Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Person or a Plan?

When protestants despair about the number of denominations and the doctrinal confusion on so many issues one thing you will hear a lot is that Christianity is not about doctrine but it is about a relationship with Jesus. Rhetorically it works. You say not X but rather Y and you push the person's mind to an either/or. Of course it is about both. But it is more than that. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." He is not just saying both but actually saying the two are in fact one. To have a relationship with Jesus is to have a relationship with the truth and it is to have a relationship with the way we are to live and it is to have a relationship with eternal life.

It reminds me of some of St Thomas Aquinas's thoughts on divine simplicity. That God cannot be divided. His goodness, His beauty, His truth, His justice, His mercy, etc. are all really the same thing. His essence is all of these things You cannot separate them. That actually predates Aquinas but I read it from him.

This connects with the Catholic church. Having a relationship with the church is having a relationship with Jesus and it is believing in the doctrines that make up the faith. There is a unity of many things that we think of as separate but are really one. So those that eat and drink the body of blood of Jesus are those that have faith are those that see Jesus in the poor are those who repent of their sins are those who are baptized.

As a protestant I did think of Catholicism as too simple. There was one simple answer for any and every doctrinal question and any and every liturgical question and questions about leadership and on and on. Every question seemed to go away with one simple answer. But if the nature of God is simplicity then why should we expect Christianity to work any differently? When someone would say Jesus is the answer to all your questions I was OK with that. When someone said the Catholic church is the answer to all your questions that would rub me the wrong way. Of course neither is literally true but Catholicism provides a lot more answers in one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic package. It cannot be divided just like God cannot be divided.


  1. Hey Randy,
    Even as a Protestant I saw through the catch phrase, 'it's not about religion, it's about relationship', because the emphasis on a 'personal relationship with Jesus' only pushed the question further back; with which Jesus must I have a personal relationship? I recognized at the time this question [which Jesus?] could not go unanswered because it was what divided me (as one who adhered to the true gospel-as I understood it at the time) from those who believed a false gospel (ie. Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, new agers etc). And the only way to answer this question was to enter the realm of doctrine. It does seem as though a certain segment of contemporary Protestantism has made 'relationship with Jesus' (with all its ambiguity) the essence of Christianity. Perhaps it is their answer to the insolvable encounters with antithesis one faces when dealing with matters of doctrine in the absence of a Principium Unitatis.
    Peace in Christ