Apples and Oranges

Bryan and the Jasons hang another scalp. But notice how anachronistic this conversion narrative is:

In American religion, the Evangelical community and the Presbyterian tradition specifically, there were various things happening that gave me pause to reflect. Several Reformed ministers and theologians I respected were dragged through the mud of the printing press and declared openly to be heretics by self-appointed theological judges. The blogosphere was a landmine of gossip and slander. These accusations brought to the forefront the problem of Biblical interpretation and the sufficiency of Scripture. One man’s heretic was another’s saint. I became angry and worried. The political climate didn’t help my moorings. The nation in general; conservatives and liberals in my own Reformed tradition were at each others’ throats. The Presbyterian world was fracturing into more splits as controversy after controversy began to wreck the Reformed world. Jesus had promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church (Matt. 16:18) and it seemed like He was failing.

To complicate matters further, I learned of Dr. Frank Beckwith’s resignation from the Evangelical Theological Society to return to Rome and the “resignation” of Dr. Bruce Waltke from a prominent Reformed seminary over interpretations of Genesis. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all Truth (John 16:13), so how did all these splits in the Christian world occur, now numbering well over 20,000 (some estimate over 35,000)? How did I know where the “Church” was to be found? By the time I resigned from my presbytery in 2012, there were 48 splits, each claiming Calvin as their founder. One writer observed 22 different issues that keep Reformed Christians out of each others’ pews. As of this writing, views of theistic evolution, homosexual unions, female deacons, charismatic gifts, exclusive psalmody (in worship), liturgy, music styles, etc., only add to the problems and all using the same Bible.

The Sweater Unravels

I returned to my studies of Church history and started at the beginning: the apostolic fathers and Church fathers – both east and west and the development of the canon of Scripture. I was shocked by the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch; though I had read them 20 years before, I never read them with Reformed glasses. There was nothing in those letters that sounded at all Presbyterian! In AD 95, why was Clement of Rome bypassing the authority of the Apostle John to settle a matter of discipline in the Church at Corinth, claiming the authority of Rome to be that of God? The more I studied the more I felt drawn but kept saying “This can’t be right.” So, I sought the wisdom of friends and mentors alike to help steer me through these troubled waters but on whose authority should I accept their observations or interpretations correct?

In 2010, my daughter and I attended the confirmation of a friend. I remember being impressed with the amount of Scripture heard during the Mass. I had been working on liturgical studies, so I was shocked at how similar the mass was to the Reformed liturgy at my parish.

In the middle of 2011, I read John Henry Newman’s “Development of Doctrine” and G.K. Chesterton’s works on his conversion. They both were Anglican converts to Catholicism and I wanted to know why. In the process, I learned of C.S. Lewis’ devotion to Mary, belief in purgatory and his habit of praying the Rosary, but yet, he never became Catholic.

So this fellow looks at contemporary Protestantism and compares that to the ancient church or to Anglo-Catholics. Where are David L. Schindler, George Weigel, Richard McBrien, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Pope Francis, Joe Biden, John Courtney Murray, William F. Buckley Jr., Brent Bozell, the troubling debates over admitting divorced Roman Catholics to communion?

It’s like saying you still are an evangelical because of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. It’s like being an evangelical with a bishop in Italy.

Roman Catholic 2k

David Schindler and Peter Leithart would likely disapprove:

If a Catholic makes a speech or writes an article attacking the principles and the methods of say, the Lutherans, that act would not necessarily stir up religious strife dangerous to the public peace. But if a Catholic seeks to penalize a Lutheran because of his Lutheranism through political or legal discriminations; still more, if he seeks the support of others in an organized manner to accomplish those ends, then he is attacking religious liberty in the social, or political sphere, which is the common meeting place of all Americans as citizens. . . .

I know that the dictionary definitions of bigotry are to the general effect that it is “an obstinate and intolerant attachment to a cause or creed.” But unless obstinate and intolerant attachment to a cause or creed becomes active opposition to some other cause or creed it is non-existent so far as the general peace of society is concerned. I may be obstinate and intolerant in my private and personal attachment to the Catholic Church (of which I am a member), yet if I invariably treat with my agnostic, and Protestant, and Jewish, and atheist neighbors, in all that concerns our common relations in society — in business, politic, and all cooperative matters — without reference or relation to their beliefs or behavior in religious matters, while I may be potentially a bigot, certainly I do not, so to speak, commit bigotry. If all of us so behave, there can be no bigotry in action. But notoriously, all of us do not so behave, although such behavior is the practical ideal of the nation of the United States of America. (Michael Williams, The Shadow of the Pope, 1932)

So when Roman Catholics or Neo-Calvinists call for “all of me” comprehensive Christianity, do they destroy any possibility of a common realm shared by all sorts of believers and non-believers? And do these “all of me” Christians believe that if I am getting along with people who do have the same “all” in “all of their identity” I am guilty of bad faith?

High Octane CCT (Calvinists and Catholics Together)

Peter Leithart has discovered David L. Schindler and it makes sense since both men don’t like liberal modernity and do like comprehensive explanations of all things. One could call that integralism (or w-wism). It is the meeting of every square inch Calvinism with papal claims to universality. All audacity all the time.

The object of CCT’s scorn is any claim of neutrality:

The liberal state claims to be a referee, but has to decide the limits of the playing field, and in practice has to determine what does and doesn’t count as an acceptable religious contribution to the public realm.

As a result, the liberal state institutionalizes and establishes its own theology. Even the decision to remain publicly neutral about an issue like transubstantiation reflects theological opinion, the theological (or anti-theological) opinion that the real presence is irrelevant to public life. Many Christians would beg to differ.

As is the case with many comprehensivalists, the rhetorical engine always runs in overdrive. Hundreds of court cases show that “liberal” courts that have no metaphysical grounding, from the Massachusetts Supreme Court that ruled against the merger of Andover Seminary and Harvard Divinity School on the grounds that one was Trinitarian and the other Unitarian, to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hosanna-Tabor in favor of an LCMS school’s definition of a minister, the “neutral” state can sometimes make rulings based on the writings of churches. To act like state officials are stupid because they try to be umpires to contested religious claims is not fair or accurate.

And to allege that the real presence of Christ is relevant to public life because — wink, wink — some beg to differ is to avoid a chance for instruction in comprehensive metaphysics. For shame.

That doesn’t stop Leithart:

The liberal state tilts the playing field in favor of certain kinds of churches; “sacramental” churches have to betray themselves when they enter the public arena and act as if they are no more than voluntary societies. Self-denial is the ticket price for playing on the field of public opinion.

This might seem like sour grapes: The ref is biased against us, and he should be biased in our favor. It might even be taken as good news to voluntarist churches, who might conclude, The ref is on our side. As has become evident in recent years, though, orthodox believers of all sorts are being and will continue to be pressured to conform to the dictates of liberal order. All churches, not only the sacramental ones, are being squeezed into shape. That is not an aberration. Liberalism has a totalizing impulse that erodes religious liberty.

The easiest way to demonstrate that point is this: By definition, liberal order cannot be accountable to any metaphysical or theological framework beyond itself. To do so, it would cease to be a liberal state. That means that the liberal order itself is the all-embracing framework for political and social life. All other conceptions of common good, all other metaphysical or theological positions, are “private,” and only liberalism is allowed to function as public theology. All other metaphysical or theological opinions will be judged by whether or not they conform to and promote, or inhibit, the aims of liberal order. Churches that adjust to the public theology of liberalism are tolerable. Churches that do not are penalized in various ways.

So if liberalism is totalizing, won’t Christianity be as well? Where will Mormons, Jews, and unbelievers go? And will Calvinists and Roman Catholics rule together? Or will they have to carve up North America the way Germany and Japan did in The Man in the High Castle? One of the troubles that comprehensivalists have is explaining details.

Another defender of Schindler says that we will have our cake (liberal arrangements) and eat it too (metaphysical foundation):

The American Jesuit John Courtney Murray famously argued that this arrangement constitutes America’s signal contribution to the world. The First Amendment of the Constitution, in offering not “articles of faith” but rather “articles of peace,” secured religious freedom for Christians (and for others) while also respecting the rightful integrity of the secular. The American liberal order of limited government and the separation of church and state provides neutral public space while also providing freedom in the form of basic rights that provide “immunity from coercion.” Christianity and liberalism, in this narrative, are not only compatible but utterly harmonious.

Now, the first thing to note is that Schindler believes that limited government, the separation of church and state, human rights, and religious freedom are legitimate achievements that ought to be preserved. But he simply does not believe (1) that liberalism, or any other conception of order, can successfully prescind from metaphysics (he quotes philosopher Etienne Gilson: “metaphysics always buries its undertakers”), or (2) that these achievements can be preserved if they are grounded in the unwitting metaphysics of liberalism rather than in the metaphysics of love. …

The question therefore becomes which truth best secures the ends of civil society, including the noble achievements that have been realized (at least in certain senses) in liberal modernity—religious freedom, human rights, separation of church and state, and so on. Based on his metaphysics of love, Schindler suggests that the first truth that government ought to appropriate is “the truth of freedom as an essential inner feature of love.”

Maybe.

But what metaphysical construction did Paul need to say this?

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7 ESV)

I get it. Paul appealed to God (not to the inner dynamics of the Trinity, though). But his application applies as much to liberal states like the U.S.A. as it does to Nero’s Rome.

What’s A Conservative To Do?

Ross Douthat explained what converts did not have in mind when they swam the Tiber:

Conservative Catholics need to come to terms with certain essential failures of Vatican II. For two generations now, conservatives in the Church have felt a need to rescue the real council, the orthodox council, from what Pope Benedict called “the council of the media.” This was and remains an important intellectual project, and the debate about what the council means for Catholic theology is a rich one that deserves to continue for generations to come.

But this work needs to coexist with a clear recog­nition that the council as experienced by most Catholics was the “council of the media,” the “spirit of Vatican II” council, and that the faithful’s experience of a council and its aftermath is a large part of its historical reality, no matter how much we might wish it to be otherwise.

It needs to coexist, as well, with a recognition that a major part of Vatican II’s mission was to equip the Church to evangelize the modern world, and that five decades is long enough to say that in this ambition the council mostly failed. Since the close of the council, we’ve seen fifty years of Catholic civil war and institutional collapse in the world’s most modern (and once, most Catholic) societies, fifty years in which only Africa looks like a successful Catholic mission territory, while in Asia and Latin America the Church has been lapped and lapped again by Protestants. The new evangelization exists as an undercurrent, at best, in Catholic life; the dominant reality is not new growth, but permanent crisis.

This doesn’t mean the council was a failure in its entirety, or that arch-traditionalists are right to condemn it as heretical, or (as more moderate traditionalists would argue) that the council itself was primarily to blame for everything that followed. The experience of every other Christian confession suggests that some version of the same civil war and institutional crisis would have arrived with or without the council.

But we need to recognize, finally, that for all its future-oriented rhetoric, Vatican II’s clearest achievements were mostly backward-looking. It dealt impressively with problems that came to the fore during the crises and debates of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (the Church’s relationship to democracy, to religious liberty, to anti-Semitism). But its deliberations simply took place too soon to address the problems that broke across Catholicism and Christianity with the sexual revolution and that still preoccupy us now.

In this respect, Vatican II partially resembles not the great councils of the Catholic past but one of the largely forgotten ones: Fifth Lateran, the last council before the Protestant Reformation, which looked backward toward the fifteenth-century debates over conciliarism and promoted some reforms that were half-implemented and insufficient to address the storm that began just seven months after the council’s closing, when Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door in Wittenberg.

Which is not to say that what the Church needs right now is a Council of Trent, exactly. The recent Synod on the Family suggests that, if attempted, the outcome would be either empty or disastrous.

This is not business as usual so shrug. This is crisis.

Forgiving a Scapegoat?

Alan Noble raised the bar pretty high — as high as church membership mind you — when he explained why evangelicals should be never Trump:

In response to these profound violations of human decency, he scoffs, changes the subject, denies he even said it, or doubles down. As he has said, he does not ask God for forgiveness, because he doesn’t believe he needs it.

That insight into Trump’s perception of his own soul should tell evangelicals all they need to know about him as a leader. Any man who is so unaware of his own depravity that he cannot recognize his need for forgiveness is incapable of justly leading any country. There simply is no way around this fact for evangelicals.

Has anyone asked Hillary Clinton of her need for forgiveness? At least, Noble should give equal time to both candidates. He might also want to consider the constitutional qualifications for holding the office of POTUS. No religious tests. So does Noble understand how much he sounds like a Jerry Falwell (Sr.)?

At least Roman Catholics are less driven by piety than by policy. Here are the items to worry about in a Clinton presidency (via her appointments to SCOTUS):

Religious Liberty: In the highly-publicized case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court ruled that closely held for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby could be exempt from laws that violate its religious beliefs, in this case Obamacare’s contraception mandate. This was an enormous win for religious liberty, but it was only decided by a slim 5-4 margin. With a liberal majority, you can expect the Court to rule against companies like Hobby Lobby or non-profits like Little Sisters of the Poor. Religious corporations and organizations around the country would be forced to chose between violating their consciences or paying penalties that would likely put them out of business. If liberals have their way, say goodbye to many religious retailers, charities, bookstores, hospitals, medical centers, and so on.

Transgender Bathrooms: Thirteen states are currently suing the Obama administration over its directive to public schools mandating that transgender students be able to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice without having to prove their gender identity. Perhaps no issue more directly impacts the lives of our children than this. A liberal Supreme Court will undoubtedly uphold the Obama administration’s rule and force states to comply. The consequences will be catastrophic. Don’t be so naive as to think boys won’t abuse these policies and force their way into female bathrooms and locker rooms. Parents and teachers won’t be able to stop them. And aside from sexual misconduct and assault, this policy could mean the end of men’s and women’s competitive athletics as we know it.

Second Amendment: Without a doubt, the Second Amendment would become a primary target of a liberal Supreme Court. In recent years, two landmark decisions protecting an individual’s right to own and bear arms – Heller v. District of Columbia and McDonald v. City of Chicago – were each decided by just one vote. (Are you noticing the 5-4 trend yet?) Given the opportunity, a liberal Court wouldn’t hesitate to overturn those decisions. We got a glimpse of this in June, when the notoriously liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Second Amendment does not permit the public to carry concealed firearms. A liberal Supreme Court would certainly uphold this ruling and continue to hack away at the rest of the Second Amendment.

Abortion: It was an activist, liberal Supreme Court in 1973 that decided Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion. A liberal Supreme Court in 2017 will only reinforce and protect that decision. It will likely strike down majority-supported, common sense abortion laws that have been passed in the states, like late term and partial birth abortion restrictions and pain-capable legislation. Just this June, the Supreme Court invalidated the Texas law requiring basic health standards for abortion facilities, a law passed to prevent another Kermit Gosnell house of horrors from occurring.

But the best perspective on Trump and Clinton may come from those without a faith-based dog in the hunt:

But Trump is a monster! Yes, but given the right circumstance, so are you. His ugliness is simply more apparent than that of other managers of the state’s sacred violence. Let’s be frank here: though his speech is scarily vulgar, the violence he promises is already occurring.

Think his call to deport illegally undocumented workers is fascist? The Obama administration, garbed as it is with the shimmering rhetoric of victimhood, has already deported over 2,500,000 human beings—23 percent more than Bush.

How about his pledge to torture suspected terrorists? Clinton-Bush-Obama beat him to it. They just don’t talk about it like he does. And let’s not limit it to foreigners; Obama didn’t bat an eye as elderly tax protester Irwin Schiff died of cancer chained to a prison bed far away from his family for breaking the sacred taboo against being too stingy in sharing his resources with the collective.

How about the time Trump promised to target terrorists’ families? Obama, the great defender of Islam, already trumped that when he murdered people like U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, who hadn’t seen his father for two years. This teen and his friends were blown apart by the Nobel prize winner while having a campfire dinner, apparently for the sinful dreams of his father.

Actually, a faith-based perspective makes sense of Never Trump. He’s our Scapegoat:

In today’s Christ-haunted West, we no longer have complete unanimity in our identification of common enemies, but we still seek it in the sub-factions we continually form. Yet Donald Trump’s faction is not going to prevail in any lasting way: his sacred dogma is built on “Winners.” His brand is a throwback to Nietzsche, who was himself a kind of throwback to a still older “golden age,” a time when pagan religion celebrated history’s winners, who were deemed right because of their might.

Trump even viscerally looks the part of the old scapegoat kings who would be ceremonially paraded before being sacrificed: he is often mocked for having small hands and goofy orange hair; he eats profane food like McDonald’s; he loves gaudy decoration in an age of “shabby chic”; he calls himself a winner in a culture where people must offer faux humility to gain status. Trump, who has repeatedly said that were he not her father he would be dating his daughter, is even accused of breaking the age-old taboo against incestual lust.

In the ancient cultic world of our past pagan order, hierarchies of kings, priests, and elites often killed or excluded the odd, weak, infirm, disabled, ethnic minority, or child based on the cultural fact that they were intrinsically inferior and thus deserving of a worse lot in life. But since the crucifixion meme began dominating the West, our modern cultures are increasingly self-critical and haunted by victims. Jesus robbed us of our blindness to the unjust order of “might makes right,” but he didn’t create an alternative ideology to deny us choice. We still have to choose, to a person, to model forgiveness and nonviolence as we seek to heal the victims most vulnerable to exploitation. But we’re stubborn in doing this work, and so we try to create cathartic peace and order through scapegoating—this time in the name of victims.

Obedience Girl

Wesleyans aren’t the only ones to promote perfectionism:

Following Jesus is a serious task, and, at the same time, one filled with joy; it takes a certain daring and courage to recognize the divine Master in the poorest of the poor and those who are cast aside, and to give oneself in their service. In order to do so, volunteers, who out of love of Jesus serve the poor and the needy, do not expect any thanks or recompense; rather they renounce all this because they have discovered true love. And each one of us can say: “Just as the Lord has come to meet me and has stooped down to my level in my hour of need, so too do I go to meet him, bending low before those who have lost faith or who live as though God did not exist, before young people without values or ideals, before families in crisis, before the ill and the imprisoned, before refugees and immigrants, before the weak and defenceless in body and spirit, before abandoned children, before the elderly who are on their own. Wherever someone is reaching out, asking for a helping hand in order to get up, this is where our presence – and the presence of the Church which sustains and offers hope – must be”. And I do this, keeping alive the memory of those times when the Lord’s hand reached out to me when I was in need.

Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that “the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable”. She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes! – of poverty they created. For Mother Teresa, mercy was the “salt” which gave flavour to her work, it was the “light” which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.

But did she trust Jesus as her savior from sin?

Buyer’s Remorse or Remorse over Buyers?

Alan Jacobs warns converts who would be apologists:

Waugh is one of those converts in whom Catholics take great pride. If I were in their position, I would do everything in my power to prevent the world from finding out that he belonged to my communion. If the rightly administered sacraments are presumed to be instruments of grace, it appears that Waugh, at any rate, was invulnerable to their power. I would appreciate it if my Catholic brothers and sisters took the unremitting nastiness of the man more seriously. I have yet to hear one say that when Waugh took the Sacrament he did so unworthily, though I do not believe, given his gleeful and freely expressed hatred of almost everyone he knew, that anyone could reasonably say that he did so worthily.

He believed that by becoming Catholic he had ensured his own salvation, and from that elevated seat taunted his friends who remained Outside: “Awful about your obduracy in schism and heresy,” he wrote to the Anglican John Betjeman. “Hell hell hell. Eternal damnation.” Only some wholly unacquainted with Waugh’s views would think he was joking. Betjeman certainly didn’t.