Saturday, May 20, 2017

"What, then, remains of Luther?"

In the early part of the twentieth century there were prominent Protestant theologians like Reinhold Seeberg of Berlin and Wilhelm Braun of Heidelberg who lamented the bitter fruits of the Reformation. Fr. Joseph Husselein, S.J., writing in "What, Then, Remains of Luther?" in America, Vol. IX, No. 14 (July 12, 1913), p. 320, suggests that nowhere is this Protestant chagrin over the bitter fruit of the Reformation more faithfully reflected than in an article written by the Protestant theologian Braun for Evangelische Kirchenzeitung, March 30, 1913. Braun, upon reading the historical and theological exposés of Luther by Father Heinrich Denifle, O.P. [photo below left], in Luther und Luthertum and by Fr. Hartmann Grisar, S.J., in Luther, asked "What, then remains of Luther?" After candidly admitting the superior facilities possessed by the Dominican and Jesuit authors over Protestant theologians and historians in the field of Luther research (p. 169), Braun draws up the following remarkable summary of his impressions:
The reading of Grisar should afford food for reflection to us Evangelical theologians. With strips cut from our own skin the Catholic author has pieced together his 'Luther.' How small the Reformer has become according to the Luther studies of our own Protestant investigators! How his merits have shrivelled up! We believed that we owed to him the spirit of toleration and liberty of conscience. Not in the least! We recognized in his translation of the Bible a masterpiece stamped with the impress of originality -- we may be happy now if it is not plainly called a 'plagiarism'! ... Looking upon the 'results' of their work thus gathered together, we cannot help asking the question: What, then, remains of Luther?
Considering the bitter legacy of the Reformation -- a Christendom shattered into a thousand pieces -- these eminent Protestant scholars considered that it would be more appropriate for Protestants, rather than celebrate the fourth centenary of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses, should do penance in sack-cloth and ashes. But then, that was a century ago.

Book: The Political Pope, by George Heumayr


This is more about the politics of the Holy Father than his theology, though some might beg to differ; but it's a book that's catching quite a bit of attention. It's by George Neumayr, who is contributing editor to and former executive editor of the conservative American Spectator.

Maike Hickson recently published "An Interview with George Neumayr, Author of The Political Pope" (OnePeterFive, May 6, 2017).

Saturday, May 06, 2017

"Shack" Theology


Gavin Ortlund, "The god of William Paul Young" (TGC, April 28, 2017):
Paul Young’s The Shack has sold 20 million copies, inspired a major motion picture, and generated a lot of spiritual reflection and conversation. Some have appreciated its depiction of faith and suffering. Others have been uncomfortable with its theological eccentricities. More than a few have used the “h word” to describe it (heresy). But the fact that The Shack (and Young’s other books) are novels has made it difficult to know exactly how to place them.

Now, with the publication of his first non-fiction work, Lies We Believe About God, Young gives a more propositional, concrete expression of his beliefs. Although this book casts itself as tentative and conversational (20–21), it definitely advocates theological positions, often quite energetically. Its 28 chapters are each devoted to exposing a “lie” we believe about God, and expounding the corresponding opposite truth.

Unfortunately, the theology espoused in this book represents a wide and unambiguous deviation from orthodox Christian views. I mean no personal animus to the author in saying this, nor do I question his intentions. But the reason categories like “orthodoxy” and “heresy” arose in church history is because Christians have maintained there are right and wrong ways to think about God, and that pointing out the difference matters. When a book departs from historic, mainstream Christianity, it’s important to make the differences clear. Read more >>
Our underground correspondent, Guy Noir - Private Eye, who called our attention to this review asks whether this represents where a portion of modern Catholicism in America and Europe is positioning itself under the rhetoric of Pope Francis. They could never officially condone it, he says, but they don't need to: "Non-condemnation or equivocation is its own endorsement in these knee-jerk, social media times. Dissent non-condemned becomes a legit option. And those voicing concern become uptight haters."

Friday, May 05, 2017

Trump's Religious Freedom Order: "Woefully inadequate"


John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera, "BreakPoint: President Trump's Religious Freedom Order" (BreakPoint, May 5, 2017):
President Trump’s long-anticipated order on religious freedom reminds us that salvation won’t come on Air Force One.

Yesterday, on the National Day of Prayer, President Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty.

Unfortunately, though it was a “first step,” it was a small one, an order Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation called “woefully inadequate.”

Now, let me be clear: there are things in the order worth praising. The president said that “No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith.”

I couldn’t agree more. And I’m thankful that at least so far this administration, unlike the last one, isn’t forcing that choice on Americans. Still, protecting religious freedom requires more than just noble sentiments. And here is where the executive order disappoints. After directing the federal government to “vigorously enforce Federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom,” the measures set forth in the order are, well, less than vigorous.

The order instructs the Secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and HHS to “consider amending existing regulations” to address “conscience-based objections” to the HHS mandate.

Words like “consider” aren’t exactly a guarantee that anything will change. As Ryan Anderson told The Atlantic, the “regulatory relief” promised to groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor may very well amount to, “Well, you have to do it, because [the Supreme Court] told you to do it,” but, it “doesn’t move the ball” on religious liberty.

Nor does the emphasis on the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and other charitable organizations from endorsing political candidates.

First, the Johnson Amendment is bad law, but it’s rarely, if ever, enforced. So the order effectively tells the IRS to continue doing what it is already doing. Second, the inability to endorse candidates from the pulpit on Sunday isn’t the problem with religious freedom in this country. The problem is the increasing inability of Christians and other people of religious conviction to practice their faith Monday through Saturday.

Yesterday’s events suggest that, as I said after the election, the incoming administration has offered us a reprieve on religious freedom, but not a champion. Or as Chuck Colson often put it, salvation doesn’t arrive on Air Force One.

So, with or without the executive order we really wanted, we have to know this: The case for religious freedom must be made both in our churches and over our backyard fences. Even had we gotten the executive order many of us had hoped for, it would have been, at best a temporary help.

Why? Because our cultural understanding of religious freedom is currently not strong enough to offer or to sustain a long-term political solution. Like the understanding of marriage was lost in the cultural imagination way before Obergefell, so the understanding of religious freedom has been lost in the culture. Many are just frankly ignorant about what the free exercise of religion means and why our founders thought it so important.

For most Americans, religious freedom means the ability to “attend the church of your choice.” The logical corollary of this would be, “what happens in church stays in church.”

Of course, if Christians took that idea seriously, there would be a lot fewer religious hospitals, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, etc. Government can’t even begin to fill the vacuum left should these institutions be forced out of business.

Americans must be reminded that believers ought not be made to choose between obeying their conscience and serving their neighbor. And it would help if Christians understood this better. In too many churches, being a Christian is about how God can make your life better, not how you can work with God to make the invisible kingdom visible.

This is where the battle for religious freedom will be fought, and either won or lost, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.