Category Archives: Apologetics

Being Catholic = asking questions!!: Summa Theologiae

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(As Bp Barron will eloquently state, the form of education in the High Middle Ages, and for a long time thereafter, was the “disputed question”. The instructor would pose the question a day, or so, before. Students’ homework would be to then go and prepare objections to the disputed question, of their own creation. The instructor would then address each valid objection produced to demonstrate the validity of the argument and correctness of the answer proposed.  This is why Aquinas’ Summa is written in the form it is.  It is ancient, time honored, and foreign to us in the 21st century.)

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-by Bp Robert Barron

There is, in many quarters, increasing concern about the hyper-charged political correctness that has gripped our campuses and other forums of public conversation. Even great works of literature and philosophy—from Huckleberry Finn and Heart of Darkness to, believe it or not, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason—are now regularly accompanied by “trigger warnings” that alert prospective readers to the racism, sexism, homophobia, or classism contained therein. And popping up more and more at our colleges and universities are “safe spaces” where exquisitely sensitive students can retreat in the wake of jarring confrontations with points of view with which they don’t sympathize. My favorite example of this was at Brown University where school administrators provided retreat centers with play-doh, crayons, and videos of frolicking puppies to calm the nerves of their students even before a controversial debate commenced! Apparently even the prospect of public argument sent these students to an updated version of daycare. Of course a paradoxical concomitant of this exaggerated sensitivity to giving offense is a proclivity to aggressiveness and verbal violence; for once authentic debate has been ruled out of court, the only recourse contesting parties have is to some form of censorship or bullying.

There is obviously much that can and should be mocked in all of this, but I won’t go down that road. Instead, I would like to revisit a time when people knew how to have a public argument about the most hotly-contested matters. Though it might come as a surprise to many, I’m talking about the High Middle Ages, when the university system was born. And to illustrate the medieval method of disciplined conversation there is no better candidate than St. Thomas Aquinas. The principal means of teaching in the medieval university was not the classroom lecture, which became prominent only in the 19th century German system of education; rather, it was the quaestio disputata (disputed question), which was a lively, sometimes raucous, and very public intellectual exchange. Though the written texts of Aquinas can strike us today as a tad turgid, we have to recall that they are grounded in these disciplined but decidedly energetic conversations.

If we consult Aquinas’s masterpiece, the Summa theologiae, we find that he poses literally thousands of questions and that not even the most sacred issues are off the table, the best evidence of which is article three of question two of the first part of the Summa: “utrum Deus sit?” (whether there is a God). If a Dominican priest is permitted to ask even that question, everything is fair game; nothing is too dangerous to talk about. After stating the issue, Thomas then entertains a series of objections to the position that he will eventually take. In many cases, these represent a distillation of real counter-claims and queries that Aquinas would have heard during quaestiones disputatae. But for our purposes, the point to emphasize is that Thomas presents these objections in their most convincing form, often stating them better and more pithily than their advocates could. In proof of this, we note that during the Enlightenment, rationalist philosophes would sometimes take Thomistic objections and use them to bolster their own anti-religious positions. To give just one example, consider Aquinas’s devastatingly convincing formulation of the argument from evil against the existence of God: “if one of two contraries were infinite, the other would be destroyed…but God is called the infinite good. Therefore, if God exists, there would be no evil.” Thomas indeed provides a telling response, but, as stated, that is a darn good argument. Might I suggest that it would help our public discourse immensely if all parties would be willing to formulate their opponents’ positions as respectfully and convincingly as possible?

Having articulated the objections, Thomas then offers his own magisterial resolution of the matter: “Respondeo dicendum quod… (I respond that it must be said…). One of the more regrettable marks of the postmodern mind is a tendency to endlessly postpone the answer to a question. Take a look at Jacques Derrida’s work for a master class in this technique. And sadly, many today, who want so desperately to avoid offending anyone, find refuge in just this sort of permanent irresolution. But Thomas knew what Chesterton knew, namely that an open mind is like an open mouth, that is, designed to close finally on something solid and nourishing. Finally, having offered his Respondeo, Aquinas returns to the objections and, in light of his resolution, answers them. It is notable that a typical Thomas technique is to find something right in the objector’s position and to use that to correct what he deems to be errant in it.

Throughout this process, in the objections, Respondeos, and answers to objections, Thomas draws on a wide range of sources: the Bible and the Church Fathers of course, but also the classical philosophers Aristotle, Plato, and Cicero, the Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides, and the Islamic masters Averroes, Avicenna, and Aviceberon. And he consistently invokes these figures with supreme respect, characterizing Aristotle, for example, as simply “the Philosopher” and referring to Maimonides as “Rabbi Moyses.” It is fair to say that, in substantial ways, Thomas Aquinas disagrees with all of these figures, and yet he is more than willing to listen to them, to engage them, to take their arguments seriously.

What this Thomistic method produces is, in its own way, a “safe space” for conversation, but it is a safe space for adults and not timorous children. It wouldn’t be a bad model for our present discussion of serious things.”

Love & good thinking,
Matthew

Science & Faith: visible & invisible, seen & unseen

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-mosaic from the crypt of Louis Pasteur, in the Pasteur Institute, Paris, France. Pasteur was given a state funeral by the French Government in 1895.

“Absolute faith in God and in Eternity, and a conviction that the power for good given to us in this world will be continued beyond it, were feelings which pervaded his whole life; the virtues of the Gospel had ever been present to him. Full of respect for the form of religion which had been that of his forefathers, he came simply to it and naturally for spiritual help in these last weeks of his life.” -Pasteur’s son-in-law and biographer, (Vallery-Radot 1911, vol. 2, p. 240)

“Little science takes you away from God but more of it takes you to Him.” ~Louis Pasteur

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-by Brian Jones, Brian is pursuing a graduate degree in philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. His writing has appeared in the New Blackfriars Journal, The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, Catholic World Report and Homiletic and Pastoral Review. He and his wife Michelle have three daughters.

“At the end of a class in early March, one of my students raised his hand and asked if there was any homework in ethics class. I was somewhat confused by the inquiry, since the student was currently not taking ethics. When he saw the expression of confusion on my face, he responded, “You know, in religion. Is there any homework in religion?” Finally, it clicked for me. This young man is currently in my moral theology class, and was wondering if there was any religion homework, which he was calling by the misnomer “ethics.” Unintentionally, the student was setting up an opportunity to review (and correct) one of the fundamental errors of the modern age, namely, reducing religion solely to the sphere of ethics.

Michael Tkacz, in his 2002 essay “Faith, Science and the Error of Fideism,” has drawn attention to this attitude, particularly as it concerns the relationship between faith and science. Borrowing from Harvard biologist Stephen J. Gould, Tkacz calls this attitude NOMA, or Non-Overlapping Magisteria.

The position can be briefly summarized as follows: the realms of science and religion involve two separate orders of human rationality and experience, and they are distinguished by the two objects that define their subject, and so do not overlap with each other. From this conception, science is considered to be rational, public, and verifiable, whereas religious faith is considered to be non-rational, private, and unverifiable.

The point of this method of analysis is not to say that faith never uses rational modes of inquiry; rather, it is to posit that faith is not something that can be rationally established at any level. This contrasts with a proper understanding of science, since nothing in science is believed or thought to be true unless grounded in factually based evidence and verifiable data.

To posit that science is rational is simply to assert that the claims made by science can be demonstrably proven. Science seeks to explain the causes and reasons for things that occur in the order of nature, and is such that even if a particular cause cannot be identified at a given moment, science nevertheless presupposes that not just any reason can be eventually provided; it’s foundation must be in factual evidence. Theoretically speaking, through continuous observation and critical analysis, a rational explanation can be given. A causal explanation exists for everything, and it falls to the field of science to provide one.

A good example to consider would be the fiasco that surrounded the Malayasian jetliner that went down in early 2014. The story of the plane crashing would not cease to be covered in the media until a rational, factually based account of what truly happened in this tragedy, which lead to the plane’s eventual crash. Notice too, thankfully, the anger that resulted from some of the initial explanations given that were only later shown (via evidence) to be false reasons for what led to the plane crash. Everyone involved, whether it was the family members of the victims, or the airline personnel, was not satisfied until a fuller explanation was given, since a plane does not just go missing without sufficient reason. While the example does not necessarily apply to the domain of science in the exact same way, it does nonetheless reveal my point about the rational character of an explanation that science is expected to provide.

Since science is a rational explanation of the material order, then it is also public–the knowledge acquired is based upon a mind-independent reality. Our feelings, desires, or thoughts about the matter at hand are not involved in discovering and learning the truth. Unlike private emotions, desires, or even religious belief, knowledge is capable of being shared by others, and thus entails an objective, rather than a subjective, element. Finally, scientific knowledge is verified and confirmed by the good reasons it gives for holding particular explanations of things. The reason why X is the case is because there are sufficient reasons to show that it is so, and there are experiments that can be repeated by anyone with the requisite equipment and knowledge. The repeatability of results will yield the same explanations each time, something that is fundamental to scientific theories and their particular validations.

While a variety of responses could be given to the NOMA position just described, I want to briefly elucidate a much fuller account of the integral relationship between reality, history, science, and the very nature of religious faith. The separationist account between science and faith rests precisely on a mistaken notion of the content of religious faith.

For Gould, what establishes the rational, public, and verifiable nature of scientific reasoning is the fact that it is concerned with and treats the very order of reality. In contrast, religious faith does not concern itself with reality, for it is centered upon holding beliefs that contradict the scope and, one might say, certitude that is given in science. Moreover, it seems that religious faith does not portend to make any metaphysical or historical claims, but only provides a way of living with that reality of which science alone concerns itself. However, such a perspective is not in keeping with Christianity’s understanding of the faith, and Catholicism’s in particular. When one examines the teachings of the Catholic Church, what one is hopefully struck by is its continual claims regarding both history and reason.

For example, the doctrine of the Incarnation holds that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, took on a real human nature, was born in time, performed numerous miracles and healings, suffered and was crucified by Roman authorities, and rose from the dead three days after his death. We could also mention the creation account in the opening book of Genesis where we come to understand, among other things, that the underlying purpose of the story is to reveal “the fact of creation.” Aquinas mentions this very point regarding the proper way to interpret the creation account in Genesis:

“There are some things that are by their very nature the substance of faith, as to say of God that He is three and one … about which it is forbidden to think otherwise… There are other things that relate to the faith only incidentally … and, with respect to these, Christian authors have different opinions, interpreting the Sacred Scripture in various ways. Thus with respect to the origin of the world, there is one point that is of the substance of faith, viz., to know that it began by creation…. But the manner and the order according to which creation took place concerns the faith only incidentally.”

If the “manner and order according to which creation took place” does not belong to the essence of the faith, then studying and seeking to give a proper explanation of such an event and further processes stemming from it requires human minds to do just that. And such an explanation about the world, the order of nature, and all its processes, presupposes something outside of our minds to observe and better understand, but which we did not make.

When considering the examples given, is it not the case that these doctrines concern factual claims about reality? If Christ was not God, born into time, or if some archaeologist discovered the bones of Jesus buried deep in the ruins of ancient Palestine, would Christianity not crumble? What makes Christianity so unique among religious faiths is precisely its historicity: if any of the historical claims about the Christian faith were shown to be false, then its very foundation and legitimacy would be undermined. Religious believers have frequently failed to articulate that the object of our faith, of what is believed, is truth. Although knowledge and belief must be distinguished, they are nevertheless united in that what we seek to know and what we hold on the basis of the authority of another is nothing other than the truth. This was precisely the point St. Paul sought to make when he told the Corinthians:

“If what we preach about Christ, then, is that He rose from the dead, how is it that some of you say the dead do not rise again? If the dead do not rise, then Christ has not risen either; and if Christ has not risen, then our preaching is groundless, and your faith, too, is groundless… If the dead, I say, do not rise, then Christ has not risen either; and if Christ has not risen, all your faith is a delusion; you are back in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:12-17)

Furthermore, the creation account in Genesis is, among other things, a METAPHYSICAL claim about the very structure and nature of reality: it is something to which human intelligence has access to and is able to better understand through repeated observation and experimentation. (Ed. that is to NOT say, Genesis does not have actual, simple, clear, demonstrable, factual, literal elements to it.  Roman Catholicism requires we believe in factual, literal, previously and now dead existent persons:  Adam & Eve.  Exactly how that is to be understood, is beyond my humble abilities and the scope of this blog post.  However, notwithstanding, the literal, actual, factual elements Catholics are required to believe by faith, requiring Genesis to be NOTHING more than a newspaper story limits God, and His beauty and wisdom, unnecessarily.  Let us not assume, in arrogance, that we understand either EVERYTHING there is to understand regarding the science nor the exegesis regarding Creation.  That position would “spit-in-the-wind” of human experience, and not withstand rational nor reasonable scrutiny.  Recall, “mystery”, used in the Catholic sense, is NOT unknowable; rather, it is infinitely knowable.  Sounds reasonable to me, your humble, favorite, applied scientist.)

St. Paul tells the Romans that man is able to rise to a knowledge of the Creator through the things he has made, those observable effects seen in the world. Revelation is here positing a philosophical position, namely, that the world is intelligible and the essences of things can be known by human intelligence. If God can be known to exist, this then could only be the case after we know and understand the essence of his effects in the natural world, those things “that he has made.” To have a real knowledge of the world existing outside of our minds is not a conclusion of religious thinking or scientific inquiry, but is presupposed by both.

The reliance on the following examples from Catholic teaching is meant to refute the Gouldian position that what belongs to the order of faith is entirely cut off from the real, thereby giving strength to the all-too-prevalent error that holds science alone is concerned with reality, and that faith is how believers seek to morally live with that reality. Catholicism’s ancient axiom is that the source of truth, whether it be from science, philosophy, history, or revelation, is the same. Believers and non-believers (and high school students) must continually be reminded that assenting to a scientific or religious claim can be based upon nothing other than the truth itself. As Catholic philosopher John Haldane reminds us in Atheism and Theism:

‘If one’s world view makes no metaphysical or historical claims then it has nothing to fear from these quarters, but equally it has nothing to contribute to them either; and this raises the question of what people think they are doing when they engage in personal prayer or sacramental worship. If Christianity is compatible with Christ’s having been a confused, trouble-making zealot Whose bones now lie beneath the sands of Palestine and whose exploits are no more than the self-serving fictions of people ignorant of the real events of His life, and with their being no reason to believe, and some reason not to believe, in the existence of a Divine Creator, then its claims to our attention are only those of a self-contained lifestyle and not of a true account of reality.’

Aut Deus, aut malus homo.  Either God, or very bad man.

Love,
Matthew

Whither Shame?: Catechesis & Narcissism/MTD

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In Greek mythology, Narcissus, was the son of the river god Cephisus and nymph Lyriope. He was known for his beauty and he was loved by the god Apollo due to his extraordinary physique. Narcissus was so beautiful, he could only love himself and no one else.

Aminias, a young man fell in love with Narcissus, who had already spurned his other male suitors. Aminias was also spurned by Narcissus who gave the unfortunate young man a sword. Aminias killed himself at Narcissus’ doorstep praying to the gods to give Narcissus a lesson for all the pain he had provoked. The gods heard Aminias’ prayer and answered.

Narcissus was walking through the woods when the Nymph Echo saw him and felt madly in love with him. She started following him and Narcissus asked “who’s there”, feeling someone after him. Echo responded “who’s there” and that went on for some time until Echo decided to show herself.

She tried to embrace the boy who stepped away from Echo, telling her to leave him alone. Echo was left heartbroken and spent the rest of her life pining after Narcissus; until nothing but an echo sound remained of her.

Narcissus walked by a lake or river and decided to drink some water; he saw his reflection in the water and was surprised by the beauty he saw; he became entranced by the reflection of himself. He could not obtain the object of his desire though, nor could he part from it for any reason, and he died at the banks of the river or lake from his sorrow.

According to the myth Narcissus is still admiring himself in the Underworld, looking at the waters of the Styx.

Jonathan-B.-Coe
-by Jonathan B. Coe, is a graduate of Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Before being received into the Catholic Church in 2004, he served in pastoral ministry in Anchor Point, Alaska, and in campus ministry at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He is the author of Letters from Fawn Creek, a volume of spiritual direction, and is currently at work on a novel.

“Millennials—whom most researchers and commentators identify as that generation born from the early 1980s to 2000—may grow weary of hearing their parents and grandparents say, “Young people today seem more self-centered than in my day,” but their forebears are right. Their narcissism, in comparison to past generations, has been empirically verified in the work of San Diego State University psychology professor, Jean Twenge, and is confirmed in another study by the National Institutes of Health that was published in 2008. I can almost hear someone’s feisty Catholic grandmother or grandfather saying, “I don’t need a study to tell me what I see with my own two eyes and hear with my own two ears.”

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Of particular interest to the Church is the work of Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith, and Melinda Lundquist Denton, in the early 2000s, that foreshadows the aforementioned studies and provides an illuminating window into the spiritual and religious lives of American teenagers and, undoubtedly, many of their parents.

The results revealed that the typical teenager in the U.S. believed that each individual is uniquely distinct from all others and deserves a faith that fits her or his singular self; that individuals must freely choose their own religion; that the individual is the authority over religion and not vice-versa; that religion need not be practiced by a community; that no person may exercise judgments about or attempt to change the faith of other people; and that religious beliefs are ultimately interchangeable insofar as what matters is not the integrity of the belief system but the comfortability of the individual holding specific religious beliefs. (wtf????really? Really.)

Smith and Denton called the dominant religion of American teenagers in the early twenty-first century “Moral Therapeutic Deism,” whose primary agenda is to make one “feel good and happy about oneself and one’s life.” God is “something like a Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: He is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps people to feel better about themselves, and does not become personally involved in the process.” The results of these studies spotlight the narcissism of the Millennials but it’s easy to forget that they are often the offspring of the Baby Boomer generation who gave us the foolish saying, “If it feels good, do it.”

These trends were remarkably predicted six decades ago in the landmark book, Triumph of the Therapeutic, by Philip Rieff, who recognized that, in the West, the religious world-view that is concerned with personal salvation in God had been eclipsed by the therapeutic culture whose primary goal is for the individual to feel good because there is “nothing at stake beyond a manipulatable sense of well-being.”

Eminent moral philosopher and Catholic convert, Alisdair MacIntyre, laments the corrosive effects of the therapeutic agenda on ethics in the West that reduces right and wrong to something that is entirely subjective and feeling-based: “whatever makes you happy as long as you don’t hurt anybody.” Erudite author and radio talk-show host Dennis Prager interviewed a 26-year-old Swedish woman and graduate student and discussed some of the more controversial religious and moral issues of the day with her. Prager, whose religious faith is deeply rooted in Judaism, told her that he got his values from the Torah and asked her where she got her values. She said, “ From my heart.” (Ed.  being young, they are pretty, as all generations before in youth, but boy are they dumb!! :/  “Fame is fleeting, Beauty fades, Dumb is 4evah!!! – a t-shirt I created, mea culpa.)

It’s not an exaggeration to assert that many American Catholics have been colonized by the Therapeutic. How else can we account for the fact that, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, 58 percent of them who attend Mass weekly believe that divorced and remarried parishioners, who have not been through the annulment process, should be allowed to receive Communion; 42 percent think that co-habiting couples should be able to partake of the Eucharist, and only 46 percent think that pre-marital sex is a sin?

It’s difficult to believe that a weekly attender of Mass would be ignorant of the Church’s teaching on these issues. It’s more likely that a large percentage of the people are aware of the teaching, have chosen to reject it, and are appealing to the authority of the feelings of their autonomous self. Like the Swedish grad student, they are following their heart. MacIntyre calls this way of doing morality “emotivism.”

The therapeutic sensibility often comes out of hiding when there is controversy among Christians and the issue of authority comes to the foreground. Over the years, when I’ve had arguments with other Christians about the homosexual lifestyle, I’ve encountered the therapeutic world-view: “I like Bob and Bill. I know them. They’re great people. They didn’t choose their sexuality. They’re good neighbors, hard-working, and law-abiding citizens.” This all may be true but notice the source of authority here is how the person feels about Bob and Bill.

A co-worker I knew who was a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America had these sentiments until we discussed the witness of Scripture concerning homosexual behavior. He then changed his mind and embraced the orthodox view. The results weren’t so good in discussing the same issue with a middle-aged Catholic man in an Adult Christian Education class I co-taught in the mid-2000s. On the one hand he was aware of the witness of Scripture (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26; Matthew 19:1-12) that was buttressed by over 2,000 years of Church Tradition and the teaching of the Magisterium. On the other hand were his own feelings about the issue that were greatly influenced by a close friend who had a gay son. He went with his feelings.

The good news in these two stories is that minds and hearts can change if you have some common ground in the area of authority. However, catechesis in a therapeutic age can feel overwhelming at times and calls to mind Hercules fighting the Hydra: with the serpent having so many heads, where do you start? The deleterious effects of the Therapeutic on ethics is just one head. The Church should strap in for a long, hard struggle and needs to have an “all hands on deck” approach with both the lay priesthood and ordained priesthood fully engaged in the battle.  AMEN!!!

It’s a conflict whose spiritual and moral lineage can be traced back to the Garden of Eden and the seduction that took place there. The serpent undermined divine authority, Eve consulted her subjective feelings and disobeyed, Adam followed suit, and we’ve been living with the consequences ever since. Perhaps a good starting point for catechesis in a therapeutic age is to present sharp contrasts—bold colors, not faded pastels—between the Therapeutic and the Orthodox—i.e. Christian traditions rooted in orthodoxy—with the hope that the parishioner will choose the latter and leaven the culture with that faith. A small beginning of that instruction might read as follows:

  • The orthodox Christian believes the purpose of their existence is to know, love, honor, and glorify God.
  • Their raison d’etre is to serve God; for the Therapeutic, the purpose of God’s existence is to serve them.
  • For the orthodox Christian, their relationship with God is an end-in-itself: their highest goal is to love God; their greatest possession is an intimate relationship with Him.
  • For the Therapeutic, their relationship to God is a means to an end; it is utilitarian in nature. Their highest goal is for the Deity to provide them with feelings of well-being; their greatest possession is to have a life that is a journey of self-discovery and self-fulfillment.
  • The orthodox Christian seeks a pilgrimage that imitates the Passion in self-giving love.
  • The mission of the Catholic is to incarnate what has been re-presented in the Mass—the self-donating love of the Crucified God—and be sent forth as the anti-therapeutic in a therapeutic culture.
  • As important as catechesis is, the spirit of the anti-therapeutic is caught more often than it is taught. This explains Malcolm Muggeridge’s conversion to Catholicism late in life. It wasn’t Mother Teresa’s erudition that moved him but her example of self-giving love.

The orthodox Christian knows it is the Father’s good pleasure to give them subjective feelings of happiness. Scripture commends the enjoyment of life (Ecclesiastes 8:15); their Lord performed his first miracle at a wedding feast turning the water into wine. Many Catholics would call this “good Catholic fun.”  (Ed.  Saints have a Sense of Humor!!  JOY!!! is the definitive mark of the Christian!!!)  However, whereas the Therapeutic see feeling good as a right, the orthodox Christian sees it as a gift that is not guaranteed. Catholics hearken back to the words of the Mother of God to St. Bernadette of Soubirous: “I do not promise to make you happy in this life, but in the next.”

It is interesting to note that in his last published writing, C.S. Lewis wrote, in contradistinction to the Declaration of Independence, a piece called “We Have No ‘Right To Happiness.’” He averred that we should not be pursuing feelings of happiness but the “happiness” that Aristotle called eudaimonia that has nothing to do with feeling good, but has everything to do with spiritual health: a moral quality of life that Aristotle described as “an activity of the soul expressing virtue.” The Therapeutic want to feel good; the orthodox Christian wants to be good.

The orthodox Christian also knows that there is an undeniable measure of disappointment built into the ancient faith. This is summarized cogently by Simon Tugwell, O.P.: “Christianity has to be disappointing, precisely because it is not a mechanism for accomplishing all our human ambitions and aspirations; it is a mechanism for subjecting all things to the will of God.” For the orthodox Christian these disappointments become a doorway to humility and self-knowledge; for the Therapeutic they become a cause for offense and a reason to move on and explore other “spiritualities” or churches that will help them “find themselves.”

Despite disappointment being built into the Christian faith, multiple studies indicate that orthodox Christians, in general, do experience subjective feelings of well-being more consistently than the Therapeutic. But since the pursuit of feeling good is not front and center in their lives, they often experience feelings of well-being as a result of putting other things first (e.g., faith, serving others, charitable giving, family, friendships, etc.). While the Therapeutic put feeling good at the top of their agenda, many of them will experience the law of diminishing returns: the more they chase subjective feelings of well-being, the less they will experience them, like a drug addict who has the initial cocaine high then spends twenty years trying to recapture the original experience.

The Therapeutic will often say, “I’m not religious; I’m spiritual.” Devout Catholics will often say, “I’m not spiritual; I’m religious.” For the therapeutic personality, the “spiritual” is defined as those experiences that increase good feelings while “religious” experiences decrease them or are neutral. Thus the Mass can be deemed spiritual or religious based on the particular mood of the therapeutic parishioner. If Christian leadership accommodates the therapeutic Zeitgeist, they will be consigned to emerge every Sunday morning as the “Therapist-in-Chief” with their homiletical grab bag of affirmations and happy talk—Deepak Chopra in religious garb—in an effort to facilitate a plentitude of endorphins among the gathered assembly. This is what the apostle Paul called “preaching another gospel.” Instead, both the ordained priesthood and the lay priesthood need to stand firm in the faith once delivered to the saints, imitate the self- sacrifice of the Passion, and extend the tender mercies of God to those who have been bewitched by the Therapeutic.”

Love,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura?: Bible not available to individual Christians until 15th century

Ancient-Bible

Let us recall that, until lately in the modern age, books were expensive possessions, and literacy, uncommon. Many will accuse the Church of burning heretics and their heretical books. Actually, it was the State which viewed heresy as treasonous, and burned heretics at the stake along with witches, et al. The Church was forbidden from shedding blood. The rack and the pear do not shed blood, necessarily.

This seems like a logical and reasonable practice to me if your goal is to preserve the intellectual integrity of knowledge amongst a grossly uneducated/undereducated populace. Seems reasonable. Of course, you can see how much unity and peace we have in the modern age from widely available varieties of texts, mass distribution and availability of ideas, the humility to learn, and general literacy and education, even if heretical. Right? (sic) While you may not approve of their methods, you cannot accuse their premise of being incorrect. You cannot; too much proof. Too much.

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-by Joel Peters

“Essential to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the idea that the Holy Spirit will enlighten each believer as to the correct interpretation for a given Bible passage. This idea presupposes that each believer possesses a Bible or at least has access to a Bible. The difficulty with such a presumption is that the Bible was not able to be mass-produced and readily available to individual believers until the advent of the printing press in the 15th century. (34) Even then, it would have taken quite some time for large numbers of Bibles to be printed and disseminated to the general population.

The predicament caused by this state of affairs is that millions upon millions of Christians who lived prior to the 15th century would have been left without a final authority, left to flounder spiritually, unless by chance they had access to a hand-copied Bible. Even a mere human understanding of such circumstances would make God out to be quite cruel, as He would have revealed the fullness of His Word to humanity in Christ, knowing that the means by which such information could be made readily available would not exist for another 15 centuries.

On the other hand, we know that God is not cruel at all, but in fact has infinite love for us. It is for this reason that He did not leave us in darkness. He sent us His Son to teach us the way we should believe and act, and this Son established a Church to promote those teachings through preaching to both the learned and the illiterate. “Faith then cometh by hearing; and hearing by the Word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17). Christ also gave to His Church His guarantee that He would always be with it, never allowing it to fall into error. God, therefore, did not abandon His people and make them rely upon the invention of the printing press to be the means whereby they would come to a saving knowledge of His Son. Instead, He gave us a divinely established, infallible teacher, the Catholic Church, to provide us with the means to be informed of the Good News of the Gospel – and to be informed correctly.”

Love,
Matthew

34. It should be noted that the inventor of the printing press – Johannes Gutenberg – was Catholic, and that the first book he printed was the Bible (circa 1455). It should also be noted that the first printed Bible contained 73 books, the exact same number as today’s Catholic Bible. Protestants deleted 7 books from the Old Testament after the Bible had already begun being printed.

Bearing False Witness: Debunking Ten Myths about Catholicism

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Dr. Rodney Stark, PhD

INTERVIEW WITH DR. RODNEY STARK, PHD BY CATHOLIC WORLD REPORT
Why is this non-Catholic scholar debunking “centuries of anti-Catholic history”?
An interview with Dr. Rodney Stark, sociologist and author of “Bearing False Witness”
May 07, 2016 03:21 EST
-by Carl E. Olson

“Dr. Rodney Stark has written nearly 40 books on a wide range of topics, including a number of recent books on the history of Christianity, monotheism, Christianity in China, and the roots of modernity. After beginning as a newspaper reporter and spending time in the Army, Stark received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where he held appointments as a research sociologist at the Survey Research Center and at the Center for the Study of Law and Society. He later was Professor of Sociology and of Comparative Religion at the University of Washington; he has been at Baylor University since 2004. Stark is past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, and he has won a number of national and international awards for distinguished scholarship. Raised as a Lutheran, he has identified himself as an agnostic but has, more recently, called himself an “independent Christian”.

His most recent book is Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History (Templeton Press, 2016), a bestseller on Amazon.com, addresses ten prevalent myths about Church history. Dr. Stark recently responded by e-mail to some questions from Carl E. Olson, editor of Catholic World Report.

CWR: You begin the book by first noting your upbringing as an American Protestant and then discussing “distinguished bigots”. What is a “distinguished bigot”? And how have such people influenced the way in which the Catholic Church is understood and perceived by many Americans today?

Dr. Rodney Stark: By distinguished bigots I mean prominent scholars and intellectuals who clearly are antagonistic to the Catholic Church and who promulgate false historical claims.

CWR: How did you go about identifying and selecting the ten anti-Catholic myths that you rebut in the book? To what degree are these myths part of a general (if sometimes vague) Protestant culture, and to what degree are they encouraged and spread by a more secular, elite culture?

Dr. Stark: For the most part I encountered these anti-Catholic myths as I wrote about various historical periods and events, and discovered that these well-known ‘facts” were false and therefore was forced to deal with them in those studies. These myths are not limited to some generalized Protestant culture—many Catholics, including well-known ones, have repeated them too. These myths have too often, and for too long, been granted truthful validity by historians in general. Of course secularists—especially ex-Catholics such as Karen Armstrong—love these myths.

CWR: The first chapter is on “sins of anti-Semitism,” perhaps the most divisive and controversial of the topics you address. How have your own views on this issue changed, and why? Why do you think there continues to be a wide-spread belief or impression that the Catholic Church in inherently anti-Semitic?

Dr. Stark: When I began as a scholar, “everybody” including leading Catholics knew the Church was a primary source of anti-Semitism. It was only later as I worked with materials on medieval attacks on Jews that I discovered the effective role of the Church in opposing and suppressing such attacks—this truth being told by medieval Jewish chroniclers and thereby most certainly true. Why do so many ‘intellectuals,’ many of them ex-Catholics, continue to accept the notion that Pope Pius XII was “Hitler’s Pope,” when that is so obviously a vicious lie? It can only be hatred of the Church. Keep in mind that it is prominent Jews who defend the pope.

CWR: Why have various historians, such as Gibbons, presented the ancient pagans as either benevolent or mostly tolerant toward Christianity? What was the actual relationship between Christianity and paganism in the first centuries of the Church’s existence?

Dr. Stark: In those days, the safe way to attack religion was to let readers assume it was only an attack on Catholicism, so that’s what Gibbon and his contemporaries did. Perhaps surprisingly, once the pagans were no longer able to persecute Christians, they were pretty much ignored by the Church and by emperors and only slowly disappeared

CWR: How did the mythology of the “Dark Ages” develop? What are some of the main problems with that mythology?

Dr. Stark: Voltaire and his associates made up the fiction of the Dark Ages so that they could claim to have burst forth with the Enlightenment. As every competent historian (and even the encyclopedias) now acknowledges, there were no Dark Ages. To the contrary, it was during these centuries that Europe took the great cultural and technological leap forward that put it so far ahead of the rest of the world.

CWR: What relationship is there between the mythology of the “Dark Ages” and the myth of “secular Enlightenment”? How rational and scientific, in fact, was the Enlightenment?

Dr. Stark: The “philosophes” of the so-called “Enlightenment played no role in the rise of science—the great scientific progress of the time was achieved by highly religious men, many of them Catholic clergy.

CWR: The Crusades and the Inquisitions continue be presented as epochs and events that involved Christian barbarism and the murder of millions. Why are those myths so widespread and popular, especially after scholars have spent decades correcting and clarifying what really did (or did not) happen?

Dr. Stark: I am competent to reveal that the Crusades were legitimate defensive wars and that the Inquisition was not bloody. I am not competent to explain why the pile of fine research supporting these corrections have had no impact on the chattering classes. I suspect that these myths are too precious for the anti-religious to surrender.

CWR: In addressing “Protestant Modernity” you flatly stated that Max Weber’s thesis that Protestantism birthed capitalism and modernity is “nonsense”. What are the main problems with Weber’s thesis?

Dr. Stark: The problem is simply that capitalism was fully developed and thriving in Europe many centuries before the Reformation.

CWR: You emphatically state that as a scholar with a Protestant background working at a Baptist university you did not write your book as “a defense of the Church” but “in defense of history.” Why is that significant? And, finally, do you think most Americans actually give more credence to history than to the Church?

Dr. Stark: I think the distinguished bigots will have a hard time accusing me of being a Catholic toady, trying to cover up the sins of the Church. The only axe I have to grind is that history ought to be honestly reported. As to your final point: I don’t think ‘most Americans’ will ever know that this book was written. I can only hope that I will influence intellectuals and textbook writers—maybe.”

Love,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura?: Hundreds of Bible versions

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-by Joel Peters

“As mentioned in the prior post, there are thousands and thousands of variations in the Biblical manuscripts. This problem is compounded by the fact that history has known hundreds of Bible versions, which vary in translation as well as textual sources. The question which begs to be asked is, “Which version is the correct one?” or “Which version is closest to the original manuscripts?” One possible answer will depend on which side of the Catholic/Protestant issue you situate yourself. Another possible answer will depend upon which Bible scholars you consider to be trustworthy and reputable.

The simple fact is that some versions are clearly inferior to others. Progress in the field of Biblical research made possible by archaeological discoveries (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls) has vastly improved our knowledge of the ancient Biblical languages and settings. We know more today about the variables impacting upon Biblical studies than our counterparts of 100, 200, or 1,000 years ago. From this point of view, modern Bible versions may have a certain superiority to older Bible versions. On the other hand, Bibles based on the Latin Vulgate of Saint Jerome (4th century) – in English, this is the Douay-Rheims – are based on original texts which have since perished, and thus these traditional versions bypass 16 centuries of possible textual corruption.

This fact causes a considerable problem for the Protestant, because it means that modern Protestants may have in some respects a “better” or more accurate Bible than their forbears, while in other respects they may have a “poorer” or less accurate Bible – which in turn means that modern Protestants have either a “more authoritative” final authority or a “less authoritative” final authority than their predecessors. But the existence of degrees of authoritativeness begins to undermine Sola Scirptura, because it would mean that one Bible is not as authentic a final authority as another one. And if it is not as authentic, then the possibility of transmitting erroneous doctrine increases, and the particular Bible version then fails to function as the final authority, since it is not actually final.

Another point to consider is that Bible translators, as human beings, are not completely objective and impartial. Some may be likely to render a given passage in a manner which corresponds more closely with one belief system rather than with another. An example of this tendency can be seen in Protestant Bibles where the Greek word paradoseis occurs. Since Protestants deny the existence of Sacred Tradition, some Protestant translations of the Bible render this word as “teachings” or “customs” rather than “tradition,” as the latter would tend to give more weight to the Catholic position.

Yet another consideration is the reality that some versions of the Bible are outright perversions of the Biblical texts, as in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation. Here the “translators” render key passages in a manner which suits their erroneous doctrines. (32) Now unless there is an authority outside of the Bible to declare such translations unreliable and dangerous, by what authority could someone call them unsuited for use in teaching doctrine? If the Protestant responds by saying that this issue can be determined on the basis of Biblical scholarship, then he is ignorant of the fact that the Jehovah’s Witnesses also cite sources of Biblical scholarship in support of their translation of these passages! The issue then devolves into a game of pitting one source of scholarship against another – one human authority against another.

Ultimately, the problem can only be resolved through the intervention of an infallible teaching authority which speaks on behalf of Christ. The Catholic knows that that authority is the Roman Catholic Church and its Magisterium or teaching authority. In an exercise of this authority, Catholic Bishops grant an imprimatur (meaning “Let it be printed”) to be included on the opening pages of certain Bible versions and other spiritual literature to alert the reader that the book contains nothing contrary to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.” (33)

Love,
Matthew

(32) Of the numerous examples which could be cited, space considerations confine us to just a few to illustrate the point. In John 1:1, the NWT reads, “… and the Word was a god” rather than “and the Word was God,” because Witnesses deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. In Colossians 1:15-20, the NWT inserts the word “other” into the text four times because Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ Himself was created. In Matthew 26:26 the NWT reads “… this means my body…” instead of “This is my body,” because Witnesses deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

(33) Moreover, the old Latin Vulgate version of the Bible received a very particular approval by the Church at the Council of Trent among all the Latin editions of the Scriptures then in circulation. The Council of Trent declared: “Moreover, the same Holy Council [of Trent]… ordains and declares that the old Latin Vulgate Edition, which, in use for so many hundred years, has been approved by the Church, be in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions held as authentic, and that no one dare or presume under any pretext whatsoever to reject it.” (Fourth Session, April 8, 1546). Hence, as Pope Pius XII stated in his 1943 encyclical letter Divino Afflante Spiritu (“On the Promotion of Biblical Studies”), the Vulgate, “when interpreted in the sense in which the Church has always understood it,” is “free from any error whatsoever in matters of faith and morals.

In 1907 Pope Saint Pius X (1903-1914) initiated a revision of the Vulgate to achieve even greater textual accuracy. After his death, this huge project was carried on by others. In 1979 Pope John Paul II promulgated a “New Vulgate” as “Editio typica” or “normative edition’.”

United Methodism – Doctrinal Pluralism, and its effects

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-John Wesley, founder of Methodism

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-by William J. Abraham, June 1998, is the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at the Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. He is the author of “Waking From Doctrinal Amnesia: The Healing of Doctrine in the United Methodist Church” (1995) and “Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology from the Fathers to Feminism”, from Clarendon/Oxford University Press.

“The United Methodist Church stands at a critical moment. Founded in 1968 at a time of ecumenical enthusiasm and euphoria, it now harbors within it forces that threaten to destroy it as a single body. Those forces did not arise overnight; indeed they stretch back into the parent bodies that merged to form United Methodism. Three groups, the liberals, radicals, and conservatives, are finding their uneasy compromise difficult to maintain.

It has long been agreed that United Methodism is a coalition of diverse conviction and opinion, having been formed under the banner of theological pluralism. Church leaders took the view in the 1970s that the core identity of United Methodism, if there was one at all, was located in commitment to the Methodist Quadrilateral (Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience), and that this not only permitted but in fact sanctioned and fostered doctrinal pluralism.

Doctrinal pluralism, despite its intellectual incoherence, will work so long as something akin to Liberal Protestantism is held by the leadership of the church and so long as those who are not Liberal Protestants acquiesce. In fact pluralism is part of the intellectual structure of Liberal Protestantism.

If you believe that Christian doctrine is essentially an attempt to capture dimensions of human experience that defy precise expression in language because of personal and cultural limitations, then the truth about God, the human condition, salvation, and the like can never be adequately posited once and for all; on the contrary, the church must express ever and anew its experience of the divine as mediated through Jesus Christ.

The church becomes a kind of eternal seminar whose standard texts keep changing and whose conversation never ends. In these circumstances pluralism is an inescapable feature of the church’s life. Pluralism effectively prevents the emergence of Christian doctrinal confession, that is, agreed Christian conviction and truth; and it creates the psychological and social conditions for constant self-criticism and review.

The incoherence of this position is not difficult to discern, despite its initial plausibility. On its own terms it cannot tolerate, for example, those who believe that there really is a definitive revelation of the divine, that the church really can discern and express the truth about God through the working of reason and the Holy Spirit, and that such truth is necessary for effective mission and service. Hence pluralism is by nature exclusionary. Thus it is no surprise that pluralists readily desert their pluralism in their vehement opposition to certain kinds of classical and conservative theology.

Pluralism is at once absolutist and relativist. It is absolutely committed to the negative doctrine that there is no divine revelation that delivers genuine knowledge of God; it is absolutely committed to a radically apophatic conception of Christian theology, so that no human language or concept, no product of reason at all, can adequately express the mystery of the divine; and it is absolutely committed to using theology to articulate Christian doctrine given the needs and idiom of the day. But it is relativist in its vision of what constitutes the material content of Christian doctrine at any point in history. Doctrine for the pluralists is the expression of Christian teaching as worked out by some appropriate theology and expressed in terms adequate to the culture of the day. To them, Christian tradition constitutes a series of landmark expressions of the faith which are worth exploring, but which must change to incorporate new insights and new truth. On this analysis tradition is seen to be a relatively benign, if not strictly binding, phenomenon.

More recently, however, a very different attitude to the church’s tradition has emerged. There is now abroad in theology a form of Radical Protestantism which constitutes a whole new vision of Christian faith and existence. Its proponents claim that the tradition is dominated by patriarchy and exclusion, the product of oppressive forces linked to geographical location, social class, race, and gender. It is not to be tolerated, but stamped out and destroyed. Nobody, at least in public, would be prepared to state the matter that bluntly, but that is the truth of the matter.

Like the liberals, the radicals are both absolutists and relativists, but about different matters. They absolutize a commitment to liberation, emancipation, and empowerment. Equally absolute is the privileged position of designated victims of oppression. In some radical circles we can detect that a working doctrine of divine revelation has crept back into their discourse, where certain experiences of oppression and liberation are taken as epiphanies or as visible signs of the reign of God, and anything that questions the truth embedded in these experiences must be suppressed. On the other hand, radicals insist, we should not suppress the diverse convictions, ideologies, theories, and discourses of the new included groups. They become the real focus of pluralism as we try to foster different voices, experiences, readings, and proposals within the carefully circumscribed boundaries.

Within intellectual circles in United Methodism these developments have caused some consternation. Many of the great Liberal Protestant teachers of the tradition in the last generation have become disillusioned by the loss of their cherished conceptions of critical inquiry, courtesy, and academic standards. They are undergoing a mixed sense of despair, betrayal, and alienation. Their ideas of objective scholarship have been overtaken by forms of engaged or committed scholarship which they see as a mixture of radical subjectivism and political manipulation. A fertile few have managed to find a way to take on board some of the new theories without jettisoning the deep structure of their position, but the general sense is one of weariness and deep loss.

Recently, divisions that had only surfaced in academic discussions have begun to move out into the wider church. Significant numbers of women clergy now see opposition to their intellectual positions as ineradicably linked to right-wing Christianity or as inextricably tied to a backlash on the part of white male members in the church. This is entirely in keeping with the underlying convictions about knowledge and power that animate much of the new trend in theology.

These developments are a genuinely new arrival within the borders of United Methodism. This is not, of course, the first time that there has been a changing of the academic guard; but this time we have something more, an intentional political edge that does not permit it to be contained within the standard liberal language of tolerance and civility. “Engaged scholarship” brings into the heart of the discussion considerations related to emotion, commitment, personal identity, subjective reception, and radical enactment in the public arena. There is in fact a missionary dimension that drives its adherents to transform the church and the world. In this respect the new orthodoxy is very much like earlier forms of orthodoxy that sought to serve the church from within a very particular confessional stance. There is also a concomitant concern to link knowledge and action and to relate action to vital spirituality.

Many fine pastors, theologians, and administrators, people who have given a generation of service to the church and who are committed to a small core of Christological conviction surrounded by a very flexible outer ring of conviction, still imagine that things are much the same as they were when they were in seminary. Such leaders have been able to survive intellectually by folding the reigning diversity and pluralism into their conviction that Jesus really is the Son of God and the teacher and savior of the world. Their motto could be summed up: “Stick closely to Christ and leave the rest to God and human history.” This is an inadequate body of doctrine for the long haul of history, but it has served a whole generation remarkably well. Although they are aware that the intellectual landmarks are changing, they find it difficult to believe that the basic commitment to civility, relevant evidence, and respect for the tradition of the church across the ages might be overtaken by a very different vision of the church. Yet it is only a matter of time before the changes identified above will force themselves upon these leaders.

To round out this contemporary portrait of the United Methodist Church, something needs to be said about conservative or classical Methodists. It is this group, often identified in secularist fashion as the right wing of the denomination, that is accused of splitting the church.

This charge is puzzling in the extreme, for the practice of even the hard-line conservatives has been anything but schismatic. Rather than pull out, they have opted over many years to stay in and work for renewal. Indeed, most conservatives within United Methodism are instinctively oriented to renewal rather than schism. Those committed to schism have already left and gone elsewhere. The conservative wing of the church is itself a fragile coalition, including those who lean in a catholic direction, those who are card-carrying charismatics, those inclined in an Anabaptist direction, and those who are really pragmatists at heart but for the moment lean to conservatism out of convenience and traditional piety. Those who believe that there is some kind of conspiracy afoot to pull out and form a new church overlook these differences among conservatives, and underestimate the difficulty of bringing them all together. The coalition holds together informally for the most part because of the perceived threat to the integrity and continuity of the Methodist tradition. Take away that threat and the inner divisions within the conservative wing of the church will quickly become visible.

Three additional considerations are pivotal for understanding the current mood among conservatives. First, they have been reasonably effective at the local level; in some cases their success in growing local churches has been spectacular. This has kept them busy and enabled them to ignore those features of the larger church that disturb them. Secondly, they have become more organized politically within the church as a whole. Though still at the margins, they now have to be reckoned with seriously. Thirdly, a network of highly educated conservative academics has begun something of a renaissance of classical Wesleyanism. The development of such a network opens the way for a deeper renewal, looking to issues of principle that would otherwise be ignored and to articulating a more forceful diagnosis of the situation in the church.

Schismatic activity would involve conservatives abandoning their own principles. There are few more telling pieces on the evils of schism and its consequences than that provided by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. (The irony of Wesley’s own position will not, however, be lost on the perceptive reader, for Wesley made this attack on parties within the church all the while he was organizing one of the most effective renewal movements that Anglicanism had seen.)

Consider the following comments:

As . . . separation is evil in itself, being a breach of brotherly love, so it brings forth evil fruit; it is naturally productive of the most mischievous consequences. It opens a door to all unkind tempers, both in ourselves and others. It leads directly to a whole train of evil surmisings, to severe and uncharitable judging of each other. It gives occasion to offense, to anger, and to resentment, perhaps in ourselves as well as in our brethren, which if not presently stopped, may issue in bitterness, malice, and settled hatred, creating a present hell wherever they are found, as a prelude to hell eternal.

Wesley provides a graphic catalogue of woes that follow from division and schism. Evil tempers lead to evil actions, which in turn lead some Christians to abandon the faith and put their eternal salvation at risk. Offense is given to the Holy Spirit, holiness is quenched, and evangelism suffers, for outsiders see no point in becoming Christian. Ultimately both the power and the very form of religion are destroyed. Even a cursory reading of Wesley is an antidote to any thought of schism in the church.

Despite these features of conservative Methodism, others still fear it as a source of division in the church, and perhaps understandably so. A new brand of conservative is emerging who is arguing that United Methodism really does have a substantial doctrine to which the tradition has been and should be committed. Non-conservative United Methodists instinctively fear that such a perspective will divide the church because it involves the marking of boundaries between those who are in and those who are out. In short, critics are relying on the old slogan that doctrine divides while experience unites. The insistence that United Methodism is a confessional church, a central claim of most conservatives, threatens the commitment to pluralism, diversity, and inclusiveness of the last generation of United Methodists. Here we have reached the nub of the charge, for abandoning pluralism and accepting diversity only within agreed boundaries does indeed represent a significant departure from the unstable orthodoxy that has been in vogue for so long.

Yet even this move on the part of conservatives need not lead to schism. On the contrary, those pressing this reorientation have done exactly what those committed to pluralism did a generation ago. They have worked out a careful account of the United Methodist tradition that rivals the prevailing one. They have proposed a deep conversation on the doctrinal identity of United Methodism, and they have insisted that any debate that emerges be conducted in a serious and civilized fashion. Moreover, they readily acknowledge that proposed legislative and other changes, if needed, should be carried out within the corridors and courts of the church in a rational and fair manner. Liberal Protestants should grasp the value of such an approach immediately. It is an open question whether they will actually do so, or whether they will join with Radical Protestants in dismissing this whole exercise as a cover for ideology and a quest for power.

In light of all these considerations, it is quite remarkable that United Methodism has been able to hang together for so long. While other factors are clearly involved, we have been fortunate to have had a cadre of Liberal Protestants who have been able to lead (albeit in a way that has exasperated both conservatives and radicals), and to have had a strong commitment on the part of conservatives to stay on board and work for renewal. However, as I have noted, this is now in the process of disintegrating, and it is the liberal commitment to pluralism that is giving way. Pluralism, much as it continues to be prized among liberals, is a self-destructive notion rejected by both radicals and conservatives. It is an inherently unstable arrangement that cannot survive either the force of logic or the march of events.

We are facing, then, the breakdown of a working consensus, and it is not difficult to imagine what it would take to complete the break. A headstrong figure, the theological and ecclesiastical equivalent of a Ross Perot, might emerge and insist that the whole church follow his way or die. A significant group of bishops could manage to develop an agenda deeply at odds with prevailing circumstances. Some large bodies, or jurisdictions, might become so alienated from the leadership of the church and so upset about funding policies in key areas that they decide to withhold all contributions to the Connection, the governing body of United Methodism.

Suppose there emerged from left or right an issue of moral commitment over which the diverse movements in the church could agree that church-wide action must be taken but could not agree on what action to take. Suppose, further, that this issue was logically related to matters of principle at a deeper level, so that one could not commit oneself on this issue without also making significant commitments about the internal logic and character of the tradition as a whole. Suppose, still further, that those demanding action intended to use not just argument and rhetoric but activist demonstration to secure their ends. Suppose, finally, that they were to form a community of local churches and other entities within United Methodism that both expressed their moral convictions and worked assiduously for the practical adoption of their agenda. If such a scenario were to develop, then there can be no doubting that the community would be ripe for outright schism.

It does not take a rocket scientist to work out what the relevant scenario actually is. Like all mainline Protestant denominations, United Methodism finds itself challenged on its traditional position on sexual morality by the emergence of the conscientious conviction that gay and lesbian relationships are a legitimate expression of God’s good and diverse creation. Revisionists are sufficiently agitated by the righteousness of their cause that they deem it essential to make use of both rational and nonrational means to win over the church as whole. More than a decade ago they took the important step of institutionalizing their position across the denomination.

There is a deep and unintended irony in this development. The theology driving the conscience of change is one that is deeply committed to inclusivism. In this theology gay and lesbian Christians have the same status earlier attributed to slaves and currently attributed to women, the status of those excluded from the traditional church. The clear aim is to include this new minority within the church, but the effect is to drive out those opposed to legitimizing homosexuality. Because they see themselves as agents of reconciliation and unity, the revisionists have difficulty seeing that their position is in effect exclusionary.

Awareness of this paradox may do little to alter the way things will turn out. Perceptive revisionists can see this, and they face a difficult dilemma. One prominent pastor personally committed to the position of the revisionists stated in a pastoral letter to his congregation that were the revisionists successful, those opposed to the legitimization of homosexuality would be forced to make a painful decision: they could either remain within a church that would stand for an agenda they found incompatible with obedience to Christ, or they could leave the church. “On an issue on which the whole body of believers finds so many unresolvable questions, I find it unacceptable to force a large number of our members to face this dilemma.”

This is a refreshing acknowledgment of the matter. Equally refreshing in its honesty is the following comment of a senior pastor of a Reconciling (i.e., revisionist) congregation.

Now it is our turn to get honest. Although the creeds of our denomination pay lip service to the idea that Scripture is “authoritative” and “sufficient for faith and practice,” many of us have moved far beyond that notion in our theological thinking. We are only deceiving ourselves—and lying to our evangelical brothers and sisters—when we deny the shift we have made.

We have moved beyond Luther’s sola Scriptura for the same reason the Catholic Church moved beyond the canonized Scriptures after the fourth century. We recognize that understandings of situations change. “New occasions teach new duties.” We have moved far beyond the idea that the Bible is exclusively normative and literally authoritative for our faith. To my thinking, that is good! What is bad is that we have tried to con ourselves and others by saying “we haven’t changed our position.”

Furthermore, few of us retain belief in Christ as the sole way of salvation. We trust that God can work under many other names and in many other forms to save people. Our views have changed over the years.

Such an admission makes clear that more is at stake on this issue than a new moral judgment of homosexuality. What is at stake are issues of principle—the role of revelation and Scripture in the formation of conscience—that affect matters of doctrine ranging from the place of the Methodist Quadrilateral in the formation of United Methodist identity to the place of Christ in salvation.

The dilemma for the conservatives, forced upon them by the attack against traditional teachings, is simple: they perceive their position to be essential to Christianity, so they cannot see it abandoned and retain loyalty to what is left.

Not surprisingly, we can look to the founder of Methodism for guidance. John Wesley recognized that not all internal disputes within the church could be traced back to bad faith or lack of love. Some were matters of conscience. Speaking of his relationship to his beloved Church of England, he wrote:

I am now, and have been from my youth, a member and a minister of the Church of England. And I have no desire nor design to separate from it till my soul separates from my body. Yet if I was not permitted to remain therein without omitting what God requires me to do, it would then become meet, and right, and my bounden duty to separate from it without delay. To be more particular, I know God has committed to me a dispensation of the gospel. Yea, and my own salvation depends upon preaching it: “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” If then I could not remain in the church without omitting this, without desisting from the gospel, I should be under a necessity of separating from it, or losing my own soul. In like manner, if I could not continue to unite with any smaller society, church, or body of Christians, without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to other doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society. And in all these cases the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, would not lie upon me, but upon those who constrained me to make that separation by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply with.

This is a sobering admonition. Given that it appears within the canonical heritage of United Methodism, it is worth asking whether what it portends can be forestalled. How might division be avoided? We can think of several possibilities, all of them unlikely.

Perhaps there will be decisive new evidence or a fresh interpretation of the available doctrinal and empirical data that will lead one side to convert the other, thereby salvaging unity. This is a very unlikely possibility, for it is implausible to think that radically new evidence will emerge, or that a significantly new reordering of current data will be advanced. The standard lines are well known and unlikely to change.

Perhaps someone with the stature and wisdom of Solomon will emerge and find a way to develop a framework in which both sides could accept each other within an agreed consensus. This is an unlikely scenario for at least two reasons. First, the church as a whole has experimented at length with this very option in its commitment to doctrinal pluralism. As I have repeatedly argued, this is an incoherent and unstable arrangement that is now falling apart. Second, the tradition is too big and too full of parties, caucuses, movements, and organizations to permit such a person emerging on a national scale. The same logic applies to the possibility of concerted effort on the part of the Council of Bishops—the bishops themselves are deeply divided on the relevant issues and have now expressed that division in public.

Perhaps the revisionists will come to acknowledge the consequences of their position and withdraw either to form a new church or to join a church that advocates their position. This too is unlikely.

The revisionists do not present a monolithic front. In fact one of the most interesting features of the revisionist position is that it can harbor both liberals and radicals, a feat of significant proportions given the tension between these two groups. The revisionist position spans the field from those who might entertain second thoughts about their position all the way to those who are absolutely convinced that revision is demanded by the gospel, stems from the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and represents appropriate prophetic action in the current generation. Some of the latter also take the view that all opposition to their cause is prompted by bigotry, intolerance of minorities, and ignorance. Many of them believe that their cause is as correct as that of opposition to slavery and of the opening of ordination to women. Given these sorts of convictions, it is most unlikely that the revisionists will discontinue pursuing their aims within the church.

What then is likely to happen? Initially, much will depend on the speed of developments in the deliberations and actions of three major constituencies within the church: the liberal institutionalists, the racial and ethnic minorities, and the conservatives.

The institutionalists are concerned less with the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality and related issues than with the future of the denomination. Their natural reaction to the church’s dilemma is a mixture of anger, distress, irritation, and fear. They would dearly love not to address the issues at all, to muddle through as best they can, and to stay clear of all talk of division and schism. Their heads may well be with the conservatives, but their hearts are with the revisionists—hence they find themselves inwardly torn. They especially fear any discussion that goes to the principles of the tradition, preferring to live as best as they can with whatever compromise is worked out. The time for decision for this group will come when they must enact the practices of the revisionists in their local churches. At that point their heads must win out over their hearts if a schism is to be avoided.

The minority groups—African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans—will also be crucial for future developments. In this case there will be even greater reluctance to side with the conservatives in the church. In the past, these groups have perceived conservatives to be suspect on racism, while on the other hand they worked with liberals in the fight for civil rights, and several of their theological heroes are crucial forerunners if not advocates of radicalism. Their natural alliance would seem to be with the revisionists. Yet much of the theological and liturgical content of the African American, Hispanic, and Asian American traditions is in fact deeply conservative and orthodox. It is, therefore, very possible that the leaders of these traditions could break with their earlier alliances and move in a significantly different direction.

Finally, there are the conservatives. Some of them will undoubtedly take an aggressive line, resorting to legislative action, mass mailings, letter-writing campaigns, verbal agitation, and the like. This is all the more likely in light of the recent narrow acquittal by a church tribunal of a pastor on the charges that he violated church law by performing a wedding ceremony for two lesbian members of his Omaha, Nebraska, congregation.

Other conservatives, those who would gladly identify themselves as moderates, traditionalists, or centrists, may well be glad that there are more radical conservatives around to raise the issues, but they are extremely nervous about any kind of drastic action. Tempted perhaps to take the line adopted by institutionalists, they will bide their time hoping that the crash never comes.

In the short term we need some way to hold off precipitous actions on the homosexual issue that will lead to the division of the church. But it is clear that homosexuality is but one of a number of potentially church-dividing issues. In the long term we need to stimulate conversation toward the emergence of a new theological consensus that might command the allegiance of a majority in the church at large.

However this important conversation continues, and it surely will continue, it must be informed by the very real possibility that the Liberal Protestant project exemplified by United Methodism was flawed from the start. Perhaps the very idea of theological pluralism was bound to self-destruct in time. These are the ominous questions now engaged. The truth and the church we love deserve from parties on all sides of these questions clear thinking, honest speaking, mutual respect—and much prayer and fasting.”

Love,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura?: Biblical manuscripts contain thousands of variations

hipster
-Hipster, The Teacher???

joel_peters
-by Joel Peters

“It has just been noted that there are thousands of Biblical manuscripts in existence; these manuscripts contain thousands of variations in the text; one writer estimates that there are over 200,000 variations. (25) Whereas the majority of these deal with minor concerns – such as spelling, word order and the like – there are also variations of a more important nature: a) the manuscript evidence shows that scribes sometimes modified the Biblical texts to harmonize passages, to accommodate them to historical fact, and to establish a doctrinal correctness; (26) and b) there are portions of verses (i.e., more than just a single word in question) for which there are several different manuscript readings, such as John 7:39, Acts 6:8, Colossians 2:2 and 1 Thessalonians 3:2. (27) These facts leave the Protestant in the position of not knowing if he possesses what the Biblical authors originally wrote. And if this is the case, then how can a Protestant profess to base his beliefs solely on the Bible when he cannot determine with certainty the textual authenticity of the Bible? (28)

More importantly, there are several more major textual variations among New Testament manuscripts. The following two examples will illustrate the point:

First, according to the manuscripts that we have, there are four possible endings for Mark’s Gospel: the short ending, which includes verses 1-8 of chapter 16; the longer ending, which includes verses 1-8 plus verses 9-20; the intermediate ending, which includes 2 to 3 lines of text between verse 8 and the longer ending; and the longer ending in expanded form, which includes several verses after verse 14 of the longer ending. (29) The best that can be said about these different endings is that we simply do not know for certain, from the Bible itself, where St. Mark’s Gospel concluded, and, depending on which ending(s) is/are included in a Protestant’s Bible, the publisher runs the risk of either adding verses to or omitting verses from the original text – thus violating the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, which requires “the Bible alone and in its entirety” as the basis of faith. Even if a Protestant’s Bible includes all four endings with explanatory comments and/or footnotes, he still cannot be certain which of the four endings is genuine.

Second, there is manuscript evidence for alternate readings in some pivotal verses of the Bible, such as John 1:18, where there are two possible wordings. (30) Some (such as the King James Version) read along the lines of the Douay-Rheims: “No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son Who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Either wording is substantiated by manuscript evidence, and you will therefore find Biblical scholars relying on their best educated judgment as to which one is “correct.” A similar situation occurs at Acts 20:28, where the manuscript evidence shows that Saint Paul could be referring to either the “church of the Lord” (Greek kuriou) or the “church of God” (Greek theou). (31)

Now this point may seem trivial at first, but suppose you are trying to evangelize a cult member who denies the divinity of Jesus Christ. While John 1:18 and Acts 20:28 are clearly not the only passages to use in defense of Our Lord’s divinity, you still may be unable to utilize these verses with that person, depending on which manuscript tradition your Bible follows. That would leave you marginally less able to defend a major Biblical doctrine, and the very nature of this fact become quite problematic from the perspective of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.”

Love,
Matthew

(25) Raymond F. Collins, Introduction to the New Testament (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1983), p. 77.

(26) Ibid., pp. 100-102.

(27) Bruce M. Metzger (Protestant author), The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 221-225, 234-242.

(28) It has been maintained by Protestants that in all the variations in Biblical manuscripts, not one touches upon a major doctrine. Even though this assertion is untrue, it does not alter the fact that the Protestant is here admitting, at least obliquely, that it is permissible to accept something which is less than or different from the “real” Bible. And if this is true, then the Protestant himself has begun to undermine Sola Scriptura.

(29) Metzger, op. cit., pp. 226-228.

(30) Collins, op. cit., p. 102.

(31) Metzger, op. cit., p. 234.

Sola Scriptura?: None of the original manuscripts exist

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joel_peters
-by Joel Peters

“A sobering consideration – and one which is fatal to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura – is that we do not possess a single original manuscript of any book of the Bible. Now it is true that there are thousands of manuscripts extant which are copies of the originals – and more likely than not they are copies of copies – but this fact does not help the Sola Scriptura position for the simple reason that without original manuscripts, one cannot know with certainty if he actually possesses the real Bible, whole and entire. (23) The original autographs were inspired, while copies of them are not.

The Protestant may want to assert that not having original Biblical manuscripts is immaterial, as God preserved the Bible by safeguarding its duplication down through the centuries. (24) However, there are two problems with this line of reasoning. The first is that by maintaining God’s providence with regard to copying, a person claims something which is not written in Scripture, and therefore, by the very definition of Sola Scriptura, cannot serve as a rule of faith. In other words, if one cannot find passages in the Bible which patently state that God will protect the transmission of manuscripts, then the belief is not to be held. The fact of the matter is that the Bible makes no such claim.

The second problem is that if you can maintain that God safeguarded the written transmission of His Word, then you can also rightly maintain that He safeguarded its oral transmission as well (recall 2 Thessalonians 2:14 [15] and the twofold form of God’s one revelation). After all, the preaching of the Gospel began as an oral tradition (cf. Luke 1:1-4 and Rom. 10:17). It was not until later on that some of the oral tradition was committed to writing – becoming Sacred Scripture – and it was later still that these writings were declared to be inspired and authoritative. Once you can maintain that God safeguarded the oral transmission of His teaching, you have demonstrated the basis for Sacred Tradition and have already begun supporting the Catholic position.”

Love,
Matthew

(23) The earliest copies of the Bible, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, both date from the 4th century A.D., and neither one contains the entire Bible, as parts of the manuscripts have been lost or destroyed. The vast majority of the manuscripts that exist are only portions of the Bible.

(24) The irony here is that it was due to the tireless efforts of Catholic monks working laboriously in their monasteries that the written Word of God survived down through the centuries. The claim that the Catholic Church did everything in its power to suppress the Bible is a most pernicious falsehood, and it can readily be refuted by even the most cursory examination of and research into Church history. Quite the contrary, the Catholic Church, in its unique role as guardian of the Deposit of Faith, protected the Bible’s integrity from spurious and faulty translations, and it was these spurious and faulty copies of the Bible which it burned or destroyed to prevent false gospels from being circulated.

Sola Scriptura?: Bible not “self-authenticating”

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joel_peters
-by Joel Peters

“Lacking a satisfactory answer to the question of how the canon of the Bible was determined, Protestants often resort to the notion that Scripture is “self-authenticating,” that is, the books of the Bible witness to themselves that they are inspired of God. The major problem with such an assertion is simply that even a cursory examination of ecclesial history will demonstrate it to be utterly untrue.

For example, several books from the New Testament – James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation – were disputed in terms of their canonical status for some time. In certain places they were accepted, while simultaneously in other s they were rejected. Even spiritual giants like St. Athanasius (297-373), St. Jerome (c. 342-420) and St. Augustine (354-430) had drawn up lists of New Testament books which witnessed to what was generally acknowledged as inspired in their times and places, but none of these lists corresponds exactly to the New Testament canon that was eventually identified by the Catholic Church at the end of the 4th century and which is identical to the canon that Catholics have today. (22)

If Scripture were actually “self-authenticating,” why was there so much disagreement and uncertainty over these various books? Why was there any disagreement at all? Why was the canon of the Bible not identified much earlier if the books were allegedly so readily discernible? The answer that one is compelled to accept in this regard is simply that the Bible is not self-authenticating at all.

Even more interesting is the fact that some books in the Bible do not identify their authors. The idea of self-authentication – if it were true – might be more plausible if each and every Biblical author identified himself, as we could more easily examine that author’s credentials, so to speak, or at least determine who it was that claimed to be speaking for God. But in this regard the Bible leaves us ignorant in a few instances.

Take St. Matthew’s Gospel as one example; nowhere does the text indicate that it was Matthew, one of the twelve Apostles, who authored it. We are therefore left with only two possibilities for determining its authorship: 1) what Tradition has to say, 2) Biblical scholarship. In either case, the source of determination is an extra-Biblical source and would therefore fall under condemnation by the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

Now the Protestant may be saying at this point that it is unnecessary to know whether or not Matthew actually wrote this Gospel, as one’s salvation does not depend on knowing whether it was Matthew or someone else. But such a view presents quite a difficulty. What the Protestant is effectively saying is that while an authentic Gospel is God’s Word and is the means by which a person comes to a saving knowledge of Christ, the person has no way of knowing for certain in the case of Matthew’s Gospel whether it is Apostolic in origin and consequently has no way of knowing it if its genuine (i.e., God’s Word) or not. And if this Gospel’s authenticity is questionable, then why include it in the Bible? If its authenticity is certain, then how is this known in the absence of self-identification by Matthew? One can only conclude that the Bible is not self-authenticating.

The Protestant may wish to fall back on the Bible’s own assertion that it is inspired, citing a passage like 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable…” However, a claim to inspiration is not in and of itself a guarantee of inspiration. Consider the fact that the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science sect, claim to be inspired. The writings of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon sect, claim to be inspired. These are but two of many possible examples which demonstrate the that any particular writing can claim just about anything. Obviously, in order for us to know with certainty whether or not a writing is genuinely inspired, we need more than a mere claim by that writing that it is inspired. The guarantee of inspiration must come from outside that writing. In the case of the Bible, the guarantee must come from a non-Biblical source. But outside authentication is excluded by the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, and, necessarily void the concept of “self-authentication”.”

Love,
Matthew

(22) Henry G. Graham, Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1911; Rockford, IL: TAN, 1977, 17th printing), pp. 31