Category Archives: Theology

Continuity in the community

In the original Greek text the central statement in the third section of the Creed runs simply: “I believe in Holy Spirit.” The definite article to which we are accustomed in our translation is thus missing. This is very important for the interpretation of the original meaning, for it means that this article was at first really understood in terms of salvation history, not of the Trinity. In other words, the third section of the Creed refers in the first place, not to the Holy Spirit as the third Person in the Godhead, but to the Holy Spirit as God’s gift to history in the community of those who believe in Christ.

Introduction to Christianity, 331.

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In search of a reference point.

Discussions with self-appointed-Protestant-apologists are often sidelined (salvation, the papacy, Mary, etc) from the real issue: theological method. The simple truth is that a bad tree (method) cannot produce good fruit (doctrine and morals).

Wikipedia (if Wikipedia says it, it must be true) states that Sola scriptura was (is??) a foundational doctrinal principle of the Protestant Reformation. So, to continue a bad metaphor, the Protestant tree stands or falls by this one principle. Wikipedia gives us a good working definition for Sola Scriptura:

Sola scriptura (Latin ablative, “by scripture alone”) is the assertion that the Bible as God’s written word is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter (“Scripture interprets Scripture”), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine.

Assuming the above to be semi-correct (and I am very happy for someone to float a different definition), allow me to ask two simple questions of our separated brethren:

Is Sola Scriptura scriptural?
The definition above illustrates the major problem with the idea of Sola Scriptura in one word: self-authenticating. For this to be true the Bible must claim for itself the place given to it in Reformed Protestant Theology. It must, in other words, state that it is the final authority for all issues of Christian doctrine. If, however, it is held as an assumption, room is given for a higher authority.

Yet, this issue goes further. The Bible must be explicit (in the words of the definition, clear) on all issues and not tacit since the latter requires an interpretive agent. This issue is central: what is clear? Who is a rational reader? For example, are the words of Jesus clear when he says This is my Body? How is the doctrine of the Trinity scriptural?

Is Sola Scriptura historical?
The above defines the Bible as the written word. How did this written word come into existence? Was there a time when this written word was not but there was a group of people who dedicated their lives completely to Jesus? Further, taking the assumption that the Bible self-authenticating, where is the list of the canonical books to be found in the Bible?

The issue is further clouded when one asks whether there is a historical continuity to this idea. How does novelty make for good theology?

BTW: There is a Star Trek movie (is it The Search for Spock?) where Spock and Bones discuss Spock’s death. Spock simply says that unless they find a referrence point they cannot start the discussion. Well, Mr Self-Appointed-Internet-Protestant-Apologist, unless we find a reference point there is no discussion!

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Is the Bible revelation?

I recently posted a quote from John Macquarrie, Scripture itself is not revelation, in combox. What do people think of the quote? (BTW: John Macquarrie was an Anglican but, alas, a fine theologian!)

Also, very much related, how is one to understand the concept of the inerrancy of the Scriptures within this context?

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What the??

Facebook is a great time waster. I love looking at friends’ friends and seeing whom I know. (Okay, not many as my misanthropy stops me from wanting to get to know people!)

But something continuously puzzles me: why do some people (whom I know to be clergy) put Christian as their religious view?? What is that: theologically educated people think there is such a creature as generic-Christianity?? What defines this generic-Christianity?? Don’t even get me started on Christian – Catholic!!!

Hey, Facebook, what about the Christian – Protestant category.

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Catholicism fundamentally creative!

I am just watching the EWTN’s coverage of this evening’s talks by the Holy Father. I am particularly impressed by the Address of Pope Benedict XVI to Catholic Educators of the United States. Here, for me, is the core of the issue:

Truth means more than knowledge: knowing the truth leads us to discover the good. Truth speaks to the individual in his or her the entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being. This optimistic vision is found in our Christian faith because such faith has been granted the vision of the Logos, God’s creative Reason, which in the Incarnation, is revealed as Goodness itself. Far from being just a communication of factual data – “informative” – the loving truth of the Gospel is creative and life-changing – “performative” (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). With confidence, Christian educators can liberate the young from the limits of positivism and awaken receptivity to the truth, to God and his goodness. In this way you will also help to form their conscience which, enriched by faith, opens a sure path to inner peace and to respect for others.

Of course, the Holy Father has already raised this theme before (Spe Salvi):

Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. So now we can say: Christianity was not only “good news”—the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only “informative” but “performative”. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.

The fundamental issue is that Catholicism is not primarily informative but creative or performative. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself!

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Some random thoughts on Protestantism

I stumbled across this article, The 8 Marks of a Robust Gospel by Scot McKnight, via Evangelical Catholicity. I was intrigued by this point:

2. The robust gospel places transactions in the context of persons. When the gospel is reduced to a legal transaction shifting our guilt to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to us, the gospel focuses too narrowly on a transaction and becomes too impersonal. … The robust gospel of the Bible is personal—it is about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. It is about you and me as persons encountering that personal, three-personed God.

Is the legal metaphor of justification used too limiting?? The above suggests that it is. Some metaphors used in theological paradigms to the exclusion of others limit the full expression of the Truth. Justification is more than a spiritual law-court! One of problems (me thinks) of generic Protestant theology is this limiting.

I completely agree that the Gospel is personal: an interaction of the person with the Triune God. But the article needs to go one step further: the gospel is never individual. The personal relationship with Jesus is always within the visible community of faith. In fact, I am a Catholic exactly for that reason: it is only within the Church that I can have a full personal relationship with Jesus.

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St Jerome to Pammachius

You are indignant with me because I have merely silenced Jovinian and not instructed him. You, do I say? Nay, rather, they who grieve to hear him anathematized, and who impeach their own pretended orthodoxy by eulogizing in another the heresy which they hold themselves. I should have asked him, forsooth, to surrender peaceably! I had no right to disregard his struggles and to drag him against his will into the bonds of truth! I might use such language had the desire of victory induced me to say anything counter to the rule laid down in Scripture, and had I taken the line—so often adopted by strong men in controversy—of justifying the means by the result.

Letter 48:14

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The “I” and “we” discussion

Here is something I found in the Code of Canon Law in relation to the I/We discussion:

212 §3 [The Christian faithful] have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.

I will the practical workings-out of the above for someone else to explain!

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The Real Presence, the Bible, and Justification

James Hasting made a comment on the post Why are you not Catholic? that pricked my interest. He summarized his reason for, in his case, leaving the Catholic Church thus:

I left the Roman Catholic denomination because I did not believe in the definition of Communion.

I will not argue about how that decision was reached and the role of some negative experience in the process. My issue is one that is a common issue of dispute between Evangelicals and Catholics. I assume (and I am happy to be corrected) that the definition of Communion means the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic species. In short, as I understand the argument, the Real Presence is considered to be unbiblical by Evangelicals and Bible Believing Christians.

So I have a question: what part of This is my body is unbiblical? Let’s side step the question of the Ascension of Our Lord, the communication of attributes, and the exact nature of Our Lord’s presence. Taking Jesus at his word seems to be the best plan of action: the plain and simple words of Our Lord are that the bread is his Body. How can one consider themselves a Bible believing Christian and not believe in the Real Presence?

So I have a challenge to anyone who wishes to answer: how is the Real Presence unbiblical? Or, allow me to change the topic and ask: how is justification by faith ALONE biblical?

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Speculative vs practical reason in theology

I am reading Philosophical Introduction to Theology by J. Deotis Roberts. The blurb on the back of the book states that he was (he is no longer listed on their website) the Professor of Philosophical Theology at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. So he is a Protestant Philosophical Theologian – a most rare of creatures.

In the Introduction he states :

I could also refer this section of the introduction as the hermeneutical role of philosophy in the theological task. … Throughout Christian history, philosophy has assumed the role of interpretation by which theologians have done their most profound work.

I like the quote as it states one side of the role of philosophy well. Reflect on what he is saying about philosophy (and hence human reason) in the above quote! Is reason here speculative or practical?

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