Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dumbed Down Society

This post talks about how society has dumbed down everything except technology. He has a great clip from Fr Barron on dumbed down Catholicism. But it reminded me of paragraph 14 of Pope Benedict's encyclical Caritas in Veritas. I thought that was pretty pathetic that I could remember the exact paragraph number of a papal encyclical without looking it up. Such is my life. Here is a quote:
Paul VI had already warned against the technocratic ideology so prevalent today, fully aware of the great danger of entrusting the entire process of development to technology alone, because in that way it would lack direction. Technology, viewed in itself, is ambivalent. If on the one hand, some today would be inclined to entrust the entire process of development to technology, on the other hand we are witnessing an upsurge of ideologies that deny in toto the very value of development, viewing it as radically anti-human and merely a source of degradation. This leads to a rejection, not only of the distorted and unjust way in which progress is sometimes directed, but also of scientific discoveries themselves, which, if well used, could serve as an opportunity of growth for all. The idea of a world without development indicates a lack of trust in man and in God. It is therefore a serious mistake to undervalue human capacity to exercise control over the deviations of development or to overlook the fact that man is constitutionally oriented towards “being more”.
There are a bunch of things here. First he talks about the idea that human development is automatic if we embrace technology. That becoming smarter makes us better. That science brings salvation. When we allow people to be ignorant of everything except technology that is what we are implicitly buying in to.

The truth is technology is neither good nor bad. It gives us power but does not decide whether we use that power for good or for evil. In fact, some go the other direction. They blame technology for the evils that have come. We don't want to go there. They can be used well. But more than that. Man is wired to want progress. He wants to learn. He wants to explore, to discover things that nobody has discovered before.

Part of the objection is rooted in Sola Scriptura. What that does is make God's revelation static. The bible does not change. So applying God's word to a fast changing world is going to create problems. Interpretations need to be made. The Holy Spirit needs to lead. But there also needs to be a process where the true interpretations and true Spirit leadings can be definitively separated from the false ones. That is what the authority of the church does.

The bible says nothing about the internet. It says nothing about cloning. It says nothing about condoms. It does not directly address pornography or abortion. It was all written before the year 100 AD so it isn't going to address those things. But using it as the sole authority in matters of faith and morals was already unworkable but becomes even more so with the flood of new technology and the ethical questions they raise. The Sola Scriptura believer is no better off than an atheist on these questions. He just has moral feelings and human reason. He has no reply when somebody says I don't share your feelings and I don't agree with your reasoning.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jesus Intimately

I saw this post from John Eldredge by way of Brandon Vogt. He makes a good point about knowing Jesus but he seems to destroy a lot of truth to try and make it. We can be intimate with Jesus but it can never be a casual intimacy. Think of Sunday's gospel with the pharisee and the tax collector. One of the marks of spiritual pride in the pharisee is the lack of awe for God. We can never lose that. Think of the great mystics. They seemed to be both intimate with Jesus and awestruck by Him. But we can't just play one off against the other.

The apostle John was intimate with Jesus. But in Revelation 1:17 he sees Jesus and says, "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead." He is the creator. We are creatures. He is infinite. We are finite. He is holy. We are sinners.Yes, we are to be in fellowship with Jesus but He needs to lift us up rather than us bringing Him down. We can get lifted through the word, through the sacraments, through the church, through prayer. These things are not barriers between us and God but bridges. They allow us to get a taste of heaven on earth. That is a glimpse of that intimacy we are all destined for.

When we feel we don't need the bridges. When we feel intimacy with God is just part of our ordinary life then we cheapen heaven. We stop striving for God and start presuming we have Him. There can be moments of joy in this life when we experience an ecstasy of communion with God. But that should not be the norm. There will always be periods of spiritual dryness. We walk by faith and not by sight. We can never need the experience. It is a blessing when it is there.

He closes with an interesting thought:
You understand, I trust, that there are many views of Jesus out there in the church. Some are closer to the truth than others. You also understand, I hope, that a false view of Jesus is worse than no view, because you think you hold the right thing you never go in search for him really.
a dear friend heard a sermon recently that basically went like this: You can't really know Jesus, because he isn't like your friends. He is vastly different from us. I think the attempt was to invoke reverence. But the teaching is from hell. You can know Jesus intimately, better than your friends. Or what in the world was the incarnation for? Jesus came for the very purpose that we might know God. Be intimate with him. Everything else is a sideshow.
And so the very best thing you could ever pray is "Jesus, I ask you for the real you; take away every false Christ and show me the real you."

It just goes to show how everything comes back to authority. How do we correct false images of Jesus in our minds? You can pray for that grace but the principle way those images are corrected is through the church. If you are not open to the fullness of truth in the church then how do these images get corrected? Often they don't. Often people change their minds based on some teaching but the new teaching is just as likely to be wrong as the old.

He acknowledges there are teachings from hell within protestantism. Bright people are embracing them. But how does he know he is doing any better than those guys he feels such pity for? He doesn't.

Saviour AND Lord

I used to hear this at evangelical meetings. The distinction between making Jesus your savior and making Jesus your Lord. That is offering people the opportunity to accept salvation from Jesus without having to promise to obey Jesus. Now the speaker always recommended doing both but presented them as separate decisions. So some could say I want to go to heaven but I don't want to reform my life.

I didn't believe there was a distinction back then. It was just referred to again on Called to Communion. Apparently John MacArthur is all over it. The ironic thing is that the distinction is very close to the Catholic objection to Faith Alone. Something that same John MacArthur calls a complete rejection of the gospel. He misunderstands the Catholic position. He says we want to make works a requirement. But he is OK with making obedience a requirement. It is just that Catholics are more precise about what that means. We list gravely evil things that can remove people from a state of grace. Somehow being precise makes people feel like grace is not involved. That does not follow logically but people seem to go there.

Practically the concept is the same. If you have someone who wants to say Yes to Jesus but they are in an impure sexual relationship. Can they say Yes and just go back to that relationship? Some would declare them saved right now and hope they bring that area of their life into obedience at some unspecified time. But Catholics and more conservative protestants would disagree. You must say No to that relationship as part of your Yes to Jesus. That does not mean you will never sin in that area. It just means you are serious about making Jesus Lord of your life. Any change you do make is still by grace alone.

So where is the difference? A lot of it is language. There are some connections Catholics make with sacraments. But much of it is dome by protestants without the theology around it. They would not tie initiation to any sacrament but they would expect some sort of sinner's prayer type of event. If someone fell into serious sin they would expect some sort of act of contrition. Again it would not be a sacrament and there would be no precise theology around it but they would recognize that the sin cannot just continue if the person is saved. Eucharist would not be important but you had better go to church somewhere on Sunday morning. They would see absence from weekly services as a sign of a serious spiritual problem. They would never call it a mortal sin but they recognize that reality.

Protestants are less sacramental and less precise about these matters mostly because they have to be. They don't have the authority to demand people perform certain sacramental rites in certain situations. So they come as close as they can without actually instituting it. It does allow people to cheat around the edges. The extra rigor is good and bad. It does rub protestants the wrong way. It feels like legalism. But the freedom of fuzzy lines can be abused. It often is at very critical moments in our spiritual walk. So we have something solid there all the time just so it will be there when we would otherwise fall. The rest of the time it might be a pain but it is a small pain. It teaches us obedience and humility.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Theology of the Body

The back and forth about Christopher West is continuing. I normally love a good debate and I weighed in on this one a few times. But it is becoming less and less useful and causing many Catholics to lose sight of their real mission. You have Janet Smith writing a long critique of Alice von Hildebrand. She has written several times on this. I think both those women are wonderful teachers of the Catholic morality on issues of sex and procreation. But they have been reduced to nit picking over what exactly Christopher West said and what exactly he meant. I can't help thinking the cause of Christ is not being helped by this.

Most of what I find very beautiful and powerful about Theology of the Body is not part of the disputes. The connections between the way we are made and the way God is are very profound. That God loved the universe into existence and that we are called to love things into existence as well. That sex, marriage, and procreation are at the center of that but the theme is to be found much more broadly. That concept of love as a complete gift of self. That is what the cross was about and that is what heaven is about. This is what we were made for and anything less would be hell.

How many so-called Catholic teachers waffle on key issues of sexual morality? Of those who teach the right morals how many can do it in a way that allows people to see how beautiful it is and how inhuman the alternatives are? These are rare gifts. We don't want the people who have them to be fighting each other over what are basically details.

A lot of the dispute is about teaching style. Christopher West likes to shock people. It gets them engaged and hopefully they listen to the whole thing. But sometimes they don't and they miss important distinctions. I get why he rubs some people the wrong way. But there are a ton of people who would never connect with it if he didn't highlight the contrast between what people think the church teaches and what Theology of the Body really says. Again the hope is they eventually realize the church has never actually been as oppressive and joyless as they thought.

But there are more than a few people who think that and we as church have to take some responsibility for that. Catholic sexual morality has been under attack and often we have not defended it at all. When we have we have often focused too much on the No's and not enough on the Yes's that are contained in it. West focuses on the Yes's while leaving all the No's intact. That is important. There are so many people doing an awful job of explaining this. Why focus on the flaws of someone who is doing it very well?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Faith and Authority

I have been thinking about two statements:
  1. Faith has no content without tradition
  2. Tradition has no definition without authority
When you accept Christ in faith what do you accept? Whatever the person or community leading you to that faith tell you following Jesus means. If they tell you it means reading the bible and doing what it says you will do it. If they tell you it means saying the sinners prayer or being baptized in the Holy Spirit you will do that.If they tell you it means going to church and bible study and probably a few retreats you will do that.

The point is these are all traditions. Sometimes people have an idea that tradition is something that is not in scripture. Scripture flows from the tradition of the church. So all of scripture is part of tradition in that sense. But also the precise way in which scripture is followed, which passages are emphasized, which biblical practices are emulated most frequently, these vary a lot based on tradition.

So when you think about it the only things we don't believe based on tradition are the things we have experienced ourselves. Like Thomas wanting to see the risen Jesus personally. But that is not faith. Faith is believing without seeing. So without tradition faith has nothing to believe. No content.

What about the second statement? Growing up in the reformed tradition was very different from the catholic tradition. One thing we were always asking was what was reformed. It was quite fuzzy. Some people believed being reformed meant sticking to the traditional liturgy. Some people believed it was a way of engaging the culture. Some thought it meant believing in the doctrines defined by TULIP. But there was no way to know for sure. Often we looked for leaders with enough clout to settle these questions. But no leader could survive when somebody said "I disagree" which someone inevitably did. In other words there was no authority.

What happens then is tradition gets reduced to sentiment. We have feeling about certain beliefs that flow from the relationships we have with people who hold those beliefs. It could be parents or pastors or teachers or friends. It could also be people you never met, the writer of a book or a song that touched you. You sense some holiness and you respect that. So you listen to that person with great sympathy.

This is something even non-Christians do. Some people stir something in them and they follow. What they are looking for is God. Sometimes it is someone very close to God. Sometimes it isn't. But even the most rational people can have their reason badly skewed by these emotions. This is why avoiding tradition is impossible. We need heroes of holiness. We cannot avoid embracing them and when we do they will gain some real power over our thinking.

Catholicism does not try and avoid tradition but it tries to shape it. To make it into the image of Christ. The way it does that is to give it hard edges. They are defined by dogma. Where the church defines precisely what is Catholic and what is not. Where the response "I disagree" cannot stand because God has appointed shepherds that are to be obeyed. So tradition is no longer sentiment. It is now solid.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mark Driscoll on the Church

Ran into this article on the Mars Hill blog. Mark Driscoll talks about the visible and invisible church. is concept of the invisible church seems pretty close. The visible church is quite strange. Mostly because it is not visible at all.

The visible church is the church as we imperfectly see it. The various congregations of the universal church that regularly meet together in a particular place at a set time for things such as teaching, fellowship, and worship are commonly called the “local church” or the “visible church.”
So who is included in this. Mormon's? New age groups? Muslims? There must be some standard. He gets to that later.

As a result, the Reformers defined the church in terms of the presence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the most famous Protestant definition of the church is from John Calvin, who said, “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists.”
OK, so how do I know where the word of God is purely preached? Can I just take their word for it? Calvin would not. He would exclude Catholics for sure and likely a bunch of other groups. Driscoll seems to want to make it much broader. But he is pretty fuzzy. Who is the judge of these preachers? If we are talking about a visible church then we cannot base it on an invisible judgment by God on these preachers. There must be a visible judge or the church is really not visible at all.

He does make clear we are to be active in the church.

The Bible is clear that every Christian is a part of the larger church body and is expected to participate in the life of a local church with the gift(s) God has given him or her.
But that just begs the question, which local church? Does it matter? How should I pick? He quotes 1 John who takes it as a given that believers will fellowship together and those that leave the fellowship have left the faith. But John never talks about multiple local fellowships. That is completely foreign to scripture.

Debate With Wind on Church Hierarchies

This is a response to a comment left by someone using the name wind. I block quoted some scripture quotes as well so I put Mr Wind's comments in green to distinguish them.
Well, I'll leave the "father" debate to a disagree. The way the Catholic church uses the word is precisely the context that Jesus was referring to, and not because I still haven't gotten "the basics" but because it's precisely the problem with the papacy and the man-made hierarchy that they impose.
So if you accepted the Catholic understanding of the priesthood and the papacy then the problem with the title would go away? So the problem is not the word but bigger Catholic doctrines? That is why Catholic/Protestant dialogues don't focus on Mat. 23:9 much. Even when I was protestant I never liked that argument so maybe I have not respected it enough. Sorry.
However as you go on I would concede that the Protestant churches are every bit as ego prone. I suppose I'm not a proper Protestant either since I believe that I have one Father and He is in Heaven. I've never had much use for the hierarchy, and while you point out accurately that this is not unbiblical I believe the error comes in the implementation almost 100% of the time. A good pastor or even a good Christian in general will help point toward God, anything else is just fluff.
But leaders are important. They are not going to be perfect but we do need them. Hebrews 13:7 says:
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
There are many other passages that talk about leaders in the church (Rom 12:8, Luke 22:26). There is simply no biblical basis for a leaderless church. They only question is how should that leadership be structured and how should leaders be chosen.
In the end Jesus says that the authority Pilot had over him was given by God and they used that authority to crucify Him. They used it wrongly. You see, this is an entirely secular example, but the same principle. The Roman centurion also understood these principles in a purely secular sense. However, the only real authority that comes from God is inescapable (by earthly means) anyway. As was the situation Jesus was in. The Pope is quite escapable as is any Pastor I've ever known. They have power because people give them power and if you can escape it is quite fine to do so assuming God has not told you to stay. God told you to stay and me to flee. There's no contradiction though, we all have different jobs to do and I certainly couldn't be doing what I'm doing now if almost any of my previous "bosses" whether Priest or Pastor had their way.
Pilate is a good example. He was given authority over Jesus by God. He abused that authority. Jesus still respected it.He didn't escape it even though He could. Look at Mat 23:1-3:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.
So Jesus says the Pharisees are lousy leaders. Does he tell them to escape? No. He tells them to obey. The authority of the pharisees was replaced by the authority of the apostles. Are we any less obligated to obey them? The question is where is that apostolic authority today?

If you knew a bit more of my story you'd know that the last 20 years have taken me far beyond the basics. I've experienced churches in ways that make the Pharisees look good. Sure, I have managed to avoid crucifixion but I'm suspicious that maybe that is only because of modern cultural norms. Don't get me wrong, I've seen glimpses of good too, like an oasis in a desert.

I know there are some heart breaking stories. Bad leaders have done real damage. Both in Catholic and protestant situations. Catholics do have a bishop or a pope above the bad leader and can rectify the situation. They don't always but they are there. But Jesus didn't disband the disciples because of Judas. He expected human failings. Right after Jesus gave Peter the blessing of the rock and the keys He referred to Peter as Satan. He knew leaders would be fallible but He also knew there would be moments where we could say "this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven" (Mt 16:17).
I'm currently settled on never referring to "churches" as Church. I believe the two are virtually unrelated. Jesus demonstrated the Church in His lifetime. I don't recall an instance where He ever drew a contextually relevant parallel to buildings or human hierarchies. "The Church", "The Body", "The Vine" ... it was all much too big, much too spontaneous, and much too complex to fit into a building.

Mat 16:18 does refer to the church as being built on Peter. So that is a hierarchy of at least one person. Then there is Mat 18:15-20:
"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.
 "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
 "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
Here Jesus says the church should settle disputes among believers. He tells us we must obey the church. He does not say we should escape when we are sure they church got it wrong. Quite the opposite.

But then he gives the apostles the power to bind and loose. That was a language that rabbi's would use when they made moral judgments. If the verdict was "bind" the thing in question was immoral. If the verdict was "loose" the verdict was that it was moral. So all the apostles were to be exercising authority like Old Testament rabbi's did. 

The other relevant passage 1 Tim 3. In verse 15 Paul calls the church "the pillar and foundation of the truth". But the whole chapter is about deacons and overseers. Again, scripture assumes a hierarchy.
This is a new wine skin. People fleeing different churches will assemble at random, hear sermons at their lunch tables, choose to be with teachers because of their God given authority and not their Seminary given authority. It's happening every day, and very few churches get it. They're too busy counting last week's offering. I'm blessed to teach and be taught many days per week. Not in a big congregation, but 1 to 1, not in generalities presented with charisma and showmanship, but in specifics presented with first hand knowledge, compassion, and the Holy Spirit's discernment. It's a better way and it won't work to its full potential until churches embrace it. Until Pastors and Priests hand over the programs and plans in exchange for real relationships. Until they are humble enough to trade man-made authority for God-breathed. REAL relationships, Truth must always be REAL. Anything else is just bovine scatology.
How do you know what you are taught in these 1 to 1 relationships is true?  Is there not potential for abuse there too? Confession is a time when we as Catholics get a 1 to 1 encounter with a priest. It is a good thing. But I had 1 to 1 encounters in my protestant church as well. The question is not the size of the audience but whether the teacher has authority from God to teach the true gospel.

The Trouble With Reason

So many today seem to worship human reason. They accept or reject truth based on whether it makes sense to them. But the trouble is truth is too big. The human mind can only reason its way to so much truth. So people take short cuts. The convince themselves certain things are rational or irrational without drilling into the details. But it gets complicated. Often there are multiple opinions. Some say something is rational to believe and same say it is not. You have to choose who to believe. Often people choose based on preference. What would they prefer to be true.

Take, for example, stories of miracles. Often the best witnesses affirm the miracle. If they didn't the story would not get very far. But then there are others further removed from the event who declare the thing to be a fraud. So we have a choice what to believe. People often go with what they want the truth to be. If they believe miracles do not happen then they are unlikely to change that view. There are a few exceptions like in this story but mostly people just declare any evidence to be insufficient. There are some who accept miracles when someone prays to Jesus but reject them when Mary or a saint is involved. So even very similar evidence can produce very different conclusion based on whether it fits your tradition or not.

But accepting or rejecting other people's opinions is problematic. It makes the assumption that your reasoning is somehow better than that of the people whose conclusions you are rejecting. The only other conclusion is to admit you have made some assumptions or accepted a certain school of thought or traditional wisdom based on faith. I say "admit" because for some "faith" is a dirty word and for others "tradition" is a dirty word. So the tendency is to assert their opinion is based on pure reason or in the protestant case scripture alone with plain reason. In both cases the only option left is to declare yourself to be smarter than the person you disagree with.

So belief in pure reason leads to the devaluing of other people's reasoning. If somebody disagrees with us we can only affirm their intelligence by accepting they have done well given the traditional framework they are in and the various influences on their thought. You might still have to be careful even saying that. For some it is an insult because they claim to be based on pure reason or scripture alone. Ironically enough, that is an irrational statement demanded by their tradition.. But at least your opinion of them could be charitable. You would still argue your tradition was superior but not based on some imagined ability to evaluate both using your reason.

So with all you hear about religion leading to war it seems like trying to remove faith and tradition from consideration only makes the problem worse. Of course you can't remove them. You can only choose which tradition you have faith in. But even the facade of pure reason seems to lead to less charity, not more.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Translations and Transgressions

There were many things that went wrong in this church right after Vatican II. To me, it was a huge miracle that VII was protected from error given the environment it was held in. But the changes made in the name of VII were a different matter.

One of those changes was the translation of the liturgical texts from Latin into English. Now what the translators were supposed to do was translate. They decided that while they were add it they would "fix" some of the texts they didn't really agree with. They would never admit this but it is quite obvious to those who know Latin and English that the English texts is not an honest attempt to render the same meaning, emphasis, and tone as the original Latin.

For example, the phrase mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa maxima is part of the penitential rite. It means something like "my fault, my fault, completely my fault." The translation renders it "through my own fault." They eliminate the repetition and emphasis. They turn a very strong statement into a very bland statement. Why would they do this? It is not because they don't know enough Latin. So it is not a bad translation. It is a choice not to translate the sacred text but to transgress the sacred texts.It is not that they don't know what the texts mean but that they don't like what they mean.

Penitence was not a popular thing back in the 1970's. It never is but it was particularly unfashionable at that time. People didn't want to focus on their sin but on the love of God. So they run into this part of the mass where we are supposed to do exactly that. To brutally and honestly call to mind our sins. So they change it. They are sure they are right. They don't admit they changed it. If they wanted to change the nature of the liturgy they should have proposed a change to the Latin texts. That would have been the process. This was a dishonest way to inject themselves and desecrate church's liturgy.

The examples of this sort of thing are many. CtC has an issue with the translation of a Vatican II document that shows a similar abuse. Translators were simply playing games. I don't know of any other organization that has as much trouble doing simple translations as the Catholic church. So many people in positions of power have such a strong impulse to water down the church's message. It means translations take a long time because trust has been lost.

The good news is things are getting fixed. It only took about 40 years but the translation of the liturgical texts is being replaced. They will probably complain about it for another 40 years. This is the one thing about the church. There are mistakes made. But over time the big mistakes get fixed. Jesus is building his church and a few well-meaning but wrong-thinking churchmen are not going to stop Him. The consequence of what they do can be serious but not in a lasting way.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Religious Knowledge and Faith

There was a religious quiz that atheists apparently do pretty well at. I ignored the story as I ignore most polls but atheists seem quite excited about it like it proves all believers are just stupid. Something they have long suspected. First of all, the quiz does not test any kind of deep religious thinking. It just tests whether you know a few big names. Things that might make you sound intelligent in a casual conversation. Atheists do tend to talk about religion a lot and learn a little about many faiths. Many people of faith avoid the topic of religion. This is not because they lack intelligence. It is really because they lack true faith.

How can people of faith be lacking faith? Because many people believe in Jesus but don't have confidence their faith will stand up to rational scrutiny. So they go through the motions. They are blessed by it. But they see it as something irrational. They don't want to talk about it. They don't want to dig into the facts behind it. They want to connect with God and they feel they do that somehow through their religion but there is no life there. They typically can't transmit their faith to their children. They don't grow in their faith. It either remains the same or it slowly declines.

People like this describe themselves as having faith. They self-identify as Catholic or Methodist or whatever. But they don't really believe it is true. They have bought into the idea that religious truth is somehow a lesser truth category than scientific or historical reality. That faith means you don't ask too many questions. You just believe and your try and live out the morals and hope you and your loved ones go to heaven. But that is not true faith. True faith means really believing it. That means knowing every question has an answer. Not being afraid that digging too deep will reveal something ugly or contradictory. Expecting that digging will reveal more about the beauty of God.

John Paul's first words as pope were "Do not be afraid".  When asked later what we should not be afraid of. He said, "Don't be afraid of the truth about yourself." That is true faith. To want to know everything because you believe God's love is real and His revelation is reliable. There is no need to fear that somebody will expose my faith as irrational. That somebody will make me feel guilty about something and ruin my fun. Even radical, counter-cultural changes are not to be feared because the gospel is really true. Not some sort of pseudo-truth but true in every sense. Solid truth you can put at the very center of your life.

So why do so many Catholics do badly on religious survey's? Because their faith is very tentative. But we should not judge Christianity by bad Christians. We should judge Christianity by Christ. The question is not whether there are some Catholics who have a faith life that you would not want to emulate. The question is are there any whose faith is attractive to you?  They are out there. When you find them then the many luke-warm Catholics just don't matter.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yet Another Great Bishop

This morning Pope Benedict has appointed another Archbishop. This time to San Antonio. I follow these things pretty close. What strikes me is how much things have changed with this pope. It seems that John Paul II allowed himself to be manipulated in this area. He ended up appointing a lot of bishops that were nothing like him. In particular they were less orthodox. How does that happen? Basically there was a process that he trusted. That process ended up becoming a political game that bishops learned to play to get ahead and get other like minded bishops ahead. The most powerful positions went to those who played this game well.

Life has been quite different under Pope Benedict. Appointing bishops is one area that he has decided to spend a lot of his personal time and energy. I wonder if he sees the damage that was done to the church from his predecessor neglecting to do that and just signing the appointments put on his desk. Anyway, the pope now goes through the files of the prospective bishops very carefully. Normally there are three recommendations given to him with one indicated as the first choice. Often he would reject all three. He knew the kind of churchmen he wanted and he was not going to settle for less. Slowly he has been changing the process so they start to know what he is looking for at every level. It is working well.

So what is he looking for? Orthodox people for sure but not stereo-typical conservatives. He wants real thinkers. People who know why they are orthodox and can communicate it charitably. He does not want open warfare with the liberal wing of the church but he does want to get the faith right. In short, he wants bishops that are like himself. They are hard to find because Pope Benedict has many exceptional qualities but it is happening.

So what does it mean? One of the problems frequently identified in the church is the lack of strong, consistent teaching of the faith. John Paul II with the help of Cardinal Ratzinger has basically solved this problem in the Vatican. They published the Catechism. They write frequently and eloquently on the problems of secularism. Now it is getting pushed down to the next level. Slowly but surely the teaching is taking hold. Eventually it will get down to the people in the pews. When the church knows what it believes then those who are looking for the true gospel of Christ will have an easier time finding it. Right now if someone just talks to a Catholic they know or even to their local priest it is very hit and miss as to what faith is going to be presented to them. As this process moves on we should expect that the faith will be understood consistently and correctly. That will mean some will walk away but many others will be attracted.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Many Universes and Ockham's Razor

It seems like Hawking and others have bought into this idea of many universes. The idea is to explain why our universe seems finely tuned to support life. It can be demonstrated that changing one universal constant even a small amount would make life impossible. This article explains it a little. Hawking takes this argument quite seriously. It is surprising because most scientific arguments for intelligent design are just ignored by big name scientists.Hawking's response is there may be a large number of universes with different universal constants. I had heard this before but most scientists seemed to dismiss it as an absurd idea with no evidence to support it. It seems to be gaining favor in recent times.

But the problem is that is what so many atheists call the idea of God, an absurd idea with no evidence to support it. Mostly it is a philosophical error. They are expecting to find physical evidence for God. There is no good reason to expect that. But we do expect to find metaphysical evidence for God. That the world should have the look and feel of being designed by a loving creator. That may or may not have physical corollaries that can be scientifically tested. But leaving aside what evidence you should expect the objection has been adding God is the size of the idea is out of proportion to the evidence. This is often described as a violation of Ockham's razor. But does not the multiple universe theory now violate Ockham's razor. It is an interesting question. One guy who argues it does not write this:
William of Ockham, 1285-1349(?) English philosopher and one of the founders of logic, proposed a maxim for judging theories which says that hypotheses should not be multiplied beyond necessity. This is known as Ockham's razor and is interpreted, today, as meaning that to account for any set of facts the simplest theories are to be preferred over more complex ones. Many-worlds is viewed as unnecessarily complex, by some, by requiring the existence of a multiplicity of worlds to explain what we see, at any time, in just one world.
Now there are a few philosophical assumptions behind Ockham's razor that people often don't understand. St Thomas Aquinas believed in the essence of things. That when we see a dog that it was an imperfect representation of the essence of dogness. Ockham didn't believe that such an essence existed. He just thought our ideas about dogs were merely a name for what we experienced of dogs.It is a philosophy known as nominalism because it reduces everything to a simple name. Now given the assumption of nominalism Ockham's razor makes sense. If we don't have to worry about what is true about the essence of dogness and just want to name what we know about dogs then the simplest description for that is to be preferred. There is no truth out there that we have to describe. We are just composing a theory that fits our observations. So we can pick theories and picking simple ones is better.
But when we are trying to determine truth this fails. If I know somebody traveled from New York to Los Angles and that is all I knew it would be best for me to assume he made the trip in the simplest possible way, maybe a direct flight. But in truth he might have made a very complex trip. He might have driven for a while, got on a boat, rode a bus, maybe biked a few hundred miles. That might be the truth. Now absent any other evidence the simple theory is to be preferred. But in the case where there is an essential truth behind the theory Ockham's razor does not guarantee you truth about that essence. So there is an implicit assumption of nominalism. That is that such truth does not matter.
This is to mistake what is meant by "complex". Here's an example. Analysis of starlight reveals that starlight is very similar to faint sunlight, both with spectroscopic absorption and emission lines. Assuming the universality of physical law we are led to conclude that other stars and worlds are scattered, in great numbers, across the cosmos. The theory that "the stars are distant suns" is the simplest theory and so to be preferred by Ockham's Razor to other geocentric theories.
First of all, this is precisely the opposite of what you are assuming with multiple universes. That is the observed reality of physical laws being constant. The theory is such laws are not constant in these other universes. So we are not just  asserting more of the same like we do with stars. We are asserting something new. That is complex as well as large.

The other think to note is that God is not complex. God is simple. He is vast but He is not complex. Complex things can be divided into parts. God cannot be divided. See this post on divine simplicity. So making this distinction really seems to make Ockham's razor oppose multiple universes more and God less.
Similarly many-worlds is the simplest and most economical quantum theory because it proposes that same laws of physics apply to animate observers as has been observed for inanimate objects. The multiplicity of worlds predicted by the theory is not a weakness of many-worlds, any more than the multiplicity of stars are for astronomers, since the non-interacting worlds emerge from a simpler theory.
But the same physical laws would mean the same physical constants. That does not  help explain the fine tuning at all.
As an historical aside it is worth noting that Ockham's razor was also falsely used to argue in favour of the older heliocentric theories against Galileo's notion of the vastness of the cosmos. The notion of vast empty interstellar spaces was too uneconomical to be believable to the Medieval mind. Again they were confusing the notion of vastness with complexity [15].)
 One rule for atheists in these debates is to work in as many references to Galileo as possible. Notice the swipe at the "Medieval mind".

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Clear Thinking People?

I spend some time this weekend with my brother's family. He is a protestant pastor. He generally avoids Catholic/Protestant topics around me. I did overhear a discussion when I was not in the room. He was talking about "clear thinking people" being able to understand the teaching of scripture. I didn't jump into the room and offer a rebuttal. Often topics like that seem like tangents to protestants. They are in fact foundational questions that we need to get right before we can have a proper discussion of other religious issues. But it would be impolite for me to inject myself and push the conversation to what I see as important.

The other reason I didn't jump in is because my brother is a very good talker. Most preachers are these days. He is a bit like Christopher Hitchens. That is to say that just because you know you are right does not mean you are going to come out with the best in a verbal exchange. The truth or falsity of the positions has very little to do with who wins at verbal debate. People think it proves one side right and the other wrong. Most can think of counter examples quite easily where the side of truth ended up looking bad in debate. But still debates convince people way more than they should. Pastors convince people way more than they should. Speaking has great power to change minds and hearts but not always in a good way. Even very smart people are swayed by logically unsound arguments. People think they are much better critical thinkers than they are especially when it comes to fast talkers that push emotional buttons.

Anyway, the phrase "clear thinking people" stuck in my mind. We like to think we are clear thinking. Are we really?  We can see people being influences by their tradition, by their sinful passions, by their intellectual pride, by their prejudices, by their pain, by a ton of things. That makes all those people not very clear thinking. But what about us? Are we immune from those things. Most of them are unconscious. That means the people who are having their thinking clouded don't know it. They still think their thinking is clear. Are we one of those people or is our thinking really clear? We would like to think so but is there any reason to think so?

Even in contemplating this question we wrestle with intellectual pride. What does it mean to admit we cannot trust out own minds? For a Catholic that is a hard truth to swallow. For a protestant it is devastating. What it means is we need to approach matters of truth with great humility. That is hard because we like our own opinion. Often it is harder because there is some emotional or spiritual issue hiding behind this opinion. It might mean we need to make a difficult change to our personal life.

But as hard as that is it becomes so much harder for the protestant. Because a protestant puts arguments from scripture and plain reason at the highest level of certainty. That is to be considered a better source of truth than tradition, better than even the most trusted church leaders, better than the opinions of even a huge majority of Christians. What that means is the hierarchy is flawed. But there is a dependency. If you are Calvinist you trust Calvinist tradition, as opposed to Pentecostal tradition, because scripture and plain reason tell you that is right. That causes you to trust Calvinist pastors and theologians. But it all hinges on the assumption that you can choose the right tradition based on scripture and reason. If you are not a clear thinking person then how can you trust even that choice?

Look at what is involved in figuring out which tradition is most biblical. You have to consider the whole of scripture. You have to look at all major doctrines. That is a complex piece of reasoning. Then you consider the emotional factors that could cloud your thinking. Like the tradition of the people involved in bringing you to Christ. Maybe it was your family or maybe some friends led you faith. Does the fact that you met Jesus through their ministry mean their tradition is right? Not at all. But how can you put that out of your mind while you do clear thinking about which tradition is following the bible? You can't.

It is not impossible to pick the right tradition. You just can't base it on which tradition is closest to the scriptures. You need to admit you are not qualified to answer that question. But there are other ways to assess traditions. Which has the best continuity with the church of Pentecost? One place to start is by excluding all those traditions that have scripture and plain reason as their highest authority. That is all those that confess Sola Scriptura. Those require you to be a clear thinking person and you have already had enough humility to admit you are not one of those.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How Much God is Enough?

One point protestants often make in discussing Sola Scriptura is that the bible has enough clear truth in it. That the basics of the gospel are there and all bible Christians agree on that much so there is no need to look for more or better truth. But are we to be satisfied with the basics of the gospel? It is not even clear what that means. When you start to get specific you often find they don't really want to declare most questions of doctrine and morality uncertain. But if you just look at salvation issues, is there such disagreement about those?

It is true that Catholic theology has something called invincible ignorance. That God does not hold blind people responsible for not seeing. But does that make blindness good? Not at all. The same thing with doctrinal errors. We are not responsible for not obeying teachings we didn't receive or didn't know were from God. Still we need to desire God. We cannot simply throw up our hands and declare His will to be unknowable. We have to want to see. God works in the light. The devils works in darkness.

There is a progressive nature to Christianity. We are to grow and mature in our faith. But the opposite happens with scripture. Truth we were sure about we discover is being questioned by some. Learning exposes us to more opinions but they contradict and we don't have any way to resolve the conflict other than our own error-prone judgment. Is that really God's will? The Holy Spirit is supposes to lead us into all truth. But does He lead us as individuals or as the people of  God?

What I did as a protestant was to run away from theology. Ministry to the poor was pretty simple. Certain kinds of evangelism that focused on personal testimony and a simple commitment to Jesus. Not much can go wrong there. But it is hard to leave it there. Eventually you start to grow deeper with people. The questions get more sophisticated and you are right back in the middle of uncertainty.

At some point I wanted more of God's truth. Not more opinions ABOUT God but more truth FROM God. God waited for my hunger to be great before He revealed Himself. I had made the assumption that my opinions were actually pretty close to the actual truth. I just needed some fine tuning. Turns out they were not that close at all. So it was much more humbling than I had anticipated. So if I wasn't really hungry I might have just balked. As it was it took me a long time to accept the church as the fullness of truth.

So when people say the clear teachings of scripture are enough I can understand. But how can you have enough of God? Aren't we supposed to be like deer panting for the water?(Ps 42:1) Sure it is scary to question the ideas you have been told are at the very center of your faith. Ideas like faith alone and scripture alone. But truth is never afraid of questions.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Worst Possible Exegesis

When does Sola Scriptura really matter? We all use scripture and tradition and many other sources of revelation. When something rings true to us do we use Sola Scriptura. Not really. We embrace what is said because it connects with our thinking, with our instincts. It does not make it true. Something can resonate with us very powerfully and still be false. In fact, that is when Sola Scriptura really matters. When we somehow embrace falsehood very strongly and really resist being corrected by God. That is when we must not follow our heart but must follow God's word.

But what happens when we read something in scripture and we really hate it? When we don't want to accept it as  God's word? We look at other interpretations. Could it be a translation issue? Maybe the context makes it seem to say something it really doesn't. Either I am wrong or God is wrong or there is another way to exegete this passage. Guess which one is the easiest to accept? So you look around for an alternative exegesis. If there is one that allows you to retain your preferred theology that is going to be irresistible to you.

So when does scripture end up changing your wrong thinking? Only when scripture is clear even assuming the worst possible exegesis of the passage. Is it really that bad? Let's take an example. Suppose you have a woman who feels in her heart the call to be a pastor. How clear does scripture have to be before she will accept that God's word is against female pastors? If there is anyone anywhere teaching that it is OK that is going to be pretty attractive to her. Conversely, suppose somebody felt strongly in their heart that women should not be pastors. How clear would scripture have to be before they would accept that God's word is in favor of female pastors? The point is when we feel strongly about an issue we are willing to embrace the worst possible exegesis rather than accept that our feelings are opposed to God's word.

What has happened in recent years is we have gotten a lot better at doing bad exegesis. Part of it has to do with mass media making many theologians accessible to people outside their tradition. Part of it has to do with the academic world encouraging very liberal theology. The number of strange theologies that are defended as biblical in a fairly reasonable manner by a respected scholar has grown immensely. Just about any belief you want to accept has a ready-made biblical defense published somewhere. Sola Scriptura has no way to rule any of them out of bounds.

We have sinful hearts. We can become firmly convinced that right is wrong and wrong is right. That is when we need God's word desperately. Scripture alone with the worst possible exegesis is not going to be good enough. Maybe we believe our hearts won't go there. We might have tradition in our subconscious and we are convinced we won't embrace error like that. That may or may not be so. But what about your children? Or your grandchildren? Will they have the same instincts about God's truth embedded in their thinking? What will protect them from the worst possible exegesis?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Grace in Action

As Christians we affirm that we live by grace alone. Not just that our salvation is from God's grace but that all our good works come through His grace. Without Jesus we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). So we confess that. But how does it effect how we live as Christians? If I want to live for Christ, work for His Kingdom, give Him glory, and all that good stuff, how does the fact that all my good works flow from God's grace effect my approach?

As an evangelical it amounted to studying the bible and praying. I was much better at bible study that I was at prayer. So I did that a lot. The saying was to pray like it all depends on God and work like it all depends on you. But there were all sorts of ideas of how to pray more powerfully. The focus always seemed to drift back to myself. Grace became largely invisible and the lived experience of the Christian life was largely one of works.

As a Catholic it has changed. There is more focus on the sacraments. Mass is less about your action than a typical evangelical Sunday morning. So there is much more humility and simple opening of yourself to whatever God has for you. Confession is the same way. You choose what areas of life to talk about but the focus is much more on letting God transform you and not nearly as much about motivating yourself to change you life. Prayer is the same way. Instead of making up my prayers I was reciting prayers others had composed. There is a lot less doing and a lot more simply being in Christ. Adoration takes that to a new level where you don't even recite prayers and just contemplate the real presence of Jesus in the room with you.

Overall my Christian experience as an evangelical was powerful but what I have experienced as a Catholic is so much more so. There are many reasons for that. But one key one is the patience Catholicism has taught me to allow God's grace to work it's way deep inside my heart. It is really a proper living out of the doctrine of grace alone I learned to cherish as a protestant. Ironically it is the doctrine I was taught Catholics didn't really understand or live out. 

In Vitro Fertilization

I have been hearing quite a bit about IVF lately. There was the Nobel prize for the scientist involved along with a negative comment from a Vatican spokesman. Quebec has recently announced government funding for IVF. The topic has even come up in our local twins club. The tone has been one of celebration of the wonderfulness of technology and the Catholic church looks like it is anti-science and just not with it.

So what is the response? The first is to deal with the main myth. That IVF allows couples to have children that would otherwise not be able to become parents. That ignores the low tech method of adoption. It is not that God is not providing opportunities to raise children. He is just not doing it the way they want Him to. In fact, if we would stop aborting so many children there would be a much easier time with adoption.

Secondly, we must point out that methods matter. Having a good end does not justify any means used to get there. Essentially you are committing the same violations of chastity and of life that we see in contraception and abortion. In this case the goal is a lot more noble. Children are seen as desirable. Infertility is actually treated like a problem rather than a freedom.

But who knows what God has in mind? Perhaps giving some couples the unfulfilled desire for children is a blessing to society. It reminds all of us that children are a gift from God. Fasting makes us appreciate food. It also makes us appreciate the importance of what we are fasting for.

Nothing is sacred without sacrifice. We say sex is sacred but we are not willing to give up anything out of respect for that sacredness. So then how sacred is it? Same thing with life. We want to be lovers of life. A process like IVF discards life routinely. Sure there is something good to give up. There always is. But morality without sacrifice is no morality at all.

In the grand scheme of things. Much infertility results from STD's, from abortions, and from people contraceptiing during their most fertile years. If you would get rid of those things then IVF is easy to give up. The reason Quebec will pay the high cost is because their birth rate is so low. This is a very small and expensive solution to a much bigger problem. A problem created by embracing a separation of sex, marriage, and procreation.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Christian Soldiers

I was listening to a testimony of a Catholic Christian who had survived 5 years in a North Vietnamese POW camp. He made a remark about Christians making the best soldiers. I was thinking about that. Is that true? If so, why is that? Certainly in recent wars Christians nations have had better technology. That has allowed them to fight effectively. But is there more to it then that? Are Christians better able to fight in a life and death situation? When they are pushed to the limits of human suffering do they persevere better? It think they should. I can't think of any really hard data that proves they do.

I did see an article on Catholic Exchange today which talked about 2 decades of Muslims using threats of violence to make westerners very careful when they talk about Islam. What struck me is that if nobody is willing to risk their life for free speech then it disappears pretty easily. All that has to happen is for people to become afraid of a possible violent reaction and the exchange of ideas pretty much comes to a screeching halt. Fear can be based on quite a remote possibility. If nobody is willing to face the fear then free speech ends.

There seems to be something there. When we believe in human principles we can feel strongly about them but why would we choose to suffer and possibly die in order to defend them? In order to do that we need to believe in something bigger than ourselves. If we believe in God as a form of self-help then there is going to be very little fight in us. When it comes right down to who is going to take the risks and suffer the hardship we will want it to be someone else.

Muslims do have some explicit incentives built into their theology. That if you die for the faith good things will happen in the afterlife. The trouble is you don't want your soldiers to die for the cause. To paraphrase Gen Patton, you want soldiers to make the other guy die for his cause. Rewarding death is not quite what you are looking for. Catholicism rewards all forms of suffering. They need to be united with the suffering of Christ. That is what you need to persevere under the stress of combat.

This soldier giving his testimony talked about going to mass every day and confession very frequently. He wanted to know he was in a state of grace. Then he could be absolutely fearless in battle. Can a secular person get into that frame of mind or will the fear of death paralyze him? Hard to say. When the moment comes some men find their inner warrior even if their world and life view has no room for that. Even the least religious people have inner impulses that are from God.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Protestants and Secularists

Protestants set out to deny the supernatural character of the church. They saw all the great things done by the church over the years and agreed they were great. The only thing is they saw them as purely individual accomplishments. People did great things by the grace of God through faith. Sure they were members of the church but the church was not the reason for their holiness. They would have said it was if you had asked them but now we know better. We know it was their personal faith that mattered and the organizational church didn't actually make the difference.

Now secularists come and seek to deny the power of Christianity. They see the great things done by Christians over the years and they agree they were great. The only think is they see them as purely human accomplishments. People do great things though the power of the human spirit. Sure they were Christians but their Christianity was not the reason for their greatness. They would have said it was if you had asked them but now we know better. We know it was their personal human strength that mattered and their faith didn't actually make the difference.

Protestants and secularists use the same tricks when looking at history. One wants to deny the role of the church. One wants to deny the role of God completely. Just different levels of the same thing. They are right to a degree. Catholics do need to have a strong personal relationship with Jesus. So you can find a ton of references in history to that. But if you latch onto them and ignore the references to the Eucharist or Mary or the papacy then you get a false picture.

Similarly Christians do talk about conscience and reason. So you can find many references to that. But if you latch onto them and ignore references to worship, scripture or prayer you are going to get a false picture.

The reverse works with bad people. Protestants will connect bad Catholics as strongly with the church as they can. Just like secularists will connect bad Christians as strongly to their faith as they can. The idea is that getting rid of the church will eliminate the bad things from Christianity but keep all the good things. Similarly getting rid of Christianity would eliminate the bad things from humanity and keep the good things.

It boils down to a progressive denial of the supernatural. Protestants deny Christ's ability to teach infallibly, to give Himself physically, and the be present visibly through His church. Secularists deny Jesus' ability to do anything except provide a inspirational narrative for people's lives. A good story but not a true story. A story that is purely human and therefore can be replaced by modern man with something else, anything else.

Jake Magee Again

Apologies to the color blind. I shall interject in purple. 
Hey Randy, I’ll change up the format a bit to avoid confusion and frustration for those with color blindness. 
You say,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.” 
Judges are to pronounce and apply written laws in particular cases.  Sometimes that is as easy as holding up a written statute and seeing the connection from law to case.  At other times it involves him wading through nuances of both law and cases.  But even here, the judge’s authority is derivative, and he is to never add or take away from the content of the law.  We disdain judges who either think they are the law or above the law or tamper with it.  We sanction judges who misuse the law.  Similarly, SS (Sola Scriptura) doesn’t negate the authority of the officers of the church to pronounce and apply Scripture.  “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove exhort…” SS says that Timothy’s authority is derivative and subservient to Scripture.  Timothy may rebuke with it. But, Timothy might himself be rebuked by it.  He must study and show himself approved to God so that he does in fact rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). 
Catholics buy all of this. So if that is what SS means then it is Catholic doctrine. Bishops and popes are never to see themselves as above scripture or tradition. They are the servants of God's word. They are to teach it and govern the church according to it. They can be sanctioned if they abuse it. For a pope any official sanction can only come after the pope has died but nobody is above being scrutinized. Look at St Catherine of Sienna. She was a lay woman telling the pope he was making some serious errors. She was right. The church has applauded her for doing that.

But what the church cannot stand and SS allows is for people to disobey because their own view of scripture over the church's view of scripture. Just like if you disagree with the judges decision and think he interpreted the law wrong. You must still obey the law as the judge sees it. You may appeal to a higher judge. You may criticize the judge as far as the law allows. But the judge is the judge. If people didn't respect that then anarchy would result. SS produces spiritual anarchy. 

Later on you continue, “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.”
Let me state the obvious in order to continue the contrast of RC thinking with Protestant thinking you’ve begun. Protestants claim that Scripture makes the church and preaching living, not the other way around.  An outlet doesn’t cease to have power because an appliance is not plugged into it.  An appliance does however cease to have power when unplugged from the outlet.  A church that fails to faithfully preach Scripture doesn’t take away from the life of the word of God, but its own life.  Further, I would argue (but won’t for space) that many of the passages that refer to the Word of God with organic metaphors are contextually tied to Scripture, and not tradition or the magisterium (Psalm 19:7-9; 119; etc).  I believe this is the case with Hebrews 4 as well. 
Historically the church came before the scriptures. Today it is hard for us to imagine a church without the scriptures but on Pentecost that is what we had. Just the church. That continued for a few decades. In fact, many letters that make up the New Testament came out of the life of the church. They were written in response to what was happening in an already existing church.

What is the source of power for the church. It is Jesus Himself. How does he come to the church? Through the Eucharist, through the Word, through the community, and through the priest. The first two being the most important of the four. The word implies the gospel Jesus brought to us during his teaching ministry. Scripture, when properly interpreted, is the best source of that now. But those teachings also were transmitted in countless other ways to the church just by life to life contact with the apostles. Beyond that the Holy Spirit has led the church into a deeper understanding of that message and prevented that message from being corrupted. 

“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.” 
The movement of the article from exposition to sub-head “How might a Roman Catholic Response” is just a different way of saying “some RC’s like Randy will say that I didn’t prove the sufficiency of Scripture for the following reasons…”  You raise objections to my claim by citing issue I deal with subsequent to the claim.   For example, later on in your assessment you argue that Paul also “gives tradition high praise and the church high praise in other place.”  Elsewhere you cite the “canon question,” as well as the relationship of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to the Old Testament.  Elsewhere you refer to the problem of interpretation.  You offer these as considerations for why Paul is not arguing for the sufficiency of Scripture. And yet, these are precisely the objections I anticipated later on in the article, I’ve considered, and have argued do not militate against my interpretation of the 2 Timothy passage.  In fact, I’ve argued that they are very compatible with it (even supportive). 
This is why it doesn’t seem like you’re treating the article as a disputation that offers a thesis, argues for it, anticipates objections, and seeks to answer those objections.   
I did plan to do a series of posts on the entire article. I did read it all but not in enough detail. I missed some things. I should have waited until all my replies were done before I interacted with you. Although I hinted at other issues the main aim of this post was to argue that the words of 2 Tim 3:16-17 simply do not say what you are trying to make them say. There is no logical flow from A to B. I still think that is the main issue. 

Now to the crux of the contention: you say that the text doesn’t say that Scripture is sufficient.  Why? “If anything, it says teaching reproof, correction, and training in righteousness together are sufficient.” Elsewhere you say that the content of what is taught, reproved, corrected, and trainedis not equated with Scripture and nothing more…It says that scripture is one thing that would do these things…” 
I have argued that Paul says a man of God will be adequately furnished for every good work when he is taught with Scripture.  The delivery system (i.e. teaching) for Scripture is an instrumental cause, not a formal.  Paul seems to be saying that because of the nature of the formal cause (inspiration), these Scripture-informed instruments (e.g., teachers or whatever) can produced adequately equipped Christians.    
The man of God is adequately furnished for every good work when he is taught, rebuked, corrected and trained in righteousness. Doing this from scripture is profitable. You keep trying to finesse around that word profitable. It can't carry the logical weight you are putting on it. It does not mean only scripture should be used or even that only scripture could be used. It just means using scripture is better than not using scripture. The nature of inspiration implies the difference is not small. Using scripture for these things is way better than not.

There is an implication here that scripture will be properly interpreted and I would even argue Paul means interpreted as he and the other apostles would interpret it. There were false teachers in Paul's day.He is not saying every false teacher is now equal with the apostles as long as they claim to be interpreting scripture.

Now you’ve repeatedly brought up that the passage might logically allow for things other than Scripture to equip.  I’ve argued that the fact that something else could be (in a possible worlds sense) used to equip a believer adequately (my example was the personal presence of Jesus to a native in Africa) doesn’t negate the sufficiency of Scripture to equip the non-native.  What it does negate is the necessity of Scripture for the African (or put more precisely, in the case where there is special revelation).  But likewise, it negates the necessity of this divine appearance for the person who possesses the Bible.  I have argued that this rejoinder is irrelevant to my case.
That particular example is irrelevant. It is what Catholics would call private revelation. It is kind of another topic so I just ignored that the first time. Catholics believe that the revelation of Jesus is complete. That is, that nothing will be added to the public deposit of faith that the church confesses. That faith can be deepened and more precisely defined but God will not give us anything new along the lines of what Joseph Smith or Mohammad claim to have received. So visions like this are a private matter. Nobody is compelled by the church to believe them. If you discern them to be from God you should obey them. If not then you may ignore them. You must respect others who made a difference choice.

With this distinction understood, SS could be stated as saying scripture is the whole of public revelation. That all other revelation is private.

Anyway, I don't see why the logical possibility of other private revelation somehow does not prove the logical possibility of other public revelation. If a native ran into a Jehovah Witness would scripture be enough to equip him for every good work? Even of the Jehovah's Witness used a proper translation I would suggest he would not have a very good chance of receiving the gospel. It is a book. It needs to be taught properly.

 I said, “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.”
I’ve made this point in a number of ways.  I used the example of Frank’s Furniture Farm.  You argued that you still need a truck and people to arrange the furniture.  Applied to the discussion, we still need teachers and churches and etc to get this truth arranged in people’s lives.  My response was essentially, "that's my point... the doctrine of Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean that Scriptures do all that work for us and so it doesn’t eliminate instrumental causes (i.e., teachers, text, literacy, churches, pliable wills, etc…).  But likewise, it doesn’t impugn the sufficiency of Scripture for furnishing all that we need for faith and practice.  The passage does say that one can sufficiently equip a believer for works of service with the Bible.     
You seem to be watering down SS to the point where it is meaningless. You agree that one can come to a false gospel using SS? That the teachers and churches and traditions can cause somebody who thinks they are following the bible to actually not be? That somebody who is bright and sincere and reads his bible can get the gospel hugely wrong? If you believe that it seems to me to be a denial of SS. If you don't then you need to show how all these things that change the way we read scripture cannot cause us to lose the gospel. That is hard to do given how many strange doctrines there are out there.

 I’ve also used the compass/stars analogy.  Your response was that “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.” 
Well, we’re going to differ on some points here.  You feel that there are certain questions that the Bible doesn’t give answers to, and therefore makes it insufficient.  We would probably disagree on what one needs to know to be adequately equipped for every good work.  Certainly, the Bible doesn’t answer all the questions related to faith and practice (but we don’t include omniscience as a prerequisite of sanctification).  But it doesn’t need to.  It needs only to answer the questions that are necessary to please him and serve him. 
You respond that, “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.”
First of all, I’m not running from the Sola part of Sola Scriptura, I’m establishing what it means and what it doesn’t mean.  Maybe this doesn’t fit what you think the Protestant believes.  Maybe that’s something you have to revise as you work through your critique.  
I know what protestants believe. I was one for 40 years. I still have several protestant pastors in my immediate family. The problem is not that I don't understand it. It is that it is ill-defined. A true SS person would commend a bible Christian who say gay marriage is OK. They should say he is following his view of scripture just like Martin Luther did. But they don't say that. They react like gay marriage has been infallibly condemned as heresy. That is good. It has been. But they are not being consistent. 

Moreover, you say that the problem with the above schema is that We need an interpreter.”  Again you make no mention of my handling on this particular problem.
Later on you say, “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.”   
You write as if I never addressed that.  In representing the Roman Catholic position, I began a considerable portion addressing this particular objection early on in the article: 
What’s another route that a Catholic might take?  Roman Catholic apologists have argued that Scripture is insufficient because Scripture itself clearly teaches that believers must also affirm and hold onto oral traditions (Staples 224)…….” 
You say later on, 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.”
Again, I’ve addressed these points in the section on the canon and argued that the RC position is in the same epistemological boat as the Protestant.
You say, “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.” 
Your initial statement was, “He says he is as sure of his little syllogism as he is of the divinity of Christ. Amazing.” 
That is a misquote.  What I said was, 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.”  It seems that you represent me as saying, “take all the Scriptures for the divinity of Christ and put them in a scale, and my exposition of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 proves to me Sola Scriptura with the same weight as all of these Scriptures do so for the divinity of Christ.”  What I said is that the reasoning that leads one to conclude Sola Scriptura from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is as iron clad as the reasoning that leads us to postulate the deity of Christ from John 1:1-3.  That’s not a grandiose or presumptuous statement.    
That still seems pretty grandiose and presumptuous. The deity of Christ has been held by all Christendom since the beginning. SS has never been in the same category. That and the fact that there is a huge gaping hole in your logic. To me it does not show a problem with you so much as a problem with SS. The idea that one man with his bible and an argument is the highest authority that Christianity has. That there really isn't another category for doctrines like the divinity of Christ.  
Randy, I find it difficult dialoging over a topic when objections are offered as novel and devastating to my position, and yet there’s never the acknowledgement that I’ve covered those particular objections with considerable effort (and in fact in the bulk of the article).  What this has led to is no interaction with the bulk of the polemic.  You spend your time responding to about 1,400 words and neglect about 6,700 words that are dedicated to the very objections with which you dismiss the claim formulated in the 1,400 words.    
I will let you have the last word and let the readers decide whose contention stands scrutiny. 
I could have written a 10,000 word reply to you 8000 word article. That would have been a lot of work. Who would have read it? I'm not convinced anyone would have. So I replied only to the first 1400 words. It turns out you read it and gave me a great reply. Thanks for that. I am sorry that my strategy annoyed you. I can see why when the discussion jumped into some of the topics you discussed in the 6700 words. The truth is blog discussion always jump around. I should have been more careful but all these topics interconnect. It can try one's patience because you end up going over things again and again. Cutting and pasting can help if you just want to point out that this is exactly what I have addressed elsewhere.


God bless you Jake. It was good of you to take the time to respond.