Sunday, March 31, 2013

If Christ has not been raised... - Mark Shea's crushing apologetics defense of the Resurrection

Not everything Mark Shea writes about the faith is accurate or prudent, so I don't think he should receive a blanket endorsement, but I do have to give credit where credit is due. About 10 years ago he wrote one of the best apologetics defenses of the Resurrection I've every come across. Shea demolishes all skeptical and liberal arguments in true Catholic and Chestertonian fashion. It's truly a classic and must-read for Catholics that's captivating from start to finish.

If Christ Has Not Been Raised....

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Christ did NOT descend into Hell on Holy Saturday - The Apostles' Creed must be edited!

I think the Apostles' Creed is wrong when it speaks of Jesus descending into hell. The relevant part of the Creed says: "He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven." Now I am not suggest the Church got something wrong in saying Jesus descended into hell, but rather we did.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Biblical teaching on "bearing sin" - More problems with Penal Substitution

Nearly every time I bring up the unbiblical and blasphemous doctrine of Penal Substitution to a Protestant they immediately point to texts that refer to Jesus "bearing our sins" (e.g. 1 Pt 2:24; Is 53:11), thinking this means that Jesus took on the guilt and punishment we deserved. Since I've shown that the Biblical term for "Atonement" never involves transferring a punishment to a substitute, I've argued that references to "bearing sin" likely did not mean this either.

In the Old Testament, the notion of "bearing iniquity" normally refers to the situation of a sinner recognizing he has sinned and thus "bears guilt" before God (e.g. Lev 5:1; 7:18; 24:15). Given that, it's understandable for someone to think Jesus "bearing our sin" refers to bearing our guilt and taking the punishment for it. But there is more evidence to consider which shows conclusively that this is not how we're supposed to understand Our Lord's work.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A discussion on Judeo-Christian monotheism - Steven's Opening Essay

 Opening Essays: Nick : Steven ::: Concluding Essays: Nick : Steven
*     *     *
Steven's Opening Essay

I. Introduction

Let theism be the belief that a god exists, atheism the belief that no gods exist, polytheism the belief that more than one god exists and monotheism the belief that only one god exists. 'Classical' polytheism asseverates the reality of gods.

Which strategy I use to establish polytheism largely depends upon my interlocutor. If she’s atheist, I’ll argue that a god exists. However, my opponent already concedes this. What we disagree on is how many gods exist: he believes only one god exists, namely, God. Theoretically, I could try and establish polytheism by arguing that some deity other than God exists. But, I don’t think he does, and will therefore take a step towards polytheism—indeed the only step I can take in this debate—by arguing that God doesn’t exist.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A discussion on Judeo-Christian monotheism (as opposed to classical polytheism)

Opening Essays: Nick : Steven ::: Concluding Essays: Nick : Steven
*     *     *

I received a request from a self-proclaimed “classical polytheist” named Steven to debate the ‘traditional’ notion of ‘God’. Since there are various ‘traditional’ understandings of God throughout the world and history, it is not enough to simply say we believe in God, since this can mean something heterodox and erroneous by those who are misled. Given that, the debate resolution was intended to convey two things. First, that ‘God’ in this debate is to be understood as how Jews and Christians have basically understood monotheism. A Judeo-Christian understanding of God is that God is Personal, One, Almighty (omnipotent), All-Good, All-Knowing (omniscient), and Providential. Since Steven already grants there is some divine entity that can explain questions like how Creation came about, this debate will not focus on typical Atheism-vs-Theism questions, but rather what is a proper understanding of God’s Nature.

While this was originally going to be a formal debate, I told Steven that I couldn't come up with enough information to make it a true debate, so I offered to make this a brief exchange consisting in one Opening Essay and one Rebuttal/Commentary Essay

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why Romans 4 is not so promising for Calvinists

As I've said many times, when it comes to Romans 4 Protestants basically truncate the chapter to verses 4:2-8 and ignore the rest of the chapter. This is a shame, for it not only causes an improper emphasis on 4:2-8, but it even results in a mangled reading of 4:2-8. A defining characteristic of all heresies is that they appeal to Scripture in selective sound bites, since appealing to the broader context would expose the error. In this post I'll examine some of that ignored context and show why it does harm to the Protestant appeal to Romans 4.

The passage I had in mind was Romans 4:13-16, coming right on the heels of Romans 4:9-12 (another context routinely ignored by Protestants). In 4:9-12, Paul emphasizes that Abraham's faith was regarded as a righteous act prior to his being circumcised, and that is to prove that justification does not depend on whether one is a Jew or Gentile. That passage shows clearly that Paul was not worried about people trying to save themselves by their own works instead of trusting in Jesus alone by faith alone, but rather that the real problem was Jews thinking themselves superior to the Gentiles and missing the fact justification is apart from the Mosaic Law (Rom 3:28). This sets up Paul for summarizing the heart of his Gospel message: 
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring - not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all
If Paul was talking about some generic "law" and generic "works" in Romans 4, then this passage really makes no sense. But if Paul is talking about the works of the Mosaic Law, then the beauty of this passage really pops out. What Paul is saying is that God granted a saving "promise" to Abraham back in Genesis, and reception of this "promise" was not conditioned upon adhering to the Mosaic Law which was instituted in Exodus. In fact, Paul says if this "promise" came through following the Mosaic Law, then the prior condition of Abrahamic faith would be nullified.

Using the Catholic principle of Scripture-interprets-Scripture which Protestants don't like, I'll now turn to Galatians 3 which brings about this same message in a more plain manner:
15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.
Paul brings out some very amazing points here. First, Paul points out an important nuance which is that the promise God made to Abraham in Genesis mentioned "offspring" (more accurately "seed") in the singular, not the plural. What most Jews were accustomed to doing is reading texts like Genesis 12:7 as speaking of "offspring" in the plural, as in 'one big family'. Really, this "seed" God promised to Abraham was a future son, Jesus! It is through Jesus directly, and Abraham indirectly, by whom all nations would be blessed (Gen 12:3-4 + Galatians 3:8). So Paul is saying it's absurd and wrong to think that the Mosaic Law, "which came 430 years" after Abraham, would somehow steal that privilege and promise from God's covenant with Abraham.

Thus, the grand realization that Protestants miss is that Paul is not talking about people who are trying to 'work their way into heaven', but rather people who are looking to the wrong covenant to be saved. The Jews thought salvation came through being a member of the Mosaic Covenant, when Paul is saying the Mosaic Covenant never offered salvation in the first place! So even if a Jew kept the Mosaic Covenant, that wouldn't save them (Gal 2:21). Salvation always came through one source, faith in the "seed" of Abraham, Jesus. Protestants made a horrific error by thinking that salvation does come by the Mosaic Law but since we could not keep the Mosaic Law perfectly then Jesus had to keep it perfectly for us!

Paul explains that the Mosaic Law had a temporary function, not an eternal one as Jews and Protestants mistakenly think. The Mosaic Covenant lasted for only about 500 or so years and ended at the Cross. The Mosaic Law was "added" (Gal 3:19) to the picture as God's way of getting mankind ready for the Messiah. The Mosaic Law would formally expose sin ("the law brings wrath") and the need to deal with sin, which simultaneously prefigured and prophesied for us the Sacrifice on Calvary. This is why Romans 5:12-14 says sin and death were in the world before the law was given to Moses and why sin is not formally charged without a law in place.

After realizing this, it is clear that if someone ignores or misunderstands Romans 4:13-16 when reading Romans 4 (and Gal 3:15-19 when reading Galatians 3), then they've missed Paul's entire point! They've come up with "another Gospel" (Gal 1:8), which is unfortunately what Protestantism has done the last 500 years.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Why Protestants reject the idea of having personal relationship with Jesus

The way the typical Evangelical talks you'd think that having a personal relationship with Jesus was the central aspect of the Christian experience. In fact, they're right, but what Evangelicals don't realize is that their Protestant theology of Justification by Faith Alone actually goes directly against the idea of having a personal relationship with Jesus. This post will hopefully be a "light bulb" moment for Catholics and Protestants reading this.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Pope's first homily: setting the tone?

A hat tip to fellow Catholic Blogger Kevin for pointing out the Pope's first homily today. The full text of the 1-page long homily is here. Let me just say, if Pope Francis is setting the tone of his pontificate with this homily, I'm very excited. Consider these key excerpts:
  • We can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ.
  • When one does not profess Jesus Christ – I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy – “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.
  • walking, in building, in professing, there are sometimes shake-ups – there are movements that are not part of the path: there are movements that pull us back.
  • When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.
When is the last time you heard a homily this straightforward and potent? Maybe JPII and Benedict and our own local bishops have talked like this, but I don't recall such simplicity and hard-hitting truths conveyed in a no-nonsense homily in a long time. In this homily, he completely demolishes the phony "Social Justice" (Liberation Theology) movement, saying that good works without Jesus are a "pitiful" secular help organization. He says those not praying to God and Jesus are deceived and (effectively) praying to Satan and are worldly, completely crushing false ecumenism. And most spectacularly, he says that all the bishops and cardinals surrounding him are "not disciples of the Lord" whomever of them are not professing Jesus in their work. Could his reference to "shake ups" be a veiled indication he is going to clean house? 

Maybe I'm getting my hopes too high for what I'm expecting in his homilies and example, but more of this would be just the thing we're lacking in the Church today!

Is Pope Francis a Liberal out to destroy the Faith?

Everyone is understandably stunned by the news about the election of Pope Francis. The traditionalist Catholic blogosphere was especially buzzing with news, most of which was highly critical of the new Pope. In fact, there were times where things got so out of hand that I had to stop reading the comments, for they had crossed the line of decency and fairness which Catholics should be extending to others, especially to the Holy Father. No matter how 'bad' a Pope were to ever get, he still holds a divine office so high and grand that a real and filial level of respect is due. This is not to say that Catholics are to blindly go along with whatever a Pope or bishop does, but that's very different than the level of bashing and vicious attacks that took place almost immediately after the Holy Father made his first appearance. 

I think there can be a fair and sober evaluation that can be made this early on, but we cannot put too much emphasis on assuming the best or worst. Here are my thoughts (in case anyone cares) about the new Pope:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What did Jesus mean by "It is finished"?

Protestants are fond of saying that Catholics reject "the finished work of Christ" since Catholics reject Salvation by Faith Alone. A popular text they appeal to is John 19:30, which mentions the final words of Jesus on the Cross, "It is finished!" By this, they suggest Christ did everything necessary for our salvation, that He paid everything, all that's left is for us to believe. To deny this, they say, is to deny the Gospel. While at first this might sound convincing, it's an unfortunate and serious distortion of a beautiful text. 

The first thing I'd suggest people think about is that Jesus said "It is finished" before He actually died  and before He Resurrected. If someone were to push this too far in the wrong way, it would end up saying the Resurrection and even the Death itself wasn't necessary. (Note: Calvinists technically deny the sufficiency of the Cross, they just don't realize it.) Given this, there needs to be a more careful approach to the text. 

What many don't know is that there is actually a very good explanation to this text that can be discerned simply by examining the context: 
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Notice that the focus of this event was not about Jesus paying the full penalty for sin, but rather about fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy. It was when Jesus received the sour wine (vinegar) that He spoke these words, fulfilling the set up from verse 28. In fact, the Greek word for "finished" only appears twice in John, in verse 19:28 and 19:30, under the same verbal form (tetelestai), strongly suggesting the two go together. And the context shows that a few other Old Testament prophecies were also going to be fulfilled (John 19:31-37). So it should really be understood as "It is fulfilled," or more traditionally, "It is Consummated."

The "fulfill" ("consummated") reading also makes better sense of the Greek term used (see how it's used in Luke 18:31 and Acts 13:29). In the 26 verses the word appears in, only twice is it used to refer to payment, and even in these two verse it only refers to paying taxes (Mt 17:24; Rom 13:6) and not some full payment. In virtually every other verse it's used, it means "fulfill" or "conclude". Given this, it is absolutely astonishing the way many Protestants will over-reach with this word to make it suggest a financial transaction of "payment in full" and completely ignore the Biblical evidence available. 

This is not to suggest that the "It is Consummated" doesn't have a deeper significance than just saying "this one prophecy was fulfilled," but rather that Christ's death is to be understood as the Old Testament said it would happen. For example, Protestants love to point to Jesus on the Cross saying "My God, why have You abandoned me," and claim this verse proves the Father's wrath was poured out on Jesus. But any alert reader would know Jesus was intoning Psalm 22, which clearly is speaking of David/Jesus being persecuted by enemies and not being rescued (immediately) by God. This same kind of distortion is happening when Protestants quote "It is finished." In the case of "I thirst," the cross-reference given for this is Psalm 69:21, which is a Messianic Psalm talking about how David was persecuted and insulted by his fellow Jews and now how Jesus is persecuted and insulted by the Jews. Nothing to do with taking someone's punishment or the Father's wrath being dumped on them. 

Hat tip to this Catholic blogger for his work on this verse.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Can those folks "for whom Christ died" be damned? (1 Corinthians 8:11 & 2 Peter 2:1)

Calvinist believe in a doctrine called Limited Atonement. This doctrine is not so much derived from Scripture, but rather from systematic theology: they reason that if Jesus died for everyone, then everyone would be saved, but since everyone is not saved, then Jesus must only have died for a limited number of men. This false dilemma hinges on a fault understanding of the Cross called Penal Substitution, which I've written about frequently. One way to refute Limited Atonement is to show that Scripture speaks of people whom Jesus died for ended up rejecting him and being damned. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What do you think is worse than an unbeliever? (Another Calvinist conundrum)

In Calvinism, the fundamental thing that separates the saved from the damned is faith. Those to whom God wants to save will be given the gift of faith, while those whom God does not want to save will never be given the gift of faith. In other words, in the Calvinist world view, there's nothing worse than being an unbeliever. But if this is the case, why does Saint Paul say it's possible to be "worse than an unbeliever"? 

I believe 1 Timothy 5:8 is the scariest passage in all of Scripture, for it gives everyone a lot to think about: "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." St Paul is talking to Christian parents here, who have a grave obligation to care for their family. For those Christians willfully failing this duty, Paul has a most stern rebuke: they have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever. So contrary to Calvinism, what is worse than an unbeliever is a Christian who falls away from the faith.

Anyone who's an adult should have some fear in reading this passage, for they must realize that this could happen to them. But Calvinism expressly denies such a thing is possible. As such, they must try desperately to spin this verse to mean either the person in question was either (a) never really saved, or (b) that a Christian cannot really commit this sin.

The problem with saying they were never really saved is that such an assertion is purely begging the question and even goes against the plain reading of the text. To "deny the faith" in this context is clearly an act of apostasy. While Calvinists believe in apostasy, they just believe anyone who falls into apostasy was never saved, which makes no sense. One cannot fall away if they were never a member to begin with. The language of "worse than" an unbeliever further testifies to the fact this person is not an unbeliever, but rather of another category, that of being saved and not persevering (2 Peter 2:20-21). 

The problem with saying that a Christian cannot really commit this would likewise be begging the question, and even presuming Paul wasn't serious. But even if Paul didn't think a Christian could commit this sin, Paul would still be making an inaccurate theological claim by saying there is such a thing as "worse than an unbeliever."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Wisdom in Getting Married Young - Part 2 (Should women go to college?)

The Church and Natural Law teach that parents are the primary educators of their children (CCC#2223). This includes having the right to send them to the school of the parent's choice. Yet, while every human should be given a basic education, this does not necessitate every human is entitled to a "higher" academic education. The purpose of college is that of educating a person for a certain field of employment. But if someone sees a "career" as an end in itself, then they're naturally going to put marriage on the back burner. So any woman who is going to college should stop and ask themselves what their real goals are. Do they want to be a mother or do they want a career? Most women are torn, because they want both, with nature calling them to motherhood and society calling them to the workforce. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Wisdom in Getting Married Young - Part 1 (Shopping Around)

Catholic Answers has a new Blog and I'm very impressed by the quality of the stuff they are posting.  I recommend you follow it on Google Reader. The blog entries are relatively short, less than one page long, but they often touch upon a very important facet of our modern life that Catholics generally have remained silent about. Today an article came out from one of my favorite Catholic writers, Christopher Check. The topic was that of getting married early on in life, which is something I'd had been planning to write about for a while myself. 

Everyone knows that society is crumbling due to high divorce rates and rampant sexual sins. The astonishing thing about this is that few Christians talk about one of the most elegant and time tested antidotes to divorce and sexual sins: getting married at an early age. The reason why Christians don't like to talk about the importance and wisdom of getting married at an early age is because most Christians are caught up in the false ideologies of Liberalism and Modernism. This applies even to faithful Catholics who oppose contraception.