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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

I Don't Care What Calvin Says (You're Right; Lent Is A Popish Practice)

There's this. And he's right, you know. Calvin and Edwards, not to mention countless others, spared no hostility for these practices. It makes sense for them to do so; their very indulgence, stripped of sensual vanity, suggests soteriological participation that is utterly antithetical to Reformation convictions. Own it. This was the point of the Reformation: to strip Christian practices of any semblance of human contribution to the "finished work of Christ." This is shorthand for, "Grace unmediated, undeserved, unmingled with human effort, applied by faith alone outside of us." Did I miss anything?

But let me humbly suggest that insofar as this evangelical dabbling in the ancient ways is fueled by ignorance, it is a good thing. It's these Reformation distinctives that deserve challenge. Those commitments beg the question, when the two competing ways of salvation are placed side-by-side. I will frankly say that you are only preferring one because you've been taught it's "the gospel." Here's the million dollar question: Who sent them? The truth is, no one did. They claimed Christ had sent them, while they sent themselves.

I can only say that history made a lot more sense when I stopped presuming I knew "the gospel," when I stopped caring what John Calvin (and others) said.

"I Believe The Bible" Isn't Good Enough

No, this is not another Sola Scriptura post, although frankly, I never tire of writing those. Sorry. No, this is about what the Bible is. If you start from the beginning, it becomes obvious very quickly that something interesting is going on. If we understand the context of the people who wrote this, we can see that the driving purpose of the creation story and of the whole Pentateuch in general, is a liturgical polemic against the other gods of the ancient near East. We need not even take a position as to whether it was written by God, and that he demands our allegiance as a result. That could be a separate question. But someone human wrote these books in a particular time in a particular place for a particular reason. It behooves us to understand that in all its complexity as best we can, especially if we believe it is breathed out by God. That may seem counterintuitive, but if we think about it, it makes sense in this way: if God ultimately composed these stories, then the human elements of their construction are but modes or tools of His communication, and therefore, take on a much greater significance in themselves, since they become an inextricable part of the theological purpose.
It is altogether fashionable for atheists of a certain stripe to portray Christians and others as deluded fools, who believe this story "just because". Not only is this incorrect and naïve, but it reveals a sort of rigid thinking which is the counterpart to various fundamentalisms of a Christian sort.
I think the best reason to believe the Bible is true is because it is the product of a community that has been formed and sustained by the divine initiative. As I reflect upon it, it seems an altogether Catholic way of thinking about it, and that is all to the good, because I'm Catholic. Indeed, we would be hard-pressed to find a more majestic story in all of literature, and that in itself should cause even the most hardened cynic to wonder if in fact it might be true. The conscious self-awareness of the children of Abraham who composed this story and remain its main subject is evidence, albeit circumstantial, of divine purpose and preservation.
The people who recorded this story had no conception of "reasonable atheism." In fact, they would have seen this as a contradiction. Therefore, why should we accost Moses and company, to "prove" a theism they would have assumed? It seems a fool's errand to try to use the Scriptures in this manner. In fact, the Bible simply says, "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." (Psalm 14:1)
Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas would seem better suited for those discussions, and I admit, I am not equipped to reproduce their thinking. But it seems to me that a certain flavor of atheism which regards theism as indefensible, and beneath the dignity of human intellectuals, is simply arrogance in other garb.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Atheist Naturalism Might Have Sounded Good, But...

When God speaks to you directly, that pretty much ends that. Fine, I was curious about God; my reason told me that He must be there, but I didn't know anything much about Him. We were not religious; my mother will tell you her childhood home was atheist, but that isn't true. My grandfather became an "atheist" when some people who don't speak for Jesus told a young lad that he was too young to receive baptism, too young to enter into a loving personal friendship with the Lord of the universe. (Baptize your children,--or, I should say, have them baptized--brethren; if you don't, you're putting an arbitrary human thing on to when that relationship can begin.) He may not be the best Christian I know, but he has been the sorriest excuse for an atheist his entire life. And that is a good thing.

I read this book when I was 17. With all due respect, it's a terrible book. Even at 17, I reasoned that if God existed, He must be all-powerful. There must be a better explanation for suffering than to deny it. This was after God spoke, anyway. I would have had to believe I was crazy, and that is something, joking aside, that I'm not able to do.

This is why Hume and Russell hold no charm for me, but as agitators. They are deeply invested in denying what I know by personal experience. Not that my senses are enough, but when I read the Bible, I knew it was the same Jesus who had spoken to me.

I don't suppose I'm the best apologist to atheists; frankly, most of the ones I've met are unhappy and angry people. Goodness is fairly obvious to observe (or its lack) and I cannot account for its reality with a materialist explanation.

The circumstantial evidence of the Apostles is all I need for the reasonableness of Christ's resurrection from the dead. These dejected men, who'd followed him at the cost of everything, initially--they turned around and became bold proclaimers, after something--Someone--convinced them they'd been right all along.

Why?

One question I'm continually asked is, "How can you follow all those rules?" Honestly, the more I think about this question, the funnier it is to me. Because the fundamental misunderstanding of the whole thing springs from how ordinary people--especially those for whom practicing Christians are like an alien species--view religion. They are quite aware that there are people involved in such things, but are quite suspicious of the idea that the divine has anything to do with it. That's fine, as far as it goes, but the question would naturally suggest itself: "What if it's real?" What if there is a divine Person at the heart of this entire enterprise? If God is like that which has been revealed to us concerning him, then my only answer to the question is and could be, "What rules?"
If you have ever been in love, even if it has not been returned, you know what it does to you. You would run through a wall just to be with that person. No matter how great the obstacle, you'd find a way. Perhaps a great number of obstacles have been placed in the way, but that is nothing to the one who loves. But we have to take the analogy one step further, because those burdens are not simply hoops that we jump through in order to attain a greater goal. In this case, the love is so powerful that there are no hoops. God is Love. I do not have to put trust in any man unless that man is Christ. I do not countenance any sin, least of all my own, because it impedes me from reaching the one I love.
We might have in our minds the words, "divine" and "human," and when we think of these words, they are in a sort of contrast, because our experience teaches us that we are indeed very sinful. But we need to recall that the Lord himself took on flesh, and that he was not afraid to keep it, even after he was raised in glory and seated at the right hand of the Father. So when we think of our humanity, frankly, we should think first of His.
The question that occupies me, the one that I never tire of asking myself is, "What is real? Is this real? Has God spoken? What has he said?" If indeed he has been faithful to us, then his condescension to us is a matter of the utmost importance. His willingness to be with us becomes an all embracing reality, a consuming fact of being. This may be hard for some of you to believe, and I can tell you at least that I sympathize, even if I cannot empathize. It does not appear that this world we have made for ourselves has a compelling answer to these questions. It is not enough to say that the revelation of Jesus Christ simply charms us more deeply than something else might. It is rather to say that the singular reality of his person explains what it means to be truly human, what it means to be truly alive, and I can tell you that more than anything, I desire to be truly alive.
Once I was described by a friend in marketing as the "ideal customer," because I am intensely brand loyal. I have an addictive personality. If I really like something, it consumes me, in a certain sense. There is a certain intensity about me that makes people nervous. But I cannot imagine a more human thing, a more proper thing, than to be unreservedly intense about the things that matter. Why do I follow all these rules? Why don't you ask me why I get out of bed in the morning? The answer is the same: because I have love to find; I have a destiny to meet; I must become what I am not now.