Straight to Business (10.15.2016)

Scripture Readings

My oldest sister is a religious sister with the Nashville Dominicans.  Her state of life has humbled me, guided me, and even perplexed me.  I experienced disbelief one day as she explained how we would be communicating once she entered.  She told me that texting, phone calls, and emails were out unless it was an emergency. Instead we’d be writing letters; real, snail mail letters.  Now, I don’t write many letters.  I write emails, send text messages, and keep up with Facebook messages but don’t really write letters and unfortunately I haven’t gotten much better just because she is a sister.  Then, as I read today’s first reading, I was really convicted by Paul’s letter-writing and my own written correspondence in the first place.

So much of my written correspondence is based on what someone else can do for me.  Sure, I might open with pleasantries about family and health but at the end of the day I’m trying to take care of business.

Paul on the other hand, spends 8 verses at the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians proclaiming the Gospel and praising God for the Ephesians.  This is a man that knows he is writing to other Christians, but he still starts this way.  This practice reminds us of a few things.

ephesians-1-6-i-do-not-cease-to-give-thanks-black-copyFirst, we must never forget that we are called to encourage one another.  We are walking in free — but costly — grace and we aren’t walking alone.  We need the support and gratitude of one another.  This doesn’t mean we have to open every text or email paraphrasing Ephesians.  However, we could be better at expressing gratitude just for someone’s presence.  In a society where so many question their worth and value can we afford to skip this step as often as we do?

cfsk937weaanxp5Second, we dare not let the Gospel be implied or leave Jesus assumed.  It is never a waste of time to re-articulate the Gospel. Besides, so much of what we do doesn’t make sense without it.  Without a common understanding of the Gospel, the letter to the Ephesians would fall short, the same is true of our instruction, catechesis, and encouragement.  This can be done simply.  If we have a quote, passage or something like AMDG at the bottom of our email, we could think about putting it at the top instead.  Not in an obnoxious way, but as a reminder of what we are about.  For example the top of every page in one of my sister’s letters has a Cross with an M at the bottom.

0ee406a78d68d412d957e8e36f20005bThird, we should be praying for one another’s spiritual growth.  Not only should we be praying for it, we should be telling each other that we have their back in prayer.  Paul does this, why can’t we?

We live in a busy world and are often serving in an understaffed church.  Those circumstances tempt us to be straight to business without faith.  We need to let people know they are valuable; to remind them that all of this is flowing from Christ; and to ensure them that we are praying for them to grow closer to the Lord (and ask them to pray for us as well).


Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 4)

9. Permanent Imputation vs Temporary Infusion

I have limited knowledge of how imputation differs across the various Protestant sects, especially when coupled or divorced from regeneration.   So I want to avoid the mischaracterizations I’m responding to now. I do know that Catholicism rejects the God of band-aid solutions for the God whose word never returns to Him void.  He is the God of Mercy not self deceit.  This reality is expressed in Catholicism’s belief in both imputation and infusion.  Catholicism does not reject imputation entirely, we reject the idea of mere imputation.  We place our faith in the paradoxical God who is three and one; the savior who is God and Man, eternal and mortal; the Scriptures that are of human and divine origin, the Church that is human institution and mystical body.  So yes, we accept the paradoxical view that we are righteous sinners, or as a friend put it, “I am a loved sinner, in that order.” White describes it well and the interpretive key is childhood – restoration to the covenant family:

In short, justification in the Catholic view is the gift of divine sonship, lost in original sin, and regained in Christ. Justification understood in this way involves both the imputation of sonship and the infusion of Christ’s grace. These two aspects are inseparable, for as God imputes family standing to the sinner, the sinner does in fact become a member of the family; sonship is no legal fiction. God effectuates what He declares. Hence, when God declares the sinner righteous, it is more than a mere legal declaration. It is a creative and transformative action whereby God takes someone and breathes into Him that Spirit of sonship which cries, “Abba!” “Father!” Gratuitous, therefore, means more than the receipt of divine favor. What God imparts in the gift of grace is Himself, nothing less, and this life-giving divine gift is a metaphysical, ontological communication of Christ’s sonship. This internal renovation is essential. For individuals are both imputed with Adam’s guilt and infused with his corrupt nature; they are declared sinful, and at the same time, they really are sinful. Hence, justified persons are both imputed with Christ’s righteousness and infused with His life; they are declared righteous because, in virtue of Christ’s indwelling life and holiness, they really are righteous. The remission of sins is possible because the grace of Christ is infused into the person, making him a child of God. By virtue of this new filial relationship, the individual is no longer subject to the wrath of God. God’s judgment then, is directed towards a child in the second Adam, and not a rebel criminal in the first Adam. This helps explain why justified persons need not be perfect themselves; they are justified by virtue of their new relationship to God as sons. The judgment is taking place then with regard to Christ’s grace alive in the individual, at whatever degree of growth; the indwelling grace of Christ justifies sinners. (White, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, 4-5)

Now Challies emphasizes the ‘temporary’ for some reason.  My guess is he believes the common Protestant stereotypes that Catholics live in a perpetual state of fear of Hell or that we think we have to earn God’s love.  While Catholics, along with the witness of Scripture, take seriously that: some sins are deadly (1 John 5:16), without fruit we can be taken away (John 15:20), we can be removed after being grafted (Rom. 11:17-24), we can be disqualified after preaching (1 Cor. 9:24-27), we can twist the Scripture to our own destruction (2 Peter 3:16), we can be among the goats on His left (Matt. 25:41-46),  or we can be told that we aren’t known (Matt. 7:21-23) we don’t see those as threats to consume us with fear.  For though these are possible after enlightenment and the tasting of heavenly gifts, we are strongly encouraged and anchored by our God who cannot lie (cf. Heb. 6).  See how Trent articulates that reality:

For God does not command impossibilities, …(St. Augustine, De Natura et Gratia, c. 43 (50))  His commandments are not heavy,(cf. 1 John 5:3) and his yoke is sweet and burden light.(Matt. 11:30)  For they who are the sons of God love Christ, but they who love Him, keep His commandments, as He Himself testifies;(John 14:23) which, indeed, with the divine help they can do.… For God does not forsake those who have been once justified by His grace, unless He be first forsaken by them.  Wherefore, no one ought to flatter himself with faith alone, thinking that by faith alone he is made an heir and will obtain the inheritance, even though he suffer not with Christ, that he may be also glorified with him.(Rom. 8:17)  … the same Apostle admonishes those justified, saying: Know you not that they who run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain. I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty; I so fight, not as one beating the air, but I chastise my body and bring it into subjection; lest perhaps when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.(cf. 1 Cor. 9:24, 26)  So also the prince of the Apostles, Peter: Labor the more, that by good works you may make sure your calling and election. For doing these things, you shall not sin at any time. (cf. 2 Pet. 1:10)

Following this last scripture passage cited by Trent, I believe it wise to present one of the most succinct scriptural articulations of Catholic Soteriology:

His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power: Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Anyone who lacks them is blind and shortsighted, forgetful of the cleansing of his past sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your call and election firm, for, in doing so, you will never stumble. For, in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you. (2 Peter 1:3-11)

If one wants to claim that Catholic Soteriology is unbiblical 2 Peter must be struck from the Bible first.

Wrap up: The principle problem with this Litany of ‘Additions’ is that they aren’t additions at all.  Instead they are recognitions of how God chose to work.  Catholicism is not guilty of piling junk upon the Gospel.  Protestantism has instead cut away from the Gospel.  It took the glorious Gospel of the transcendent I Am and reduced it to the courtroom proclamation of a self-deceiving, seemingly insecure God.

Justification, in the Catholic sense, is the restoration of that sonship through the second Adam, Jesus Christ; sinners are reborn through baptism as sons of God. In this process, justification is purely gratuitous. The Holy Spirit works in the sinner, effectuating in him an orientation towards faith and good works. Through baptism, he is imputed standing in God’s family and infused with Christ’s grace. Justification then, involves both the legal remission and the actual removal of sin. The forgiveness of sins is possible precisely because the justified person stands in a new relationship to God as a son. Because the grace of Christ is in him, original sin is blotted out, actual sins are remitted, and grace is continually imparted to overcome concupiscence. The justified person continually seeks to obtain “sanctifying grace” through the sacraments (which in the case of adults, are useless without real faith) and by doing good works. In this sense, individuals are justified by works as well as faith, but always by grace alone and Christ alone. Justification is a process, therefore, whereby higher standing is progressively conferred upon children growing up. (White, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, 8).

What is the Catholic Gospel you ask?

Jesus Christ is the Gospel.  He is the good news.  He is the Messiah.  The incarnate Word of God who has entered into solidarity with us so He may draw us into communion with Himself and, through Him, all those He loves.

His body is the Gospel.  For by His body in the womb of Mary He bridged the divide between divinity and humanity.  In His body that wandered around the Jordan He overcame our temptations of the flesh, the world, and the Devil.  By the sacrifice of His body He ransomed us from exile, bringing us — as our goel (kinsman redeemer) — back into the family, paying for us a price we could not pay.   As the true older brother who reflects the Father He restored an inheritance that we lost (cf. Luke 15:11-32).  Through the resurrection of His body He overcame our otherwise insurmountable enemy – death — and transformed the dead end of mortality into the door to eternity.  In His body, the Church, He guides us on our pilgrimage from Egypt to the Promised Land – the Heavenly Jerusalem.  And by His body He nourishes us, sustains, and feeds us, providing our “food for the way” (cf. 1 Kings 19:7).

The heart of the Gospel is that the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.  And while we were still sinners He died for us, entering into death to defeat it.  It is because he first had this love for us that we can love.  Love has loved us and freed us to love.  That is good news.

Next Post:
Claim 2: The “Roman” Catholic Church is not the Church

Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 3)

4. + the Work of Mary?

If I praised St. Paul for his prolific letter writing, tireless fight against the Judaizers, unquenchable desire to spread the Gospel, and legacy of church planting by saying “I don’t know where the Gospel would be without Paul” no one would bat an eye.

However, I can’t do anything like that with Mary.  I could never utter “Without Mary there is no Incarnation.” I don’t dare bring up that if we all bore Christ into the world, proceeded with haste to be with others, cared for children in danger, sought out the lost, pondered the actions of God in our heart, meekly interceded on behalf of those who may not be aware of their need yet, stood by those suffering, and gathered with the Church in prayer (aka if we were more Marian) then Christianity would be richer and more vibrant.  Saying any of that will likely mean I am accused of being a gospel denying, apostate, idolater.  Now you may say, “I don’t have a problem with what you said, except when you make Mary necessary for salvation.”  That raises a great question.  Was Mary necessary for God to achieve our salvation?  No.  Did God, by choosing to take flesh through Mary, give her a necessary role in our salvation?  Unequivocally, yes.  It’s a lot like the Cross.  Read this Socratic Dialogue [15] if you are confused.

5. + Prayer?

Many Protestants will be quick to point out that the Bible calls us all saints.  Which is true, which makes their denial of the intercession of the saints strange.  Denying the intercession of the saints as a violation of Christ’s mediation is to deny that any of us can pray on each other’s behalf.  However, interceding on behalf of one another, even loving someone to express God’s love for him/her (you could call that mediation) does not violate Christ’s singular role as the mediator of the New Covenant between heaven and earth, God and humanity.  Catholics are no different from Protestants in believing that we can and should pray for one another.  However, we differ because Catholics believe that those standing face-to-face with the Lord and Lover of Souls can pray for us.  They pray in and through Christ.  Their prayer like mine or yours, not Christ’s unique mediation from the altar of the cross.  And once again, the Protestant obsession with only/sola statements butts up against the Trinity as it is very clear in Scripture that the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf (cf. Rom. 8:26-27).  I bring this up because the Protestant proof text against a Catholic understanding of the intercession of the saints is 1 Tim. 2:5, in which Paul specifically emphasizes Christ’s incarnation, His humanity, as the linchpin of His unique mediation.  The point being, that the common Protestant apologetic regarding this passage proves too much as it was not the Spirit that became incarnate.

6. + Tradition?

Did you know the reformed theology that seems to have saved the Gospel from the shackles of Catholicism is a tradition?  Did you know the Table of Contents in the front of your Bible is a tradition?  Did you know the Bible is in fact written tradition?  And in written tradition we find the command to observe all that was passed down by letter and word of mouth. [16] Weird…

“[Christ] is himself both the mediator and the sum total of Revelation” (Dei Verbum, 2).

7. + Response?

Why does free gift equal no response in reformed theology but nowhere else in God’s universe?  My life is a free gift… guess I don’t need to breathe.  In all seriousness, Catholic theology talks about response, Challies though decides to articulate it as effort possibly to emphasize his accusation of a works doctrine.  More about this in # 9.  (Read Bonhoeffer’s chapter in The Cost of Discipleship on “Single-Minded Obedience” to really see an honest wrestling with the need for response from a very faith-filled Protestant Christian) [17].

8. + The Mass?

The Mass is not added to the Cross. It is the door to the Cross.  Check out The Lamb’s Supper, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, The Mass of the Early Christians, or The Fourth CupSeriously, I’ll buy it for you.  (Here is my email:

Next Post:
Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 4)

16. What do Catholic’s believe about the transmission of that “faith that was once for all handed down (traditio) to the holy ones” (Jude 1:3)?  Find out in Dei Verbum (On Divine Revelation) from Vatican II.
17. “Single-Minded Obedience,” 79-85.

Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 2)

A Note: The Council of Trent will be referenced frequently over the next few posts.  It is the most relevant Council for this conversation as it is the Council that responded to the Reformation and is cited by Challies in several articles.  If you are unfamiliar with Trent, Bishop Robert Barron offers an excellent introduction to the Council of Trent (length – 12:53).

1. Do Catholics deny Grace alone?

Nope! [8]  Here is the Council of Trent:

We are therefore said to be justified gratuitously [as gift/by grace], because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification… Canon 1. If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema [9] [or known as a false teacher]. (Council of Trent Session 6, Chapter VIII and Canon 1 [10]).

This is the Catechism, “Our justification comes from the grace of God” (CCC 1996 [11]).  Here is James Cardinal Gibbons from 1917, “Without Divine grace we can neither conceive, nor accomplish anything for the sanctification of our souls” (Faith of Our Fathers, 218). While this is certainly Grace alone, that does not mean Challies and the Church agree on how they view grace [12].

2. Do Catholics deny Christ alone?

No!  Though I think it is important to affirm that we are saved by the Triune Godhead.  We should avoid excluding the Father and the Holy Spirit.  But I’ll let Trent speak on that:

The causes of this justification are:
– the final cause is the glory of God and of Christ and life everlasting;
– the efficient cause is the merciful God who washes and sanctifies[cf. 1 Cor. 6:11] gratuitously, signing and anointing with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance,[Eph. 1:13f]
the meritorious cause is His most beloved only begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies,[Rom. 5:10] for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us,[Eph. 2:4] …
For though no one can be just except he to whom the merits of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet this takes place in that justification of the sinner, when by the merit of the most holy passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts[Rom. 5:5] of those who are justified and inheres in them; whence man through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives in that justification, together with the remission of sins, all these infused at the same time, namely, faith, hope and charity. (Council of Trent Session 6, Chapter VII)

3. Do Catholics deny Faith Alone?

This particular claim gets into the unfortunate tendency to create a false dichotomy.  “The issue is naively boiled down to justification by faith, on the one hand (evangelicalism), versus justification by works, on the other hand (Roman Catholicism). This crass caricature has little basis in reality, and hampers the cause for theological truth and Christian unity” (White, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, 2).  Challies gives the impression that Catholics don’t adamantly believe that faith is essential to salvation. As disciples of Truth we need to avoid such mischaracterizations.
Can a Catholic ever say “Faith Alone/Sola Fide”? Yes.
However, Challies seems to want you to believe that any understanding of faith alone has been anathematized by the Council of Trent, likely because that is what R.C. Sproul had him understand. Here is the ruling in question:

Canon 9 – If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema (Council of Trent Session 6) [If you’ve never read the eight Canons prior to this one, Trent is very clear that the action of the will is “moved and aroused by God” (Canon 4) through the “the predisposing inspiration of the Holy Ghost” (Canon 3).  Heck just read all of Session 6 already.]

Seems pretty cut and dry right?  If you accept that particular articulation of faith alone, then yes, it is.  But it seems that even at the time of Trent there must have been consideration that there is an acceptable definition of faith alone, otherwise why clarify the specific meaning they are anathematizing?  This isn’t coming from me.  This is coming from Pope Benedict XVI:

Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 6 & 14). (Saint Paul: “The Doctrine of Justification: from Works to Faith” [13])

Also, check out the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification [14].
But one might say, Catholics still add works and sacraments, meaning we now earn our justification.  First, the Catholic would argue that we don’t add anything, merely recognize the way Jesus set it up and the Apostles handed it down.  Second, that only sounds like earning our salvation to the ears of one who has made faith synonymous with grace.  Faith is a fruit of grace, but that is not all God’s grace is capable of.  Here is how Cardinal Henry Newman expresses it:

It seems, then, that whereas Faith on our part fitly corresponds, or is the correlative, as it is called, to grace on God’s part, Sacraments are but the manifestation of grace, and good works are but the manifestation of faith; so that whether we say we are justified by faith, or by works or by Sacraments, all these but mean this one doctrine, that we are justified by grace, which is given through Sacraments, impetrated by faith, manifested in works. (Newman, Lectures on Justification, p. 303)

Not to mention we are all in agreement that the supernatural gift of Faith that saves us apart from works of the Law is a gift.  But it isn’t any less of a response or more of gift because it is invisible as opposed to grace initiated works which are visible.  God who is Spirit took on flesh.  Do we really think He does not want our Faith to become incarnate as well?

Finally, as has been my practice thus far, I’ll let Trent speak for itself:

For faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites man perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of His body.  For which reason it is most truly said that faith without works is dead (James 2:17,20) and of no profit, and in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by charity (Gal. 5:6, 6:15). … But when the Apostle says that man is justified by faith and freely (Rom. 3:24, 5:1), these words are to be understood in that sense in which the uninterrupted unanimity of the Catholic Church has held and expressed them, namely, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) and to come to the fellowship of His sons; and we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification. (Council of Trent Session 6, Chapter VII and VIII)

It is telling that St. Paul does not say “faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is faith because it justifies you alone” or “If I have not faith I am nothing”.  Instead we see in Scripture that we are “justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28), “we are saved in hope” (Rom. 8:24), and “the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).  We are warned that “if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2), and if we do not have love for our brother that we can see, while claiming love for God who we can’t see, then we are liars (cf. 1 John 4:20).  This is why James says “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26) and Paul says that we must have “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).

Next Post:
Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 3)

9. “When the councils pronounced holders of a doctrine anathema, it marked a formal excommunication from the Church: nothing more and nothing less” (“Let him be Anathema”: Not what many Protestants think it means.  See also, What Catholics Really Believe: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith by Karl Keating – “[Misconception #5] The Catholic Church sends people to hell by excommunicating them.  [Keating’s response] It doesn’t.  Only God can condemn anyone to hell.  That isn’t within the Church’s power, and no Catholic ever claimed it was” (17).  Interestingly, Challies’ list of “False Teachers” on his site is essentially him saying, “let them be anathema.”
Interestingly,  Challies never makes comment of it on his site.  I searched the whole thing for references he made to “the forgettable Benedict,” as he called him, and a Pope affirming a legitimate articulation of faith alone must have missed the list of noteworthy items.

Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 1)

A note: Throughout these posts statements regarding Protestant beliefs will arise.  These are not intended to capture every belief system within Protestantism, but should be read with the preface, “For those denominations that believe …”  We do not have an exhaustive knowledge of the different positions taken by different Protestants, so if we say something that doesn’t apply to you then it wasn’t intended to apply to you.

Claim 1: Catholicism denies the Gospel

What an unfortunate claim!  Certainly, there are disagreements regarding soteriology (the study of salvation) between Catholics and Protestants [3], but to claim we deny the Gospel should be backed up by copious citations from history and Scripture.  Yet, it is lacking.

Actually, we are so deprived that we don’t even have an articulation of the supposedly false Catholic Gospel and the supposedly true Gospel according to Challies.  In another article Challies wrote this: “But the essential gospel is right there—that Jesus Christ was put to death as an atoning sacrifice for our sins and was then raised back to life.” [4] Not even the most brazen anti-Catholics I’ve encountered would say the Catholic Church denies this statement.  They might disagree with Catholic theology regarding atonement, but accuse the Church of denying “that Jesus Christ was put to death as an atoning sacrifice for our sins and was then back to life?” Don’t think so. His brief articulation above is affirmed every Sunday by Catholics around the world (some even formally affirm it in public worship on a daily basis). No, that can’t be the articulation of the Gospel Challies has in mind when he accuses the Church of denying the Gospel.  Which is feasible, since he says this in the same aforementioned paragraph, “Of course the gospel can be as simple as those eight words or as complex as many volumes of theological text.”   So, maybe our best bet is to compile his complaints into two Gospel formulas and check them.  Here we go!

The closest thing I can gather to Challies’ Gospel is: Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  With only Christ praying on our behalf.  This happened and it is done and if you believe it happened then salvation is declared of you permanently.  No one has ever or will ever participate in the work of Christ. For we are seed implanted dunghills, covered in snow, but we are saved whether or not the plant grows [5].  For, we do NOTHING in regard to salvation.  We know this because the Bible, according to my [Challies]  interpretation, tells us and it alone is binding on the believer.

It is strange that all of this alone and only action is coming from the God of absolute transcendent abundance.  But, what do I know?  I’m a false-gospel Catholic.

How Challies’ portrays the Catholic Gospel: “[The Catholic Church] has a gospel … that damns not saves because it explicitly denies that justification comes (1)by grace alone (3)through faith alone (2)in Christ alone. …  (4)To the work of Christ it adds the work of Mary.  (5)To the intercession of the Savior it adds the intercession of the saints. (6)To the authority of the Bible it adds the authority of tradition. (7)To the free gift of salvation it adds the necessity of human effort. (8)In place of the finished work of Christ on the cross it demands the ongoing sacrifice of the mass. (9)In place of the permanent imputation of Christ’s righteousness it substitutes the temporary infusion of works righteousness.”  It is just a bunch of additions, like barnacles accumulating on the pristine hull of deconstructed, tweet sized Christianity.

Is this true?  Has the Catholic Church unnecessarily bogged the Gospel down in garbage?  I don’t think so. Rather, this section is shaped by two significant errors.  Challies’ claims either misrepresent Catholicism or he treats a natural part of the boat like an intrusive barnacle.

Part of this tendency to confuse the boat for barnacles is the pursuit of the ‘simple’ Gospel.  Is the Gospel simple, in the sense of minimalist and reductionist?  No.  The Incarnation is not simple.  The reality that God died is not simple.  How this Good News gives hope for those who lived before Christ is not simple.  The existence of suffering and evil is not simple.  The belief in the inspiration of Scripture is not simple.  The Gospel is a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness to Greeks, which hardly sounds simple.  Now, one could say it is simple in the sense that my best approach to it is to trust the Lord, but that is my best response because it is so far above my capacity to process.  Unfortunately, people aren’t often expressing a simple trust in the face of a complex salvation history.  Instead they are seeking a simplicity that is more reminiscent of Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace (Cost of Discipleship, 43-46 [6]).  The Gospel is acceptable by the human mind by faith, but beyond the mastery of human understanding.  You can decide if you would call that simple.  Anyway, back to Challies’ claims against Catholics.

The litany of perversions Challies presents can’t stand against the testimony of Scripture, history, and logic.  Now you can read all of my musings below, or read this essay from Richard A. White written at Trinity Theological Divinity School in 1987.  It is titled, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification [7].  It is from a Calvinist who fairly presents Catholic Soteriology.  Here is a snippet, “This study has forced me to abandon some false notions I have had for some time now, including my belief that Roman Catholic doctrine and the sola gratia are mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the stereotypical picture of Catholicism (among evangelicals) is that of a legalistic system unconcerned with saving faith in Christ. While this may be true sometimes in practice, it has no place in the actual teaching of the Catholic Church” (8-9).

Next Post:
Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 2)

3. See Jimmy Akin’s The Salvation Controversy for a highlight of some of them.  While certainly not comprehensive, it is a good introduction to the debate.
5. In my research I discovered that Luther’s “Snow-covered Dunghill” analogy is likely a paraphrased condensing of other thoughts and ideas.  It is not wholly inaccurate as an analogy for his soteriology, but unsustainable as a quote.  Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong was my source for learning that it is unprovable as a direct quote:
6. Opening pages of the Chapter titled “Costly Grace,”


Response to “Why I am not Roman Catholic”: Intro

Co-Authored by Adam Lewis and Spencer Hargadon

For about a week Adam Lewis and I will be putting out our response to this article: “Why I Am Not Roman Catholic”.  We will be snail mailing this to the author as well as it is the most efficeint way to reach him.


Challies’ article quickly falls into typical errors and accusations commonly found within some forms of Protestantism.  Among them is the temptation to define his beliefs by articulating what he is against (Protests), rather than a profession of a universal (Catholic) creed and tradition.  These are his own words, “In this series I am exploring some of the things I do not believe as a means to explaining what I do believe” (Challies, “Why I Am Not Roman Catholic”). The response that follows is not an attack on Challies’ character (ad hominem) or a questioning of his devotion to the Lord.  In actuality, it presumes that he and his subscribers are of such character and devotion that they would not desire to bear false witness.

Let’s begin with the title. The title “Roman Catholic” is widely used in both the secular and religious world.  It is a title that can be used with no intention at all or, unfortunately, is used as a pejorative.  A kind of religious bigotry that largely comes from Protestantism’s Eurocentric worldview. Challies’ frequent use of “Rome” as interchangeable with the Catholic Church is reminiscent of the latter.  While the earthly Pastor of the Catholic Church is the Bishop of Rome, it is misleading to name all Catholics “Roman”. In the West, we are predominantly of the Latin (Roman) rite, however, there are over 25 rites (stylistic differences in worship, different ways of approaching Church disciplines, and diversity in theology, but unity in Doctrine), including Greek, Byzantine, Maronite, Coptic, and Syromalabar to name a few [1]. We are, after all, God’s universal Church…

The article is riddled with errors, however not all will be addressed since not all claims seem thoughtful enough to merit a response. For example, when Challies refers to “church history,” apparently it’s all the way back to the glorious ancient days of John Calvin and his murderous theocracy at Geneva. He also throws in (lacking a single footnote or example) the “long saga” of Protestantism’s fight against the Church. Hopefully, he does not intend to side with Albigensianism [2], which had such poor gnostic theology on the body that suicide was encouraged. This is the point, these appear to be scarecrow tactics as Challies creates a plethora of broad sweeping false dichotomies without precise definitions or clarity of his own personal theology. Thus, it is unreasonable to respond to all the false accusations, and quite difficult. Not because the fullness of Truth is on his side but because he never actually makes a solid or precise claim for himself, other than, “I was raised that way”. With an attempt at precision, we defend reasonableness, research, objective truth, and Our Lord’s Church, by confronting the major false accusations.  We hope to do so with, “gentleness and reverence, keeping [our] conscience[s] clear” (1 Peter 3:16).

As this work is co-authored we both contributed to one another’s efforts, but Mr. Hargadon was directly responsible for Claim 1 and the Appendix, and Mr. Lewis took on Claims 2 & 3.  Any personal ‘I’ statements found in those sections is indicative of that person.

Next Post:
Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 1)

2. Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians”, pg 45.

QotD – Not an Optional Contribution – 05.23.2016

“The presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the Church.  It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved.  This message is indeed necessary.
It is unique.
It cannot be replaced.
It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation.
It is a question of people’s salvation.
It is the beauty of the Revelation that it represents.
It brings with it a wisdom that is not of this world.
It is able to stir up by itself faith – faith that rests on the power of God.
It is truth.”

(Paul VI, On Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi), 4-5)

Unembarrassed Joy

Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

41SHFgwWc0L._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_I was feeling like a real go-getter this week.  Days before writing this reflection I had read the passages and knew I was going to write on the section where James talks about going after those who stray.  Then I randomly picked up a book that I bought exactly one year before I got married, mind you I’ve been married for nearly three years now.  The book is called Salt of the Earth and it is an interview between Peter Seewald and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.  As I read one of Ratzinger’s responses I found a line from today’s first reading ringing through my mind, “Is anyone in good spirits?  He should sing a song of praise.”  That is such good advice!  But are we bad at following it?

Here is the line that released that train of thought from the station:

Something I constantly notice is that unembarrassed joy has become rare.  Joy today is increasingly saddled with moral and ideological burdens, so to speak.  When someone rejoices, he is afraid of offending against solidarity with the many people who suffer.  I don’t have any right to rejoice, people think, in a world where there is so much misery, so much injustice. (36)

I want to spend our time reflecting on the two keys that James and Jesus give us for unlocking unembarrassed joy.

The first key is from James and is one of action.  It is worth noting that James does not possess the same dilemma that Ratzinger suggests we do.  For immediately before addressing the one in good spirits James wrote, “Is anyone among you suffering?  He should pray.”  James is not ignorant to suffering in the world.  As a matter of fact, if you read all of James, there is a strong call for us to do something about the suffering of the world!  We find lines such as

  • “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (1:27)
  • “However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.  But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (2:8-9)
  • “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?  So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:15-17)
  • “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.  But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity” (3:16-17)

This cornucopia of citations from James is to express that there seems to be a presumption that the person expressing unembarrassed joy, is already cooperating with God in trying to do something about these present trials and sufferings.  When we strive to follow James’ call to bear sorrow and suffering together, we do not hesitate to share our joy.  Instead, it is when we isolate the alleviation of suffering to the afflicted that we become ashamed of joy.

The second key is from Jesus in the gospel and is one of attitude or being.  Today’s gospel possess the famous line, “whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”  When we become childlike we can be joyful without shame.  I recall the great joy my nephew had as he shot baskets.  To the pragmatic adult, he was just throwing the ball up and his dad and I were actually sinking the ball through the hoop.  For the child, though, he was doing it and there was only joy in making the baskets.  And that joy was contagious.  It was inviting.

51DoPBMXXOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_That is the kind of joy that Pope Francis called us to in The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium).  Not something with a shrill, uneasy laugh trying to cover up the reality of suffering.  But a joy like a child’s.  A joy that penetrates hardship and overcomes suffering as it lifts someone’s spirit to the kingdom.

When Ratzinger, in 1996, noted a rarity in unembarrassed joy, I believe he was referring to a rarity in active childlike joy.  It is to this same impoverishment that Pope Francis responded with The Joy of the Gospel.

May the Gospel compel us to action and fill us with a contagious joy.

Both photos from

QotD – Nothing more solid – 2.4.2016

On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation [kerygma] must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first … because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis [teaching], at every level and moment.

We must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more “solid” formation. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation. (Pope Francis. Evangelii Gaudium. 164-165)