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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Confused but Not Dazed

Father Dwight has counsel for discouraged Roman Catholics:

4. Regarding Pope Francis – Many conservative Catholics are troubled by Pope Francis. They think he is a textbook 1970s liberal. He’s not. Take time to understand his context and background from Argentina. Read this post to put things into perspective. Get to know the man and pray for him. It is ok to disagree with him and question his judgement. He’s not infallible all the time you know, but you can do so with an open heart and a desire to understand and be with him and learn from him. What’s the alternative? You set yourself up as the judge of the Holy Father? Hmmm. There’s not much mileage in that now is there?

Once upon a time the western church had councils because Rome had three popes.

Also, it’s a free country, right? So separated siblinghood is an alternative. But being Roman Catholic means you have to accept whatever the bishops do? Fr. Dwight might make sense in a pay-pray-obey environment. But the world of immigrant parishes is long gone. Root-root-root for the Fightin’ Irish.

5. Regarding Cafeteria Catholics – Are you maddened by so called “devout Catholics” who openly endorse same sex marriage, women priests and are “pro choice”? Join the club. They annoy me too. Are you also annoyed by the bishops and priests who take the same view? I’m with you. However, remember that the Catholic Church is universal. We’re not a sect where everyone agrees. We’re inclusive and that’s why we’re Catholic. The Church has always had dissidents, rebels and downright bad Catholics. Have you ever read the Old Testament or taken a close look at the twelve apostles? The saints and sinners are all in together. The weeds and the wheat, the goat and the sheep are mixed. Jesus will sort it out one day, and stop for a moment and ask yourself, are you a perfect saint yet? I’m not. I’m still learning and growing and repenting. So I guess we must offer the mercy (and benefit of the doubt) to others that we would wish to receive.

Isn’t the church supposed to stand for the truth? And if observers of Pope Francis need context to understand him and his unwillingness to do something about dissent and error in the church, has not Fr. Dwight entered the cafeteria of choosing what he wants to believe? Why does he get to have perspective on the church’s problems that Pope Francis doesn’t because of his Argentinian background?

6. Regarding You and the Church – I’ve heard some Catholics grumble that the church has let them down. But what did you expect of the church in the first place? The church is divine, but she is also human. The church is a work in progress, an ark of wounded warriors, a tribe of troubled pilgrims, a family of lost children looking and longing for home. When you see the church like this, instead of hoping that the church will be the instant answer to all your problems you will be more content. Our role in the church is to be faithful, prayerful, hard working and stable in our love for Christ and his people.

But Roman Catholicism was supposed to be an upgrade, better than Protestantism. Isn’t that why Fr. Dwight left fundamentalism for Anglicanism and then left Anglicanism for Rome? So shouldn’t the standards for the bearer of the truth, the only true church, be higher? If converts knew that Rome was going to be as incoherent and liberal as the PCUSA or the Church of England, why leave Tim Keller? Or is it that this is godly mess and Protestants only have ungodly messes (and of course, having ONE mess is better than having many).

7. Regarding Priorities – The main thing is to stay close to Jesus and Mary. How do you do this? The Catechism says we experience Christ in five specific ways: 1) in the Sacred Scriptures 2) in the person of the priest 3) in the person of the poor 4) in the fellowship of believers 5) in the Eucharist. I can guarantee you, if you make these five things your priorities, then you will have a solid, sure and secure relationship with Jesus Christ. These five meeting places of Christ assume that your life is bathed in prayer and that you have as your main priority being with Jesus and Mary in these ways. If you get this right the other worries fall away.

Jesus is good and having his Spirit is really good. Mary is good but she is not exactly going to save. But is Fr. Dwight suggesting we can have Mary or Jesus apart from the Bishop of Rome?

Lots of sorting to do. Sure would be nice to have a hierarchy to do this for the faithful.

Ichabod

How soon the glory has departed. The streets department in Philadelphia has barely collected the porta-potties and barricades after Pope Francis’ glitch-proof visit (minus that Kim Davis ambiguity) and Father Dwight is embracing the suck:

Why are there so many Catholics who are down on Pope Francis, biting their nails over the Synod on the Family and searching the skies for signs of the world’s end?

To be sure we live in uncertain times.

Read history. When were the times certain?

To be sure the church seems to be under threat–undermined by corruption and heresy within and attacked by persecution and infidels without.

Read your history. When was it otherwise?

To be under attack, to witness our church’s life as “the long defeat” is par for the course. It’s the default setting. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be.

Its a sign of our authenticity, or were you forgetting that?

Where is the faith of the faithful? God is with his church. Did you really think the gates of hell would prevail against her? Did you really think she would be forgotten by the Holy Spirit? Did you really think he would abandon his bride?

Are you upset that Cardinal Kasper and others burble away on the fringes of heresy and schism? There have always been disputes in the church. Are you dismayed that a “liberal mafia” may have pressured Pope Benedict from office, schemed to put Pope Francis on the throne and is planning a progressive coup in the church? So it has always been. There has never been a time when the Vatican was free from political machinations, corruption, deceit, human pride and ambition.

So the reason to become Roman Catholic is, we suck as much as Protestants do? Now that’s audacious.