Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

Why I’m not Catholic, Part 28

January 5, 2017

I hate to be an ecumenical wet blanket. I promise I’m not anti-Catholic. Even last month, I quoted extensively from the former Pope Benedict XVI’s excellent little book on Christmas, which I’d recommend to anyone. And I celebrate the many points of agreement between orthodox Protestants and Catholics.

Nevertheless, in this, the five-hundredth anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation, I will shed no tears: There were good reasons the Reformation happened, and apart from drastic reform within the Roman church, good reasons that we Protestants still refuse to swim the Tiber. One of them is this New Year’s tweet from Pope Francis:

Catholic apologists tell me that praying to the saints is nothing more than asking your friends—in this case, your friends in heaven—to pray for you. They are “prayer warriors”—if unusually effective ones. Indeed, even the Hail Mary prayer asks her to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

Not that this isn’t hard enough to swallow. It asks us to imagine that Mary and the saints wait in heaven at our beck and call, outside of time, endowed with God-like powers of omnipresence and omniscience, ready to hear our prayer and intercede for us. At any one moment, after all, thousands or millions could be praying the Hail Mary. How is she not omnipresent? Otherwise, supplicants are competing with one another to be heard—and, let’s face it, she would likely only hear a tiny fraction of the prayers offered. (Is this the reason people repeat the prayer so many times?)

And she must be able to read our thoughts: I assume a prayer that isn’t verbalized “counts,” for example, if the supplicant is unable to speak. How is that possible apart from omniscience?

I hate to speculate, but what else can I do? I would turn to the New Testament for guidance from Paul and the other apostles, but there’s nothing there. Praying to the saints is an entirely extrabiblical practice.

Regardless, apologists tell us that Catholics are only asking Mary and the saints to intercede on their behalf, nothing more. They don’t believe that the saints have any inherent power to answer any prayer other than the prayer for them to pray for us.

But if that’s true, how do you explain the Pope’s recent tweet? How is it not idolatrous to entrust the future to any creature, rather than to Christ himself? What powers does Mary herself possess to enable peace and mercy to grow?

I like this tweet from Lutheran Satire:

P.S. “Mother of God,” from the Greek theotokos (literally “God-bearer”), was originally a Christological formulation, meant to communicate the full divinity of Christ: When Mary bore Christ, she bore God himself, because Christ was fully God. While I wouldn’t use the term myself, given how it’s prone to misunderstanding, there is nothing unorthodox about referring to Mary that way. Again, it says something about Christ, not Mary.

Bad Christian memes, Brian Zahnd edition

November 6, 2015

I’ve been critical of the theology of pastor Brian Zahnd on a couple of occasions (here and here). Courtesy of Derek Rishmawy, I encountered yet another objectionable statement, this one in the form of a meme. I like Rishmawy’s response:


Zahnd, like Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Fred Clark, and many others, is a self-described former conservative evangelical or “fundamentalist” who eventually saw the light, as he sees it, and moved to the theological left. If I’m unusually sensitive to thinkers such as these, it’s because I moved in the opposite direction: After an evangelical childhood, I identified as a progressive Christian for much of my adult life—a theological turn that nearly ruined my soul. So I want to warn others: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

I also fear that many of these former evangelicals experience a political conversion prior to their theological conversion. And because they’ve conflated evangelicalism with voting a certain way, they soon abandon evangelicalism altogether—in all but name, at least. In Britain, however, from which so many brilliant evangelicals hail, this confusion of politics and theology doesn’t happen nearly as much.

N.T. Wright, for example, seems like a political lefty to me, even though he’s theologically conservative—including on hot-button social issues that, in America at least, are usually identified with the Religious Right.

So if you’re a political liberal who’s evangelical, look across the pond and find your role models! But please don’t abandon your commitment to the authority of scripture!

Be that as it may, New Zealand theologian Glenn Peoples was surely speaking of Christian bloggers such as Zahnd when he wrote the following in a recent blog post:

Self-styled progressive Christian blogs, it seems to me, are almost a purely reactionary phenomenon, rather than a constructive one. They exist as an almost visceral reaction to fundamentalism, very often to the writer’s own perceived fundamentalist past. What seems obvious to me in many discussions of Scripture in these settings is that there is a remarkable obsession with the doctrine of inerrancy – far more so than in conservative circles. The preoccupation with saying at every opportunity that inerrancy is false seems to set the agenda, so that whatever the authors of Scripture might have actually wanted to say takes a back seat to the really important message (namely that inerrancy is false).

In other words, the message from so many of these bloggers is that the Bible is wrong, or deficient, or insufficient, or unreliable, or less than fully truthful—and hardly a secure foundation on which to build one’s Christian faith.

Zahnd’s statement is a prime example of this.

Notice the false choice he sets up: one has to choose between Jesus or the Bible. As if we can know who Jesus is independently of scripture! 

Honestly: What can we know about God’s eternal plan of salvation, for which Christ’s death and resurrection is the climax, apart from scripture, whose authors were inspired by God to write what they wrote? Unless I’m badly mistaken, nothing at all!

Yes, in a sense Jesus is what “God has to say.” But apart from scripture, not only can we not know who Jesus is, we also can’t interpret what God was trying to tell us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

The whole thing reminds me of a recent online argument I had with a fellow United Methodist blogger who ridiculed me for referring to the Bible as “God’s Word.” The Bible isn’t God’s Word, he told me (as if I, having gone to mainline Protestant seminary, hadn’t heard this before); Jesus is God’s Word.

Since Jesus himself refers to the Bible as God’s Word, I believe we should, too. The Bible is God’s written-down-Word. When has the Church taught otherwise? And, yes, Jesus is the Word-made-flesh, as John’s gospel tells us. Both are true. I can’t believe that Zahnd doesn’t understand this.

Theologically insufficient tweets

July 24, 2013


Some of my fellow United Methodist pastors from Georgia are in class on St. Simons Island this week earning their CEUs. I hope to rejoin them next year. It didn’t work out for me this summer.

Given the enthusiasm with which this quote was retweeted, I assume United Methodist pastor and homiletics professor James Howell got applauded or Amen-ed when he said this. I sympathize. We don’t like saying “God is in control” because, based on the extreme Calvinist interpretation, it ascribes God’s agency to truly horrifying evil.

But… surely neither Howell nor his tweeters deny that God is in control to some extent. Right? Otherwise, let’s not bother with petitionary prayer, for instance—if events are just going to run their course anyway.

My point is, God is sovereign and has the power to stop people from shooting children. Agreed? Like it or not, he chooses not to. We believe he has perfectly good reasons not to intervene—and, by all means, the free will argument is a good one, in this case.

For all I know, Howell went on to say these same things. But this tweet doesn’t say enough. Well, why would it? Almost by definition, tweets, like bumper stickers, don’t say enough.