Sunday, June 6, 2010

Personal Post: Confusion and the Death of Truisms

I'm supposed to spend the next week in prayer and scripture trying to figure out what religion I'm going to be in the end. I think it's a bad plan to just go by one's heart, but everyone seems to have suggested it. I've had Protestant moments and Catholic moments. I just need clarity. I think it's a pretty even balance as all my personal benefits fall on the Protestant side, and all my intellectual prowess falls on the Catholic side.

I feel so strange not having a specific creed. I feel like I'm standing infront of a table, and on the table is a Catholic Catechism, a Book of Concord, and the Westminster Confession of faith. I feel like I understand each of them fairly well. Although no one else seems to agree on this point. It will be interesting to see what a week will do (probably nothing), I keep asking God which side to choose, but he seems annoyingly bi-partisan. I'm finding comfort in the Psalms though, as always.

I was thinking about Edward Gibbon today, the famous English historian who I enjoy reading when I feel cynical. When he was at Magdalen college (where C.S. Lewis was I believe), he faced a rationalist theologian (I think he was CofE) and defended miracles based on the famous Catholic preacher, Bishop Boussett's writings, and eventually converted to Roman Catholicism. His father pulled him out of school, and sent him to Switzerland to live with a Reformed Pastor. Eventually his father said if he didn't revert to Protestantism he would disinherit Edward, and so Edward re-converted on Christmas Day. He said the Romish creed disappeared then from his mind like a dream. After that he wrote scathingly against all organized religion, and was known by some as the father of the English Enlightenment.

I tend to go with the existentialists and postmoderns who say that you cannot but be affected by what you are taught. My mom was trying to give me the Billy Graham / Baptist altar call talk today about 'trusting in the cross' we got in a fight when I told her how complex it was and that she hadn't studied the nature of the debate or understood it at all. I think I wish Edward Gibbon were around today so that I could talk with him. I am a blender of confused theology. I have the Evangelical Arminian decision theology that I was raised with, blended with the Methodism and Biblicism I learned in England, mixed with the Calvinism and Reformed theology I've read everywhere from Karl Barth to Jonathon Edwards, blended with the catholic moralism and neoplatonism of the Fathers, countered by the polemicism of Luther, Calvin, Loyola, and Bellarmine, blended with the Roman Catholic romanticism of Chesterton, Waugh, and Newman, blended with the intellectual foundation of Thomism, attacked by the Fideism of Kierkegaard, the subjectivism of Kant, the skepticism of Sartre, and all topped off with a liberal scoop of C.S. Lewis. My mind, is like a bunch of wires that short circuit now. Whenever someone says an evangelical-ism or a truism, all the arguments start going off in my head like a bar room brawl.

For example. I'll just pick trite phrases people have told me in the last few days and how I react to them inside.

"Do whatever makes you happy" - John Stuart Mill, utilitarianistic hedonism, selfishness, but could also be understood in the Augustinian/Aristotelian/Thomistic framework of choosing whatever ultimately is best for me. But most decisions in life don't make me happy, I should exercise even though it doesn't make me happy, but if I followed this advice I never would.

"Just follow the Bible" - Whose interpretation of the bible should I have? which book should I start at? If I read the Pauline epistles I will lean towards Protestantism, but if I read the Johannine literature I will lean towards Rome. Should I think bishops when I read apostles? should I think magesterium when I read church? Should I think Total Depravity when I read Sin and Adam? Who wrote the bible? Do the Fathers have the right to interpret it? or is it as Luther said, that they are soot-filled bags that poison the spiritual milk of the Word? Kant said you should only do things if you are to make them universal maxims, and I definately don't think everyone should just read the bible for themselves and interpret it without proper education, it is a hard book to understand.

"Just pray" - If the Calvinists are right and I am outside God's grace, then he won't listen to my prayers, if the Catholics are right my soul is dead and unable to access God's grace or resurrect my soul in order to hear from him or feel the leading of the Spirit. How should I pray? How will I know what an answer is and what an arbitrary idealization of my own random thoughts is present? Should I pray my Rosary or not? Should I use my Prayer book (Anglican) or will that lead me astray? Why should I pray if God already has made up his mind? If God is Good by nature, why would I pray to ask him to be good, wouldn't he already do whatever is best by necessity?


so ya. Lil bit confused... I just know I don't want to make decisions based on what other people are telling me, I have Catholics emailing me patristic citations, and Evangelicals inviting me to their bible churches, and an Atheist co-worker came up to me the other day and congratulated me for leaving Roman Catholicism like she had when she became an Atheist. (I wanted to kill myself because of the sin of scandal that I've caused with all of this). I have parents preaching, a girlfriend who is trying to be impartial (but favours her native Anglicanism), and even though I was trying not to think about it today, I looked down at my shoes which our Catholic chaplain bought me on a pilgrimage. Even my shoes are reminding me of the Reformation.


I'm gonna read some Psalms and try to get some exercise.


  1. I'll add my take Andrew (not that you asked for it). Here goes:

    If you believe the Roman church is the true church, you should stay with Rome and accept her teachings. Schism is a very serious sin, it can only be justified if you believe Rome is a false church.

  2. Thanks Jay. I respect your opinion. At this point, I'm not able to have that sort of clarity on the issue.

  3. Andrew, when I was discerning religious life, a priest told me: don't make a big decision when your low in the valley nor when you're high on the mountain, but make it with both feet on the level plain.

    Obviously you cannot always follow such advice but it was helpful. In my case, it meant not joining a religious order so soon after my conversion to the Catholic Church (I was high on the mountain at the time) and instead to continue to discern my vocation through that time once things settled down.

    I would pose the question to you: if you, who have read so much, are confused, how were all the illiterate peasants supposed to know what was true of the Christian Faith for all the centuries from 100 - 1500 AD? How did God provide for them to know, believe, and live the Faith in spirit and in truth?

  4. Don't worry Jay, I understood those implications. Until at least 421 with the Fall of Rome, many Western Christians were not peasants and could read quite well, they would've heard the Scriptures in their native tongue being read, and were embroiled in the Theological/Christological debates of the day. Just as it would be a fallacy to blame the illiterate peasants for not knowing how to read like these early Christians, it would be a fallacy for me to blindly accept someone else's interpretations without study myself. With knowledge comes responsibility.

    It is a false dillemna in many ways to say I either can know or I can't know. As Kant would tell us, there are things we can know, and there are things we know we can't know. As for some of the central issues to the Reformation, these things I can know.

    The Patristic consensus on Post-Tridentine Roman claims I can know. The difference made by translating the Greek word for justify, into Iustificare (to make just), I can know.

    Whether Peter and Paul actually taught the church at Rome the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and Apostolic Succession, I cannot know.

    But I am levelling out quite well this week, I don't think I'll be deciding anything on too emotional a grounding. I said week before, except it will probably take longer than that. I am already making progress.

  5. M. Jay,

    I would qualify your statement by saying that "anyone who disagrees with the Catholic Church's _de fide_ teachings is wrong" and that _de fide_ teachings cannot be rejected.

    That being said, there is tremendous room even within de fide teachings for HOW and WHY the particular teaching is true. I think that the Catholic Church may even incorporate concepts from (Anglican bishop) N.T. Wright on justification into her teachings on justification.

    Another example: Pope Pius XII described (Reformed theologian) Karl Barth as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas. When Barth heard this, he jested "this proves papal infallibility!" The point is that Barth, a Protestant, was praised by the pope above every Catholic theologian for the past 800 years.

    But you're right in that the Catholic Church claims that the Spirit is guiding her into all truth, protecting her teachings from error. No Protestant church claims that.

  6. Yes. The identity of the church and salvation by its gospel are teachings which cannot be rejected on any grounds according to Roman Catholicism.

    No Protestant church claims that.

    How could it? According to Rome, it doesn't and couldn't exist. The church is defined by communion with the Petrine office.

    But of course it does, if one defines the church according to the Apostolic teaching. And in that case the Reformed churches do in fact confess that the Spirit is guiding the church into all truth.

  7. Well I guess Andrew's still out of luck, since he is not planning on joining a Reformed church but rather an offshoot of the Anglican Communion.

  8. The Reformed churches may view Anglicanism as ecclesially unhealthy, but we don't believe they are apostate. The Thirty-Nine Articles very clearly affirm the gospel of our Lord.

    There is much unity between the Reformed and Anglican denominations of the church.

  9. Especially the confessional Anglicans.

  10. When you say "Reformed" churches, which ones do you mean exactly? (say, selecting from this subset:

    Are the PCUSA and PCA both included?

    Which of these churches, exactly, is being led into all truth when they disagree about many matters of the faith, so much so that they each saw fit to break from one another?

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  12. The Reformed churches are those that confess the Reformed faith officially set down in the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity.

    Invisible unity is based on God's election. Visible unity is based on professing the true religion.

    By capitulating to liberalism, the PCUSA has ceased to profess the true religion.

    All periods of church history have suffered from the disunity that comes from doctrinal error. Indeed, the Spirit taught that this would be the case in 1 Tim. 4:1-5:

    "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer."

    Nonetheless, God has established his true church through the work of his only begotten Son who became flesh. This church always is. And it is protected from falling away by the Holy Spirit that proceeds from the Father and the Son. Established by the Father's electing love and guarded by Word and Spirit, the true church will not fall. Though an institution that once was a visible expression of the true church could fall through falsehood, the true church, simply speaking, cannot fall.

    Here's what we confess (WCF 25) about the church:

    1. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.

    2. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

    3. Unto this catholic visible Church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto.

    4. This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

    5. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will.

    6. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof.