February 27, 2008
Q. When were you saved?
A. Two thousand years ago on the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Apparently T. F. Torrance would always say something along this line whenever he was asked that question. It’s a crucial point, especially for those in the Evangelical and/or Reformed segment of the Protestant world. I need not detail the adverse effects of the “altar call” in much of Evangelical Christendom, with its focus on the person’s particular coming to faith as decisive for her salvation. While this is well and good, the “born again” experience is often enough abstracted from the Christian confession that our salvation was once and for all effected by the obedience unto death of Jesus Christ, in his becoming sin on our behalf and offering of himself to the Father so that we might become fellow heirs with the Son.
I must say that this issue has personal bearing on my own dealings with those within or without the church, especially the latter. If I am presenting the gospel to someone, my approach should be that I come bearing good news, to wit, you are saved! Now believe! The opposite, however, is most often the case in the church, i.e., “believe and then you are saved.” Now, of course, both are true. Salvation is not effected in a person’s life until she comes to the obedience of faith, but this faith is not the ground upon which the person is saved — but in what sense? — in the sense of having any claims or rights before God. If the doctrine of Original Sin (however you rework it in light of contemporary science) is to teach us anything, it is that all we have we receive from God as gift. At no point in our existence, even in our coming to faith, do we have a claim on God and his plan for communion with his creation. So, if every person who receives the gospel is to do so in recognition that salvation lay wholly on the side of God and his initiative (the Incarnation, Cross, Resurrection, and Pentecost), can the church confess that all will be saved? No. But I say, “No,” because it seems particularly nefarious to say, “Yes,” for the simple reason that we (the church) put ourselves in a position of claim to salvation. So, there’s an obvious tension: I want to say “All are saved” but not “All will be saved.” I really can see no other way around it, and I’m not especially disturbed by it — in fact, it is quite freeing as I stand and kneel before a God who wholly gives himself so that I may give all. You must lose your life in order to gain it. To confess that “all will be saved” appears to me as an attempt to preserve your life, and thus to lose it.
February 20, 2008
A week ago, I had an interesting exchange on Insight Scoop, the blog of Ignatius Press. Catholic revert Dr. Francis Beckwith, noted moral-social philosopher and past president of the ETS, puts forth an argument for the inclusion of Roman Catholics under the banner of “Evangelical.” Dr. Beckwith states:
…Moreover, if one thinks of Evangelicalism as a renewal movement that stresses personal conversion and spiritual development, evangelism, a high view of Scripture, and fidelity to Christian orthodoxy, then one can certainly be a Evangelical Catholic, as I believe I am. If the term “Evangelical” is broad enough to include high-church Anglicans, low-church anti-creedal Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, the Evangelical Free Church, Arminians, Calvinists, Disciples of Christ, Pentecostals, Seventh-Day Adventists, open theists, atemporal theists, social Trinitarians, substantial Trinitarians, nominalists, realists, eternal security supporters and opponents, temporal theists, dispensationalists, theonomists, church-state separationists, cessationists, non-cessationists, kenotic theorists, covenant theologians, paedo-Baptists, and Dooweyerdians, there should be room for an Evangelical Catholic.
My response in the comments:
So, what exactly is the point Dr. Beckwith is trying to make? “Evangelical” has been a term used to designate pietistic and orthodox Protestants (bye, bye open theists and non-substantial Trinitarians and even “high church” Anglicans). By “orthodox” I simply mean adherence to the common witness of Reformation Christianity; so, e.g., [in addition to Nicene orthodoxy] justification by faith alone is central, while being a paedo-baptist vs. a credo-baptist is not seen as fundamental to being an “Evangelical.” The pietistic element, of course, stresses a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” accentuated through ministry of the word and song (i.e., preaching and hymns/praise & worship). The history of the term, “Evangelical,” as commonly used (certainly in the English-speaking world) goes back to the Great Awakenings, Methodist revivals, Welsh revivals, Billy Graham crusades, etc. If we were in Northern Continental Europe, “Evangelical” is convertible with “Protestant” or “Lutheran,” but in our context, this is simply not so. So, what is Beckwith doing other than playing with semantics? What practicing Roman Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox for that matter) isn’t “evangelical” on his account? This is nothing other than Protestants saying that they are “catholic” because they affirm the catholic creeds of the early church; which is perfectly fine, but Protestants (certainly not Evangelicals) don’t go around saying they are “catholics,” because of the structure of meaning(s) this term abides in our culture. My point is simply that “Evangelical” is a helpful designation of a certain type of Protestant; Roman Catholics saying, “oh, but we’re Evangelicals too” is not very helpful. …I’m just averse to saying “Evangelical” should map onto Roman Catholicism, when, in English, it is used as a pan-denominational term of conservative, revivalistic Protestantism with a distinct emphasis on the word over the sacraments.
February 16, 2008
“A Hymn to the Name and Honour of the Admirable Saint Teresa” by Richard Crashaw (d. 1649) is a stunning poem that I have never tired of consulting. Here’s the closing lines:
Each heavenly word by whose hid flame
Our hard hearts shall strike fire, the same
Shall flourish on thy brows, and be
Both fire to us and flame to thee;
Whose light shall live bright in thy face
By glory, in our hearts by grace.
Thou shalt look round about, and see
Thousands of crown’d souls throng to be
Themselves thy crown, sons of thy vows,
The virgin-births with which thy spouse
Made fruitful thy fair soul; go now,
And with them all about thee bow
To Him; put on, He’ll say, put on,
My rosy Love, that thy rich zone,
Sparkling with the sacred flames
Of thousand souls, whose happy names
Heaven keeps upon thy score: thy bright
Life brought them first to kiss the light
That kindled them to stars; and so
Thou with the Lamb, thy Lord, shalt go.
And, wheresoe’er He sets His white
Steps, walk with Him those ways of light,
Which who in death would live to see,
Must learn in life to die like thee.
Read the entire poem here (it’s not long).
“It is not the pursuit of pleasure and the aversion for effort which causes sin, but fear of God. We know that we cannot see him face to face without dying and we do not want to die. We know that sin preserves us very effectively from seeing him face to face: pleasure and pain merely provide us with the slight indispensable impetus towards sin, and above all the pretext or alibi which is still more indispensable. …It is not the flesh which keeps us away from God; the flesh is the veil we place before us to shield us from him.”
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace
This quote from Simone Weil came to mind upon reading von Balthasar’s “Theology and Sanctity” (from Word and Redemption) as perhaps a way to consider his account of the cleavage between theology, namely dogmatics as the explication of revealed truth, and sanctity — a mark of Christian thought in the wake of the advances made by the medieval scholastics. In short, the mystics and spiritual writers do one thing – detail the work of God at individual, mental states of their personal journey – while the theologians do another thing – discern the truth and coherence of God’s work in scripture and the Church. Contrasted to this are those, from the prophets to the scholastics, for whom truth is the “unity of knowledge and action” (p. 59), which is to say that truth is not concerned with man as isolated, cerebral, analytic but as governed by reason, yes, but also by the will and the heart. The latter, especially as it deals with the “affections” of love, happiness, sorrow, et cetera (von Hildebrand, The Heart), is particularly associated with spiritual writers, yet von Balthasar sees, in the premodern era, this intimate work of God as serving the deliverance and explication of revelation. It is not that the reason is blinded and prejudiced by these other movements of our mental faculties, but that it is illuminated thereby and, indeed, preserved from the vanities and prejudices of the isolated reason.
What is this vanity? If Simone Weil is to be our teacher, it is the desire to be independent, self-constituting creatures – in other words, to be God; and the more consistent among such persons will deny God in order that one’s illusions of self-sufficiency can take course (and it matters not that this self-sufficiency is so often translated into a humanity-sufficiency, a materialist collectivism working on the same principles). This is why we fear God; it is the fear of seeing ourselves truly, as creatures and what that entails, not least what it means for the service of others who are just as “entitled” to the goods which we use to sustain the illusion: “All of a man’s treasure is simply the whole universe seen with himself as its centre. Men only love riches, power and social consideration because they reinforce the faculty of thought in the first person” (Weil, Intimations of Christianity among the Ancient Greeks).
In turning back to von Balthasar’s concerns, we can understand how the reason likewise “preserves us very effectively” (Weil). An anthropology, as in the one which developed after the medievals, which defines man as primarily a reasoning creature who properly acts only upon a strictly defined reason, for its seemingly greater security at right conclusions, will thereby privilege the man who desires his own self-constitution, since here it is the reason alone which is to be cultivated and not the will or heart. In the theological world, this takes form in the prejudice that we can deal with God in our theological systems without dealing with him in our lives. In von Balthasar’s discussion, it is the error of thinking we – dogmatic theologians – can concern ourselves with the verum without the bonum and leave the bonum for others to deal with. What is the solution? Von Balthasar does not work out, at least not in this essay, a developed anthropology along the lines of, e.g., Catholic theorists of “personalism,” which would develop my above points on the place of the will and heart; instead, he finds the needed unity between theology and sanctity in the center of all properly Christian thinking – Jesus Christ. Here, all of our thought is to serve Christ because our thought, our very selves, is constituted by Christ for those who have faith.
Christ, as true God and true man, is the revealing of humanity redeemed and, as such, united in service, devotion to God and the revealing of this God. Moreover, the task of the theologian is not simply to point to this man, Jesus Christ, and expound; rather, the theologian is to live this incarnating of the Truth that is fully given in Christ: “From the standpoint of revelation, there is simply no real truth which does not have to be incarnated in an act or in some action, so that the incarnation of Christ is the criterion of all real truth….” (p. 50). The important point here being, as he develops later in the essay, that while Christ is the fullness of this revelation and the criterion for judgment, it does not end with him but extends to the whole Church in “the constant repetition of the theological existence of the Lord in the life of his faithful and saints” (80). In other words, and to tie it in with my previous points, any real appropriation of the truth of man vis-à-vis God affects the entirety of his person – the reason and the will; it is not otherwise because Christ has revealed what it is to be a man taken entirely by truth in his perfect obedience to the Father, revealing man’s true relation to God (i.e., no illusions), and for those who are to receive this truth is to likewise subject oneself to the Father.
February 1, 2008
“Chastity is fundamental to civilization. If the race becomes unchaste, it will perish. Immorality has been basic to the destruction of mighty nations in the past. It will bring to dust the mighty nations of the present. You young people, may I directly entreat you to be chaste? Please believe me when I say that chastity is worth more than life itself. This is the doctrine my parents taught me; it is true. Better die chaste than live unchaste.”
J. Reuben Clark, The Improvement Era (periodical), December 1938, p. 714.