Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sola Scriptura Reading Comprehension Test

I hope you'll play along with me.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:
All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for training in righteousness, in order that the man of God might be complete, fully equipped for every good work.
1. T/F? Paul says the Scriptures are God-breathed. (True!)

2. T/F? Paul says the Scriptures are "profitable for" various things: doctrine, reproof, instruction, training in righteousness. (True!)

3. T/F? Paul says the above-listed things contribute to, or are purposed for the man of God being "complete" and "fully equipped for every good work". (True!)

4. T/F? Paul says the man of God needs only doctrine, reproof, instruction, and training in righteousness in order to arrive at said completion. (False!)

5. T/F? Paul says the man of God needs only the God-breathed Scriptures for doctrine, reproof, instruction, and training in righteousness. (False!)

6. T/F? Paul says the man of God needs only the God-breathed Scripture to arrive at said completion. (False!)

None of the last three only statements are actually present in the text. Let's try again with a simpler example.

My Ukrainian grandmother used to say:
"Eat your vegetables so you will grow up strong like bull!" [sic]
1. T/F? My grandmother says eating vegetables will make me grow up strong! (True!)

2. T/F? My grandmother is telling me to become a vegetarian. (False!)

Neither Paul (nor my grandmother) are making any statement about the sufficiency of Scripture (or vegetables). They are both, however, advocating that Scripture (or vegetables) are useful, if not indispensable. Unfortunately, Sola Scriptura significantly strengthens the text beyond its literal meaning. If Sola Scriptura important (or even true) why did Paul miss this opportunity to teach it? Why is it not clearly and unequivocally repeated like the OT law concerning the Sabbath rest?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Conversion Fragment 3: At Peace With Images

As I gained familiarity with the Bible, I learned that rarely is the scriptural evidence for a particular theological position entirely clear-cut. For any position there will be a handful of texts that seem to support it and a handful of texts that seem to contradict it. This Sola Scriptura stuff was a lot of work! Simply disregarding the texts that challenged my position wasn't acceptable---any given position must some how be brought into harmony with the entire body of text.

For example, consider the accusation that Catholics are idolaters for their use of iconography and statuary. Everybody knows that Exodus 20:4-5 says this:
"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them;
Verses 22-23 in the same chapter reinforce the point:
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites this: `You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.'
But only a few chapters later, we see this text in Exodus 25:17-22:
"Make an atonement cover of pure gold--two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.
Clearly, there is some nuance to this graven-image stuff. How can God unilaterally condemn all use of images in worship in one passage and then command their construction in another passage? The tension begs the question of "What is idolatry? Really?" Is it simply the exterior act, or could idolatry be a deeper, more-interior phenomenon? Can we be idolatrous without the use of physical objects? Given this tension in the Scriptures, why have so much anxiety about pictures and statues? Can this anxiety backfire into a sort of reverse-idolatry?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Course on Deepening Participation in the Mass

I'm developing a course to address the following concern:
"But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds be attuned to their voices, and that they cooperate with the heavenly grace lest they receive it in vain." (SC.11)
And again:
"Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, ..." (SC.14)
I read this as a call to a "Marian" participation in the mass: deeply interior, attentive, sensitive, receptive, continuous and unbroken. (Think of a pupil fully dilated.) I do not read this as a call for the laity to "do more things", but to make a total self donation to God through the celebration---to really pray without ceasing, with one's whole person, for the duration of the Mass. (If we can't do it under ideal conditions, what are the chances we'll succeed at prayer when things get tough?)

I've already received a great deal of helpful input from helpful persons. Perhaps you have your own insights to share?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Conversion Fragment 2: Contraception


In my three-year Protestant-Christian experience, never once did I hear a pastor speak about contraception. This puzzled me when I learned that many contraceptives are "abortifacients", meaning they actually kill your baby after conception rather than prevent conception. Both the "IUD" and "the pill" are abortifacients.

So, unless a faith-teaching community supports abortion, how can it remain silent on the topic of contraception? At the very least, must not it speak against the grave evil of abortifacients, which destroy innocent life?

I saw this as a major inconsistency in the teaching I received, but the kicker for me was that this favorable disposition towards contraception was less than 100 years old. That's right, Christianity universally condemned contraception until Anglican bishops gave it their approval at the Lambeth Conference of 1930. (The Catholic and Orthodox Christians gave no such approval.)

If you can see the evil in killing an unborn child, I don't think it's much of a stretch to see the evil in abortifacient contraceptives.

But as I studied the Catholic Church's position on contraception in general, I came to accept the evil in all forms of contraception, it's organic connections to numerous other evils, and I came to see the merits of regulating births with periodic abstinence, also known as "Natural Family Planning" or "NFP".

I was so impressed by how well these teachings harmonized with the Bible, which doesn't explicitly condemn contraception in no uncertain terms. I was also impressed by the Catholic Church's willingness to speak on this "touchy subject".

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Prayer for the Soul of George Tiller

Many wise voices in the blogosphere are counseling prayer for the soul of George Tiller.

Given what little I know of Tiller's career, I'd say he needs them, but I am wary of situations that enable me to ignore my own need for prayer. I must admit I have a lot more in common with Mr. Tiller than I do with Jesus Christ, and that the bulk of my perfection will most likely be accomplished after my death.

No, my life is not such an obvious participation in evil, but if Mr. Tiller could not see his obvious participation in evil, what am I capable of missing? Should I find God's mercy in my final hour, what terrible things will God be forgiving me?

Choosing hope---believing that truth exists, is good, and is attainable---requires a sort of two-fold movement in opposite directions. One must be willing to accept the truth (no matter how beautiful) and likewise accept the truth (no matter how grotesque).

If we choose not to examine ourselves in this way, I think we expose ourselves to the risk of being drawn into even further participation with evil than we currently are. Tiller's murderer is the most obvious participant, and the media that are trying to turn Tiller into a sort of martyr for the culture of death are probably the next-most obvious participants.

Evil multiplies in the dark---it thrives when we aren't watching it.

Pray for George Tiller, prayer for his murderer, and pray for all of us that we aren't seduced into artificial notions of moral superiority and that God will reveal to us our own participation in evil. Pray.