Saturday, August 7, 2010

Why Apologetics is Important

One of my favorite quotes from John Paul II comes from his book entitled Love and Responsibility:

We love the person complete with all his or her virtues and faults, and up to a point independently of those virtues and in spite of those faults.  The strength of such a love emerges most clearly when the beloved person stumbles, when his or her weaknesses or even sins come into the open.  One who truly loves does not then withdraw his love, but loves all the more, loves in full consciousness of the other’s shortcomings and faults, and without in the least approving of them.  For the person as such never loses its essential value.  The emotion which attaches itself to the value of the person remains loyal to the human being. –p. 135

At the heart of this quote is the exhortation to love in the truth of the other.  How often do we (or at least I) pursue a relationship in-as-much as it gives me joy? How often do we (or at least I) rest safely in relationships of common interests, hobbies, ideologies, philosophies, leisure activities, or goals?  How often do we, in the name of ecumenism, pursue relationships with a “least common denominator” framework of mind?  Are these relationships love? Of course they are!  Are they expressions of mature love? I don’t think so!

But won’t “divisive topics” threaten the relationship? For the person of pride yes, but for the humble one there is no fear.  In fact, it is precisely in the divisive topics that one is able to experience mature and genuine love.  When one loves “all the more” in these circumstances they discover for themselves the bedrock of love.  This bedrock is the activity of genuinely loving that which is “other” to oneself.  In other words, it is the act of loving not for the sake of pleasure which is rooted in self-seeking, but rather loving that which lies outside of one’s own preferences, interests, and even values.  Such a love ensures one is loving not a self-reflection, although faint, but rather that which is outside of him/herself.  This may be difficult as it can lead to conflict, but genuine love calls for it.  Of course, for one to love the “other” of another person, knowledge of what constitutes “other” must be present in the person loving!  Ignorant love does not have the person as its object but rather ignorance as its object.

With the foundation laid, we may now address why apologetics (the art of defending one’s ideas, beliefs, and values) is so important.  In light of what has been addressed above, apologetics, when properly used, is the fertile ground by which mature ecumenical love grows!  To be a great defender of the faith, one must: 1) Know one’s own beliefs and be able to articulate them clearly; 2) Know the opposing views clearly so as to distinguish fairly one’s own beliefs from other beliefs.  Isn’t that precisely the foundation by which mature love is built upon?  Apologetics affords the person the opportunity to love “the other” of a person and not simply that which is held in common.  It prevents “self-reflecting” love and encourages “self-donating” love.

All this being said, I’m aware that apologetics has often been the instrument of harm rather than love.  My past is riddled with such offenses and I’m deeply sorry for the people I have offended! Nonetheless this does nothing to diminish the value of apologetics in the same way that divorce does nothing to devalue the institution of marriage.  Like all good things, it can be twisted and used for evil rather than good.

Reflecting on my days at the Evangelical seminary I attended, my most intimate friendships were those in which our differences were clearly articulated and defended.  While I was oblivious to the reasons why at the time, I now understand why they became my dearest friends.  Through a little bit of maturity and the proper foundation we were able to appreciate and love each other for who we were, not who we wanted the other to be or by pretending the other was something they weren’t.

As for the present, I currently serve as the president of RCO (Religious Campus Organizations), which is a group on campus that supervises and works with all the other religious groups on campus.  I believe it is without coincidence that my closest friend and confidant within the group is a Lutheran minister with whom I have had the most apologetic dialogue.  We both know exactly where the other stands, and we both think the other holds ridiculous beliefs yet we have a deep respect for each other even in the differences.

My deepest prayer for the community of St. Thomas and all those who read my apologetic material is that it would be used to educate on the differences between Catholics and non-Catholics.  That such an education would increase confidence in the faith and to offer tools for entering into genuine dialogue with others who do not share this faith.  Finally, and most importantly, my prayer is that this dialogue would lead to mature ecumenical love for one another: a love that is rooted in both common interests and that which is “otherly” thus forming a love that encompasses the whole person.  May God be Praised!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Justifying The Doctrine of Justification: Part VI of VI

What began nearly six months ago is finally coming to a close. For some of you this may have been five columns too many, and for others it may have barely satiated your desire to know the truth which has set you free! For the former I sincerely apologize if the reading has not been compelling enough or has come across too polemical for someone who values ecumenism. My next column will offer a “behind the scenes” look at why I recently decided to spend so much time on apologetics and the paramount importance it offers for the cultivation of genuine friendships with our non-Catholic brothers and sisters. For those who have been barely satiated, I simply invite you to contact me for more information on this and other topics that may be close to your mind and heart.

In the past five columns we have covered a number of angles to the doctrine of Justification: It’s overall importance among Catholics and Protestants, the distinction between “once saved, always saved” and salvation as a process, the difference between imputed and infused righteousness, the teachings of Christ regarding faith and works, and St. Paul’s perspective on faith and works. We are now at a point to examine a couple passages outside the Gospels and the Pauline corpus with the intention to show the integrity of Scripture as it pertains to justification as expressed and defended by the Catholic Church.

It is a curious fact that while Luther believed justification by “faith alone” would be the pillar by which the Church stood or fell, the phrase “faith alone” is itself only used once in Scripture and it is preceded by ‘not.’ The Epistle of James states, “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jms. 2.24). With all due respect to our separated brothers and sisters, a belief in a doctrine that is explicitly condemned in Scripture can be a puzzling thing to the Catholic. The strong undercurrent, which forces the non-Catholic Christian to “re-interpret” such a lucid and self-interpreting passage, lies hidden in the phrase “competitive causality.” For the Evangelical, what man causes, God cannot simultaneously cause and what God causes, man cannot simultaneously cause. Such a belief makes sense out of most of life. After all, if ‘X’ is the murderer then that means all of ‘not X’ is not the murderer.

In light of this particular interpretive lens, one may be able to see why many Evangelicals are gravely opposed to a justification that includes works. If works are something the person does, that means the person has exclusive rights to those works and that God has absolutely no role in their causation. All that being said, the inferred conclusion is that a works included justification means a salvation that is earned because he/she brought its own causation without God through good works. By “reinterpreting” James they are in fact pruning a difficult passage in the name of a greater cause: That God is our salvation, not man!

For the Catholic there is no need to re-interpret James since we see no conflict with what St. James has to say and the fact that God is the exclusive cause of our salvation. The reason why there is no conflict for the Catholic is because we do not believe there is any competition between God and the human person regarding causality. In fact, the more God is actively in our life, the freer we actually become! Thus, while it is true that God causes every good work in us, it does not take away from our own causation of the good work. In truth, it is precisely because of God’s causing of the good work that we can freely cause that good work in ourselves. Thus, James need not be dismissed, ignored, or twisted for a “greater cause.” Yes, it is Christ and only Christ who saves me, and no amount of good works threatens that reality as those good works are as much His as they are mine. For more information on particular Protestant interpretations of James and for a Catholic response, see my second column on this series.

One would think the majority of Christians would exhaustively comb through the Book of Revelation searching for clues to the mystery of justification. After all, the concept of personal judgment saturates the Book of Revelation so why not turn to it as well for doctrinal assistance particularly in the area of salvation?

While the Book of Revelation has been the source of many fanciful and downright silly interpretations, there is at least one particularly cogent section that we will turn to so as not to stake a theological claim on an exegetically complicated passage. Chapters two and three consist of seven short letters to the seven distinct Churches in the region of Ephesus. Each letter consists of a particular judgment on the Church addressed, and it is Jesus Christ, while being penned by John, who personally addresses each Church. These judgments are useful as they speak explicitly for the need of good works for salvation, but with a strong implicit recognition for heart-felt faith. The first Church in Ephesus is prized for the patient endurance in suffering and persecution for the faith, but they are quickly admonished for abandoning their first love (cf. Rev. 2.1-7). Christ then encourages them to do the works they committed to at the beginning of their faith journey or else Christ would remove himself from them. Christ never says, “I know your faith” to any of these Churches but rather, “I know your works.” As I said many times in many different ways, to deny works as part of justification is to deny—or be ignorant of at best—a very large body of Scripture.

As Catholics, we are called to live a life of faith, but we are also called to live a life of service in love to our Lord. Our salvation rests on this Truth. May we continue to love and serve our Lord through faith and works, but may we do it not to gain an eternal reward but simply because God is God! May God be Praised!