Friday, July 30, 2010

Bonhoeffer and Schism

Charles Colson tells the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is a pretty amazing guy. But sadly it was a story of a schism.
The Declaration boldly declared independence from both the state and a co-opted church. It made clear that the signers and their churches were not seceding from the German church; instead, it was the co-opted German church that had broken away.

To Bonhoeffer, writes Metaxas, the Barmen Declaration “reclarified what it—the legitimate and actual German Church—actually believed and stood for.” It rejected the “false doctrine” that the Church could change according to “prevailing ideological and political positions.”
 So the German Lutheran church is facing the challenge of a Nazi government. How do they respond? They split. This weakened the church at a crucial time. Of course, the Barmen Declaration was just the opinions of men. They declared it boldly but many Christians simply rejected it. So what has been gained?

Then he brings up the Manhattan Declaration on abortion. Guess what? Same problem. Many big name protestants have rejected it. So it does more to show the weakness of the movement rather than the strength.

It comes back to the last post. Do we need grace, even as a church, or can we do just fine with our own wisdom? Now individuals on both sides in any church dispute would say they are relying on grace. I believe them. But the institution lacks any special grace. Except, of course, the Catholic church. What happens if Dietrich Bonhoeffer is in the Catholic church? He does not consider schism. He fights for what he knows is right but does it while respecting the existing leadership. He counts on the Holy Spirit to move His church in the right direction even when some leaders don't seem to offer much hope. By staying in the church he can reform it without destroying it.

Schism ultimately says to Jesus that He messed up in building his church. That the church isn't just going through a rough patch but is truly beyond repair. We need to fix it because God won't. Depending on the grace of God is replaced by depending on the wisdom of men. The intellect is darkened so they can't think of any other way to proceed.

Why Grace?

Do we like God or hate God? It is really not that important. What is much more important is whether we need God. That we understand our hopelessness without God as an individual and as a society. Atheist and secularists have very different attitude towards God. Or do they? They both think of man as progressing socially, economically, politically, etc. They see religion as having played a role in that progress. Atheists would say that role is done. That at some point religion became a negative force in the road towards progress and therefore it should be discarded. Secularists will say religion continues to be a positive force towards progress and it should be retained. But both see it as a tool in the hands of man. One loves the tool and one hates the tool but neither sees it as more than a tool.

Christianity starts with the notion that we are powerless without God. That our sin is very deep and very serious and it effects every area of life. We simply cannot hope to make any progress without God's grace. Not in our personal lives and not as a society. Nominal Christianity doesn't make any sense if we understand that. That sin makes us incapable of pursuing truth, beauty, and goodness. Our intellect is darkened. We cannot recognize progress so we take more steps backwards than we forwards. It is a humiliating truth to contemplate. But if we don't truly internalize it we will go back to thinking in the flesh when things get hard.

We have tried to make our society agnostic. That all the institutions and education should not assume anything about he reality of God. Is that a bog deal? If you understand how fallen sinful man truly is then is you will see it as a big deal. It is not just that a few atheist societies have gone badly wrong. In theory we could learn from their mistakes and get a better result. But we can't. We cannot solve the problem of sin without God. We keep thinking we have advanced beyond our history. We are educated now. Our society cannot possibly be consumed with hatred.

Societies choice to go into functional agnosticism really mirrors the choice of many individuals. People have gotten excited about technology. Life is changing fast and the church does not seem to get it. It is so easy to just set aside questions of faith and just go by whatever makes sense to you. But for all the problems technology can solve it cannot do anything about the problem of sin. But am I such a bad guy? Is my sin really that bad that I should reorder my whole life around that issue? I will go to church on Sunday ... most of the time ... when I am not too busy ... just not to one of those services that makes me feel guilty. Then I will get on with what really matters in life.

The scary part is that the problem is completely invisible. You mind is darkened but you don't know it. You think you are thinking clearly and making good decisions. We see it in others. When you talk to addicts it is striking. Their reasoning is so warped but they don't see it. I will just have a few drinks to clear my mind. How can somebody who has experienced so much devastation in his life from alcohol think that way? They don't know that the addiction has effected their thinking. Or they do and they don't quite realize the significance of that fact.

But we all do it. We have millions of children dying from abortions.Why are people not morally outraged by that? Sin effects our minds. We not only have disasters happen but we can't even see them as disasters. But how do we get passed our own mind? We need grace.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Can Calvinists Achieve, Inspire, and Make a Difference?

The popularity if the Achieve, Inspire, Make a Difference idea is not hard to figure out.It taps into a deep desire in every human heart. That desire is the heart of why Calvinism rubs people the wrong way.Can a Calvinist ever achieve anything, inspire anyone, or make any real difference? Only in a limited way. Really Calvin trivializes the consequences of our choices so much that the answer is really No. We can't do any of those things. Now when you point out to Calvinists that God has implanted in every human heart this desire, this conviction, this sense of duty to achieve, inspire and make a difference they will point out that this is an emotional appeal and truth is found in rational exegesis of scripture and not in examining your heart. This much is true. Every kids movie and song seems to encourage children to follow their heart. Certainly a very truncated morality. God's revelation needs to be respected. But there should not be a conflict between our hearts and what God says. We are made in His image. Certainly as I ponder Catholic truths I am amazed again and again  how those truth line up with the deep desires of my heart and really everyone's heart.

When you argue the scripture. When you say the bible exhorts us to achieve, inspire, and make a difference with God's help of course. The answer is Yes we are but that difference is ultimately an illusion. We are to operate under the assumption we are making a difference but still know that it is all God's predestined will we are acting out and that will does not depend on us at all. The saved are still saved and the damned are still damned but you can pretend you did something useful if you want.

You see Calvin has outsmarted scripture. For example if you look at something like 1 Cor 9:19-23:
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings
 Now Paul seems to be talking about doing things that impact the salvation of others.Making it more likely they be saved. But the Calvinist would say he is only talking about the working out of God's predestined will. If Paul does not do these things nobody will miss out on salvation. God would save the exact same people some other way. Now there is no hint of this in what Paul says. In fact, one could try and imagine what Paul would have to say to prevent Calvin from putting this twist on the passage. He would have to start talking in philosophical categories that hadn't been invented yet.

So when it seems like free will, it isn't. When scripture is talking about what seems like free will, it isn't. When you feel like you have made a difference, you haven't. This is all because Calvin can't imagine God could dignify us with real choices that have real consequences. God must keep all the real power for Himself.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Achieve, Inspire, Make a Difference

Apparently someone is selling this as a 10 step, transform your life program. I am noticing more and more verbs lately. Believe. Succeed. We seem to know what we want to do. We may have even experienced it briefly a few times in our life. What many have trouble with is the object. Achieve what? Inspire what? Make what kind of difference? Believe what? Succeed at what? People know they want to go somewhere. They want to know how to get there. Yet they don't want to think about the destination. They just want to think about the mode of transport. It seems backwards to me. First figure out what can give your life meaning and purpose. Once you have done that then the question of how to get there will be way easier to answer. If I don't know whether I need to go next door or to another continent I can't begin to plan my trip.

One thing to think about is from this Sunday's gospel:
And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
 "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '
 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
 "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." Luke 12:18-21
Whatever is going to give a person's life meaning an purpose it need to account for the reality of death. Not just your own death but the death of everyone you know. Sartre said, "Nothing finite can have any significance without an infinite reference point". That means you need to achieve, inspire, or make a difference in an eternal way. Temporal things will disappear. They look significant for a while but they fad into nothingness as time moves on.

The good news is that is is possible to store up riches that are eternal. People have souls that live forever. What we do in this life does impact the eternal destiny of our souls and the souls of other people. So how do we achieve, inspire, and make a difference?  For the answer to that Jesus has another parable:
A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

"Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

The plan is so simple. Just sow seed. Anywhere. Anytime. Don't be discouraged if some reject it. Don't even be discouraged if some seem to accept it but it does not seem to transform their lives like you hope. Know that some will be transformed. Your efforts will achieve success with some. They will be inspired. They will make a huge difference. It does not require a 10 step plan. Just stop worrying about how people might react and keep sowing.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Contraception and Vocations

Pope Benedict said something in Salt and Light, before he became pope. That vocation crises come in pairs. When marriage is in crisis so is religious life. You cannot have one healthy unless both are healthy. The two are interconnected in so many ways it seems right.

You look at artificial contraception. You think it will effect marriage and it has. But why should it effect vocations? What are the 3 vows of religious life? Celibacy, poverty, and obedience. Artificial contraception undermines all three. Why do couples use artificial contraception? They give 3 basic reasons. First of all, it interferes with the enjoyment of their sex life. Essentially arguing that chastity is too burdensome. That sexual pleasure is an end in itself rather than one aspect of the marriage vocation which has far greater blessings than some moments of physical pleasure. The truth is that sexual pleasure is not something that you ever get when you pursue it for its own sake. With pornography, with premarital sex, and with contraception the research shows that those who indulge in these things do not have more satisfying sex lives. It is an illusion. The devil is the father of lies. The lies he tells us about sexual pleasure are some of the hardest to disbelieve. Even people who obey often do it with resentment because they think they are missing out. What we miss out on is a distorted sexuality that brings more pain than pleasure. It looks great from the outside but it isn't so.

The second reason couples give for using artificial contraception is because children are too expensive. Now the first point is that natural contraception is permitted and does work. But the second point is that we are called to extreme generosity when deciding whether or not to make room for one more child in our family. We might have things we want to spend out money on that need to be surrendered. There is also to matter of just trusting God to give you your daily bread. These are hard things to do but we need to do them if we are to be free of the hold money has on us.

The third reason couples give is they don't want the pope to tell them what to do in their bedroom. But it really boils down to not wanting God to tell them what to do. If you give yourself a pass on artificial contraception what are you going to say when you kids want to give themselves a pass on premarital sex or pornography? We know artificial contraception is immoral exactly the same way we know anything about faith or morals. It comes from Jesus as preserved by sacred tradition and taught by His church. As soon as we reject one piece of that revelation we undermine it all. We essentially say we are not going to completely surrender to the lordship of Jesus. It is a huge statement about the inadequacy of the Catholic faith. This is why it is called a mortal sin. It means your Catholic faith is a lie. You just don't believe it is true.

Anyway, this is getting long and I have not gotten to the point yet. The point is that the 3 main objections to contraception directly correspond to the 3 main vows of religious life. Celibacy is just a more radical living out of the notion that sexual pleasure is not an end in itself. Because it is not the end it can be sacrificed for something greater. Poverty is just a more radical living out of our reliance on God as our provider and our willingness to focus on things more valuable than material possessions. Obedience is just a more radical living out of the trust in God and His church to guide your thinking and decision making. So in artificial contraception we see a direct attack on all 3 vows the religious life proposes to young people.

So what happens when a young person lives in a faith community where the vast majority have embraced artificial contraception and thereby implicitly rejected chastity, generosity, and orthodoxy? How can they be encouraged to pursue a religious vocation? Even if that community routinely recites a prayer for vocations they are not likely to be inspired. If they make that choice it will be in spite of that community rather than because of it. Most of the time they don't make that choice.

The Robe

I saw an old movie called The Robe last night. IT is a story of a Roman soldier who winds the rob of Jesus during the crucifixion. It was a big Hollywood production made in 1953. It had Richard Burton as the lead and the whole look and feel of all the big movies of that era. In some ways it shows how far we have fallen. Hollywood would never make such a movie now. The main character becomes a Christian and becomes willing to die for his faith. So Christianity is seen as a good thing.

But what struck me more is that even in 1953 how much Christianity was watered down. There was a strong anti-supernatural streak that I didn't expect. In one scene, Emperor Tiberius talks about how he expected this martyr in some unknown corner of the empire to unleash ideas that would topple Rome. Essentially saying the triumph of Christianity over Rome was predictable within a purely secular mindset. I don't see it. Lots of people were killed by lots of Roman governors. They didn't spawn religious movements that were impossible to stamp out.

The other thing was the reduction of Christianity to vague ideas about peace, love, and freedom. There was no mention of salvation. Sexual morality didn't seem to be a part of it either. In one scene the main character defended Christianity before Emperor Caligula. This is a man whose name more than any other is associated with sexual orgies. But he just says that if he is one the side of freedom and justice then Jesus will be his friend. He even said it was unimportant whether the stories about Jesus were true or not. Just the fact that the stories were nice was what mattered.

It makes me think the 1950's were not quite as golden an age for Christianity as we tend to believe. People embraced the language of Christianity and the institutions of Christianity but did they really embrace the Christian faith? Did they somehow remove the offensive bits of the faith and just accept the softer virtues of peace and justice? We certainly have done that today but when did that process start? People trace it back to Vatican II or contraception. The seeds seem very much in place before either of those things. It points back to the warnings about modernism that Pope Pius X and Pope Leo XIII gave us in the 19th century. They saw a danger in the way the ideas of people like Darwin, Marx, and Freud caused people to reorder Christianity so that salvation did not come from the cross.

It is ironic enough. Given this movie starts with a premise that is at the foot of the cross. Somehow it preaches a Christianity that has political development as its center and not the cross. The Jewish idea that Jesus came to free them from the Romans. Of course that does happen in the 4th century but Jesus is about so much more than that. He is about saving our souls. He is about bringing God to man.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Areopagus and the Synagogue

In Acts 17 Paul gave a sermon in the Areopagus. That is the main market place of Athens. A place where people came to exchange ideas. This is much talked about in evangelical circles. People love the idea of going to the busiest place in the marketplace of ideas and preaching the gospel.

But if you read through the book of Acts you don't find Paul doing this again and again. When he arrives at a new town where did he go first? He went to the local synagogue (see Acts 17:1,10,17). That was his normal procedure.The marketplace was not his first choice. Why? He wanted to argue from the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. The Jews accepted the Septuagint as the word of God. He felt he could prove to them that Christianity was the true faith of scripture. The worked produced some very strong converts and also some very dangerous enemies. Then, as now, people either listened to the gospel with pleasure or shouted it down in anger.

Eventually he would get to the point where the synagogue was no longer working. The Jewish leaders would kick him out or worse. Then he typically started working out of somebody's home. Often there was a high profile convert with a large house Paul could hold meetings in. Jews and gentiles came to this house church.

I think about parallels to Catholic evangelicalism. Should we go to the marketplace? Sure. Should that be the main focus? I am not so sure. Where is the synagogue of today? Maybe the closest parallel is protestant fellowships. They accept the scriptures and we should argue from the scripture that the Catholic church is the body of Christ. We will get extreme reactions. Some will get angry and some will become very strong Catholics. We can't be afraid to stir things up. That is what Paul was always accused of. Stirring up dissension among the Jews.

One argument against talking to protestants is the idea that they are already people of faith anyway and they are probably going to heaven anyway so leave them alone. Paul could have said this about Jews. He didn't go there at all. He knew the fullness of the faith was something good that they should have. Something that would mean more of them ended up in heaven. He assumed everyone needed saving.

The other synagogue I see is the luke warm Catholics. They accept the entire faith. Yet so many parishes are crying for someone to stir up some sort of passion. Somebody to challenge them to pursue holiness regardless of the cost. You can see why you are much more likely to get stoned preaching in the synagogue than in the marketplace. The marketplace is used to strange ideas. The synagogue has a lot of spiritual pride.

We need to go everywhere but Acts 1:8 says, "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth". That means we start close to home. We move out one step at a time. We need to get to the ends of the earth but we need to start with the low hanging fruit. Why did Paul move from Jews to gentiles. Because the Jews stopped converting. Once he saw a synagogue community become closed to his message he went on to more fertile ground.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Plain Meaning of Scripture

Do Catholics or protestants follow the plain meaning of scripture more closely? YIM Catholic has an old essay that argues Catholics do. Actually when I first heard that asserted it seemed odd to me. There were some protestant proof texts that seemed like they needed explanation. Things like Rom 3:28, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." or maybe Rom 3:23, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". But even those when read in context, without a protestant pounding the pulpit, those passages do not contradict Catholic theology in their plain meaning. But there are many that contradict protestant theology in their plain meaning. He  goes through quite a few. I could think of dozens more he could have used.

This is why in every protestant church you will have just a few verses of scripture read and a long sermon. A Catholic mass will have much more scripture and much less sermonizing. It is not needed. The plain meaning of scripture is fine. Sure a priest can add a few insights but a typical Catholic homily is not nearly as long and not nearly as dominating as a protestant sermon. So the plain meaning of the text is much less the focus in a protestant service.

The other thing protestants can do is simply never preach on certain passages, like the second half of John 6. Catholic priests don't have that option. They don't need it. All of scripture is consistent with Catholic theology. If a priest does not want to talk about hell he can't avoid the passages where it is explicitly mentioned. They will be read. The plain meaning is pretty strong. If a pastor doesn't want to talk about hell then he does not have to. He might even avoid important topics accidentally. He is in full control.

So who is following scripture and who is nullifying scripture with human traditions?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Piper on Scripture

This is an old article but it came up so I checked it out. It is interesting.
One surprising fact that I did not expect to find was that the heretics protested most loudly over the non-scriptural language of the orthodox creed. They pointed out that the phrases, “of one essence with the Father,” and “one substance with the Father” were not in the Bible. The heretics demanded “no creed but the Bible” precisely so that they could use biblical language to evade biblical truth. For example, they would happily call Christ “Son of God,” and then argue that, like all sons, he must have had a beginning. So to my surprise one form of the doctrine of the “sufficiency of Scripture” was used to undermine Scripture’s truth.
So he says that there is a difference between the words of scripture and the truth of scripture. The creeds are there to make more clear the truth of scripture by using words that are not in scripture. But don't we have to know the words of the creed are true? If the phrase “one substance with the Father” expresses the truth of scripture then that is fine. But what if it does not. There were plenty saying it did not. He even quotes an incident in 1719 when some Arian pastors objected to Trinitarian language. Don't you need to be sure the creed is right before you can insist pastors affirm it?

What does this imply for the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture? That doctrine is based mainly on 2 Timothy 3:15-17 and Jude 1:3.
The sacred writings . . . are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. . . . Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
In other words, the Scriptures are sufficient in the sense that they are the only (“once for all”) inspired and (therefore) inerrant words of God that we need, in order to know the way of salvation (“make you wise unto salvation”) and the way of obedience (“equipped for every good work”).

This is the classic hand waving proof of Sola Scriptura. It is full of logical and exegetical problems.The "alone" part of "scripture alone" is derived from Jude 1:3. That verse does not even mention scripture. Incredible! 2 Tim 3:15-17 is common protestants proof text on sola scriptura. The trouble is it does not say anything close to what sola scriptura says(see here). It is like if I talk about how wonderful my cell phone is that implies I don't need a car. Paul has high praise for scripture but that tells us exactly nothing about whether we need the church or sacred tradition.

The other distinction he glosses over is between inspired and inerrant. Catholics accept that the bible contains the only inspired revelation of God. But is it the only inerrant revelation? No. The words of the Council of Nicaea would be an example of inerrant words from God. But he equates these two without making any argument why that should be. So what about the creeds of the Council of Nicaea? He describes them as expressing scripture's truth. If they are not inerrant what are they? Error prone? True based on the personal authority of John Piper?
So it is with language in doctrinal disputes. Non-biblical language serves the Bible by ruling out some meanings and including others. The word “trinity” and the phrase “one substance with the Father” are extra-biblical terms. But they contain essential biblical truth. To affirm with extra-biblical language that God is “one essence in three persons” (=trinity) and that the Son is “one substance with the Father” is more biblical than to use biblical language to call Christ God’s creature. The sufficiency of Scripture does not dictate the language we use to interpret the Bible; rather it governs the meaning of the language we use. For that it is wholly sufficient.
Again he assumes we know what "essential biblical truth" is. A doctrinal dispute is almost by definition a situation where we don't know that. So how can non-biblical language rule out some meanings? Only if the non-biblical words are trustworthy. If their source is more trustworthy than the process of me interpreting scripture on my own. Even that is not enough to completely rule things out. You need infallibility for that.

He smuggles infallibility in by simply asserting what scriptural truth is. He begs the question. If a creed expresses biblical truth then follow it. Never mind how you determine that. I give you an example where I declare this to be the case. Really he has assumed his own infallibility. He is not capable of asking whether Arius or Samuel Clark were right. Asking what, other than his own opinion, allows him to be sure they were wrong?

The Future of Catholic Glue

Interesting discussion of the future of Catholicism here. There are points from all over the spectrum in terms of progressive versus orthodox. One of the more liberal articles talks about Catholic glue:
First of all, one of the recurring themes in contemporary research is the idea from Dean Hoge's Young Adult Catholics: Religion in the Culture of Choice. He and his co-researchers suggest that one of the formative identity characteristics among young Catholics is "Catholic glue." Many of the young Catholics in their study either don't attend Mass as often as older Catholics and/or don't profess allegiance to parts of Catholic teaching. Yet a stunning majority of them continue to call themselves Catholic and don't anticipate changing their religious affiliation.
 I find this class of people interesting. Protestants don't have them. They seem to have the idea that there is something about the Catholic church they want to be associated with but they don't want to commit to accepting it all. One of the keys to the future of Catholicism is whether or not it finds a compelling way to propose the fullness of the faith to people like that. They feel in their hearts the holiness of the church. They know God is there so they can't just reject the faith and call themselves atheists or agnostics. But the faith has not been presented to them as a source of joy. They have a notion that the church wants them to do or not do a bunch of things that will interfere with their fun. But they don't understand why those things will connect them with God and ultimately lead to a much greater joy.

What are those things? They boil down to sex and sacraments. They don't follow the church's teaching on sex because they don't understand it. They don't connect what they do sexually with their relationship with God. Same thing for sacraments. They don't go to mass or confession because they don't get how going will make them holy and closer to God. You might think they are just being selfish and faithless. They are. But they have the kernel of faith. They see the church as a gift from God. They need to understand that God didn't give us the Catholic church to torture us. He gave it to us because He loves us. That many things about the church they would love to see changed are actually the wisdom of God and not the foolishness of some grumpy old men.

To me it all flows quite trivially from the fact that the church is really from God. That is the part I was struggling with for years. Once I accepted it was from God then it's wisdom needed to be listened to and it's authority needed to be obeyed. That part was pretty obvious to me. These folks seem to have accepted the first part in some form and yet not arrived at the second. It seems to be a matter of logic. Contemplating the reality of God and what that means.

Now if the Catholic glue crowd never come to the fullness of the faith it will just die out. These writers seem concerned with how much of the faith these people will teach their children. It does not matter. If they retain an irrational and meaningless connection to the church their children will decide they don't need that. Liberal Christianity cannot be passed to another generation. So they either need to come into the faith fully or the church will lose them completely. Ultimately the church will be more orthodox. As Catholicism becomes less and less fashionable people will either leave completely or get more orthodox. But there is a window of opportunity where they will listen to Catholic voices. If we can find the right story to tell we can bring amny souls home.

Fashionable Faith

Carl Olson seemed to post a ton of good stuff last night. He has a quote from GK Chesterton here. I won't copy the whole thing but here is a paragraph:
It is somewhat amusing, indeed, to notice the difference between the fate of these three paradoxes[faith, hope, and charity] in the fashion of the modern mind. Charity is a fashionable virtue in our time; it is lit up by the gigantic firelight of Dickens. Hope is a fashionable virtue to-day; our attention has been arrested for it by the sudden and silver trumpet of Stevenson. But faith is unfashionable, and it is customary on every side to cast against it the fact that it is a paradox. Everybody mockingly repeats the famous childish definition that faith is "the power of believing that which we know to be untrue." Yet it is not one atom more paradoxical than hope or charity. Charity is the power of defending that which we know to be indefensible. Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate. It is true that there is a state of hope which belongs to bright prospects and the morning; but that is not the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake and eclipse. It is true that there is a thing crudely called charity, which means charity to the deserving poor; but charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them. For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment.
He is right to some extent. We tend to mock faith. We don't tend to mock love. But, as he points out, true virtuous love is not that common. Now this was written 100 years ago so we have gone down this road quite a bit further. Love has been redefined to the point where the supernatural agape love is not only not fashionable it is almost unknown. Certainly romantic love has been re-imagined. The focus is on the short term and the sexual rather than on the eternal and the spiritual.

Outside of romantic love we have some love for the poor. But it is more out of a sense of justice than true love. The argument is always that these children deserve a chance. Certainly virtuous but as Chesterton points out it is a reasonable virtue. One that paganism had. The irrational love for love's sake is not mocked but it is not venerated either. It is fashionable to talk about Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul in positive terms. But it is to damn them with faint praise. To reduce them to virtuous pagans. That is to talk about only their virtues of justice and courage but not talk about their virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

Hope has all but disappeared from the radar. This is why Obama was so popular. He inspired people to hope in themselves. That is not the virtue of hoping for eternal life but it can serve as a poor substitute when the virtue of hope is missing. Hope is placed in humanity. Humanity always disappoints. One little oil leak and that hope can be shattered. But placing hope in God is hard to find. Funerals happen on TV and in movies. The state of the person's soul just does not come up. Even when they happen in reality you are likely to find more presumption than hope.

Faith, hope, and love are related. They come in that order. That is why "by faith alone" has some truth to it. When we water down our faith until it is just a faith in humanity or a faith that God wants us to follow our hearts. Then hope has no foundation and love has no inspiration. Back in 1905 the culture was still going through the motions. Today it is less so.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Nuns on the Run

Sr Joan Chittister wrote something on the apostolic visitation of female religious orders. Not surprisingly she is still against it. Not surprisingly she missed the point.  She concludes that if she cannot see the point there must not be one. But the process continues. Even though there are many things happening and resources are always tight the Vatican is driving this forward. Why? It is about God. God hardly gets mentioned in Sr Joan's analysis. Nobody doubts that teaching nuns are good teachers and social worker nuns are good social workers. The question is whether they get their theology right. Not individual nuns but the leadership of many orders. As she says:
No one seems to be sure why the investigation is really being done, except that to declare an Apostolic Visitation signals that someone somewhere has already decided that something is wrong.
There are many people who don't have any trouble guessing at what the Vatican might find troubling. Nun have been well known for their liberal teaching for a long time. In more recent years new orders have popped up that are orthodox and attracting new vocations. Many find it quite easy to tell the difference but there is still some chance young ladies will get confused.

There is also the matter of assets. These new orders start with nothing. If you reform an existing order they often have empty facilities and pretty good fund-raising. If one could restore their previous charism and attract new vocations they could become quite powerful quite quickly. But the existing leadership doesn't get it. History is full of saints coming onto the scene and restoring orders that had gone soft and lost their way. We could use a few of those about now.

One more objection from the column:
“The process will conclude in 2011 with a final report to Cardinal Rode. The report will not be made public or shared with the religious communities.”
What? The report won’t be shared with the communities being investigated? The patient will not be told the diagnosis? The accused will not be told the crime? The paralytic will not be asked whether or not crutches can really solve her particular situation?
Because this concerns matters of orthodoxy the details of the report should be left sealed. Orthodoxy deals with questions of whether a teaching is heretical. So it will contain discussions of degrees of heresy, error, or theological opinion. It really is only appropriate for Rome to get involved if there is a serious problem. That means that many findings of the report won't have enough gravity to warrant a pope overruling the authority of the order's leadership. If, as expected, some do then those matters will be dealt with. That may or may not include giving the report to the leadership in question. The fact that the procedure does not require this is right.

The one thing these visitors seem really interested in is female ordination. Have nuns been teaching that women should be ordained priests? This was infallibly defined by Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Because of the authority John Paul invoked to remove all doubt, anyone teaching against this dogma is guilty of a more serious offense. So the groundwork was really laid for this in 1994. The church does not move fast but she does move. The reports in 2011 will not be the end of the process either but it will end. It has the potential to do much good.

Modern Philosphy and the Reformation

Peter Kreeft has yet another book. This time on Hume. The introduction is here:

The typical three-stage bare-bones summary of classical modern philosophy is: Descartes' Rationalism versus Hume's Empiricism versus Kant's Idealism. All three are theories in epistemology. Most of the philosophy in that astonishingly rich two-hundred-year period between the publication of Descartes' Discourse on Method in 1637 and the death of Hegel in 1831, the period of classical modern philosophy, was concerned with epistemology. "Epistemology" means "theory of knowledge". (What is knowledge? How do we know? How does it work? How should it work?) It is probably the trickiest and most purely theoretical division of philosophy. Yet it is foundational, for any position you take in epistemology will always have consequences for, and make a great deal of difference to, all the rest of your philosophy: your metaphysics, cosmology, philosophical theology, anthropology, ethics, and political philosophy.
This is interesting to me. It is precisely the weak point of protestantism. They abandoned the balance between faith and reason that formed the foundation for all human knowledge. Luther and Calvin used reason to destroy whatever parts of faith they desired. Others came along and destroyed what they had built. By the time Descartes came along the need for a new foundation was clear.

I do agree that epistemology is "probably the trickiest and most purely theoretical division of philosophy". That is because we need to question our own minds. To question the way we ask questions. To take the things we have a psychological certainty about and ask whether that certainty is based on something that might be false.

We do this for other people. We can analyze a Jehovah's Witness or an atheist and we can figure out how he became so sure about things that are not true.But doing it for ourselves is way harder. Many of these beliefs are at the very core of our self identity. There is a huge risk in seriously asking them.

At the root of this is a lack of faith. We don't want to put our mist cherished beliefs up to scrutiny because we are afraid of what we will find. I know as a protestant I would have said that about Catholics but not about myself. I thought I had a very rational faith and I didn't think there were any question I was avoiding. I thought most Catholics were afraid to learn their faith because if they did they would become protestants. Catholics who had become protestants confirmed this for me. Their faith just didn't stand up if and when they dared to scrutinize it.

Then I found those who did the opposite. Those who asked questions about their protestant faith that I never asked. Amazingly enough they ended up Catholic. It turns out I was not better than those Catholics or Jehovah's Witnesses. I found it very uncomfortable when my faith tradition was being questioned. Again it was a lack of faith. I didn't trust the gospel of Christ to stand up in some form. I was afraid that if I applied rational skepticism to them all they would all be destroyed. I didn't call it fear. I called it faith. Having enough faith not to ask questions. Not about everything. Just about a few things.

But it is that personal connection we have to our own minds that makes epistemology so hard. I think something is clear but maybe not everyone does. Is it really clear then? I find that is the biggest barrier when talking with protestants. The natural human tendency to see their own mind as the center point. They believe that sin darkens their intellect but they don't quite grasp the full implications of what that means. That Luther's idea of using "scripture and plain reason" to destroy long settled doctrine is a recipe for disaster.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Looking For a Sign

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you."
 He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.
Mat 12:38-42

In today's gospel people ask Jesus for a sign. They don't really want one. Jesus essentially says No. I won't give you a sign. I won't force you to believe. Arguments are a lot like signs. They force you to believe something whether you want to or not. But arguments for the faith are not that airtight.There is always a way out if you really want one. Arguments for the church are similar. People who come asking for an airtight argument don't want one. God will not force one on them.

Dave Armstrong has a book called 150 Reasons I'm Catholic. Devin Rose is working on one called 50 Roads to Rome. They both sound like good books. They both try and look at the Catholic faith from many different angles and show how the amazing truth of Catholic church is evident by a wide variety or arguments. But none is airtight on it's own. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church is a matter of faith. That is why it is in the creed. That means you will never get a simple, inescapable proof of that truth. Once you have that it ceases to be a matter of faith.

As a protestant I played that game for a while. I looked for escape routes and always found them. But there was a point at which I asked myself why I kept looking for ways out. Why not look for a way in? Over and over again I would reject a Catholic argument but be amazed by it at the same time. The idea that "if that were true it would be so awesome but it is not true". In fact, I remember the "too good to be true" objection launched against Christianity. If people thought protestant Christianity was too good to be true this was so much better.

Anyway, we need to keep asking when we look for signs or arguments if we really want them? Are we really willing to humble ourselves and obey? Sometime God makes us wait and suffer and demand a grace before He gives it. He wants us to want it bad before we try and proceed down that road.

NFP Story

With all the negative press the church is getting it was great to read this piece in the Detroit Free Press about the church and contraception. It even has a 7 minute video on the subject. The catalyst is a program the archdiocese is launching to educate couples about NFP. It sounds like the training is required to get married in a Catholic ceremony in the diocese. I have heard they got a new Archbishop there. I believe his name is Abp Allen Vigneron.

Meaning in Suffering

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. Col 1:24
We got a good homily on suffering  on Sunday morning. The second reading came from Colossians 1. It was interesting because we had just read a story of St Kateri Tekakwitha who was beating herself bloody as a way of becoming holy. Of course there are many saints who did this. It is hard for us to understand. But suffering is that way. It is offensive to us. It is offensive to God too. So becoming holy does not make us desire suffering. It makes us desire other things more than avoiding suffering.

As a protestant the hard thing to understand was why we suffer at all. Our suffering was not part of the salvation story. Sure we accepted on faith that there was some reason for it but the reasons we could think of were not very strong. Sure one could imagine a public suffering might inspire people. But so much suffering was private and really not well understood by anyone. Yes, you would know your faith was real if it held up under suffering. But that seemed weak too. People who had no doubts about the reality of their faith suffered terribly. Just believe it does good because God allows it to happen. But do not believe it has any direct salvific effect.

The strange part is we kind of did believe that. I know when somebody died a horrible death we would often notice some very good spiritual fruit coming into the lives of those around that situation. We didn't have theological categories to explain it but pastors were aware of this reality.

So while the protestant error seems to correct itself by stealth in some cases there are others where it has grown into a larger heresy. That is the thinking that suffering is evil and avoiding suffering becomes the ultimate good. This leads to sentimentalism. If an all male priesthood causes some women to suffer because they can't be ordained then we need to change that doctrine. If the church's teaching on homosexuality causes suffering for same-sex attracted individuals then it has to change. Today we even find suffering being used as a justification for murder and/or suicide. Because protestants cannot explain why suffering has meaning many more people find these sentimental arguments convincing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Greatest Generation

Many have said the greatest generation that ever lived was the one that fought WWII as young men. I know most of the people that have said this are part of that generation but that is another matter. They did accomplish a lot. The number of big leaps forward in technology and society was amazing in the 50's 60's and 70's.

They took the experience of serving in the army and saving the world from Hitler by working together and following orders. They became quite willing to continue to work as a part of a large team. Big corporations and government departments were not considered bad places for the best and brightest to spend their entire career. The Catholic church was attractive too. The number of men and women choosing religious life was very high. Being a cog in a machine that was doing something good was an attractive proposition.

Most of that generation were quite religious. As I mentioned, many even choose to become pastors or priests. But where was their faith? They turned to God in time of trouble during the war but did they really see God as their salvation? It was more human accomplishment that they saw as bailing them out. Even those that chose a career in the church were often attracted to the church as a great human institution rather than as the instrument of God.

The member of this generation were the parents of the baby boomers. The baby boomers hated "the establishment" in a large part because they saw a lack of joy in their fathers who were company men. The fathers had given their lives to building large organizations and had been left unfulfilled at the end of the day. Rather than assuming the problem was something missing the boomers to throw away what was there and add very little. So they ditched the work ethic. The ignored morals. They broke down structures.

Now it might make a generation seem great when the next generation is so bad but how much blame should the parents get? I think quite a bit. Sure there were new technologies that made a difference but nothing impresses a young person more than true holiness. The fact that so many wrote off religion so easily tells me that all those faithful church goers were missing something in their walk with God.

We have to always remember that the means of grace are not the goal. God's word and sacraments are there to change us. They give us the opportunity to become holy. We still need to cooperate with the grace and actually live holy lives. Church is a tool. Even avoiding mortal sins is a tool. The goal is to grow the fruits of the Spirit. That is what will impress God and man. No gardener shows off his tool shed. He shows off his garden. But we do that when we feel smug about how much scripture we know or how often we go to mass. In today's gospel Jesus wants us to contemplate "I desire mercy and not sacrifice". Sacrifice is a tool. Mercy is the fruit. 

People measure this generation by their sacrifice. They attended mass. They entered religious life. They said their prayers. Great things to do. But did they allow those tools to till their hearts and produce a crop of love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, and self control? If they did I don't think their children would have abandoned the faith they way they did.

It is a question for all of us who use these tools. Are they the end or the means? It is easy to get caught up just going through the motions. Are we really letting God change us the way He wants to?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Contraception and Abortion

There is quite a bit of talk about contraception going on in the Catholic blog world these days. One thing that seems missing is the link between contraception and abortion. The connection between the sacredness of life and the sacredness of the process that produces life. So if the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is holy then the process that produces that presence, namely the mass, must be holy. That means we can't manipulate the mass willy-nilly. We need to respect it and celebrate it as it was intended. Same thing with life. If life is sacred the process that produces life, that is sex, must be sacred. So we can't manipulate sex any way we want. We need to engage in it the way it was intended.

It is not such a stretch to believe that sex is sacred. We know it inherently. I found it to be one of the most surprising things about the sexual revolution. That sexual inhibitions were so hard to get rid of. Society has been mocking sexual morals and pushing a pornographic lifestyle for a long time. Yet most people see sex as special and more than just a way for people to pleasure themselves. They can't explain how it is special or why there are sexual morals but people know intuitively something is there.

So the sacredness of life implies the sacredness of sex. The sacredness of sex is confirmed in our hearts. Then it makes sense that we can't just change the sex act any way we like. We need to respect it. Respect the way it was intended to be. This should cause us to be very wary of inserting rubber devices into the sex act or doing surgery on a person's sex organs. We are treating something sacred as something ordinary. We are fiddling with our sexuality like we would a car engine.

Now taking a pill is less clear. You are not directly doing anything to your sex organs so it takes some honest reflection to see why that is not acceptable. But it becomes easier when you realize the pill is an abortificant. That it sometimes kills a child after conception rather than preventing the ovulation. So that arbitrary moral line people draw at conception does get crossed.

Can sex unite a couple even when they use artificial contraceptives? Sure. Sex can unite a couple who is not married. Does that make it OK? The depth of that unification is fully understood and experienced when there is openness to life. To make it just a short term thrill cheapens it. It says I want to embrace you minus your ability to reproduce. I want enough of you to give me pleasure but not the whole you.

Calvinism and Catholicism

Calvinists are a strange breed of protestant. Not everyone who attends a Calvinist fellowship but those who really love his intellectual system of theology. It has a certain appeal. The size and complexity of it. Even the fact that there are parts of it that are offensive. It is what you would expect when studying a big God.

Chesterton once said paganism was the biggest thing out there and Catholicism was bigger. Calvinism was my paganism. Too many people had faith that consisted of simple answers to complex questions. Calvin went deeper and put all the answers together in a way that made sense and seemed to fit the scriptures.

Catholicism was just bigger. Not by a little but by a lot. I read St Thomas Aquinas and I can never go back to the institutes. It impressed me before I considered becoming Catholic. They just seemed like they were drawing from a deeper intellectual well than everyone else. It includes aspects that Calvinism didn't. Things like sexual morality. Calvin was focused on justification and had simplified questions of moral theology to the point where the discipline does not even exist in the protestant world.

Calvinism is complex but not so complex a person can't grasp it. Catholicism is beyond human understanding. It has offensive elements but as you contemplate them they get less so. With Calvinism they got more offensive to the point where you didn't want to contemplate them at all. As a Calvinist I dropped theology for a good few years. Catholicism is so beautiful I can't imagine dropping it.

Calvin followed the logical implications of one doctrine into another. But he did it in an absolute manner. We are absolutely depraved. Election is absolutely unconditional. Grace must be absolutely irresistible. Calvin loved the absolutes. Catholics love the both/and. Faith and works. Scripture and tradition. Predestination and free will. It makes everything more complex and more human. Calvin had a very good understanding of God but not such a good understanding of human dignity.

In the end, learning to read scripture without assuming it is always talking in absolutes makes a lot of difference. We talk that way all the time. All people have 2 hands. Not absolutely all, there are amputees. But normal speech allows for that. When I realized that many of the absolutes were only read as absolutes due to my tradition then Calvinism seemed a lot less biblical. Other passages made a lot more sense as well.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sex Education

Catholicism is offensive. Ken Howell found that out when he tried to teach sexual morality in a class about Catholicism. His university fired him. That is sad. He was doing a lot of good there. But we need to understand the church does not grow without martyrs. He was calmly and rationally explaining why the church teaches certain sexual acts are immoral. He wasn't even using religion. He was just appealing to natural law. But these arguments are powerful. Not everyone will react to such power with charity. So much of the establishment has already committed to defending positions that such arguments expose as wrong.

Schools understand the importance of teaching children to think morally. They teach them not to use drugs. They teach them to take care of the environment. They teach them to respect each other. Generally schools teach pretty good morals and moral reasoning skills.

Somehow when it comes to sex everything changes. Suddenly teaching morals is impossible. Morals are now assumed to be irrational and subjective. The subject should not even be brought up. Kids should figure out sexual morals for themselves. In every other area of life we are happy to pass on the wisdom of previous generations. In this one area we just think that is immoral. But we can't tell you why because that would involve a question of sexual morality.

So a guy like Ken Howell comes along and lets the cat out of the bag. He tells students that people have been thinking about sex for a long time. Some of their ideas are pretty good. There are solid reasons to believe they will lead to better choices around sex. That will lead them to have stronger families. They don't even have to believe in God. They just need to believe there should be consistency between the way we are made and the way we act. It is like looking at the Gulf of Mexico and saying it is immoral to spill oil into it because it was not made that way and the spill disrupts the natural processes that are meant to take place. The same logic can be applied to sex and family life. Figure out what was meant to be and don't mess it up.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Essence of Woman

Hail Mary, Full of grace
Blessed are you among women
And blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus
 This is part of the Hail Mary prayer. It teaches us that the essence of womanhood has something to do with their womb. This is a pretty radical truth these days. We live in a pornographic culture where the essence of woman is seen in their ability to excite a man sexually. If you had to associate it with a part of the anatomy it would not be the womb but rather the breasts or the genitals. You often hear how the church hates women. But the reality is it just hates the way our culture views womanhood.

This is not something easily learned. That is why I am grateful Catholic tradition has encouraged me to say many Hail Mary's. It is the sort of thing you can't just pick up in one sitting. It has to be contemplated. Women give their children their very selves through their DNA but also through the intimate nurture of a womb. Everything they do effects the baby. It is such a beautiful picture God gives us of what love must be.

That is why contraception is so unthinkable. Because the moment we declare ourselves closed to gifts of God that require self-sacrifice that is when we stop being who we are. Women stop being women. Men stop being men in a similar way.

Think of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the levite had simply decided they had opened themselves to enough self-sacrificial love. They were going to Jerusalem probably to lead in prayers for a week. That is one big sacrifice. But God gifted them with another. An injured man on the road can be a gift. A person we can love, Often we can love all mankind by loving one such person. We might think we are too busy but we need to let God overrule that if He so chooses.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Augustine and Gandhi

Should the opinion of early church fathers carry more weight for Christians than those on non-Christian thinkers? As a protestant it seemed to me that they should. That there should be some principled distinction between the respect I would give to some like Gandhi and the respect I would give to someone like Augustine just because I am a Christian and I want to be shaped by Christian thinkers moreso than secular ones. But I could not see how that was so. I came into contact with many examples of early church fathers contradicting my protestant faith. I just shrugged them off. It wasn't any different than I would shrug off something by Eckhart Tolle or Deepak Chopra. Sure I agreed with and valued many things the ECF's said but the same was true of secular writers. I would assess their arguments and decide whether to accept or reject their ideas based on whether it fit into my overall thinking. 

The reality was that mostly I just didn't read the ECF's. I encountered non-Christian religious thought more and more in the secular world. I encountered modern evangelical thinkers quite often. But I didn't have much exposure to ECF's. When I did it was typically just a few words cherry picked to fit into a pastor's sermon. But even then modern pastors were much more likely to quote Stephen Covey than Thomas Aquinas. So I had to admit that secular thinkers had a big advantage just because of the number of times and the number of ways I woiuld be exposed to them.

So it made sense to me that I should be less likely to dismiss a respect early church father than some guy who has written a book the culture seems to love. But I could not see how. What was the principle that would drive this. I could see the Catholic principle. There were popes, bishops, doctors, and saints. Different opinions had different weight. If defined something called Catholic tradition. But protestants had that too. It was less formal but it was there. But protestant tradition was always ignorable. It was just too easy to decide this was one of those cases where as strong consensus of Christian thinkers were in error.

The obvious principled difference for Catholics was infallibility. The belief that tradition could rise to a level where it could be trusted as revealed by God. It seemed like one should be able to respect tradition without going that far. But I could not find any examples of it. People love their own opinions. If you leave the door open just a crack to the chance they could be right and the traditional Christians position could be wrong then people will go through that crack frequently. We need a firm No. Protestantism cannot say a firm No.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Faith, Reason, and the Bible

Devin has a post about the problems of making the canon depend on things like apostolic authorship which we can never know for sure and must depend on scholars for any certainty we have. But the problem is deeper than that. Scripture scholarship often runs into the problem of doing a natural analysis of the supernatural and getting strange conclusions. For example, if you look at the gospel of John you can analyze it naturally and say it is a great piece of Greek literature.It is not hard at all to see why that leads many to conclude that a fisherman from Galilee could not have written this. To me that is valuable information. Now for me to conclude the apostle John didn't write the 4th gospel but rather to conclude that he had supernatural help. Most scholars are not that humble. They come out with statements like "we know this gospel was not written by John". What they are doing is assuming no supernatural event took place.

So it becomes quite impossible to have scholars analyze the 27 books of the New Testament and any other candidates for canonization you might have and expect them to produce reliable results. The word of God is something you would expect to have scholars in disbelief. It should not fit into ordinary human categories of literature.

So how do we analyze these books? We need to use faith and reason. We can't use pure faith. That has led many to conclude the Book of Mormon is the word of God. We must use reason. Taking scholarship into account but also looking at the testimony of early Christians. We can see there are very good reasons the church made the choices it made about what to include in the New Testament.

But more is required. Good reasons are not enough of a foundation to base the New Testament on. We need to be sure. We need the question to be closed. If someone says John does not belong in the New Testament there has to be a sense in which that opinion is out of bounds. The bible is something to which we all need to give ascent of faith. So we need a process that can put it in such a category. Catholics have such a process. Protestants do not.

So protestants turning to secular scholarship to support the truth of the bible is a bit of desperation. It is also a good example of the limits of science. Science cannot study peculiar acts of God. They can only study things that follow patterns that are reproducible. Many things are that way. But to say all things are that way is to rule out God intervening in human history.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Church Shopping

Bryan at CtC has put his finger on one of the things that is fast destroying protestant churches. The idea of church shopping. It is unfortunate the discussion has drifted in the direction of people finding parishes they like. It does that often. It misses the point. What happens when protestants shop for churches is that everything is up for grabs. They can choose between a Calvinist church to an Armenian church and not even consider the theological differences between the two. When Catholics choose between parishes they are choosing between two different expressions of the same faith. They typically are both under the same bishop. With protestants you are choosing between different faiths.

It was not always so. When I was a young adult I remember having a conversation in which I said that if I moved to another city I would look up the local Christian Reformed church and join it. I had that loyalty back then. It was already breaking down among many young adults at that time, around 1990. Now it is harder to find.

That is bad but the flip side is worse. When churches focus on bringing in the church shoppers.Most of them do focus on this. Many pastors measure their success almost entirely by how many people they have attending their services as compared with other protestant churches. But the people they are trying to attract care about the gospel only at the most shallow level. They want a bible church that preaches salvation by faith in Jesus. Pretty much everything else is up for grabs. There is a lot of trust put in the pastors.

So you have this circle. The pastors focus on the people and the people focus on the pastors. God can get squeezed out. Not really squeezed out but re-imagined in a way that makes Him fit nicely into this church pastor's community focus and the church community's pastor focus.

Does this effect their theology? How could it not. For example, most protestants believe that worship style does not matter. Whatever worship experience works for you is OK with God. Is that in the bible? No. The bible has precise instructions for worship and sacrifice that were expected to be followed closely. In fact, the very nature of worship demands we come to God on His terms and not ours. So why do most protestants believe without question something that goes against scripture and logic? Because it allows them to have the Sunday morning experience they want.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

From Privileged to Persecuted

There is a ton going on with the church these days. John Allen has a good summary. He talks about the church moving from a culture shaping majority to position to a defensive counter-cultural position. This has been happening for a long time but it is getting more intense all the time. The scandals have quickened the pace of the change for the moment but many of these things would have happened anyway.

Pope Benedict is embracing this. It is sad to see that so many are rejecting the faith but it is in some ways easier than dealing with a majority with luke warm faith. He is constantly proposing a radical living out of the truth of the gospel. It is hard to do in countries full of nominally Catholic people. We see it in the appointments he has made. He has appointed theologians to positions that have been traditionally held by diplomats. First at Secretary of State, now at the Congregation of Bishops and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He is looking to be Catholic without compromise. The emphasis is on who we are and not on dialoguing with others.

For me, this is normal. Growing up Christian Reformed we were never the majority. Sure they are huge in Holland and a few dutch enclaves in North America but I never lived in those places. My church was always the creative minority. Smaller numbers meant greater zeal. It was a good dynamic. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, you live at peace with everyone (Rom 12:18). But most of all you just focus on doing what God is calling you to do.

Historically the church has gotten into trouble many times when it has tried to make alliances with political powers. It has done well when it has risen above petty politics regardless of the consequences. We are going there and the consequences might be severe. But there is much hope. There are no stats for orthodox Catholics but it seems their numbers are growing. They have more children. They produce more priests. The defend their faith because they can. A cultural Catholicism is not rationally defensible.

When the church becomes what it is called to be then it grows. That is easier to do when you are being persecuted. Nobody sees sacraments as their right. People expect you to be offensive.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Thoughts on Tradition

Thinking a bit about tradition outside the realm of religion. I went camping with my family this weekend. Camping has a lot of traditions for me. But when it came to taking down the tent my son started doing it in a way that seemed wrong to me. I didn't know why it seemed wrong. I didn't want to seem like an oppressive father provoking his children to anger so I just let him do it. It became apparent why it was not such a good idea. The point is I knew based on tradition how to do it right. There was a rational explanation for the tradition but I had forgotten that part. I just knew it seemed wrong. That was enough for me but not enough for my son.

The other area where I have been thinking of tradition a lot is soccer. Europeans, the same ones despise religious tradition, are very traditional when it comes to soccer. Why do you need an off-side rule? Because if an offensive player could just run past all the defenders and receive a pass that would ruin the game. But that is allowed in football, hockey, basketball, etc. It does not seem to ruin the game. In fact, they are some of the most exciting plays. We call it the long bomb in football or a break away pass in hockey or basketball. Nobody wants those out of the game. But traditional soccer fans can't see it.

So tradition can be right and it can be wrong. One key is to remember the reasons for the tradition rather than just the tradition. The off-side rule was designed to prevent from waiting for long passes near the opposing goal. Hockey does that with lines on the ice. That is a lot better than making the attacking player worry about where the defender is. The attacker should worry about the ball and the goal. A slow or out of position defender should not be his problem. It should be his opportunity. The point is if you understand the real reason for the rule you can be open to better ways of achieving that end. If you don't then you have two options. You either ignore the tradition assuming there is no good reason for it or you can respect the tradition assuming it cannot be improved upon. Both are irrational. Traditions have reasons. Assuming they are not good reasons is irrational. Almost everything in life can be improved upon. Assuming this is one of the rare exceptions is irrational as well.

This becomes all the more important when it comes to faith. Matters of faith involve very subtle errors that sometimes take generations to become obvious. Look at Sola Scriptura. So many people operate under it and have not seen the problem with it. We are talking about smart people who sincerely want to serve Jesus. It is not like taking down a tent wrong when the error becomes obvious after a few minutes. The disease takes a long time to kill its victims and when it does nobody connects it back to its true cause. When some people figure it out the solution is so radical it gets dismissed quickly.

Thinking about this you can start to understand how much we need God to sort out good tradition from bad tradition. That we would have no chance without the Holy Spirit leading the magisterium into all truth. It is one thing to get soccer wrong. It makes for boring games but it really is only a game. It would be hard to believe that if you were in Holland right now but it is true. We can get sport wrong. We can even get politics or science wrong. We cannot get God wrong.