As Though It Were Actually An Ebook

I just got word from my publisher that my book on Christian apologetics, As Though It Were Actually True, is now available on Kindle for $10 (which, considering that a paper copy runs $28, is a pretty good deal.)  The book approaches defending the factual truth of Christianity from a variety of directions (evidence for the Resurrection and the historical reliability of Scripture, philosophical arguments about the existence of God & objective morality, defenses of controversial theologies and ethics.) If you want to learn how to intellectually defend the faith, it’s a great place to start.  It also serves well as a textbook for a Bible study, adult/teen Sunday School class, or other small group that wants to study apologetics.

 

From the back of the book:

How true can Christianity really be? In a culture where religion and “real life” often occur in completely different times and places, the question troubles many Christians. How can we give the reason for the hope that we have amid the many voices telling us that Christianity might be helpful or interesting, but not really “true” for anyone except Christians? Why should we ourselves bother with a religion so insubstantial that it is only legitimate within our own minds? People with real sins require a real savior, not merely inspiring stories and advice on how to live.

As Though it Were Actually True provides Christians with an introduction to the age-old practice of apologetics–the rational defense of Christianity as objective truth. It explores some of the most important issues on which the Church finds itself in conflict with today’s culture through a combination of critical reasoning, evidence, and the law written on our hearts. By providing a philosophical foundation that is reasonable, a historical foundation that is factual, and a theological foundation that is Biblical, this book will help equip Christians to contend for their faith against the shallow and deceptive philosophies that seek to undermine it.

Posted in Apologetics | Leave a comment

America Needs Procreative Unions NOW [A Satire in Defense of Marriage]

Even within the warped worldview of a caricatured leftist, it seems that marriage between one man and one woman makes too much sense to ignore or conflate with something else.

[satire]
All right-thinking Americans have long been celebrating the fact that marriage equality is a done deal, and there’s no going back. Even stubbornly radical conservative extremists like John Kasich have recently acknowledged this obvious and indisputable truth. Progressives have, at long last, convinced the American people that marriage belongs to everyone, and rightly so. The romantic feelings of homosexuals are just as deep & meaningful, their intimacies just as enjoyable, and their commitments just as strong. (Although, due to the stubborn persistence of archaic religious beliefs in some backwater parts of our culture, I feel compelled to add that my use of the word “commitment” is not in any way intended to imply any kind of promise of exclusivity or permanence. Marriage, as we all know, can involve any number of outside sexual partners and can be ended at any time, even by the most committed of couples.) But let’s not dwell on the benighted past. Instead, let’s pause and give ambiguous, non-sectarian thanks that marriage is now equally open to all because we finally realize that there is no real difference between gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, pansexuals, and any other sexual orientations when it comes to their intimate relationships.

Unfortunately, the work of those who strive for social justice is never done, and we must take up our banner once again. It’s time to cast our gaze upon another underprivileged minority struggling to come to terms with a sexuality that their society fails to understand and embrace: monogamous cisgendered heterosexuals. For those of you who are not keeping up with the latest developments in gender studies (shame on you,) these kinds of relationships involve a permanent and exclusive pairing of one male person who chooses to embrace the gender foisted on him by society and one female person who does the same. However you might judge such unique choices and however high or low your awareness of them might be, together they create one more small tile in the beautiful mosaic of human sexuality.

But all is not well in this community. These brave individuals face unique challenges, but society has not done enough to accommodate their needs and facilitate their sexual empowerment. I don’t make a habit of dredging up biological specifics—too many have used such facts as tools of oppression. However they are relevant when it comes to certain medical realities, and such is the case here. In cisgender heterosexual relationships, one partner has a penis while the other has a vagina, and they often unite these two organs during intimacy. This creates a special challenge for them. Their unique biology combined with their lifestyle choice makes them susceptible to the most pernicious of sexually transmitted diseases: Pregnancy.

Pregnancy begins simply enough. Scientifically speaking, cisgendered heterosexual intercourse routinely creates a tiny blood clot in one partner’s uterus. However, that blood clot slowly grows and develops into a kind of goopy tumor that causes all sorts of complications. The war against this global tragedy has raged for decades, and progressives have long been at the vanguard. Planned Parenthood and other wonderful organizations have tirelessly devoted themselves to the eradication of pregnancy. Countless dollars have been spent on developing techniques, equipment, and pharmaceuticals designed to prevent this disease. Our schools have devoted a significant part of their curriculum to educating people on the subject. We have (at great financial and political cost) ensured easy access to procedures that evacuate the uterine contents when contraceptive measures have failed. And they fail frightfully often. Hundreds of thousands of such treatments are administered every year in America. Unfortunately, even the magnitude of these noble efforts is simply not enough. In 2011 alone, 2.8 million women were unwittingly infected despite all these precautions, and of these, a mere 45% received proper treatment in time to be cured.

And timing is very important. Pregnancy is a disease that needs to be caught early because a frightening development occurs after roughly 9 months of infection. I hope you will forgive what follows, but sometimes graphic language is necessary. If you feel you might be triggered, please stop reading now. Up until this point during pregnancy, the symptoms are bad enough. The partner with the uterus slowly becomes grotesquely deformed by the ever-swelling tumor. Meanwhile, the hormonal changes wreak further physical havoc on that same partner, and psychological havoc on both partners. At around 9 months, their condition takes a turn for the worse. At this point, The tumor has grown so large that it begins emerging from the uterus through one partner’s vagina in an incredibly painful and unsanitary process.

At the moment when the tumor’s characteristically large, hairy nodule emerges (it even has human-like eyes, mouth, and nose; YIKES!), the tumor suddenly develops acute personhood and must therefore be sheltered and nourished. Despite our best efforts to the contrary, abortion has not yet been deemed a medically appropriate treatment subsequent to this stage of pregnancy. When this happens, the disease affects both partners by triggering the release of even more hormones that create a kind of psychosis which makes them feel attachment and even affection for the little tumor-person. (They call the tumor-person a “child,” so I will adopt that term going forward to avoid any unintentional micro-aggression; I only used the more popular “tumor-person” for the sake of clarity among a broader audience.) This affect is so powerful that it persists even as the “child” begins secreting disgusting substances, emitting irritating noises, and expelling foul odors.

Catching pregnancy early is further complicated because many monogamous cisgendered heterosexuals hold to peculiar indigenous religious beliefs. They have been brainwashed to believe that this tumor is actually a human being (which science has long known to spontaneously generate from our public schools.) Odd as it may seem to us, however, these stupid beliefs need to be treated with dignity and respect. Molech-worship might be the dominant spirituality in our country, but we are nevertheless committed to protecting religious minorities.

Unlike other sexual orientations, this disease can strike any cisgendered heterosexual couple at any time without any intention, simply because they love in the way that’s natural to them. All of our precautions have utterly failed to prevent mass infection. The prudish and the retrograde might therefore compel these persons to change the way they love to match society’s expectations, but we know full well how cruel and insensitive this would be. Society must take action on their behalf, and so I would like to propose what I call “procreative unions.”

A procreative union is simply a legal and social arrangement designating a comprehensive union of the couple, recognized by the government, and made available to monogamous cisgendered heterosexual couples for the purpose of honoring and facilitating their efforts to grapple with all the unique challenges their lifestyle entails. It could help smooth any number of difficulties: shared property & finances, estate planning, making legal and social decisions for the child, and more. It could also lend them a kind of official mark of social esteem, just as marriage has done for other sexual orientations to prevent discrimination. Fecundophobes, you are on notice!

You might be asking yourself the obvious question of why the pair can’t simply get married. As it turns out, the situation is more complicated than that, and marriage might not be enough. Because marriage is all about love, it needs to be able to be dissolved at any time and for any reason, and so divorce must always be quickly and easily available. As radical as the idea may be, procreative unions would need to be a little stickier. (Don’t worry: granting monogamous cisgendered heterosexuals procreative unions won’t have any affect on your marriage. What some couples you don’t know do on their own doesn’t affect you in any way.)

While the romantic feeling we call love which serves as the foundation of marriage comes and goes along with the marriage itself, the fallout of pregnancy lasts a lifetime. A pregnancy left untreated is incurable—in most cases, children even persist past the couples’ deaths. The children that pregnancy produces need round-the-clock care for years and regular maintenance indefinitely. At the same time, cisgendered heterosexual lifestyle choices create both a common interest in the child as well as shared responsibility for it. It makes a peculiar kind of sense for them to team up. And because dealing with this STD is so time-consuming, this comprehensive partnership even extends to areas of life that might unsettle strong independent persons who rely on no one but themselves (and the government, of course.) But while you personally might find even the prospect of sharing a bank account terrifying, it takes all kinds to make a world.

What’s more, because of their duration, these child-related responsibilities persist through the various seasons of life: the good times & bad times, wealth & poverty, sickness & health (children are well-known vectors of infectious disease) and so forth. It only makes sense that their partnership persist through those seasons as well. After all, its a daunting situation for one person on their own, which is precisely why we worked so hard to lionize successively polygamous cisgendered heterosexual female persons who contract pregnancy on their own and why we created so many broad safety nets to assist the ones who aren’t treated in time. Why should we fail to give an even smaller and less-expensive measure of assistance and recognition to monogamous cisgendered heterosexual couples? Why not let them know we have their back too? Besides, those who engage in other cisgendered heterosexual lifestyles (such as the aforementioned successively polygamous cisgendered heterosexuals that comprise the largest segment of the American population) will not be forced to enter a procreative union. This status would be completely voluntary.

Now, there is an obvious objection to this plan. If children are the unfortunate axis around which these matters turn, why can’t they be dealt with exclusively by teachers, day-care workers, and other licensed & certified caregivers who have already been properly trained to transform children into human beings? It’s a sensible thought, but presents numerous practical difficulties. For one, Federal labor laws and union rules simply forbid the kind of hours involved in caring for children. In addition, our zero tolerance policies forbid the administration of the medications that are frequently needed or domestic tools that are used in food preparation (such as knives.) That list of technicalities could go on forever. But on top of it all, even our best philosophers acknowledge that there are certain goods uniquely created in the home and that taking care of a child by committee is less than ideal. No, teachers already have a full-time job—let’s not foist another one onto them when there’s a better way.

This is 2016, and 21st century issues require 21st century solutions. We need to crowdsource the treatment of children. What if, when the child first appears, it is simply taken and accepted by first people who lay claim to it? As we’ve already covered, the symptoms of pregnancy predispose monogamous cisgendered heterosexuals towards such volunteer work. This is already a promising start, but what if they were further prepared by having the option of joining in a procreative union beforehand? Nobody can truly understand the unique challenge of an untreated pregnancy before they’ve experienced it, but we can help predispose them to success. Doing so can even help all of society at the same time. Though causation is still a bit murky, study after study (trigger warning: regressive language is present in those links) has shown a high correlation between the care a monogamous cisgendered heterosexual couple gives their child and the long-term success of adult persons.

Of course, the peanut gallery must be addressed as well. Naturally, conservatives, libertarians, and other regressives will oppose this initiative just as they do all civil rights. They will no doubt complain about creating yet another government program. But recognition and some legal streamlining is hardly a program. Besides government does have a legitimate interest in this, even by their astringent standards. Children are the raw material from which human beings are made—the very same humans that exist to sustain our government. Surely government has an interest in its future citizens.

Conservatives might likewise complain about “fairness.” After all, some monogamous cisgendered heterosexuals have a natural immunity to pregnancy. The so-called “right” will no doubt complain about occasional childless procreative unions just as they do about the occasional welfare recipient who uses their benefits as a way to avoid work. Its a silly objection, of course. Immunity, even when it is detected, is not always permanent. Sick and twisted individuals are always looking for new ways of making immune cisgendered heterosexuals susceptible to pregnancy once again (its one of the many microaggressions that society forces on them.) Beyond that, however, perhaps they can be soothed with the knowledge that actually taking such things into account in practice would require a level of government investigation that they would no doubt find “invasive” and “undignified.”

The course progress must take is as clear as the special plight faced by those affected by pregnancy and the unique susceptibility of cisgendered heterosexuals. Procreative unions are not for everyone—some don’t need them, others don’t want them, and that’s all fine. It’s not as though such discrepancies impeded our efforts at making sure health insurance covers things like free hormonal contraception or pap smears—services required only by a subset of certain gender identities. Helping everyone embrace their sexuality includes helping monogamous cisgendered heterosexuals, and helping them means offering procreative unions.

[/satire]

Posted in Abortion, Chastity, Natural Law | Leave a comment

If I Can’t Believe the Bible, No One Can!

It would seem that Bible believers are not really Bible believers according to “Progressive Christian” Chuck Queen. His charge is simple:

No self-identified Bible believer actually believes the whole Bible — at least not in the way they claim to. Bible believers claim that the whole Bible, every part of it, is inerrant and infallible.

What then of his argument supporting the charge? Well, he himself used to claim to be a Bible-believer, but he could never really stomach Apostolic instruction like 1 Timothy 2:11-15, in which Paul forbids women from usurping the pastoral office. Even in his “conservative” days, he used to avoid the implications by claiming it was culturally conditioned (although he’s honest enough to note how grounding the instruction in Creation and Fall cannot help but make it universal.) But he’s learned and grown since then. Now he avoids the implication by claiming it wasn’t written by Paul. In other words, Mr. Queen was never a Bible believing Christian, and all that’s changed are his rationalizations for rejecting the parts of Christ’s teachings that he doesn’t like.

He goes on to argue… Wait, he doesn’t. That’s actually his whole argument. Needless to say, it’s not terribly compelling.

Of course, extending his personal experience to all self-proclaimed Bible believing Christians is nothing more than projection. He doesn’t even try to give examples, but is content to provide groundless assurance that it covers pretty much everyone. That is, until the last paragraph, in which he says:

Of course, some Bible believers are simply patriarchal, condemnatory, prejudiced Bible thumpers. But there are also many basically good-hearted Bible believers who continue to claim to believe the whole Bible when they really don’t.

Ah. So there are actual Bible believers after all, but they’re horrible people.

So Queen’s “argument” is basically this: Back when he called himself a Bible-believing Christian, he was too “good-hearted” to really believe the Bible. Most other people who call themselves that are the same way, and those who actually do believe the Bible are just “patriarchal, condemnatory, prejudiced Bible Thumpers.” In the end, the piece is nothing more than a circumlocutious and self-aggrandizing way of calling Christians names. Everything else is a rhetorical flourish meant to make actual believers feel like they are alone.

But contrary to his claim about Christians, Queen is the truly prejudiced one, for he is the one who decided beforehand that God could not possibly be against egalitarianism in the pulpit and thereby determined what He is and is not allowed to say. All that remains is to speculate on why 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and other passages don’t apply. On that score, Queen does give his (poor) reasons why, but concludes them with a very revealing statement:

All reasoning here is speculative, but clearly this text in 1 Timothy reflects a push back that contradicts Paul’s earlier practice of incorporating women leaders (see Romans 16) and prophets (1 Cor. 11:5).

And that, my dear readers, is prejudice in a nutshell: Our reasoning is entirely speculative, but our conclusion is clear.

To be honest, I’m not terribly fond of the “Bible-believing” modifier either. Many Christians have issues with reading comprehension, and so, when its not tied to a particular confession of faith, “Bible believing” doesn’t mean all that much. Nevertheless, it does mean something because the term exists for precisely one reason: to distinguish orthodox and even heterodox Christians from the heresy of theological liberalism—the grand tradition of Schleiermacher that proudly stands up to declare itself way too intelligent and sophisticated to believe Christianity is true, but nevertheless wants to use its trappings and institutions for political advocacy and vague spirituality. But that is the natural reaction for those who put a premium on worldliness, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Posted in Apologetics, Theological Liberalism | 1 Comment

Regaining Sanity on Trump

To say it’s been an interesting election cycle so far would be an understatement. Of course, most of the chaos revolves around Donald Trump, and where there’s chaos, there are people freaking out. When it comes to Trump and the magnitude of the changes he’s causing, the freak-out’s go in two directions: either he’s America’s savior or he’s Satan himself. Among the Republican segment of the latter group, the insanity is to the point where they’re defending the mob of violent socialists who disrupted one of his rallies in Chicago. If you’re prone to using overwrought historical imagery and therefore believe Trump is basically Hitler, then it’s no less fair to recognize those Sanders supporters as basically Bolsheviks. The stupidity of legitimizing them is boundless. In any case, neither half of the false dichotomy between deliverer and devil totally captures Trump. There’s good and bad in both situation & candidate, and people need to get grounded.

First the good:

  1. Trump revealed the liberal media as a paper tiger.

    Republican politicians live in fear of the media. The emotion is understandable given the obvious hostility, but the way they let it control them (and therefore allow the media to control the framing of every issue and the “electability” of our candidates) has been disastrous. But now… the media hate Trump even more than the typical Republican, and yet their hatred has done anything but bring him down. His casual disdain for them mirrors how many Americans want to feel about big media. Few people like them, but many feel beholden. Among that latter group, Trump’s open disrespect is eroding the vestiges of their credibility and has defanged them to a remarkable degree.

  2. The GOP establishment is impotent and clueless

    Well, the clueless part isn’t news to anyone, but the way none of them saw this coming underscores it. As for the impotence… Trump & Cruz are the only two candidates a large swath of Republican voters want, and the establishment hates them both. Until now, party elites dominated primaries with their selection of neocon (i.e. almost conservative) candidates. But more than Cruz, Trump took advantage of that building discontent and managed what to do what principled conservatives couldn’t—turn that massive discontent into clear electoral success and become the obvious front-runner in spite of their frothing hatred. Whether or not one wants him as the nominee, it’s a feat worthy of respect.

  3. Amnesty and open borders are the “unelectable” stances on immigration.

    Build a wall? Repatriate? Pause Muslim immigration in an age of terrorism? The media and elites of both parties were aghast when Trump came out with that—they wouldn’t have been any more flabbergasted if he had suggested concentration camps. I think they really believed it would be the death knell of his campaign. And yet… this is one huge disconnect between them and the typical American. When it came to Republicans, it was the amnesty folks—Bush, Rubio, Kasich, etc—who were roundly trounced at the polls.

    This is an extremely important issue, and Trump did a good thing by dispelling illusions about which policies can’t be talked about openly.

To be fair, these are some pretty significant accomplishments for someone who’s still merely a candidate. But if fairness is something we’re looking for, we need to look at the other side too.

  1. Trump is a corrupt, opportunistic boor.

    I could explain why, but the media has already been jumping up and down on this like a child with a trampoline and a sugar rush, so I don’t think there’s a need. And is the point seriously in contention? All the divorces, bankruptcies, shady business practices, and general intemperance may not have the usual force of scandal because everyone knew who Trump was before he ran for president. However, that doesn’t make them all go away. He remains who he is, and I, for one, have had enough of this sort of thing in the White House.

  2. There’s no good way of telling what positions he will actually fight for.

    The best example of this is probably his immigration proposals that were the big draw for many of his supporters. But then at debates and other off-the-cuff responses, he undercuts them quite a bit. So do his own personal business practices. His rhetoric is all over the place, to the point where it’s impossible to tell what positions he actually holds, what positions he’ll fight for, and what positions he’s cynically using to gather supporters that no one else was trying to represent.

  3. He is an elitist demagogue

    He’s clearly not one of the party elites, but he is very much an elitist of a different clique. His derogatory attitude toward both supporters and opponents alike might be a practical way of displaying dominance, but he’s someone running on the backs of the “folks” who clearly has no love of the “folks.” In the end, his success is going to trade one establishment with contempt for its base, with whatever contemptuous establishment Trump ends up building in its place. It could end up even uglier, which would take a great deal of wind out of the sails of those fighting a corrupt establishment. Even their victory could become a defeat that nudges people back into the comfort of America’s liberty-destroying business as usual.

The list of cons is just as remarkable as the pros. We’re certainly in for interesting times. In a sense, both the people who adore Trump and the people who despise him have good reasons for doing so—he’s a naturally polarizing figure, after all. But which side wins out when both are true? Speaking for myself, I can’t help but notice that the good points are all effects of his campaign, while the biggest dangers are from a prospective presidency. So I’m grateful that he’s running, but I don’t support him for the office.

Can we learn the lessons Trump’s campaign has revealed without actually bringing the problems into the White House? I really want to say yes because I will not vote for Trump. I’ve never been one to bow to pragmatism at the polls and vote for someone who is unfit for the office. Nevertheless, if I’m honest, I can’t give a certain yes. A Trump victory in November might be what it takes to drive the lessons home. But in the end, I can only vote my own conscience, and I don’t need his victory for that. I can use his disruptive campaign as evidence and argument even if it ultimately fails, and I’d rather use Trump than be used by him.

Posted in Politics | 2 Comments

Probably Because You Aren’t Preaching It

At least, that’s my best guess after reading Why Are You Asking For More Law?

In it, a Lutheran pastor briefly recounts a time when he was approached by some scare-quoted “pillars of the congregation” who were scare-quoted “very concerned” about his teaching. According to his account:

Even though I went through each of the ten commandments and told the congregation that they—each and every one—deserved nothing but hell and damnation, it was not enough law. Even though I pointed out that they were godless idolaters who didn’t love their God nor did they love their neighbors, it wasn’t enough.

It seems that I needed to pick a specific sin and address that one individually, especially a sin that is pertinent to this particular congregation this week. I was to call people out for looking at porn or downloading music illegally from the internet. I was supposed to tell people to mend their evil ways, or the wrath of God would be upon them for their evil doing!

So the members were dissatisfied with his preaching of the law. They said he didn’t preach it enough, they said he didn’t address specific sins, and they might have asked about God’s attitude towards sin. Although, unless Jonathan Edwards is a member at his church, I suspect some heavy-handed hyperbole by the end there, so its hard to discern whether that was actually their complaint or the writer’s straw man. I could be wrong, but I don’t get the rhetorical sense that he’s trying to fairly present their side of it.

Unfortunately, his written response appears typical of theological pietism—just call them self-righteous Pharisaical pietistic old adam doo-doo heads™ and go about your business.

This sort of interaction is not entirely uncommon for pastors to hear. As a matter of fact, if a pastor wants to hear outrage and howling from the masses, all they need to do is preach this one sentence: “You cannot out-sin God’s grace!” This sentence drives the Devil and Pharisees mad. It is too much to accept. The idea that eternal salvation is not dependent on your behavior is very worrisome indeed, after all if Jesus has done all of the work for me, then what is left for me to do? I MUST DO SOMETHING!

Here is the heart of what we theological geeks call “pietism.” Pietism is an inward looking faith. It is Christian navel-gazing at its worst. The idea that we can contribute anything to our salvation simply means that Jesus didn’t do enough FOR our salvation. His perfect life, His suffering, and crucifixion, His atoning sacrifice, His resurrection was not enough, because, after all, we must do something. Poor God needs our help.

Ascribing this particular motivation to his flock’s request seems like quite a bit of a leap. It would be truly shocking for pillars of a Lutheran congregation to voice such a thing, and he doesn’t actually report that they did, so I can only conclude that he’s playing at reading their hearts in an attempt to explain away their complaint. But is self-righteousness the only explanation for their request? Is it the best? Explanations are generally evaluated on how well they fit the facts and how much they explain, and by such reckoning (based on what was written,) I have a better one: this pastor is not preaching the law to his congregation very well.

By his own account, his preaching of the law is to list the 10 Commandments, tell everyone they’ve failed to keep them (along with Christ’s summary of the law,) and then tell them the justly deserved penalties for this failure. None of that is wrong, and every Christian needs to hear that on a regular basis. However, this is not preaching the law—this is preaching about the law. The determining factor for me is the way he sneers at specifics in favor of mere summary and conclusion. Unlike, for example, Luther, who goes into all sorts of specifics when he goes through the 10 Commandments in his catechisms, theological pietists hate mentioning specific sins. They prefer to focus on original sin because this doctrine teaches that all are guilty and so the whole congregation is laid low. Specifics of the law have this tendency to be followed by some Christians some of the time. In other words, guilty though we all are of breaking the law and forgiven as we all are in Christ, not every Christian has had an abortion, or divorced their husband, or beat their wives, etc. Theological pietists fear that if any Christian actually does part of what God says or avoids part of what He forbids, he might become self-righteous and begin thinking that he’s actually keeping the law on his own merits. Seeing a Pharisee around every corner, they therefore assume that anyone asking for more law is seeking to justify himself before God.

But God’s word is full of specifics—things that Christ and the apostles actually expected Christians to try and do. In their fear, theological pietists hide those parts of God’s word from their congregations. Forgetting that the three uses of the law are the Holy Spirit’s rather than the preacher’s, they attempt to tailor their message towards their preferred use—showing us our sins—just like classic pietists try to tailor their message toward guiding our lives. The end result for both pietists and theological pietists is that they preach a subset God’s word rather than all of it—an exclusion that God never authorized them to make. They pronounce God’s ultimate judgment and think they have taught the law. It would be no different than if a preacher mentioned that Jesus died for the sins of the world without any elaboration and then claimed he preached the Gospel to its fullest.

The person sitting in the pews who hears a steady diet of redacted law knows that something is wrong. Without concrete specifics, the law becomes wholly abstract. He knows that he is guilty of breaking God’s law, but not because he can actually recognize himself doing so every day of the week—he would need specifics for that. No, he only knows he’s guilty due to original sin, which—without the anchor of specifics—becomes some sort of celestial checkbox that was marked when he was conceived and unmarked when he was baptized. And so the gospel begins to become just as vague as the law in his heart—some metaphysical reclassification with no tangible connection to his life. He knows that this isn’t how its supposed to be—even without sermons. After all, he’s heard enough Bible passages that seem to pierce through this gray, almost nihilistic fog to know that there’s something else for us. But still, he doesn’t quite have the theological education to put it all together. So he seeks help from the person God appointed to help him—his pastor.

But God help him if he cannot articulate his plea with anything less than perfect theological precision.

If he asks for more third use, he gets condemned as a pietist. If he asks for more specifics, he’s condemned as a self-righteous legalist. If he phrases his plea as a request for more law and less gospel, he gets condemned for despising the gospel. What he doesn’t get is pastoral care.

Strictly speaking, there is some truth to each of those condemnations. The uses of the law do belong to the Holy Spirit rather than the preacher or the congregant who wants to do good works. Specifics can be used to condemn one’s neighbors and elevate oneself. Someone asking for less gospel doesn’t appreciate the gospel. Theological pietists take this part of the truth as license to dismiss the complaint altogether and double-down on what they were already doing.

And yet, it’s not the whole truth. The uses of the law don’t belong to the preacher either, but theological pietists edit God’s word as though they do. A steady diet of different specifics from God’s word will eventually condemn everyone specifically—not just that fellow’s neighbors. If a Christian doesn’t appreciate the Gospel, it’s usually because they don’t really understand the extent of the Law. So in each of these circumstances, the person asking for more law has a point as well. A pastor who puts the best construction on what his sheep tell him will recognize that and do his best to care for them—by preaching the whole counsel of God and helping them to understand it. A theological pietist, however, will just dismiss it as “itching ears” and go about his business. Meanwhile, the malnourished person in the pews will try to get comfortable with Lutheran nihilism, never succeed, and perhaps—God forbid—slowly drift away from the Church altogether.

Being a confessional Lutheran does not require being a theological pietist. My church has just begun holding a weekly “Night Out With Luther” event on Sunday evenings. Each time, we read and then discuss one of Luther’s Invocavit sermons—the ones he preached to the people of Wittenburg after he returned from hiding at the Wartburg. They preach the law, and they proclaim the gospel. The two are properly distinguished, but never separated; they are woven together throughout sermons that addresses the very specific issues of that congregation at that time. Neither law nor gospel lack depth or nuance. The sermons include plenty of exhortation, but nary an exhortation is given without having been grounded in the boundless grace we’ve been given in Christ. In short, he manages to do everything the theological pietists strive for as well as everything that they foolishly forgo.

If the plea for more law is truly “not entirely uncommon for pastors to hear,” then perhaps pastors should not immediately dismiss it out-of-hand. Take the time to listen to your flock and put the best construction on what they say. Then compare your own preaching to what God has asked of you in Scripture—all of it. Look at what other, theologically-sound pastors have preached at different points in history, (for every age and culture has its own blind spots.) If you find that you are preaching faithfully, then by all means continue no matter how much “outrage and howling” you hear. The world hates what Christ taught just as much. But also beware, for dissatisfaction with your preaching is not identical with hatred of Christ’s teachings, and despising the law is not the same as loving the gospel.

Posted in Gospel, Law, Lutheranism, Theological Pietism | 1 Comment

Parenting Rules

J. Budziszewski had a great post on Friday:

A surprising number of parents tell me that they are afraid to “force” their children to worship with them, because then the kids might come to resent religion.

By this reasoning, children should not be “forced” to take baths for fear that they will come to despise cleanliness, “forced” to be gentle with smaller children for fear that they will come to hate kindness, “forced” to do their homework for fear that they will come to love stupidity, or “forced” to share family meals for fear that they will come to loathe the taste of food.

Now that parenting is something I’m personally involved in, I’m becoming increasingly aware of just how scared parents are of actually teaching, training, and disciplining their kids in two important areas:  faith and morality. I’m not talking about radical leftists or anything like that—just normal everyday parents in contemporary America, myself included.

After all, we all want our kids to be able to think for themselves. We don’t want drones whose entire mental world amounts to rote compliance. Likewise, those of us who are Christians don’t want our offspring’s spiritual lives to be empty religion—going through the customs and ceremonies merely because they’ve always done it that way. We want them to choose to be good, to be virtuous, and to truly believe in Christ. We don’t want them to just follow a list of rules that approximates these things.

It’s a fine goal, but very often the way people try to carry it out amounts to a kind of naivete that puts the developmental cart before the horse. We all remember stupid rules we had to follow when our parents didn’t really understand our situation—when we were held back from one good thing or another. We remember times when rules made us act in ways that looked good but didn’t reflect any real goodness on our part—like when we were forced to say “thank you” to Great Aunt Mabel for that pair of socks at Christmas even though we couldn’t care less about them. We remember having to get up and go to church on Sunday morning and just mindlessly zoning out until it was over. Then we remember when we began to come of age, rub up against these things, shake off some of them, and ultimately learn to think and act for ourselves despite the rules rather than because of them.

We remember these things, and our own experiences and concerns are amplified by a flood of pop-culture that hits nothing but these notes whenever youth is involved.  And it scares us.  So we think we can make it easier on our own kids by clearing the road a little bit. Following the rules isn’t the end goal, and at a certain point, they got in the way, so why not dispense with them? In the end, we become genuinely afraid of giving our children rules or requirements—even expectations—lest we accidentally hold them back or foster rebellion.

To a certain extent, parental experience somewhat mitigates this fear as we realize that leaving our children completely to their own devices is going to get them hurt or killed. So we force them to look both ways before crossing the street, not to play on the stairs, and so forth. The guidelines of doctors give us some measure of courage when it comes to issues of health, and so we make them take their medicine, their naps, and eat as reasonably as we can manage. When it comes to the formation of faith and virtues, however… we don’t get the same kind of immediate support.  Being spoiled or snotty doesn’t put them in some kind of imminent danger.  Every kid spends a lot of time doing things they shouldn’t no matter what you do—even the strictest of parents have to put up with some of it.  Lots of people are successful by American standards without darkening the door of a church.

At the same time, our culture has little of the kind of expectation of faithful religion that we do for health or education, nor do we have much in the way of institutions that guide parents on matters of virtue the way doctors do on matters of health. We can find some if we search, but when we do search, we find literally every possible answer—most of which are mutually exclusive. Morally speaking, we don’t have any kind of entrenched “right” way to parent—making a cultural fixture of such a “way” has drawbacks, to be sure, but it also provides a starting point that works fine in most-but-not-all cases. Neither do we really have the know-how to help discern good ways of parenting from bad ways. My generation’s upbringing focused on how to become educated and successful in the workplace—children of our own were always a matter of “maybe you’ll have them someday.” And so, in the absence of such things, we usually go with our guts, which are very much rule-averse.

This is truly unfortunate, because rules are a necessary part of teaching children to think for themselves—or at least of doing so well rather than poorly. As Budziszewski goes on to point out, “Faith is not the same thing as compliance, but compliance and imitation are how children learn everything.” When we think of rules, we tend to think back to adolescence, but there many years of a child’s life that happen first. Ultimately our children will be able to grasp the abstract principles that enable them to think for themselves, but there are quite a few years before all of this comes about.

Those early years are best spent immersed in concrete expressions of the abstract principles that we want them to learn. For example, if they are ever to be generous or know what generosity is, they need to see generosity in action and be trained on ways of carrying it out. So we tell them to share their toys and let them watch us help our neighbors.  If they are ever to understand gratitude, we need to tell them to say thank you and to do the same ourselves–even when their feelings don’t yet match up. If they are ever to understand faithfulness, we must bring them with us to Church, catechize them at home, and let them see our own faith in action.

But what about when we screw up as parents and lay an unnecessary rule on them? Well, whether we lay all the rules we can imagine or as few as we can get away with, we’re going to screw up in one direction or another. We are going to let them do something they shouldn’t and stop them from doing something they should. We therefore cannot allow an irrational fear of rules stop us from making the best judgments we can in any given case. What about when they reach their teenage years and start to fight us? Well, all children grow up, and they all need to learn to make decisions for themselves apart from their parents. If its inevitable that this growth lead to familial conflict, then the least we can do is show them what good decisions look like and give them the tools to make decisions well before we start losing our ability to do so.

No parent will come through the experience without making mistakes, but God’s grace is still sufficient—both to wash away our own sins and to sustain our children through those times when we do fail them. In that, it was no different for our own parents—nor for theirs.

Posted in Christian Youth, Ethics, The Modern Church | 2 Comments

Frivorce Apologetics

Whenever one comes across commentary on an issue of broad cultural confusion—for example, marriage amidst American gender confusion and self-centeredness—one has to get used to seeing people realize an important truth while still managing to be completely wrong. It’s like hitting the bullseye on a target you weren’t aiming for; You completely missed despite being dead-on.

So it is in a blog post I came across recently: She Divorced Me Because I Put Dishes in the Sink. In it, the author sets out absolve his wife and blame himself for what happened to their marriage. He explains that while leaving dishes around wasn’t a big deal to him, it was a big deal to his wife, and he should have treated it that way solely for her sake. In her mind, putting the dishes away was synonymous with caring for her, and so her husband now realizes that he should have taken it as an opportunity to care for her.

This is entirely true in a certain context. Putting the dishes in the sink is merely one expression of the kind of charitable love that a husband and wife ought to have for one-another. When a man and a woman are one flesh, what is good for one is also good for the other. Ideal marital love is the kind where each spouse gives himself completely to the other for her true good—where both realize it is better to give than to receive, but each still receives what they need. And so, when bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh really prefers that he do something small like putting the dishes in the sink, love does its best to do so.

This is, by-the-way, how people naturally act during the highly romantic state of infatuation. Infatuation is designed to help prime the pump of loving charity and make it easy to establish the hundreds of small habits that keep a marriage running smoothly. It’s a shame that Americans waste infatuation on having fun with a series of hookups only to settle down in a marriage-like relationship when they’re finally too emotionally worn out to experience it anymore. To be sure, one can love charitably and develop the necessary habits without infatuation, but that particular experience makes it considerably easier and more fun.

What is true in one context, however, doesn’t always hold true in another. And the author brings up this dynamic in a context of conflict as a way to resolve a disagreement—to declare one party innocent and the other guilty. Doing so, however, turns charitable love into a rule by which we are judged, and transforms it into something that resolves nothing at all.

Consider: Should a husband insist on his right to leave dishes by the sink? Of course not. Marriage is no place for rights. But by the “rule” of charitable love, neither should a wife insist on her right for the dishes to go in the sink. Real charitable love should be leading each spouse to accommodate the other. If it existed mutually in a situation like this, the husband would be putting dishes in the sink, the wife would be taking care of those that he misses herself, and neither one would consider either of these things an imposition. If either the wife is complaining about not getting her way or the husband is insisting on getting his way, then that spouse is not practicing charitable love. In such a case, neither spouse can call upon charitable love as a justification for their entitlement—that’s not what love is.

Could one party to such a conflict unilaterally defuse it by sacrificing their own interest? In theory, yes; either spouse could do so. Sometimes that works beautifully. However, charitable love does not act from the expectation of gain—which is convenient because more often than not, it won’t achieve anything in this kind of situation.

Things are not so simple when it comes to ongoing tasks that can be carried out only through habit and to which the other spouse firmly considers herself entitled. The reason for this is inadvertently given by the author himself: “There is only ONE reason I will ever stop leaving that glass by the sink. A lesson I learned much too late: Because I love and respect my partner, and it REALLY matters to her.” That is indeed the only reason, but it’s not the kind of reason that immediately creates habit. Our own desires are immediate and almost always come to mind; we don’t really have to think about it to put them into action. The desires of another, however, are contingent and have to be deliberately recalled until new habits form. In other words, a man may never forget that he loves and respects his wife, but he will never remember every last way of showing it every moment of every day.

Even a husband who resolves to put his dishes in the sink from now on is still going to miss dishes sometimes. Some men will do better than others. One husband might remember 99% of the time while another may only remember 75% of the time. One husband might take a week to form the new habit while another might take months. Nevertheless, every husband will leave dishes on the counter sometimes if putting them in the sink is a contingent desire. Even Mr. 99% is going to leave 3 or 4 glasses on the counter every year if he only uses no more than one glass a day. Unfortunately, the wife who has decided that a dish on the counter means, as the author put it, “Hey. I don’t respect you or value your thoughts and opinions. Not taking four seconds to put my glass in the dishwasher is more important to me than you are” is therefore going to hear that from even the best of husbands multiple times every year.

What this wife who is “literally caused pain” by these dishes is not going to notice are the hundreds of glasses put in the sink. Nobody notices all the times we aren’t struck, or aren’t yelled at, or aren’t called names. We rightly expect not to be harmed by others. The moment a person starts dramatizing the trivialities by treating things like dirty dishes, uncapped tubes of toothpaste, and lights on in empty rooms as deliberate personal attacks and blazing klaxons declaring enmity is the moment they begin turning off their capacity for happiness in a marriage. These little things—so essential as the flesh and blood of charitable love in a healthy marriage—become useless to someone who is so shackled by her own entitlement. Every dish in the sink is business as usual while ever dish on the counter is dramatized as a punch to the face.

When one has such a mindset, there’s only one way such a situation can be perceived—too much harm and nothing else. A wife who turns charitable love into a demand and is looking for grievances to justify her entitlement will never have a hard time finding them. This dynamic of fallen human nature is precisely why the Apostle Paul tells us that love keeps no record of wrongs. Honoré de Balzac was likewise quite right to observe, “When women love, they forgive us everything, even our crimes; when they do not love us, they give us credit for nothing, not even for our virtues.”

And so that brings us back to the ultimate point of the blog post, and the reason it received so much praise in the comments from wives who had finally found something with which to put their husbands in their places. The author’s point is that frivolous reasons for divorce aren’t really so frivolous in the minds of women. However, the context of divorce is always the context of conflict and entitlement—divorce is the ultimate expression of “my way or the highway.”

Such a nuclear option may be tolerable in cases of adultery and literal abandonment (which is not the same as feeling abandoned.) Nevertheless, when it comes to leaving dishes by the sink, burnt toast, and so forth, it is the marital equivalent of fatally shooting a dog-walker who doesn’t clean up after his pet—it doesn’t really matter how mad that sort of thing happens to make you. And if the last thing to go through the vandal’s mind other than the bullet is the thought that “Gosh, I really should clean up after my dog,” well… that’s true, but it’s also no longer the biggest problem with the situation. However it might appear to those who have dramatized the little things in their minds by weaponizing charitable love into an entitlement, in reality, divorce over such things is horrendously frivolous. False and twisted charitable love absolves no one.

The author’s ex-wife did not divorce him because he failed to put his glasses in the sink (although he should have put them away.) She divorced him because she’s so selfish that she would rather cluster-bomb her family than let go of her overgrown sense of entitlement. The perpetrator of a divorce is never practicing charitable love. The victim of a divorce might not be either, but for the perpetrator, it is a certainty.

Posted in Chastity, Culture, Feminism | 4 Comments

Past Time to Rethink Multiculturalism

It seems that stories of the mass sexual assaults that took place in Europe have gotten mainstream attention.  In Cologne, a mob of upwards of a thousand Arab and North African men went on a groping & even raping spree on New Year’s Eve.  Similar events on a smaller scale simultaneously occurred in a growing list of cites in Germany and Austria.

The first reaction of the multiculturalists was the same thing they did in Rotherhamcover it up  because facts have the unfortunate tendency of disrupting their narrative.  Nevertheless, the facts for mass sexual assaults can’t be kept down forever, and we keep finding about still more European cities that suffered the same thing:

Unfortunately, even from the subset of the left who actually want to acknowledge that there’s a problem that needs to be solved come ideas that I can only describe as remarkably naive.

Cologne’s mayor, for example, suggests that women protect themselves by staying an arm’s length away from men.  I’m not going to call this advice “victim blaming,” as many people are doing.  Recommending do-it-yourself protection in the face of systemic impotence is not a matter of blame, but of practicality.  Nevertheless, this is hardly a practical recommendation when someone is surrounded by dozens of hostiles, nor does it address the reasons this is coinciding with the huge influx of migrants and immigrants who carried out these assaults en masse.

What does Cologne’s mayor suggest when it comes to the perpetrators?  Well, they need to be educated on what’s acceptable: “We need to prevent confusion about what constitutes happy behaviour and what is utterly separate from openness, especially in sexual behaviour.”  I suppose this is a step in the right direction–away from Magic Dirt thinking where immigration itself causes automatic assimilation.  Unfortunately, education is only a solution inasmuch as the perpetrators actually want to learn. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Western liberals still hang onto the modernistic conceit that education and democracy inevitably make everyone on earth think like a Western liberal.  And yet, democracy in the Middle East tends to move its governments closer to Sharia rather than further away.

It’s also hard to learn from anyone for whom one has open contempt, and the mob of barbarians on New Year’s Eve is just as remarkable for its contempt for Germany and the West in general as it is for terrorizing women specifically.  Unfortunately, Middle Eastern Muslims have a tendency to follow in the footsteps of Muslim Brotherhood Propagandist Sayyid Qutb and turn the tables by thinking its the West that is in a state of jahilliyyah–a kind of barbaric ignorance.  This is, to say the least, a significant barrier to getting them to learn how to behave from us.  And, of course, Europe’s own adherence to radical feminism is no less of a barrier.  Somehow, I doubt that Muslim men will find the idea of becoming sitzpinklers very appealing.  Europe has long been on the road towards becoming almost as misandrist as the Middle East is misogynist.

Texas A&M professor Valerie Hudson takes a different approach. The real problem, she says, is not that so many of the migrants are barbarians or that so many hold to a religion that doesn’t treat women terribly well , but rather that so many of them are male.  After all, we wouldn’t want to vilify an entire group would we?  Hudson observes (correctly) that a super-majority of the migrants are male, and notes how this will ultimately skew the country’s male-female ratio.  She then argues based on her own previous research that high male populations result in negative consequences for women’s lifestyles.

Let’s ignore, for the moment, the difficutly of blaming masculinity rather than Islam based on population ratios when the most demographically skewed nations are also mostly Islamic.  Let’s also ignore the chicken-or-the-egg issues raised by the fact that these populations are skewed mainly due to the infanticide of females, which is itself a product of existing cultural preferences.  Even if 70% of the one million migrants added to Germany’s existing population of 80 million this past year are male, that only changed Germany’s sex ratio from .92 men for every woman (2013) to almost .93 men for every woman.  In other words, Germany did not suddenly become a hotbed of sexual assualt on Christmas Eve because its population suddenly became masculine; it happened because that mob brought their culture with them.  Even if her analysis is correct, this is a long-term issue. The issue that’s more immediately relevant to the women who were assaulted are barbarians already living among them.

Any way you slice it, the migrants’ culture is the primary problem here.  Diversity is not a strength, and multiculturalism has quite obviously failed. Even Angela Merkel admitted as much, but Europe has a long way to go before they unlearn all the bad habits that multiculturalism has given them–unrestricted immigration, minority reputation maintenance at any cost, and so forth.  Their mainstream political class’s greatest fear remains the prospect that migrants might get stereotyped, and they still work to silence anyone who observes reality.  The inevitable consequence of this is that people will gradually see that only the political fringes actually want to protect the population.  In short, multiculturalists are creating a situation in which the only ones who will actually help the growing list of victims are the fascists–not the usual fascist-as-synonym-for-poopiehead that liberals routinely throw about, but actual fascists.

Europe has a long history of resolving these kind of conflicts in a spectacularly bloody fashion.  Its unfortunate that they learned the wrong lesson from that history and blamed nationalism rather than the progressivism that made their nationalism deadly.  It may already be too late in Europe, but I hope American can learn this lesson in time.

Posted in Culture, Politics | 1 Comment

Wheaton was Right: a Followup

The Federalist ran an article of mine last week—concerning the question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God (spoiler warning: they don’t.) You can read it over there, but I wanted to take a moment to address some of the common objections that were showing up in the comments before there were too many to keep track of.

I’m an atheist and it doesn’t matter which sky god is which or whose imaginary friend is better.

Well, the title should probably should have been a pretty clear warning that the subject matter doesn’t interest you. Live and learn. Why it should interest you and whether God is real are different articles that I didn’t write.

Doesn’t this idiot know that Christians and Muslims both believe in the God who spoke to Abraham?

This is one of those “I have poor reading comprehension” objections that was continually raised despite being specifically addressed in the article. Perhaps I can be even blunter. A parrot can be trained to say “There’s no god but me” and “I talked with Abraham,” but that doesn’t mean Christians, Jews, and Muslims all worship the same parrot. If Muhammad was just telling a bunch of false stories about who he was speaking with, and those false stories include a few bits and pieces lifted from the Bible, then that’s mere plagiarism—not proof of identity.

If you say other people worship other gods, then you must believe in multiple gods.

Or maybe I’m familiar with concepts like “false gods” and “idols.” You know, things, people, and ideas that are not God but are nevertheless worshiped as gods by some people—Muslims for instance. Paul wrote in Philipians 3:19 of some who rejected Christ that “their god is their belly.” I’ve never heard anyone read this and claim that Paul must therefore be a polytheist.

But all sorts of Christian denominations disagree on all sorts of stuff.

Yes. So what? It shouldn’t be controversial to observe out that some things are more important to the question of who God is than others or that some points of disagreement are more important than others. The dividing line between Christian orthodoxy and heresy has always been a question of either “who is God?” (e.g. Gnosticism, Arianism, Modalism) or “What is the Gospel?” (e.g. Gnosticism, Pelegianism, semi-pelegianism.)

What about all the “non-Trinitarian Christians” like Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Arians, Modalisits, Gnostics…. etc?

Nice try, but there are no groups of people who Christians refer to as “non-Trinitarian Christians.” There are, however, groups we refer to as heretics. The implication here should be clear.

What about the Jews? Are you saying they don’t worship the same god either?

The implication should be clear here as well, but… I keep seeing this used as though its some kind of reductio ad absurdum that refutes my argument, so I’ll say it explicitly. Yes, the argument correctly implies that Jews today do not worship the same god either. I’m not Christian because monotheism is awesome. I’m not Christian because the Bible is the best book ever written. I’m not a Christian because God spoke to Abraham. I’m not a Christian because of the wonderful traditions or because of what God did for the people of Israel. I’m a Christian because I believe Christ is who he said he is, and did what he said he did. Accordingly, I’m going with Jesus’ opinion on the subject, as he would know a lot better than I would:

“The Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” John 5:37-40

“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here… You are of your father the devil, and you will is to do your father’s desires…. Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” John 8:39-47

“It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him.” John 8:54-55

Does this mean none of the Jews at Jesus’ time worshiped God? Well, it could hardly refer to Jesus himself, to his disciples, to the first generation of Christians, to faithful Israelites like Simeon, Mary, Joseph, and so forth—all of whom were Jewish. No, these words (and more) were directed at the Pharisees & Sadducees , not those Jews who believed their Messiah. However, what we now call Judaism is descended from the Pharisaical tradition of Jesus’ day; Judaism is Pharisee-ism. This was not so starkly the case during the first half-century or so after Christ instituted his Church—back then, it was sometimes difficult to tell where the synagogues ended and the churches began. However, it is now almost two thousand years later; that line is no longer blurred.

Posted in Heresy, Theology | 1 Comment

The Athanasian Creed Probably wasn’t Important, Right?

I was all set to teach about the Athanasian Creed at church this morning—before a badly pulled back muscle prevented me from teaching at all. One of the things I planned to note was the uses of the word “catholic” even in our Lutheran Service Book when protestants usually replace the same word with “Christian” in the other two ecumenical creeds. I was all set to explain how “catholic” means universal rather than specifically the Church of Rome, how Lutherans should have never let that word go, and so forth—you know, the usual (at least for protestants).

But as I couldn’t teach, I read instead and came across a story that was trending on Facebook: claims that the Church of Rome now says that Jews do not need to believe in Jesus to be saved, that Christians shouldn’t aim at their conversion, and similar assertions that fly in the face of the creed. After all, it says at one point, “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly” as well as “Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man.” Needless to say, those who practice pretty much any branch of Judaism do not believe these things. Claiming that Jesus is Yahweh is something of a sticking point—or a stumbling block, if you will.

So in addition to being broader than Roman Catholicism, is “catholic” now exclusive of it as well?

Of course, the media being the media, I suspected the headlines were more about grabbing attention than reporting the facts. This is common practice, particularly when it comes to the Papacy. And the quotes in the Christianity Today article that I read seemed to undermine its own headline as much as it supported it.  So I did my due diligence; I read the whole thing. Sadly, I think even with the best construction, the headlines were pretty accurate.

“The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable ” is a fairly tedious read—filled with a great deal of double-speak that the authors presumably considered nuance. There are the usual declarations of common heritage, which is certainly true, as well as mutual respect and admiration that are part-and-parcel of these kinds of dialogues. However, towards the end of the third section, I cannot help but conclude that it says what the headlines say it says. It explicitly rejects the view that Christianity and Judaism are two parallel paths to God, but does so in favor of the view that they are—in some mysterious sense—the same path to God.

God revealed himself in his Word, so that it may be understood by humanity in actual historical situations. This Word invites all people to respond. If their responses are in accord with the Word of God they stand in right relationship with him. For Jews this Word can be learned through the Torah and the traditions based on it. The Torah is the instruction for a successful life in right relationship with God. Whoever observes the Torah has life in its fullness (cf. Pirqe Avot II, 7). By observing the Torah the Jew receives a share in communion with God. In this regard, Pope Francis has stated: “The Christian confessions find their unity in Christ; Judaism finds its unity in the Torah. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh in the world; for Jews the Word of God is present above all in the Torah. Both faith traditions find their foundation in the One God, the God of the Covenant, who reveals himself through his Word. In seeking a right attitude towards God, Christians turn to Christ as the fount of new life, and Jews to the teaching of the Torah.” (Address to members of the International Council of Christians and Jews, 30 June 2015). Judaism and the Christian faith as seen in the New Testament are two ways by which God’s people can make the Sacred Scriptures of Israel their own. The Scriptures which Christians call the Old Testament is open therefore to both ways. A response to God’s word of salvation that accords with one or the other tradition can thus open up access to God, even if it is left up to his counsel of salvation to determine in what way he may intend to save mankind in each instance.

Now, this totally sounds like two parallel paths to God, and I guess the authors thought so too because they immediately deny it.

That his will for salvation is universally directed is testified by the Scriptures (cf. eg. Gen 12:1-3; Is 2:2-5; 1 Tim 2:4). Therefore there are not two paths to salvation according to the expression “Jews hold to the Torah, Christians hold to Christ”. Christian faith proclaims that Christ’s work of salvation is universal and involves all mankind. God’s word is one single and undivided reality which takes concrete form in each respective historical context.

In this sense, Christians affirm that Jesus Christ can be considered as ‘the living Torah of God’. Torah and Christ are the Word of God, his revelation for us human beings as testimony of his boundless love. For Christians, the pre-existence of Christ as the Word and Son of the Father is a fundamental doctrine, and according to rabbinical tradition the Torah and the name of the Messiah exist already before creation (cf. Genesis Rabbah 1,1). Further, according to Jewish understanding God himself interprets the Torah in the Eschaton, while in Christian understanding everything is recapitulated in Christ in the end (cf. Eph 1:10; Col 1:20). In the gospel of Matthew Christ is seen as it were as the ‘new Moses’. Matthew 5:17-19 presents Jesus as the authoritative and authentic interpreter of the Torah (cf. Lk 24:27, 45-47). In the rabbinical literature, however, we find the identification of the Torah with Moses. Against this background, Christ as the ‘new Moses’ can be connected with the Torah. Torah and Christ are the locus of the presence of God in the world as this presence is experienced in the respective worship communities. The Hebrew dabar means word and event at the same time – and thus one may reach the conclusion that the word of the Torah may be open for the Christ event.

That is one twisted theological pretzel.  I don’t think the hairs its trying to split even exist. I’m trying to sum this part up fairly, and in all honesty, the best I can come up with is: 1) God wants everyone to be saved. 2) Christ is connected to the Torah. 3) Abracadabra. 4) Believing in the Torah is basically like believing in Christ as far as salvation is concerned. It’s almost a kind of modalism where Torah and Christ are different masks that God wears when interacting with different people.

Could you take all this in the sense that the Old Testament is all about Christ, so Christ can be found there by Jews? After all, Jesus told the other Jews of his day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…” The thing is, Jesus immediately continues, “…yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life,” which is what Judaism also continues to do today. Well, then what about a Jew reading the Old Testament and coming to Christ as a result? Well, that would typically be called conversion, and the Vatican document explicitly excludes that as a proper understanding God’s mission in this respect.

How is this reconciled with Christ’s opinion that no one comes to the Father except through him or Peter’s declaration that there is no other name by which we are saved? That’s a mystery. And by that, I mean the document says that it’s a mystery: “That the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery.” They just label it “a highly complex theological question” and move on. Again, I’m really trying to be fair, but it sounds to me like they can’t come up with any rationale given their restraints and just give up–but nevertheless cannot let go of their self-contradictory conclusion.

So are Christians to refrain from trying to convert Jews? Sort of… The only thing it’s really clear about is that there is not any organized effort by Rome to do so, nor can they support any such effort. Individual Christians can continue to “bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews,” though (which I must note does not necessarily aim at conversion.) But it’s completely different from evangelism to anyone else. Once again, they’re grappling with the evangelistic impulse at the center of the Christian faith—simultaneously knowing that their conclusion regarding salvation for the Jews changes everything about it, but not actually wanting to change anything about it.

I cannot help but observe that Jesus was not nearly so confused or confusing when he spent his entire earthly ministry evangelizing other Jews—he unquestionably thought that having Abraham as their father and keeping the Law were not identical with following him. The Vatican document tries to prop up the post-temple Jewish tradition—which it correctly and openly notes follows in the footsteps of the Pharisees—as a tradition that is just as legitimate as the Church. Jesus, however, was about as clear as he could possibly be that he was not on board with the Jews following in the footsteps of the Pharisees.  Jesus lamented that—gather them as he might—Jerusalem refused to come to him; he didn’t just shrug it off and say that they were basically following him anyway even if they didn’t know it.  If you want a clear explanation of salvation vis a vis the Jews, I’d suggest just reading the New Testament, because this document does nothing to clarify it.

Try as a I might, I can only find two reasonable conclusions to draw from this document:

  1. It departs from the catholic faith as expressed in the Athanasian Creed by claiming that Jews need not believe in Christ to be saved.
  2. It underhandedly retains that faith, but is egregiously condescending and patronizing towards the Jews—full of empty flattery that assures them of their place in life eternal while telling Christians in a hushed whisper that’s almost impossible to hear, “Boy, those guys are sooooo damned if they don’t come to Christ. We’re just too concerned about how we look to actually say it straight out.”

I came away from the document thinking that it’s #1, which is merely heretical.  However, if it’s actually #2… Well, Luther wrote some really nasty stuff about the Jews, but that would make this even more reprehensible. Either way, Rome needs to repent of it.

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