relate to the bible is not working but does not really ask where does that bible-centered thinking come from? The obvious answer is the reformation and he does not dare question that.

Now he looks at pain and evil. Why are we shocked that pain and evil exist in the world? Many see it as a reason to reject Christianity. That has not always been the case. In fact, the church endured terrible suffering in the first few centuries. Their suffering actually brought them closer to God. Why does it move them away from God now?

It comes back to heresy. People think they know the Christian answer to suffering but many do not. Many think the Christian answer is that suffering comes from sin and the answer is to stop sinning. That is part of it. The bible is full of statements that obedience produces joy and sin leads to misery. Yet that is a certain kind of joy and certain kind of misery. The more superficial and more visible joy and misery often work that way but not always.

When I say more superficial I mean things that can be very intense. Heb 12:2 says, "For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." So Jesus' suffering on the cross was superficial. It was intense suffering but there was a deeper joy. So by comparison it can be called superficial but it can be intense enough to dominate your life. That kind of suffering can and does happen to Christians. 


So if you leave aside the dynamic where we rebel against God's will and maybe we end up in jail or maybe we end up in addiction or in a broken relationship or whatever. That happens a lot but that is not all suffering. There is random suffering where someone get cancer or someone has a car accident or whatever. No obvious sin caused it. Then there is suffering actually brought on by living out your faith. Jesus' suffering on the cross. He was the first of many Christian martyrs. Maybe God calls you to make a painful decision. Often it ends up being much less painful than feared but not always. Sometimes it just hurts and that is the road we are supposed to travel. 

So what is the answer to the problem of pain or the problem of evil in those situations? There are 2 answers really. The first answer is, "Wait." God sees pain and sees evil. He is doing something about it. It is just taking time. We need to trust that God will right every wrong and wipe away every tear. His Kingdom is delayed because he wants to give us time to repent but His Kingdom will come. Then all the questions around the problem of evil will be answered. God's justice and mercy will be evident.

In some ways "Wait" is not a helpful answer. We have to live life now. Knowing that all this will make sense in the end helps but only so much. We need something more. The second answer God gives to this question is the cross. Now Andy Stanley got about as close as a Protestant can to talking about this. He seemed to realize the suffering of Jesus together with the suffering of the early church was the key. Still he stopped short of saying our suffering can become salvific. Just too Catholic an idea.

Still the notion of really embracing the cross and seeing our sufferings as carrying our own cross. That can really transform the way we suffer. The infinite love of God can be made more powerful by our finite love. We can see that. It can touch others because we are human and human love is easier for human to relate with. Similarly the infinitely powerful suffering of Jesus can be made more powerful by our suffering. It can bring grace to our lives and the lives of those we know. God chooses to give our suffering meaning the same way He chooses to give the rest of our life meaning. He allows us to make a difference. Sometimes He allows us to make an eternal difference. 

St Paul says in Col 1:24, " Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church." What is lacking in Christ's afflictions? Not that they are not enough. It is that they are not applied to everyone at every time. Paul sees his suffering as allowing Jesus suffering to have full effect in the church and thus being meaningful. 

That is the true Christian answer to the problem of pain. If we don't understand that answer and believe that answer then atheists will always have a point when talking about pain and evil. The criticism will ring true in the ears of many because our answer will necessarily be incoherent. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Who Needs God?

At our parish men's group we are watching the Who Needs God videos by Andy Stanley. They are quite well done. We have not made it through the whole series yet but he is making some of the same points I have made. He makes them a lot better. He is an exceptional communicator. The basic message is that the rise in atheism has nothing to do with the notion that atheism has suddenly become appealing. In fact, many who leave Christianity do not associate themselves with atheism. They call themselves the Nones. That is when asked which religion they are they don't say Atheist. They say None. 

He actually points out many of the conclusions many of the leading atheist thinkers have come to. They take seriously the possibility that there is no god and try to make sense of life. It is hard. We become the centre. All meaning is centred around what we feel is meaningful. All morality is centred around what we feel is right. Yet can we trust our feelings? The answer is No. We know people who based their life on what they felt is good and meaningful and got it terribly wrong. Do we have any reason to believe our own feelings are immune from such serious errors? No.

The conclusions that atheist philosophers draw are much worse. About free choice being an illusion, about love and beauty having no real value, about the human person being indistinguishable from animals and even machines. These are all out there but I am not sure he went over them in enough detail to convince anyone who was not already convinced. Still he does enough to show atheism, if true, is a terrible truth. It does not just declare God to be a delusion but it says anything you have ever thought worthwhile about your life or anyone's life is a delusion as well. 

Then he moves on to his main point. He says the real problem is not that atheism is appealing but the real problem is that people are latching on to wrong notions of theism. What is being presented as authentic Christianity is actually an incoherent theology that people eventually reject for good reasons. He lists a number of these. He is mostly right. These ideas are out there. They do not make sense and they are not taught by traditional Christianity. 

The trouble is he is declaring all these teachings to be heresy. He needs to do that. Yet he does not claim the authority to be able to do that. Andy Stanley does not claim to be able to define what doctrines Christians must believe and what heresies they must reject. Yet he does exactly that. He gets away with it rhetorically. You can always do that. You can say this other idea makes no sense or it is unbiblical or whatever. Yet if you put him side by side with someone who believes one of these ideas it would not be so clear which is the biblical one or which is the logical one. 

How can you make it clear? Typically the only way to make clear which is the orthodox teaching and which is the heresy is to appeal to tradition. To go back to prominent Christian thinkers from previous generations and show that what they are teaching is not in line with what Christians have historically taught and what you are teaching is in line with them. Yet that line of reasoning is precisely what protestants rejected in the reformation. 

This is why we have atheism. Christianity is a complex faith. It is important we get it right. If we distort it in some way we can end up in an incoherent belief system. Then we are asking people to spend their lives on something that does really make sense. They are not going to want to do that. 

The controversies get harder. So far he has stayed away from the questions around sexual morality. I am surprised because he claims to base these talks on reading many de-conversion stories. That is stories of Christians losing their faith either to become an Atheist or become a None. I have read a fair few of those stories too. Many of them talk about sexual morality. That can reduce their credibility. Christians can dismiss them saying this guy just wanted to engage in a certain sex act and his faith told him No so he ditched his faith. Sometimes that is accurate but often it is not. 

Even people who are married and faithful have questions. Can I tell someone who is not married and in a sexual relationship that they need to stop having sex or get married? Can I tell a woman who is pregnant and sees huge problems with having a child that she should not have an abortion? Can I tell someone who is same-sex attracted that sex is for marriage and marriage is for a man and a woman? For all these questions the answer may well be Yes but you don't want to say that unless you are sure you are right. Can we be sure we are right? Can we know God's truth on these questions with any sort of certainty? If not, then why bother with Christianity? If so, then what do you reply to all the liberal Christians who claim you are wrong?