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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

5 Obvious (And Not So Obvious) Reactions To Catholic Theology/Ecclesiology If One Is Protestant

5. "Seriously, you believe that?"

4. "That's beautiful, but I don't see that in the Bible."

3. "The Church is infalliable...really? Watch the news lately? [After being informed of the "faith and morals" qualification] Great. Now, with a few more qualifications, your dogmas can be completely impervious to actual historical evidence."

2. "Lecture us about how we're not 'apostolic' when you and the Orthodox figure out which one of you is the true Church."

1. "Al Gore should have made 'An Inconvenient Truth' about this $#!@ right here. Polar bears are much more important. Yeah." (No.)
I have a friend who, God bless him, doesn't handle honest questions and debate very well. I've annoyed him severely on 2 separate occasions. I should have known. But it wasn't my fault. We were listening to that great new hymn, "In Christ Alone" when we came to this line: "Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied." And I couldn't stop myself, saying, "That's the only line that gives me the slightest hesitation." And then there we were, discussing atonement theology and soteriology. The next line in fact makes even less sense in Reformed theology: "For every sin on Him was laid..." And we talked about whether it was fitting for the God who is Love to require obedience that he does not, and will not, enable by his grace. Because, of course, in Reformed theology, the atonement of Christ is effectual for the elect only. And since the elect are brought through the ordo salutis monergistically without cooperation on their parts, (at least until after justification) we have a whole host of interesting problems with A) the apparent meaning of many Scripture passages; and 2) whether or not this makes us determinists in the philosophical sense, and how that affects the character of God in our view. (For we dare not say God is the author of sin.) Catholic theology as I understand it (limited, ahem) makes a distinction between sanctifying grace/justifying grace and actual grace, with actual grace preceding the justifying grace, with the purpose of moving the will. This actual grace, given to all in sufficient but not equal measure, can be resisted, contra Reformed theology. (And the distinction in kinds of grace is not made in Reformed theology. One will hear of "special grace" unto salvation for the elect, and "common grace" for all without exception in Reformed theology, but the difference is that common grace is not meant to be understood as leading to a grace which justifies; to borrow a Scriptural phrase, God's grace either "makes you alive with Christ" [paraphrase of Eph. 2:5] or it "leaves you without excuse" [based on Romans 1:20].) "Union with Christ" is the buzzword in Reformed theology, which helps explain all the parts of the order of salvation without having to make a bloody mess of the Scriptural text by forcing it into systematic categories at every point. And it has been a gift from God Himself for many people trying to understand and progress in their sanctification. However, it strongly implies participation by its very nature to some, and is thus rejected. It implies theosis. Even for those who accept the phrase and some of its implications, we then must answer the question of how this squares with a view of justification that is 1) forensic/legal in nature; 2) once-occurring and unchanging; and 3) monergistic. No one could fairly accuse the best of Reformed theology of being unconcerned about sanctification or cavalier about sin. In fact, on a personal note, worship at any of the churches where I've been a member; "lax" is not a word I'd use. BUT...given statements about the seriousness of sin and the necessity of repentance, one cannot help but think that something has to give. God will not be mocked, nor will the perishable inherit the imperishable, so either our formulations of justification must be "nuanced" to fit with the reality of daily experience and the reality of apostasy, or they are plain wrong in the first place. My friend I spoke of earlier asked a good question, even granting Catholic notions of grace: "What then, ultimately, is the difference between me who accepts the gospel, and someone else who rejects it?" He continued, (paraphrase) "You're forced to say there is something good about me apart from saving grace which makes the difference." The Catholic helpfully interjects that grace changes a man and allows him to participate, so that his justice is truly his, in some real sense. My friend concluded thus: "I don't know; to me, either God does it, or it doesn't happen. You can't accept or reject something if you are dead." Alive or dead, no in between. I must admit, it is compelling when framed thus. What is having actual grace, but not sanctifying grace in Catholic theology? Being mostly dead? (Ha Ha.) If the Reformed notions of grace and justification can lead to presumption, the same Catholic notions lead to a complete lack of comfort in Christ, it would seem. [You won't know until you try.--ed.] Whose side are you on anyway?
Alas, The Wedding Weekend Extravaganza is over! Congratulations to Tamara and JJ, and Evan & Stacey. (Smith) Note to JJ: Feel more than free to introduce me more formally to your cousin Brooke. Ahem. [You know nothing at all about her.--ed.] True. And it was only a few dances. But there should be warning labels that come with beauty like that. I hate when that happens. She also stated at the end of the evening that I was "Rock Chalk", which, note well, is a high compliment from a member of a family that is loyal to the University of Kansas. [Kansas?! You've gone mad!--ed.] All I'm saying is, if I ran into her again, I wouldn't mind. Added bonus if the words "church" or "Jesus" don't make her vomit. In any case, the second wedding was like going to a party with friends. The Smith/Meek wedding, by contrast, felt like a family reunion. In the best and purest sense. The Smith patriarch (let the reader understand) said to me, "You're part of the family, you know that?" Funny, that, since I didn't marry anyone! But well taken. "Rabbi Tbone" is just like that. I feel I've been adopted. We shared many other things that I can't talk about here. Just know that,--if you didn't know it before--"swimming the Tiber" seems like the dumbest thing I could ever do, in the face of all this love. I was also honored to spend some time with 'Tbone's eldest, Martyn, and his wife, Zoe. I share in Thom's sadness that we won't see them again probably for eighteen months. Martyn and Zoe help the "least of these" in the UK; Zoe is British; Martyn just sounds like he is! But I promise I'll stay in touch, Martyn, and I won't call you 'Marty'! [You forgot to ask him what he thinks of David Cameron.--ed.] He can't vote for him, anyway. And good for you, Martyn; I couldn't renounce the USA, either. But it was also good to chat up some old friends, and some of the attendees prettier than Martyn. [I'm sure he's hurt and disappointed.--ed.] Sure he is. But congrats to Evan & Stacey (and Tamara & JJ). May each family have 17 children, for the good of the world, and in defiance of certain haughty US presidents.