Saturday, June 28, 2008

Depression, Love, and Depravity.

I remember listening to a lecture at Capernwray Hall on 1 John that addressed Depression. Rob Whittaker was talking about how when God teaches you things, they are usually in a positive manner; in that when He tries to change you it will not be blatant condemnation, but more like a divine compliment sandwich. (good comment, criticism, good comment).

I am incredibly depressed today, I am alot of the time. When Rob described the symptoms of what was Not God but was self-condemnation/depression I almost put my hand up to show that I felt almost all of them (except for the not eating one.... of course the only good part of depression I end up missing out on).

Today I was reading Donald Miller's "Searching For God Knows What" and he discussed the effects of the fall, and how it can be interpreted relationally. How every one of our relationships is screwed up now because of it, and how we are like deformed children from Chernobyl. He says that ever since Genesis 3 we have continually sought after the affirmation of other people. I think he's right in that I know I've written probably 5 messages or emails to people expressing my great love or appreciation of them, and sometimes very personal thoughts or struggles but then have no reply. It hurts probably more than most things I've experienced, because I - like everyone else - seek the affirmation of others.

I wish God would teach me something more uplifting, this last week or so I've only been taught the fallenness of humanity, our hopelessness to help ourselves or to do good, and the effects of Adam & Eve's sin. It's quite depressing, and so I wonder if it is God, and if Rob might have been wrong about God and Depression.

I was starting to think about how love is intrinsically tied to pain, and how if you don't love people, you may feel empty, but you don't quite feel the amount of pain. Some of the people I love more than anything were at my house last week, and since they left I've felt immense pain.

I started thinking about God and that maybe He too felt terrible after creating humanity which rebelled against him.

"The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’" - Genesis 6:5-7 (NRSV)
It's strange that even God is greived by Love, and stranger still why he would go through it all if he knew how it would end in the first place. But for some reason I guess he thought it was better to create than not to, and better to love than not to. I read those words and feel in my own heart the condemnation that everything is 'only evil'. I feel like Ezekiel is a liar, for he said:

"A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances." - Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NRSV)
I certainly don't feel like I have a new heart on days like today. I guess here is a promise of intrinsic justification, the actual change of the person, the new birth. What a beautiful hope. I think I've felt that way before though, I've changed, I've had a new heart, I've loved God, and been inclined to do good. I think the main problem for me now is that I'm by myself, and as Donald Miller keeps reminding me, I'm created to be relational. As the heroic saint John Wesley once wrote "the bible knows nothing of solitary religion", I quite agree. But it seems I must congrate the devil for seperating me from all Christian fellowship, for that is as it seems. Now if only God would switch things around. It is sadly not so, at least today. And so he teaches me the principles of the fall, of the wickedness of my own heart, and the consequences of the divine seperation, so that maybe one day in contrast the beauty of the divine union might be that much brighter.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Saved by Grace? Augustinian Problems

Systems are amazing. Systems make everyone organized and make sense of complex things. There is a system that is very prevalent and historic within Christianity it is called Augustinianism, and while I think it is possibly the best system for Christianity I believe that in my short life I have seen no proof of it outside the first few principles.

St. Augustine the doctor of Grace is one of my favourite authors - he may one day be my patron - who knows? He's the man who brought you the following ideas without you probably knowing it: Original Sin, Irresistible Grace, Eternality of Hell, Damnation of Unbaptized babies, Augustinian view of good works vs. Pelagian view, and sat on the Council of Carthage which helped decide the canon of scripture (which included the Apocrypha).

He's the man who said "Grace alone conquers sin" (and the lesser known 'I would not believe Scripture unless the church told me to').

His system is as such in my limited understanding - forgive my simplicity.
1. Man is Bad and unable to do good works
2. God enables man with Grace to cooperate with him
3. Man cooperates with God and is Sanctified/Justified/Regenerated

The end.

I've come to agree with St. Augustine on #1, but here's my problem, in Calivinsm, Augustinianism, and many other isms, the same pattern is shown, where ultimately long story short, bad person becomes good person by the grace of God.

Now of course in Lutheranism the bad person can stay bad and be saved, whereas for the Catholic, change must occur. But here's the problem. No one changes. I started out as a bad person, became a Christian, did some good stuff, did lots of bad stuff, and now live a fairly self-centred life. I'm 'trying' to do better, but the whole system says that I am unable to do better, only God can give me the grace to get better, well I've been waiting to cooperate, but I don't feel this lightning bolt of grace.

Irresistible grace is an even more confusing thing. In Calvinism I would just be zapped with Irresistible Grace and then I would be like a Jesus Robot until the energy of the Grace Lightning wore off. Or if I was one of the Reprobate it would just be lightning I guess, and I would burn, thus somehow making God feel better about himself? I'm still working that one out.

In daily life I find though, just alot of bad people. I mean I love people but everyone constantly sins. Even people I respect are probably just as bad as I am if I went into their daily lives. So where are the saints? where are the people who actually changed, who actually made it through the process of baptism, justification, regeneration, sanctification etc.... I don't know any of them. I just know people are bad, and sometimes God helps them to be better, but in the end they still aren't amazing, and usually not that much better than non-believers.

So once again the system sounds great, but I don't see it working.

This is why Lutheranism appeals to me, because with Extrinsic Justification (salvation outside ourselves) Christ won the victory. His merits are applied to us, and though we are bad, God sees us as good. As Old Marty said "At the same time I am both a great sinner and a great saint". No real change occurs - which is what I see in life.

Aside from scriptural problems and historical theology problems (aka. Luther being the first one to think it up), it sounds amazing. Tolkien called Catholicism 'the tale all men wish to be true' but I call Lutheranism/The alien righteousness of Christ 'the tale all men wish to be true'. I read Calvin's stuff on being Clothed in Righteousness and it's beautiful. As I said, I can't find it in church history, or in the Church Fathers and Creeds etc, and even have difficulty explaining all those other passages like Matthew 25 and James 2, but still, it's a great story. If it is true, praise Jesus, and if it isn't then it is still the most beautiful image I could think of.

Bono once said in an interview with Bill Hybels 'I believe in Grace, because I'm counting on it (to get to Heaven)', and I must say I echo his concern. It's 2 different views of grace, but all I know is I'm a bad person and I always will be, and I hope I have Christ's grace. But if it's this substance that Calvin describes, I'm screwed because I don't get zapped and suddenly feel overwhelmed to help my fellow man. Likewise if Catholicism is right and it's distributed via the sacraments, then none of the Catholics I know have been getting the right bread/Jesus because they live worse than I do. So where is the grace? where is the life change? I don't see it anywhere. So the only thing that seems logical is to believe it is outside ourselves - as Luther posited.


I think some people might have misread a few of my last posts so this is to clear things up.

1. By saying that I personally am just focussing on being a Christian, doesn't mean I think Catholicism is 'wrong'. I think some people got really excited about the idea that I wasn't calling myself 'Catholic' which is just a word, a word that scares Protestant Evangelicals far far too much.

2. I wasn't actually saying that Catholicism is Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian in Principal. In my note about Luther and Calvin being right, I could have written "St. Augustine, you were right" or "Catholic Council of Orange you were right". My main problem with Catholicism is not it's doxy but the praxy, it's the practice at the local level. In theory I have very few problems with it, but in practice, in the lives of almost every Catholic I personally see face to face, I find it superstitious, lacking, nationalistic, and false. My favourite phrase is now: "Protestants are better Catholics than Catholics"

3. What I was saying against Catholicism is that I don't believe they have a monopoly. I believe that Protestants, Orthodox, and Anglican Christians have the same things they do, and that each group has strengths and weaknesses. I was saying that the practical churches I saw in my short time were all riddled with problems. None of them shone with that 'One Holy Catholic and Apostolic' gleam that I searched for. Just alot of people trying to understand God.

I just thought I'd clear that up.

Secondly, I am not saying that Theology is not important. I despise the United Church of Canada because I think they sold their theology for unity. What was it Luther said again? "Peace if possible, truth at all costs". The United church is a perfect example of what happens if we bury the Calvinist-Arminian debate (United church being Presbyterian (calvinist) and Methodist (Arminian/Wesleyan)). Did it solve anything? no. Did it bring unity? yes. I wouldn't trade one for the other, though of course Love is to abound in all endeavors of the church. (sorry to the UCC people out there, this is just my personal opinion)

Basically I just think we should focus more on Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. (heb 12.2)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Luther & Calvin, you win this round

I've been struggling for months with this passage from "The Bondage and Liberation of the Will" by John Calvin. It is one of the fundamentally differing premises between Catholicism and Protestantism. Catholicism in it's common form is semi-pelagian, (even though it should be Augustinian), all this to say at it's simplest form: we can do go works, God expects it. Protestantism is usually (note the word usually) and Traditionally on Calvin and Luther's Depravity kick, which to say it it's simplest form: you suck. you will always suck.

Here's the quote:
"We say that man not only cannot do anything good but cannot even think it, so that he may learn to depend totally on God and, despairing of himself, to cast himself entirely upon him; and so that [man] may give the credit, if he has done anything good, to God and not to ourselves we are helpless"

Now this idea is a Protestant flavoured Augustinianism (arguably of course as Augustine did believe in merit), but aside from big labels that make me feel like I know the first thing about theology, I have found in my practical life that this is true.

Call me a post-modernist because I don't want to say it's true for everyone, but for me I am a terrible sinner. There is no way around it, I am just bad. I have tried so hard to be good, but I suck (as Mark Driscoll would say). I have found in my day to day life that I am helpless, I can't stop sinning.

It's St. Paul all over again with: "for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I." (Rm 7:15 KJV) and "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing" (v.18).

I have felt what is called Regeneration in theology while at Bible School in England, I was a much better Christian than I am now. However even then I look at my prayer journal, and on days I would dream for now I write things like 'forgive my miserable sinfulness' etc (see Puritans for details). As horrific as it sounds I think Calvin is right, if I know nothing else about myself, I know that I am a terrible sinner, and that I must cast myself at Christ's feet if I am ever to be saved. I think I may have given up my belief in merit.

I am currently reading "True Spirituality" by Francis Schaeffer and it is a challenging book, last night I read the chapter on death to self and I actually sat there counting the cost and thinking about what being a Christian truly means. Ultimately I remembered my baptismal vows and my entry into the new covenant, and once again I will start over, trying to be a Christian, trying to fix my plethora of problems.

As David once probably prayed (another debate I'll ignore right now), I too must pray.

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me...Create in me a clean heart, O God. -Psalm 51

Just A Christian...

I realize since I became zealously Catholic and Anti-Calvinistic, most people stopped reading this blog. If I look back at how much I have learned about Christian History, and Historical Theology in the last year, I realize that I still know nothing. There is so much out there, so many books, so many positions, so many arguments.

I've had more conversions in the last 6 months than in the previous 20 years combined. I started out an Evangelical, then I became a Calvinist, then a Mennonite, then a Roman Catholic (unofficially). I've seen in my pathetically short times in each camp, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I've read each polemical attack on the other, and the "Favourites" list on my computer reads a contradictory mess: "Assumption of Mary Refuted!" - "Martin Luther Affirms Immaculate Conception" - "Early Church Fathers support Sola Scriptura" - "Spurgeon's Gems" etc.

There is so many things I still need to figure out. But I am beginning to understand why people hate denominations. It's because the only 2 things denominations seem to care about are 1. making you either a zombie slave to their theology, a mini-Calvin, or a 'servant of the One True Church' etc. Or 2. making you another number in the vast over-estimations of their adherents including dead people and animals like any rigged election. Seriously only vote counters in Florida would calculate Sweden as 95% Lutheran but with a 1% church attendence. (it's the same with Catholics too)

I want to be careful how I phrase this because I still believe theology matters more than most people do. However for the time being, I just want to be a Christian, I don't want to be a Catholic, or a Baptist or a Capricorn, I'm just a person who wants to figure out this great religion. I've listened to the party lines for each denomination and they all seem to fail me - which is what I was warned with initially anyway. The Pentecostals can't really speak in tongues, the Reformed don't know that they believe in active reprobation (except Jared), the Lutherans don't know they believe in the real presence or that Luther was an anti-semite and believed in the sinlessness and perpetual virginity of Mary. And the Baptists still don't know anything. The Catholics' "One True Church" doesn't have one member who will shake your hand after 2 months of mass attendence. And the 'heretical' Anglicans will welcome you like family, even if they preach that St. Paul was an arrogant pharisee.

None of them has anything to offer, except Christ, who thankfully after all this time is still the most amazing thing in the universe to me. He transcends labels and denominations, he wasn't a Catholic, he wasn't a dispensationalist, he was just God. And I just want to be a Christian. As Kierkegaard said so well "if you label me, you negate me".