Friday, April 05, 2013

So, Yesterday...

I had lunch with a good friend. Of course it was Red Robin. Why are you even asking me that? [Because you could always haul off and get a steak. We don't know.--ed.] It was a great conversation, hard to even sum up. But we ate and then talked for a couple hours. We ran into DJ The Youth Minister, a classmate from the "Old School" (let the reader understand) and we chatted for a bit. My friend didn't know him. But we lamented that certain "Comrades" of ours are harder to connect with than the president. [You wouldn't eat lunch with the President; stop lying to us.--ed.] Yes, I would. It would be an honor. I can't guarantee that I wouldn't ask a squirm-inducing question or five, but I am a patriotic, civic-minded American. There is a dignity to the office that none of us may disregard or disrespect, if we call ourselves Americans. I digress.

So my friend and I went to Mass a little out of the way. It was in a hospital. Even though I feel a little weird in hospitals, if one thinks about it, there are very few more obvious places to celebrate the sacred mysteries than this, if one reflects on the redemptive power of the Mass.

I thought he was British. He had that way of speaking. I was also thinking that he was suffering from some kind of respiratory illness, this priest. He had trouble with a cough as he went. It was a battle just to speak the words, or that's the way it seemed. For all I know, he just speaks slowly, and was having a bad day. But I have to shoot straight with you: I had the thought that he didn't have long to live. Maybe that's too dramatic; I have no idea.

But it was an effort for him. And the spiritual fruit or insight I was given is precisely this: Who is this Lord Jesus Christ, how glorious is He, that old men go to war against time and their own bodies just to acclaim Him? Perhaps it is not a small thing to offer this sacrifice of praise. We can think this way. Have you ever thought, "What's the big deal about our Mass obligation? It's just words. And surely I won't be condemned for missing one Sunday?" (Exceptions and allowances, as well as details as to the gravity of the obligation, are in your Catechism, paragraph 2181.) But I have eyes to see that small things seeming common are the big things. Whether I feel the desire to go is immaterial to the worthiness of the Person(s) whose glory calls me there. In this case, we were under no obligation at all. But all the better. I mean, would you say that you have had enough of the love of God? That's why it's perhaps the biggest misnomer in the history of religion to call it an "obligation." How silly does it sound? Oh, man! I have to go to Mass to hear all about how much God loves me and the whole world! He wants to bless me and asks for my life, such as it is, in return. How awful! I'm really not trying to guilt anyone here. And if you didn't hear about Jesus' love and His Cross, and the Resurrection and all those things, if you ended up a cog in the impersonal Catholic, Inc., maybe you and I should talk. Because the Church is not an institution for me; it is a communion of Love. It is the place--in us--where God dwells by His Spirit. All I'm saying is, I'm absolutely certain that Tom Brady and his glorious spirals, and his cronies, and other fantastic sweaty dudes doing their thing can't touch that. Not on Sunday, and not any other day, either.

Sometimes, we don't know if we are loved. We doubt whether we are understood, known and loved as we would like to be. Do you ever feel that? Well, He who was despised and rejected by everyone, even his closest friends, knows how we feel. And there is so much love in His victory over sin and death now that He can take our sorrow and alienation and make it a gift to the Father, if we offer it. He wants to utterly drown us in Himself, and I hope we are not unaware. He said, "After I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself." I'd definitely tell President Obama that there's some change I can believe in.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Total Self-Giving In George Michael

[Sensitivity Warning: If sexual sin is a serious problem for you, or could be, don't read this post or do any related thing.] Yeah, you read that right. And I guess I should say that some of you are too young to even know who George Michael is. When I was a kid, he was a massive star. In some ways, when cultural critics complained about the degradation of our culture, they were blaming this guy. Fair enough; he deserves some of that.

Sex was/is a big part of what he sang about. And it could be blunt ("I Want Your Sex") and disturbing in many ways ("Father Figure") but even here, it is not without insight. When you listen to this, listen to how he describes what he wants, especially in the first verse. Friends, we shouldn't be afraid to say that total openness and intimacy is what we should experience in the marital act. Vulnerability, even. The culture's problem isn't that it doesn't see the power of eros; we definitely do, at least at first. The problem is that it never becomes anything else.

The picture of Christ's love for the Church in Ephesians 5 has to be an effective one if we are to understand. That's why the feelings and the pleasure are so powerful; when God is trying to say something important, He definitely chooses ways that work. It's an expression of his deep love and fullness. The special shame that comes with sexual sin is precisely because the end that the sin obscures is so good! We Christians are not ashamed of our bodies and what they do; God did that designing. But the Church speaks against anything that takes the gift and makes it an end in itself. When a person does this, they've changed the object of their own affection, and made it themselves. They don't even have another person as that object, limiting as that would be. A sign is not a sign if it stops pointing at something else.

Most of our "sexual culture" if I can call it that glorifies sex and pleasure as ends. Essentially, we're using each other to worship ourselves. And if there is anything good about seeking transcendence in sexual expression as articulated in popular music, at least someone is still aiming for transcendence.

We need grace and instruction to know that we'll never get there via lust, masturbation, pornography, contraception, and the rest. I think even pop stars like George Michael want to give themselves completely; they just don't know how. And if you've experienced some aspect of sex in any way that was pleasurable, it's like a drug. If you don't experience a Love that calls you into deeper communion that transcends the everyday, you might stick with the pleasure. I don't blame you. Pleasure is awesome.

I'm barely scratching the surface here, I know. In one stand-up routine, Bill Cosby recounted his wife's academic credentials, that she was excellent but not exceptional. Like her, I'm giving "an 85 answer." I'm that guy. If you need a better articulation, read this. [You're just trying to find something redemptive in George Michael because you are a huge fan.--ed.] That may be. But it doesn't mean it's not there to be found.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

I'm Not A Feminist

If I read another pointless article about evangelicals and feminism, I am going to freak out, myself. Look, evangelicals: You know what your problem is? You don't have the tools within your theology to articulate a healthy anthropology, so your borrow it hodge-podge from politics. This is what happens when you don't have the Church and its Tradition. This is why every evangelical sounds like he or she is trying to split the middle on everything. Secular politics drives the discussion, and not the other way around.

I'm not a feminist, but you'd think I would have to be, to read crap like this. Me just telling you that forces me to say that no, I do not favor/apologize for rape or any other thing. I don't have any idea how much money a woman working outside the home should make in comparison to a man. I may have political commitments which define what I will not do in terms of means in addressing inequities real or perceived, but the truth is, it's the wrong discussion. Here's what I want to know:

Why are you choosing to be defined by what you do and produce? I actually agree that feminism's main goal is the equality of the sexes. The question is, "To what end?" Is the destiny of any man or woman a boardroom? We have "equality," we are in a good place when the numbers on a check are the same for all? Look, I love capitalism and free markets and all that stuff. But what is the true purpose or end of it all? Surely "equality" is not an end in itself. Dare I say, neither are markets. Which means that in them or in any other thing, we celebrate their proper functioning for an end.

How much of the current debate between the sexes (or more accurately, about the sexes) is framed in the negative? "Freedom from oppression," "Freedom from sexual violence," "Freedom from male domination," "Freedom from feminism"? Freedom for what? I'd say we have achieved equality: equality in nihilistic misery.

And this author shouldn't think I've failed to notice that he's written for The Daily Beast. How many non-liberals get away with concealing their political ideologies when presenting their "Christianity?" Or do some of you honestly believe only "Right-leaning" politics should be purified by Jesus?

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

It's Not My Debate, But...

Clever, cheeky, papist. Dr. Taylor Marshall had similar thoughts on the Federal Vision within the PCA back in 2007. It doesn't serve for our purposes to ask which view is better or worse; the questions are:

1. Is the Federal Vision a faithful recapitulation of historic Reformed theology, or at least a permitted variant? (As Jason points out, this has now been answered with a "yes.")

2. As a result, what does this mean for the historic disagreement between the Reformed and the Catholic Church on the role of charity in justification? (In other words, it would appear that the only way to stand apart from the Catholic Church on this issue is to insist that the Federal Vision is an aberration, that the traditional confessional stance represents authentic Reformational thinking.)

On the implications of point (2), R. Scott Clark is 100% correct. Various people may dislike the pastoral implications of that, but the theological challenge is to account in a principled way for the change. If it is inauthentic, then its implications for the Reformed are minimal; however, the assertion that it had always represented one authentic stream within that tradition (now accepted) undercuts the basis to remain separate from the Catholic Church on that very point.

Some pastoral theologians in the broadly Reformed tradition have chosen essentially to accept the new ideas uncritically, unaware of the implications for development of development of doctrine within Reformed communities, not especially concerned with preserving the historic confessionalism. The Catholic members of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, quite aware that the evangelicals were not especially limited by historic battles and moorings, essentially re-stated Tridentine Catholic theology, betting that these leaders would affirm it in different words. And they were right! For my part, that is what I see the Catholic Church doing in the Joint Declaration on Justification with the Lutherans, as well. It's a bit unfair, in that way. But, contra Chuck Colson, Protestant theology has not been adopted by the Catholic Church; rather, Catholic theology has been adopted by Protestants, out of ignorance, and gone unrecognized, because its implications have been muted by an ecumenism of non-return.

Extreme. Extremely Awesome.

What that guy said. I can't wait to hear how this isn't "real" Catholicism, or the "real" Vatican II, from someone who is not Catholic. Ahem. Lest you think I am some kind of traditionalist, the truth is, I've only been to one Mass in the Extraordinary Form in my whole (brief) Catholic life. "Novus Ordo" is not a swear-word. I believe every pope so far reigned/reigns as the legitimate successor of Peter, and I love Vatican II.

So, my guess is, the people who say this don't have the stomach for US political debate, and they may barely have the stomach to say, "I disagree." They may fear anyone who doesn't get called "reasonable" on the opinion pages of major newspapers, and, having noticed that whack-jobs they dislike often have religious motivations, they may think they do a service by attempting to ostracize groups of Catholics in like manner. But if you don't actually know where the religious center is, (and why) you're only guessing. And importing political categories (inappropriately, anyway) which are themselves skewed.

Never mind.


I should say that commenters should feel more than free to outline/articulate their own positions on a thing in the comments on any issue of interest, if something linked is judged to be unrepresentative. Let's do define terms, however.

Mathison, Redux: The only thing I could reasonably articulate when I read The Shape Of Sola Scriptura was:

1. Oberman's taxonomy would be damning if it were true;

2. I doubt Catholics conceive of the relation between Scripture and Tradition this way;

3. Even if I accepted it as true--which (2) would render uncharitable anyway, I have not learned anything Catholic that moves beyond the scope of Oberman's "Tradition-1." In fact, I related this all to Dr. Cross at the time.

N.B. I was not Catholic at the time, nor had I even read Mathison's Chapter 8 (if memory serves) where he expertly took down the "Solo Scriptura" position, and attempted to distinguish his position (Sola Scriptura) from that one. All that is to say, to say that Mathison has failed to distinguish them does not mean one is Catholic, nor that no other defense is possible.

But in fairness, I had already suspected that the ecclesiological-epistemic fig-leaf that is "derivative authority" was a distinction without a difference, in that the arbiter of the meaning and authority of the creeds was the individual. If that is true, its use as an ameliorative for the excesses of individualism in hermeneutics is cosmetic. Again, these conclusions have very little to do with the Catholic Church.

It only changes when one accepts the Creed/Council without qualification (without the implicit assumption that "Scripture" [according to you/me] governs its use) and traces both of those back to the episcopal college and its head, the Bishop of Rome. When one sees this, and accepts that the data of revelation must be mediated by him/them, and submits, then one is Catholic, and not before.

So, on a personal note, I don't think it's fair to claim that I must've decided to be Catholic, and that's why I'm so rough on Sola Scriptura or Mathison. And I'll try not to chuckle that you think your doctrine of Sola Scriptura is best represented by a Lutheran, rather than a Teaching Elder in your own tradition. Ahem.

Monday, April 01, 2013

A Thought

If Called to Communion burns forests of strawmen, and is controlled by a Svengali who manipulates poor Reformed seminarians with false promises of epistemic certainty, maybe I should link this guy instead. [It would never work. Besides, he'll screw it up by making him a contributor.--ed.] I know, right?

The lovely part of it all is that even if everything you could say about them or me is entirely true, Truth doesn't take a vacation. Or as Arinze put it, "The Holy Spirit does not go on holiday."

Don't blame me; I was impelled toward catholic unity. In my snarky way, I was trying to say that your arguments hold up about as well as an ice-cream sandwich in a sauna. [C'mon, you were legitimately mad.--ed.] OK, fine. I was mad. I still am. I'm mad that an entire tradition that I was openly and proudly a part of got taken apart so easily. I'm mad that hundreds of men will receive graduate degrees in theology, and still not have the faintest idea what they are talking about with respect to the Catholic Church. It actually annoys me that I can't say this truth without being dismissed precisely because I'm Catholic.

The Catholic Church's best theologians understand Reformed theology better than Reformed theologians do, in my opinion. They certainly understand it better than the Reformed understand Catholicism. Granted, my teacher was gifted with brilliance and an inhuman work ethic, but I did expect to be able to correct him on some points. No luck. He could have taught my seminary classes, I'm telling you. But that's another gift of the Catholic Church: "heresy" is not just a word we apply to things we don't like, (ahem) but it's a false opinion that can be seen false pretty easily in comparison. Of course, you have to have "true truth" to know something is false in the first place, so that could be a problem for some of you.

Did you hear the one about how Keith Mathison doesn't represent Reformed theology? [Yeah. Wait, didn't he work for Ligonier Ministries?--ed.] Yeah. [Didn't Dr. Sproul himself say Mathison was free to die now, given that Given For You was such a sympathetic and accurate portrayal of Reformed eucharistic theology, and Calvin's in particular?--ed.] That's what I read. [So I'd say that his book on Sola Scriptura stands a reasonable chance of being an accurate representation.--ed.] I would think so. [So, I don't think it's your fault if it falls apart under scrutiny.--ed.] Others seem to disagree.

The funny part is, I was pretty sympathetic to his anti-Catholic rants at the time. The fact that he hoists himself on his own petard has nothing whatever to do with Catholicism as such, therefore. Because you don't have to be Catholic to see it. Sigh. It's still my fault, I guess.

The Night Of Doom

Dude, are you gonna do it? [No.--ed.] So, you're Reformed? [No. I'm gonna stay in RCIA. I'll go through it again.--ed.] Take all the time you need. What are you stuck on? [I don't know.--ed.] I thought we didn't need 100% certainty to go forward in faith? [Let me paraphrase you slightly: You don't throw the inerrant character of revelation under the bus for the sake of hermeneutical humility.--ed.] I couldn't have said it better myself. Eat that, Newbigin! It was pride, anyway.

This provokes all sorts of irritated reactions in me. It seems all you have to do is know the right people, throw in a few stock phrases about 'loving people,' 'this world is not our home,' etc. while insisting you're an evangelical who's 'just asking questions,' and you can believe whatever you want. You'll probably get a book deal.

Or maybe...The Bible was never meant to be used this way. I know, crazy. Sooner or later, someone will have to face the real implications of Sola Scriptura. Well, we are facing them. But its adherents would rather argue politics than deal with the fact that they can't answer their own questions.

I could hear myself saying, I could be completely wrong. There is no reason to prefer Reformed theology exegetically over any other one. My education is supposed to be the basis for my authority to tell people what the Bible says? Why? I'm not even good at interpreting it. Besides, methods and expertise didn't help Bultmann.

What's wrong with people like Bart Ehrman and your garden-variety fundamentalist is not the level of epistemological certainty, but its location, and a failure to recognize the ecclesial and social implications of that certainty. Ehrman has given up; others have closed ranks. And to be an ecclesial Christian in order to avoid both errors only gives the question of history (and the nature of the Church) all the more salience.

On a personal level, it's quite true that I may lack a certain circumspection at times. That doesn't relieve any of you from the responsibility of saying why you believe what you do. I read that somewhere.

Here We Go!

5 Opening Day Thoughts

5. We get to find out just how good Adam Wainwright is. It's his team, now.

4. Starting at 9 PM CDT, I am not available.

3. Time to make the leap, Mr. Garcia.

2. What's wrong with Freese now?

1. I miss Chris Carpenter.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday

5 Easter Sunday Thoughts

5. The truth is, I applied the Resurrection of Our Lord by sleeping in.

4. You can't always get what you want.

3. I am a sissy.

2. "So now I'm back to what I knew before you/Somehow, the city doesn't look the same."

1. He is risen!