What If the Gospels Are the Gospel?

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After the second reading of the Mass, usually from one of St. Paul’s epistles, the Liturgy of the Word reaches its climax when the Priest or Deacon stands, approaches the altar flanked by two altar servers bearing candles, bows, and picks up a large volume before processing to the podium with it. As the congregation stands, the celebrant reads from one of the four canonical Gospels. The bit of ceremony just described is a visual affirmation of paragraph 18 of the Vatican II publication called “Dei Verbum” which reads, “It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special preeminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our Savior.” Consequently, Catholic hermeneutics (principles of interpretation) begin with the teachings of Jesus and interpret the other New Testament documents in light of them. The Gospels are the Gospel in Catholic theology. Read more

Nature and Grace – A Reformed Perspective

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In my August post I offered some reflections on classical education within a Catholic context in contrast to my previous experience of classical education in a Protestant context. Today’s guest blogger, Taylor Craig challenged my contention that Catholicism offered a more congenial setting for classical education and proposed that the Reformed understanding of nature and grace improved on the Thomistic (Catholic) perspective making Classic Reformed Protestantism a more suitable theological milieu. So in the spirit of genuine dialogue, I asked Taylor to expand on his ideas in a blog post. He is a former student of mine, and is currently in his Junior year at MIT where he is studying Physics. Read more

Everything But the Elephant

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Nineteen years ago I began my teaching career by attending a conference hosted by the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS), a Protestant organization devoted to promoting the establishment and development of Christian education in the classical tradition. In the course of my career as a teacher in two ACCS schools I attended a number of those conferences where I joined a throng of like-minded folk to listen to inspiring speakers, gain an awareness of resources, and learn the nuances of classical pedagogy. At the end of July I had the opportunity to attend a conference with a similar agenda. The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education (ICLE) is committed to establishing Catholic schools in the classical tradition, and their conference was very much like the ACCS conferences I’ve attended in the past. Read more

The Hunt for Sola Scriptura

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The inconspicuous room at the end of a lightly travelled thoroughfare in Jerusalem bustled as the gathered throng waited for James the Just to deliver his decision.  Just about 20 years had passed since the tragic execution and then astonishing resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, and now the leaders of the burgeoning movement had gathered to resolve its first significant controversy. Must the Gentile followers of Jesus submit to circumcision?  (Acts 15) Both sides of the dispute had made their case with conviction, and among the anxious assembly sat Judah, a devout Jewish follower of Jesus. The room went silent when the Apostles entered, and James stood to speak. Read more

Justification By Faith Alone – Maybe We Need a Second Look

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In 2011 a colleague and I formally debated the resolution: “On the day of Judgment, God will declare Christians just, not because of anything done by them, nor because of anything worked through them or done in them, but solely because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them.” This is a statement of the classic reformed doctrine of justification, a doctrine on which Luther claimed the church either stands or falls. In Reformed theology this is the gospel that one must believe in order to be saved. In other words, the gospel is that Christians are declared righteous before God’s tribunal because of faith alone on the exclusive basis of the righteousness of Jesus charged [imputed] to their account. This debate proved to be a watershed for me in my theological development because it was a moment of clarity. Read more

The Impossibility of Classic Protestantism

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Earlier this year R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries released the results of their survey of the views of Americans on God, sin, salvation, heaven and hell, and the Bible, with the tagline “A Poll of Eternal Significance.” The not so subtle implication is that the answers given to the survey questions indicate that most of the participants are in peril of eternal damnation because they are not affirming the correct propositions about the matters above. There is nothing particularly surprising about Ligonier’s tone in the survey since they take pride in identifying themselves as defenders and promoters of the theology of the Protestant Reformers, a theology that rests on the conviction that ultimately orthodoxy (correct teaching or belief) rather than orthopraxy (correct living) is what determines one’s standing before God. Granted, it is a bit more nuanced than that, but, for instance, in classic Protestant theology it is of critical importance that a proper distinction be made between “faith” (a passive confidence in the sufficiency of Jesus’ work rightly understood) and “works” (righteous living). Any understanding of the message of Jesus and the Apostles that departs from the Reformed Protestant definitions is a false gospel, and those who preach it, along with those who believe it, stand condemned according to their reading of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (1:9 – 10). In effect, the eternal destiny of human beings rests on whether or not they sincerely affirm the right ideas. A number of considerations make this a rather dubious proposition. Read more

Silent Sisters or Insidious Interpolation

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textual1The Bibles that we rely on today and often take for granted are the products of centuries of effort by scholars and pseudo-scholars whose work has sometimes helped and at other times hindered the preservation of the original text of the New Testament.

The books and letters that make up the New Testament were written over a period of about 50 years beginning with Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (though some scholars disagree) around 48-49 AD, and the evidence suggests that most were recognized by the church as authoritative soon after they began to circulate. Most of the documents were directed at particular groups of Christians with the intention of addressing a particular issue or issues that were confronting them. Once the texts were read to the intended audience, they were often passed on to other churches (cf. Colossians 4:16) or groups of believers so that they could benefit from them. Many made hand copies of the books and letters in order to allow continued access to the apostolic testimony and wisdom, and then others made copies of those copies which were then copied. This process of hand-copying continued for centuries until the invention of the printing press in 1455. Read more

An Appeal for Peace, Love, and Understanding

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peaceloveunderstanding-1250x12501Scanning some of the posts on social media this morning after the election, I was struck by the vitriol that some progressives hurled at those who voted for Trump, and I was baffled by their astonishment that he had won. Then it occurred to me that the tone of their posts provided at least a partial answer for why they were caught by surprise. The venom unleashed in their posts seems to be accepted by progressives as appropriate for anyone who dares to express opinions contrary to their own. Consequently, many people just kept silent to avoid the ignominy, and their silence was mistakenly interpreted by the progressives as agreement. Read more

There’s a Better (More Difficult) Choice in 2016

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ChBF2_xWUAA7zv9[1]As the Body of Christ, Christians are commissioned to carry-on the mission Jesus inaugurated in Palestine 2,000 years ago, so it only follows that as we chart our course from season to season we should model our work on His example. Jesus lived out his earthly life at a time in Israel’s history that was as contentious and even more perilous to his nation’s fortunes than our own. Rome had been dominating Israel for almost a century when Jesus began his ministry, and the Jewish people were chafing under burdensome taxation, repressive enforcement of Roman law, corrupt and anti-Semitic Roman rulers, and ruthless military occupation. Read more

Sympathy for the Judaizers

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curse_you_light_bulb__by_leif_j-d2zljf4[1]“If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed [anathema].” The Apostle Paul dropped that rhetorical atom bomb early in his Epistle to the Galatians as part of his verbal combat with the Judaizing Christians (probably from the church in Jerusalem) who had gone behind Paul and convinced the Gentile believers that they must keep the Torah (receive circumcision, observe the Sabbath, eat only “clean” foods, etc.) as well as believe in Jesus if they were to participate fully in the new covenant community and enjoy its benefits. To declare someone “anathema” (accursed) was a devastating condemnation. Anathema is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term hêrem meaning “devoted to destruction.” A curse found among the Dead Sea Scrolls captures the force of the curse Paul was pronouncing on his foes: Read more