Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Review: Good Tidings of Glad Tidings

. . .Some people continue to defend trickledown theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still wanting.
It's brash statements like that one, lefty statements, that prompted his majesty Limbaugh to pronounce the Pope a communist.
. . .almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people's pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else's responsibility and not our own. This culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase.
That too. But if you listen to Limbaugh and stay the heck away from the Pontiff, you'll miss one beautific blessing from The Joy of the Gospel, the Pope's own Evangelii Glaudium. It's less than 200 pages long, available on-line, or, from Amazon, just ten bucks. It's an absolute joy to read, saith this Calvinist, and I'm not saying that just because he serves up nothing more than a hefty course of liberal sweetmeats. If you're busy and you can't spare the time some retired old gents have, just read through the first few chapters, where Pope Francis sits back and appraises the state of the world with sharp attention to sociological and theological detail that makes evangelization, he says--the very heart of his joy--difficult. Pope Francis is a very, very wise man, who cometh not out of the east, but out of the west, Brazil. 

Honestly, reading through the Pope's ideas about faith and culture in The Joy of the Gospel is like taking a great class full of fresh and insightful analysis. Maybe that sounds too professorial. Joy is not just professorial--it's just plain good.

There are times when the Pope--my ancestors probably called him the Anti-Christ--sounds more like John Calvin than those who live and have their being in his--and my--Calvinist tradition.
Reading the scriptures also makes it clear that the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. Nor should our loving response to God be seen simply as an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need, a kind of "charity a la carte," or a series of acts aimed solely at easing our conscience. The Gospel is about the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 4:43) [emphasis his, btw] .
Or this: "It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven (182)."

Listen to him! He sounds absolutely Kuyperian.
Our mandate is to "go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation (Mk 16:`5), for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God (Rom 8:19). Here, "the creation" refers to every aspect of human life.. . .
And here's the seedbed for the famous, "Who am I to judge?" response the Pope gave to the reporter who asked him about gay marriage: "neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social realities or the proposal of solutions to contemporary problems" (184). 

Say, what?

It's that kind of humility, that kind of grace, that kind of mercy that earmarks the entire study. The entire Christian world would be blessed by reading it.

His ecumenicity doesn't keep him from being Roman Catholic. He rolls out Catholicity 101 on most of the hot-button issues, doesn't back off an inch. He stands with tradition on the role of women with respect to the priesthood (nope) and rejects abortion as soundly and roundly as any of his predecessors. 

What's more, a substantial chunk of the late sections of The Joy of the Gospel gives the Virgin Mary her traditional, honored and beatific place:"With Mary we advance confidently toward the fulfillment of this promise, and to her we pray," he says, and much more. 

But for those of us who've not listened closely to traditional Roman Catholic doctrine on the Virgin, it's interesting to hear what has been, for centuries, pivotal Catholic dogma: "Contemplating Mary, we realize that she who praised God for 'bringing down the mighty from their thrones': and 'sending the rich away empty' (Lk 1:52-53) is also the one who brings a homely warmth to our pursuit of justice."

He is a big fan of personal piety. 
Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy and as a restulf  of weariness and difficulties, and our fervor dies out.  The Church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer, and to my great joy groups devoted to prayer and intercessio, the prayerful reading of  God's word, and the perpectual adoration of the Eucharist are growing at every level of ecclesial life. 
But then he quotes from John Paul II, concerned that personal piety not morph into something proudly self-centered. "Even so, 'we must reject the temptation to offer a privatized and individualistic spirituality which ill accords with the demands of charity, to say nothing of the implications of the incarnation.'"

My appreciation for The Joy of the Gospel was created in part, I'm sure, by just having finished a tour of the various battlefields of the Reformed Church in America, a fellowship not at all unlike my own, where a fisticuffs have been a way of life and today a host of fiefdoms live comfortably in their own fortresses. 

I'll admit it. When I read Pope Francis, I couldn't help but long for a more authoritarian system, something less fractious, even, dare I say it?--less, well, democratic. I couldn't help thinking how great it would be for my fellowship to speak, in a way, like this, with one voice.

I've read too much fiction from Roman Catholic writers to buy some idyllic vision of millions of Roman Catholics simply closing ranks behind this pope or any other. His word is not law. After all, he's the one who famously said, "Who am I to judge?"

On the other hand, The Joy of the Gospel, is the Roman Catholic heart of things right now because he said it. If you want to critique Catholic piety and practice, you start with Evangelii Glaudium, which may not be the Word of Life, but will certainly bring you closer to it than anything else recently penned.

When I finished The Joy of the Gospel, I wished we had a pope. There, I said it. Burn me at the stake, dang it, but I did.

I found it flat-out inspiring.  

Sorry, Rush. 


Anonymous said...

Sorry James, I for one, am still about, "of the people, by the people and for the people" and not just a few people[like Obama, Putin, Castro to name a few] sitting on the top of the heap handing-out their version of "fair".

Anonymous said...

Sometimes we look for heaven on earth.

I am sure if it [heaven] were to be found, others been would have found it long ago or we would have screwed it up somehow.

Socialism looks so doggone appealing.

Eve wanted to be "just like God" which was her version of "fair". Like all other heavens that have been discovered on earth, hers did not work out to well for her and for that matter us either.

Anonymous said...

EDIT: I am sure if it [heaven] were to be found, others would have found it long ago and we would have screwed it up somehow.

Anonymous said...

The FACT is, this capitalistic country is the most "GIVING" on the face of the planet. But, I'll give....what socialist country would you like to emulate? Cuba, well they do have great cigars. India, awesome place to live if you like poverty. How about N. Korea.....try being a Christian there. I don't know, tell me.

Anonymous said...

Does no one else notice that as we continually move toward the progressive/liberal left, that the poverty level in this country goes up? We are losing our common sense.

Anonymous said...

"Do it unto the least of these" such as feeding the poor and caring for the widows is a command given to the CHURCH not governments. I trust the Pope made that clear.

Anonymous said...

Who am I to judge? I read the following and find that out that the Lord's people will judge the world. Do you think the Pope understands this?

I Corinthians 6 If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!

Anonymous said...

Paul Fessler said:

Wow! I'm assuming most of the posters here are Christians. If so, we need to be just as critical of capitalism and democratic institutions as we are of communism and socialism!

I am very critical of communism and socialism---and that's good! But North American Christians, esp Americans, have a problem "baptizing" our economic and social structures as Christian. Just because a group of Christians adopt a type of economic or political structure does not mean that it is in line with Scriptural norms.

While Christianity played (and plays) an important and historical role in how the United States developed--there's a problem in saying America's a Christian allows us to easily "baptize" all sorts of things that we should be far more critical of--where we should be counter-cultural. Not only in areas of morals (like abortion and homosexual marriage, etc) but also in economics and politics.

If we identify too much as a Democrat or Republican---we move away from identifying with Scriptural basis for critique and adopt the ways of the world (both Democratic and Republican).

Many of the anonymous commenters here should read Kuyper's Problem of Poverty. He was very critical of socialism (he was of the Anti-Revolutionary Party and anti-French Revolution/Enlightment after all) but he also praised them for highlighting areas that we've overlooked in living out the gospel. In short, it is far too complex to look at the world as Christians from either the left or the right.

From Jim's review--I think we could all benefit from reading a critique of the world around us from the Pope's perspective. And, full disclosure for the record, I tend to be on the more conservative side of things and tend to vote more Republican. SO this isn't an issue people should just write off b/c someone you identify as being more on the left (which, really, Jim isn't that far left, people. Come on! He's just got too much of the 1960s in him yet! :) And that's a good thing, in many ways)

Paul Fessler

Anonymous said...

Well Paul...what do you think of the idea of Absolute Truth?

I trust you would not want to reduce that idea to something relative...Each scripture has only
one meaning, right?

I agree, this discussion is not about Left, Right, Republican or Democrat... I get that...However, if I were seeking the TRUTH, I think I would stay away from guys like Judas and consult with others like the other disciples or the Apostle Paul.

One more thing, "this isn't an issue people should just write off b/c someone you identify as being more on the left (which, really, Jim isn't that far left, people. Come on! He's just got too much of the 1960s in him yet! :)

Paul, can one really support anyone on the Left who is not pro-life or vote for candidates who believe in abortion?

This is not a matter of degree, it is a matter of life and death. I can not rationalize that.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes we just can not have purgatory... heaven or hell are the only choices...

Anonymous said...

The Deep State poses much more of a threat to the American way of life than Right or Left politics.

My ultimate conclusion is: if we do not return to the basics of who Jesus Christ is, why he came to earth, sin and death, right and wrong, thesis/antithesis thinking [Francis Schaefer, Escape from Reason]we are big trouble. I am not looking to the pope or his writings for answers.

Below is a description of the Deep State which may pose musch more of threat than Right and Left politics...

"The Deep State is the big story of our time. It is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, the financialization and deindustrialization of the American economy, the rise of a plutocratic social structure and political dysfunction. Washington is the headquarters of the Deep State, and its time in the sun as a rival to Rome, Constantinople or London may be term-limited by its overweening sense of self-importance and its habit, as Winwood Reade said of Rome, to “live upon its principal till ruin stared it in the face.” “Living upon its principal,” in this case, means that the Deep State has been extracting value from the American people in vampire-like fashion." Essay: Anatomy of the Deep State, February 21, 2014, by Mike Lofgren

Anonymous said...

Paul Fessler responds: OK--some responses:

1) Absolute Truth--yes--I agree that there is a Truth that we need to focus upon that comes from biblical principles. Have you read Nancy Pearcey's Total Truth? I would recommend this as a place to start where I come down on this issue. She's going to be a guest speaker at Dordt in the fall and I heartily recommend anyone in the area to come and hear her.

I am not a fan of post-modernism (nor modernism) but some of their insights are useful. I am very much opposed to the notions of relativism that are so closely tied to postmodernism--I've written on this elsewhere in my critique of multiculturalism. I'm very much against the notions of relativism that dominate much of our discussion--I do not see this in Francis.

2. On abortion. This is one of the key reasons that I almost always vote Republican on the presidential and Senate elections (who nominate judges). On the local, state and House of Rep, it becomes trickier.

However, just because someone is right on abortion (in my mind "right" means "pro-life"/anti-abortion doesn't mean that they're correct in other areas. I think this is the issue that that Francis is getting at in his critique--and where I do concur. Issues of life and death move beyond just abortion. There is a wide range of areas that have life and death impact--and I think we too often forget the other aspects of this by often only focusing on abortion within the Christian community.

3. "My ultimate conclusion is: if we do not return to the basics of who Jesus Christ is, why he came to earth, sin and death, right and wrong, thesis/antithesis thinking [Francis Schaefer, Escape from Reason]we are big trouble. I am not looking to the pope or his writings for answers." First--- we do need to focus as Christians on his lordship over all creation--and what that means practically for us as Christians. That means that we need to do the hard work of engaging the world and then have differences in terms of policy approaches--that's where we have to engage in debate and discussion with each other. (And trust me, I've argued with Brother Jim many, many times!) Calvin goes into great depth in this in the Institutes---that's why Calvinism was so popular--it engaged the world. This is what Kuyper and the neo-Kuyperians/Calvinists also focused upon---including thesis/antithesis issues. But when engaging the world, dealing with real people--we are all embodiments of contradictions as sinful, fallen humans. We also need to be humble and non-triumphalist in trying to discern how to interpret scripture and apply it. Too often we forget this when dealing pastorally with each other--and fail to see the God-honoring insights in those we (often rightly) disagree with.

I don't agree with the pope on Mary--and quite a few other issues, too--but we can learn from him, no? We can learn from those we disagree with, too. Do we learn from Aristotle and Plato? From Augustine and Aquinas? Yes! Well, why not the Pope?

Hope these made sense--haven't proofread my response--and now back to grading!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response. I am certain we can learn from those we disagree with. I have been married for 41 years and learned that lesson many times over. However, we both go to our ultimate TRUTH source, the Bible, with our disagreements.

Personally, I have not even begun to scratch the surface in living out and applying the simplest of Biblical precepts in my life...certainly in progress... being sanctified moment by moment.

That said, looking to the Pope for answers is a stretch for me... However, I do believe God does reveal Himself to us through others, His creation, and His Word. My first choice is not a pseudo-leader of a denomination... namely the Pope. For me, there are far better options.

Thanks again.