Thursday, December 29, 2016

How To Do Church

A while back I wrote about the rift in the church that mirrors the political rift between liberals and conservatives. That rift is even stronger in the protestant world. Over Christmas a bunch of conversations about this with protestant family members got me thinking a bit more. It seems like there is talk of yet another split in the denomination I grew up in. The split was described in an interesting way. There are those who are concerned about doctrine and theology but basically preach to the converted. Then there are those who connect with the culture. They focus on bringing Jesus to the unchurched folk. They like to talk about themselves as having a transformational ministry. That is a reference to Christ as Transformer of Culture in terms of Niebuhr's categories. Yet it seems they are the ones getting transformed. It is easy to see how the world has made them abandon parts of their faith. It is harder to see how they have changed the world in a way that a secular person could not. Still they do connect with people in powerful ways and that is a good thing. 

I have said we should abandon the either/or thing. That Christianity must be understood as a both/and. We connect with our neighbour and we remain obedient to God. If we go to our neighbourhoods and leave out the offensive bits of the gospel then we are not really offering them much more than we would if we were not Christians. In fact, we leave ourselves worse off because we limit God. We don't let Him tell us things that the culture rejects. We always find some way to rationalise caving in to the culture. We are so immersed in worldly thinking that the world's voice is louder than God's voice. 

The other side is that we can't just preach to the converted. There is a real failure on that side as well. Many churches that do things that way are in serious decline. People today are exposed to so many idea through mass media and social media that you can't just teach your theology and expect them to accept it. You need to deal with the realities of the world. 

I am thinking that the either/or thing might be hard to avoid. Some people are just going to much better at connecting people with God who already have a faith commitment to Jesus. Others are going to be better at meeting unchurched people where they are at and proposing Jesus to them. To some extent we can ask people to work on their weak areas but there is a limit to that. What we really need is for these two groups to work together. We need them to respect each other and recognise they need each other.

Now this is quite impossible in the Protestant world because they very quickly disagree on what the gospel is. The relational people are not going to accept that the doctrinal folks have the doctrine right. So the common ground disappears quickly. They find more common ground with other relational people in other protestant traditions. That makes sense because their thinking is formed mostly by the culture and not so much by their faith tradition so differing traditions are not going to matter much.

In the Catholic world there should be substantial agreement on what the gospel is. Often there is still a problem because many Catholics have not embraced the faith fully. So people on both sides of this divide must constantly remind themselves that the Church is the Body of Christ. That liberal and conservative Catholics are supposed to see the other wing of the church as a gift from God. Often there is a danger that we look at ourselves and those like us as being good Catholics and those on the other side as being bad Catholics. 

It is hard because we have the graces required to make this work but we don't always do it. We need to cooperate. We have the faith defined but we are still tempted to ignore the hard stuff. We need to actually take it all with us when we evangelise. I am reminded of a paraphrase someone did of The Great Commission that emphasised the word ALL.  They talked about making disciples and baptising them into ALL of God. That seems like what we need here. We don't decide what parts of God a person is ready for. We give them everything and trust Him. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Three Evangelists

This week we got to encounter 3 evangelists. St Andrew on Wednesday, St Francis Xavier on Saturday and St John the Baptist on Sunday. They all show us different ways we can bring the gospel to other. St Andrew is best know for leading Peter to Jesus. Andrew met Jesus first and was impressed by Him greatly. He does not keep it to himself. He immediately goes to his brother Peter and declare we have found the Messiah. That is quite a claim. Yet Andrew makes it quite quickly and  quite boldly. How many people do that today? How many Christians share big spiritual experiences with close friends and family? Many do not. It is not considered polite in modern society. We worry about what others will think of us. We don't want to be considered a religious freak. Yet Andrew does this and ends up bringing to Jesus the man who would lead the church through its first 30 years of existence. Christmas is a time when we are to experience Jesus once again in a renewed way. When we do tell someone else about it. Let them encounter Jesus as well. You never know what might come of it. 

St Francis Xavier brought the gospel to people who had never head of Christianity before. He was in remote areas of India and Japan where many had never seen a Christian before. He started with the young. He used the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and the 10 commandments. He used a lot of music. Children would often convert their parents. He would baptise the converts very quickly.  Very simple but very complete. Just giving people the opportunity to be saved then moving on to the next village. 

This sort of evangelism is not for everyone yet St Francis complained there were so many who could do it that didn't do it and therefore many souls were being lost. Even if we are not called to present the gospel to strangers we can support those that do. We can encourage them. We can pray for them. We can give alms to their ministry. 

St John the Baptist is a different sort. He preaches repentance to those who are already believers. He calls the religious leaders a brood of vipers. We need that to. Lots of religious laxity around even among church leaders. Lots of people presuming they are saved. We need people to be convicted of their sin and make serious changes to their lives. 

It is called admonishing sinners. It is considered one of the 7 spiritual works of mercy. Often you hear people talk about not admonishing sinners as being merciful. It is not. People need the grace of repentance and forgiveness. That starts with people understanding that the way they have been living is very wrong. How will they understand that if nobody tells them? We are just too polite. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Last Things

November is a month when the church asks us to contemplate the last things. The traditions 4 last things are death, judgement, heaven and hell. We don't like to think about them much. Obama illustrates this well as he comments on Fidel Castro's death. He says history will be Castro's final judge. Really? If he actually means that it says a lot. Who cares about history? Your reputation is not the most important thing when you are alive and it is not the most important when you are dead. Ultimately you don't control it. History is written by poorly informed people rushing to judgement. The deeper truth is that history's opinion of you or me or anyone pretty much fades to black once we have died anyway. How often will you think about Fidel Castro? For me I don't expect it will be very often. So why does history's judgement matter when it represents just a short-term, frequently incorrect reflection? It does not.

What matters is God's judgement of us. It is not short term. It is eternal. It is never incorrect. It always deals justly with our true self. The one we so often fight to keep other from seeing. Did we cooperate with God's grace in our lives? Did we want to be holy and want to be in friendship with Him? Or did we prefer something else? Wealth, honor, fame, glory, power, the goods of the body, or pleasure? It does not matter. Anything else you choose will be granted you but you you won't have God. You won't be in friendship with Him and that is the definition of hell.

So being judged well by history is just one more thing we can desire instead of God. A lot of times that means being judged well by one particular group of people. The liberal or conservative elite. The people at work. A group of friends that we have come to car about. Our family. We crave a positive judgement. We crave love. Ultimately God offers us the only place where we can be sure to find love and acceptance.

The gospel this week is about the end of the world. People tell us it is good to begin with the end in mind. The end of the world is something good to keep in mind. We can get wrapped up in little disasters like somebody dying or the wrong political party winning or some people you cared about rejecting you. Whatever it is it is not as serious as the end of the world. That is what we are called to be prepared for.

The end of the world is also connected with the beginning of a new life with God. The thoughts of the last things pivot to a contemplation of Christmas on the first Sunday of Advent. That is the way it always is. When we encounter God's judgement with a heart of repentance then God responds by giving us the gift of new life. Not just any new life but the new life of Jesus Himself. The joys of heaven are available now. Emmanuel. God is with us. So let God be your judge not just when you die but today and every day.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Two Thieves

This week's gospel in Luke 23:35-43. It is the account of the 2 thieves crucified with Jesus. There is a lot of Protestant/Catholic debate on this passage and I have gone there a lot lately so I thought I would skip this one. Yet something struck me as I listened to the homily this morning. Our deacon said this this is the only time in the gospels where Jesus is addressed simply by his first name. That seems like just a bit of interesting trivia but nothing is trivial about scripture. Addressing Jesus by his first name is quite intimate. Who does this? Not one of Jesus' close friends. Not even a holy man. A criminal is the one who at least by this one measure has a special relationship with Jesus. So what buys him this special bond? Well, he is being crucified with Jesus. 

That is the part I found interesting. The idea that this special closeness comes when he suffers with Jesus. Jesus talked about taking up our cross and following Him. Yet we hear that and kind of hope that never happens. Yet this intimacy with Jesus that we all want happens in that very place. The place where we suffer and unite our sufferings with the suffering of Jesus. Now this guy had an easier time uniting his suffering with Jesus. Jesus was literally suffering with him just a few feet away. Yet we can choose to do that. We can meditate on the suffering of Jesus during our times of great pain. Tradition tells us that the crucifixion of Jesus is an even that transcends time. It is available to us. We can go to the cross anytime we want to. It can bring us closer to Jesus than we ever imagined.

I have heard that story many times. People saying their faith was basically dead and then a tragedy happened. Often a loved one dies. In the middle of that pain they fall in love with Jesus. We have a choice in that hour of suffering. The choices are voiced well by the two thieves. One is anger at God. Telling God He has to fix your suffering or you will say He is a fraud. 

The other is brutal honesty. He admits he fears God. He admits he committed the crimes he is being punished for. Then he admits he is desperate. He wants to be with Jesus and he is not. So he asks. Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. That cry for mercy that we hear so many times in this book of Luke. 

Jesus does not end his suffering. He remains on the cross. Jesus comforts him by saying they will suffer together and go to the next world together. That is the same comfort He gives us. We are not told out suffering will end. It may go on for a long time. What we are told is Jesus will be close to us every step of the way. That when we meet Him in our darkest hours we can continue to have that relationship with Him even when those hours have past. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Christians And Trump

My biggest fear from a Trump presidency is that it will be seen similarly to the Bush presidency. That is that Bush was seen as the proto-typical Christian. People thought about being Christian very much in those terms. I can't be a Christian because I can't think like Bush. Often people identify 911 as the event that spawned the New Atheism movement. That all religious people could be labelled as violent because these religious fanatics were obviously evil. Yet I have rarely heard this argument. 

What also happened right around that same time is that Bush became president. His win was associated with the Christian right. He was not just supported by evangelicals. He was an evangelical. So people, quite understandably, took him to be a typical Christian. If you did not know any conservative Christians he was the stereo-type. 

Think about it. The New Atheist associated Christianity with violence and with a lack of intelligence. I would not say that about Christians I know. They tend to be quite a bit less prone to violence and on average quite intelligent. Yet the association works. Why? Because Bush's policies were quite violent and they were often anti-intellectual. So it was not a big leap for people to assume all Christians were like that. 

Now we have Trump. He has much weaker ties to Christianity. He does not self-identify as an evangelical. His personal life shows nothing a Christian would find impressive. Yet conservative Christians voted for him. Some of them did so with great hesitation and some of them were with Trump from the beginning. At the end of they day their support for Trump was pretty solid. Stronger than their support for Romney. 

Now many would say they voted against Clinton more than they voted for Trump. They would have preferred someone else. Still I can see that in the minds of the people who don't know many Christians they can easily associate Christianity with being impressed by Trump.

We need to get to a place where Christianity is not associated with any political party. We need to transcend politics. Pope Francis said this on Oct 2nd.

Now, I will set the issue aside and speak about something theoretical, rather than speaking about the concrete problem. When a country has two, three or four candidates who are unsatisfactory, it means that the political life of that country is perhaps overly “politicized” but lacking in a political culture. One of the tasks of the Church and of higher education is to teach people to develop a political culture. 
There are countries – I am thinking of Latin America – that are excessively politicized but lack a political culture. People belong to one party or another party or even a third, but for emotional reasons, without thinking clearly about the fundamentals, the proposals.
He ties this sort of problem to a failure of the church and of higher education. It makes sense to me. The spectacle of people being pressured to embrace all the the agenda of one party or the other is a symptom of people having a poor understanding of philosophy and/or theology. They don't understand the connections between ideas. Which ones are logically connected. So people run back to their party and just swallow everything. 

In same ways it does reflect badly on Christianity when Christians behave this way. It means they have not developed a sophisticated way of critiquing the politics of the day. They just pick a side like everyone else. It is not completely true. Conservative Christians have pushed certain policies into the Republican platform that would not otherwise be there. Still it is quite limited. 

On the other side you have progressive Christians that really have not impacted the Democratic party even in a limited way. The Democratic elite have impacted them for sure. In fact, they are so dominated by secular thought it is hard to find places where they disagree with atheists. 

So what do we do? We carve out for ourselves a place that is truly counter-cultural. Can we do this without the Catholic church. I thought so once. I thought the Christian Reformed Church I was part of did this well. Their secret? Christian education. They really took that seriously. So they could maintain their own robust intellectual tradition separate from secular thought but broad enough to address all the issues that come up. Pope Francis also mentions education. 

Still GK Chesterton says the Catholic Church "is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age." Ultimately we can't separate ourselves from our culture without the graces given to us by God in the church. We will inevitably get God wrong in some serious way on some issue. So yes, we need to educate people to think with their faith in every area of human endeavour. But we need to be guided by the church when we do so. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge

A few years ago I saw The Blind Side and reflected on how modern Christian art tends to be terrible except when it is telling true stories. I though the same thing when I recently saw Hacksaw Ridge and a Netflix thing called Unconditional. Both are telling stories where faith played a big part. Both tell them with out removing the religion as Hollywood often does. Yet they are good stories. They are messy. Christians struggle. They don't pray and have problems just go away. They suffer through both physically and mentally. They think they hear God's word but they are not always sure. 

It is so refreshing because these stories show how God works in real life. He uses us powerfully but it 
often does not feel that way. Often it feels like we are being stupid or being selfish or just failing. Yet God is using the fact that we are there. That we are not just there physically but there with our heart fully engaged and willing to make sacrifices. We are annoyed because we don't have things figured out but that is not really a problem. God has them figured out and you just need to trust Him.

The story of Hacksaw Ridge is a miracle of sorts. That is if it was fiction we would never believe what the main character does is humanly possible. Yet he did it. Because it is a true story we can't just dismiss it. This man did something extraordinary and if you ask him how he did it he will talk about God. He was able to overcome pain and risk of death and do what he did only because he felt strongly that this was God's will for him in that moment. He had done God's will in some very hard circumstances before. That is the way he lived and if he was going to die on this ridge he was going to die that way. 

Mel Gibson does not shy away from any of the ugliness of battle. That makes this movie so much more intense. In a lot of ways it is hard to watch. Yet that speaks to. Desmond's father tells him that war would take his young faith and rip it apart. It was true for the dad. He was traumatised in WWI and never really recovered. He is a pathetic character because of it. Yet we see that embracing the faith rather then rejecting it it is not only possible but vastly preferable. That life's struggles are not easy. They are hard and even terrifying. Desmond is not without fear. Yet he still trusts that God is with him even on this day. 

Not only does Desmond have a profound experience of God on the battlefield. He enables others to have it as well. The story does not focus on the people he saves so much but they are in a bad way. They are wounded in an area that the Allies have pulled out of. They cannot flee. The Japanese are killing those who surrender. Staying put likely means succumbing to their wounds after many hours of suffering. What do you think ran through their minds? I am guessing that many of them were praying. I am guessing that to many of them Desmond showing up seemed like an answer to an impossible and desperate prayer. It is one of the greatest privileges God gives us as Christians to be an answer to somebody's prayer. The real Desmond Doss in an interview after the film talks about the smile one man gave him and how rewarding it was. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

An Argument on the Resurrection

This weeks gospel is quite interesting for those of who like to get involved in apologetics. In Luke 20:27-40, the Sadducees ask Jesus a question. Really they are making a theological argument.  Asking a hypothetical question intending to show their opponents theological position is wrong. Many modern Christians would exit at this point. They don't want to get involved in debates about doctrine. They say nothing good ever comes of them. Yet Jesus does not go there. He is up for debate. He not only answers them he makes a counter-argument. 

The question is on the resurrection of the dead. This was a big point of disagreement between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees believed only in the fist 5 books of Moses as the Word of God. They saw no evidence of the resurrection in those books so they rejected that doctrine. 

Jesus' response is interesting. He addresses the alleged problem and explains that marriage is for us on earth but not for heaven. This fits with the Catholic notion that marriage is a foretaste of heaven. That once we have the fullness of heaven the foretaste is no longer needed. 

Then He says "even Moses showed that the dead rise." This is key. When He makes his counter-argument He only uses what the Sadducees would accept, that is the 5 books of Moses. His argument seems like a bit of a stretch. I can really see how people could have studied Exodus 3 for centuries and never concluded that it taught the resurrection of the dead. Yet it at least gives food for thought that God did phrase things in an odd way if the dead are not raised. So it is not a slam-dunk argument that is impossible to get out of. It just shows some kernel of the doctrine is there. The final appeal is to the nature of God as a God of the living and not of the dead. 

This connects well with what we are to do in defending the faith. We need to explain the whole faith in terms of correcting and misunderstandings and clarifying any apparent contradictions. That means we need to know what we believe at some level. 

Then when we deal with others who don't believe we should be able to use the evidence they do accept and show ways in which it points to Catholicism. If someone will accept the bible as the Word of God then use that to show some of the Catholic things they reject are actually in scripture at least in kernel form. 

Similarly if people only accept reason we need to find reasons why much of Catholicism makes sense based on reason alone. We won't  have a rock solid proof for everything. Still the most counter-cultural idea can be see to be logical when just looking at the human person. 

This asks a lot of us. We need to learn to explain our faith in a number of different ways based on who we are talking to. Yet this is what love looks like. We start by listening. We listen to what others really believe. We listen to learn. We also listen to find connections between their beliefs and Catholic teaching. We affirm what is true. Then we show them the path to the fullness of truth. It takes a lot of effort. It is not as simple as just publishing the case for Catholicism and being done. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


The story of Zacchaeus is just a classic story of grace. At the centre we have a sinner meeting Jesus and having his life transformed by the encounter. The ending declaration by Jesus that "The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost" is really the climax of the story Luke is trying to tell.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.
The story starts off with an image of evil. Jericho was a city associated with sin. Then Zacchaeus is identified as a chief tax collector. Tax collectors were considered traitors. Chief tax collectors? That has be worse.
He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-figtree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
Now we are given a picture of Zacchaeus wanting to see Jesus. He climbs a tree. This is a huge embarrassment for a rich man. Yet he does it in front of a crowd. He is not mildly interesting in seeing Jesus. He is determined, even desperate. It remind us of the blind beggar last week begging for mercy. Here we have a rich man humiliating himself in another way but also wanting God so much he does not care what anyone thinks. It makes us wonder about our own desire for God. Do we want him that much we don't care about our reputation?
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
Then Jesus comes to "the spot." He invites Zacchaeus by name. This is so typical. We approach God with fear and trepidation and when we finally overcome all that and meet God we find He was expecting us! He knows our name. He has been looking forward to us inviting Him into our home. We are overwhelmed with the intimacy of God's love. 
So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
Then we get two reactions. The reaction of Zacchaeus and the reaction of "all the people." Zacchaeus gladly welcomes Jesus. The reconciliation he longed for but almost didn't dare hope for was now a reality. Jesus was right there and wanting to come to his house. Imagine that. Jesus at the house of the chief tax collector.

The rest of the crowd imagined it all right. They didn't get it. This guy was in league with the Romans. Remember these are the followers of Jesus. They are supposed to understand at some level that they are sinners saved by grace. Yet they continue to be confused when another sinner receives the same grace. We can get like that. There can be some sinners we don't want saved. We want God to see them like we see them. That is as hopeless cases. As somehow worse sinners than us. 
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
This is very interesting. Zacchaeus is offering to do penance for his sins. This comes from the Old Testament. Jesus here has a wonderful opportunity to say that this concept is no longer needed under the new covenant. Yet He does not say that. He accepts this penance as a proper response to receiving forgiveness. Not earning forgiveness but making an attempt to make right what you have wronged on some level. 
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Like I said before. This statement summarises not just the point of this story but of the whole book of Luke. According to the structure of the book this is where we should expect to find the climactic moment and this is what Luke gives us. Jesus is here to save the lost. Even those who are so far lost they barely remember where they came from.  Everyone thought Zacchaeus had forfeited his status as a son of Abraham. Jesus says He has not forgotten the dignity we were created with. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

One Flock, One Shepherd

At a prison bible study we were reflecting on John 10. It talks about Jesus as the good shepherd and thieves and robbers trying to steal the sheep. There is a lot there in the way Jesus cares for His sheep and protects His sheep. Even the idea that a shepherd in that day would risk his life for the sheep.

When it came to the thieves and robbers I talked about both the Protestant and Catholic ways of reading this text as I often do. Protestants would say thieves and robbers exist. They would be teaching something very different from the truth (as they see it). Often they would include Catholics and many other Protestants. Conservative Protestants would put liberal Protestants in this category but not those who are closer to them theologically. It all made sense to me as when I was Protestant.

The interesting thing is it didn't make sense to the prisoners. They get a mish-mash of Protestants denominations coming to the prison. They didn't get how the sheep would know Jesus' voice. As a Christian Reformed person talking to other Christian Reformed people I could easily appeal to common sense. Yet this sort of sense is not common to people who have experiences many contradictory religious ideas. That is actually more common these days.

Then there is the phrase that Jesus says that Protestants mostly ignore. He says in verse 16 that "there shall be one flock and one shepherd." Catholics see that as an obvious reference to the church and the pope. Protestants? Like I said, it is mostly ignored. To the extent that it means anything it would be spiritualized to the point where it becomes unfalsifiable. That is this invisible group of people has this invisible bond of unity with this invisible shepherd.

There is some visible unity in the Protestant world. I know I craved it when I was Protestant. Yet a lot of it is just a unity among some subset of protestants that happens to agree with you on an issue. It is like George Bush's coalition of the willing in Iraq. You just list those who agree with you, ignore those who don't, and declare it to be some sort of consensus. 

Yet what sort of community was Jesus really envisioning when He said there shall be one flock and one shepherd? If He foresaw the current Protestant reality would He not have said that He would be shepherding many flocks? Would He have just asserted that His sheep know His voice? Is there any amount of disunity that would indicate that Protestantism has a serious problem?

That does not mean the church needs to be homogeneous. Catholicism has many orders and many movements and many different spiritual personalities. They even have movements that reform other movements that have grown lax. There can be many moves of the Holy Spirit all withing this unity Jesus talks about. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Surprising Sex Survey

The latest sign that there is something rotten in modern society comes from a new study saying millennials are having less sex than previous generations. Dr Greg Popcak points out that when you get past the headlines which focus on sex what the study really shows is that young people are not pursuing intimacy like they should. This reminds me of the saying of St John Paul II that everything revolves around what man is for woman and what woman is for man. When that gets messed up society begins to unravel. 

What is remarkable here is things are coming apart in the opposite direction of what we would expect.  Our society has been willing to sell its soul in order to have free sex. Free of guilt, free of commitment, free of children, free of rules. Yet when we destroy marriage and destroy morals and destroy gender identity in order to get this we find people actually become less interested in sex. It is the classic deal with the devil. You surrender your soul to him expecting something in return but he can't even deliver that. You actually get nothing.

We often don't get this even if we don't live the lie. At least for me, I catch myself watching movies or whatever and getting caught up in it. The idea of people meeting and very quickly having great sex and it is all wonderful. The truth is sex does not work like that. You end up in all sorts of awkwardness where you feel intimate in some ways and feel like you hardly know each other in other ways. Yet we watch the story and on some level we buy it. 

So what is the solution? We need saints. People have lost track of how to live sexually. Even most people that self-identify as Christian will use contraception and get divorced at the same rates as people that don't. We need to know the stories of those who have lived life differently. Couples that have big families and awesome homes that seem to bless so many people. It used to be that everyone knew many families like that. It is not true anymore. Even many who go to church have never really seen what a traditional Christian marriage looks like. What used to be quite common has become heroic virtue. 

So even in the Catholic church we need to really believe and understand that artificial contraception will destroy our sexual integrity. We need to accept that we need to take radical steps to avoid the pornographic culture in which we live. Then we need to show the world how this approach to sexuality lead to true joy. We need to show a foretaste of heaven to those who are right now experiencing a foretaste of hell. Really that is where many young people are. Hell is nothing more than a lack of intimacy with God and with our fellow humans beings. When you dig into this study that is what you find there. A real despair about the potential for intimacy.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Heresy Question

One question that keeps getting asked by atheists and sometimes even by Protestants is why the Catholic church was so slow to declare the killing of heretics to be sinful. Sure they arrived there eventually but it took many centuries and many executions before they did. Isn't this principle a pretty easy one? Does this not show that religion has an inherent tendency to produce violence towards people who disagree?

It is a good question. The trouble is it has a bit of an assumption behind it. That is that heresy is no big deal. The modern secular mind has this notion that any ideas about religion are obviously of little consequence and people should be able to say whatever they want. The trouble is that is not true. Very few things can destroy a society like a heresy can. What people believe matters. It does not just matter in terms of whether they go to heaven or hell. It matters politically, socially, militarily, etc.

So we should not ignore heresy. What should we do? First of all, we should teach. Explain exactly why a teaching is wrong. When that does not work you simply let the bad impacts start to happen. Yes, that can mean many people die or many people get abused or we end up in bad wars. 

Bad impacts can be terrible but they are not as terrible as using violence to prevent them. Having the Church, the mystical body of Jesus, associated with violence and murder is just unacceptable even when there seems like it can avoid a serious error. The number of people raising this objection proves the point. It has presented Jesus in a bad light and we can't do it. 

So what happens next? Well, sin when it is full grown leads to death. It can be the death of the heretics. That is often much more destructive than killing the heretics earlier would have been. Yet letting it play out respects people's freedom. It becomes clear that sin is not destructive because the church has so much power but rather because of its nature. 

There is another possibility. When sin is full grown it leads to death. Yet sometimes that death is not our death but the death of Jesus. It can happen with heresy to. The church as the body of Christ can become the object of hatred just like Christ Himself did. The death we allow to happen can be our own. This can ultimately lead to the resurrection of the church and the salvation of society. 

This is not a persecution complex. It is just a recognition that this is the way history flows. When society falls into sin the church goes onto the cross. The faithful remnant become annoying to the sinners because they keep speaking the truth. That eats at people's consciences and they overreact. At the end of the day it becomes obvious that the one on the cross is the Holy One and the ones who put them there is not. 

So you can see why people are slow to go here. People who have power don't tend to give it up right to the point of letting themselves be killed. Jesus did it and we are called to do it yet it is not easy. It is not the obvious moral principle people often assume when they ask the question. It is the stuff of heroic virtue. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Stoning of Soraya M

I just saw The Stoning of Soraya M. last night. I know it is old but it got me thinking. It is definitely a film that stirs up your emotions. The fact that this woman was stoned is outrageous and should make you angry. I was certainly angry. It can make you passionate about some moral cause. But which cause? I could think of many that could use this film.
  1. The death penalty is always wrong
  2. If you are going to use the death penalty stoning is a particularly cruel way to do it
  3. The death penalty should not be used for the crime of adultery
  4. The death penalty should not be used unless there is real certainty about someone's guilt
  5. People accused of crimes should have access to a lawyer to present a proper defence
  6. People should just stop believing in God
The list could go on. Some of these principles I agree with and some I don't. That is always true with sentimental arguments. There is a real sense of moral outrage we feel from a situation. We can sense that something is wrong. Yet it is not obvious exactly what that something is. Yet when somebody connects the story with their particular cause then all the other possible causes are typically forgotten about. One moral principle is put on trial and typically found wanting. It is ironic that this movie is about an unfair trial because the sentimental argument is often an unfair trial and execution of a moral principle.

What happens when moral principles lose out to sentimental stories? Morality goes backwards a few thousand years. Really with the 10 commandments and a few other ancient moral codes we saw a move of humanity beyond moral feelings and advance towards the notion of moral principles. 

That really was an advance because principles allow us to apply morality more evenly to ourselves and other groups. We feel moral wrong more acutely when we are the victim but morality only really helps us when we can see wrongs that we inflict on others. Principles help us do that. 

The trouble with principles is you need to believe, first of all, that they exist and, secondly, that we can know them. That means you need to believe in something supernatural and in some trustworthy revelation about the supernatural. Modern society is sceptical of both. That is why the attacks of sentimentalism are so effective. 

My reaction to the movie was more along the lines of why it is important to get your religion right. People had a very detailed understanding about what God's will was. Not only was adultery a stoning offence but even the standards of evidence came from their religion. The testimony of two witnesses was enough. The burden of proof was lower when the accused was a woman. All that came from Islam. 

The problem is not that they were religious but that they believed the wrong religion. The solution is not atheism. Atheism is just another wrong religion. OK, you can argue that it is technically not a religion so call it a wrong world and life view. It is not immune from leading us to do terrible things. Just look at Hitler or Stalin. The solution is to examine all world and life views and find the truth.

Anyway, if we don't have any moral principles that we trust then everything will fall to sentimentalist reasoning. That is a very bad thing. What happens then? A government that controls the narrative can justify anything at all. What stands in their way? Only God. God and those who are sure they have heard His voice and are willing to be a light in the darkness. The good new is God is real and we can be sure of what His will is. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Charismatics and Traditionalists

I ran into this link about the the charismatic gifts and the hierarchical gifts. It is actually quite a recent document from the church's theology department. Something called the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. I found it interesting because it puts its finger on one of the key issues in the church today. That is the false choice that is put before us. There is this notion that need to choose to be liberal or conservative. Either you embrace a personal relationship with Jesus where your life is animated by the Holy Spirit and you reject the rules-based, stuffy, traditional Christianity or you stick with solid unchanging truth and reject a Christianity that compromises with the world. Lots of Christians view themselves in this way. They pick one side and define much of their spirituality against the other side. This divide happens in pretty much every denomination. In fact, conservative Christians across denominations have much more in common with each other than with liberal Christians in their own denomination and vice-versa. 

What we are called to do is embrace both. The charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit make Christianity personal. Everyone animates the faith in a different way and we absolutely need to be free to be true to ourselves. We even need to get together groups of people who have common interests and common gifts. St Irenaeus said the glory of God is a human being fully alive. We need a spirituality that is fully alive and life-giving and joy-filled. 

Somehow conservatives have always struggled with this. There is such an emphasis on self-control that it is hard to feel free. Sometime people can feel free in worship but have a hard time feeling free at a party with music and wine. 

It is a problem because if our spirituality comes across as joyless and stuffy then our evangelism is likely to be non-existent. In fact, we might have a problem with sloth because it is hard to maintain energy living that kind of faith.

Hierarchical gifts perhaps need a bit of explaining. It is a bit of a Catholic word. What it means is the gift of orthodoxy. The ability to know the truth about faith and morals and be united around that truth. This is hugely important as well. Our faith has to have content. Something has to make us different from the culture around us. Just talking nicely about Jesus and the bible is not enough. There needs to be something solid, something timeless, something we would die for. 

Liberals have a problem with this because for them the focus is always on the person. Every time you declare something to be part of the faith that many in society think is false you force people to either accept a hard truth or reject the whole faith. Many are going to do the latter. 

Again, if we don't get this right the results are devastating. Who will believe Christianity has the truth when they don't have any agreement on what that truth is? Even for ourselves it becomes hard to lean on our faith for truth when there are so many different opinions that sound good. 

The key is to recognise that both these kind of gifts come from the same spirit. The Holy Spirit that wants us to unite in one true faith is the same Holy Spirit that wants each of us to be unique. It really is a false choice. Any time you find yourself fighting for one side of this divide against the other you need to remind yourself of that.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dictatorship of Sentimentalism

Pope Benedict started his pontificate by coining the phrase "The Dictatorship of Relativism." He was pointing out the irony of the fact that Relativism who's sole raison d'etre was to oppose anyone imposing any idea on anyone else was actually being imposed as an idea on society today. This was very insightful and unfortunately still happens a lot. Really anyone who says anything intelligent about faith or morals should be prepared for a chorus of responses along the lines of "don't impose your ideas on anyone else." It is quite sad.

Yet I was thinking there is another dictatorship active in today's society. That is that of sentimentalism. Sentimentalism is when you base your moral philosophy on human emotion. Whoever gives the most moving sob-story wins the day. This is common as well. You talk about abortion or gay marriage or euthanasia and many people have been hugely influenced by somebody somewhere allegedly being hurt by those big bad Christian moralists. The question is then framed around, "Do you care about these people or do you not?"

That is a terrible way to do moral reasoning for a lot of reasons. One being that sentimental arguments can contradict. You could make someone feel sorry for the adulterer. You could also make someone feel sorry for the faithful spouse who is cheated on. It is easy to manipulate people's emotions. 

Another way this kind of moral thinking fails is in dealing with dissenters. If you reduce the question to "do you care" then what is your reaction to the people who continue to hold the other position. They must not care. So you immediately get very strong rhetoric accusing people on the other side of hatred. They almost never actually hate the people in question. Yet sentimentalism requires that be the only reason they hold the position they hold. If they admit any exception then they move from emotional ground to rational ground. The two don't mix. Sentimentalism must crush logic because it  can't compete with logic. It is a far less reliable guide to the truth so it has to declare the rational person to be a monster. 

So letting your love and compassion guide you will lead you to develop hatred and disgust for another people group. Emotion is a two-edged sword. Yet it gets worse. What happens when the band wagon goes too far. Human movements always go from one extreme to another. Eventually their hatred for the other side will get so harsh you can't stomach it. For some that will take longer than others. That is when sentimentalism gets really harsh. As soon as you jump off that band wagon then you become the one that does not care. You are now the hater that has been so demonised in your mind. 

The trouble is because your initial acceptance of the sentimentalist position was not principled then you can't find any principled way out. It is like any sin. Even when you realise how wrong it is it is difficult to stop. This is especially true when we don't want to stop completely but just want to stop the most extreme consequences. It does not work like that. Just like an alcoholic can't cut back a little but must attack the power of his addiction at the root. So too someone addicted to sentimentalism must go back and reconstruct their morality based on sound principles. The same principles the church has always defended. All of them, not just the ones you find appealing. That is hard to do.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Plain Reason

My post on Why Atheism? was a bit different than I intended. First of all, the tone was more anti-protestant than I wanted. Secondly, it ended up being longer that I expected. Rather than write a very long post I just stopped. So I appreciate the reaction. Good to know someone is reading. Still I thought I should keep going and maybe things will make more sense over time. 

One thread I see in common between many Protestants and many of the new atheists is the unusual relationship with tradition. By tradition I mean the role of some subculture in shaping thought. The particular school of thought you subscribe to. 

It is hard to define because both protestants and atheists tend to downplay and sometimes even deny the influence of tradition. Luther's notion of "plain reason" is very strong. They can see influence and bias in other people. They don't really see it in themselves. They tend to see their own thought as plain reason.

You get this a lot when you ask protestants why they are this kind of protestant rather than that kind of protestant. It is just obvious from plain reason that this is right and that is wrong. Yet equally reasonable people connected with the other tradition find the opposite just as obvious. This is so deeply ingrained that I find if I give an example then people can't get past that. They give their standard argument for that issue and keep repeating it like that somehow answers the question. If all you want is the answer to issue X I have that for you. 

Atheists do the same thing. They assume everything is just based on plain reason. The fact that most new atheists agree with Christian morality on most issues and disagree with it on the exact same issues is just a coincidence. There is nothing but plain reason in play. A principle like equal dignity for all human persons is just obvious. Why? You look at humans and they don't seem equal no matter how you measure them. Yet their equality is obvious? It has nothing to do with the Christian culture you were raised in? You can keep going. Why is it wrong to judge people? Why is humility a good thing? There is just this belief that everything comes from plain reason and nothing comes from your particular perspective as a western secular person.

The truth is that plain reason simply does not exist. Nobody starts reasoning with no premises and no assumptions and considers all perspectives equally regardless of what they have experienced or who they have learned from. Many professions recognise this. They demand people are mentored for a time in addition to book learning. They don't just give them the reasoning but realise they need to develop the right intuitions and experience. Often they want them to have several mentors to learn to think like a professional doctor or accountant or engineer or whatever.

Jesus did the same thing. He didn't just give people plain reason. He spent 3 years with 12 men. He didn't write anything. He taught them life to life. Sure His discourses were important but they needed to learn how He approached every kind of question and every kind of person. 

When we understand how drastically our subtle philosophical assumptions impact our final conclusions then we will look for something other than plain reason to guide us. The good news is that God has provided such a thing. It is called sacred tradition. Sure Jesus condemned the traditions of men. Yet the very phrase "traditions of men" hints that there might be a tradition that is not from men. At least one that is guided in some way by God. That is what sacred tradition is. 

Catholics admit to being biased and influenced like everyone else. We don't try and avoid all tradition because that would be inhuman. We try and think with the church. If we have to be influenced we want to be influenced by something holy. It is a choice. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Near Death Experiences

Father Robert Spitzer talks about near death experiences a lot. There are some fascinating stories. Many of them have been rigorously investigated by credible scientists and published in peer reviewed journals. Yet the evidence gets ignored. Why is that? Even Christians tend to be very hesitant to go there. I feel weird about it to. I am not immune to whatever stigma our culture places over these stories. There are a few people who talk about them a lot and most people talk about them never. So the few become labelled somehow as strange. Nobody wants to be labelled that way.

Fr Spitzer approaches the data well. First of all he puts the near-death experiences in the context of other evidence for the transcendent. This is one set of data that we have that can tell us something about the relationship we have with our bodies. It is not the only data. He brings in many other thinkers that argue in very different ways for the existence of something beyond the physical world. 

Secondly he does not lean just on one story. There are stories like Heaven Is For Real that can make us think. Yet you don't want to give such an anecdote too much power over your life. The studies Fr Spitzer refers to take many examples and scrutinise them heavily. It is amazing how many of them stand up. People give detailed accounts of things that happened when they were clinically dead and have these observations confirmed independently. Sometime they observe things in other hospital rooms or even outside. Sometimes blind people see. These things are not just one example but many similar stories. A non-trivial number of people who are near death have something like this happen.

Thirdly, he does not try and conclude too much from it. A lot of times you see people jump right from "this strange thing happened" to "you have to become a Christian." He does not go there. He is very careful to analyse exactly what this proves. The idea of consciousness when the person's brain activity is being measured at zero. The notion that people seem to see and hear without their eyes or ears. Just wrestling with how unscientific that all sounds but the data is reproducible. 

He particularly questions those who believe that all consciousness and morality and faith and meaning can be explained fully by biological processes in the brain. The biology can be reduced to chemistry. The chemistry can be reduced to physics. That leaves everything completely determined by the laws of physics. No room for any sort of free choice. That has huge philosophical implications. He sees this as pretty strong evidence on the other side. Not the only evidence but some solid data that seems hard to explain from that perspective. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Why Atheism?

One of the more interesting questions I have been thinking about lately is why we have this rise of atheism in western society in the last few generations. I have seen some scholars point out that this is quite unique. Other religions and even other Christian societies have not seen anything like this. One religion can be replaced by another as the dominant one in a particular culture but never does a religion get replaced by a null religion. No better revelation of God but rather a decision to doubt all revelation of God. There is no central prophet either. You could see Jesus or Mohammad being the authors of movements that overtook many countries but no similar central figure around atheism. It is more like people just drifted away. Yet why do people drift away from the central truths of human existence? This has not been a feature of humanity before. Why now?

Many of the functional atheists actually don't actively oppose religion. Most secular people won't explicitly deny there is a God. They try and say a particular religion is true but they don't live like it is. It is a polite lack of interest rather than a rebellious spirit. They don't want to offend God in case He exists but they are not willing to reorder their lives around that possibility. 

You can think of a few reasons. There has been some bad theology. Yet much worse theologies have held sway in other places without producing atheists. You have the hard moral teachings but again we can think of other religions with harder moral teachings that remained basically intact. 

So maybe people have gotten more sophisticated. Maybe they don't have the same desires for morality, immortality and meaning. Maybe science has somehow given us better answers to these questions. I think this is getting closer but I don't think this is it yet. 

What has happened is the balance between faith and reason has become skewed. All religions have certain things you must accept on faith. After those things are assented to then reason kicks in and fills in the rest of the picture. What happened in Christianity is quite strange. People started to reject articles of faith yet they considered it a virtue and not a vice. 

It started with Luther. He said that unless someone could convince him from scripture and plain reason that he was wrong then ... here I stand. I was always told that the key to that statement was scripture. Thinking about it later it seems clear the key is reason. He was rejecting the church and the councils and the saints and the sacraments in favour of reason. He was not rejecting them in favour of scripture. Catholicism already embraced scripture. He was rejecting many articles of faith and replacing them with his own reason and considering it a virtue. 

That process has simply continued. Luther was followed by the radical reformation which replaced more articles of faith with reason and called it a virtue. Then we get the Age of Reason. People are still basically Christians yet faith is becoming less and less important to them and reason more important. This is seen as progress. 

Even when we had revivals like the Great Awakening movements in the US there was a call to faith but very little emphasis on the content of that faith. Just having faith is what mattered. 

So what has fuelled this constant degradation of Christianity? It is the embrace of your own reason and the distrust of tradition. Tradition is just the reasoning of previous generations of Christians. This is a basic tenant of any religion that the truths it teaches are timeless and therefore what was received from the previous generation should be trusted. Protestantism has in its DNA to distrust that teaching. 

That process of distrust  does not lead us back to scripture. Why would those trained to be sceptical of what comes from the previous generations choose to accept scripture without question? The process leads to atheism and nihilism. Articles of faith are rejected and human reason has no foundation to arrive at any truth. 

This is what we are seeing. People are rebelling against Christianity but not in a very different way from the way Protestants have frequently rebelled against their fore-bearers. It is rejecting more of the faith and replacing it with their own reason. Just that now the articles being rejected are the very existence of God and the truth of scripture and other very basic tenants. Yet many retain much of the moral framework of Christianity. How long will that last? Not sure.

The question is how far will we fall before we come back to the faith. Not a revival where we embrace a slightly less watered down form of Christianity and declare ourselves to be holy. I mean the real faith. By the grace of God it is still here. 

Friday, June 3, 2016


May is a month when Catholics talk about Mary a bit more. I know May ended before I posted this. Get over it. Mary makes Protestants very nervous. She still makes me a bit nervous and I have been Catholic for 13 years now. Something just does not feel right about the idea of coming to Jesus through Mary. Why is that? I think deep down we think about holiness as being between me and God and anybody else is mostly irrelevant. We don't think of salvation as joining God's family. Protestants use that language and even think in those terms with superficial things like worshipping or doing ministry. Yet when things get intensely personal and we start dealing with our deepest fears and our most entrenched sins then we don't think family. We think Jesus and me. 

Really even when Protestants think family they think father, that is God, they think brothers and sisters, that is other Christians, but they never think mother. Somehow God has given us a motherless family and nobody notices. There are 2 great sources of spiritual motherhood in Catholic tradition. That is the church and Mary. The church they are kind of OK with. John Calvin talks about the church as his mother in The Institutes and nobody found it that strange. Yet modern Protestants don't go there much. Obviously Mary as a spiritual mother is seen as more than strange. It is seen as idolatry. Really that is how Mary was presented to me as a Protestant. She was a potential idol. That is it.

There are a bunch of objections but the most common one seems to be why. Why is Mary needed when Jesus is every thing we need? Often they quote 1 Tim 2:5, "There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus." Don't Catholics talk about Mary as a mediator?

Fair question. We do talk about Mary as a mediator. Yet that verse says Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. That is true. He is the only one who is both God and man. So Mary can't bring us to God without Jesus. She can't even bring herself to God without Jesus. Yet that does not make her unimportant. In fact, we are all called to be mediators, not between God and man but between other people and Jesus. If we bring someone to Jesus then Jesus can bring them to God. This is important because a lot of people are more likely to come to Jesus if we lead them because we have a closeness and a credibility with them. 

Think of the scriptures. The bible can't save anyone. Yet it can bring someone to Jesus who can save them. So what do we do? We encourage people to read the scriptures as much as possible. We read them ourselves. We talk about them positively often. Do the scriptures become an idol? It is possible. Yet should we avoid promoting the scriptures because of that possibility? Not at all. There is just 100 times more good that can come from the scriptures than bad. 

Mary is like that. She cannot save anyone. Yet she can lead people to Jesus. So we should encourage a relationship with Mary. We should venerate her ourselves. Can she become an idol? It is possible. Not nearly as likely as many say, but it can happen. Should we avoid promoting Mary because of that possibility? Not at all. She leads people to Jesus far more often than she leads anyone away form Him.

The truth is God has given Mary a special role in His plan of salvation. Now when a man impregnates a woman God expects that man to have a special relationship with that woman. In fact, He expects that relationship to be permanent. He wants him to be married to her. So why should we assume that when God impregnates a woman that He does any less? That He would not maintain a permanent, special relationship with her?

The role of Mary is just an extension of the role of Jesus. It is not a replacement. Jesus came to earth and shortened the distance between us and Heaven. Yet He didn't shorten it to zero. Other things can shorten it more. Other people, other things, I have already mentioned the bible. Yet St Louis de Montfort says Mary is the quickest, easiest, and surest way to Jesus. Who believes Him? St John Paul II, St Maximilian Kolbe, too many to count. 
Why would it not be true? Nobody is closer to Jesus than His own mother. Nothing can help us overcome our fears like a mother's love. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Evangelicalism's Borders

Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism has a post about Samaritan's Purse and church authority. Her words will be green.
I’ve long been fascinated by the idea that evangelicalism has “borders” that it enforces—beliefs that are considered required for membership. Every religion or belief system has such borders, they just define and defend them differently. What I find fascinating about watching the borders evangelicals draw is how drastically these borders have changed over time, and how very specific they can get. Fred Clark of the Slacktivist uses the term “tribal gatekeepers” to describe this phenomenon.
I have been fascinated by this to. What is the faith? You have to answer that to have a coherent faith. Yet Evangelicalism denies that anybody has the right to set such boundaries. If they did they would be claiming the same authority as the pope claims. Yet not having an answer to this question is unworkable as we shall see. 
I was reminded of this concept by this Facebook post by Kay Cossar:
So Samaritans Purse wants to be an evangelical organization. Yet what defines Evangelicalism? They came up with a few questions that do that. But that is such a big deal. Who are they to say that those who answer Yes to these questions belong and those that don't are excluded? Really it amounts defining the faith. What doctrines are central to the faith and what are secondary? Essentially they excommunicated Kay Cossar. I am not saying it is wrong for them to do so but I am saying they are not the right people to make the call. They should focus on helping the poor. Yet there is no official place to go for any definition of what are the central tenants of the Evangelical faith.   
But let’s leave all of this aside and look at Samaritan’s Purse’s statement of faith: 
Actual statement deleted 
You know what’s interesting? There’s nothing in here about the rapture or the tribulation, there’s nothing in here about Calvinism or Arminianism, and there’s nothing in here about evolution. In other words, some of the greatest points of disagreement among American Protestants of the 19th and early 20th centuries are simply not mentioned. The immediate focus on the Bible as inspired and infallible is in line with the early twentieth century roots of modern evangelicalism, but the fierce battle over whether fundamentalists should remain in apostate denominations as salt and light or come out of such denominations and be separate—a battle that waged fiercely in the 1930s and 1940s—is absent from this statement.
The statement, like most evangelical statements of faith, confuses agreement with importance. The notion that if people disagree over something that it must be a secondary doctrine. What Libby Anne is pointing out is that this is not true. Calvinism vs Arminianism is very important. Evolution is very important. So what makes it on the list? Things that have a string consensus in the Evangelical community. Agreement is the criteria when importance should be.   
One might think that a statement of faith would be timeless and unchanging—especially for a group which claims to rely so fully on an infallible and inspired Bible—but evangelical statements of faith tend to change over time as the borders of evangelicalism change. Because that’s what these statements of faith are for—policing borders, determining who is in and who is out. Can you be an evangelical and support marriage equality? Can you be an evangelical and support women’s right to choose? Can you be an evangelical and believe in gender equality? Can you be an evangelical and believe in evolution? Where do these borders lay?
This is just something most evangelicals don't understand. I am reminded of an article on How John Calvin Made Me Catholic where someone studying for a PhD in church history was shocked to find that 16th century Calvinism is very different from modern Calvinism. He was better informed that most Calvinists but he had no idea his faith was really only about 200 years old. Yet his Calvinism which came out of the Great Awakening in the US was very different from my Calvinism which came out of Holland.
I ran into these borders myself when I was in college. It was there I became a theistic evolutionist. When my parents found out, they looked at me with a level of sheer disappointment that would crush any child’s heart. It was clear—very clear—that they believed my salvation was one the line, and also that I was no longer in their tribe, no longer a part of their self-conceived group. I had transgressed the borders of belonging they had drawn around their faith, their interpretation of evangelicalism, their idea of what an evangelical is. I didn’t know then, but known now, that there was a century-long precedent for this. When evangelicals’ fundamentalist ancestors of the 1920s waged battle over evolution, they made their lines clear—and these, at the time, were brand new lines that had not been drawn before.
This is how it goes. We have an emotional reaction when someone has rejected what seems to be a central tenant of our faith. Yet the church can help here. It can tell us the church is big enough to allow different answers on this question. The Catholic church does this on the evolution question. Yet with no church the emotional reaction goes unchecked. Everyone becomes their own pope. If nobody decides what is important then everyone must decide for themselves. 
In that light, it is interesting that Samaritan’s Purse does not mention the age of the earth in their statement of faith. They would, presumably, be okay with a theistic evolutionist working for them provided that person is against marriage equality and anti-abortion. The boundaries they draw differ slightly from those drawn by my parents, from those drawn by 1920s fundamentalists, and from those drawn by seminaries that require an affirmation of complementation gender relations (i.e., a rejection of gender equality). Each specific evangelical ministry, college, or magazine draws its lines slightly differently, each choosing its own particulars.
The truth is that they copy from each other. Nobody wants to make these calls on their own. Still it is a fair point that there is no claim of infallibility and some variation. Over a long period of time the variation is quite significant. 
Yet defining the faith is not something we want to risk being wrong about. Look at Libby Anne's parents drawing the line in the sand on evolution. It turns out they were wrong. They stood by their faith despite the rift it created with their daughter. That rift eventually led to her becoming an atheist. You don't want to be wrong when you are telling people this is a doctrine you cannot compromise on. Really you don't just need a consistent answer. You need an infallible answer. 
Let’s step away from this history and turn back to Samaritan’s Purse, because there’s one more thing to be said. Check out their about section:
The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) gives a clear picture of God’s desire for us to help those in desperate need wherever we find them. After describing how the Samaritan rescued a hurting man whom others had passed by, Jesus told His hearers, “Go and do likewise.” For over 40 years, Samaritan’s Purse has done our utmost to follow Christ’s command by going to the aid of the world’s poor, sick, and suffering. We are an effective means of reaching hurting people in countries around the world with food, medicine, and other assistance in the Name of Jesus Christ. This, in turn, earns us a hearing for the Gospel, the Good News of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
Can I just say that this is a precisely backwards interpretation of this parable? In the story, the Samaritan, and not the Jewish religious leaders of the day, is the one who stops to help an injured traveler, putting him up in an inn with his own money. What was a Samaritan? The Samaritans were considered heretics by the Jews. They had transgressed the Jews’ borders of belonging and were outside of them. Partly it was their ancestry that was at issue, but their theology was distinct and different enough to be a problem as well. Additionally, the Samaritan did not take the opportunity to preach to the man he rescued. Indeed, he did not in any way approach his service to this injured traveler as an opportunity to evangelicalism.
I would not say this is a backwards interpretation of the parable. I agree with her that it is a stretch to tie it to evangelism. We are to love people unconditionally. Yet we can predict that such love might lead to some people becoming Christian. That is not a bad thing to think. Yet Jesus does not inject that into His story at all. In fact, His story associates love with bad theology. He indicates that loving is more important. 
It is highly ironic that a ministry named Samaritan’s Purse would create theological borders intended to keep today’s Samaritans—i.e. anyone evangelicals consider heretical—out of their organization.
This is just drawing the wrong lesson from the parable. Love matters more than theology. It does not follow that theology does not matter at all. Like the quote on the top of the blog says, love without truth degenerates into sentimentality. The church needs to be a community that knows what it believes. No problem there. The problem is that Evangelicalism can't know that without going beyond scripture and therefore contradicting itself.