Thursday, February 21, 2013

That's Not in the Bible: Contemporary Dilemmas with Sola Scriptura

Some time ago, I had a religious discussion with a co-worker that took on an unexpected twist. We were out at a local pub after the last day of a logic class I teach to our company’s support staff about problem-solving and decision-making. One of the members asked me, “So what else do you teach?” I responded, “Some technical product training and some religious education, specifically, confirmation class…I’m Catholic.” He said inquisitively, “Really?” I said, “Really.” He went on to tell me about how he gave his life to God a few years back and how it has completely changed his life; he described himself as a born again Christian.

As the discussion continued, he began to express his frustration with other Christians that do or teach things that are not found in the bible. I set down my beer, sat-up straight, took a breath and began to brace myself for what you know would be next. I was expecting him to barrage me with a litany of things Catholics do or teach that are not (explicitly) found in the Bible, but it never came up. Instead he began to complain to me about other “born again” Christians.

He is a member of what Catholics would call a parish council over at his church. He complained that his pastor taught that ANY consumption of alcohol was sinful. One drink leads to two; two will lead to three, and so on. Therefore, starting this process with even one drink would be sinful even if you stopped at one. A Catholic might call this kind of reasoning inviting the “occasion of sin”. There is some logic there, but my coworker had a big problem with this. The problem was not that he likes alcoholic drinks. His objection was, “that’s not in the Bible”.

Were you just applauding?
On another occasion he was invite to a piano performance by his niece during a worship service at his brothers’ non-denominational church. He began to applaud after the performance, but immediately noticed that no one else was applauding. Additionally, he received some icy stares as he began to applaud. Afterward, it was explained to him that during a worship service they only applaud for God. Applauding for others in church is taking away praise from God and is wrong. My colleague had a big problem with this also. Once again, the objection was “that’s not in the Bible”.

I thought to myself, "All Christian churches will do or teach things not specifically found in the Bible. What clear, real-world examples of how the teaching of Sola Scriptura (Bible alone) relentlessly affronts reason". Bible Christians do not actually use the bible alone; they use the bible along with whatever interpretations their leaders may have, and different interpretations results in different denominations as a natural consequence. I was going to tell him that using ONLY the Bible is also something that’s not in the Bible, but I was afraid he might self-destruct right there in front of me.
Instead, I went on to talk about how scripture is subject to different interpretations and how the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus actually founded one, and only one, universal Church for everybody; a visible & authoritative Church that uses imperfect men, together with the Holy Spirit, to guide us in faith & morals. If there really is a God and He really cares about people, He would provide a way for us to know what is true or what to believe (faith), and how to behave (morals). A good Father would not just leave a book behind and for us to “figure out”; a good Father would not leave His children as orphans.

This got his attention on Catholicism, but he suddenly changed the subject to the 2nd coming of Christ. He said, “I believed Jesus is coming back very soon. What’s the Catholic take on that?” I mentioned Mat 24:36 “But of that day and hour, no one knows…”, but also added a twist of my own for him to think about.
I told him that some Catholic thinkers speculate that since the 1st coming of Jesus came through Mary, it is conceivable that His 2nd coming will also come through Mary, except this time He would not come as a helpless baby. This could explain some of the increased Marian activity and apparitions around the world in the last couple of centuries as a kind of “spiritual pregnancy” for the 2nd coming (I also made it clear that is only speculation, not formal Catholic teaching). He said, “You know, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve never thought of that before”. Since he did not do very well in the class, I thought to myself, "I bet there are many things you’ve never thought of before".

On the surface, bible alone Christianity might make more sense than Catholicism to a believer that just wants to praise God and “be saved”, but as one asks probing questions about both faith & reason that go deeper and deeper, a reversal takes place. Catholicism stands-up to battering questions like that house built on rock we read about in Matthew 7:24-27. Bible alone Christianity crumbles like a biblical house built on sand.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Final Tribute to Professor Ratzinger

The origins of this blog came from a gripping desire to share what we have learned over the years about the seamless compatibility between faith & reason, and how this is realized in the Catholic faith as an accurate model of our world; our cup ranneth-over and spilled into this blog, so to speak.

For me, the cup’s tipping point came after I had read “Introduction to Christianity” by (then) Father Ratzinger. A series of posts based on insights from that book can be easily found by clicking “Professor Ratzinger” in the left column blog tags or HERE. Between you, me and the blogosphere, my personal favorite is “Professor Ratzingeron Modern Physics” (blew me away).

And now the Pope is resigning and we’ll need to say goodbye. I did not imagine that the first post, which was a tribute to B16 seven years on would not lead to a completed eighth year, but it is comforting to know that “seven” is a number that represents completeness or perfection in scripture. As one last post, here are a few quotes from that book that I double starred and highlighted, but never incorporated into a full post. Maybe I will someday, but for now I’ll just share them as a tribute to this amazing man.

Ø  On Christian Sacrifice:
“Christian sacrifice does not consist in a giving of what God would not have without us, but in our becoming totally receptive and letting ourselves be completely taken over by him. Letting God act on us – that is Christian sacrifice.”

Ø  On the Historical Method:
“It is quite often forgotten that the full truth of history eludes documentary verification just as much as the truth of being escapes the experimental approach. So it must be said that historical science in the narrowest sense of the term not only reveals, but also conceals history.”

Ø  On Reason:
“Reason can speak about God; it must speak about God, or else it cuts itself short.”

Ø  On Being a Christian:
“Let us be blunt, even at the risk of being misunderstood: The true Christian is not the denominational party member, but he who through being a Christian has become truly human; not he who slavishly observes a system of norms, thinking as he does so only of himself, but he who has become freed to simple human goodness.”
Thank you good & faithful teacher!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Fatigue Makes Cowards of us All

What could Jimmy Johnson, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and St. John of the Cross possibly have in common? Both speak of “fatigue”.

One evening I caught part of a motivational talk given by Jimmy Johnson on the NFL Network. He was sharing a football philosophy he learned from another coach about how football rewards great conditioning. When we think of a great football player, with think of a tough guy with great strength, speed and natural ability, but it means nothing without conditioning. Regardless of your ability, fatigue will cause you to lose focus and make mistakes; you will lose the will to fight and you will lose the will to win. Nearing the end of a game, a player should be smiling. The player who is hunched over and sucking-wind in the 4th quarter becomes a coward. Even if your opponent is more talented, you can still win by exhausting your rival.

When I was younger I played some soccer. Now my eleven year old son plays on the local travel team. At the end of the last spring season we had a “kids vs. the parents” game just for fun. I do some jogging to try and keep fit, but it is nothing like the conditioning needed for the frequent, fast sprints required in soccer.
Although the Dads were bigger, stronger and in some cases more talented than the boys, by the end of the game fatigue made a coward out of me. I lost the will to play and I lost the will to win. I started to make mistakes. I began to hope the ball would not come my way in fear of being embarrassed by some speedy kid. I knew what to do, but I could not do it; my body could not react to my will because of fatigue. It was like Romans 7:19 was coming to life right there on the field, “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want”. The Dads did win in the end, but no thanks to me.
After seeing coach Johnson’s talk the night before, I happened across a reflection from St. John of the Cross the very next morning which spoke of fatigue. We may be familiar with the analogies that compare spiritual conditioning to physical conditioning. An athlete prepares for an event through training and practice; it’s a lot of hard work and discipline. It may even be described as suffering and sacrifice. The same is true in the spiritual life if we want to defeat our adversary. But St. John touches on something a little different; something that is dangerous even for those who are spiritually well disciplined. It’s what happens when we are fatigued by divided desires.
He says:
“Weakness and tepidity are another kind of harm the appetites produce in a man. For the appetites sap the strength needed for perseverance in the practice of a virtue…. A man whose will is divided among trifles is like water which, because of some leakage, will not rise higher and consequently becomes useless.”
St. John of the Cross

If we pour out too much of our time, talent and treasure like a libation to the gods of power, possessions and pleasure, we leave ourselves open to spiritual attack, even if we have routine spiritual practices. Too much work, too many hobbies/activities, too much on the social calendar; the devil loves worldly busyness and helps to keep us pulled in many directions in order to exhaust us. This can happen even with ministry work and other “good deeds”. Once fatigued, his temptations have greater effect. He knows we will lose focus in our spiritual life and make mistakes, we will lose the will to fight and we will lose the will to win. If not careful, we too will become useless, living life as described in Romans 7:19 because fatigue makes cowards of us all.