Resource Saturday- Towards Respectfully Engaging Roman Catholicism

August 8, 2009

Over the last couple of months I have been under conviction to earnestly and academically interact with the official teachings of the Roman Catholic church in order to prepare myself for ministry to people who come out of a Catholic background.  Even though many of these people are likely going to be Catholic in name only, I should be prepared to accurately speak on the doctrines of their church, which is a task that as of two months ago I was wholly unequipped to do.  Like I told my wife, I want to be able to know more about Catholicism than Catholics.

So, to start myself along that path I have been reading from two sources.

The first one is a book written by Thomas Howard, a former evangelical who has “returned to Rome.”  It is entitled On Being Catholic and offers a broad, though at most points theologically shallow, perspective on Roman Catholicism.  Addressing issues ranging from ecclessiology to Mariology to soteriology, Howard does his best to give an insight into the life of a doctrinally aware Catholic.  At the same time he makes an argument for evangelicals to say that our two traditions are not as far apart as we often think.  Throughout the book I found myself seeing how the different doctrines logically sprang from one another, even though I ultimately had to reject the premises upon which most of them were built.  All in all the author manages to give a very clear layman’s understanding of why Catholics do what they do.

The second text I read is historian Mark Noll’s venture with journalist Carolyn Nystrom into answering the question Is the Reformation Over? This is a very interesting look at the current state of relations between Protestantism and the Catholic church.  Because of the nature of Catholicism, where official teachings are set down by the Magisterium, one can look at the document containing them, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and (surprisingly?) see that much of what they have to say is tolerable, likely even identical, to the teachings coming out of evangelical pulpits.   Place on top of this the growing calls from voices on both sides of the Reformation divide to join together in evangelistic cooperation and you find that the question of whether or not the Reformation is over is not as cut-and-dry as on the surface it may seem.

I am convinced that it is time for American evangelicals to reassess their understanding of Catholic doctrine.  In the end I believe that there are still many points on which the differences are irreconcilable, but the attitude that is commonly brought to the table makes seeing the similarities nearly impossible.  If we are ever to reach the nominally Christian individual in this post-Christian/post-Catholic nation then a good first step is cutting through the stereotypes and misinformation that most of us cling to when it comes to the Catholic church.

Acting by Necessity- Understanding Sovereignty Distinct from Compulsion with Basil Manly, Sr.

August 7, 2009

One of the loudest criticisms of Calvinist soteriology comes in the realm of understanding the working of the Effectual Call.  Many would declare a God who sovereignly chooses whom he will save and then effectually calls them to salvation as an abomination, as one who is infringing upon the free will of man to choose as he wishes for or against Christ.  They talk about ‘determinism’ and how this is inconsistent with the necessity of faith for salvation.

Now, first of all, I reject these criticisms.  However, in saying that I do not plan on giving an extended explanation of why I believe such at this time.  Sufficed to say, if you really must know, I follow the same argumentation used by Edwards in The Freedom of the Will and contemporary Calvinists such as Bruce Ware, where they argue that the fundamental place of God’s working is not in our actions but at the level of man’s desires, out of which flow all of man’s actions.

No, I do not plan on going into much further detail.  Instead what I want to do is share a succinct accounting I found on this issue in the wonderful little book, Soldiers of Christ: Selections from the Writings of Basil Manly, Sr. & Basil Manly, Jr. The argument comes from the pen of Basil Manly, Sr., key member in organizing the Southern Baptist Convention and father of Southern Seminary co-founder Basil Manly, Jr.  Here is what he has to say:

Necessity in human action is not the same as compulsion.  If God works in us to will and to do, there is a necessity that we should will and do; but we are not compelled either to will or do.  The act is obliged to be; but the man, in acting, is free. . . .  In regard to salvation, so far from compelling a man, against his will, the very thing which God does is to make him willing to act right. . . .  The Christian is willing, and chooses to do right; because a divine operation has made him so.  He feels free; he is conscious that he is as heartily free in now trying to serve God, as when he went after the vanities and follies of his unconverted state. (p.124)

This is probably not as clear as it can be on first reading; but take some time, read over it again, and then meditate on what he says.  The argument is subtle but makes an important distinction, and few of the men I have read on this subject say effectively as much in as little as Pastor Manly manages to do here.  Enjoy!

More than ‘Sola Fide’- Self-Examination and Assurance in 2 Corinthians 13.5

August 6, 2009

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13.5)

One wonders if Paul were speaking to us for the first time today, if many American evangelicals would decry him as being outside the bounds of the gospel message?

“Examine yourselves”?  ”Unless you fail to meet the test”?  What type of work’s righteousness is this?

Or even worse, say they test themselves by trying to recall the date they prayed a special prayer.

Of course I’m saved.  I know when I asked Jesus into my life down to the second.  Look!  Here’s my spiritual birth certificate!

Alas, how can we judge Paul wrong when he says this?  Or elsewhere, when he tells us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2.12b)?  Or when Peter instructs us to “make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1.10)?

Let us not abuse the blessed truth of sola fide, justification by faith alone, by making that the final word in our journey with Christ.  For surely, justification is by faith alone, but salvation in total exhibits so much more, as in it God plans to conform us to the image of his Son (Romans 8.29-30).

Should we be satisfied by our hope that the prayer we prayed was the right one?  That the confession we repeated was earnest enough?  There is no doubt that God will sustain all those who truly come to him (cf. John 6.37, 40, 10.26-29, Romans 8.30), but is that all we should rest on?  Without assurance one is left every day to sweat under the future possibility of the fires of hell.  You just don’t know.  Peace comes by examining yourself and finding the evidences of a living faith flowing from your life (cf. Galatians 2.20, James 2.17).

Sovereign Means Free- Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 9.8

August 4, 2009

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9.8)

Have something unfortunate happen to you or some event arise which causes you anxiety and the sure repose you will receive from your Christian friends is a hearty, “God will provide.”  This sounds good, but in a day of abundant Christian mythology, one must always check: Does the Bible really say this?  The good news is, yes, indeed it does.

Now, let’s be careful how much we read into the text however.  Here we are told, “God is able to make all grace abound to you . . . ”  Able, not constrained or forced or committed.  It may be the case that though he is able, for some reason or another he may not be willing.  Take for instance what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12.7-9,

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

No where are we to assume that God was unable to do this thing Paul asked of him, it just so happened that God had a greater purpose in not doing it.  This is God’s prerogative and we as finite thinkers contain no right to judge negatively should God in his sovereignty choose not to do anything.

Similarly, he is “able to make all grace abound to you.”  What is ‘grace’?  We don’t initially know.  Grace may be material.  It may be wealth or possessions.  But it may also be favorable circumstances, fortuitous prohibitions, or any of another among a cadre of options.  Again, God is not under compulsion to provide what we think is appropriate.

God never lacks the ability to provide anything, but his refusal to sometimes exercise that ability or to exercise it in a way other than we expect is part of what it means for God to be sovereign.

Sunday Devotions- Penitential Thoughts on Psalm 25

August 2, 2009

Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O
Lord!” (Psalm 25.6-7)

When confronted with our ever-present sins, we quickly realize that our only hope is God’s steadfast love.  We know that the moment existed when God loved and forgave us of all our faults, but then in the wickedness of the flesh we go right out and commit the same atrocities against his grace that we were lost in before his appearance in our lives.

We sin against him, knowing fully that he has called us not to, and so our only refuge is in his memory of his love for us.  Earthly fathers would turn us out or grow disgusted at our rebellion, but God, when he comes in mercy to redeem us, does so fully that we may never be turned out again, though surely we would deserve it.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins
.” (vv.16-18)

I have heard it said that loneliness is God’s way of telling us that we have a relationship problem.  If we are lonely though he is always there, it is because we are trusting in something other than him to satisfy.  I recall the clarity of this in my own life, when stepping out of the darkness of insecurity God surprised me with his wondrous presence.  Truly he did “bring me out of my distresses” and freed me to be alive in the comfort of his arms.

The most freeing of it all is the knowledge that God has forgiven my sins.  That “on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied” and this in my place did he stand, so that now I may be seen by God as sinless, righteous in standing, though I in no way have earned this myself (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.21).  Forever I may be in the presence of my God because Christ gave himself for me and by “his stripes [I was] healed” (Isaiah 53.5)

Resource Saturday- Recalling T4G 2008

August 1, 2009

Okay, so I didn’t get to go to the last one, but the other day I was thinking about how next spring the 2010 Together for the Gospel conference will be making its way into my new residence of Louisville, KY and it got me to listening to the messages from the 2008 gathering.  And you know what?  They’re not that bad.

Seriously though, it’s hard to see how anyone could not benefit from what was taught in Louisville in 2008.  One particularly good message is John MacArthur’s defense of the doctrine of absolute inability.  Often times I can find plenty to pick on with MacArthur, and even this message has a diatribe at the end where I feel Johnny Mac gets carried away preacing against contextualization, but for the first 40-or so minutes of the sermon he gives a good explaination and exposition of what he calls “the most attacked” and “most despised” doctrine in evangelical churches.

So, if you, like myself, cannot wait until next April and the messages coming about The (Unadjusted) Gospel, try to satiate yourself for a few hours with the wonderful offerings already put forth by these great theologians.  See you in Louisville.