Catholicism

In Defense of Ross Douthat

Posted by M.Ferris on

The “laity” are not welcome in doctrinal discussions.

Perhaps I should refer to this less as a defense, and more an identification of an irony. New York Times opinion columnist Ross Douthat has come under fire from an unlikely source – fellow Roman Catholics. But these are Catholic academics and theologians who essentially feel that due to his status as an uncredentialed layman, he is unqualified to comment on theology and doctrine as he has done many times in his columns.  Douthat is among those I write about in my book Evangelicals Adrift, and is a prime example of a convert to Catholicism who upholds his expatriate faith with a zeal that the native-born, as it were, do not.

Before converting to Catholicism, Douthat was part of pentecostalism (my memory is Assemblies of God, but I cannot find the reference, but it is not so important). No doubt he there became accustomed to reading his Bible for himself, thinking about doctrine, and within pentecostalism, so sharp a division between clergy and laity did not exist, to the extent it does in Catholicism. To suggest, as these theologians do, that Douthat is not qualified to write on matters of theology or doctrine is simply ridiculous.

Douthat is well-educated and literate, he is a critical thinker, and therefore he has pretty much all the equipment he needs to weigh the evidence for or against various doctrinal positions within his Church. He can read the source material for these discussions just as anyone else can. The suggestion that determining these things should be left to the “professionals”, should be insulting to any and every member of the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, part of the reason for the current troubles of the church is due to this professionalizing of what belongs to everyone.

I by no means think that if the Catholic Church adopted a flatter structure, this would solve their problems. Their doctrinal issues run far deeper than a democratization of the church hierarchy can solve. But within the confines of the structure he is working with, Douthat is doing what one would think Catholic academia would want. As a layman, he is taking profound interest in what the Church teaches, and where it is going.  The pope himself said as much in his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium: “Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world.” Ironically, Douthat is doing what the pope he often opposes is suggesting, and it is this very thing, which these theologians say is not in Douthat’s purview, that the pope they defend is encouraging.

Uncategorized

The Irrelevance of Relevance

Posted by M.Ferris on

Relevance may be just another word for compromise.

A recent piece by Allen Guelzo titled The Illusion of Respectability calls attention to the uneasy relationship that christian academics have with higher education. Guelzo is specifically addressing those who choose a career in academia and who will be faced with what he calls the “lust for respectability.”  Is there discrimination against christians in higher ed? Most certainly. That fact will lead many to compromise and Guelzo’s plea is to recognize anew their calling as stewards, as servants, as those who need to embrace their standing as pilgrims. If academic ostracism is the result so be it. I don’t at all disagree with this, and indeed, even those whose careers are not in academia can find application here.

What I found most interesting about Guelzo’s piece is where he quotes Roger Olson, as to what he has seen change about evangelical christianity during his lifetime. “Evangelical Christians knew their Bibles forward and backward. … All that has gone away. The vast majority of evangelicals, in my experience, know very little about the Bible and never memorize any portion of it. Evangelical sermons are as likely to quote Dr. Seuss as Paul the Apostle.”

This indictment used to be particularly appropriate for youth ministry, where the overriding emphasis was on relevance. But it is doubtless true for all of the church now, and where the lust for respectability that Guelzo laments is, it seems, causing christians to ask not, “is it true?”, but rather, “does it work?” We want outcomes, results.  In Jeremiah 25, the prophet tells the people, “For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.” In other words, Jeremiah got no results, it didn’t work. He had nothing to show as far as impacting the culture. But the message was true, and this was the gauge by which he was measured. This is the essence of what both Guelzo and Olson call believers back to. It begins and ends with scripture, with making it our study, our focus, and our guide. Apart from a deep knowledge of the Bible and the Savior, relevance is quite frankly, irrelevant.

Catholicism

Is the Pope Catholic?

Posted by M.Ferris on

Previous generations might not have thought that the current pontiff is.

I remember this rejoinder from childhood as a sarcastic retort when you asked a question that had an obvious answer, but it’s been interesting to see how various constituents from within the Roman Catholic Church are asking the question not in jest, but in earnest.  Francis has certainly struck a different course and tone from his predecessor, Benedict XVI, (aka “God’s Rotweiler” for his ferocity in holding the line on conservative dogma).  Conservatives have not been happy with moves such as making annulments easier – a move the guardian termed a “stunning departure” from his predecessors, to his olive branches to those outside the church. These have led to lots of storm and stress within the church. Liberal catholics tend to be encouraged by him, but conservatives are chagrined.

It has always been the case that factions exist within the Catholic Church, but for the long pontificate of John Paul II and the shorter one of Benedict, the liberals were on the outside looking in. Now, it’s the conservatives who have been set back on their heels by Francis. Michael Brendan Dougherty asks with true sincerity whether the Pope is leading the Church into apostasy. Whether open schism erupts is still a question, but one wonders, how much dissent can there be before it’s just called for what it is? The answer, then, to the question of whether the Pope is Catholic all depends on which side of the aisle you’re on.