Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Coming Down from Heaven ("Jesus' Carol") -- My Ninth Christmas Poem

By Dave Armstrong (12-23-09)

This Christmas poem (my ninth) is the third of a trilogy of biblical "narrative" poems: the first being from Simeon's perspective and the second from Mary's. I determined last year that I would try to write a poem from the perspective of Jesus becoming incarnate -- becoming a man, and a baby -- yet remaining all the while God. It was quite a daunting challenge (writing as if one were God speaking!), but I tried to keep it relatively simple, for readers' sake and my own (those wishing to pursue theology proper and Christology -- the Incarnation and Two Natures of Christ -- more deeply, see my Holy Trinity web page). I hope you are edified and blessed by the poem and may God bless you and yours abundantly during this Advent / Christmas season.

Disclaimer for certain wary Protestants: if you don't like the "Mary / Catholic stuff"; just omit the second stanza in your reading. That will eliminate, I believe, any theological objection you may have, and the poem still works okay without it (as a five-stanza piece); but you'll be missing a crucial biblical and theological aspect of the Incarnation (including the Virgin Birth).

* * * * *

From all eternity, age to age; since the "beginning," I AM;
With My Father I created the universe: all things that are.
We decreed to save mankind by sacrifice of "God's Lamb";
Foretold in Isaiah 53: Messiah scorned, slain, and scarred.

My mother gave I the grace to be immaculate, without sin;
Fit vessel for God incarnate: ark of the new covenant pure.
Gabriel hailed New Eve "full of grace": redemption to begin;
Virgin with child by the Holy Spirit; man's salvation now sure.

In fullness of time I came down from glorious heaven above;
Clothed with human flesh: a baby-king (!) of Israel from birth.
Lying in a cave; a manger, in the world I had made and loved,
I was worshiped by shepherds and wise men filled with mirth.

Though seeing through infant eyes: helpless, innocent, meek;
I knew all things, possessed God's wisdom even in that hour.
As a baby, though King and Messiah, I cried and didn't speak;
But I sustained the entire universe by the Word of My power.

Even animals at My birth sensed the wonder prophesied of old;
Mary and Joseph were filled with thankful happiness and joy.
The three kings gave Me gifts: frankincense, myrrh, and gold;
Shepherds adored, fell before God: now present as a baby boy.

Mary held Me close and rejoiced, under the star's shiny beam;
I was dependent on her as a son, though I was God all the while.
I contemplated the reason I was born, and how I would redeem.
But now all was contentment and peace, so I rested and smiled.

Written on 12 December 2009.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Exchange with Protestant Apologist Jason Engwer on the Scriptural Relationship of Faith, Works, and Judgment

By Dave Armstrong (12-16-09)

This came about in a related discussion concerning the Judaizers -- in the combox of a post about whether Francis Beckwith, prominent Catholic convert, is saved (a discussion I also wrote about here). Jason's words will be in blue.

* * * * *

We believe in sola gratia as you do, but reject sola fide as an unbiblical innovation. The fact remains that works are profoundly involved in the salvation (ultimately by grace) in some sense. See my papers:

"St. Paul's Teaching on the Organic Relationship of Grace / Faith and Works / Obedience (Collection of 50 Passages)"

"More "Catholic Verses" and Biblical Defenses of Catholicism: On Sanctification as Part of Salvation, and Merit and "Doing Something For Salvation" "

They are even central to the criteria of how God will decide who is saved and who isn't, as I have proven from no less than 50 Bible passages:

"Final Judgment in Scripture is Always Associated With Works And Never With Faith Alone"

We interpret all this in a non-Pelagian fashion. We incorporate all of Scripture, not just our favorite pet verses. You guys simply ignore this data or act as if it is only in the realm of sanctification and has nothing whatever to do with salvation, which is absurdly simplistic and unrealistic in the face of the overwhelming data showing otherwise.

Paul's focus in Galatians is on the means by which justification is attained (Galatians 3:2), not whether justification is attributed to grace. The idea that one can seek justification through a combination between faith and works, as long as the process is attributed to grace, is a contradiction of what Paul taught. If works are absent from Genesis 15:6, Acts 10:44-46, Galatians 3:2, and other relevant passages, then saying that the works are preceded by and accompanied by grace doesn't make sense. There are no works for grace to accompany in such passages. To make this a matter of whether the works are attributed to grace is to get the gospel fundamentally wrong. There's no need to discuss whether non-existent works are works of grace or graceless works. The gospel shuts us up to faith, not to a combination between faith and gracious works (Galatians 3:21-25).

Then why are works always central in every discussion of the final judgment that I could find in Scripture (50 passages: linked to above)?

The final judgment involves more than the means by which the justified attained that justification. It also involves the means by which the unregenerate are condemned, the vindication of the justified, and the non-justificatory rewarding of those individuals. I wouldn't expect the final judgment to not involve works. In the post you're responding to, I cited some examples of passages that are about how we attain justification. They don't just exclude graceless works. They exclude works of any type. Many other such passages could be cited, as I discuss here and here.

Why is this the case if God is supposedly wanting to completely separate any notion of works or acts from salvation itself?

We wouldn't have to know why works are excluded in order to know that they're excluded. But it's a good question, and I addressed it in a post last year.

I agree with what C. S. Lewis said: asking one to choose between faith and works is as senseless as saying which blade of a pair of scissors is more important.

It's an organic relationship. Actually, Catholics and Protestants, rightly understood, are not far apart on this in the final analysis. It's mostly mutual misunderstandings and unfortunate semantic confusion.

I wouldn't expect the final judgment to not involve works.

Good. That's part of the common ground I alluded to.

But then my question would be: why is the aspect of faith (let alone faith alone so glaringly absent in these 50 accounts of judgment (I think only one mentioned it at all, in my list), if in fact it is the central, fundamental consideration, according to Protestantism?

It's just not plausible. The Bible doesn't at all read as it should, were Protestant soteriology true, and Catholic soteriology false. I contend that it would read much differently indeed. As it is, it appears to overwhelmingly favor the Catholic positions.

Central to what? All that the judgment involves? No. The unjustified are condemned for their sins, so works are relevant to their judgment. And the justified are reconciled to God through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) for good works (Ephesians 2:10). The works evidence the faith (vindication), and the works determine non-justificatory rewards. Mentioning works is an effective way of summarizing the judgment, since it brings together so many of the relevant themes. Even when a passage only mentions works with regard to the judgment, we have to keep the nearby context in mind. The original authors (or speakers) didn't expect their audience to take their comments in isolation, ignoring the context. Those who hear Jesus speak of works in Matthew 25:31-46 know that He was carrying out a ministry in which He forgave, pronounced peace, and healed people upon their coming to faith (see here). Those who heard Jesus speak of works in John 5:29 would also have known that He spoke of reconciliation through faith and avoidance of condemnation as a result of that faith in John 5:24. Those who believe are assured of the future resurrection of life (John 11:25-26). When Paul says that men will be judged by his gospel (Romans 2:16), he doesn't expect his audience to ignore everything he said about justification through faith and think only of works. Works are relevant, for reasons explained in my last paragraph, but nobody reading Paul in context would think that summarizing statements that only mention works are meant to exclude what Paul said about faith. To ignore the role of faith in his gospel would cause a major distortion of his message. Paul speaks of deliverance from future wrath through Jesus' blood (Romans 5:9) after having said that the deliverance through that blood was received through faith (Romans 5:1). Etc. And I point out, again, that citing passages on the final judgment doesn't explain the line of evidence I mentioned earlier. As we see over and over again in Jesus' ministry and Paul's, people are justified through faith alone, as illustrated in the paradigm case of Abraham in Genesis 15:6. There is no issue of whether the works involved are works of grace or graceless works, since works of both types are absent.

Thanks very much for your reply, and especially for sticking directly to the issues. I think you have answered well from within your own paradigm, and it is interesting to learn how you answer the question I asked. I truly do appreciate it.

I disagree, of course, but as I said, I didn't come here to debate. Let me conclude, if I may, by briefly clarifying that the Catholic position is not saying to ignore faith or grace (the content of your entire long second paragraph). Our position is that salvation is by grace alone, through faith, which is not alone, and includes works by its very nature.

So all your warnings about "ignoring" faith are non sequiturs, as far as Catholicism is concerned, and a rather large straw man, if you are intending to target Catholic soteriology there.

The point of my paper and question about it is not to stake out some "works alone" position (which would, of course, be a Pelagianism that Catholics totally reject as heresy), but to note that it is rather striking that only works are mentioned in the judgment passages, and never faith alone (and faith at all only once out of 50).

I realize that the Catholic view involves grace and faith as well, which is why I previously referred to faith rather than "a combination between faith and gracious works" in reference to Galatians 3:21-25, for example. The second paragraph in the post you're responding to was meant to be an explanation of the intention of the Biblical authors, not a response to Catholicism.

In another paper I mentioned here I cite 50 passages from Paul that exhibit the threefold scenario of grace-faith-works.

We also get accused of believing in "sola ecclesia" when in fact our position on authority is the "three-legged stool" of Scripture-Tradition-Church. It's simply Protestant either/or thinking applied to us.

Thanks again, and I will record your complete reply in a post I'll make on the topic. You or anyone else is always welcome to comment on my site about anything.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

* * *

I don't see how some of the passages I mentioned in my last post, such as John 11:25-26 and Romans 5:1-9, can be exempted from an examination of judgment passages. When people are assured of a future in Heaven, the resurrection of life, the avoidance of God's wrath in the future, etc. on the basis of faith, why wouldn't such passages be relevant to the subject you're addressing?

They are thematically related insofar as they are also soteriological, but my 50 passages had specifically to do with final judgment, God's wrath, and eschatological salvation.

That came about because I was asked in debate with Matt Slick (the big cheese at CARM) what I would say if I got to heaven and God asked me why I should be let in. I replied that we had biblical data as to what God would actually say at such a time, and it was all about works, not faith alone at all. And I found that quite striking (after studying it in greater depth), though it never surprises me to find profound biblical support for Catholicism. I always do whenever I study the Bible.

Romans 5:9 does mention God's wrath, but it is a generalized, proverbial-like statement (such as often found in, e.g., 1 John), rather than particularistic and eschatological, which is what I was talking about in my paper.

John 11:25-26 is of the same nature, and moreover, if we look at it closely, we see that the Greek for "believe" is pistuo, which is considered the counterpart of "does not obey" (apitheo) in John 3:36. 1 Peter 2:7 also opposes the two same Greek words. In other words, "believe" in the biblical sense already includes within it the concept of obedience (i.e., works). Hence, "little Kittel" observes:

pisteuo as "to obey." Heb. 11 stresses that to believe is to obey, as in the OT. Paul in Rom. 1:8; 1 Th. 1:8 (cf. Rom. 15:18; 16:19) shows, too, that believing means obeying. He speaks about the obedience of faith in Rom. 1:5, and cf. 10:3; 2 Cor. 9:13.

(p. 854)

Jesus joins faith ("belief" / pistuo) and works together, too, when He states:

John 14:12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.

So even if one grants that these passages have to do directly with judgment and eschatological salvation (as I do not), it is still the case that the "belief" mentioned in them is (through cross-referencing) seen to include obeying and works, and we're back to the Catholic organic relationship between the two, rather than the Protestant ultra-abstraction of the two into the justification and sanctification categories.

"Faith alone" is tough to verify from Scripture once everything is taken into account and not just the garden-variety Protestant passages that are always utilized.

* * *

In other words, 'believe' in the biblical sense already includes within it the concept of obedience (i.e., works).

I agree that faith is obedience, but it can be obedience without being work in any relevant sense. That's why we're told that people can believe without working (Romans 4:5-6), that justifying belief occurs in the heart (Acts 15:7-11, Romans 10:10), that works demonstrate faith (James 2:14-26), etc. Different terms are used to refer to faith and works, because they're different concepts. They can have obedience in common without having some other things in common.

A reference to faith can't be assumed to include outward action, much less a specific outward action like baptism. That's why we often see baptism and faith distinguished, for example (Acts 8:12-13, 18:8, etc.). The fact that faith is obedience wouldn't lead us to the conclusion that other forms of obedience can be included in references to faith.

The term "faith" and its synonyms aren't all that are relevant here. When we read of a paralytic being lowered into a house, a man visiting a Jewish temple, a crucified man, or a man listening to the gospel being preached, we don't define what that person is doing solely by a term like "faith". Rather, we also take into account the evidence provided by the surrounding context. It would make no sense to conclude that a paralyzed man being lowered into a house or a man visiting a Jewish temple was being baptized simultaneously or that a man nailed to a cross or a man listening to Peter preach the gospel was giving money to the poor at the same time. We judge how these individuals were justified partially through the surrounding context, not just a reference to faith or some related term. Part of the problem with the Catholic gospel is that not only do so many of the relevant passages mention faith without mentioning works, but the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that the relevant works aren't involved.

So even if one grants that these passages have to do directly with judgment and eschatological salvation (as I do not)

How can a passage about resurrection life and never dying (John 11:25-26) not be directly relevant? Passages of a similar nature use other phrases that are likewise relevant to future judgment and salvation, such as "on the last day" in John 6:40. Your article includes John 5:26-29, so I don't see a problem with including verse 24 as well. Themes of resurrection and judgment are already being discussed in verses 21-22. Yet, your article only cites verses 26-29.

Similarly, Romans 5:1-9 repeatedly brings up themes of hope for the future and deliverance from future wrath.

And I want to remind the readers of something I said earlier. The coming judgment is primarily a judgment of works even from the perspective of justification through faith alone. The unregenerate are condemned by their works, and the regenerate are justified in order to do (Ephesians 2:10), vindicated by, and rewarded for their works. The emphasis on works in judgment passages doesn't tell us, though, whether works are a means of justification. The dispute isn't about whether works are relevant to the judgment, but rather the type of relevance they have.

Thanks for the continuing excellent discussion. Just one point:

the regenerate are justified in order to do (Ephesians 2:10), [be] vindicated by, and rewarded for their works. The emphasis on works in judgment passages doesn't tell us, though, whether works are a means of justification.

This is classic Protestantism, of course: works are relegated to post-justification status, as part of a separate sanctification and the realm of differential rewards of those already saved. I used to believe the exact same thing, so I'm very familiar with it.

The problem is that Scripture doesn't teach such a view. The disproofs are already in my paper, in many passages that directly connect or associate salvation with the works that one does: therefore, works are not unrelated to either justification or eschatological salvation, as you claim they are:

Matthew 25:34-36 (RSV) Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; FOR I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'

The "for" shows the causal relationship: "you are saved because you did all these works." That's what the text actually asserts, before false Protestant presuppositions and eisegesis are applied to it in the effort to make sure works never have to do directly with salvation (no matter how much faith and grace is there with them, so that we're not talking about Pelagianism).

If Protestantism were true, the Bible should have had a passage something like this (RPV):

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Then He will also say to those on His left, "Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for you did not believe in Me with Faith Alone." These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous who believed with Faith Alone into eternal life.

But alas, it doesn't read like that, does it?

John 5:28-29 . . . the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

A direct correlation: the ones who do good works are saved; the ones who do evil are damned.

Romans 2:6-8, 13 For he will render to every man according to his works: To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. . . . For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Again, works are directly tied to eternal life and justification; they are not portrayed as merely acts of gratefulness that will lead to differential rewards for the saved; no, the differential reward is either salvation or damnation. Paul totally agrees with Jesus.

2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 . . . when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

Note that simply believing the gospel and knowing God is not enough for salvation. One has to also "obey the gospel" (and that involves works).

Revelation 2:5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

If we don't do the works, we can lose our salvation; therefore works have to do with salvation; they are not separated from that by abstracting them into a separate category of sanctification, that is always distinguished from justification. That ain't biblical teaching. That is the eisegesis and false premises of Melanchthon and Calvin and Zwingli.

Revelation 20:11-13 Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done.

Same thing again. Obviously, St. John, St. Paul, and our Lord Jesus need to attend a good Calvinist or evangelical seminary and get up to speed on their soteriology. They don't get it. The passage should have been written something like the following:

. . . and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to whether they had Faith Alone. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to whether they had Faith Alone.

Perhaps we should get together a council and rewrite the Bible so that it doesn't have so many "Romish" errors throughout its pages . . . :-) The King James White version or sumpin' . . . :-)

* * *

Part of the problem with the Catholic gospel is that not only do so many of the relevant passages mention faith without mentioning works, but the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that the relevant works aren't involved.

I can easily flip that around, based on the biblical data I have been highlighting:

"Part of the problem with the Protestant gospel is that not only do so many of the relevant passages mention works without mentioning faith (and especially not faith alone), but also the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that faith alone isn't involved."

Since the Catholic believes in the triumvirate of GRACE---faith---works as the criteria for salvation, passages dealing with faith pose no problem. The more the merrier. We are saying that faith alone is the unbiblical doctrine, not faith. We're not against faith at all, but rather, a false definition of faith, that restricts and confines it in a way that the Bible doesn't do.

But since your position is faith alone (in terms of salvation itself), you have to explain away or rationalize all passages suggesting an important place of works in the equation, in a way that we're not required to do (given our position) with all the passages about faith that you produce.

So you claimed, for example, that "The emphasis on works in judgment passages doesn't tell us, though, whether works are a means of justification." I have now produced six, plain, clear passages that do do just that. And that has to be explained from your paradigm.

I'm sure you will attempt some sort of explanation for your own sake (if even just in your own mind), because if you fail to do so, you would be forced to give up Protestant soteriology. The stakes are high.

But in any event, bringing out ten, twenty, fifty passages that mention faith does nothing against our position, because we don't reject faith as part of the whole thing.

The problem for your side remains: how to interpret the centrality of works in the judgment / salvation passages like the six I dealt with in my last two postings, in a way that preserves the "faith alone" doctrine.

I contend that it is impossible. To do so does violence to the Bible and what it teaches. We must base our teaching squarely on biblical theology and not the arbitrary, self-contradictory traditions of men (folks like Calvin), who eisegete Holy Scripture and substitute for biblical thought, their own traditions.

Sometimes it's easy to confuse those traditions with biblical teaching itself. But by examining Holy Scripture more deeply and over time, I think anyone can eventually see that it supports the Catholic positions every time.

That's why we continue to see folks who study the issues deeply moving from Protestantism to Catholicism (such as Francis Beckwith: the original subject of this post).

our article includes John 5:26-29, so I don't see a problem with including verse 24 as well. Themes of resurrection and judgment are already being discussed in verses 21-22. Yet, your article only cites verses 26-29.

Fair point. I love discussions of context. Protestants too often ignore context, but you don't, and I respect that and commend you for it. I have explained my criterion for inclusion in my article on final judgment and works: it depends on how exactly one decides to categorize; how one determines which is a directly eschatological passage or one having to do with judgment. Reasonable folks can differ on that, as there is a subjective element. Not every systematic theologian cuts off the passages they employ at the same exact point.

But as I have been saying, a consideration also of the larger context of John 5 does nothing to harm the Catholic case. You wrote:

many of the relevant passages mention faith without mentioning works, . . . the surrounding context gives us further reason to believe that the relevant works aren't involved.

Using John 5 as an example (since you brought it up), we see that this doesn't apply. You say 5:21-22 mentions resurrection and judgment. Fine; indeed it does But what it doesn't do is give the criteria for these judgments and who is resurrected. That has to come by reading on (further context). You want to highlight 5:24:

. . . he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life."

I have explained that this is a generalized statement: one could perhaps paraphrase it as "Christian believers have eternal life" or (to bring it down to a Sunday School nursery level): "all good Christians go to heaven."

It doesn't follow from a general statement like this that no Christian can ever fall away (though Calvinism requires this, over against many biblical passages to the contrary), or that works have nothing to do with it. We need to look at the deeper meaning of "believe" (as I have already done).

As we read on (the same discourse from Jesus) we get to 5:29:

. . . those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment."

Now, you want to highlight 5:24 and de-emphasize 5:29. I can gladly consider both of them in the entire equation. It's once again the Catholic (Hebraic) "both/and" vs. the Protestant (and more Greek) "either/or". Scripture is asserting two truths:

5:24 "he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life"

5:29 "those who have done good, to the resurrection of life,"

Faith and works. For us, the two passages are entirely compatible and in harmony with our Catholic theology: one is saved by grace through faith, in believing in Jesus, and this belief entails and inherently includes good works.

But you guys can't do that, because you wrongly conclude that any presence of good works in the equation of both justification and salvation itself is somehow "anti-faith" or antithetical to grace alone; and is Pelagianism. This doesn't follow.

But because you believe this (the false, unbiblical premise), you have to explain 5:29 as merely differential rewards for the saved (who are saved by faith alone); whereas the actual text does not teach that. It teaches a direct correlation between good works and eternal life. It explains 5:24 in greater depth; just as I noted earlier that Jesus Himself places works and faith in direct relationship:

John 14:12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do . . .
That's why we often see baptism and faith distinguished, for example (Acts 8:12-13, 18:8, etc.).

Ah, but baptism (odd that you should bring up that example) is also equated with regeneration and entrance into the kingdom, so this is hardly an example amenable overall to your position:

Acts 2:38, 41 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” . . . So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

The order is not:

1) faith
2) forgiveness
3) indwelling Holy Spirit
4) baptism

but rather,

1) faith
2) baptism
3) forgiveness (directly because of baptism)
4) indwelling Holy Spirit (directly because of baptism)

Because of the baptism, souls were added to the kingdom. They weren't already in the kingdom, and then decided to be baptized out of obedience. Therefore, the work of baptism directly ties into both justification and final salvation.

Galatians 3:26-27 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Colossians 2:12 and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Faith and baptism are virtually equivalent in their importance. One is "in" Jesus both through faith and through baptism. Both/and.

Baptism is not a separate, optional work. It is part and parcel of the process. Insofar as it, too, is regarded as a "work" then here we have again the Catholic grace-faith-works (and efficacious sacraments) paradigm.

* * *

Jason gave further answers in a three-part reply (one / two / three). I then wrote in conclusion:

Hi Jason,

We could go round and round on this forever, and keep trying to poke holes in each other's arguments. Again, I think you have answered very well from within your paradigm. You can have the last word.

Thanks for sticking entirely to theology and avoiding any hint of personal attack. How refreshing, and a model to be emulated.

Merry Christmas to you and yours and all here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Son Paul Armstrong's "Bible and Pro-Life" Book: "Defending Life"

Front cover photo by Samuel Rosa of Paris [ link ]

Needless to say, we are very proud parents. Paul is all of eighteen years old and already has written a book.

My son Michael (16) has also authored two fantasy novels (a la Lord of the Rings, etc.) that are extraordinarily good (he hopes to get them "officially" published in due course: I wish him the best, knowing how hard that will surely be, but knowing also how very talented and gifted he is), and is at work on a third in the series. Paul is working on a book of that sort, too. I didn't write anything of any theological significance (or any other) until I was 23, and even then it wasn't very good at first.

Paul and Michael are both very active in Catholic youth groups and teaching catechism and supervising younger children at various youth group activities and sports teams and events. My wife Judy home-schools all of our four children (we also have a 13 year-old son and 8 year-old daughter). This is what one "gets" for that effort. It pays priceless dividends. We wouldn't trade it for anything. The good fruit is palpable and undeniable. We've observed it many times in other home-schooled children.

Pro-life has been extremely important to me since 1982, when I switched my position from an ignorant "pro-choice" or "agnostic" on the issue to an informed and active pro-life stance. I suppose some of that (by God's grace) has rubbed off onto my children. It played a key role in moving me towards the Catholic Church, too. After examining the related issue of contraception, it became (in 1990) the first major subject (before my conversion) where I changed my mind and was persuaded of a specifically Catholic position.

Now, since I am an author, some may wonder how much I "helped" Paul with this book. I had nothing whatever to do with its inception or initial draft. In fact, I've always urged all my kids not to be writers, because of all that I have had to go through. I'm not at all the type of father who tries to force his children to do optional, open-ended things (careers, or sports or whatever), according to his wishes. They have their own God-given talents and desires (as the Holy Spirit distributes), and that's fine with me. But sure enough, here they are, writing anyway. Maybe it's a gene that is passed down . . .

My wife Judy and I helped Paul last night in selecting photographs for the front and back covers, and designing the colors and fonts, and putting together the text on the back. It was a true group effort, but Paul had the final say. I did do the formatting of the book (in the same way I set up all my Lulu books), and light editing. I've had my own books or articles edited far more heavily than I edited Paul's book. I know what that is like, as an author myself (we often have a sort of "love/hate" relationship with editors: though I have been truly blessed with mine), so I wanted to respect his feelings. He seems to be very pleased with the minor changes I made, which is great.

Mainly I modified sentences where the "person" changed or went into first or second person, to make it consistent and more "objective"-sounding. I made a few word or phrase changes here and there and contributed an occasional added clarifying sentence. But that's it. It really wasn't much. I wanted to make this clear, so there is no confusion about it. It is altogether his book, and (if I do say so): a very good one, on a crucial topic.

It features over 300 Bible passages on the subject of the sanctity of life. It was completed (quite significantly, I think) on 8 December 2009, on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

The book is available for purchase as a paperback (116 pages) for $11.95 at Lulu; also as a PDF file for only $3.00. Just follow the icon below:

Once on the Lulu web page for the book, you can view a large photograph of the cover by clicking on "preview" to the left, just under the book photograph. By repeatedly selecting the right arrow on the top right, you can read the Prologue, Acknowledgments, Table of Contents, and also see the back cover with its text, and another photograph.

Thanks for reading, on Paul's behalf, and please spread the pro-life "Word" to all and sundry. Lives depend on it, and entire civilizations have been relegated to the dust-heap of history because of sins far less grave than this abominable holocaust of childkilling. This book can be very useful for anyone who wishes to provide the biblical rationale for the pro-life position, and it can be particularly good for young people to read, because of the age (18) of the person who wrote it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Is the Anti-Catholic Myth of Total Catholic Apostasy Analogous to the Jewish-Christian Split in the 1st Century?

By Dave Armstrong (12-8-09)

Pito, a commenter on my blog, has asked some very penetrating questions, that I took a crack at answering:

I was just wondering whether Catholics are permitted to believe that God gave Moses an Oral as well as a Written Torah on the Mountain, as Orthodox Jews believe, however corrupt some of the Pharisees may have been or made the Law?

Sure. I have used the argument myself, as an analogy to Tradition, over against written Scripture. The Pharisaical tradition was the mainstream of Judaism in Christ's time. Jesus followed it, so did Paul (he called himself a Pharisee twice, after his conversion). And the Pharisees believed in oral tradition, originally given to Moses, and developed over time. It was the Sadducees who denied this. They were the liberals and "sola Scripturists" of that time.

As a follow-up to my first question on the Oral Torah, I'd like to add that it seems to me that Catholics may believe that the Talmudim, Midrashim, Aggadot and most major Jewish Law codes accurately record it. The trouble I have with this is reconciling this with the question of where the Jews went wrong, why we should believe they did, and your thoughts on why God would allow that to happen, as this general Christian claim appears analogous to me to the anti-Catholic argument that the Church became corrupt at an arbitrary point in history.

Very interesting question. I don't know all the ins and outs of how the oral law in Judaism works, so I'll pass on that and leave it to experts in that area.

I think Christianity is a consistent development of Judaism, and have argued that all along (many papers). Where they went wrong was not so much in theology (Jewish beliefs rightly-understood; they are often caricatured and distorted by Christians) but in rejecting the Messiah.

That was the crucial turning-point. Essentially, they rejected the new Christian movement and neglected to see that it was the line of "development" that God desired in salvation history. So it was far more so (at least at first) their rejecting us, rather than our rejecting them. So the forerunner rejected the developer and "progressive." But with anti-Catholics it is the self-defined "progressives" who are rejecting their own forerunners: the opposite of the Jewish-Christian dynamic. And for our part, we see the Protestant movement as a corruption, where it departs from received tradition, but still part of the Christian fold in an imperfect way (whereas anti-Catholic Protestants remove us from the same fold).

The Jews rejected the true Messiah, Jesus. That is indisputable. The only thing under dispute is whether He was the Messiah. Obviously, all Christians believe that He was. So traditional Jews look at Christianity the way that we view cults such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, who claim to be Christian but really aren't. We claim to be a consistent development of Judaism, but orthodox Jews think we corrupted Judaism, especially in holding that Jesus is God and believing in the Trinity: which they see as fundamentally inconsistent with monotheism.

With anti-Catholics, on the other hand, it is two rival Christian groups. They claim (commonly, though there are variations) that the Catholic Church formerly rejected the gospel at Trent, thus removing itself from the orthodox Christian sphere. So they reject the Catholic Church, thinking that the "ball" was passed on to them in the 16th century; we blew it (so they say), and the Catholic "train" derailed at that time (or far earlier, according to the particular myth employed).

But that is altogether in dispute (what the gospel is and whether we rejected it), is unlike the historical question of the Jews denying that Jesus was Messiah and Lord.

Unlike our saying that Christianity consistently developed from Judaism, with the Jews rejecting the direction we took it, the anti-Catholic Protestant claims that Catholicism was long since corrupt. They want to deny (or at least radically de-emphasize) their Catholic historical pedigree as much as they can, and hearken back to the fathers in alleged support for their novelties. But they lose the historical argument every time.

Therefore, their position is built on a self-defeating fallacy from the get-go. They are confused about the nature of the Church, about development, and about what the fathers actually believed.

But they refuse to argue the fundamental issues of what a Christian is, and what the gospel is. It was for that very reason that I gave up trying to debate with them almost three years ago now. If the fundamental disagreements aren't discussed, there is no hope of accomplishing anything, because even a robust disagreement has to be discussed by agreeing on something at some primitive point in the spectrum of premises and conclusions drawn from them.

I contend that anti-Catholics are wrong about the definition of the gospel, and wrong about their claim that we supposedly rejected it, and about soteriology, in many ways. They're wrong about the fathers supposedly supporting them far more so than us, and about a host of caricatures of our theology.

At least I can refute their false claims by dealing with John Calvin, as I have been doing. But he has just about driven me batty with all his sophistries, distortions, gratuitous, stupid insults, and falsehoods. The end of that project is near, God be praised!

I would also add that anti-Catholic Protestantism doesn't grasp the notion of ecclesiological indefectibility. This is part of their viciously self-defeating understanding.

If the Catholic Church was ever the Church, it could never have fallen away, for the simple reason that God had been specially protecting it from error, in a way that He never promised to protect the Jews. After the Resurrection and Ascension, many things changed. We have the indwelling Spirit. God guides us, and protects the Church from error. For an anti-Catholic to think that was somehow lost in one fell swoop, is absurd. There is no such thing as that in the Bible.

So the basic anti-Catholic dilemma and absurdity is in asserting either:

A) The Catholic Church of history never was the true Church at any time.
B) The Catholic Church of history was the true Church but fell away completely (or nearly so) from Christianity.

A is extremely hard to assert because it is radically ahistorical. The only way to argue that with even the remotest plausibility (and I mean remote!) is to go the route of the Landmark Baptists, who try to create a fanciful Church history or pseudo-apostolic succession minus the Catholic Church. That is historically ludicrous and breaks down immediately under any kind of scrutiny.

Position B runs into inexorable difficulties regarding the biblical view of what the Church is and how God preserves her. Thus, A wages a losing battle with history and B with the Bible.

Conclusion: anti-Catholicism is radically, inevitably self-defeating and therefore false.

Bible, history, and reason alike are on the Catholic side in this debate.

I am accused when I say stuff like this, of circular reasoning. But it is not, because I argue all the major particulars in various papers and books. One can assert without exhaustive argument, provided he or she does provide the necessary supporting arguments elsewhere. And I have done so, in 19 books and almost 2500 papers.

Monday, December 07, 2009

"Why Desire Salvation?" Short Christian Reply to an Inquiry

By Dave Armstrong (12-7-09)

A person on the CHNI forum (not a Christian) commented as follows:

I've asked this to people I've encountered over the years and I've not heard anything thus far that has struck a cord with me. I understand that this is probably a very ignorant question as far as Christians are concerned but it happens to be a serious difficulty for me.

Now I've heard some of the reasoning behind this. One quick example is that people desire salvation because they would like to be happy, and that they believe happiness can only be found with God in Heaven. I understand it's a little more complex then that but I was hoping to hear a few other perspectives which might help shed some light on it for me.

What is the reasoning behind the belief that happiness can only be found with God? Why desire Salvation? . . .

What I'm trying to discern is the reasoning, or logic, behind the belief that happiness can only be found with God. . . .

I've also known many non-Christians who don't just string you along and cut you loose when things don't go their way. They are good solid moral people. This is not shocking because human beings were created good, although we may have attractions to things that are evil or wrong. . . .

I'm asking this question not for any other reason but to see if I can relate to anyone's experience. You see, this desire to be with God for all eternity is obviously not unique... But I've never experienced it. So I'm just curious.

* * * * *

I'll try to provide a "short answer" (ha ha!):

Christians believe that God made us in order to be in union with Him. A life lived out of union of God cannot, therefore, ever attain to true happiness (or more accurately joy, which is much deeper than happiness). Now, many people, of course, believe that they are doing fine without God, and that there is no overwhelming necessity to follow Him as a disciple in order to be happy.

I understand that. I did it myself for the first eighteen years of my life. I felt self-sufficient. I could get by without all the "religious stuff." I was what is described as a "practical atheist": I lived my life as if God didn't exist (even though I always believe that He did exist).

We can play that game for many years, but eventually it breaks down, and there will be an existential void. I experienced that, too: six months of very serious, clinical depression, because of the ultimate meaninglessness of my life.

Christian theology holds that we all are subject to original sin, leading to various manifestations of actual sin. It is an awareness of right and wrong, and that we fall far short of where we should be in that regard, that leads to the desire for salvation, and for something deeper and more fulfilling in this life beyond fleeting pleasures and the humdrum routine of day-to-day life. There is a meaning, a wonder, a purpose to life beyond all the superficial day-to-day existence stuff. Hedonism (including even sexuality!) cannot bring us happiness and joy. Nor can narcissism or riches or fame or power or even well-intentioned good works apart from God's grace and a conscious following of God.

The Bible presupposes several things:

    1) That men know (perhaps way down deep, but they know) that there is a God (Romans 1).

    2) That men are sinners; fallen creatures. Sin means literally "missing the mark" (i.e., the standards set by God).

    3) That all men are given the ability to know God and reach out to Him and to accept His free gift of salvation (He desires that all be saved).

    4) That men have an innate knowledge of right and wrong: as seen in the great similarity of ethical codes and religious morality almost universally and through time. We have a conscience and feel guilty when we do something wrong. This is all God-given; it flows from being made in God's image.

    5) That all men have a free will.

Calvinists, for example, deny #3 and severely limit #4, but they are wrong (another big topic for another time).

I agree with [fellow moderator] David's earlier comment, that one must examine several underlying premises in order to talk constructively about this. He wrote:

. . . in order to even begin speaking of desiring salvation, we need to define it. And in order to define it, we need to discuss a number of prior concepts such as God, creation, the nature of man, free will, good and evil, sin and its effects, and the meaning and characteristics of salvation. If we can find common ground in these, we may eventually be able to consider the need, and therefore the desire, for salvation.

I have tried to highlight some of the most important of those.

Bottom line: one has to come to a place of self-understanding or self-definition as a sinner in need of redemption. That is presupposed by the Bible and the apostles. Christianity offers a way out of the treadmill of sin (Romans 7). It is God's love, mercy, grace (which could be defined as unmerited favor), and the cross of Christ, that has made salvation from sin and eternal life with God possible. It fulfills the deepest longings and desires of the human heart.

If you say you are perfectly fulfilled, etc., or feel no need to reach out to God, then I would say as a Christian (from my own presuppositions), that you need to examine yourself and your soul more closely. This would include philosophical discussion as well as theological, "emotional" and spiritual aspects, and psychological factors. It's a long, long discussion, and I would be more than happy to engage in it myself, if you want to do that. I think it is an excellent start that you even ask the question, because that is the beginning of everything: an inquiring mind, or a certain healthy curiosity. The fact that you are here at all tells me that God is drawing you. You're here for a reason, and that reason and purpose is already known to God.

I'm not trying to be presumptuous: just speaking from my Christian worldview. We believe in God's providence: that everything happens according to a grand plan (in the end) and that it all has a purpose. God is in control of His universe: yet He grants us a free will within that paradigm. It is a deep mystery, but anyway, that is what we believe in faith, and with much reason.