Saturday, August 07, 2010

I found myself reading Thomas Aquinas and John Henry Newman (please permit me to 'Protestantize' them by leaving off their honorifics) where they lamented and denounced the loss in some quarters of a so-called "dogmatic principle." I'm not going to find it and quote it here, but we can see with a little effort that in matters of religion, we have two basic choices in how we approach the issue: either the process/effort earnestly pursued becomes paramount--in which case specific truth claims are superfluous or even harmful--or truth and error in religion is possible, error has consequences, and is, to say the least, undesirable. When this journey of mine began--I have to say--it was provoked by a sudden realization that I saw the abyss of relativism right before me, that much of what we Protestants had rejected had unwittingly left us prey to an abiding uncertainty that persisted even as we did our best to be faithful Christians who heeded what was revealed to us. It isn't enough to lament the visible disunity of Christians, to pray that God would heal them. Even if we should work tirelessly for as much union as is possible (and that is indeed noble) it isn't enough. Why? Because the very fact of that disunity leaves the gospel of Christ in doubt. I have a great many friends all across Christendom, if such a thing can be spoken of, and I'm very proud of that, in a sense. There is something about the love of Christ that unites the hearts of his people in such a way that they feel compelled by their calling to pour themselves out in seeking after unity. I have two basic ideas that, in themselves, are fueling my sympathy for Catholicism. 1. I frankly doubt the perpiscuity of Scripture; it produces no actual unity between the non-Catholic communities, though in hermeneutics they share a common heritage. And limiting the applicability of perspicuity to matters of "salvation" (meaning soteriology) is fruitless, because there is no aspect of union with Christ that is minor or irrelevent. As such, unity is assumed where it does not exist. 2. I cannot hang the core tenets of my faith ultimately on my private judgment. If all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture, and our final arbiter is the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture, it becomes imperative that we establish objectively what it says. I recognize that the hermeneutical process is a good faith effort that God is pleased to reward oftimes. But that is pretty weak ground to build a theology upon. Subjectivism is the obvious result. And how does the Christian submit himself to the Word, when he is the arbiter of what it commands? The Roman dogmas do not prove themselves, but it is worth commendation that Rome speaks precisely on these points. Outside of a visible, infalliable Church entrusted to define the deposit of faith when challenged, how many interpreters does it take before a "me and my Bible" subjectivism becomes reasonable exegesis? Ironically, it is the weight of ecclesiastical authority in Protestant churches that prevents theology from proceeding outward from liturgical and devotional practice to systematic theology. (See "Federal Vision Controversy.") OK, that's enough.

Friday, August 06, 2010

5 Completely Pointless, Random Mind-Dumps From My Brain To Your Face

5. I don't know if Rob Bell preaches anything close to the gospel, but I listened to the first ten minutes of one sermon, and at least he is funny.

4. I didn't know that Anglican prelates hung out at hipster churches.

3. If he is turning 40, how come he looks 25?

2. Cards game, 21st. Good (looking) company. Done and done.

1. Wendy's Spicy Chicken. Good things, good things.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Note to the "fake profile, 21-years old, now attending Covenant Seminary, porntastic spam-bots" of Facebook: I may be lonely, but I am not in fact that stupid. Every Covenant Seminary student knows that even if there were a girl that "hot" (if you will pardon the word choice) she'd be engaged in 3.4 seconds. Besides, your weird "two last names" or "two first names" or the ever-popular, "I have an exotic foreign name you will find irresistible" gives you away. I hope you don't mind if I politely ignore your friend request; even if you do exist, we haven't met. If we had, and the word "friends" could be reasonably affixed as an appellation to our association, well, you should be so lucky. [Intriguing Side-Rant: I had to look up the word "irresistible." Doesn't it seem plausible that one could spell the end of that word 'able'? I must confess, I was tempted. But I looked at it; it just wasn't quite right. I spelled it correctly, looking at it again and thought, "I don't like the spelling of this word, either." And so, I went to one of my favorite websites,, for the verdict. And so it is.]
If I had known that Gwyneth Paltrow could sing like this, I would have gone to see that movie. Of course, we have to thank Smokey for writing it. She is joined on this track by Huey Lewis, the lead for 1980s rock band Huey Lewis and the News, one of the true nice guys in music, by all accounts. In case you forgot, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds is the epitome of cool, and he proves it by joining Gwyneth on another track from that soundtrack. The words needed to change the the sex of the protaganist are kind of janky, as I like to say, but I've got no complaints.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

I'm up to page 84 in Jurgens on the Fathers. That's what he should have done: named it "Jurgens on the Fathers." How delightfully pompous! [You should be done with that whole first volume, you bum.--ed.] I'm in the midst of two pieces for OFB, and decided to do a third. I have nothing earth-shattering to report, though I will say it was quite intriguing how things went down with those cats [Internal Debate on Slang Usage: I'm quite semi-famous for referring to groups of people (especially men) as "cats" when discussing some matter of life, e.g. "Those cats was/were reading the Shepherd of Hermas, yo [in the liturgical free-for-all before the canon was settled]." My question is, would it be more appropriate to spell it "kats" to avoid confusion with actual cats? Justin Klein seems to favor "kats." I suppose I could say that "kats" is the papist spelling in this context, while "cats" is the more arrow-straight proper Reformed spelling. Predictably, I kind of like "kats" better. My affection for actual cats does cause a bit of linguistic confusion there.] who tried to celebrate Easter on 14 Nisan, though the church had since decided to standardize it to the closest Sunday. Pope Victor told them to knock it off, but they refused, being good Jews who were now also Christians. So Victor was mad, and tried to excommunicate the whole lot of them, and all the churches of Asia Minor. The other bishops were having none of it, and they prevailed upon Victor to take a softer line for the sake of unity and charity. So much for the Pope having absolute, unquestioned power. I think this was in the 170s, by the way. Because by the time of whatever figure I was reading about (St. Theophilus, maybe?) it was no longer an issue. [Score one for the papists.--ed.] Yes, it would seem that this is a perfect example of the Magisterium cooperating with...itself, for the good of the Church. Undercutting the typical Evangelical caricature of a pope-dominated church with no checks and balances. But, to quote Bill Cosby, "I didn't come here to tell you that."
I definitely don't always agree with Anthony Bradley on things. I often think on matters of interest to him lately (race, and the history of racism in the PCA) that it would do him good to admit that part of his motivation for doing this is, "I'm angry that I personally, and my people group in particular, have not acquired the power that we should have in this supposed new age of 'colorblindness.'" Which, by the way, is totally understandable. In short, I agree with 94.6 percent of what he says, and you should listen to him. Over at his blog, a Mr. Callejas was dicussing Don Bosco (Why do I immediately think "Sicilian mob boss" when I write that name?) [Because you've watched "The Godfather" 37 times, and you're obsessed.--ed.] and the veneration the Guatemalans give to a statue of him. I have no opinion on that matter in particular, but I wanted to note that I have two friends duking it out in the comments: the aforementioned Justin Klein and "Jim," who, I'd wager a million dollars, is Jim Butz, an actor of some note, and a colleague at my PCA seminary. Justin knows that he might be abrasive when he's making a point, but he's always worth hearing out. Jim is one of the nicer guys you'll come across, compassionate and thoughtful. My take: They both may be right, insofar as that is possible. Justin is 100% right that Protestants do not understand Catholic doctrine in its context as a faithful Catholic would practice it, and sadly, many Catholics don't, either. But Jim's point is well taken; for one, the Catholic Church is ecclesially unable to say that error has been promulgated by the Church. Obvious Protestant objection: If there was error, how would you see it? For another, I have no doubt whatever that the largely white Protestant origin of our nation (and the rationalism that coexisted with the European version of that at the time) profoundly affects how American Catholics would view the devotional practices of other Catholics. Neither do I doubt that were I Catholic tomorrow and took a trip to Guatemala, what I might witness would give me the yips, the willies, and whatever else. Still, if a Catholic makes a distinction in his mind and heart between "dulia," "hyperdulia," and "latria," without some powerful evidence to the contrary, I have to take him at his word. I am not in a position to render automatically invalid the practices of a Church that has preached Christ to (conservatively) hundreds of millions of people. So far, in my experience with Catholicism and Catholics, I've not had cause to dismiss anything as idolatry. I suppose (and this is a necessary follow-up to my post on Mary) I could be witnessing or practicing idolatry without realizing it, but having reasoned through my feelings as I contemplated the work of Christ, it is highly unlikely. There was a distinct difference in my mind and heart between whatever affection I felt for Mary, and that of Christ (and I did not speak to her). Christ and his Passion (that's for you, papists) dominated. The love was overwhelming. I can only say that the verbal distinction between "dulia" (honor, veneration) and "latria" (worship or sacrifice) became real. At the least, I cannot accuse some of making a distinction without a difference, based on what I saw and felt. Dangerous Jamie asked me, "Is that because you're an evangelical and you know better?" In essence, I see what I want to see. That could be, but I have no burning wish to legitimize a practice viewed in my circles as extraneous at best, and idolatrous at worst. The best I can say is that, in a conversation between a Catholic and an Evangelical, as the Catholic apologist lays out the niceties and puts Mariology in its context, I would turn to him and say, "I know what you mean." In any case, Jim commented on the blog, "I've been to literally thousands of Masses, and they can't save." Respectfully, I answer, "Oh, yes they can." If you can't "get saved" in a Mass, something is wrong. I can't speak to the correctness of particular Catholic practices; I cannot answer the exclusive claims Rome makes to be the true Body of Christ. What I can tell you is that, unless one has made a point to define "the gospel" as something contrary to Catholicism, (that is, necessarily excludes it) one cannot avoid hearing that Christ is the only Savior of sinners. (Which is the gospel, no?) Do I think that the Catholic Church may be too conciliatory toward non-Christian religions with respect to "invincible ignorance"? Maybe. But as to the question of it being distinctly, profoundly Christian, there is no doubt.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

We observed the Lord's Supper today; because of where I am in my faith journey, what used to fill me with joy and expectation now fills me with trepidation and doubt. It is not Our Lord I doubt; may it never be! Rather, I am amazed that we had never considered the validity of our eucharistic celebration. I don't have the information and the means as yet to decide the merits of the Catholic claims, but the fact that I know the contours of those claims, I know how the story will end if they are true, it fills me with boatloads of hesitation when I do the things that we do. The sermon was from Romans 1:16-17: "for I am not ashamed of the gospel..." It was all around a beautiful message. The focal point was this generation and its cynicism, and their great need of Christ. I yearn for them to know him, as I do for people my age who are leaving the Church (any of them) in droves. But it morphed into a "gospel as imputation" sort of thing. First reaction: "Romans does not say that." Second thought: "I don't believe it"--but then, I caught myself, and said, "prove it" and then, "I can't do anything with that." Not that I yearn to add something to the work of Christ; rather, this supposed truth that is alleged to set me free to love and to serve doesn't help me when I know how much I fail the LORD. I'm flat-out not able to simply know that I please Him. I don't doubt for a second God's capacity and willingness to forgive us, to love us, and to smother us in his embrace. But I need you to understand: this extra nos forensic justification doesn't fit with how I have known Him. It's never like that. What I have experienced (granted, this is surely flawed, as with every human thing) is a constant invitation to surrender, to repent, to forsake "all the vain things that charm me most." I have felt his love first and always as a chance to begin again. I am not a garden-variety sinner; I am at war with myself all the time. When I have drawn near to God in worship, it is not a minor adjustment, a time of assurance. It is a time to say, "I have gone completely astray from You, and were I not drowning in Your love and mercy, I would not return." It has seemed like each Lord's Day is like a new conversion. The Westminster Confession of Faith says this about perseverence in its eighteenth chapter: "Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God, and estate of salvation (which hope of theirs shall perish): yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed." The first sentence is quite good; the papists at Trent couldn't say it much better. But it gets ugly at this part: "...may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace..." [my emphasis] It continues further down: "This infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness." Look, fellas, I'm jazzed that you discourage us from libertinism and presumption. The Romish are thrilled. But it sure seems to me you're qualifying this "infalliable assurance" 1000 times over to avoid having to ever apply this to an actual person. I've never met him/her. Maybe I just have to wait a long time for mine. What are these ordinary means? Sacraments? Surely not. Your (our) theology doesn't really allow this, regardless of what you claim. The closest thing we have in this tradition is the Federal Vision, with some of its sacramental, uh, bluntness. But that's heresy, I heard. [Obvious Catholic Retorts to the WCF: 1. If you're going to go "all in" on this imputed righteousness of Christ, why repent? And if we must, then it absolutely cannot be alien righteousness, given once for all. (See also the mindless incoherence of the "Repentance Unto Life" chapter. Blatant contradiction with "Of Justification." The only way out of this without being soft on sin is to make justification and sanctification synonymous, which, we are happy to report, is the Catholic position.) 2. If all this doctrine is so plainly in Scripture, show us where. It's not our fault your "hermeneutical spiral" has no road signs. We applaud the effort, really, but Jason would like to know where he is in said process. Oh, and the Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, and whomever else are (sarcastically) surprised to learn that Reformed theology is so plainly in the Scriptures. Heavy-Handed "Bow to Benedict" Version: 3. Um, how are you the Church again? Were you granted the gift of infalliability when we weren't looking? Succession, anyone? And we really like WLC question #158, but it's quite hilarious, given what we just said.] [Plaintive Catholic Appeal For Familial Affirmation: That whole "synagogues of Satan" crack in chapter XXV, section V, that's not us, right? Right?!]
Anyway, (sorry about the rant) the pastor took a run at the Catholic Eucharist again, and its alleged re-sacrifice of Christ. I got mad the last time, but this time, I decided that this view is pervasive enough that you may want to get your best apologists on the matter, stat. "Uncle Bryan," feel free to attempt it, in the plainest words possible, if you have the time. I read Vonier's book on the matter, and it's over my head, largely. It was an act of good faith and charity to simply glean that the Eucharist is Calvary's cross re-presented. My fellows are not buying it. Finally, I decided to take the elements today. I reasoned that even if this was not Christ's true Eucharist, I know him and love him, and these breadcrumbs will lead me to his altar eventually, if the Catholic Church is correct.