If Tim Keller is A Great Apologist, Why Does He Sound Like A Sociologist?

Tim Keller explained to people who write about charities and philanthropy the contribution that churches make to “human flourishing”:

Philanthropy: How does a healthy church benefit the community at large beyond its own members? On the flip side, when a neighborhood doesn’t have a flourishing church, what is it missing out on?

Keller: Churches promote cooperation between individuals and the kind of associational life that is necessary for human happiness and social success. Without informal shared trust, things are more litigious and combative. Life is much better when neighbors pull for each other, help each other, collaborate together. But this kind of “social capital” is very difficult to generate through public policy. Governments cannot duplicate the effect of religion as a source of shared values.

Family ties and religious ties are the two biggest sources of social capital. And religion can be fed and bolstered as a source of valuable shared experience. I, as an older white American man, can connect quite sincerely to a single poor African woman in Soweto because we are both evangelical Christians. There’s a powerful bond because we’ve had the same experience of spiritual rebirth. There’s a trust I have that would not exist if I was a non-Christian white man.

Anywhere you’ve got a church, social capital is being created. Especially when the church is attended by people from the surrounding neighborhood. And it’s a big benefit to the community.

Also, church buildings in big cities are a kind of public utility. We bought a parking garage in upper Manhattan and converted it into a church and all the homeowners on the block who were not believers said, “Thank you, you’re improving the whole block.” The city council asked if various local groups could use the building, saying, “We’re starved for space.” Our building became a community center. Organizations can meet there, people can have weddings and other celebrations there. On a Sunday, urban churches create the foot traffic all the restaurant owners and shop owners want. So in all kinds of ways an urban church has huge benefits, as long as it doesn’t have a fortress mentality.

For a fellow with the reputation of presenting the gospel to secular Americans in ways that make it accessible and also clear, Keller comes up short and resorts to language that would actually wind up supporting Roman Catholic parishes, synagogues, and mosques as religious places that increase social capital.

The World Is Turning Rod and Leaving Tim Behind

The piece on Rod Dreher and the Benedict Option in the New Yorker was remarkable on several levels. It was generally positive, respectful, and long. This was the case despite Dreher’s tendency to sound a tad hysterical about sexual irregularities and deviance. This quote by Andrew Sullivan, a gay man who has gone head to head with Rod over the years, was telling:

Sullivan has a long-standing disagreement with Dreher over same-sex marriage, but he believes that the religiously devout should be permitted their dissent. “There is simply no way for an orthodox Catholic to embrace same-sex marriage,” he said. “The attempt to conflate that with homophobia is a sign of the unthinking nature of some liberal responses to religion. I really don’t think that florists who don’t want to contaminate themselves with a gay wedding should in any way be compelled to do so. I think any gay person that wants them to do that is being an asshole, to be honest—an intolerant asshole. Rod forces you to understand what real pluralism is: actually accepting people with completely different world views than your own.”

In “The Benedict Option,” Dreher writes that “the angry vehemence with which many gay activists condemn Christianity” is the understandable result of a history of “rejection and hatred by the church.” Orthodox Christians need to acknowledge this history, he continues, and “repent of it.” He has assured his children that, if they are gay, he will still love them; he is almost—but not quite—apologetic about his views, which he presents as a theological obligation. He sees orthodox Christians as powerless against the forces of liquidly modern progressivism; on his blog, he argues that “the question is not really ‘What are you conservative Christians prepared to tolerate?’ but actually ‘What are LGBTs and progressive allies prepared to tolerate?’ ” He wants them to be magnanimous in victory; to refrain from pressing their advantage. Essentially, he says to progressives: You’ve won. You wouldn’t sue Orthodox Jews or observant Muslims. Please don’t sue us, either.

“What I really love about Rod is that, even as he’s insisting upon certain truths, he’s obviously completely conflicted,” Sullivan said. “And he’s a mess! I don’t think he’d disagree with that. But he’s a mess in the best possible way, because he hasn’t anesthetized himself. He’s honest about a lot of the questions that many liberal and conservative Christians aren’t really addressing.”

Notice that Dreher, who is outspokenly anti-gay marriage, did not receive the chorus of criticism that Tim Keller did at Princeton Seminary even from such mainstream organs and figures as the New Yorker and Andrew Sullivan.

To be sure, the PCUSA is not the New Yorker, but at a time when the magazine has identified President Trump and his supporters as an alien force in national life, a fair piece about Dreher is not what readers would have expected.

So why does Dreher receive more acclaim than Keller? The reason could be that the former promotes a thick (as he understands it) Christian identity, complete with communitarian obligations, while Keller stands for a Christianity that is chiefly reasonable and appeals to the mind. In other words, Dreher is appealing to a larger conception of Christianity that encompasses more of one’s identity than intellect while Keller is largely about defending the Apostles’ Creed (as he explained a while back in an interview at First Things) — or a Christian minimum. Rod is maximalist where Tim is a minimalist.

Naomi Schaeffer Riley picked up on this difference when she contrasted Dreher and Keller:

Keller sees an integral part of the church’s mission as being present in the big cities — no matter how culturally degraded they may seem. “Christians ought to be present and engaged everywhere that there are people. But across the world people are flocking to cities at the rate of millions per year.

“Christians don’t all need to live in cities, but they should at least be moving there in the same proportions as the people whom they want to serve.”

His approach may be falling out of favor among some more orthodox believers. Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported on a small but growing number of Christians who, “feeling besieged by secular society . . . are taking refuge” in small, often isolated communities away from negative cultural influences and surrounded by other believers.

This “Benedict Option” was named in honor of St. Benedict, who fled the moral degradation of Rome. It’s also the title of a new book by Rod Dreher, who, writing in Christianity Today, calls it a “strategic withdrawal” by “serious Christian Conservatives [who] could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America.”

Though Dreher doesn’t say Christians should all flee to isolated enclaves, those are where such withdrawal would be easiest.

Keller believes Christians in New York cannot retreat into homogeneity. They’ll be regularly faced with people who fervently disagree with them. Keller’s church is a multi-ethnic one and even if the believers have a similar religious outlook, they hail from a variety of different backgrounds.

That fear of homogeneity and retreat also explains, by the way, while Keller is somewhat uncomfortable with going all in on Presbyterianism (from his interview at First Things):

I don’t believe you can reach New York with the gospel if you only plant Presbyterian churches. There are all kinds of people who’ll never be Presbyterians. It just doesn’t appeal to them. Some people are going to be Pentecostals, some people are going to be Catholics. I mean, I know that sounds¯I’m not talking about that certain cultures reach certain people. It’s much more complicated than that. Even though there’s something to that. We all know that certain cultures seem to have more of an affinity toward a certain kind of Christian tradition than others, but I wouldn’t want to reduce it to that at all. I would just say that I only know that God seems to use all these kinds of churches to reach the whole breadth of humanity, and so that’s why we give money to start churches of other denominations, and give free training to it. And we’ve done about a hundred in the New York area, where we’ve helped people. It’s very important to us.

For Keller, apparently, Christianity resists taking overly specific and particular forms (think ecclesiology, liturgy, even creed). His ministry can transcend different cultures and expressions of Christianity. That comes up short against those Christians that Schaeffer identifies as wanting a more than “business-as-usual” faith.

But the Allies at Gospel Coalition back Keller over Dreher when they say they want both a Christianity that is meaty and one that is mainstream:

The Benedict Option is named for Benedict of Nursia, a 4th century monk who launched a monastic movement that preserved Western civilization. Today, writers like Rod Dreher enjoin Christian​s​ to take similar steps to “develop communities based on a shared sense of orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice), for the sake of forming ourselves and the next generation in the Christian faith.”

The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has called Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, where Tim Keller serves as senior pastor, an effective example of the Benedict Option for our twenty-first century, post-Christian context. Like other TGC-inspired communities, Redeemer aims to blend countercultural biblical faithfulness with a Christ-exalting, city-embracing vision.

That dual commitment to faithfulness and cultural affirmation did work for the post-World War II world. It was precisely the vision of the Neo-Evangelicals who formed the National Association of Evangelicals, founded Christianity Today, and cheered and prayed for Billy Graham. It was and is a faith that harmonizes well with a nationalism confident of its role in the world, and generally progressive in its estimate of where history is going or at least who the good guys are in that narrative.

But at a time when that post-war internationalist order is under serious strain (think Brexit, Scottish Independence, Trumpian nationalism), the appeal of a rational, enlightened Christianity may have hit a wall. What Christians seem to understand is that they need a faith little more “deep-down diving and mud upbringing,” that can withstand a social order that is not congenial to their religious convictions. It is a faith that bears more resemblance to the politics of identity than to United Statesist Christianity. This faith does not go along but separates. It makes more claims on adherents than a faith that primarily relies on mental exercises demanded by w-w. It recognizes that the world is more hostile than previous generations supposed and that Christians need to be more intentional about their convictions.

Why someone living in New York City, the place that cultivated the boorish Donald Trump, doesn’t see that cities (from culture to economics) may be a problem for the practice of demanding Christianity is a real mystery.

Was Francis Schaeffer an Intellectual?

The latest comment in the very Protestant discussion of why we don’t have Christian intellectuals anymore like Reinhold Niebuhr and John Courtney Murray comes from Jake Meador on the merits of Francis Schaeffer who even attracted a story from Time magazine (though he did not make it on to the cover).

Time‘s description of Schaeffer, however, tells us something about how things had changed during the 12 years between Niebuhr’s cover and Schaeffer’s. In 1960, Time presents Schaeffer as a missionary to the intellectuals, which he no doubt was. But this assumes that Christianity needs missionaries to the intellectuals because the intellectuals are no longer Christian. What had been conflict within the intellectual community 13 years before when they reported on CS Lewis has become an attempt to witness to the intellectual community by 1960. This suggests, in one sense, that Jacobs is right—the Christian public intellectual is dead by 1960, which is why Schaeffer was needed.

I wasn’t reading Time in 1960 but fifteen years later I was reading Schaeffer and the better description of the apologist is not as missionary to intellectuals but missionary to would-be intellectuals. That is, Schaeffer was great for kids who had lost their faith and wanted to talk about the films of Bergman or the novels of Camus. Schaeffer was even more effective for young believers like me for taking the lid off subjects not so much forbidden as ignored. All of a sudden, Schaeffer seemed to make it possible for evangelicals who were so culturally marginal never to have heard of C.S. Lewis to entertain ideas about the arts and sciences, movies and trees, and even politics (DOH! That’s where it all breaks down). In other words, Schaeffer inspired as neo-Calvinists so often do. But when it came to the contents of his arguments, chances are that intellectuals weren’t impressed because Christian professors (who might qualify as intellectuals), the ones who grew up inspired by Schaeffer (like mmmeeeEEEE) weren’t so impressed with the scholarship that underwrote Schaeffer’s arguments.

I myself am not so troubled by the loss of Christian intellectuals because having read Niebuhr and Murray (for a current project) I can’t say that their arguments stand up so well. Whose do? Not many. But what Niebuhr and Murray may have gained in public recognition, they may have lost in faithfulness to their traditions. Niebuhr was by many confessional Protestants’ lights a liberal Protestant. And Roman Catholics today still wonder if Murray sold out Roman Catholic teaching to American political norms. And for what it’s worth, a 2k Protestant is happy to take guidance from non-Christian intellectuals on public life. To insist that public life needs Christian input is a soft, even fluffy, version of a theonomic desire for Christians running things, or at least a Eusebian desire to be part of the establishment.

Meador ends by likening Schaeffer to Tim Keller:

Of course, it’s not all so bleak as that. If we wish to go in the direction Jacobs is outlining and try to identify publicly recognized Christians translating the faith into terms the public square can understand while remaining orthodox, there are some examples.

You could easily argue that both Tim Keller and Russell Moore are doing that well in their own ways. Keller’s Reason for God was a best-seller and he lives in and pastors a church in Manhattan. Moore, meanwhile, has been in the New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Washington Post and is deeply engaged in many of the pressing social questions of the day, particularly on issues of racism and sexuality. . . .

Valuable as their work is (and I have enormous respect and gratitude for both men!), the best either can hope to achieve on a cultural level is helping to move us away from apocalypse and toward cultural dhimmitude. That isn’t meant as a criticism of either man, to be clear, nor is it to underscore the work they are doing. There are many people who have met Jesus thanks to the ministry of Keller and we should never forget how significant that is.

Bringing people to Christ is not the same as being a missionary to intellectuals. For that reason it may be useful to remember the review that Bruce Kuklick, an accomplished intellectual historian of Protestant background but agnostic outlook, wrote on Tim Keller’s The Reason for God in the Fall 2008 edition of the Nicotine Theological Journal:

The editors of the NTJ asked me to review this book. Readers have heralded it, he said, as a sophisticated body blow to secularism, but maybe the author is only talking to the already converted. What did I think?

Keller serves as the astoundingly successful pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York. Presbyterian readers of NTJ will forgive me if I say he reminds me of a latter-day Henry Ward Beecher, an effective exponent of Christian ideas to a prosperous northeastern urban audience looking for guidance in the modern world. The book exemplifies the more or less systematic exposition of Reformed Protestantism that Keller’s sermons present, and that he promotes in his ministry.

But no matter what the blurbs from Publishers Weekly and New York magazine tell us, Keller writes not as a thinker but as a clergyman. The book is not designed for careful, logical scrutiny, and going to church differs from sitting in a philosophy seminar. As Keller describes his parishioners, they are good people, sometimes in some mild distress, most often decayed Protestants looking for counsel. But they are not interested in honing their cognitive skills by taking a course in The Critique of Pure Reason or reading David Hume on religion, or even emotionally mastering Kierkegaard on faith or Karl Barth on Pauline Christianity. Their frequent social locus in the American Christian tradition means that Keller does not have to start from scratch with them. The book supposes a basic familiarity with Protestant ideas and the notion that western Christianity has something exceptional going for it. Keller is not exactly preaching to the choir, but he is not lecturing in an international classroom to people with serious intellectual doubts, nor is he straining for truth. Keep Beecher front and center.

Let me give one extended example, which is to me is decisive, and decisive about a fundamental issue. Toward the end of the volume Keller takes up the question of miracles, and in particular the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. For Keller, and I think for any good Christian, Jesus had really to have been dead and to have come back to life. What is it to believe such a thing? Keller, it seems to me, simply does not deliberate perceptively here. He begins by telling us what he thinks stands in the way of such belief: the presumption that miracles never happen, an outlook that “short circuits” our investigation. But, he argues next, we can’t elucidate everything else that took place later after the resurrection unless we acknowledge the miracle of the resurrection itself. How do we account for all the witnesses? How do we explain the entirely unexpected series of events? How do we come to grips with a brand new set of commitments and a hitherto unthinkable point of view – not foretold or expected by any ancient culture – except on the hypothesis that the resurrection is true? Perhaps more important, how are we to understand the explosive expansion of this new Christian world view? It only could have triumphed if people were transformed by their engagement with some extraordinary truths. Big things, Keller concludes, can only be caused by big things.

Can we accept this approach? In considering whether we are to believe in a miraculous event, we need to recall two factors. First we look at the evidence in favor of an event’s occurring, usually the credibility of testimony. Second we consider the unusualness of the event that the evidence requires us to accept as occurring. The stranger the event, the stronger must be the evidence that it has occurred. A miracle overthrows what I call “laws of nature.” They are propositions about our universal experience, the regularity of our sense perception, that enable us to predict with confidence the occurrence of one event after the occurrence of another. People don’t walk on water, change water to wine, or rise from the dead. If you jump off a bridge, you fall into water; if you have club soda in a can, the twelve ounces of it will come out into a cup; if someone dies, the body decays. We must weigh what is more likely to be false when it is said that a miracle has occurred. Is the testimony mistaken or has a law of nature been abrogated?

To allow for the possibility of miracles, we need only be open to experience. A law of nature cannot proscribe miracles; all it need do is to warn us of their rarity and of what is involved in asserting that they have come about. That is, sufficient testimony might overthrow a prima facie overriding adherence to a law of nature, and the regularity of experience. We can imagine scenarios where we would be obliged to believe that laws of nature have been violated, that something inexplicable in ordinary natural terms has occurred.

But reports of religious miracles have a notorious unreliability – even the Roman Catholic Church tells us that. In all times and places, we have had interested and credulous observers eager to persuade others of the veracity of their peculiar convictions. Provincial self-serving witnesses have repeatedly tried to impose ridiculous stories on our stock of ideas. Over and over religious miracles have come to be rejected. Again and again we find the quality of testimony suspect and never near to meeting the standards of credibility needed to overthrow a natural law. In fact, uniformity exists in the failings themselves: when someone proclaims a religious miracle, we regularly find biased testifiers, a lack of subsidiary evidence, suspicious circumstances. We have available far simpler explanations, and so on.

Put it another way: if we accept the miracles of Jesus, we have good reason to accept others that have more or less indistinguishable support. For example, Keller needs to think about how his privileged supernatural events compare with those promoted by the Mormons. If you already believe Jesus is a special guy, the resurrection is easy to swallow. But if you don’t have that belief in the first place, I don’t see how you make Jesus’ supernatural doings unique. I have two choices: between rejecting religious miracles and accepting the legitimacy of laws of nature; or accepting a lot of the miracles and rejecting laws of nature. We have Jesus arising from the dead, Muhammad touring heaven and hell with Gabriel, and Moroni delivering the golden tablets.

You pay a high price by believing in the Christian miraculous, and are on a slippery slope. You can’t rule out the miracles of any of the “major” religions. You also give license to the existence of zombies and vampires, who are after all, let us remember, first cousins to the resurrection. You are on your way to an environment populated by demons, ghosts, and weird apparitions; bleeding statues, the blind seeing, pictures flying from walls, and devils being exorcised; oracles, dreams with the force of predictions, the dead walking, or talking to us; dolls with pins stuck in them. And god knows what else. You give credence to a world where any sort of unnaturally caused events might occur. Our experience then does not much guide us. We can’t reason much about matters of fact, since we would have a universe in which at any moment we could not rely on the evidence of our senses and not have much of an inkling of how events hooked up.

I don’t expect Keller to deal with this sort of complicated chain of reasoning in his sermons, or even in The Reason for God. Nor do I expect him to be convinced by this group of arguments, however telling they are once one has discarded the veil of conventional respect for our regional Protestant traditions. But in writing his book, he is trying to do more than offer comfort — he is supposed to be sketching a rational account of matters, and his chapter on miracles should not convince anyone who is perplexed by fundamentals. He never takes a hard look at this issue, or others like it.

Undoubtedly I am making too heavy a demand on this volume. But Presbyterians who want to go after skeptics need to keep in mind the different social roles of the Beechers and Kellers of this world and a Machen.

That doesn’t undermine the value of Keller’s work. But intellectual life is a whole lot more demanding than getting noticed by Time magazine or the New York Times.

Hedging the Call

Devin Rose is one of the many apologists in the Roman Catholic world — a guy who was agnostic, became evangelical, dissatisfied with evangelicalism, and then took the plunge into the Tiber. If you want to hear his “testimony,” go here.

One thing to be said for what follows is that Rose implicitly admits the difficulty that he and other apologists face when the message from the bishops (even the pope) is not exactly what brought him to Roman Catholicism. So if you’re going to appeal to Protestants, you need to figure in Vatican 2’s equivocation:

Here are the four reasons you should evangelize Protestant friends and family with the fullness of the truth:

1. Future Souls

I have a Protestant friend who had two children then got sterilized. He and I had lots of discussions about the Catholic Faith and Protestantism. I told him at one point contraception and sterilization were sinful. He got angry.

But he also began to desire having more children. He was something of a providentialist and said that “God will miraculously give us children if He wants to, in spite of the sterilization.” I told him to get it reversed.

A year or two later he decided to reverse the sterilization. A short while later they conceived again and had a son. Then conceived again and had a daughter. So they have two older children and two little children! Sharing the fullness of truth in the Catholic Faith resulted in two new souls being created by God, destined for eternity with Him. Almost all Protestants embrace contraception and sterilization, which is really sad and not what God wants.

Note that this friend is still Protestant. He didn’t become Catholic, at least not yet. I hope he does, but I am thrilled that they opened up their marriage to God blessing them with more children.

2. The Sacraments

Protestants have baptism and marriage but not any other sacraments. God instituted seven, including the Eucharist, so that we could receive Him body and blood, soul and divinity, as well as Confirmation to be strengthened fully in the Spirit, and Confession to reconcile us to Himself and His Church. They are missing out on these.

They also miss out on consecrated virginity for the sake of the Kingdom, which Jesus in Matthew 19 spoke of and Paul did in 1 Corinthians 7. God wants His children to consider all vocations, not just marriage.

Through the sacraments we receive God’s grace in abundance.

3. Bigger Cups!

It is true that everyone in Heaven will be filled to the brim with God’s love, but some people will have bigger cups than others. Here on earth we can, with the help of His grace, become holier and holier, more and more like Him, so that our cups are enlarged. In the Catholic Faith these opportunities abound; we have the fullness of the means of sanctification.

Protestants want to become just like Jesus. They want the biggest cup possible. But they are operating outside of the ordinary means of increasing their cup’s volume.

4. Danger of Hell

It is true that God is not bound by His sacraments and can save anyone He likes. It is also true that Protestants have valid baptisms (by and large) and so receive the Holy Spirit and are regenerated, being born again, from above, to newness of life. However, it is also true that they are relying on God to work in an extra-ordinary way. He set out the way He wanted us to assure our salvation by giving us His Church, with rightful leaders, sacraments, Tradition, and protection from error of her doctrines.

Protestants eschew all those things and so in a sense test God to save them in spite of it. He is so merciful that He can and no doubt will, but Protestants are following the Faith on their own terms, not the way that God planned it.

What happens when a Protestant, after being baptized, commits a mortal sin? Their soul is in peril, and they cannot avail themselves of Confession. They have to confess directly to God and hope that they have perfect contrition to be forgiven. They are essentially gambling with their souls, though most don’t know it (invincible ignorance).

Bigger cups?!? We know how Erik will fight that reference.

We are a long way from Fulton Sheen.

Don't Stop, Believin'

I wonder if Jason and the Callers were aware of statistics like these when they aligned with a communion they thought to be the arbiter of Christian truth:

One-third of divorced and remarried Catholics who have not had their first marriage annulled receive Communion, even if they have not sought the permission of their priest.

Catholics in Britain and Ireland in such circumstances were almost twice as likely to receive Communion without having sought permission as US Catholics (29 per cent vs 17 per cent). . . .

Practising Catholics said the chief threats to marriage and family life were: artificial contraception; gay marriage and adoption; pressure caused by long working hours, money worries and unemployment; and the proliferation of pornography.

Almost three-quarters of practising Catholics welcomed the presence of lay people at the Synod, with one-quarter saying they wished more had been invited to attend and to be involved in decision-making.

Twenty per cent of Mass-going women and 15 per cent of Mass-going men said they sometimes felt the Church was too focused on the family to the point where they sometimes felt alienated.

Eighty-nine per cent of practising Catholics said a child ideally needed a mother and a father, while 11 per cent said a parent’s gender was less important than his or her commitment to the child.

About half of respondents said there was a danger the synod would be dominated by Western concerns rather than those affecting Catholics in the developing world.

Some 83 per cent of practising Catholics said they regularly pray with their children, or did when they were younger, and 78 per cent said they often talk to them about faith, or did when they were younger.

Of the clergy who took part, more than a third said the ban on artificial contraception could be ignored in good conscience and that cohabitation could be an acceptable stage en route to marriage.

To put this data which is skewed toward people who read The Tablet and use its website, consider the results of a Pew survey from last year:

How do U.S. Catholics view same-sex marriage?

As of 2012, about half of U.S. Catholics support same-sex marriage. This level of support has increased over the past decade, rising from 40% in favor in 2001.

How do U.S. Catholics view abortion?

Half of U.S. Catholics overall (51%) say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 44% say it should be illegal in all or most cases. Among white Catholics, 54% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. By contrast, among Hispanic Catholics, 53% say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. In the general public, 54% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 39% say it should be illegal in all or most cases.

How do U.S. Catholics view contraception?

Just 15% of U.S. Catholics say that using contraceptives is morally wrong. Greater percentages say contraception is either morally acceptable (41%) or not a moral issue (36%). Catholics who attend Mass at least once a week are more evenly split. About three-in-ten say using contraceptives is morally wrong (27%). Similar percentages say it is morally acceptable (33%) or not a moral issue (30%).

Maybe if you are comparing yourself to the Protestant mainline, or to the Church of England, you take some encouragement from these numbers. But if you’re the Yankees or Steelers of the ecclesiastical world and rooting for a winner is what you signed up for when you crossed the Tiber, what happens when your ecclesiastical players keep coming up short in the fantasy church league?

For this reason, as much attention as people have given to the gathering of bishops in Rome over the last two weeks, not enough has been directed at how a church with so much authority, universal jurisdiction, apostolic succession, and charism — so many trophies — has been so ineffective in shepherding its flock.

I for one cannot understand how Roman Catholicism’s defenders (whether liberal or conservative) can continue to claim superiority. For instance, from the left, Michael Sean Winters consoles himself that Rome is not the Episcopal Church (which is sort of like the Phillies’ fans saying their team is not the Cubs):

A friend forwarded me a tweet from, of all people, Mia Farrow. It read: “Disappointed Catholics – imagine no Cardinals, Popes or bankers. All welcome, gay marriage, women and married priests – the Episcopal church.” Now, I do not mean to suggest that Ms. Farrow speaks for informed Episcopalianism. But, the obvious rejoinder is “No apostolic succession, no Real Presence, no ministry of unity in the Petrine office – some deal. And hurry, before they close up shop and turn off the lights.” And, the fact is that you know and I know Catholics who think as Ms. Farrow does. Their agenda has trumped everything and that is the problem. Ideology gets in the way of the unity of faith to which Pope Francis is calling us. It is this prior commitment to a desired outcome, ideologically defined, that keeps the Holy Spirit from our counsels and charity from our discussions. In short, ideology can frustrate genuine progress.

So apostolic succession is the rejoinder to those for whom it doesn’t matter (remember “pray, pay and obey”?), or even to bishops who don’t invoke their episcopal power? Again to use the Phillies’ analogy, so the Phillies were awful this year but darn, weren’t they good in 2008 — you know, once a world champion always a world champion. Tell that to the Red Sox. But if you want to keep insisting that the Phillies invented baseball, okay, but I’m not sure what kind of conversations about baseball are really possible if you’re going to take that line even though your bishops conceded fifty years ago that other teams helped contribute to baseball.

Then from the right we have the example of David Mills who compares (admirably I should say because I’d much rather interact with a conservative Roman Catholic who tells me I am wrong) Roman Catholicism to the best house in the neighborhood:

In the preface to Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis described the Church as a house with various rooms occupied by different traditions, including Catholicism. It’s not that good an image, even from his point of view, but it does give us one way of understanding our relation to our Protestant friends. Lewis would not have accepted this reimagining of his metaphor, but Catholics, who know that the Church isn’t merely one denomination among others, will know that the Catholic Church is the house, and the rooms are occupied by the various rites within the Church. To enter the house, one must be a member of the family. Friends may set up homes in the yard. They are within the pale, the relation the Church calls “real but imperfect communion.”

The Church will share as much as she can with her separated brethren. The family living in the house and the friends living in the yard may spend a lot of time together, and greatly enjoy each other’s company, but at the end of the day they each go back to their own homes. Some living in the yard resent never being let into the house, even for a family meal. It seems unkind and irrational. They’re happy to have Catholics in their homes and cannot understand why Catholics will not let them in theirs.

The homes they set up in the yard will keep them relatively warm and dry, if they build well, as some do, though not all. Life in the yard is much better than life on the street. Yet, however pleasant the families’ lives in the yard, they would be much happier and healthier and more productive if they got to live in the house itself. They are not homeless, which is a good thing, but they’re not really at home either.

. . . Outside it they do not experience the blessings only found on the inside. The positive reason is that it is a wonderful house. It is a great place to live. It is the best place to live. The kitchen is stocked with food, and the living room filled with comfortable furniture. The bathrooms have hot showers and working toilets, and the bedrooms are good. It is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It has interesting architectural features and curious nooks and crannies. It is full of art, books, and music. It is where your family lives.

The Church is where the faith is found in its fullness, its plenitude, its abundance. I know this from my own experience of being outside the Church and then being on the inside. For over twenty years I was an Episcopalian of the sort called Anglo-Catholic, an active one who volunteered in various conservative organizations and taught at the Episcopal Church’s most conservative seminary. I lived in a rather nice house in the yard, one that from the outside looked very much like the Catholic house: much smaller, of course, but more tastefully designed and aesthetically pleasing, and sitting closer to the Catholic house than many of the others. But in the yard nevertheless, as conveyed by the joke, which even Episcopalians would make, that their religious body was “Catholic lite.”

But isn’t this house, as the recent synod and polls suggest, a little drafty, in need of a new roof, with a septic system in disrepair, and an owner who doesn’t want to do any work on repairing the house because he think he owns the whole neighborhood (maybe like the one the Addams Family occupied)? When will this beautiful house get the maintenance it needs? Or when will the residents of the house actually listen to what the real estate agents are saying (some of whom teach classes in the house’s universities) that the house no longer matters since it’s more fun to hang out with the homeless?

And then comes the offhand comment about the synod that you just can’t believe someone said, in this case another fellow whom I admire, Peter Lawler:

Someone was wondering whether it was my “Pope Francis” moment in which I was subtly repudiating Catholic teaching on the purposes of sex and marriage. Well, I don’t think our pope is actually doing that, although I will say he’s filled the air with mixed messages. But maybe he’s right in some way such that, although the truth doesn’t change, recent developments might suggest that the gift of talking about it lovingly and effectively is in short supply. I certainly don’t claim to have that gift.

I don’t like to have to make this connection, but Roman Catholic marriage practices that led the bishops to Rome to think about what to do occurred on the watch of one of the church’s most beloved popes, John Paul II. Not only was he revered by many (maybe not the progressives), but he also offered one of the most philosophically rich accounts of sex, the body, and marriage that Roman Catholics have ever seen. And for all this you get a group of followers who are indistinguishable from the rest of their American mainline Protestant neighbors on gay marriage?

I know that since all priests still have to take the anti-modernist oath, lots of Roman Catholics think that modernism can’t happen there. But here they need to remember that Protestant modernism arose among Presbyterians at the same time that ministers subscribed the Westminster Standards.

I get it. Roman Catholic modernism doesn’t smell (and we haven’t even begun to talk about Richard McBrien).

The Queue Is Long

I have written several posts here about Jason and the Callers’ apparent ignorance of the regular Roman Catholic world (as opposed to their knowledge of Denzinger). I now understand that the trail of Protestant-turned-Roman-Catholic apologists is as long as the Phillies are behind the Nationals. For instance, Patrick Madrid has made a cottage industry in the publishing world of what Bryan Cross has done with the testimonies at Called To Communion.

But Mark Shea’s recent interview in America reveals how long, how American and how unremarkable to the papacy that line of convert-turned-apologist-and-blogger is:

Other people call me that, but I don’t think of myself as an apologist. Catholic apologetics in our culture is often addressed to Protestant evangelicals, where a lot of people from a Protestant background like Scott Hahn, Jimmy Akin and Steve Ray try to explain to our former friends why we became Catholics. There is a huge wave of American converts who owe a debt to people like Karl Keating who reached out to us in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Francis hasn’t indicated any particular interest in this trend, but neither did John Paul or Benedict. It’s a strongly American Catholic thing. But Catholic Answers has made an impact around the world, as young Catholic lay evangelists from around the world often email me to say they’ve been downloading our stuff and using it in a variety of ways.

As far as I know, no pope, including this one, has ever undertaken to address this particular apologetics subculture. There is no Letter to the Apologists from the pope. Nor do I expect there to be or feel the need for one. I don’t expect Francis to have a particular impact on the apologetics subculture, other than being a shepherd and teacher we take as a model, and I’m O.K. with that. But I think what Pope Francis has done, at least for people like me who try to defend the faith, is give us a new opportunity to defend the pope from Catholics who fear him—and that’s a weird experience for me! I never thought I’d find myself in the ironic position of having to defend the pope from fellow Catholics who loved John Paul and Benedict. Right now, much of the apologetics writing I do is to support Pope Francis when he teaches things the church has always said, but which for some reason we haven’t really grasped until now, and which strike dark fears into the hearts of Catholics who, well, really ought to know better.

Tricks of the Trade

The Catholic Lane is calling off Roman Catholic apologists who use the tired phrase that Protestantism has produced 33,000 denominations:

One Protestant friend of mine gets royally annoyed when he hears Catholics say there are 33,000 denominations in Protestantism. Paraphrased:

Really, I can think of maybe four or five major schools of Protestant theology, and maybe — maybe — 70 denominations in this country. And that’s being generous.

He once noted to me that the number of 33,000 — or 44,000, or whatever — relies on counting local communities independently, and breaking up international groups by country. By that standard, there are as many Catholic churches as there are countries in the world which have Catholics. In fact, by the standard we’re holding Protestants to; our number of churches should be multiplied where the Eastern Rites are represented. This is, of course, a bogus standard, so it will turn off Protestants of any competence.

My friend went on to insist that what really matters is the theological unity, the unity in truths professed. To say “33,000″ when there are really only about five or six or ten or seventy is a gesture of bad faith, and a sign we aren’t being serious.

“Within those schools of thought,” he said, “they don’t really disagree on anything important.”

So what is the alternative?

There are at least two Protestant churches in the world. They contradict each other on important things, or disagree about which things are important. Isn’t this a problem? Keep in mind: This is not a case for Catholicism. This is a case against Protestantism.

This is where you follow up, building a case for Catholicism. When talking to a Protestant, begin with scripture, and point out the evidence for the Church in scripture. Don’t just say that scripture or history proves the Catholic Church. Competent Protestants will here want proof, so at this point refer to scriptural passages which together and in context point to a visibly united community of believers, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It’ll still be a wild ride, so make sure you’ve studied the context yourself.

Keep in mind the stakes. Protestants aren’t merely mistaken about this doctrine or that doctrine. They lack sacraments. Some Protestants — those who were not validly baptized — lack all of the sacraments. This has eternal consequences, whether it’s as simple as not bearing the mark of chrismation in heaven or abiding forever the unforgiving fires of hell.

When we speak of communion, we mean all forms of communion, right down to Holy Communion. Yet by making sweeping claims, you might just sweep someone out of earshot, even further from the Eucharist than they were before. Allowing for God’s foreknowledge, that person you push away may come into the Church later anyway — but it may be much later, and if so you might get to answer to God for it.

In short, don’t say more than you have to. It rarely takes much to topple the internal contradictions of Protestantism. It certainly does not take 33,000 denominations.

And if two guys in white shirts and a tie show up at your front door, if it’s a Michigan winter invite them in. But if it’s warm out, be careful. They may be Roman Catholic apologists with instructions on how to reduce you to a puddle of uncertainty. But if you have a Bryan Cross hat, maybe that will provide the force you need to withstand their challenge.

The Return of This and That

kitchen sinkHide it under a bushel? No! But under camouflage? Yes. At least that the implied message of the new “Camo” edition of the American Patriot’s Bible. (Thanks to our mid-West correspondent.)

This pocket version of the popular American Patriot’s Bible reminds Christians of the Bible’s living legacy in the history of America, a nation built on the biblical values of God and family.

If it is fair to describe The Law is Not of Faith book as embodying the Escondido Hermeneutic, would it also be fair to describe the Kerux Apologetic as evidientialist?

And if union was as important to Calvin as many allege, why does he bury his catechetical instruction on the topic in the section on the Lord’s Supper? (Do a word search of the 1545 Catechism – who wants to read all 340-plus questions? – and check it out.)

(BTW, if we’re going to follow Calvin on union, why aren’t we also following him on eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ? If you’re going to take Calvin literally on union, don’t you also have to take him literally on Christ’s real presence in the Supper?)

Master. – Do we therefore eat the body and blood of the Lord?

Scholar. – I understand so. For as our whole reliance for salvation depends on him, in order that the obedience which he yielded to the Father may be imputed to us just as if it were ours, it is necessary that he be possessed by us; for the only way in which he communicates his blessings to us is by making himself ours.

Master. – But did he not give himself when he exposed himself to death, that he might redeem us from the sentence of death, and reconcile us to God?

Scholar. – That is indeed true; but it is not enough for us unless we now receive him, that thus the efficacy and fruit of his death may reach us.

Master. – Does not the manner of receiving consist in faith?

Scholar. – I admit it does. But I at the same time add, that this is done when we not only believe that he died in order to free us from death, and was raised up that he might purchase life for us, but recognise that he dwells in us, and that we are united to him by a union the same in kind as that which unites the members to the head, that by virtue of this union we may become partakers of all his blessings.

Master. – Do we obtain this communion by the Supper alone?

Scholar. – No, indeed. For by the gospel also, as Paul declares, Christ is communicated to us. And Paul justly declares this, seeing we are there told that we are flesh of his flesh and bones of his bones-that he is the living bread which came down from heaven to nourish our souls-that we are one with him as he is one with the Father, &c. (1 Cor. i. 6; Eph. v. 30; John vi. 51; John xvii. 21.)

Master. – What more do we obtain from the sacrament, or what other benefit does it confer upon us?

Scholar. – The communion of which I spoke is thereby confirmed and increased; for although Christ is exhibited to us both in baptism and in the gospel, we do not however receive him entire, but in part only.

Master. – What then have we in the symbol of bread?

Scholar. – As the body of Christ was once sacrificed for us to reconcile us to God, so now also is it given to us, that we may certainly know that reconciliation belongs to us.

Master. – What in the symbol of wine?

Scholar. – That as Christ once shed his blood for the satisfaction of our sins, and as the price of our redemption, so he now also gives it to us to drink, that we may feel the benefit which should thence accrue to us.

Master. – According to these two answers, the holy Supper of the Lord refers us to his death, that we may communicate in its virtue?

Scholar. – Wholly so; for then the one perpetual sacrifice, sufficient for our salvation, was performed. Hence nothing more remains for us but to enjoy it.