Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Problem with Strict Literalism, pt. 1

In his work De Principiis, Origen wrote that
The simple man may be edified by the 'flesh' as it were of the Scriptures, for so we name the obvious sense; while he who has ascended a certain way may be edified by the 'soul' as it were; the perfect man...may receive edification from the spiritual law, which has a shadow of good things to come. For as man consists of body and soul and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture.
Though it may not have been his original intent, Origen's idea shows one massive flaw in the literalist interpretation of Scripture--it misses a heck of a lot!

(Another issue is the reality that practically no one is consistently practicing literalism, but more on that in part 2)

If Scripture is the only directly divinely-inspired letter from Christ to His Bride the Church, then we must drink from the fullness of its depths. Yet it is often those who claim most adamantly to hold the doctrine of sola Scriptura who sip the most shallowly.

Trying to meet God through His Word via a strictly literal reading of the text is like getting to know a person by staring at him in awkward silence for long periods of time. Sure, you could memorize outward things--facial features, hair color, that scar on his elbow--and maybe even theorize about some deeper matters--the reason for that faraway stare, perhaps--but you won't actually come to know the person. You won't become fraternally united.

Strictly superficial/literal Scriptural reading is kind of like taking an awkward elevator ride with God. There's some music playing in the background, and you might remember the length of His beard--maybe you'd even remember enough to help out the police sketch artist, but you try to avoid making eye contact, lest he ask you a deep question, like "How are you, My child?"

Because, all to often, our conception of the "God of the Bible" is so neatly contained. He wouldn't intrude in our lives, right?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Historical Primacy of the Bishop of Rome

Being the son of a seminary graduate does have its advantages. Namely, the Access to Books. I have a bunch of books on loan from my father. The only one I haven't looked at thoroughly is Williston Walker's A History of the Christian Church. I just cracked it open earlier this week.

Anyway, I'm reading the section about "The Growing Importance of Rome"1 right now, and Walker is acknowledging a sort of historical primacy of Rome.

Even antedating what he identifies as the point when the Catholic Church really began structurally crystallizing, there does seem to be a recognized authority carried by the congregation in Rome, where "Paul and Peter died":
Even before the close of the first century Clement, writing anonymously to the Corinthians in the name of the whole Roman congregation ([c.] 93-97), spoke as for those who expected to be obeyed. The tone, if brotherly, was big-brotherly.
Later in the paragraph, he mentions Irenaeus of Lyons assuming that all churches needed to agree with the Roman church.

I found it interesting.
1. Walker, Williston. A History of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. New York: Scribner, 1970. All quotes come from pp. 60-61.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My journey, in a nutshell.

As the saying goes, to understand where I am now, you must understand where I've been, or something like that. Here's a quick background:

I grew up in church, quite literally. As the son of a Protestant minister, I was in church just about every time the doors were open (and a good number of times when they weren't). My father has served as an ordained minister in 3 denominations since I was born, seeking earnestly to follow God's calling. He has always been one of my heroes, in both the spiritual and earthly sense.

When I came to the age of reason, I started passively rejecting God. I can't recall a time when I didn't believe--at some level--in Jesus as my "personal Lord and Savior", or when I ever doubted the existence of God (questioned, yes. Thoroughly doubted? No). I didn't "break up with God" so much as I stopped trying to see Him anymore. I had no reason to stop believing in God, but I didn't feel like I had reason to live for Him.

This "passive rebellion" or lazy runaway faith continued until late in high school, when things culminated in depression and other problems. I was never the the drug-addicted-prostituting-drunk-on-the-bathroom-floor type of PK you so often see in the news. I did have an extremely distorted view of myself and of life, as always comes from a distanced relationship with God.

I made a personal commitment to follow God in early 2004. I figured I'd made a royal mess of things in just a few short years trying to go it alone, so I'd give things to Him and hope He would sort them out. I believed God was calling me to a deeper level of Christianity than pew-warming, so I've been trying ever since then to figure out just what that call is.

Upon entering college, I became involved with a campus ministry and a local church. I mentioned to this church's pastor that I felt called to serve in some capacity, perhaps with youth. In the few years since then, I have served as the youth pastor, and have been "ordained" in that capacity. I have greatly enjoyed my time in this church, and I have a deep love for the leadership and congregation, but I have felt increasingly convicted over the past couple years that this particular form of Christianity is not where God is calling me to be long-term.

Like most born-and-raised evangelicals I know, I would have agreed, even a year ago, with the common appraisal of Catholicism, "Yeah, I think Catholics can be Christians, but most probably aren't." The traditions and rituals just seemed too much for my (seemingly) tradition-less and un-ritualistic view of the faith of Jesus.

However, about 8 months ago, an Orthodox priest shook some things up in my thinking when he explained the Orthodox view of the communion of saints. This got me thinking, and I studied Orthodox Christianity for some time, in much more detail than I ever had. Interesting and beautiful, but there were a number of things that just did not resonate with my soul.

5-6 months ago, a friend sent me a book, Kevin Orlin Johnson's Why Do Catholics Do That?. Like most Protestants, this question had crossed my mind many, many times. Unfortunately, like most Protestants, I realized I had never bothered to find an answer.

I tore through the book. I read Karl Keating's Catholicism and Fundamentalism. I began realizing that most of my arguments about Catholicism were based on misunderstandings. No, they don't really worship Mary, or any other saints, or the pope. If my spiritual framework had trembled a bit after the conversation with an Orthodox priest, it was now beginning to quake violently.

So, sitting amidst the shattered remnants of Solas, I find myself more ardently seeking God's direction than ever before. I've graduated with my undergraduate degree, and I was ready to head right on to a Protestant seminary to work on an M.Div.

I am not a member of the Roman Catholic Church. I never have been, and I cannot say whether I will or will not be Catholic in the future. But, for the first time in my life, I cannot give a "certain" no to the question,

Will I enter communion with Rome?

What's with the Title?

Having started many blogs in my time (even before I realized they were called "blogs"), the earliest of which dates back to my extremely angsty, narcissistic, and confused ramblings of high school, I realize that one of the keys to a good blogging experience is a catchy name. Something athletic for the sports blogger. Something poetic for the literature blogger. Something...angsty and un-understood for the high school-ish emo-would-be blogger (as I once was).

I have many thoughts (though few are profound), and writing helps me chew them up, mull it all over. If I can write out these ruminations, I'll post them on a blog, and complete strangers can comment on them.

This was my revelation a few months ago, but I couldn't think of a name. Well, I have thought of a name (and that's why you can read this, of course). "in the silence and the thunder" is the title. It's taken from this poem:

"In the Silence and in the Thunder"
I desire a relationship with God,
Yet more greatly does He desire such with me.
I desire to seek real Truth, unchained by all our earthly fallacies,
Yet more greatly does He work to reveal it.
I want to find Him in prayer, in meditation,
in community, in solitude,
in happiness and in sorrow, rejoicing and grief.
In the silence and in the thunder.

To gaze upon gilded plaster and allow Him to transcend the gap I cannot cross.
To enter those "sermons in stone" and gaze into the Face of the One to Whom they point and know in my mind,
believe in my heart,
and speak with my spirit, mouth, and life that truth, that love, eternally echoed by the heavenly choir,
"Sanctus. Sanctus. Sanctus."

And hear Him in the silence and in the thunder.

This poem is a very brief expression of some recent changes in my journey to serve God. I hope you'll enjoy my take on things and offer some feedback. For example, if you see a huge logical error in something, let me know (kindly, please). If you think you have a book I'd enjoy, recommend it. If you want me to share a prayer request, testimony, or humorous anecdote, let me know. We'll see how it goes.