Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Difference Between Catholics and Protestants

I've gained a lot of respect for the Catholic Church over the years. So why is there such a sharp division between Catholics and Protestants? Why is the divide between Protestant and Catholic so much larger than between Protestant denominations?

The answer may be obvious to many of you, but it was not to me. It isn't about Mary, or the Eucharist, or the Pope, or the Church leadership. It isn't about a Latin mass, or faith, or anything like that. These are all issues, but in fact there is more diversity and allowance for diversity than people think in the Catholic Church.

You can be Catholic and believe all sorts of things on various issues.
For instance, you can be Catholic and think that the Pope is evil. In fact, this makes a great segue into what the real issue is. Here is a great case in point:

As a Catholic, you can believe and talk about the Pope being evil.
As a Catholic, you must believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth, and that he is most holy.

You might find these two statements contradictory. But for a Catholic they are not.

Think about it this way. If you are having communion, and the preacher serving communion is sleeping around on his wife, does that make the communion less of a communion? The answer is no, because God's grace is God's grace whether the person mediating it is acting within God's will or not. In Catholicism, it is the institution of the Church which is the mediating power of God on Earth. Therefore, it is the office of the Pope that is holy, whether or not the Pope himself is holy.

In Catholic theology, grace is mediated through the Catholic Church. Therefore, questioning the validity of an office is questioning the entire efficacy of the Church's work in the world. If you were to say "God does not work through the Pope" then to a Catholic that would impugn the entire work of the Church. In Protestant thought, God's grace is to an individual. Therefore, there are no offices or validity of offices. In Protestantism, in effect, all offices are artificial, and can be neither valid or invalid. God's work is always efficacious, even without the mediation of a Church office.

Anyway, at least as I see it from what I've read and heard, these are the main divides:

1) What is the Church -- an institution or a gathering of believers?
2) Is God's primary way of interacting through the Church or directly to individuals?

If you are a Catholic reader, I would urge you to respond and let me know if you think I understand the differences between us correctly. I have very few Catholic friends, and therefore most of this comes from reading and not personal interactions.

As a final note, I will leave you with some words of Henry of Kalteisen (I think this is a quote):

"a Pope may be both wicked and holy, as long as he is faithful in his office. Similarly, the Catholic Church is called holy even though it has sinners in it, because of its holy offices and the holiness of the sacraments that are present in it."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Great List of Old Testament Resources Onlines

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Hebrew Keyboard Map for Mac OS X

For those of you OSX users wanting to write Hebrew, here is how to use the Hebrew-QWERTY input method (I have not messed with the straight Hebrew input method much). There are some symbols such as the Maqqef that I have not found, but this will do you for the most part. I have also named the symbols in case they don't show up. I didn't even try to type the vowels since they require a letter to go beneath and are hard to type on their own. I'm using OSX 10.4 on PowerPC, but it should work for other versions of OSX. Note that capital letters imply using the shift key:

א (aleph) - a
ב (bet) – b
ג (gimel) – g
ד (dalet) – d
ה (he) – h
ו (vav) – v
ז (zayin)– z
ח (het)– H
ט (tet) – T or y
י (yod) – i
כ (kaph) – k
ל (lamed) – l
מ (mem) – m
נ (nun) – n
ס (samec) – s
ע (ayin) – e
פ (pe) – p
צ (tsade) – c
ק (kaph) – q
ר (resh) – r
שׂ (sin) – alt-w
שׁ (shin) – shift-w
ת (tav) – t

B - dagesh

Final forms:
ך (kaph) – K
ם (mem) – M
ן (nun) – N
ף (pe) – P
ץ (tsade) – C

sheva - alt+color or alt+0
qamets/qamets-hatuf - A
compound-qamets – alt+2
patah - alt+a
compound-patah - alt+1
hireq - alt+i
tsere - E
segol - alt+e
compound-segol - alt+3
holem-vav - O
holem - alt+o
shureq - U
qibbuts - alt+u

Other characters:
ש – S or w

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Lord/Liar/Lunatic -- or something else? Lewis's Trilemma and the Historical Jesus

A friend of mine emailed me because he had some questions on C.S. Lewis's trilemma. For those who don't know, the trilemma that Lewis presents is that it is absolutely bogus to called Jesus a "great moral teacher". Because of Jesus's claims to be God, he must be either (a) correct (which would make him Lord), (b) intentionally incorrect (then he would be a Liar), or (c) unintentionally incorrect (a Lunatic). He had been challenged on this, but wasn't quite sure what the issues were, and what invalidated the trilemma. Anyway, this is what I wrote to him, almost verbatim, and hopefully it will help clarify the issues for some of you, as well as provide an introduction to "historical Jesus" studies.

The criticisms of the Lewis' trilemma all boil down to one question - did Jesus actually say what the gospels say that he did? That is the escape from the Trilemma - that Jesus didn't say the things that the gospels report him saying. So the trilemma becomes a quadrilemma:

1) Lord
2) Liar
3) Lunatic
4) You (and/or the gospels) are misrepresenting what Jesus actually said

A popular idea in Biblical scholarship today is the idea that much of what Jesus "said" in the gospels is actually put in his mouth by his followers that came afterward that totally misunderstood what he was about or that created a story about him that matched their own theological desires.

Many conservative scholars have noted the absurdity of this idea -- that Jesus' immediate followers knew less about what Jesus was about than a group of scholars 2,000 years later who were raised in a completely different language and culture :)

The Jesus Seminar, in particular, has been the origin of a lot of this commentary in recent years. My New Testament professor was one of the founding members of the Jesus Seminar, so I've had to interact with it quite a bit. On the surface, they say that they are simply trying to bring traditional historical scholarship to bear on the life of Jesus, but the fact is that no historical document on earth goes through the same amount of skepticism that the Jesus Seminar applies to the Bible. And, surprise!, the results match exactly the theology of the founder of the Jesus Seminar (Robert Funk). Below is a basic summary of how historical Jesus research operates. Now a lot of what is below is not specific to the Jesus Seminar, and is in fact used in a lot of Biblical scholarship that is unrelated to the Seminar, in both conservative and liberal circles.

The Jesus Seminar (and many others) uses the following textual assumptions:
1) Following Jesus' death, the stories about Jesus were told orally by his original disciples
2) Essentially the next generation of followers started writing down these stories as short fragments, often times a simple one- sentence saying. A hypothetical document known as Q was one of these original sources that is believed to lay at the base of Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke were also believed to have relied heavily on Mark.
3) The gospel authors, took these short fragments and wove them into the works that we know as the gospels. Since they were only working with short fragments, the larger narrative is largely an invention of the author. The gospel authors incorporated existing written sources, oral material they have heard, and their own imaginations in composing the gospels.
4) In addition, the Jesus Seminar (and some others) view the "Gospel of Thomas" as being on par with the other gospels from a reliability standpoint.

Now, don't be too incredulous at this point, there actually is some evidence for some degrees of these positions. And, in fact, some degree of many of these positions are not in conflict with Biblical Christianity. This does not make them true or false, but it is good to know.

Based on these assumptions, there are some higher-level ideas:

1) If two documents use the exact same wording of something, then it is likely that they derived from the same written source.
2) If two documents use the same source, and have the same situation or saying written in different ways, then those changes reflect the theological perspectives of the authors.
3) If two documents have the same saying, with different wordings, and are not based on the same source, then that indicates that the saying is "multiply attested" -- that is, we are truly dealing with two independent sources.

Now, based on the above, it is believed that if a saying is "multiply attested", then that is strong evidence that the saying is real rather than an invention. Think about it this way -- if one person saw an event, and three people heard that one person talking about it, then the fact that you hear about it from three people doesn't make it more likely to be real -- it still has only one person behind it. On the other hand, if three different people witnessed an event, then that has a lot more weight for belief than three people repeating the claims of a single person. Therefore, events and sayings of Jesus which are truly multiply attested by the criteria above have a higher likelihood of being true. Now the Jesus Seminar goes further, and says that things which are not multiply attested are likely _not_ to have been said by Jesus. In addition, they have a number of other rules which are _highly_ questionable:

* They view as suspect anything that the gospels have Jesus saying or doing that matched with Christian thought of the early Church
* They view as suspect anything that the gospels have Jesus saying or doing which would have been important to the situation of the early Church (they view that as evidence that the later Church put the words in Jesus' mouth in order to provide authority for what they wanted to do in their present situation).
* There are several others, but they are not nearly as widely used, or considered to the same regard.

Now, even if you agree with the assumptions above, the results you get are highly variable - to the point that you can make the evidence say all sorts of things. For instance, I did my paper on Matthew 15:1-20 (which is paralleled in Mark 7, which is usually considered more original in these sorts of studies). I've attached it if you're interested [I don't have a place to upload this at the moment, but will try to stick it on the web soon], but before reading you should know that it was done based on the assumptions of the class, which I don't necessarily hold.

Anyway, some hold that the "original" oral story is Mark 7 verses 1,2,5,15. If you stitch these together, it says

"Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, 'Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?' 'There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.'"

This makes a nice, small, passage that could be handed down orally very easily, and so some think that this was the original, and everything else was tacked on from either other sources or made up to fit the story. On the other hand, I argued that Mark 7:8 was the most original part of the story, since it was a direct confrontation of the Pharisees to answer their question (which is the most in keeping with all sources of Jesus' life), and from that was able to tie in the whole story from 7:5-7:13 as being one piece in the tradition (7:1-4 doesn't really deal with Jesus - it is simply Mark giving some background on the story). I also argue that this is likely a true Jesus story because while this particular story isn't attested to elsewhere (under this paradigm Matthew is believed to simply be following Mark), the fact that they don't wash hands and it causes controversy is corroborated by Luke 11:37-41.

If I remeber correctly, the Jesus Seminar threw out this entire passage. I don't remember why.

So, as you can see, even if you assume that their rules of evidence and assumptions about the text are correct, there are an uncountable number of different configurations you might suppose was "originally Jesus", each having decent argumentation in favor of it.

Okay, so what does all of this have to do with the Lord/Liar/Lunatic? The Jesus Seminar and other historical Jesus research spearheaded the idea that Jesus did not view himself in any sort of elevated manner, and thus renders the Trilemma invalid, since Jesus never made any of those high claims of himself. However, a lot of scholarship today has been going back to the idea that Jesus saw himself as a Messiah figure (note that Messiah just means "savior" -- David was considered a Messiah as well). The Jesus Seminar has been in large part rejected because it was indeed both extreme in its cutting of the Bible, and extremely prejudiced towards the religious view of its founder. This doesn't mean that now all scholars would agree that Jesus thought of himself as divine, but it does mean that the overall consensus is coming back to the idea that he saw himself in some sort of apocalyptic fashion. So, while it is still true that there is a fourth option, it is still does not quite put Jesus into the "moral teacher" category. It perhaps allows for Jesus to be a "moral teacher with an apocalyptic vision of himself".

If you want a good book that covers both a traditional and "Jesus Seminar-ish" view of Jesus from two excellent scholars, I would check out the book "The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions" by Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright. Borg is straight from the Jesus Seminar, and N.T. Wright is considered by many the modern C.S. Lewis. The two conservative scholars at the forefront of historical Jesus research are N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight, and anything by either of them is sure to be good material. Scot McKnight also has a blog,

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Francis Beckwith

Since everyone else is talking about Francis Beckwith, I guess I might as well, too :)

Being a far right-wing Protestant, you might expect me to howl about what a great travesty this is. But, in fact, I actually share quite a bit of Beckwith's sentiment towards the Catholic church.

There is a lot that I like in Catholicism. There are a huge number of wonderful theologians, missionaries, and thinkers that have come from the Catholic church. It is a reversal of the endless church-splitting that occurs in the Protestant arena. The theology in the Catholic church is surprisingly diverse, and most Protestant theology exists somewhere in the Catholic church.

But ultimately what leads me away from the Catholic church is historical -- the Catholic church has had some hideous leadership in the past, and there is no reason to believe it won't happen again. Now, that's true of every organization, but not every organization makes the same claims about their leader that the Catholic church does.

And then there are a number of other doctrines that I stumble on (and I don't know how many of these are essential to being Catholic, but I stumble on them anyway), like the immaculate conception of Mary and other Mary-stuff. Likewise, the over-use of icons.

Perhaps what I really am is Orthodox. I don't know, but right now I'm looking to Evangelical Covenant.

If this entry makes little sense it's because I've had little sleep.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Feminism and Socialism

I used to be very confused on the relationship between feminism and socialism. On the one hand, I observed that most hardcore feminists are socialists, but I never understood why. However, I have now read a book that makes that connection much more clear.

The book is Sexism and God-Talk.

This is an excellent book, not because I agree with its contents, but rather because it makes so many things in current society so much clearer.

If you wanted to pick on chapter to read, I would read "The New Earth". There Ruether paints a picture of possible solutions to the patriarchal society. The "problem" in Ruether's view is not only unequal pay for equal work, but also the expectations that women should do housework and raise children. So what is the solution for societal expectations? Socialism! If "women's work" (housekeeping, raising children, etc.) is socialized, that means that the government can hire men and women equally, and relieve women of their burdens. By socializing everything, they can force the share of work to be equal, and force equal participation in the roles which they wish to modify.

Anyway, this might be obvious for some people, but it was quite a revelation for me.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Churches Alive and Dead

My wife and I have been visiting new churches lately. In fact, we've become quite regular attenders at one of them, and we don't even have to miss our current church! The new Church meets Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday morning, and Sunday night!

Why are we visiting new churches? It's very simple, we are tired of contributing effort to ours to just watch it waste away.

For instance, I started an Alpha course at our Church. It went well, but there was NO ONE who would help. I had ONE consistent helper. It frittered off because I didn't have anyone who could help me, and got tired of doing all the work myself.

A lot of other ministries in our church are like that -- no one will help out. We have a tough, tough time coming together and doing something great.

And, worship is terrible. Now, I do like contemporary worship. I like crunchy guitars and loud drums. That is what gets me in a worshipful spirit. But even with the old hymns - they don't have to sound like dirges.

I understand that a lot of people have very busy lives, for which Church is the one stable element. I understand that for Church to be changing, it means that these people who are often having frustrating lives as it is have to have one more frustration in their life. But here's the question - are people meeting God at Church.

So I've been going to a church on Sunday nights that offers a lot of what our church is presently missing. And that's not to say that the new church doesn't have its own problems. But it's like the parable of the talents. One group is _using_ it to make back an investment, and the other church is simply burying it in the sand.

Here's the sad part. My home church has so much more possibilities than the new church that I'm going to. They are just so stuck in the status quo that they can't see their way out. My home church could do everything even better than my new church. They have fantastic worship leaders, in fact every aspect of church life there is someone talented beyond measure within the Church.

So what's holding us back? There are several issues, but I think that it boils down to (a) leadership, (b) having the whole congregation willing to help out, (c) focus [which comes back to leadership], and (d) willingness to change. The talented folks are spread too thin on too many projects. The projects which are visionary are not planned into the way the church as a whole operates.

And so we run in circles. And die.

You can make up for a lack of talent with proper vision. You can't make up for a lack of vision and will.