Thursday, September 30, 2010

Calvin's Contribution

One point Belloc made that I thought was interesting was that Calvin transformed the reformation from a purely negative thing to another religion. He felt that Luther was a anti-Catholic. He needed the Catholic church for his theology to work. Calvin didn't. His Institutes of the Christian Religion could stand on its own. He moved from a list of gripes to a full system of theology. That meant the Reformation had much more staying power than it would have had without Calvin.

Calvinism became much more like Islam. It was obviously influenced by Catholicism but it could make sense of itself apart from Catholicism. Certainly the Calvinism I was raised on was like that. Catholicism was only mentioned in the context of the reformation. But Muslims are a bit more honest about the major role their founder played. They say that Jesus was greater than Moses but Mohamed was greater than Jesus. Calvinists would never say Calvin was greater than Jesus. But does that not make sense? Jesus brought something in the first century. Calvin improved on it in the 16th century. So the same logic should apply.

Now Calvin would say that he was restoring the faith that Jesus brought. He was more than restoring. There was nothing like the Calvin's Institutes in the early church. Nothing like TULIP. Calvin organized things into much more up to date philosophical categories. If what he wrote was true it was clearly a huge step forward. Besides, Calvin believed the church Jesus founded needed to be fixed. We are not talking about a few repairs here and there. We are talking major foundational renovation. There were errors everywhere. Calvin corrected them all or at least the vast majority of them. If Calvin can fix what Jesus built does that not make Calvin greater?

The logic seems obvious to Muslims but not so much to Calvinists.The reason is obvious. It flies in the face of the Christian teaching that Jesus is God. With Jesus God became man. With Calvin God became inhuman. Calvinists love and respect the teaching of Jesus much more than the teachings of Calvin. This is good. They believe in predestination because they have to. They believe in the resurrection because they want to. They don't really understand how much of their experience of Jesus was changed by Calvin. Not just by his actual teaching but by the logical long term consequences of his break with the church. The decline of sacramental spirituality. The growing confusion over what God's word really says. A father is responsible not just for what he intended his children to become but for what they actually become.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jake Magee Responds

There are a few things happening here. His article, my response, his reply, now me again. I shall try and reduce the confusion by using colors. He picked blue so I shall use green for my new comments.

Hello Randy,
The original article is italicized; your comments are black and non-italicized.  My response is in blue. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I know pastors are busy. 

Jake Magee responds to some conversion stories in Surprised by Truth. He is actually pretty fair and rational. He takes seriously the fact that well-formed, intelligent protestants came to believe Sola Scriptura is false. He also takes seriously the consequences. If Sola Scriptura is false then "Protestantism has been dealt a fatal blow."

The first objection he deals with is that SS is unbiblical. He goes to 2 Timothy 3:16-17. He actually tries to follow the logic though.
     All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for  
     correction, for training in righteousness 16; that the man of God may be adequate, 
     equipped for every good work 17 (NASB).

First of all, Scriptures are described by Paul as being “inspired by God.”  The phrase “inspired by God” is translated from the Greek word “theopneustos” which is literally rendered  “God-breathed.”  By this Paul is communicating that the very writings were breathed out of the mouth of God.  Further, the authority that Scriptures do have is derived from the verity that the very words were spoken by God. 
Sure the scriptures are God-breathed. Catholics don't deny Sola Scriptura because we disrespect scripture. We just want it in it's proper role. The word "authority" is wrong here. Scripture is a book. It cannot have authority. Authority is defined as "the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine". A book can't do that.

I don’t think “authority” is an improper adjective for Scripture.  I did a quick Google search combining Catholic, Scripture, and authority and found a bunch of Roman Catholic publication that use the same designation for Scripture and Tradition (e.g.  If it’s good enough for your team, its good enough for mine. 

I think the word has multiple meanings so I guess I should not have objected so much. I did feel you were muddying some important distinctions. Scripture plays an important role in our lives but there are some things it can't do just because of the fact that it is a book.

Moreover, I think its clear that text can “determine… settle issues or disputes...commands etc.”  In ligation a valid and clearly stated contract (text) will direct a judge to rule in favor of one person over another.  The judge himself will make this judgment because he or she has sworn to operate in a way that is faithful to other text (state and federal laws found in books) that are referred to incessantly.  If they are not faithful, the judge’s judgment may be challenged in appeals.

This is where we disagree. Why do we need judges? Why can't you just let the law decide? Because both parties will often claim the law is on their side. The law is inadequate to function as a sole authority precisely because it is a document.  Scripture can't function as the sole authority for the same reason. Disputes often have both sides claiming their position is biblical. Someone has to vet that claim.

Lastly, “authority” seems appropriate given the description given to us of Scripture by Scripture.  Here’s one of many passages:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12) 

Any casual word study of phrases like “law of God” produces multiple passages that clearly describe Scripture as authoritative. 

I think you are pointing out another difference. Catholics don't believe the scriptures and the word of God are the same thing. The word of God is scripture, tradition, and the magisterium. So Heb 4:12 would not be talking just about scripture. Scripture isn't actually "living". We have living church leaders who, based on scripture and tradition, bring the word of God to life. 
 Secondly, notice that Scriptures are “profitable.” No one in this debate disagrees about this statement.  However, the text says that Scripture is profitable “for” one kind of thing “in order that” another kind of thing might be true.  To put the matter formally, Scripture is profitable for x, in order that y.  The variable x refers to “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.”  The variable y refers adequacy and equipping believers.  It is the y that Protestants point to as a clear declaration in Scripture of its own sufficiency.  Let’s look at verse 17 more closely.
This is a big problem. If x is profitable for y that does not imply nothing else is profitable for y. If eating right is profitable for health then exercise cannot be profitable for health? You cannot just focus on what y is and ignore the connecting word "profitable" that open the door to other things being just as important. 

Randy, I wish you had read the article a little closer.  This was the first objection I directly addressed, as well as addressing this on the back end of the essay.   I’ll give you the first passage now and the second passage with the next point. 

I did read the whole thing. I intended to respond to the rest of your article later. In the second section you did take the matter of sufficiency to be proved. It isn't. The text does not say scripture is sufficient. If anything, it says teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness together are sufficient. 

Now many Catholics do accept the material sufficiency of scripture. This is as distinct from the formal sufficiency of scripture which would be needed for Sola Scriptura. But we don't believe it based on 2 Tim 3. It is just not there. It is not anywhere in scripture. You can argue for material sufficiency from tradition but then you have violated your own rule. Your task here is to show Sola Scriptura is not self-refuting.  

I don’t see the logical misstep, and this was addressed in the previous comments.  But let me elaborate.  The passage says that a man of God can be thoroughly equipped for every good work when something is taught, something is used to reprove, something is used to correct, etc.  The passage clearly equates that something with “Scripture,” and nothing more.  Therefore, Scripture is sufficient as that which is to be taught, corrected to thorough equip a person for faith and practice.   
I don't think the passage equates the something with scripture and nothing more. It says scripture is one thing that would do these things. It does not say it is the only thing or even the best thing. It is the only thing Paul has in view at this moment. He is giving scripture high praise. But he gives tradition high praise and the church high praise in other places.
You seem to suggest that since this passage implies that there is a teacher, reprover, corrector, and trainer, then we can’t cite this passage as a proof text for Sola Scriptura.  But as mentioned in my previous comments, this is to misrepresent the doctrine of Sola-Scriptura.  
I am not saying it denies Sola Scriptura. I am saying it fails to prove it. He could have said the book of Genesis is inspired by God and profitable for teaching ...That would not prove Sola Genesis. The words just don't mean that.
 The doctrine of Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean that Scripture is necessary and sufficient for everything.  In other words, we readily admit that even though Scripture is necessary and sufficient for x, it may be necessary and not sufficient for y.  For example, we maintain that although Scripture is necessary and sufficient as a guide to live a godly life, it is insufficient as to whether or not I live a godly life.  For, in addition to the guide, I must add my will.  To use an analogy, a compass is sufficient to guide me to the north pole, but it is insufficient in actualizing my trip to the north pole.  There are all sorts of other conditions that are to be met in the actualization of this trip.  As it pertains to living a godly life, we don’t believe in Scripture alone (we believe in Scripture + God’s grace + human volition) | “you can add to this list ‘eyes to read, ears to hear, teachers who teach…’|.  But certainly that doesn’t take anything away from the sufficiency of Scripture as a guide to live a godly life.  In the same way, even though there is need for an interpreter doesn’t take away the necessity and sufficiency of Scripture as a guide.

You keep running away from the Sola part of Sola Scriptura.  This is a good thing. It is the problematic part. We need an interpreter. The Sola part tells us we can't find one that is trustworthy. None that at least gets the basics infallibly right. Sufficient needs to mean that Sola Scriptura is at least workable. It would not imply it is best but it would be at least one possibility. But empirical evidence shows it is not workable. The interpreter problem seems to be way bigger than people are willing to admit.

How might a Roman Catholic respond? 

Perhaps the Catholic might respond by saying that Paul doesn’t state that Scripture is “alone sufficient.”  He might argue that Scripture is sufficient as a guide, but tradition is also sufficient as a guide.  That is, Scripture is not the “only” guide available to believers.  Tradition gives us instruction that either spells out doctrines which are implicit in Scripture, or perhaps it gives us revelation not found in Scripture.  So a person who has tradition but no Scripture is also “complete and perfect, furnished perfectly for every good work.” 

 {Instead of your health analogy, I used the compass/stars analogy}
 To illustrate this point, one may use a compass to point to true north, or one may use astronomic markers to perform this task.  Both rely upon something different in pointing to the same truth.  The person using the compass relies on the magnetic field of the earth.  The person using astronomical markers relies upon the earth’s position relative to the stars.  The one depending on the compass cannot claim to have the only way of finding true north, and vise versa.  And so it is with Scripture and Tradition.
So does that not assume sufficiency as a premise? It is implied in your compass analogy as well. There is no way the compass and the stars together could give you a fuller or more reliable direction. The compass is actually getting quite a simple bit of information. God's word needs to provide us with all the essential answers to questions of faith, morals, worship, etc. We don't even know what all those questions are.

 However, there are a number of problems with this line of reasoning.  Firstly, when Protestants say that the Bible alone is sufficient as a normative guide for Christians, we don’t necessarily mean that nothing else could be sufficient.  For example, if Christ appears to a native in Africa who doesn’t have a Bible and reveals the truths about God’s kingdom, this might also be sufficient.  So, when we say “Sola Scriptura,” we mean that the Bible, by itself and without the addition of anything else, is good enough as a guide to the Christian life.  I don’t need to know what Christ revealed to the native in Africa, for the Bible is good enough for me in America.  Yet, Protestants also urge that nothing else is actually sufficient, for nothing else has proved itself to be the authoritative voice of God.

So what are we trying to do? You want to show Sola Scriptura is taught in scripture. In response to some texts where scripture tells us to cling to tradition or tells us that the church is the pillar and foundation of truth you give a logic argument why we should ignore what scripture actually tells us to do and stick with scripture alone. 

The argument is the bible is "good enough". It depends what you mean by that. In some sense the Gospel of John by itself is good enough. Should we ignore the other books of the bible? We don't want to minimize our experience of God. We want as deep and as full a revelation as is available. We also want to avoid error. 

When you say nothing else has "proved itself to be an authoritative voice of God". How does something prove itself? What is the standard you measure something against to see if it is the voice of God or not? Isn't it a matter of faith rather than proof? When somebody publishes a list of 100 biblical contradictions, are you surprised they found that many? I am not. I don't believe any of them are real but if you don't approach the question with faith you will find lots. Same with scripture and tradition. Does it require some faith to believe what they teach makes sense? Sure. Is it more faith than it takes to believe the bible alone makes sense? No. 

So how does the bible prove itself? It doesn't. Sola Scriptura can't solve the canon question. Tradition flows directly from Jesus so it can be as reliable as it's source. Scripture was not written by Jesus. We need to believe some other revelation that tells us these books were inspired. When you try and describe what that is it sounds a lot like tradition.

 I don’t think this is a problem with Sola Scriptura. It appears to be a general problem with humanity.  And it appears to be one that you have succumbed to as well.  You seem to be quite confident in your assessment of this article, but I haven’t detected the charity and objectivity to read, represent, and respond appropriately to it.  The only straining I sense is the one that denies the obvious import of the passage, fails at a serious assessment of the topic, not to mention the crass caricatures my position represented in the above paragraph (i.e., “Now John” – it’s Jake by the way “Magee’s opinion has become the Word of God…).  I was very careful in the article to be kind and fair in both the presentation of the RC position and in my response to it.  I’d appreciate a similar response.   

Sorry if I seemed uncharitable. That was not my intent. I did think it was a bit much for you to compare your conclusions to the divinity of Jesus. But generally you have not been arrogant or dismissive so I should not have replied so smugly. I do think the lack of check and balances in the Sola Scriptura system is a problem. It gives people the choice between being arrogant or being wishy-washy. Catholicism lets you boast in Christ alone. That is in the church as the body of Christ and it's teachings. One can brag about them and not be prideful. 

But secondly the context really shoots holes in his conclusion as well. When you examine the verses prior it becomes clear Paul is talking about the Old Testament when he mentions scripture. That is a devastating problem he does not mention.
 I’m sorry, please elaborate the devastating problem and how it relates to the particular argument I make.  I'm not even sure what portion you're referring to.
You need to read a few verses before:
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Paul refers to the scriptures Timothy was reading from infancy. That could not be the New Testament. Paul died around 66AD. So Timothy would have been born around 40AD. No way Timothy read any NT book when he was a boy. Paul would have been referring to the Septuagint. So you are being a bit anachronistic in assuming the word "scriptures" means the 66 book canon you are familiar with.  

Randy, I appreciate your desire for the truth.  I’m open to fair and balanced feedback.  I look forward to that from you.
Jake Magee  
Thank you for replying Jake. I am trying to be fair and balanced. You might not think I have succeeded. Thanks for telling me what you thought was unfair and not just skipping out on the whole thing. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Surprised By What?

Jake Magee responds to some conversion stories in Surprised by Truth. He is actually pretty fair and rational. He takes seriously the fact that well-formed, intelligent protestants came to believe Sola Scriptura is false. He also takes seriously the consequences. If Sola Scriptura is false then "Protestantism has been dealt a fatal blow."

The first objection he deals with is that SS is unbiblical. He goes to 2 Timothy 3:16-17. He actually tries to follow the logic though.
     All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for  
     correction, for training in righteousness 16; that the man of God may be adequate, 
     equipped for every good work 17 (NASB).

First of all, Scriptures are described by Paul as being “inspired by God.”  The phrase “inspired by God” is translated from the Greek word “theopneustos” which is literally rendered  “God-breathed.”  By this Paul is communicating that the very writings were breathed out of the mouth of God.  Further, the authority that Scriptures do have is derived from the verity that the very words were spoken by God. 
Sure the scriptures are God-breathed. Catholics don't deny Sola Scriptura because we disrespect scripture. We just want it in it's proper role. The word "authority" is wrong here. Scripture is a book. It cannot have authority. Authority is defined as "the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine". A book can't do that.
 Secondly, notice that Scriptures are “profitable.” No one in this debate disagrees about this statement.  However, the text says that Scripture is profitable “for” one kind of thing “in order that” another kind of thing might be true.  To put the matter formally, Scripture is profitable for x, in order that y.  The variable x refers to “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.”  The variable y refers adequacy and equipping believers.  It is the y that Protestants point to as a clear declaration in Scripture of its own sufficiency.  Let’s look at verse 17 more closely.
This is a big problem. If x is profitable for y that does not imply nothing else is profitable for y. If eating right is profitable for health then exercise cannot be profitable for health? You cannot just focus on what y is and ignore the connecting word "profitable" that open the door to other things being just as important.
 Paul says that Scripture can produce believers which are “adequate” and “equipped for every good work.”  The TDNT defines “adequate” (artios) as “fitted, complete, perfect.”  Bauer defines “adequate” as “complete, capable, proficient = able to meet all demands.”  The TDNT defines “equipped” (exartizo) as “to complete, finish, to furnish perfectly, to accomplish” (1:475,80).  Bauer also defines “equipped” as to “finish, complete...equip, furnish” (273).    
These definitions point to the meaning of our English word “sufficiency.”  To make this issue as clear as possible, let’s define and contrast the words “sufficiency” and “necessity.”  To say that one thing is necessary for another is to say that without this condition in place the desired effect will not occur.  For example, water is necessary for human life.  That is, water is a condition without which human life could not exist.  To say that a thing is “sufficient” is to say that this condition is all one needs.  In the case of water, it is necessary but not sufficient for human life (for we need food in addition to water).  If it were the case that water is both necessary and sufficient for human life, than food is irrelevant.   
But what does  "sufficiency" apply to here? To teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. It does not apply exclusively to scripture. For that you have to deal with that word "profitable" that does not imply any exclusivity. So the logic has a hole in it.
Now, if I say that Frank’s Furniture Farm is complete or adequate to furnish perfectly my house, I mean that I don’t need to go anywhere else.  In other words, Frank’s Furniture Farm is sufficient, or good enough; no other store is necessary.  In the same way, Paul is saying that Scripture is adequate and complete to perfectly furnish the believer to live life as God intends; nothing else needs to be added. 
Even this does not prove his point. If Frank's Furniture Farm has all the furniture I need then I still need to find a way to get it delivered. I still need to organize it in my home in the right way. It is complete in one way but not in all ways. Truth is like that. It is there in scripture but it needs to make the trip from the book to my head and my heart. That means you need an interpreter. Interpreters can make errors. Mr Magee just demonstrated that by making a logic error in interpreting these 2 verses. I mean he is a bright guy and he spent a fair amount of effort on just 2 verses. Yet he blows it. He saw what he wanted to see and not what the text actually says. The furniture truck went off the road and delivered a bunch of kindling.
In short, Scripture is necessary and sufficient.  Contrary to Scott Hahn’s and Bob Sungenis’ assertion that “sola scriptura is simply not taught anywhere in the Bible, either explicitly or implicitly,” 2 Tim 3:16 &17 is as explicit and clear in its support of Sola Scriptura as John 1:1-3 is explicit and clear about Christ’s deity.  
This one key problem with Sola Scriptura. Not only do people arrive at false conclusions but they have rock solid confidence in those conclusions. Suddenly strained logic becomes "clear and explicit". Now John Magee's opinion has become the Word of God.  There are no checks and balances. Any error instantly goes all the way up to the mouth of God Himself. He says he is as sure of his little syllogism as he is of the divinity of Christ. Amazing.

Now he goes on to anticipate what a Catholic might say in response. He gets some of it right but does not include the strongest responses. Firstly that his logic is off. That cannot be stressed enough because he builds on this statement he has "proven" through his faulty argument.

But secondly the context really shoots holes in his conclusion as well. When you examine the verses prior it becomes clear Paul is talking about the Old Testament when he mentions scripture. That is a devastating problem he does not mention.

Also, the phrase "man of God" could have some meaning. Some feel it refers to someone who is ordained. Even if it does not it seems this teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness that Paul refers to assumes a certain familiarity with the faith. He is not talking about anybody, anytime, anywhere.

I shall stop here and continue this another day.

Interesting Story

Reuters reports on a meeting between Catholic and Orthodox churches:
Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians reported promising progress Friday in talks on overcoming their Great Schism of 1054 and bringing the two largest denominations in Christianity back to full communion.
Experts meeting in Vienna this week agreed the two could eventually become "sister churches" that recognize the Roman pope as their titular head but retain many church structures, liturgy and customs that developed over the past millennium.
 I know the press never understands what they are saying. But this story says a lot. For the Orthodox to recognize the pope would be huge. The idea that they are talking about doing it at some point in the future is quite remarkable. It is not a matter of an organizational arrangement. It is a matter of doctrine. To talk about someday accepting a doctrine means you are no longer asserting said doctrine is false. If you think it is false you won't discuss ever confessing it. Those kinds of barriers tend to be permanent. The barriers that are just a matter of personality and style can be overcome with charity.

To heal such a major schism would be huge. It is difficult to overstate how huge. In terms of enriching the church I can see it having a big impact. Eastern Christianity has a bit of a different flavor than the Latin Rite does. We would have much more diversity.

It would also remove the Orthodox as a counter-example to the notion that to be traditional is to accept the pope. That might take a lot longer. What might happen is one Orthodox church, likely the Russian Orthodox, would come to an arrangement. That might lead the others into communion with Rome. But this process would take decades rather than years. Still any kind of admission that the papacy is an essential element of Christianity would help.

Playing With Fire

What were the reformers thinking when they challenged the papacy? Did they want to destroy the church? No. They wanted to reform it. Can you reform something by attacking it's leaders so strongly and so personally? It isn't likely. But they did have some recent history that might have made them think it possible. I am referring to the scandal of multiple popes that occurred in the 14th century. There you had multiple factions attacking each other pretty strongly and they managed to get it all back together. It is likely that Luther and Calvin compared the crisis they were creating with that and felt God would just fix the problem.

It is a sin of presumption. If you think God saved you from a car crash once do you start driving even faster? You might. But the more prudent course would be to not push you luck. The church was very close to falling apart and didn't. So the reformers thought they could push it there again and get away with it. Even when the Council of Trent came and went without bringing protestants back into the fold many were still optimistic that the church would come back together.

We have gotten so used to splits we can see them coming a mile away. The church I was raised in split over women in office. Many predicted it 20 years before it happened. They could not prevent it without ceasing to be protestant but they could see it coming. The reformers could not see it coming. They had not experienced split after split like we have. To them it was unthinkable. To us it is not even remarkable.

I remember with the financial crisis people commented that the failure of certain institutions went straight from impossible to inevitable without passing through unlikely. I think the reformation was like that. It happens when someone is in denial. The next generation comes along and notices the split that could never happen has already happened.

The next generation tried to make the reformation work. They tried to treat heretics as heretics. That is as an evil to be removed from society. It led to wars. So many wars with so little resolution that Europe just could not continue fighting. But the decision to end the wars came at a price. It resulted in the devaluing of religion in general. If it was not worth fighting for it was not worth living for. People learned to forget about what they believed and focus on temporal matters.

I don't think Luther or Calvin ever dreamed their squabble with the pope would result in so many Europeans abandoning religion as the center of their life. But that is the way with sin. No drug addict ever set out to become a drug addict. People play with fire and are shocked when the house burns down. A simple idea like denying the authority of the pope and the bishops made Christianity so much weaker. People still can't see it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

More Belloc

Read though the section of the book on the reformation heresy. It is quite interesting. He flies through about 400 years of history in about 100 pages. He traces the effects of the reformation. He makes a lot of good points. I wanted to focus on just one here. That is the period of the late 19th and early 20th century. At that point protestant countries (principally England, Germany, and the US) were more intellectually advanced than Catholic countries (France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Poland). What was happening in really all areas of academics is that the protestant countries would lead the way and the Catholic countries would try and catch up.

This was the time when the historical critical analysis of the scriptures become quite popular in theology. The protestants were taking the lead and they were just following their own principles. Every individual had to satisfy himself about the reasonableness of every doctrine. There was no authority that could vouch for all the doctrines together. They had to be dealt with one by one. So when approaching the scriptures they did the same thing. Every book of scripture had to be analyzed based on the historical evidence. No authority could vouch for the whole canon or even the Old Testament canon. It is interesting that the Jews accepted the book of Proverbs as the word of God but should we not do our own analysis?

Then there was the influence of the age of reason where any account of a miracle was assumed to be pious fiction. If you cannot verify the 10 plagues outside of scripture then the "rational" thing to do is to assume nothing supernatural happened. When you ask questions like, "Why did Pharaoh let the Israelites go if there were no plagues?"  then you respond with more skepticism. Maybe Moses never existed. Maybe the Israelites were never in Egypt. You never stop to notice that your theory is creating more questions than it is providing answers. The important thing is to provide a purely rational and entirely faithless approach to the scriptures.Needless to say, reading the scriptures this way leaves them in ruins.

Anyway, the kind of theological thinking was popular in England, Prussia/Germany, and the Northeastern US from about 1870-1930. I say NE US because the south has been destroyed by the US Civil War. We are talking principally about Ivy league scholars from mainline protestant denominations.

I remember being surprised by a comment Scott Hahn made when discussing the historical critical method. He said one of the main pushers of the scholarship was Otto Von Bismark. He thought Christianity could not stand up to this kind of scrutiny so he financed it very generously.

So what about Catholic scholarship? You need to understand that anticlerical movements had done a number on Catholic intellectuals. The Jesuits had been suppressed. Many priests had been killed. A lot of Catholic scholars were afraid to sound too Catholic. The protestant scholars always set the direction and defined what was considered advanced thinking. Catholic scholarship was very much in "me too" mode. So that is mostly what you got. Catholic theologians swallowing all the protestant assumptions whole.

The papacy responded with some anti-intellectual decisions. Catholicism is not, in principle, anti-intellectual but at this time it seemed the prudent course. It may have been a bit of an over-reaction. Certainly some of the theologians that were disciplined were later embraced as experts for Vatican II.

God gave the church what she needed just before she needed it. The doctrine of infallibility and the historical analysis of Blessed John Henry Newman were the exact antidote to this spiritual poison. Running away from scholarship is not the answer. That is what fundamentalists have done and Catholics did it too for a season. But ultimately scholarship must be redeemed but not discarded.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Law and Gospel

You hear a lot about the distinction between law and gospel in the protestant world. It is slightly different language than I was used to as a protestant. We would talk about the law and grace. I would have said the law was part of the gospel. Certainly I believe that as a Catholic but I think a lot of protestants even talk that way. Doug Wilson did in the article on lust I linked a while back:

The way to deal with the law that God laid down is by turning to Christ -- that is one of the ways the law was designed to work. But the same principle we learn about God's law and our justification also applies to our own laws, and our sanctification. We must learn to use them as a reason to turn to Christ for grace and wisdom, and not to use them as a source of spiritual power in themselves.
This is great. The problem is that some protestant teachers seem to think you only need to be motivated once to turn to Christ for grace and wisdom. That once that has happened then you don't need any more motivation. It isn't true. We need to constantly use the law to examine our lives and show us where we are failing to be holy.

The law is like an X-ray. It tells us the problem but does not fix anything. Grace is like chemotherapy. It might involve some short term pain but it actually kill the tumor of sin growing inside. But we need to keep having X-rays to make sure the chemotherapy is directed to the right spot. New tumors can start at any time. So the law does not become obsolete. It still does not make us holy. It makes us desire holiness but we need to cooperate with God's grace in actually becoming holy.

There has been much confusion over this. Both with the Manhatten Decalration (on abortion, gay marriage and religious liberty) and a document called Evangelicals and Catholics Together (on justification) there were many evangelicals who signed but the ones that didn't talked about this law/gospel distinction. Mark Horton from White Horse Inn is one of the more vocal opponents.
This declaration continues this tendency to define “the gospel” as something other than the specific announcement of the forgiveness of sins and declaration of righteousness solely by Christ’s merits.  The document recites a host of Christian contributions to Western culture, adding, “Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good.  In being true to its own calling, the call to discipleship, the church through service to others can make a profound contribution to the public good.” The declaration concludes, “It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.”  In an interview, Mr. Colson repeatedly referred to this document as a defense of the gospel and the duty of defending these truths as our common proclamation of the gospel as Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and evangelicals.
Having participated in conversations with Mr. Colson over this issue, I can assure readers that this is not an oversight.  He shares with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI the conviction that defending the unborn is a form of proclaiming the gospel.  Although these impressive figures point to general revelation, natural law, and creation in order to justify the inherent dignity of life, marriage, and liberty, they insist on making this interchangeable with the gospel.

Now I don't think anybody makes natural law interchangeable with the gospel. It is a much lesser revelation of God than we find in scripture or tradition. But it is salvific. It can cause someone to enter into a saving relationship with Jesus. That might happen visibly in that they are moved to call up their local Catholic parish and ask to be baptized. It might also happen invisibly. That in their heart Jesus might meet them anonymously and they might receive His grace and be saved. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hard To Believe?

People have predicted that religion will die in the next few generations. I don't buy that. They have been predicting the end of religion is 100 years away for many centuries now. But I can really see why believing now seems harder than believing is earlier times. Why if God was not real there would be reason to suppose religion might be less powerful now than ever.

Science is one reason. Many people do really have a "god of the gaps" type of thinking. It is not really solid evidence for God's existence but it was real for many people. The bigger the scientific gaps the more people felt the need to believe in God. We still have gaps but they are a lot smaller. It takes some of the mystery out of creation when you can describe how things work physically. Like the conception of a child. We know what happens physically. We also know God creates a human soul when we create a human body. The physical process has become a lot less mysterious over the last few centuries. The spiritual process remains quite mysterious. It is tempting to just forget about it.

Another way technology has made faith harder is advances in contraception. Sexual morality was not always such a hard sell. People understood that sex leads to children so if you are not ready for children then one should abstain. The physical paralleled the spiritual so you just needed to understand one and the other followed. Now it is quite easy to manipulate our bodies so physical and spiritual don't match up. So you need to understand both or you are going to go wrong.

Then there is the mass media push of pornography. I can't imagine growing up in a world where movies didn't exist and printed material had poor quality pictures. The images that get burned into the mind of so many young men were simply not there. Lust is always an issue for men but not having that has got to make it a lot easier. How many refuse to believe in God because they don't want to embrace Christian sexual morality? Way more than will ever admit it. It is one of the biggest challenges to living the Christian life and it basically didn't exist 100 years ago.

The other way mass media hurts religion is to expose people to many foreign ideas. It used to be that just the educated knew about all the different ideas out there. They were able to process it all and keep their faith. But now we have every half-baked idea being thrown around in the public sphere. People lack the education to figure out why these ideas are not that impressive. It used to be church, home, and school. If kids got good solid teaching from those 3 sources there wasn't much else available. Now parents struggle to get 10% of their kid's music, TV, and computer to be Christian.

All these seem to work against religion. What is working in its favor? There really isn't much. Essentially when sin abounds then grace abounds more. We are made in the image of God. So at our deepest level we love the things God loves and hate the thing God hates. So as bad as the culture of death is, it is also good. Because people are innately pro-life. They can cover that up but they can't make it completely go away. It is in their soul. So the more Christianity becomes the lone pro-life voice in society the more the church is going to appeal to people.

The same goes for other types of evil. Some believe people are naturally sexually perverse. In a way they are. But at a deeper level they crave purity and desire to make sex an unconditional gift of self. So the choices are more stark. Technology as allowed us to put our worst foot forward. We have done that and made it obvious we need help. It is obvious because God has given us the ability to know good from bad. Think of Rom 1:18-20:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
So it is good news and bad news. The good news is God has made things plain to us. The bad news is we are now responsible for now we respond to that revelation.

Salvation as Motivation

One thing that surprises many people is how hard a lot of protestants work at becoming holy even though they believe their salvation does not depend on it. I was that way as a protestant. I was really serious about serving Jesus and honestly believed in once saved always saved. Now one might point out that if I ever stopped being serious about my faith then my assurance of salvation would disappear pretty quick. That was probably true but it was not really on my mind at all. I just didn't think about heaven and hell that much. I wanted God's blessing in this life and I wanted to bless other people. That was my reason for doing good.

That is not the case for everyone. Some would cut some corners. Premarital sex was a popular choice. Why give that up when your eternal soul is not on the line? You need to trust God's way is better even if the devil's way looks very good. Many ended up making bad choices and disappearing from the church. That is going to happen but in hindsight it would have been good to tell them they were dealing with mortal sin and in serious danger of losing their eternal soul. To some of them that might have made a difference.

But the same choice happens at many levels. What happens when God is leading a protestant towards the catholic church? Most of them believe their salvation is not at stake. I am not convinced it is not. It comes down to the same thing. God's way and the devil's way. The question is do they know that is what the choice amounts too? At what level do they know? The church says if they are invincibly ignorant then it is not a mortal sin. Simply refusing to believe what God has revealed to your heart is not invincible ignorance.

We are not to judge protestants who weigh these choices. My feeling is often we do judge them by declaring them innocent. It is certainly better than judging them guilty. But it is still a disservice. We need to warn people that their soul might be lost by the choice they make. It depends on why they make it. They might make it because they prefer moral laxity and their protestant church offers them that. If they know in their heart that God is calling them to the higher standard of Catholicism then it is a mortal sin not to become Catholic for that reason. But the same is possible for a pet doctrine or a preferred worship style or a favorite pastor. Anything we prefer to following God in a serious matter can be mortal sin.

Protestants often commit the sin of presumption when they approach these matters. Presuming their salvation and not being open to the idea that their hope for salvation should properly be driving this choice. But we can encourage to sin worse them by assuming invincible ignorance. That might not be the case. You cannot know their heart. Sometimes just the drive for integrity of belief is enough to motivate them to make the hard choices. Maybe salvation would be effective as an extra motivation.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mohler's Triage

Albert Mohler wrote something a whole back that talks about unity and doctrinal disagreement.
In every generation, the church is commanded to "contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints." That is no easy task, and it is complicated by the multiple attacks upon Christian truth that mark our contemporary age. Assaults upon the Christian faith are no longer directed only at isolated doctrines. The entire structure of Christian truth is now under attack by those who would subvert Christianity’s theological integrity.

Today’s Christian faces the daunting task of strategizing which Christian doctrines and theological issues are to be given highest priority in terms of our contemporary context. This applies both to the public defense of Christianity in face of the secular challenge and the internal responsibility of dealing with doctrinal disagreements. Neither is an easy task, but theological seriousness and maturity demand that we consider doctrinal issues in terms of their relative importance. God’s truth is to be defended at every point and in every detail, but responsible Christians must determine which issues deserve first-rank attention in a time of theological crisis.
What he is doing is encountering other people who claim to be Christians. He runs into problems when they disagree on matters of doctrine. He starts with the unspoken assumption that his doctrine is right and the other guy's is wrong. There is no wrestling with that at all. What he wants to think about is how big an error has this other guy made.
First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture.

In the earliest centuries of the Christian movement, heretics directed their most dangerous attacks upon the church’s understanding of who Jesus is, and in what sense He is the very Son of God. Other crucial debates concerned the question of how the Son is related to the Father and the Holy Spirit. At historic turning-points such as the councils at Nicaea, Constantinople and Chalcedon, orthodoxy was vindicated and heresy was condemned – and these councils dealt with doctrines of unquestionable first-order importance. Christianity stands or falls on the affirmation that Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God.

The church quickly moved to affirm that the full deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ are absolutely necessary to the Christian faith. Any denial of what has become known as Nicaean-Chalcedonian Christology is, by definition, condemned as a heresy. The essential truths of the incarnation include the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who deny these revealed truths are, by definition, not Christians.

The same is true with the doctrine of the Trinity. The early church clarified and codified its understanding of the one true and living God by affirming the full deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – while insisting that the Bible reveals one God in three persons.
So he is saying the worst errors you can make are those that correspond to the earliest councils. Those that addressed the questions about the nature of Jesus. It is interesting to note that he excludes the first council at Ephesus in 431. It was before the Council of Chalcedon in 451 that he seems to include. It did deal with a Christological issue, namely the condemning of Nestorianism. But of course one of the issues dealt with there was whether Mary should be referred to as the Mother of God. The council said Yes, she should be given that title. So Dr Mohler has inconsistently pulled this out of his first-level list because he does not actually believe it or at the very least he knows many protestants don't.
In addition to the Christological and Trinitarian doctrines, the doctrine of justification by faith must also be included among these first-order truths. Without this doctrine, we are left with a denial of the Gospel itself, and salvation is transformed into some structure of human righteousness.
Now we jump ahead over 1000 years because he wants his pet doctrine to be considered first-level.  So we have gone from a little bit arbitrary to completely arbitrary. Why skip all those councils? Why include such a vague notion as "justification by faith." Certainly many, such as Catholics, would agree to some formulations of that notion and not others. What exactly does it means?
The truthfulness and authority of the Holy Scriptures must also rank as a first-order doctrine, for without an affirmation of the Bible as the very Word of God, we are left without any adequate authority for distinguishing truth from error.
Again, where does this come from? I agree with his conclusion that the scriptures are of primary importance. But his reasoning is false. 
These first-order doctrines represent the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and a denial of these doctrines represents nothing less than an eventual denial of Christianity itself.
What Albert Mohler has done here is define a dogma. That is precisely what the pope or a council does when doctrine is defined infallibly. It means that the statement is part of the deposit of faith and all Christians must ascent to it or they are not Christians. The trouble is, or the good thing is, he doesn't have the authority to do it. He does not claim that authority. Or does he? It isn't clear because he does not really deal with the possibility that he might be wrong. Not just wrong about what doctrines are true but also wrong about what doctrines define the Christian faith. 
The set of second-order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident.

Second-order issues would include the meaning and mode of baptism. Baptists and Presbyterians, for example, fervently disagree over the most basic understanding of Christian baptism. The practice of infant baptism is inconceivable to the Baptist mind, while Presbyterians trace infant baptism to their most basic understanding of the covenant. Standing together on the first-order doctrines, Baptists and Presbyterians eagerly recognize each other as believing Christians, but recognize that disagreement on issues of this importance will prevent fellowship within the same congregation or denomination.
Again we are being quite arbitrary. Not addressing the question of how we know these are secondary. There is also the implicit devaluing of church unity. Because issues that necessitate an organizational split are seen as secondary it seems that maintaining the church as one physical body of Christ is not seen as enough to push an issue to primary status.
Third-order issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations. I would put most of the debates over eschatology, for example, in this category. Christians who affirm the bodily, historical and victorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ may differ over timetable and sequence without rupturing the fellowship of the church. Christians may find themselves in disagreement over any number of issues related to the interpretation of difficult texts or the understanding of matters of common disagreement. Nevertheless, standing together on issues of more urgent importance, believers are able to accept one another without compromise when third-order issues are in question.
This is good to affirm that not every disagreement needs to produce a split. Where does eschatology fit in? It depends on how often a pastor preaches on it. Some talk about it all the time. Can you show him this article and expect him to stop? Not likely. He does not have to recognize Dr Mohler's authority.
This structure of theological triage may also help to explain how confusion can often occur in the midst of doctrinal debate. If the relative urgency of these truths is not taken into account, the debate can quickly become unhelpful. The error of theological liberalism is evident in a basic disrespect for biblical authority and the church’s treasury of truth. The mark of true liberalism is the refusal to admit that first-order theological issues even exist. Liberals treat first-order doctrines as if they were merely third-order in importance, and doctrinal ambiguity is the inevitable result.

Fundamentalism, on the other hand, tends toward the opposite error. The misjudgment of true fundamentalism is the belief that all disagreements concern first-order doctrines. Thus, third-order issues are raised to a first-order importance, and Christians are wrongly and harmfully divided.
I agree with this. Just one question. Where is this in the bible? The 3 levels might be practical but they are not in scripture anywhere. So liberalism and fundamentalism follow not from biblical errors but from getting extra-biblical matters wrong? That is quite a statement.
Living in an age of widespread doctrinal denial and intense theological confusion, thinking Christians must rise to the challenge of Christian maturity, even in the midst of a theological emergency. We must sort the issues with a trained mind and a humble heart, in order to protect what the Apostle Paul called the "treasure" that has been entrusted to us. Given the urgency of this challenge, a lesson from the Emergency Room just might help.
 What about looking at the bible? When we run into a Christian brother you have difficulties with you could use Matthew 18:15-17:
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
There is just one problem with that. A protestant can't make any sense out of Jesus' words if he goes to a different church then the brother he has an issue with.  What church is Jesus talking about? Jesus just calls it THE church. Like there is only one and you have to listen to it. Almost like it has some gift to be able to get these matters right.

European and American Protestants

One of the things that struck me about Belloc was his assertion that protestantism is dead. I can agree with that as a Catholic but it is not something that my experience supports. Certainly as a protestant that would not ring true at all. In fact, saying Catholicism is dead would have been more intuitive.

But one thing you have to realize is Belloc is writing from Europe in the 1930's. What he is talking about is mainline protestantism like the Lutheran church in Germany, the Reformed church in Holland, the Anglican church in England. They were all considered quite strong by many in the 30's and have since gone into quite serious decline. In that sense Belloc's comments might be considered prophetic.

In North America protestant churches have done much better. Large mainline protestant churches have gone liberal but I would say quite a bit less than their European counterparts have. I know the Christian Reformed church I was raised in comes from dutch immigrants who were members of the main protestant denomination in Holland. The dutch mother church had gone very liberal and my dutch relatives tell me it is almost completely irrelevant. Young people don't even get married in church anymore. The immigrant church has done a lot better. Partly because it is not the dominant church in society.

Then you have the smaller fundamentalist churches especially in the southern US. They have remained quite conservative. There is a different dynamic going on there. Many of them came to the US as religious refugees. They were part of minority faiths being persecuted in Europe. The other thing that seems to have had a huge impact on them was losing the civil war. The atrocities inflicted on them by the North really instilled in them a skepticism of the secular establishment. Faith grows in times of sorrow. The North never experienced suffering on anywhere near that scale.

Protestants tend not to look at all of protestantism when they judge it. They just look at their little corner of it. That seems pretty solid so what is the problem? What Luther and Calvin did in the 16th century must have been pretty good. Not when you look at the whole picture. Some protestants have come through the centuries OK but is it because protestantism is strong or is it in spite of the fact that it is weak? That can't be addressed unless you look at the whole picture.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What a Pope!

Authority is always much scarier in concept than in reality. Especially when there are people trying to stir up fear and imagining the worst. When you meet the person in question the fears can disappear. This is what happened for many people in England these last few days. They met Pope Benedict and saw he is much more of a spiritual father than a moral dictator. This is the way God leads us. This is how church leadership should feel as well.

Fathers are gentle. The pope did not get into the name calling action that so many in England were lowering themselves to. He definitely came across as the mature one in this debate. He patiently and gently explained that it is secular opinion leaders that are trying to bully people of faith off the public stage. That the church has tried to shut nobody up. That it has just been pointing back to the principles of human dignity that people say they accept.

Fathers have long memories. Pope Benedict repeatedly recalled the past. Newman's life for sure. But also St Thomas More and other English martyrs. Then he recalled that the current consensus on morality, to the degree there is one, flowed from a Christian world and life view. These are all things English society has forgotten.

Fathers encourage. If you read the pope's message to youth. His message to educators. His message to the bishops, to societies leaders, to leaders of other faiths. One thing you notice is how encouraging he was. He pointed out good things that have happened and challenged people to do better. You get the feeling he has not given up on England. He really believes radical secularism can be defeated.It comes from faith in Jesus.

I had high hopes for this trip and they seems like they have been realized. I still have high hopes for England.There are some really intense spiritual battles going on there. Highlighting Newman is an awesome move.

Pope Benedict also made 2 requests of the English bishops before he left. First of all, he asked they implement the new mass translations and rise to the challenge of teaching it well. Also, to take the opportunity to teach the entire Catholic faith while explaining the liturgical texts. Secondly he asked them to be very generous with the new arrangements for accepting Anglican converts. My guess is Rome will be watching closely how the bishops do with these 2 requests. Fathers so take children to the woodshed once in a while. Public trips are not the time to do that but the hint is there.

More Crusade Thoughts

I reflected on the Crusades a while back. I was trying to find something to learn. The first crusade seemed very much in the will of God. Not only because we won but because we won with supernatural help. But then things went bad from there. Why was that? What were we supposed to do after that first crusade that we didn't do?

Lately I have been reading Belloc's book The Great Heresies. He talks about the Muslim heresy at length and the crusades to a lesser degree. One point he does make is that the first crusade could have succeeded permanently if they had done a little more. They took Jerusalem but that was not enough. There were some key cities that are often referred to as desert ports. This is because they are on the edge of the desert and all the caravans start and end their desert journey's at one of these. There were a number in the area that the crusades never bothered to capture. The most important is Damascus. What Belloc suggested is that by taking these dessert ports the Crusader states would have become permanent fixtures. Without them you have a long skinny piece of territory along the coast. It is hard to defend and the Muslims have some obvious places from which to launch attacks.

Belloc goes even further. He says if the crusaders would have done this that Islam would have died out in a few centuries. His theory is that Islamic soldiers were often recruited from Africa or China. That they greatly benefited from being able to move people and goods between Asia and Africa. Taking the desert ports would have cut the Islamic world in two. They would not have been able to bail each other out. You can identify times in history when both halves would have been crushed.

That is interesting from an historical and military point of view. But what about from a spiritual point of view? Why should the Crusaders have not quit with Jerusalem? Why did they set Jerusalem as a goal anyway? It was a symbol. It was a pilgrimage destination. In some ways it was Old Testament thinking. That this was the promised land and we must defend it. But in the New Testament places don't matter as much. What matter is souls. They were not really thinking that way. With the Albigensian heresy they really wanted to crush it and make the south of France Christian again. With the Muslim heresy they didn't have the same mindset.

Their real motivation was their pride. They didn't want Jerusalem to sit in Muslim hands. The thought was humiliating to Europeans in a way Muslims holding Damascus was not. So it was their own feelings that were a big part of the Crusade mission. They wanted to please God and they thought liberating a holy city would be a good way to do it. But they also wanted to please themselves and the European public. So they didn't see the need to crush the enemy. Once the symbolic victory was won they would have needed to bring in more soldiers and more supplies to keep pushing the Muslims back. But Damascus did not have the big name appeal that Jerusalem did. You already have the public relations victory. Why risk another hard battle? If it is about souls then the reason is obvious. You want everyone to know that Islam is gone forever from the region. That is how Christianity prevailed in Spain.There is no reason why Syria could not have been the same. It was a Christian country for 600 years.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Scandal of Faith

St Thomas Aquinas says there are two arguments against believing in God. One is the problem of pain or the problem of evil. How could there be an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good being? Why does bad stuff still happen? There is a logical answer to this but the question still has force. Especially when we are in great pain.

The second argument actually has puzzled me more. That is to notice that we can reasonably disbelieve. Nothing in life would be unexplainable. The question then is why wouldn't God be obvious? The answer is that God chose to have us respond to him by faith. If he made Himself obvious like the sun or the ocean we could not believe in him by faith. We would have overwhelming physical evidence that would force us to believe. That is not faith. But why faith? Why does God make having a relationship with Him so hard? Especially when one consequence of that difficulty is that many people will end up in hell.

The answer lies in the same place. In free will and the dignity of man. The kind of change God wants to make in us is so profound and so deep that God refuses to force us. But He has made us rational beings. One way rational beings can be forced is through irresistible arguments or undeniable evidence. So he has made all the arguments resistible and all the evidence deniable. But at the same time, with the eyes of faith, the arguments must irresistible and the evidence undeniable. I mean people of faith are asked to surrender everything from private opinions to intimate relationships to material wealth even including their very lives. God can't ask rational beings to do that with no evidence or argument.So God needs something that one man will find compelling enough to reorder his entire life and the next man will have no trouble dismissing it entirely. This is what faith is.

What is more, people of faith need to be transformed into saints. Millions of people having their lives completely transformed by the power of God's grace. Yet people who don't want to notice should be easily able to ignore this fact. If it wasn't our reality we might think it impossible.

Look at John 16:7,8:
But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt
When Jesus goes away He removes the most power evidence of the resurrection. That is His live body walking around, eating, speaking, etc. This would be undeniable evidence. Somehow the Holy Spirit cannot operate until the undeniable evidence is removed. He works by faith. Faith only kicks in when sight fails. Faith allows us to come to God without losing our dignity as human beings. We can freely say "My Lord and my God" as St Thomas did in Jn 20:28. We are not being compelled. We are falling in love. God would not have it any other way.

Muslim Heaven and Hell

I was listening to a woman on the radio last night. She was raised Muslim but had become o critic of the Muslim faith as an adult. One thing she said struck me. That was that the biggest difference she saw between Muslim culture and Western culture was the Muslim emphasis on heaven and hell. In her experience of Islam life was basically a trial. A tool used by Allah to judge your soul. Everything you did that was good or evil was recorded. The good had better outweigh the evil so you would go to heaven rather than hell.

Of course, Christianity has the concepts of heaven and hell. But her opinion was the they were hardly mentioned. Heaven and hell were regularly described in graphic detail when she was growing up. This is what they lived for. It was very much a sinful vision of heaven. Material possessions abound. Men got to have endless sex with 72 virgins. It was seen as a place where the desires of the flesh were met. Sure there is a sense that the deeper desires of the heart would be met as well but it seemed like a vision of heaven that was not transformed by the grace of God. It was what sinful human hearts would envision as paradise. In many ways I would not be surprised if they are describing hell.

Anyway, I got to thinking about why Christians don't talk about heaven and hell as much. Part of it is because we have lost that part of Christianity. It is unfashionable to talk about hell so the entire subject is avoided. But I think there is more than that. Christians don't see our present life and the hereafter as being so different. Muslims see pain and suffering in this left and either eternal joy or much worse suffering in the hereafter. Christians see heaven and hell on earth. When we choose to be close to God we choose heaven. When we choose to forget about God and pursue our own desires we are choosing hell. Those who have spent their life choosing heaven will go to heaven. Those who have spent their life choosing hell will go there. We vote with our feet. Yes, we need God's grace to choose heaven and that begins with faith and is marked by the sacraments. But we affirm our choice by choosing God day after day. We say we want heaven because we say we want God by the choices we make.

So there is no need for a Christian to dream about heaven. What he experiences in here is what it will be like. What we experience is partial and imperfect. Heaven will be complete and perfect. Still it is not something foreign to us. God is not going to suddenly decide cheap sex is better than the beatific vision and go that direction. God will still be God.

It is this idea of something like heaven being possible on earth that has made Christians better at transforming the world than Muslims have been. Muslim societies have not really developed socially, politically, scientifically, or philosophically. Muslims have been told life is a trial. You need to worry about your next life. Christians have been told the way to heaven for you and for others  is to make earth more heavenly. Sure they have the power of Jesus to transform the world but that begins with a vision that it can and should be done. Muslims don't really have that.

You can also see why Muslims might be attracted to terrorism. If a young man has been caught in a serious sin. Say they have indulged in pornography, masturbation, premarital sex, etc. Say that has gone on for a few years. They can be looking at a huge amount of time in hell. Then someone tells them they can wipe all that away and go straight to heaven. All they have to do is fly this plane into this building. There is going to be an appeal. Oddly enough Western mass media giving Muslims access to pornography has increased the number of young men willing to do this. You reap what you sow. If you sow the spiritual death of pornography you reap the spiritual death of terrorism.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More Football

Just wanted to chime in on the story about women in men's locker-rooms. I finally found someone who is sane enough to say it is a bad idea. The NFL and the US courts have decided that when people are interacting professionally that the gender of the individuals should not matter. That works well when the people involved are properly dressed. When those people are naked or immodestly dress it does not work well. The trouble is that reality is not politically correct. People really want to believe that a woman can interview a male athlete in the shower and it is the same thing as a man doing that interview. The female reporters want it to be the same thing. They will swear up and down it is the same thing. The trouble is they are human. Humans cannot turn off their sexuality when they find it inconvenient. They cannot make sex acts meaningless just because they want them to be meaningless.

Now the guy in this link suggests just making the whole idea of interviews in the showers a thing of the past. I like that too. What is wrong with giving a guy some privacy? The press basically don't understand the concept of personal space. But does the league have to take their side? The players basically give up on this. It starts in high school when they basically have no power and are thrilled to have a reporter at the game. By the time they get to the NFL it has become an entrenched reality. Nobody dares say it makes them uncomfortable. The power of political correctness is strong. Today people don't have the language to describe the sacredness of their own bodies. It is seen as a defect to want privacy. But it is not a defect. They are discerning a deep truth about themselves. They need to act on it. This type of pressure does not help.

So pray for Lance Briggs. He will get attacked big time for saying what he said. 

The Book and the Tradition

I have to admit something here. I am a Detroit Lion fan. That does not matter much to religion discussions but lately I see an interesting parallel. Some of you may know that there is a lot of discussion around a strange call by the referee that decided Sunday's game. The details are here if you want more background but what I wanted to talk about does not require knowing the whole issue. What I found interesting is that there is a huge gap between what the NFL rule book actually says and the way referees and NFL officials talk about the rule. That is there is an understanding among NFL people that the rule is to be interpreted a certain way. For example, they all talk about completing the process of the catch. Those exact words are quoted by many people. But those words are not in the rulebook. Nothing like it is. So what we have is an interpretive tradition growing up among football people that this rule should be understood in this way. To the point where they use phrases like "the rule is" to describe these understandings. This is despite the fact that many of the same people say their intuition tells them the rule should not be interpreted that way. That plays like this one feel smelly. They even talk about changing the "complete the process" rule. The one that isn't in the rulebook.

Of course the parallel is to the use of the bible alone versus the bible and tradition. A football game is something infinitely simpler than the life of the church. The rulebook is reviewed for possible amendment every year so it has a much better chance of anticipating every question that will come up during a game. So I would think refereeing a football game should be something that can be done by the book. But it turns out that is not the case. Even then the book is not enough and interpretive traditions grow to fill the gap. There is an authority, the league, to affirm certain interpretations and to reject others so it all works.

The fact that such an authority is needed is quite instructive. It shows that no faith can be based on the bible alone. It simply contradicts common sense and human experience. People want it to be true. They assert it strongly and repeatedly. It is just isn't possible to actually do it. Especially since the book was never designed to be a rulebook. The NFL rulebook was designed to address all questions and still does not do a complete job. The bible is not designed that way. You can't go to the section on Sunday morning worship and see what it says on what should or should not happen. The NFL book has a section specifically on when a football should be ruled as caught and when it should be ruled as dropped. Even having that it fails. How can the bible do what it makes no attempt to do and what is humanly impossible?

The response might be that it is humanly impossible but we are talking about God. But God does not do things just because you want Him to. He is God. He gets to work His way. Does God want His church to work in a way that is completely contrary to all other human experience? In some ways He does. But in those ways He makes that clear. I think of servant leadership. Jesus wants church leaders to be servants and not dictators. He says that. Does He ever say we are to use scripture against our leaders? Does He ever tell the apostles they will be replaced by a book? This is not God's idea. This is something man has imposed on God. You must work though scripture alone because that is my terms of discipleship. So we are demanding a huge miracle from God in saying the bible must do for my Christian life what no book ever does for any human endeavor.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nuisance Lust

Douglas Wilson has a post that reminds me a lot of the Theology of the Body debate. The interesting thing is he is a protestant and likely has never heard of Theology of the Body or the controversy around how Christopher West is teaching it. He seems to take West's side.
Your lusts are the hornet's nest, and God's law is the stick that whacks it. This is done so that we will turn to Christ, but for some reason we think that after we have turned to Christ, we can grow in sanctification by whittling some extra sticks of our own for whacking the remainders of that hornet's nest. But whacking that nest always gets the same results, whether the rules are God's or yours. And it gets the same results even if your rules are good and wise -- especially if they are good and wise.
Now there is obviously a delicate balance here, because the point is not to drop the rules so that you can go watch images that are corrosive to your soul. The point is not to grant yourself a looser set of permissions so that you can entertain yourself with porn lite. This is not "go ahead and sin" counsel. The point is to grant yourself a looser set of permissions so that you can walk away from it, for the right reasons, and without leaving your heart back in front of the computer keyboard, wishing the better half of you hadn't turned the dern thing off.
Again, I do think rules have their place. Sometimes you really have to "turn the dern thing off."  He says that does not work. I think it does but not completely. What is needed is an aversion to pornography that is stronger than the attraction. That cannot come from rules. The rules and your desire to break them tell you that you need a more complete conversion in this area. One more quote:
John Owen once said that a man should not think he makes any progress in godliness who walks not daily over the bellies of his lusts. I am not arguing against this; I am arguing for it. What I am trying to communicate to you is that a vampire needs to have a stake driven through the heart. Stop pelting him with your homemade nerf balls.
Here he seems to be advocating the Catholic practice or penance and mortification of the flesh. I am sure he does not mean that but that is exactly what is needed. We need to deny our flesh, take up out cross and follow Jesus. Today is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Mary is a model of purity and a bearer of many sorrows. They go together. If we are afraid of a little pain then our flesh really does hold sway over our choices.

Thoughts on Newman

Patrick Madrid links a pretty good article on Newman. One quote struck me:
They achieved more than they meant, for Newman was propelled by the logic of his arguments into the Catholic Church.
 I find that interesting. Newman had no intention of becoming Catholic. What he intended to do was to defend orthodox Christianity from liberal protestants. What he found was strong biblical arguments could be countered by other biblical arguments. He didn't feel they were as strong but it was more than that. It was not just that the liberal thinkers had accepted an inferior exegetical position. They were simply in rebellion against God. He could see it but he could not make the case logically.

One common tactic he would use was to show how the liberal ideas he was opposing had consistently been opposed by Christians always and everywhere. But the liberals had a strong reply to that. The reformation. That was a break from what Christians has always taught. If you can break once why can't you do it again? Newman tried to find a principle that distinguished the tradition he accepted from the tradition he rejected. It just wasn't there.

He knew liberalism would lead to atheism. The Anglican faith was being eroded and he could see nothing that was safe from that kind of attack. There is a saying that if you want something then any excuse will do. The sinful human heart would mean even quite weak biblical arguments would be appealing. Conservative protestants could make great arguments but they could not settle any question.

He also came to realize that traditionalism would lead to Catholicism. That is was impossible to embrace the early church and the reformers as well. People argued that modern Catholicism is no better. That no principle can be established that differentiates the changes the church has made from the traditions that need to be kept on a solid foundation.

Much of Newman's contribution came in answering this objection. He pointed out that some changes, which he called developments, were not logically problematic. Like defining the trinity. If you were Arian you would say that the church had fundamentally changed. But really she had just deepened her understanding of what was already part of the deposit of faith.Other changes, like the idea of a merely symbolic presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, they meant that the church has gotten something deeply and dreadfully wrong. That the error was widespread, deeply held, and very serious. Or the new doctrine was wrong. Either way the deposit of faith could not be seen as being preserved uncorrupted. 

He argued that Catholicism can reasonable say the changes the church has made were developments and not corruptions. Not that nobody will claim they are corruptions. Just that reason does not prevent us from believing they are developments. He tried to systematize it so it would not be seen as simply wishful thinking. He didn't remove all the subjective elements from the analysis but he was able to show that Catholic doctrinal development is quite remarkable. It shows real signs if supernatural intervention. Not just to have a church survive so long but to be free from the kind of obvious corruptions that one finds in every protestant tradition in almost every century.

Newman was thinking like a Catholic long before he became a Catholic. He believed some traditions are matters of settled doctrine and anyone who rejects them is simply a heretic. A lot of converts find that to be true. As a protestant, I certainly felt that way about Christian sexual morality and about some central doctrines like the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I would never have described them as infallible teachings of the church but that is what I really believed about them. People like me see Newman as a spiritual father.