Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Protestant Myth of its Own Origins

Recently I've been perusing a website entitled "Biblical Evidence for Catholicism", the personal site of a person who converted from Calvinism to Catholicism. In one of his articles I discovered a quote that I thought really resonated with truth about Protestant self-identity in which he muses about "the Protestant myth of its own origins -- or a sort of Protestant folklore".

Central to Protestant self-understanding is the notion that Protestants are the "Bible people"; the ones who are Bible-centered (as well as "gospel-centered," of course) and who reject the "traditions of men" and arbitrary rulings of a powerful ruling class with a vested interest in the status quo. Many Protestants assume that they more or less have a monopoly on love and respect for the Bible.

Clearly, the abovementioned self-understanding is no longer held universally among those who call themselves Protestants. However, for Evangelicals (and particularly, for Calvinists), who regard themselves as the true inheritors of authentic Protestantism, this identity is as strong as it ever was. Ironically, it is this very identity that prevents Protestants from coming to a greater understanding of the Bible, as I shall discuss below.

It should be remembered that Protestantism was born, as it were, as a reaction to the Roman Catholic Church. Because of this, the early Reformers had to commit themselves to hermeneutical principles (presuppositions, for the presuppositionalists among you) that justified their reaction against Rome, whether or not these principles accorded with internal biblical testimony. The obvious first step was to deny the authority that Roman Catholicism attributed to sacred tradition. Not only did this provide some kind of a leg to stand upon, it also reinforced the perception that Protestants had a high view of the Scriptures because it was their ultimate source of authority. This presupposition also carries with it a presupposition of the sole sufficiency of Scripture.

The belief that one could deny the authority of sacred tradition and question the interpretation of the established church created further problems. On what basis could the Reformers legitimately do so? How did they know the interpretation of the Bible by the Catholic Church was wrong? The only viable solution to this dilemma is to assert that Scripture at these very critical points relating to salvation was self-evident. From here, we get the presupposition of the perspicuity of Scripture.

It is the presupposition of the perspicuity of Scripture, along with the identity of Protestants as the "Bible people" that has been so self-stultifying for Protestant understanding of the Bible. In short, if Scripture is clear (at least at important points) and you are part of the tribe of Bible people who are devoting to studying the Scriptures intensively, then it stands to reason that you believe your tribe understands the Bible correctly. The problem is, how do you explain the fact that other tribes disagree with your interpretation at different important points when you have affirmed the perspicuity of Scripture? If you're convinced that you've understood the Bible correctly, the only logical conclusion is to suggest that the other tribe is simply ignorant about Scripture. That is, if they had the devotion to Scripture that you did, and because Scripture is clear, they would come around to your understanding. No wonder that Calvinists like to perpetuate the myth that most Catholics are biblically illiterate.

Of course, there is the slightly disquietening thought that there are some who disagree with your understanding of the Bible that have studied the Scriptures diligently. One way around this is to simply claim that those people have simply been brainwashed by that Great Satan, the Roman Catholic Church and are parroting exactly what they hear from their evil overlord. The other way is to reaffirm that you are in fact part of the tribe of Bible people, that you cherish the Bible, that this person stands against you, and as such, they stand against the Bible. In short, if they were being honest with you and honest with themselves, they would quite humbly admit that you were right all along. Quite naturally it would be that way. After all, you belong to the tribe of Bible people ...

Monday, July 21, 2008

10 Insights from World Youth Day

1) While I'm still well and truly on the journey, I'm not quite ready to convert to Catholicism just yet. There is still much prayer and reflection to do before I will decide definitively.

2) Whatever qualms I have about Catholic doctrine, there is no denying that the majority of Catholics I know truly live by faith and are reliant upon the grace of God in their daily lives.

3) The majority of Catholics I know lead lives empowered by the Holy Spirit, far more so than many who would decry them as not being Christian. I found this particularly true on the last afternoon, where they were more than gracious towards my less than perfect behaviour.

4) The Catholics I know have self-aware and reflective faiths. They think carefully about what they believe and take their faith seriously.

5) Contrary to the stereotype, most Catholics I know don't see themselves as "good" people who will get to heaven because of their goodness. They see themselves as unfinished and in need of God's grace to sustain them.

6) Most Catholics I know place far less importance on doctrine than living a life in communion with God. Theirs is a very earthy and grounded faith.

7) Most Catholics I know appreciate that there are many elements of their faith that are a mystery. They don't seek to place God in a box they control, but humbly realise that God is bigger that they are.

8) Most Catholics I know are open to the Scriptures are don't read their own theology and prejudices into the text.

9) Most conservative Protestants don't have a clue about Catholicism and Catholic doctrine and don't have any inclination to become better informed. While this is sad, there is not much I can do to change that.

10) The Catholic Church is the only institution who can bring significant change for the better and the message of Jesus to a lost and broken world. Time will tell to what extent it is successful with this mission.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My Ambitious Intentions for World Youth Day (Week)

Where I live and work I'm on the edge of World Youth Day celebrations, so until tonight I've really only seen the odd smattering of groups from around this world. But tonight I went to where the action is at Circular Quay and was totally unprepared for what I saw. So many pilgrims. So many countries. So little alcohol.

This gave me an idea ... No, not bootleg liquor, as profitable as this might be. I thought, since there are so many people around, how about I say hello to some of them, maybe give them a sign of the peace. And perhaps, I could get them to sign my WYD book, which I may have to pick up from the supermarket later tonight. My aim will to be to get as many countries in the book as possible.

So, what does everyone think of my plan?

Is it stupid?
Will I even go through with the plan?
And is this simply a thinly veiled idea to talk to girls from overseas?

I guess all these questions and more will be answered in due course. Stay tuned ...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stream of Consciousness Writing 1

Drifting, seamless star. From where you are; from where you sleep. What are those tangerine dreams that you speak of? Spoke, but no longer speak. Lifting from the ether and rising from the surface, then descend to rend all their due. Karmic consequence, that is. No grace; grace is gone. Sun no longer shines; peace no longer reigns; a new age begins.

Alien nation, why so foreign? Why so aloof? You hold the secrets you never wish to share; those you cling to your breast, and your breast alone. Is it really you that owns them? Disown. Rezone. Transcend and break free; seize and release. Unite with the other lonely being, thirsting for their counterparts.

To strike, to slay, to heal. The double-edged sword and the twisted olive branch. Make crooked paths straight and feeble hands strong. Empower by taking away. Away. Away with it all, away with them all. Simplify. Bring to focal point; the colours concentrated as one.

Sing, sung, unsung. Let the music reverberate, re-enervate. Ill fated swan, where do you swim; from where have you swum and from where have you come? Past is important - decides but not determines. To be determined upon other vicissitudes of life. Left for consideration, reflection, inflection.

Once stranded, once sailed, now failed. Death rattle. Last unfettered breath. Inhales, exhales. Expires and expires. Eyes shoot last flickering signs of life, last sparkling signs of sentience. Blinds drawn across. Eyelids close, shutters shut. Head bobs down, down to sleep, and yet no more to wake. Peace.