Oh, What a Tangled Apologetic We Weave

When we convert to Roman Catholicism and wind up with Pope Francis.

Consider Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s recent explanation for the pope’s failure to answer those cardinals asking for clarification of Amoris Laetitia:

It is, if you like a religion based in an authoritative book, a creed, a catechism, a dogmatic systematic theology and, by extension a defined religious law. Those who favor a propositional faith like certainty and clarity.
Critics of propositional faith believe that, at best, the propositions are simply a framework or structure of belief, and that the real experience is far more complicated, but also far more exciting and real. They criticize those who like a propositional faith as being rigid, legalistic or Pharisaical. The critics of propositional faith like to emphasize the more subjective “encounter with Christ.” They advocate getting away from all the debates about doctrine or canon law, rolling up one’s sleeves and getting busy doing God’s work in the world.

Critics of propositional faith also believe that it is divisive. If “the encounter with Christ” is emphasized rather than propositional formulas of doctrine and morals, we will connect better with non Catholic Christians and people of faith and goodwill who are outside the boundaries of Christian belief. In other words, “doctrine is divisive” but if we focus on religious experience we are more likely to find common ground.

They also feel that a “propositional faith” is, by its nature, bound to the historical and philosophical constructs of the time and culture in which the propositions were asserted. So, the theology of Thomas Aquinas (they would argue) was fine for Europe of the thirteenth century, but it is rather clunky for the fast moving, fast changing global culture of the twenty first century. A faith that is not so propositional is more adaptable and fluid.

In reading the gospel it is difficult not to sympathize with those who criticize “propositional faith.” After all, Jesus’ main opponents were the religious people who were indeed legalistic, judgmental and bound to their laws and man made traditions. Jesus, on the other hand, waded in and “made a mess” to use Francis’ terminology. He defied the legalistic technicalities, met people where they were and brought healing, compassion and forgiveness.

Why does Pope Francis not answer his critics? I believe it is because he is not in favor of “propositional faith”. He wants Catholics to move beyond the technicalities, the details of doctrine and the constrictions of canon law to live out a Catholic life more like Jesus’–allowing for the complications and ambiguities of real life, meeting real people who face difficult decisions and are trying to be close to God while tiptoeing through the legalities and rules of being a Catholic Christian.

In other words, he does not answer his critics because he does not wish to play their game. He does not wish to be drawn into their legalistic arguments, but instead wants to continue to challenge them.

When you read Fr. Longenecker, though, on why he left Anglicanism for Roman Catholicism you start to wonder if he might have remained in the Church of England had he not been so propositional himself. Consider his lament about modernism which is non-propositional to the max:

Women’s ordination was a problem and the authority of Rome was the answer, but there was a deeper, underlying problem with the Anglican Church as I experienced it. The problem is modernism — a philosophical and theological position which is deeply opposed to historic Christianity.

The foundational problem with modernism is that it is anti-supernaturalist. The most foundational difficulty with the anti supernaturalism of the modernist is that he has an anti-Christian conception of God. For the modernist God is either totally immanent. That is He is ‘down here’ and not transcendent, or he is so totally transcendent as to be a sort of deist God who is ‘out there’ and does not intervene. What the modernist theologian cannot believe in is a God who is both immanent and transcendent–a God who is ‘out there’ but who touches this world and ultimately enters this world through the incarnation.. . .

If this is true–if Jesus’ death is no more than symbolic image, then the entire ecclesiological structure and sacramental system is no more than an archaic symbolical structure. It is a historic mythology that, at best, unlocks something within the human subconscious. It is a human construct that helps people to transition through their lives. . . .

So when they said they believed in the Incarnation they actually believed that “Jesus Christ was the most fulfilled human who ever lived. He was so self actualized that he achieved a kind of divine status. He, more than anyone else, was one with the god within.” When they ‘affirmed’ the Virgin Birth they really meant that Mary was an especially pure young woman before she had intercourse with Joseph or a Roman soldier. When they proclaimed from their pulpit on Easter Day, “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!” what they meant was, “In some sort of wonderful way I would want to say that Jesus Christ continued to inspire his followers after his tragic death.”

I used to think that his lie was simply being told in the halls of academia, that the rot was really only in the universities, but of course it was not only there. It had been disseminated throughout the Anglican Church through the education of the clergy for the last fifty or sixty years. Of course there were pockets of true belief and there are still. In making this critique of Anglicanism I am not damning all Anglicans.

Now that the pope doesn’t respond to his critics, Fr. Dwight gets non-propositional.

No wonder converts are always winning.

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If Anglicans Read (more of) Jesus

Alan Jacobs continues to defend himself from charges that his leniency on priests who grant membership to same-sex couples and baptize those couples’ children is a failure to adhere to Christ’s condemnation of false teachers. For some reason, he argues, Christ’s repudiation is irrelevant:

“Didn’t Jesus denounce false teaching?”” He sure did, but that’s not relevant to my argument. “We can’t abandon church discipline.” We sure can’t. Etc., etc., etc. I won’t go off on a “social media have killed reading” rant, but you know, social media really have killed reading.

Anyway, my argument is simply this: The determination of who is and is not a Christian is above your pay grade, and expressly forbidden to you by Jesus.

Jacobs does not seem to be aware that determining how to read Jesus’ words may be way above his own pay grade (though he does get paid to read for his living — not Hebrew and Greek, mind you). How can you be so absolute in ruling out the relevance of Jesus’s or Paul’s or John’s condemnation of false teachers and of wayward Christians and then say that the bottom line is ” We must be patient, humble, gentle, not quarrelsome, encouraging and upbuilding — and must exhibit all those traits even when we believe people are wrong and are striving to correct them? It’s hard work, and I stink at it. But that’s what we’re all called to.”

If we are supposed to follow Christ and the apostles, who were examples in some way, aren’t we also called to condemn false teachers and wayward Christians. At least try to wrestle with the tension between the parable of the wheat and the tares (pro-patience) and Paul’s condemnation of the Judaizers (impatient).

And simply reading Dante for instruction on Hell and Purgatory isn’t going to do much for Protestants who think the Bible is above Dante’s pay grade (nor is Dante a doctor of the church exactly, speaking of pay grades):

In the Purgatorio Dante dramatizes the extended period of waiting that those who have been excommunicated must undergo before beginning their purgation, but they will eventually begin it because they are saved. Of course, excommunicated people can indeed be damned, but that’s neither the result nor the intention of excommunication in any church that I know of. To think that you can determine someone’s salvation or damnation by their inclusion in or exclusion from a given church community would be the very highest level of hubris.

Why did Jesus give Peter the keys of the kingdom, then? To be patient in locking the gates of heaven to unrepentant sinners?

I wonder too if Jacobs notices the restraints that come upon him as an Anglican. Can he really call everyone a Christian who professes Christ and who is not in fellowship with the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Why does all of this matter? It matters because when someone in my church, or within the Christian fold more generally, says or does things that I believe terribly wrong, or terribly mistaken, I have many options available to me but among them is not the declaration that “You are not a child of the kingdom, you are a child of the evil one.“ That is, if I am going to obey the teaching of this parable, I have to treat this person as a brother or sister, as one of my fellow children of the kingdom — and they have to do the same to me.

By that logic, worshiping at any Reformed Baptist or Free Methodist church should do. Why cut yourself off from ecclesiastical communion by becoming an Anglican? If “his” church matters, that mattering cuts off any number of Christians from fellowship.

Can we have a little respect for tradition, ordination, and hierarchy, please?

If More Anglicans Read Machen

Would they avoid the problem that Alan Jacobs describes here (for Anglicans who read Machen see this)?

What should Anglicans do with a gay couple that wants to have their baby baptized? Jacobs thinks the child should be baptized:

[T]o deny people the sacraments is to deny them one of the primary means by which they can receive the enlightening and empowering grace by which they can come to know God and follow Him. For the Anglican with a high sacramental theology, it is to deprive them of the “spiritual food and drink” that should be our regular diet. This strikes me as a massively dangerous thing to do. How can we expect people to think as they should and act as they should if we are denying them access to this empowering grace? If we could think and act as mature Christians without regular access to the sacraments, then what need do we have for those sacraments?

But how has the enlightening power of grace worked out in the lives of this gay couple which Jacobs admits has disregarded church teaching and Scriptural imperatives on marriage and sex? It hasn’t worked well and that is why Jacobs thinks the problem is not really with the sacrament but with the failure of Anglican catechesis (in effect a failure of ministry that includes baptism and catechesis):

It is extremely unlikely that any of the people involved have been well-catechized in the Faith. We all need to face up to the fact that almost no churches in the Anglican tradition, conservative as well as liberal, have taken catechesis seriously for a long time. To deny the sacraments to people the Church has failed to catechize is to make others suffer for the failings of the Church’s leadership.

Almost everyone in our society — with the exception of monastics, the Amish, and a few fundamentalist Protestants — has been deeply and persistently catechized by the mass media into a very different model of sexuality than the Christian and biblical one. We should have the same compassion for them as we would for people who have been raised in a brainwashing cult.

So you continue to do what Anglicans have done for a long time — baptize without catechesis? Or do you admit that for baptism to take, it needs the work of instruction in the faith?

[W]e should remember that the task of re-catechizing the Church is going to take a very long time — decades, perhaps centuries — and in the meantime we must be generous and loving to those who have been brainwashed by the world, and not prevent those who desire it from taking the true spiritual food and drink on which we were meant to live.

Why doesn’t Jacobs see how much his sacramental theology really depends on catechetical theology? Or that the ministry of the sacraments cannot be isolated from a larger understanding of pastoral theology? Is it because he doesn’t want to admit that Puritans had a point about the Elizabethan Church?

If C. S. Lewis Had Died Only Three Years Later

He would have gone to meet his maker a separated brother instead of a heretic thanks to the reclassification of Protestants by bishops consulting at Vatican II. Joseph Pearce remembers the coincidence of Lewis’ death and John F. Kennedy’s assassination, but forgets the simultaneous meeting of the council in Rome:

Lewis in his life was outside the Church but looking towards it and leading numerous others towards it also. He has played a significant part in the conversion of countless people to the Catholic Church, the present author and the aforementioned Peter Kreeft included. He not only believed in purgatory, he believed that he was going there. Shortly before his death, he asked his friend, Sister Penelope, to visit him in purgatory, if visits from heaven were allowed.

Is Lewis in purgatory? It is not for us to say, but surely it is inconceivable that one who loved Christ so much and led so many others to Christ and His Church could be in hell.

Is John F. Kennedy in purgatory? Again, it is not for us to say. It is true, however, that he was a cafeteria “Catholic,” like his latter-day “Catholic” counterparts Nancy Pelosi and Melinda Gates, who had turned away from the Church, preferring to serve the zeitgeist to the Heilige Geist, the spirit of the age to the Holy Spirit. There has to be a price to pay for those “Catholics” who have led so many others away from the Church in their open defiance of Rome and their scarcely concealed contempt for Her teaching. There is little doubt that Dante would have consigned JFK to hell. We should hesitate to do likewise.

Where are Lewis and John F. Kennedy now? Let’s just say that purgatory leads to heaven and that heresy and apostasy leads to hell.

Would Pearce have written it that way in 1963 before he learned that Protestants were separated brothers? And what of all the Christians that Lewis led into the church that Henry VIII liberated from the papacy?

But in an age of ecumenism, despite the insistence of Bryan and the Jasons, the idea of no salvation outside the church has vanished along with the Berlin Wall. Pearce is not alone:

Jack’s memories of religious instruction as a child were of attendances during his boarding school years at an Anglo-Catholic church. Although impressed by the dedication of the priests he disliked what appeared to be the copying of “Roman rituals”. Anti-Catholic slogans had sometimes been chalked on the walls of the family home during Jack’s early years in view of the fact that the cook and the housemaid employed by the family were Catholic. One read: “Send the dirty papists back to the Devil where they belong.” Jack’s nurse, Lizzie Endicott, taught him as a young child to stamp in puddles and “kill all the little popes”.

Jack was, of course, far too intelligent and perceptive to have allowed these early incidents to form his later opinions. Nevertheless, he is said to have been annoyed, in 1931, that a “papist” publisher had handled one of his books, The Pilgrim’s Regress. Of course, if Jack had converted to Catholicism, his marriage to Joy Davidman, a divorced woman, would have been unthinkable and it is unlikely that the huge literary output that she inspired in him would ever have been written.

It is perhaps understandable that with his dislike of Protestant fundamentalism, superstition and extremes of emotion, Jack chose to take a middle path, although his aim was always to help the cause of reunion or at least make it clear why we ought to be reunited. For him, the essence of Christianity was exemplified by Thomas à Kempis in his Imitation of Christ, with its emphasis on self discipline, humility and love. In following this, Jack was a true disciple and a strong ambassador for Christianity.

A Reason Not to Convert

An important reason behind conversions to Roman Catholicism over the last three decades has been the Protestant mainline’s abandonment of Christian teaching on sex. For a while the Anglican communion was the place for beauty-deprived Protestants to worship. But once the bishops started coming out of the closet, Christians sound on the family but challenged on doctrine needed to look for another communion. Rome’s holding the line on sex proved appealing.

But Matthew Sitman (say it ain’t so that a good Grove City boy turned Roman Catholic) warns about the danger of that strategy in response to Rusty Reno (who was Anglican and converted). Reno wrote:

The Church is the only major institution in the West that has not accepted the sexual revolution. The official resistance provides an important witness, even when combined with widespread accommodation in ­practice. The sexual revolution has a ruthless quality. It ­allows no dissent. The mere suggestion of teaching chastity to fifteen-year-olds in school is enough to unleash furious denunciations. That the Church has not allowed herself to be dictated to and intimidated by the sexual revolution inspires.

Humanae Vitae’s intransigence sustains us in our overall struggle against the dictatorship of relativism. Even among people who transgress, the resistance reassures. We’ve deregulated a great deal of personal life. Who, today, needs permission? Catholicism stands for something, a moral standard that’s inconvenient and countercultural.

Sitman counters:

The wrong reason to defend Church teaching and the status quo is because it proves strategically helpful. When Reno writes, “Humanae Vitae’s intransigence sustains us in our overall struggle against the dictatorship of relativism,” you can see that the concern is not for the coherence of what that encyclical teaches, but it’s ideological usefulness. When he also asserts, “Catholicism stands for something, a moral standard that’s inconvenient and countercultural,” I confess to wondering why “inconvenient and countercultural” seems to matter more than standing for the truth.

Total rejection and uncritical praise both bind you to the spirit of the age; intransigence apart from discernment, apart from reading the signs of the times, still takes it cues from the merely contemporary. Such a conservatism shades into reaction, moved more by fear than hope, mustering only doomed rear-guard campaigns as a response to the genuine perplexities of modern life.

Might the reason to convert have something to do with being saved from my sins? Tell me Rome has a better account of how I am right with God. Tell me that being right with God (as opposed being right with mother earth) even matters.

Wasn’t it someone important who said, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose own his soul”?

Tomorrow begins another Round of Cherry-Picking

While Justin Taylor advises on how to prepare for Lent (can you believe it involves a book published by Crossway?), Carl Trueman reminds about the arbitrariness of tradition among evangelicals (high and low):

The question of catholicity is, of course, more complicated than merely adopting a practice or a doctrine because it has deep historical and ecclesiastical roots. After all, Anglicans in the tradition of Hooker have rejected a large number of the elements of ‘catholic’ tradition. Roman supremacy, purgatory, transubstantiation, prayers for the dead, and the cult of the saints all have good claims to deep catholic roots. So why have Anglicans abandoned these? Presumably they have done so because they do not think that scripture gives grounds for retaining them. Well, once the scripture principle is allowed as an arbiter of true catholicity, the best we can say about Lent is that it might be a harmless, if biblically unjustifiable, personal preference with some historical roots – which is a point I never denied.

Yet if this point about the scripture principle is unpersuasive to Anglicans, let me offer an observation on Anglicanism along the same lines of Merrick’s critique of the Reformed. Anglicanism’s own selective catholicity would seem to imply that Hookerites regard those same centuries, 1500-1700, as a kind of moment of purity for the decision as to which prior catholic traditions can stand and which should be cast aside.

This is not a new problem for Anglicans. It was a significant part of what moved John Henry Newman Romeward. Of course, if the brilliant Newman could not persuade his friend, John Keble, Hooker’s greatest editor, of the immense difficulties of Anglican claims to historic catholicity, it is unlikely that I will do so with Hooker’s present disciples. Yet Newman’s critique surely remains a major challenge to anyone who blithely assumes the straightforward catholicity of the Anglican tradition as embodied in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Homilies, and the Book of Common Prayer. It is actually much more theologically complicated and historically contested than that.

All of this is, however, largely beside the point of my original article. My main purpose was not to point to problems in the Anglican tradition’s claims to catholicity. It was to critique a recent cultural anomaly: The curious phenomenon of interest in Ash Wednesday and Lent among evangelicals whose ecclesiastical commitments do not theologically or historically sanction observance of such.

Funny how Trueman’s interlocutor assumes the historicity of Lent. But as with most subjects, history only makes certainties less certain:

The current state of research points to three possible conclusions. Because the evidence is slim and admitting of any number of plausible interpretations, one position has been to view Lent as a sui generis phenomenon—completely new and unique—that simply appears after the Council of Nicea. In this view, any attempt to hazard connections or lines of evolution from pre-Nicene fasting practices is too speculative to be of any value. Another, rather opposite, position has been to accept as historical the alleged Egyptian post-Theophany fast, to identify it as the dominant antecedent to Lent, and that Lent’s rapid dissemination throughout the Christian world is best explained in relation to the program of liturgical and theological alignment begun at Nicea. A final position, a sort of via media or middle road, acknowledges the incomplete and sometimes-contradictory nature of the evidence, but asserts nonetheless that Lent develops as an amalgamation of several early fasting customs and typologies of which the post-Theophany fast (if it existed) may have been but one of many. As with most issues in the study of the early history of the liturgy, certainty is elusive and we must be satisfied with possibilities. Judicet lector: let the reader decide.

Don’t mind me if I use the occasion to have an extra doughnut.

Forget New Calvinism

Next up New Anglicanism:

Editors’ note: At the 2015 National Conference, TGC will be hosting a workshop on Anglicanism, “The Anglican Book of Common Prayer: What Relevance Does It Have to Today’s Contemporary Worship?” and a focus gathering, “The Resurgence of Reformation Anglicanism.” Both sessions will be led by John Yates III and John Yates II.

And here is one thing (of NINE NINE NINE) that you REALLY need to know:

3. Anglicanism is Reformed. The theology of the founding documents of the Anglican church—the Book of Homilies, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion—expresses a theology in keeping with the Reformed theology of the Swiss and South German Reformation. It is neither Lutheran, nor simply Calvinist, though it resonates with many of Calvin’s thoughts.

Maybe George Whitefield will finally get his due, but what of Charles Spurgeon?

When oh when will the allies ever get around to the New Baptists?

Shepherd Stealing?

A story at the Revealer provides the latest news on the three bishops, seven priests, and three hundred members of six congregations that have become ordained and opted into new Roman Catholic Ordinariates – subsections of the Roman Catholic Church for disaffected Anglicans. Obviously, sex is a reason why some Anglicans would opt for Rome — at least opposition to homosexuality, though Rome’s own sex scandal and its opposition to contraception would apparently pose barriers. At the same time, sex makes the move awkward — as in married clergy and celibacy.

According to George Brandt, a rector in New York, “This was a way that Rome thought it could give itself a booster shot in the United States. There are all these so-called dissident Anglican priests who could help fill out all the holes in the most vibrant part of the Roman church – which is the American church. There are almost 50 million Roman Catholics and an acute shortage of clergy. And Anglicans in this country have more priests than we have places to put ‘em.”

According to the story:

The procedure for Anglican parishes to join the Catholic Church was formally introduced in November, 2009 as Anglicanorum Coetibus, an apostolic constitution — the highest level of papal decree. It outlines the manner in which Anglican parishes can become Personal Ordinariates, effectively shadow parishes within a Catholic diocese. Married Anglican priests must be reviewed and re-ordained as Catholic priests. Unmarried priests must remain celibate, and those “impeded by irregularities or other impediments” may not enter the Catholic clergy. Other provisions allow for the creation of Anglican-styled seminaries under the Catholic auspices, and the preservation of Anglican liturgy, such as portions of the Book of Common Prayer.

Someone needs to ask the obvious: If Rome needs help from the Anglicans, how healthy can the Roman Catholic communion be? And if some Anglicans are looking to Rome for help, how traditional can they be? I know, I know, the via media and all that. But the 39 Articles are hardly a via media. Why they affirm predestination in ways that make Reformed Protestants jealous.