First Princeton, Now Yale

The PCA keeps coming up short (the OPC is not even on radar).

Remember Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary? Here was how he stood in opposition to the PCA at the time that women objected to Tim Keller receiving the Kuyper Prize:

Our seminary embraces full inclusion for ordained leadership of the church. We clearly stand in prophetic opposition to the PCA and many other Christian denominations that do not extend the full exercise of Spirit filled gifts for women or those of various sexual orientations. We know that many have been hurt by being excluded from ministry, and we have worked hard to be an affirming place of preparation for service to the church.

I wonder which prophets Dr. Barnes goes to to oppose the PCA. But at least it’s an ethos.

Now comes a Yale Divinity School graduate and PCUSA pastor who puts the differences between the PCUSA and PCA this way:

I am a Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastor who has family members who attend PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) churches. The best (and simplest) way to differentiate between the two is that the PCA asserts that the Bible is inerrant, or without error. The PCUSA believes that the Bible is authoritative, or guided by God, but actually written by human beings, influenced by their culture, time, and limited knowledge of the world.

You might not notice this while visiting either churches, except that the PCA, because of their stance on the Bible, read Paul’s writings that prohibit women from participating in the leadership of worship as what God intended. So you will not see a female pastor (like myself) at a PCA church, or indeed, any women ruling elders (the governing body within each congregation).

The order of worship for both denominations is essentially the same; both are part of the Reformed movement. However, the preaching will likely be quite different, with a PCUSA pastor emphasizing the broad love of God for all of God’s people, and a PCA pastor leaning more towards evangelism and conversion.

No mention of the alt-right, Confederate Monuments, or even LBGT. Maybe the lesson is that resolutions are overrated.

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The 2k Middle Way

This should eliminate the “R” from R2K with help from the Gospel Allies. Trevin Wax mentions three matters where New Calvinists (posing as neo-Calvinists) can learn from Anabaptists (hint, it’s not how to build a gospel barn). If Mr. Wax had spent a little more time with 2K, he might have posed these theses better.

First, “What happens in the church matters more than anything that happens in the world.

Reply: what have 2kers been saying but only to hear that Christianity must go beyond the church parking lot? And is it not a tad rich to hear about the importance of the church at a website that puts the RA in parachurch? In other words, a high church Calvinism would help Mr. Wax restore the visible church to its proper significance.

Second, “The church changes the world by being the church.”

Reply: don’t go empire building without referring to your Constantinian playbook. Heck, would the church even have a Trinitarian theology to wind up the complementarians without the emperor calling an ecumenical council? Don’t forget either that the conversion of emperors and kings gave a plausibility to Christianity that made the evangelization of medieval Europe more plausible than it would have been with Christianity as a minority and persecuted faith. Do remember as well that the number of Christians spiked in the first half of the fourth century — from 10% of the population in 300 to 50% in 350 — undoubtedly because Christian politicians made the faith respectable and even remunerative.

Meanwhile, as kind as it is to regard Anabaptists as making a difference, overlooking the enormous influence of magisterial Protestants in so many of the aspects of Christian life we take for granted is unfortunate. Whether you like Vacation Bible School, Sunday school, a Bible in every hotel room, or parachurch foreign missionary enterprises, the evangelicals who read and take heart from the Gospel Allies would have a dry and parched religious landscape if they had had to depend on Anabaptists who went before.

Third, “The church is strongest in its witness when it occupies the margins.”

Reply: another kind and generous assertion, but is anyone going to tell me that the OPC has been incredibly strong — compared to Tim Keller, the Gospel Allies, the hipper portions of the PCA, and the behemoth Southern Baptist Convention — because Orthodox Presbyterians have ministered on the margins? Please.

So before anyone tries to buy a farm next to an Amish family, take Mr. Wax’s recommendation of Anabaptism with a grain of salt. If you’re really Reformed, you can chase it with a shot of Rye.

The Shelf Life of 2k — Part One

In 2009, David Strain, then a PCA pastor in Columbus, Mississippi, did a four-part interview with me about 2k and the spirituality of the church. These links are dead but they do prove that I’m not making this up. And through the wonders of the interweb, you can retrieve old web pages (and you wonder what the NSA can do).

Here is the first of the interviews. Pastor Strain tries to situate 2k in the vicissitudes of Presbyterianism in the U.S.

2 Kingdoms ideas and the complex of doctrinal issues that accompany them have been creating a bit of a stir of late. Among those with whom I am in contact much of the debate is generated by misunderstanding. So what else is new, I hear you cry.

Well, to help us (or help me at least) work through some of the areas of potential misunderstanding Dr. Darryl Hart has graciously agreed to answer a few questions.

Just to ease us in, today we begin with a few general comments on common features of the contemporary evangelical landscape….

1. Darryl, would you comment on the distinction that is often made in conservative reformed circles between revival and revivalism? Is it a helpful distinction?

I am inclined to think it is a distinction without a difference. It has been a way to try to distinguish the good First (Really) Great Awakening from the Second (bad) Great Awakening. I will take Edwards over Finney any day. So the theology of the First GA may have been better. But typically the assessment of Edwards and Whitefield does not go a lot farther than the 5 points of Calvinism. But what about preaching the “terrors of the law” to apparent believers? What kind of theology leads to that? And what about the frankly bizarre conversion experiences of even Presbyterian revivalists like the Tennents? And what about Whitefield’s pulpit antics (well documented in Stout’s biography)? When you look more closely at the First GA you are getting a lot more than that for which you bargained. And then there is the problem of conversion and the way that a dramatic experience became the norm for detecting regeneration and effectual calling. So in the end, I’m not inclined to think revivalism was all that hot.

2. What is an Old Side Presbyterian, and do you qualify?

An Old Side Presbyterian was a guy who opposed revivalism because revivalists were not as concerned about subscription as Old Siders were, and was opposed to the way that some New Siders completely disregarded church polity and the authority of synod and presbyteries. So if to be an Old Sider is to favor subscription to the Standards, believe in the real authority of the church, and to be suspicious of subjective religious experience, I am one.

3. Do Old Siders believe in evangelism?

Old Siders do believe in evangelism. They believe that preaching is an ordinance that convicts and converts sinners. Old Siders believe in preaching. This isn’t quite a syllogism, but you get the point. Now, because of the influence of revivalism – just as conversion has taken on a different meaning from the Reformation, so has evangelism. For many revival-friendly Protestants, evangelism is what every Christian does. My “witnessing” is apparently no different or worse than God’s appointed means (let’s not forget Romans 10) for drawing his people to himself. But if there is still room in the universe for churchly evangelism, then I believe in evangelism.

4. Do individual believers have a responsibility to engage in evangelism?

Not to be coy, but some do and some don’t. All believers should be able to give a defense of their faith, but I do not assume that this is the same as witnessing or giving one’s testimony. Having had to go door-to-door as a kid for evangelistic purposes I may be overreacting. But I also think that the way that evangelism is often advocated leads to Christians who are constantly on the make, looking for a way to close the deal. In other words, they don’t seem to take other people as people; non-believers are persons to be converted and then the evangelist moves on to the next non-Christian.

You see this very well illustrated in the movie, The Big Kahuna (which has lots of bad language so believers whose consciences cannot bear such words should beware). It is an amazingly sympathetic view of a born-again Christian who feels compelled to witness on the job. Not only does the movie show that sometimes this approach makes Christians look like one-dimensional people, but it also says important things about vocation. If we serve God in our work, then we don’t need to make it really religious by using it to evangelize.

So some people may be called to evangelize, others are not (some do not even have the gifts for personal evangelism). The guys who are definitely called to evangelize are preachers.

For Those Without Ears to Hear

Justin Taylor revives Billy Sunday’s career by collecting comments on what the evangelist sounded like and even a few clips of the preacher himself. Taylor leaves out arguably the most insightful observer of Sunday, H. L. Mencken, whose critique extends as much to evangelicalism as to the baseball-player-turned-evangelist himself:

As for his extraordinary success in drawing crowds and in performing the hollow magic commonly called conversion, it should be easily explicable to anyone who has seen him in action. His impressiveness, to the vegetal mind, lies in two things, the first being the sheer clatter and ferocity of his style and the second being his utter lack of those transparent pretensions to intellectual superiority and other worldliness which mark the average evangelical divine. In other words, he does not preach down at his flock from the heights of an assumed moral superiority — i.e. inexperience of the common sorrows and temptations of the world — but discharges his message as man to man, reaching easily for buttonholes, jogging in the ribs, slapping on the back. The difference here noted is abysmal. Whatever the average man’s respect for the cloth, he cannot rid himself of the feeling that the holy man in the pulpit is, in many important respects, a man unlike himself . . . .; his aura is a sort of psychic monastery; his advice is not that of a practical man, with the scars of combat on him, but that of a dreamer wrapped in aseptic cotton.

Even setting aside [Sunday’s] painstaking avoidance of anything suggesting clerical garb and his indulgence in obviously unclerical gyration on his sacred stump, he comes down so palpably to the level of his audience, both in the matter and the manner of his discourse, that he quickly disarms the old suspicion of the holy clerk and gets the discussion going on the familiar and easy terms of a debate in a barroom. The raciness of his slang is not the whole story by any means; his attitude of mind lies behind it, and is more important. . . . It is marked, above all, by a contemptuous disregard of the theoretical and mystifying; an angry casting aside of what may be called the ecclesiastical mask, an eagerness to reduce all the abstrusities of Christian theology to a few and simple and (to the ingenuous) self-evident propositions, a violent determination to make of religion a practical, an imminent, an everyday concern.

Preaching the Great Commission

Even Purgatory:

Today at my parish we had a missionary priest from India. I am happy to say that after years of disappointment, it was refreshing to finally here a missionary actually talking about bring people to Jesus. To talk about salvation. It was wonderful. And he wasn’t a traditional order priest or anything; he was just a Novus Ordo diocesan priest. But he preached about the Great Commission. About the necessity of bringing Christ to people. About baptism. About India’s great Christian traditions, both those begun by St. Thomas as well that brought by St. Francis Xavier and the 16th century Jesuits. He offered actual spiritual insights that were relevant.

I remember recently on one of my travels I heard a priest saying how he was preaching on Purgatory at this parish. And afterward a woman came up to him and said, “I never really thought about it, but I think that was the first sermon I heard on Purgatory in thirty years!” I think the same is true with the necessity of bringing the Gospel to pagans. Maybe intellectually Catholics know the Great Commission is out there, but it is so seldom preached about these days.

This is no surprise. Muslims worship the same God. Jews are no longer in need of conversion. Protestants are brethren. Orthodox are not to be expected to return to unity with Rome. Aberrosexuals are not to be made uncomfortable in any way. Pagans are able to find God in their own rituals and mythologies. Given all this, one wonders who is left that actually needs to hear the Gospel. Mafioso and arms dealers, according to Pope Francis; but they are a lost cause because the pope has already said they are going to Hell.

The point is, you can’t mentally affirm one thing but act in a manner contrary to it for forty years. You can’t affirm the Great Commission is still a mandate while acting as if there is no particular class of people who actually need Christ and His Church.

What hath salvation to do with conversion?

Jason and the Callers' Worst Day

Pope Francis denies the rationale for Called to Communion:

“Our shared commitment to proclaiming the Gospel enables us to overcome proselytism and competition in all their forms,” Francis said. “All of us are at the service of the one Gospel!”

Although Francis has repeatedly called on Christians to invite others to the faith, he has also condemned “proselytism” on multiple occasions, by which he means coercive or aggressive missionary techniques.

The pope said that by answering the call to spread the Gospel, different Christian denominations will find a privileged setting for greater cooperation.

Christian unity, Francis said, won’t be achieved by subtle theoretical discussions in which each party tries to convince the other of the soundness of their opinions.

“To understand one another, and to grow in charity and truth, we need to pause, to accept and listen to one another. In this way, we already begin to experience unity,” Francis said. . . .

“A fruitful exchange of experiences,” Francis said, “can prove beneficial for the vitality of all forms of religious life.”

“To plumb the depths of the mystery of God,” said Francis on Sunday, “we need one another, we need to encounter one another, and to challenge one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who harmonizes diversities and overcomes conflicts.”

But John Allen thinks Francis is really singling out Pentecostal proselytism among Roman Catholics in South America. Even so, it’s the targeting of groups that seems to be behind the pope’s remarks:

Here’s something to think about: When Pope Francis blasts “proselytism,” he really may not be talking about, or to, Catholics at all.

In that regard, it’s important to remember that Francis’ primary frame of reference is as a Latin American pastor. There’s no part of the world that’s seen more organized and aggressive campaigns of proselytism in the last quarter-century or so, and for the most part Catholics have not been the architects of those efforts.

Instead, they’ve been more akin to the targets.

Arguably the most dramatic religious realignment of the late 20th century was the transition in Latin America from an almost homogeneously Catholic continent to a flourishing spiritual free market, with Evangelicals and Pentecostals posting massive gains.

Does make you wonder, though, if Francis knew about CtC would he be pleased? So the good news for us is that Jason and the Callers aren’t even on the pope’s global map. The bad news for them is that they’re out of sink with the officer who gives them the superior paradigm. Audacious. The pope doesn’t even care about them.

Word of advice to Jason and the Callers: indiscriminate Protestants prefer alliances to communion:

A high-profile alliance of conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants is set to issue a sweeping manifesto against gay marriage that calls same-sex unions “a graver threat” than divorce or cohabitation, one that will lead to a moral dystopia in America and the persecution of traditional believers.

“If the truth about marriage can be displaced by social and political pressure operating through the law, other truths can be set aside as well,” say the nearly 50 signers of the statement, which is to be published in the March edition of the conservative journal First Things.

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.

Reasons for Conversion

In the year 300, by some estimates, Christianity had roughly 6.3 million adherents, a little over ten percent of the Roman Empire’s population. By 350 those numbers shot up to 33.8 million and over 55 percent of the empire’s inhabitants. What might explain such a dramatic rise? The conversion of the emperor to Christianity undoubtedly was a factor. And throughout the early middle ages, one of the major strategies of evangelists or missionaries is to win the monarch as the way to saving the nation.

By the twentieth century, however, reasons for conversion take a dramatically different form. Monarchs are largely ornamental. Societies become secular and pluralistic. And so another set of reasons for considering Christianity emerges. In a review by Stratford Caldecott of a book on the string of English writers who converted to Roman Catholicism over the course of the twentieth century, the author observes how that momentum decreased after Vatican 2:

. . . through the reforms and changes associated with the Second Vatican Council, the Church “began to move way from the Italianate paradigm into which the converts had been received.” In many places, the Church appeared to be seeking an accommodation with modernity that undermined the appeal of conversion. “As Roman Catholics exploited ensuing new opportunities and began to enter the post-war middle class and to assume prestigious social and political positions, their previously homogeneous subculture fragmented. With it crumbled the assumption that being a Roman Catholic automatically made one distinct from, and opposed to, dominant British principles and structures.” Not only did the flood of conversions begin to dry up (from 12,490 per year at the end of the 1950s to about 4,000 per year by the 1970s), but writers such as G. K. Chesterton and even Dr. Dawson came soon to be regarded as marginal even among Catholics—representatives of a subculture that had had its day.

Peter Berger weighs in on the subject of evangelism, in this case Rome’s “New Evangelism” and adds that in a period when religion is less important to social life, the tendency of churches will be to appeal to converts as part of their rejection of secularism:

Highly secularized Western Europe, the Italy of Communione e Liberazione and the Bavaria that was the home of Pope Benedict, Poland under a regime of militant atheism, which Pope John Paul resisted and eventually helped demolish, and Latin America, the locale of John Paul’s address, a continent where the main challenge to the Catholic Church has not come from secularization but from the explosion of Evangelical Protestantism. Despite the big differences between the three cases, what they have in common is the loss of Catholic hegemony. Curiously, conservative Catholics and Evangelical Protestants in the United States have also mobilized against “secularism”, which, in the most religious Western country, is a numerically small sectarian movement seeking to use the federal courts to banish religion from the public sphere. And of course “secularism” is blamed by religious conservatives of all sorts for the post-1960s changes in sexual behavior of which they disapprove.

Also curiously, the Russian Orthodox Church has defined itself as the defender of traditional values against the alleged degeneracy of modern morals. Not only has the Moscow Patriarchate found an ally in this campaign in the Putin administration, but has sought better relations with the Vatican on the same basis. In 2009 Patriarch Kirill of Moscow established warm relations with Benedict XVI.

But Berger thinks that pitting faith against secularism is a false dichotomy and argues for a way to evangelize that is remarkably congenial with 2k because it springs from a recognition that people don’t spend all their days thinking like they do when the assemble on the Lord’s Day:

Pluralism affects the faith of individuals, the character of religious institutions, and the way in which the state relates to religion. Therefore, the theory must span the psychological, institutional and political dimensions of the pluralist phenomenon. The individual lives with a diversity of worldviews and values, between which he must choose. Faith is no longer a matter of fate, but of decisions that may be reversed. It follows that religious certainty is hard to come by. Faith is typically tinged with doubt.

I would say that this situation realizes more fully what “faith” actually is. Preachers frequently counter-pose faith and unbelief, further suggesting that the latter is a terrible sin for which God will punish us in hell. Leave aside that this (Calvinist) God is not one I would want to worship. More relevant for the present argument is that the aforementioned counter-position is misleading: The opposite of faith is not unbelief but knowledge. I know that the skyline of the city I see from my desk is Boston and that this is where I am right now. I don’t need faith to make this affirmation. I do need faith if I affirm that there is the city of God, beyond all the skylines of this world, and that this city is the eternal destination intended by God for his creatures. Christians in particular should not deplore the fact that the pluralist situation points them back to the proposition of the New Testament: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

It follows that religious institutions, even if they don’t like this, become de facto voluntary associations. This creates anxiety, and a nostalgia for certainty. It also provides a market for fundamentalist movements (not all religious), who promise absolute certainty. An important factor in the pluralistic situation is the presence of a secular discourse, which necessarily dominates in a number of modern institutions (notably those based on science and technology, on the market economy, on bureaucracy). This is where secularization theory was not completely wrong; it just exaggerated the hegemony of the secular discourse.

Aside from explaining Jason and the Callers, Berger recognizes (or at least permits the recognition) that faith in Jesus Christ is one thing but not everything. Contrary to w-wists where everything is either for or against Christ (or the French Revolution), 2k understands that faith is one part of a person’s life. It is the most important and it has clear implications for some aspects of natural life (sex, marriage, procreation). But Christianity is not a totalizing with which to one-up Richard Dawkins or Rachel Maddow.

Whom Are You Going to Believe?

Is Christianity a religion of salvation?

Christianity is a salvation religion, and it offers to save us from is sin. According to the Christian story, God became incarnate in Jesus Christ, and then suffered and died on the cross, to save us from our sins. The premise upon which all this is grounded is, of course, that we humans are sinners — very serious sinners.

However, what if we are not sinners? Then it would follow that we don’t need salvation from sin. And if we are sinners but don’t feel that we are sinners, then we won’t feel the need of salvation. So Christianity will make no sense to us.

By and large we modern men and women do not feel that we are sinners, at least not in any serious sense. Oh, we admit that we are not perfect. Any one of us can draw up a list of our imperfections: we sometimes eat or drink a little too much; we often exercise too little; we don’t read enough good books; we commit little acts of impoliteness from time to time; and so on. But no really big sins — certainly no sins that are great enough for the Creator and Sustainer of the universe to become man and suffer and die in order to atone for our great wickedness.

We admit that some humans truly are very wicked — Hitler, Stalin, Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson, and a few others. But they are very untypical of humanity. The rest of us, normal human beings, are utterly horrified by the crimes of Hitler and company. This is proof — isn’t it? — that we ourselves are not very wicked. So we don’t need salvation from sin. And we don’t need a religion that offers this salvation. No wonder Catholicism is in decline.

So how can Christianity build on religions that are wrong about salvation?

. . . if we say that Islam is wrong about everything we are saying that it is wrong to affirm that there is one God, the God of Abraham, holy, righteous, merciful and compassionate. We are saying it is false that the prophets of the Old Testament are prophets; that prayer, fasting and almsgiving are pious works blessed by God; that Jesus was a prophet; that Mary is to be honored and venerated. For Muslims say all these things and all these things are true, as far as they go. The Church, instead of making foolish denunciations of all things Muslim instead does what St. Thomas describes: She recognizes that grace builds on nature and so takes what is good and true in any culture (even one as depraved as our own culture of warlike abortion-loving polymorphous perversity and greed) and begins proclaiming the gospel there. So, as I say, the Church affirms what can be affirmed in common with any religious tradition. One need not pretend we agree on all things in order to agree on the things we agree about. But we should listen to CCC 841 and not denounce the Church or call (as some readers did) for banning the Catechism when she challenges our muddy thinking. Our task is to learn from Her.

Do non-Christians need to be saved?

It’s a joke, I tell him. My friends think it is you want to convert me.
He smiles again and replies: “Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”

Your Holiness, is there is a single vision of the Good? And who decides what it is?
“Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good.”

Your Holiness, you wrote that in your letter to me. The conscience is autonomous, you said, and everyone must obey his conscience. I think that’s one of the most courageous steps taken by a Pope.
“And I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

Is the Church doing that?
“Yes, that is the purpose of our mission: to identify the material and immaterial needs of the people and try to meet them as we can. Do you know what agape is?”

Do people not notice the irony of Protestants feeling the need to convert to Roman Catholicism and then defending teaching that weakens the imperative to convert? Perhaps only Jason and the Callers‘ lessons in logic can lead us through this intellectual wicket.

Turns Out Hell is an Important Aspect of Evangelism

BRANDON: What are the biggest barriers preventing Catholics from evangelizing and how can we overcome them?

Dr. RALPH MARTIN: Ignorance of the faith and the fear of sharing it are certainly common obstacles, but solutions to these obstacles are rather obvious and near at hand.
Will Many Be SavedI think, though, that there is an underlying doctrinal confusion that, unless directly addressed, will make the response to the New Evangelization lukewarm at best. Many of our fellow Catholics have drifted into an unexamined presumption that perhaps only a few very evil people will be lost and since God is so merciful, virtually everyone will be saved. This unexamined presumption therefore makes of the duty to evangelize not a matter of life or death, heaven or hell, but a matter of “enriching” someone’s life, something like an “optional” enrichment course. This presumption often springs from an alleged development of doctrine at Vatican II. I’ve devoted a considerable amount of time to showing the fallacy of this since I believe that a lukewarm response to the call to the New Evangelization will actually endanger the salvation of souls. While Vatican II clearly teaches that under certain conditions it is possible for those who haven’t heard the gospel, through no fault of their own, to be saved, it also clearly teaches that no one lives in a neutral environment and the powerful spiritual realities of the world, the flesh and the devil, make it likely that “very often” these conditions aren’t met. Therefore the gospel must urgently be preached for the sake of peoples’ salvation. (cf. Lumen Gentium 16 and my book Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization).

I was happy to see that Proposition #6 from the Synod on the New Evangelization didn’t omit these crucial last three sentences of Lumen Gentium 16 as most treatments of this question do. And concerning the salvation of baptized Catholics who aren’t living their faith the Council is even more startlingly direct, teaching in Lumen Gentium 14 that indifferent, baptized Catholics will not only not be saved but will be the more severely judged, listing in a footnote some of the numerous sayings of Jesus that underline this truth.

The thing is, I wonder where Roman Catholics ever received the idea that everyone will likely be saved? Could it be that Vatican II wasn’t as clear as a magisterium should be? And how is hell going to mesh with Pope Francis’ warmer and fuzzier appeal?