Category Archives: Doctrine

Jesus is NOT your best buddy!!!

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dwight_longnecker

Rev Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England.
Fr Longenecker was brought up in an Evangelical Protestant home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Fundamentalist Protestant Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson on the Isle of Wight. Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, SC.

“I remember singing that sweet old gospel song, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and I’m not denying that Jesus is our friend and brother, but there is something a bit disconcerting about being too comfortable, too familiar with Jesus. He might be the good shepherd and gentle Jesus, meek and mild, but He’s the shepherd is also the Judge and while He’s mild, there is also something wild about Him.

Aslan is not a tame lion and Christ the Tiger is not a cuddly kitten.

I’m not sure where in the New Testament it indicates that Jesus is our best buddy. When I read the gospels He certainly went to parties, was sociable and was very popular, but He is always treated either with extreme respect or with disdain and fear. Even with His apostles there is a distance. He loves people, but He doesn’t come across to me as full of bonhomie, high fives, fist bumps, and hearty slaps on the back. There is always something of the desert about Him.

Yet the predominant image of Jesus in our American Evangelical society is that of “friend and brother”. People are told they can have a ‘personal relationship with Jesus, and one gets the impression that this is of the same order as the sort of relationship you have with your best buddy from high school days. It’s almost Jesus the work colleague, or Jesus the team leader.

I’m sure that’s all well and good up to a point, but I doubt if it’s really a Scriptural image, nor is it an image that was popular throughout Church history. The closest we get to a chummy, up close and personal Jesus is the intimacy of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and certainly we Catholics love the tenderness of Jesus of the Sacred Heart.

The more dominant image in the New Testament is one of Jesus Christ glorified. The readings for the Ascension emphasize the ‘cosmic Christ’. He is the One under Whose feet God has put all things. He is the One Who has claimed dominion over all the spiritual forces in the heavenly places. He is the One through Whom all things exist, Who is in all and through all. In other words, He is Christ the King, Christ Pantocrator.

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Furthermore, He is the judge of the living and the dead, before Whom every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

Why is this image so neglected today, and why has it never (in my experience) been emphasized within Protestantism? Is it just that we are democratic? We’re egalitarian and want Jesus to be ‘an ordinary guy’? Is it because we are uncomfortable with all the supernatural language associated with Him being over all the ‘thrones and principalities and powers and dominions’?

Or is it the fact that Jesus–the Dreadful Judge of the Last Day makes us a wee bit, well, nervous? To be nervous of that final judgment is not such a bad thing. In fact, the Book of Proverbs says “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The proper fear of the Lord is the humble acknowledgement that we are in the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus Christ is, after all, the second person of the Holy Trinity—the very Son of God, Light from Light, God from God, Begotten not made, One in Being with the Father, by Whom all things were made.

He loves me, and is my friend and brother, but He is first and foremost—as the apostles proclaim, “My Lord and My God.””

Love,
Matthew

The Creed: Credo in unum Deum & St Gregory of Nyssa, (335-395 AD), Father of the Church

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“This Creed is the treasure of our soul.” –St. Ambrose

Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem,
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
factorem cœli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Creator of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen.
Et in unum Dominum, Jesum Christum,
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
Filium Dei unigenitum, et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula.
the only-begotten Son of God, born of the Father;
Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God;
genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri;
begotten, not made, one in being with the Father,
per quem omnia facta sunt.
through Him all things were made;
Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de cœlis.
For us men and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.
He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man:
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato passus, et sepultus est,
For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;  suffered, died, and was buried:
et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas,
And rose again on the third day:
et ascendit in cælum, sedet ad dexteram Patris.
He ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father:
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, iudicare vivos et mortuos,
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead:
cuius regni non erit finis;
His Kingdom will have no end;
Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem,
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,
qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur;
Who, with the Father and the Son, is adored and glorified;
qui locutus est per prophetas.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,
Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum,
I look forward to the Resurrection of the Dead,
et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.
And the Life of the world to come. Amen.

“Gregory of Nyssa, both brilliant and holy, was recognized by his contemporaries and peers as a man who most perfectly embodied the Council of Constantinople—the council that produced the creed we call “Nicene” and recite every Sunday. The Emperor Theodosius decreed that communion with Gregory was a necessary condition of orthodoxy. As the council ended, the Fathers appointed Gregory to travel extensively promoting the formulas of the creed in places where controversies had arisen.

While in Constantinople, he complained about the condition of the city’s faith. It’s not that the people weren’t interested, he noted. In fact, they pursued their interest in theology with impressive ardor. Everyone seemed to know the Scriptures, and everyone seemed eager to interpret them. But their interpretations veered wildly because the people held themselves accountable to no authority. Gregory complained:

“Mere youths and tradesmen are off-hand dogmatists in theology. Servants, too, and slaves that have been flogged. . . are solemn with us and philosophical about things incomprehensible. . . . If you ask for change, someone philosophizes to you on the begotten and the unbegotten. If you ask the price of bread, you’re told the Father is greater and the Son inferior. If you ask if the bath is ready, someone answers that the Son was created from nothing.”

Gregory’s mission was to remedy this situation. His method was the creed.

His mission was needed and essential. If Jesus had wandered into the market and asked his haunting question, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15), He would have received many different answers. Most, it seems, would seem quite flattering if applied to mere mortals like you and me, but they would be wrong if applied to God incarnate. And wrong answers about Jesus all come with terrible implications: errors about God, about salvation, and about every dimension of human nature. Christ, after all, is the only One Who, the Second Vatican Council taught, “fully reveals man to man.”

Our times are not all that different from Gregory’s. If we go to the market, we may encounter many opinions about Jesus—one from the apocalyptic preacher on the street corner, and another from the leaflets left in the laundry, and still another from the tabloids on sale at the checkout line. Popular books treat Jesus as a guru, psychologist, Republican, Democrat.

In such a climate, what are we, in our turn, to do? Perhaps we should do the same as St. Gregory did, all those years ago. We should go forward, fortified by the creed.

If we don’t get the creed right, we don’t get Jesus right. And if we don’t get Him right, we don’t get anything right.”

—from Scott Hahn’s new book, “The Creed: Professing the Faith Through the Ages”

Love,
Matthew

We are not dung – “God don’t make no junk!”

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-by Michael Sullivan
From the Mar/Apr 2012 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

“Late one night, when St. Augustine was a youth, he and his buddies, “a group of bad youngsters,” stripped a pear tree of its fruit. They ate some of it but threw most of it to the pigs. The young Augustine didn’t steal the pears because he was hungry, or even because he desired them. He stole for the thrill of stealing. “Foul was the evil,” he said, “and I loved it.”

I had a similar experience when I was a boy: I tried to steal a toy gun even though I had $20 in my pocket—which at the time I considered a small fortune. A friend and I wandered around the toy department with a forced casualness. Our awkward movements caught the attention of a security guard, who caught us with our pockets full of loot. We didn’t steal because we couldn’t afford the toys nor because we really wanted them. We did it for the thrill. We wanted to do something evil.

If someone had asked me if I wanted to commit a sin, I would have said no. But the truth was that I was overpowered by the desire to do something wrong. The word for that is concupiscence.

When desire to do something wrong springs up within us— often without our consent—we have an opportunity to either give in or build virtue by reigning in the flesh with the will. The desire to commit a sin is not sinful in itself. The sin comes when we give our consent to the evil desire. Just as Adam and Eve didn’t sin until they chose the forbidden fruit, so with us, our temptations themselves are not sinful. This point is often misunderstood and is a major difference between Catholic and Protestant theology.

We Are Not Dung

Most Protestants consider concupiscence itself to be sinful. Martin Luther was tormented for many years by his inability to overcome his fallen nature. He found peace only in the thought that man is depraved and simply can’t avoid sin. He and other Protestant Reformers were convinced that even our good works are nothing but sin.

This doctrine is known as total depravity and is accepted by many Protestants. In this view human nature is steeped in sin, and man’s only hope for salvation is confessing his faith and believing in the Lord as his Savior. With faith, the “cloak of righteousness” covers over the filth of whatever sins may have corrupted the soul.  Luther said Jesus covers up our sinfulness as snow covers a dunghill.

This is a far cry from the Catholic understanding of forgiveness, in which Jesus wipes the sin away completely through the sacrament of confession. Luther’s teachings skewed the traditional understanding of the relationship between faith and works:

  • “It does not matter what people do; it only matters what they believe. . . . God does not need our actions” (Luther’s Works, Erlangen, vol. 29, p. 126).
  • “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but have stronger faith and rejoice in Christ, who is the  victor of sin, death, and the world. Do not for a moment imagine that this life is the abiding place of justice: Sin must be committed. . . . Sin cannot tear you from Him, even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders” (A Letter from Luther to Melanchthon, n. 99, August 1, 1521).
  • Luther’s words are shocking for Catholics, as they undermine our understanding of free will. Gerard Wegemer, a professor of English at the University of Dallas and a prominent scholar of St. Thomas More, points out the dangers of such a position. Wegemer describes St Thomas More’s reaction to the works and teachings of the Reformers:
  • They deny free will and thus ascribe responsibility for evil to God, not to His creatures. At the same time, the “one special thing” they use to spice everything else is a doctrine of liberty that teaches that “having faith, they need nothing else.” . . . Luther’s denial of free will “plainly sets forth all the world to wretched living.” After all, if the way we act is not within our control, what incentive is there to struggle against one’s passions and temptations? Furthermore, if our actions make no difference to God, why should they make any difference to us? More considers Luther’s denial of free will to be “the very worst and most mischievous heresy that was ever thought upon, and also the most mad” ( Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage, Scepter, 123–25).

Invitation to Hypocrisy

Luther’s denial of free will remains a stumbling block for many good Christians who strive for virtue and holiness. This basic misunderstanding is made especially harmful when coupled with the common “once saved, always saved” mentality. The danger of this belief is that it can give rise to a disconnect between how one lives and what one believes: If it is impossible for me to overcome sin, and through my faith I’m assured salvation, then what keeps me from living a blatantly duplicitous life? Our modern culture is rife with examples of Christians—Catholics included—who go to church every Sunday and yet live in a way that is incompatible with Christ’s teachings.

We are called to serve God with all our faculties, both natural and supernatural. We must use our free will to choose what is good and holy and avoid what is evil. If we don’t have authentic free will, as many Protestants have claimed, how can we possibly live an upright Christian life? How can we freely follow Jesus’ command in the New Testament when he quoted Deuteronomy, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37)? If all we do is fraught with sin, as the Reformers taught, why bother to strive for virtue?  (Ed. lest we be tempted to think this line of reasoning just an intellectual exercise in the hypothetical, ask Dr. Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian minister, WHY he became Catholic?  It was the practical reality of THIS reason and its effects in present day, real life!!!)  🙁

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, on the other hand, says: The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis [self-denial] and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes (no. 2015).

We have a fallen nature, but we are not snow-covered dung. Rather, as Paul said, we make up for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ (cf. Col. 1:24). So when we offer our struggles and good works to Christ, they multiply and unite with His and help to build up the body of Christ, the Church. The “dunghill” is in reality fertile soil. Our cooperation with God’s grace nurtures the soil to produce good fruit: “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

By making use of the sacraments, prayerfully examining our consciences each day, and aggressively working to build virtue, 1 Cor 9:27, NOT “earning our way to Heaven”, but “exercising virtue”,  ALL a gift of and TOTALLY DEPENDENT EVEN FOR EXISTENCE, OURS AND ITS, ON HIS GRACE, ALONE!!!, we can be assured that when we call upon Christ, He will aid us in our daily struggle for holiness so that we can say with Paul at the end of this life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).”  (Ed. BOTTOM LINE:  our salvation, our offering, our righteous sacrifice of any holy thing, isn’t pre-emptive salvation, but rather His Gift, the Cross, the Salvation He offers us!!!  Praise Him, Church!!!!  Praise Him!!!!  “ALL salvation is by way of the Cross!!!”  NOTHING ELSE!!!)

CUF President Mike Sullivan originally wrote this article for This Rock magazine in 2005.

Love,
Matthew

Free will

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(Ed. I think the definition of free will and the nature of man is critical to understanding Protestant vs Catholic concepts of human sinfulness, and then by reason, how to go about dealing with that, or how that should be dealt with. Catholicism takes Gen 1:31 very literally, that ALL of God’s creation is good, judged simply by the fact its Creator was God. “God don’t make no junk!” is a more modern way of, if albeit crude, of expressing this sentiment.

I have learned in my graduate theology studies from the Avila Institute that ALL of Catholic theology originates in Genesis, ALL of it; and, all biblical typology, too.)

CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

PART THREE
LIFE IN CHRIST

SECTION ONE
MAN’S VOCATION LIFE IN THE SPIRIT

CHAPTER ONE
THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

ARTICLE 3
MAN’S FREEDOM

1730 God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to Him.”26

Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts.27

I. FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY

1731 Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.”28

1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.

1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.

1736 Every act directly willed is imputable to its author:

Thus the Lord asked Eve after the sin in the garden: “What is this that you have done?”29 He asked Cain the same question.30 The prophet Nathan questioned David in the same way after he committed adultery with the wife of Uriah and had him murdered.31

An action can be indirectly voluntary when it results from negligence regarding something one should have known or done: for example, an accident arising from ignorance of traffic laws.

1737 An effect can be tolerated without being willed by its agent; for instance, a mother’s exhaustion from tending her sick child. A bad effect is not imputable if it was not willed either as an end or as a means of an action, e.g., a death a person incurs in aiding someone in danger. For a bad effect to be imputable it must be foreseeable and the agent must have the possibility of avoiding it, as in the case of manslaughter caused by a drunken driver.

1738 Freedom is exercised in relationships between human beings. Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order.32

II. HUMAN FREEDOM IN THE ECONOMY OF SALVATION

1739 Freedom and sin. Man’s freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God’s plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom.

1740 Threats to freedom. The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, “the subject of this freedom,” is “an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods.”33 Moreover, the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions that are needed for a just exercise of freedom are too often disregarded or violated. Such situations of blindness and injustice injure the moral life and involve the strong as well as the weak in the temptation to sin against charity. By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth.

1741 Liberation and salvation. By his glorious Cross Christ has won salvation for all men. He redeemed them from the sin that held them in bondage. “For freedom Christ has set us free.”34 In him we have communion with the “truth that makes us free.”35 The Holy Spirit has been given to us and, as the Apostle teaches, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”36 Already we glory in the “liberty of the children of God.”37

1742 Freedom and grace. The grace of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and the good that God has put in the human heart. On the contrary, as Christian experience attests especially in prayer, the more docile we are to the promptings of grace, the more we grow in inner freedom and confidence during trials, such as those we face in the pressures and constraints of the outer world. By the working of grace the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world:

Almighty and merciful God,
in your goodness take away from us all that is harmful,
so that, made ready both in mind and body,
we may freely accomplish your will.38

IN BRIEF

1743 “God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel (cf. Sir 15:14), so that he might of his own accord seek his creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him” (GS 17 § 1).

1744 Freedom is the power to act or not to act, and so to perform deliberate acts of one’s own. Freedom attains perfection in its acts when directed toward God, the sovereign Good.

1745 Freedom characterizes properly human acts. It makes the human being responsible for acts of which he is the voluntary agent. His deliberate acts properly belong to him.

1746 The imputability or responsibility for an action can be diminished or nullified by ignorance, duress, fear, and other psychological or social factors.

1747 The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in religious and moral matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of man. But the exercise of freedom does not entail the putative right to say or do anything.

1748 “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1).

26 GS 17; Sir 15:14.
27 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 4,4,3:PG 7/1,983.
28 Cf. Rom 6:17.
29 Gen 3:13.
30 Cf. Gen 4:10.
31 Cf. 2 Sam 12:7-15.
32 Cf. DH 2 § 7.
33 CDF, instruction, Libertatis conscientia 13.
34 Gal 5:1.
35 Cf. Jn 8:32.
36 2 Cor 17.
37 Rom 8:21.
38 Roman Missal, 32nd Sunday, Opening Prayer: Omnipotens et misericors Deus, universa nobis adversantia propitiatus exclude, ut, mente et corpore pariter expediti, quæ tua sunt liberis mentibus exsequamur.

Love,
Matthew

The Heresy of Universalism: how serious?

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(Ed. a great obstacle to all in properly understanding, and therefore properly having an INFORMED opinion of Catholic teaching or doctrine, is understanding the degree to which any given teaching is authoritative, the highest being a Church council of bishops, issuing documents to clarify or define teaching, which must be approved by the Pope, or no dice; think Vatican II, and then re-read your history of Christianity, and for two thousand years this has been so, back to the question regarding circumcision of Gentiles and Peter and Paul’s disagreement.

Christ DID NOT promise there would never be disagreement, or scandal, or controversy. In fact, He told us there would be these things, but NOT to fear! Because of what He would promise and do for us. He endured these negatives while still here on earth. He did promise His peace, to be with the Church always, and to send the Paraclete to protect His Church He founded from error. He even gave to its leader the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. He gave its bishops the authority to loose and to bind, and that the gates of Hell would NEVER prevail against His Church!

Clerics and religious are human. They sin, just like the rest of us. They get it wrong and have bad days. Do the wrong thing for what they misunderstand or just get plain wrong, what they want to be right or justifiable reasons. They become afraid. They doubt, they grow tired and old. They question what they have devoted their lives towards, just like the rest of us.

But, thanks be to God, very, very literally, our faith is not about clerics or religious, or Church structures, or politics, or nastiness, or even sin. It is about the God-man, Who is perfect!!! Who is worthy of all praise and adoration. Who DID save us from the fires of Hell!!! Praise Him, Church!!! Praise Him!!! Turn away from sin. Turn to Jesus, and LIVE!!! He is all perfect, all calming, all soothing, all righteousness, all contenting. He IS God, ALL sufficing, loving, and supreme. Praise Him. Praise Him, Church. Rest in His peace, which He promised, and which He gives, which the world neither understands or could fantastically imagine providing, in truth and reality. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Please understand, I have not found the app which clearly and completely defines the authoritative degree of any given chapter number in the Catechism (CCC) in an attractive GUI & easy to understand definitions of each degree of authority, but there’s an idea app-innovators!!!! AND, there are opinions, and politics!!! Human fallen nature makes it SO EASY!! Not.) 🙁

George W. Truett Theological Seminary - Faculty Environmental Portraits - 10/21/2009
George W. Truett Theological Seminary – Faculty Environmental Portraits – 10/21/2009

-by Roger E. Olson

“I have called universalism “the most attractive heresy.” For a lover of God’s love, universal salvation might seem to be necessary. (I guarantee you that some neo-fundamentalist will take that sentence out of context and attribute it to me without acknowledging what follows.)

However, I’m not a universalist. On the other hand, I’d rather be a universalist than a true Calvinist (i.e., a five point Calvinist who believes in double predestination).

Someone once asked me whether I would still worship God if somehow I became convinced the Calvinist view of God is correct. I had to say no. Sheer power is not worthy of worship. Only power controlled by love is worthy of worship.

If somehow I became convinced that universalism is correct, would I still worship God. Yes, but….

I would have to wonder how a God of love can enjoy love from creatures that is not given freely. Of course, someone might argue that, in the end, every creature will freely offer love to God and be saved (e.g., Moltmann). I would just call that optimism. There’s no way to believe that true other than a leap of optimistic hope.

Everyone harbors some heresy in his or her heart and mind. The only question is–how serious are the heresies one holds? Of course, nobody thinks they harbor any heresies (in the sense of theologically incorrect beliefs).

I agree with Swiss theologian Emil Brunner (and others) that universalism is heresy. It is unbiblical and illogical. However, that does not mean a person who holds it is not a Christian. I have never met a Christian who was one hundred percent theologically correct. Scratch hard enough and you’ll always find some heresy beneath the surface (if not on the surface). That’s true for me as much as for anyone else. If I thought I held no heresies, I’d think I had already arrived at the fullness of truth–something even the apostle Paul did not claim.

I think universalism is a minor heresy SO LONG AS it does not interfere with evangelism. (See my earlier post here about why universalism should NOT interfere with evangelism.) I also evaluate the seriousness of universalism by its context–viz., why does the person affirm it? If universalism is evidence of a denial of God’s wrath and/or human sinfulness, then it is much more serious. Barth’s universalism (yes, I believe Karl Barth was a universalist and I’ll post a message here about why later) did not arise out of those denials which is why he didn’t like the appellation “universalist.” The term is usually associated with liberal theology. In that case, as part of an overall liberal/modernist theology, I consider it very serious indeed.

Strictly historically speaking, any universalism is heresy–according to all major branches of Christianity. The Catholic church allows hope for universal salvation but not confident affirmation of it. But, of course, as Luther demonstrated, all branches of Christianity can be wrong. That is why I reject paleo-orthodoxy and any appeal to absolute authority of tradition. Tradition gets a vote but never a veto. The Bible trumps tradition. (Ed. Mr. Olson is NOT rejecting Tradition here. He is insisting, as is correct, that you cannot have either/or, ever. You MUST have and/both. Which is correct, and required.)

When universalism is believed on biblical grounds (as in The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory McDonald–a pseudonym), it is much less serious than when it is believed as part of a liberal theology that denies the wrath of God and the sinfulness of all human beings (except Jesus Christ, of course).

(Sidebar regarding neo-fundamentalism: A neo-fundamentalism is someone who will take what I have written here and claim I have affirmed universalism or at least given aid and comfort to heretics. A neo-fundamentalist, like a straightforward fundamentalist, is a person who cannot distinguish between non-absolute condemnation of error and error itself. Count on it. Some probably Southern Baptist heresy-hunting neo-fundamentalist will pick up on this blog post and spread it around as “proof” that Roger Olson harbors sympathies with universalism. That is, however, evidence of either a weak mind or ill will.)

So, what is my final word on universalism? I don’t have a “final word” on it because “it” is not all that clear. What kind of universalism? Based on what? I consider all positive affirmations of universal salvation that include denial of everlasting hell heretical. But not all are equally bad or condemnable. Some are based on confusion. Some are based on liberal theology. Some (e.g., Karl Barth’s) are based on the logic of God’s love and electing grace (viz., “Jesus is victor!”). All are wrong, but not all are equally bad.

Let me be clear. (This is necessary because of the power of neo-fundamentalists within evangelicalism today!) I am not a universalist nor do I sympathize with universalism. I am simply trying to get people to consider the possibility that not all versions of universalism are on the same level of error. There is egregious error and there is simple error. One kind of universalism (based on denial of God’s wrath and human sinfulness) is egregious error. Another kind (based on confusion about God’s love requiring his overriding free will) is simple error. I hope I don’t hold any egregious errors, but I’m sure I hold some simple errors. I am open to having those pointed out to me.”

rob-hell-church-nerd humor

Love & His mercy,
Matthew

Faith & Works

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-by Vince Frese

You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was competed by the works. – James 2:22

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“I vividly remember getting the call from my divorce attorney telling me that my spouse was seeking full custody of our children. That shook me to my core and threw me into full-on crisis mode. I did not want to lose my children! Like any good Catholic I began to storm heaven with my many prayers begging God to help me. And pray I did. I prayed rosaries, novenas, devotionals–everything I could think of. In my mind the more I prayed the better. Surely, I thought, praying all four mysteries of the rosary was better than just the daily mystery. And, a Divine Mercy chaplet morning, noon, and night was better than just one. And so this went on for several weeks. Then, one day my attorney called. He asked me if I had put together the affidavits from my witnesses testifying to my ability to parent my children. I was now even more panicked. While I had been praying like crazy, I had failed to do much else.

When we are in crisis it is typical for us to fall on our knees and beg for God’s help. Most of us, me included, are not bashful to ask God for help. We are filled with hope that God will miraculously come to our rescue and put an end to our misery. But prayer is only half of the equation. God wants us to put our faith into action. We must pray and act. Certainly, prayer is an essential ingredient to living our life of faith, yet, God gave us free will and many talents to use in conjunction with our prayers. We are coworkers with Christ working together to fulfill His plan. So, if you are feeling overwhelmed, in crisis, or downright frustrated, keep praying, but be sure you are getting busy working on your problems, too. Jesus is a faithful partner who will magnify all your efforts and make them bear fruit.”

Love, Faith, & Hope,
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 5, The Theological Virtue of Hope, Everlasting Life!!!

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Q. Why did God make us?
A. God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.

-Baltimore Catechism, Lesson 1: On the End of Man

“(Viktor) Frankl observed that the death-camp prisoners could tell when another prisoner had abandoned hope. When a prisoner lost hope, the despair could be seen in his eyes, in his face, in the way that he walked. The change was so noticeable that the prisoners had a name for such persons, which roughly translates as “the walking dead.” Inevitably, before long, this “walking dead” prisoner would be selected for extermination, or he would fall back in formation and be shot, or he would stop eating or drinking. When the will to meaning was abandoned — when all hope was lost — the person was literally doomed. Man cannot live without hope.

Yet this truth can be stated conversely: even in the cruelest, the most atrocious, the most miserable of circumstances, if man has hope, he has life. If this is true on the natural level, it is much more true on the supernatural level. If a man has Christian hope, he has everlasting life. We are indeed, in St. Paul’s words, spe salvi — “saved in hope” (Rom. 8:24).

Hope is a virtue that changes everything. It changes the way we think, the way we act, the way we live. In his encyclical letter on hope, Pope Benedict XVI puts it simply, “The one who has hope lives differently.”76 Even if he should be sent to the gas chamber, a man with Christian hope is a man who has been saved. St. Maximilian Kolbe understood this, which is why he sang songs of praise to our Lord even as the Nazis starved him to death.

Returning to Frankl’s observations of his fellow death-camp prisoners: in order to face their horrifying present situation, the prisoners needed some sense that a future might await them, a future that promised something better than the present. This insight is congruent with these words of Pope Benedict on hope: “We have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.”77

Pope Benedict goes on to say that “a distinguishing mark of Christians [is] the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.”78 This can be applied analogously even to those who are not baptized: although the theological virtue of hope is the ultimate safeguard of human happiness on this earth, natural human hope is the starting point for theological hope and is itself ennobled by the presence of Christian hope in the world.

The sense of a foreshortened future, of a future that appears only dark, which many experience in the depressed state, is not our true reality; it is merely a trick of the diseased mind. Without hope in the present, man cannot live toward the future. Why, for example, do we see rising rates of depression, as well as rising rates of drug and alcohol abuse, among teenagers today? Because many of them do not sense that they have a future. The present feels unbearable to them, and they have no hope to orient them.

In an address to the bishops of Japan, Pope Benedict remarked: “Young people especially are at risk of being deceived by the glamour of modern secular culture. Yet, like all the greater and lesser hopes that appear on first sight to promise so much (cf. Spe Salvi, 30), this turns out to be a false hope — and tragically, disillusion not infrequently leads to depression and despair, even to suicide. If their youthful energy and enthusiasm can be directed towards the things of God, which alone are sufficient to satisfy their deepest longings, more young people will be inspired to commit their lives to Christ.”79

Hope cannot be merely a nice theoretical idea. It is a virtue that has very practical, everyday consequences for our life. Cultivating and sustaining hope is a central task in the process of recovery from depression, and perhaps the most demanding and challenging. Regarding the practical consequences of living in hope, Pope Benedict teaches that the Christian message of hope does not just tell us something: it is not just informative; it also changes the way we live. It is performative: “That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known — it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing.”80

Finding hope need not be complicated; it can be remarkably simple. Consider the case of a young father who was struggling with depression because of a debilitating physical condition that kept him from working. As a result he was at home with his youngest daughter. He related later that just seeing the face and constant smile of his joyful girl was enough to instill in him sufficient hope for the day. Our reasons for hope may be right there in front of us, if only we have eyes to see.

While many of us can rattle off the three theological virtues, hope is often the forgotten middle of the three. We hear much preached about faith and about love, but we hear less about the virtue of hope. What exactly is hope? The Compendium of the Catechism defines it succinctly: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire and await from God eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit to merit it and to persevere to the end of our earthly life.”81

Let us unpack this definition. First, hope involves desiring happiness. This, of course, is not hard for us. In fact, it is impossible not to desire happiness, as we know from our own experience. Aristotle maintains that the desire for happiness lies at the foundation of every human action. The person suffering from depression, of course, wants nothing more than to recover the capacity for happiness, for spiritual joy. But this happiness consists ultimately in only one thing: eternal life with God. Every person, whether he knows it or not, is seeking God, because everyone is seeking perfect happiness and fulfillment, which can be found ultimately in God alone. Our search for happiness can go astray when we mistakenly place our hope in something that cannot deliver. But this fundamental desire for happiness — this desire for God — remains, even when we go astray. As G. K. Chesterton quipped, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

Hope, according to the definition just cited, involves placing our trust in Christ, relying on the grace of the Holy Spirit, and persevering to the end of our life — all for the sake of eternal life, which only God can grant. What are we to make of these words, eternal life? Many of our contemporaries wonder: Is eternal life something worth hoping for? The depressed person may have difficulty with the idea of looking for his happiness beyond the present world and placing his definitive hope in the next life. Perhaps this very thought has crossed our minds, especially in times of difficulty or temptation, or during periods of depression or despair: Is the effort toward holiness worthwhile? Is the goal of eternal life worth the sacrifices made in this life? Drawing on the writings of St. Augustine, Pope Benedict responds to this question: “Ultimately we want only one thing . . . the life which is simply ‘happiness’ . . . In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for.”82

The very fact that in this life the human heart remains restless — that it is vulnerable to anxiety, depression, demoralization, and despair — is a clue to the human need for hope and a clue to our ultimate destiny in God. All we can experience in this life falls short of this restless yearning. The man knocking at the brothel door will not find there what his restless heart truly desires. The man downing another bottle of gin will not find at the bottom what his heart thirsts for. The man popping another narcotic pill will not experience what his heart hungers for. God made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest finally in Him.

We are reaching here beyond what words can adequately express. Benedict XVI observes: The term “eternal life” is intended to give a name to this known “unknown.” Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. “Eternal”, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it.83

To appreciate fully the meaning of eternal life, we have to try to get outside our usual ways of thinking and our usual experiences. Pope Benedict says: “To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality — this we can only attempt.

We simply cannot extrapolate to a vision of eternal life from our typical earthly existence, even on the best of days. Reaching beyond our words and concepts, Pope Benedict takes a stab at expressing what the term eternal life might actually signify: “It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time — the before and after — no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of God, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.”84

77 Benedict XVI, Encyclical letter Spe salvi, no. 1.
78 Ibid., no. 2.
79 Benedict XVI, Address to the Bishops of Japan on their “Ad limina” Visit, December 17, 2007.
80 Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, no. 2.
81 Compendium of the Catechism, no. 387.
82 Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, no. 12.
83 Ibid., no. 12.
84 Ibid.

-Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 210-216). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 3, The Theological Virtue of Hope

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Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” -Dante Alighieri’s inscription on the entrance to Hell, and maybe, just maybe, if “Our Hope is in the Lord, who made Heaven & Earth!” (Ps 124:8), that is EXACTLY what Hell is?

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” -1 Cor 13:13

I read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” relating his experiences and personal, formative revelations while a prisoner of conscience in Auschwitz while I was in high school. Not because it was assigned, but because I just wanted to. The most astonishing revelation to the reader of this powerful work is Dr. Frankl watching who did and did not survive, among those not killed directly by the Nazis through their various and hideous means.

He concluded that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had it right: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how. ” (Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in 1963, p. 121) He saw that people who had hopes of being reunited with loved ones, or who had projects they felt a need to complete, had a great talent they still needed to express, or who had great faith, tended to have better chances than those who had lost all hope.

But “…meaning must be found and cannot be given.” (1, p. 112) Meaning is like laughter, he says: You cannot force someone to laugh, you must tell him a joke! The same applies to faith, hope, and love — they cannot be be brought forth by an act of will, our own or someone else’s.

So we attempt to fill our existential vacuums with “stuff” that, because it provides some satisfaction, we hope will provide ultimate satisfaction as well: We might try to fill our lives with pleasure, eating beyond all necessity, having promiscuous sex, living “the high life;” or we might seek power, especially the power represented by monetary success; or we might fill our lives with “busy-ness,” conformity, conventionality; or we might fill the vacuum with anger and hatred and spend our days attempting to destroy what we think is hurting us.

We might also fill our lives with certain neurotic “vicious cycles,” such as obsession with germs and cleanliness, or fear-driven obsession with a phobic object. Or, we self-medicate through alcohol, drugs, etc., just to numb the pain of our emptiness. Perhaps this is Hell as it truly is, without hope, forever, for eternity, outside the dimension of time? The defining quality of these vicious cycles is that, whatever we do, it is never enough. ONLY JESUS satisfies. ONLY JESUS. ONLY JESUS. Thank you, Lord! Thank YOU!!!

Martin Luther, while an Augustinian monk, began to lose hope in penance and good works as having any efficacy for the baptized, literally in God’s great mercy. Rather, he adopted the view, obsessively, that all of mankind were hopeless and wretched sinners before the sight of God, unworthy of salvation – literally, the “steaming pile of dung”, if you are familiar with that phrasing. Covered like snow by Christ’s redemption, hidden from God, having no worthwhile quality unto it’s own self. He carried everything to such an extreme that his superiors were worried about him. He wore out his confessor with marathon sessions of confessing, going over every thought in detail, then starting again from the beginning. His confessor, Father Staupitz, told him: “Look here, if you expect Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive- parricide, blasphemy, adultery -instead of all these peccadilloes.” Fr. Staupitz also, further insisted with Martin: “We are commanded to hope!”

Catholicism differs in this perspective holding fast to the ancient understanding that God’s creation is GOOD!!!! Wounded by Original Sin, but, still, inherently GOOD!!! And, God LOVES His Creation, because it is HIS, and He declared/declares it GOOD!! (Gen 1:31) In the present tense, because to the Catholic mind, ALL Creation continues to be held in existence by the mind of God. If God stopped thinking about Creation, it would disappear – poof!!! 🙂

We are commanded to hope by the first part of the Greatest Commandment, namely, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with ALL your heart! ALL your mind! ALL your soul!” You cannot, truly, love the Lord your God with everything you have, and then turn around and say, “There is NO hope!” No. Truly. Our hope is in the Lord, Who made Heaven & Earth!!! Amen. Amen. Counter-pointedly, if there is no God Who loves you, what exactly IS the point of ALL of this? There is none.

“The third, and most important, protective factor conferred by Christian faith is the indispensable theological virtue of hope, bestowed in Baptism and subsequently developed in the life of faith. Christianity offers hope in the midst of difficulties and pain. Through our faith, in hope, we can find redemptive value even in and through suffering. The psychiatrist Aaron Beck…did a long-term prospective study of eight hundred suicidal patients to determine which risk factors were most closely linked to suicide. He studied individuals who had been hospitalized after a suicide attempt or for suicidal thinking.

Beck managed to follow these patients for the next ten years to see who survived and who eventually completed suicide. In trying to find the key differences between the survivors and those who died by suicide, Beck examined the patients’ diagnoses, the number and type of mental and medical symptoms, the degree of physical pain a person was in, social and economic factors, and so on. The results surprised some behavioral scientists.

The one factor most predictive of suicide was not how sick the person was, or how many symptoms he exhibited, or how much pain he was in. The most dangerous factor was a person’s sense of hopelessness. The patients who believed their situation was utterly without hope were the most likely candidates for completing suicide. There is no prescription or medical procedure for instilling hope. This is the domain of the revelation of God’s loving goodness and baptismal efficacy. We can have a natural sort of hope when things clearly appear hopeful. But when our situation appears or feels hopeless, the only hope that can sustain us is supernatural — the theological virtue of hope, which can be infused only by God’s grace.“2

1. Frankl, V. E. (1975). The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology. New York: Simon and Schuster. (Originally published in 1948 as Der unbewusste Gott. Republished in 1997 as Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning.)

2. Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 98-99). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love, hope, and prayers for you, and those you love. Pray for me, and mine, please. Let us ALL put ALL our hope and trust in the Lord, Who made Heaven & Earth!
Matthew

What is Moral Therapeutic Deism?

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-The Dominican Order Overcoming Heresy, 1750 (oil on canvas), by Mattia Bortoloni, 1750, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Pau, France

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-by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

“When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these:
1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

(Sound familiar? Sounds nice, its just…its not Christianity! Certainly NOT Catholicism!))

That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and “whatever.”

As a matter of fact, the researchers, whose report is summarized in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, found that American teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their religious beliefs, and most are virtually unable to offer any serious theological understanding. As Smith reports, “To the extent that the teens we interviewed did manage to articulate what they understood and believed religiously, it became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it. Either way, it is apparent that most religiously affiliated U.S. teens are not particularly interested in espousing and upholding the beliefs of their faith traditions, or that their communities of faith are failing in attempts to educate their youth, or both.”

As the researchers explained, “For most teens, nobody has to do anything in life, including anything to do with religion. ‘Whatever’ is just fine, if that’s what a person wants.”

The casual “whatever” that marks so much of the American moral and theological landscapes–adolescent and otherwise–is a substitute for serious and responsible thinking. More importantly, it is a verbal cover for an embrace of relativism. Accordingly, “most religious teenager’s opinions and views–one can hardly call them worldviews–are vague, limited, and often quite at variance with the actual teachings of their own religion.”

The kind of responses found among many teenagers indicates a vast emptiness at the heart of their understanding. When a teenager says, “I believe there is a God and stuff,” this hardly represents a profound theological commitment.

Amazingly, teenagers are not inarticulate in general. As the researchers found, “Many teenagers know abundant details about the lives of favorite musicians and television stars or about what it takes to get into a good college, but most are not very clear on who Moses and Jesus were.” The obvious conclusion: “This suggests that a strong, visible, salient, or intentional faith is not operating in the foreground of most teenager’s lives.”

One other aspect of this study deserves attention at this point. The researchers, who conducted thousands of hours of interviews with a carefully identified spectrum of teenagers, discovered that for many of these teens, the interview itself was the first time they had ever discussed a theological question with an adult. What does this say about our churches? What does this say about this generation of parents?

In the end, this study indicates that American teenagers are heavily influenced by the ideology of individualism that has so profoundly shaped the larger culture. This bleeds over into a reflexive non-judgmentalism and a reluctance to suggest that anyone might actually be wrong in matters of faith and belief. Yet, these teenagers are unable to live with a full-blown relativism.

The researchers note that many responses fall along very moralistic lines–but they reserve their most non-judgmental attitudes for matters of theological conviction and belief. Some go so far as to suggest that there are no “right” answers in matters of doctrine and theological conviction.

The “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” that these researchers identify as the most fundamental faith posture and belief system of American teenagers appears, in a larger sense, to reflect the culture as a whole. Clearly, this generalized conception of a belief system is what appears to characterize the beliefs of vast millions of Americans, both young and old.

This is an important missiological observation–a point of analysis that goes far beyond sociology. As Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton explained, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism “is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one’s health, and doing one’s best to be successful.” In a very real sense, that appears to be true of the faith commitment, insofar as this can be described as a faith commitment, held by a large percentage of Americans. These individuals, whatever their age, believe that religion should be centered in being “nice”–a posture that many believe is directly violated by assertions of strong theological conviction.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also “about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents.” As the researchers explained, “This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.”

In addition, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism presents a unique understanding of God. As Smith explains, this amorphous faith “is about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs–especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance.”

Smith and his colleagues recognize that the deity behind Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very much like the deistic God of the 18th-century philosophers. This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. “In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”

Obviously, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an organized faith. This belief system has no denominational headquarters and no mailing address. Nevertheless, it has millions and millions of devotees across the United States and other advanced cultures, where subtle cultural shifts have produced a context in which belief in such an undemanding deity makes sense. Furthermore, this deity does not challenge the most basic self-centered assumptions of our postmodern age. Particularly when it comes to so-called “lifestyle” issues, this God is exceedingly tolerant and this religion is radically undemanding.

As sociologists, Smith and his team suggest that this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism may now constitute something like a dominant civil religion that constitutes the belief system for the culture at large. Thus, this basic conception may be analogous to what other researchers have identified as “lived religion” as experienced by the mainstream culture.

Moving to even deeper issues, these researches claim that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is “colonizing” Christianity itself, as this new civil religion seduces converts who never have to leave their congregations and Christian identification as they embrace this new faith and all of its undemanding dimensions.

Consider this remarkable assessment: “Other more accomplished scholars in these areas will have to examine and evaluate these possibilities in greater depth. But we can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually [only] tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but is rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

They argue that this distortion of Christianity has taken root not only in the minds of individuals, but also “within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions.”

How can you tell? “The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, . . . and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward.”

Does this mean that America is becoming more secularized? Not necessarily. These researchers assert that Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.

This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self. In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan. Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.

All this means is that teenagers have been listening carefully. They have been observing their parents in the larger culture with diligence and insight. They understand just how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches and Christian institutions have accommodated themselves to the dominant culture. They sense the degree to which theological conviction has been sacrificed on the altar of individualism and a relativistic understanding of truth. They have learned from their elders that self-improvement is the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable, and they have observed the fact that the highest aspiration of those who shape this culture is to find happiness, security, and meaning in life.

This research project demands the attention of every thinking Christian. Those who are prone to dismiss sociological analysis as irrelevant will miss the point. We must now look at the United States of America as missiologists once viewed nations that had never heard the gospel. Indeed, our missiological challenge may be even greater than the confrontation with paganism, for we face a succession of generations who have transformed Christianity into something that bears no resemblance to the faith revealed in the Bible. The faith “once delivered to the saints” is no longer even known, not only by American teenagers, but by most of their parents. Millions of Americans believe they are Christians, simply because they have some historic tie to a Christian denomination or identity.

We now face the challenge of evangelizing a nation that largely considers itself Christian, overwhelmingly believes in some deity, considers itself fervently religious, but has virtually no connection to historic Christianity. Christian Smith and his colleagues have performed an enormous service for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in identifying Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as the dominant religion of this American age. Our responsibility is to prepare the church to respond to this new religion, understanding that it represents the greatest competitor to biblical Christianity. More urgently, this study should warn us all that our failure to teach this generation of teenagers the realities and convictions of biblical Christianity will mean that their children will know even less and will be even more readily seduced by this new form of paganism. This study offers irrefutable evidence of the challenge we now face. As the motto reminds us, “Knowledge is power.”

Love, rejecting MTD,
Matthew

Moral Therapeutic Deism Heresy: the Kingdom of God is within you

st dominic
-our blessed father Dominic, scourge & hammer of heretics.

It is said there are no new heresies. I tend to agree. They are just recycled and repackaged. This one smells like Gnosticism, that old canard.

“My Kingdom is not of this world.” -Jn 18:36

“…Heaven is not a place and cannot be found on a map; rather it is where God’s will is done…”
– Pope Benedict XVI

This heresy results as too loose a translation of Luke 17:20-21.  See why doing your homework and knowing a thing or two about Scripture, languages, ancient & modern, Scripture’s variety in translation, etc., all those gruesome details is important!!!

Carelessness in translation, let alone reading or interpretation changes the WHOLE meaning, often in error!!!  CAUTION:  picking up any old thing and reading it literally is dangerous, kind readers!!!   Maybe that is why the Church was cautious about the untrained having any old thing without training in hand?  Ya think?  Maybe that is why it was why the Church determined the canon of Scripture?  Ya think?  Instead of the other way around?  Ya think? It is dangerous.  

Consult orthodox experts, please, at least for the sake of intellectual integrity, if not orthodox faith, before walking off the theological or doctrinal cliff!! IFF…you want anyone to take you seriously.

Attorneys are trained to argue both sides. Wise advice for anyone holding opinions, imho.

Scot-McKnight
-by Dr. Scott McKnight, PhD

“In the end, the God Within heresy is a kindly apocalypse: it overwhelms with niceness, tolerance, and is a make-up-your-own religion that is safe as long as you and I leave one another alone to make up our own religion for ourselves. Ross Douthat, in Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, takes direct aim at the following: Elizabeth Gilbert, Oprah Winfrey, Eckhart Tolle, Karen Armstrong, and some others like Deepak Chopra, Paulo Coehlho, James Redfield, Neale Donald Walsch, and Marianne Williamson. My read of American religion is that the God Within heresy is far more pervasive and far more threatening to Christianity than the prosperity gospel (…another heresy, no thank you Joel Osteen). These are the “spiritual but not religious” crowd, Douthat says.

How pervasive is this God Within theology/religion/spirituality? Where are you seeing it in the church? Why is it so appealing?

Douthat goes after Gilbert, famous for her book Eat, Pray, Love, a journey from a marriage, to divorce, to seeking God in the Far East at an ashram recommended by her (ex-)lover, and then finally finding love in Bali with a Brazilian man … she had arrived, and her secret is what Douthat calls the God Within. She found a voice within, a voice within her own self, it was God’s voice, it was God, it was herself. God and Self, more or less the same.

For Gilbert, all religions offer the path to the divine — and all religious teachings are “transporting metaphors” leading to the infinite — you can cherry pick your own religion, make it all up, bricolage spirituality. Here’s her creed: “God dwells within you as you yourself, exactly the way you are” (214). We are to “honor the divinity that resides within” us (215).

What does this God Within stuff believe? Four points:
1. Organized religions offer only a glimpse of God.
2. God is everywhere and within everything; it is a form of pantheism ultimately.
3. All will eventually be reconciled with God — pantheistic universalism.
4. The good life, peace, etc, is available now.

They think they are truer to Christianity and Christ than most of Christianity. Here is where it becomes not only the God Within, but even more: the Me in the God Within. The person finds his or her own voice, or God, or the Soul.

It depersonalizes God — not the Father, Son and Spirit; not Yahweh; instead it is Being, Soul of the World, Highest Thought, Supreme Love (Ed. sounds more like eastern spirituality than Christianity, methinks). He gives Karen Armstrong a good sketch too: not about propositions but about encounter. The problem is that the theologians who are colonized into this new bricolaged religion of God Within, seen in #1 above, were all fiercely dogmatic — Gregory of Nyssa, Aquinas, et al. They knew their limits, but what they knew they really knew — and held out for. The faith exists because of the Flannery O’Connors, not the Paulo Coelhos.

He gets after a point that I have found so often among this crowd, and I see it at times in some in the spiritual formation movement: baptizing egomania and divinizing selfishness (his terms). That is, it becomes about Me and what God is doing in Me and my Soul and my Own Inner Self. It’s a kind of solipsism, he says. Religion for such people is the great Self-Enabler!

Critics or prophets were Philip Rieff and Les Kolakowski and Christian Smith and Melinda Denton. Moral therapeutic deism is where this stuff leads. God is out there for Me. So just be nice.”

Love, realizing the Kingdom of God is at hand! -Mk 1:15,
Matthew