Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Friday, November 02, 2012

Salvation for sale

For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life. God is not mocked, and as the Bible clearly teaches, after this passing instant of life on earth, God’s great mercy in time will give way to God’s perfect judgment in eternity.

If there is a single reason I have tossed aside (well, almost) all concern with soteriology as the central tenet of Christianity, this argument would be an example of it.  I really cannot distinquish this line of reasoning from a Chick tract:

That is offensive to me on so many levels I don't know where to start.  It's a gross distortion of Paul's theology, to begin with.  It has, so far as I can tell, absolutely no connection to any of the teachings of Jesus in any of the four gospels.  And it flies in the face of the refusal to be judgmental that gets Jesus so crosswise (no pun intended) with the Pharisees and Saduccees and lawyers and scribes (all of whom are, historically, caricatures, but that's another issue) in the synoptic Gospels (especially Luke's).  Whenever Jesus is confronted with an opportunity to judge, he resolutely refuses to do so, and in fact tells the "sinner", more often than not:  "Go, and sin no more."  What happens most often is that the blind see, the lame walk, the sick are healed, and there is no payment involved.  Not only no payment in coin or discipleship (none of the healed become named apostles), but not even a down payment in faith.  Even the disciples, of course, weren't interested in giving away something for nothing, and they'd tell the beggars and the little children to leave the Important Man alone.  Jesus, however, always had other ideas.

Which isn't to say Jesus didn't set boundaries, didn't establish standards.  He tells the prostitute in Simon's house that her trust has saved her, that her sins are forgiven, and that she is to go in peace.  But after the Transfiguration, he tells would be followers to sell all they have if they want to follow him, and to leave the dead to bury their dead.  Following Jesus is hard, and he knows it; and he knows it's not for everybody.  There are ways of serving; but there are also ways of judging; and Jesus never encourages judging.

Perhaps the closest he comes is when he sends the disciples out and tells them to sleep in the house they are invited into, and to give that house their peace as they enter.  If they are accepted, the peace stays there; if they are rejected, that peace leaves with them.  The house isn't condemned into dust and ash; it just isn't blessed with the peace the disciples bring.  The people living there don't go to hell; they just missed the point.  They excluded themselves; but from what?  From eternal life, and bliss?

Well, yes, according to Jack Chick.  But what is his authority?  Is it really any greater than that of Bishop Daniel Jenky?

I realize that is a very Protestant question, and I don't raise it to start an argument about the superiority of Protestantism against Roman Catholicism.  But let me draw the line on this question of soteriology very directly:  Jesus doesn't condemn the tax collector Zaccheus because he is working for the hated Roman government, the very government which will soon nail Jesus to a cross and hang him naked in the air as a traitor.  Jesus doesn't pass Zaccheus because his political loyalty to Rome is at odds with his loyalty to "the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life."  Jesus doesn't even challenge how Zaccheus makes his living.  Jesus just sees Zaccheus in the tree, trying to get a better view of the renowned rabbi, and invites himself to lunch.  It is, if anything, a violation of everything a holy man in 1st century Palestine should be doing; but then, Jesus spends a lot of his time in Luke's gospel violating everything a holy man in 1st century Palestine should be doing.

The situation is the same throughout Luke's gospel.  When the people come to hear the preaching of John the Baptist, John doesn't tell the Roman soldier to give up his political loyalty to Caesar and become a disciple of John or of Jesus.  He doesn't tell the tax collector to give up working for Rome.  John tells them to be fair in their dealings with others, which means keep being a soldier, and keep collecting taxes.  Again, this soldier could well be one ordered to nail Jesus to the cross, or to arrest him.  Certainly someone that soldier knew was involved in the crucifixion.   Is there no judgment for his sin, for at least his association?  Because surely the Bishop's argument is one of guilt by association:  your vote determines the state of your eternal soul, because whatever the candidate's do in office, it is as good done by you.

Which makes representative government a very dicey game indeed.  My salvation depends on the choices those in office make, especially if I approved of them enough to vote to put them there.  Hmmmmm.......

Sorry, but honestly, if there is a defense for Bp. Jenky's argument, I can't imagine what it is.  And if there is any theological justification for his soteriology, I don't know what that is, either.

Maybe that's why I just don't understand his actions at all.


8 Comments:

Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

Must we pay attention to the Gospel of Jensky? Will Roman Catholics pay attention to the Gospel of Jensky when they vote? I hope not.

Perhaps the powers-that-be at the IRS might pay attention to investigating the Diocese of Peoria's tax-exempt eligibility. It seems to me the bishop moved beyond advocating issues to advocating candidates. I know it won't happen, but it should.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

Mea culpa! I misspelled the bishop's name. That would be Jenky.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Windhorse said...

Beautifully reasoned analysis based on scripture. I'd love to warch a debate between you and one-note Jenky. I would PAY to watch it.

By his own logic he damns his peers and forebears. How many bishops cooperated and even collaborated with the Nazis? (Answer: a great many). Or with Franco? And had the blessing of the Vatican? The great holocaust of the Inca in which millions were enslaved and worked to death was endorsed and even insisted upon by the Church, who desired Inca gold to strengthen Catholic regimes. How many Catholics voted for George Bush, who began a preemptive war in which many hundreds of thousand of innocents lost their lives?

If Jenky is correct, a great many Catholics, including and especially bishops and popes, are going to hell for voting for the wrong guy. Perhaps it's time to being that to his attention.

12:16 PM  
Anonymous kishnevi said...

Great post, but one technical note: given that the Jews of that era looked on tax collectors for the Romans as another kind of robber (Jesus truly went to the bottom of the barrel when he called Matthew), "being fair in his dealings" would probably suggest to contemporaries that he should in fact find another line of work.

People didn't think too highly of the soldiers, either, but I don't think Jesus would have meant for the soldier to desert and risk being put to death--although apparently among the early Christians there were soldiers who did exactly that.

10:03 AM  
Blogger rick allen said...

The difference between the bishop and the Chick tract is the difference between Catholic and Protestant. To put it perhaps too simply, Catholics think you can be damned for what you do, and Protestants think you can be damned (if they still think you can be) for where you put your faith.

"By his own logic he damns his peers and forebears." Of course he does. There is no immunity for clergy. Dante's Inferno, a consumately orthodox work, is full of popes and bishops.

You may of course remove the concern for salvation from Christianity and have a whole lot left: God and ethics and art. But I think the scripture and tradition thereby become unintelligible.

So to some extent I'll defend the bishop. Yes, what God requires of us trumps party loyalty and patriotism. Yes, what we do determines what we become and where we end up. Life is not coasting, but hard choosing. What we do puts us among sheep or goats, eternal life or the lake of fire, to use Jesus' own words. Our political acts are not outside of that obligation.

Having said that, I should note that I voted for the President's re-election yesterday, not because of any party committement, but because, overall, I think he is more pro-life that Governor Romney. I don't agree with the President's take on abortion, and I think his mandate has some real constitutional problems that will have to be worked out. But, overall, how his polices affect poverty and war, in the short and long run, will, I think, be more fruitful of life that those of his opponent.

The bishop has the obligation and authority to preach the gospel, and insist we put it into effect. He has a right, as a citizen, to state how he judges those values to best be served. But neither I nor any other Catholic owes him any deference on the matter of political judgment. So I'm not offended or upset at all about his statements.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

Having said that, I should note that I voted for the President's re-election yesterday, not because of any party committement, but because, overall, I think he is more pro-life that Governor Romney I don't agree with the President's take on abortion, and I think his mandate has some real constitutional problems that will have to be worked out.

But, overall, how his polices affect poverty and war, in the short and long run, will, I think, be more fruitful of life that those of his opponent.


Rick, you should be a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church. Shall I start a campaign to have you declared bishop by acclimation? Like Ambrose?

12:48 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

Great post, but one technical note: given that the Jews of that era looked on tax collectors for the Romans as another kind of robber (Jesus truly went to the bottom of the barrel when he called Matthew), "being fair in his dealings" would probably suggest to contemporaries that he should in fact find another line of work.

People didn't think too highly of the soldiers, either, but I don't think Jesus would have meant for the soldier to desert and risk being put to death--although apparently among the early Christians there were soldiers who did exactly that.

Well, my historical/critical view of those lines is that they were carefully edited to avoid offending the Romans.

The Crucifixion itself is cast so carefully you'd think (as people did for centuries, and many still do) that it was a sentence imposed by the Jews on Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, especially as the Jews (a) had no such sway over Pilate (who was removed, finally, for being too harsh in Palestine, as if "Roman Rule" and "too harsh" cannot be imagined except as an oxymoron) and (b) crucifixion was an explicitly political sentence used by Rome to punish those who threatened Rome's political (not religious, especially since Rome had no religion) power.

So there's a fair amount of interpretation possible on what was being said to the tax collector and the soldier by John.

Rick--

I can parse the Bishop's statements carefully enough (I'm a lawyer and a theologian, it's a double threat!) to say he stays just inside the IRS regulations against engaging in politics from the pulpit (even by proxy), and to agree he really doesn't, in the end, tell any Catholic in his diocese who to vote for by Tuesday.

OTOH, he's not just a citizen, and so not entirely entitled to the unbridled speech that a lay person is. I learned that as a pastor myself. I may wish to assert my freedom of speech (as in the case of the letter from the UCC, whose content I agreed with), but I'm not free to exercise that liberty, given my public role. I wasn't really even free to put a bumper sticker on my car.

My rights as a citizen were curtailed by my position as a pastor, and I knew it. Bishop Jenky is not speaking just as a citizen, either; and he knows it.

And I understand (you didn't imply otherwise, I hasten to point out) the distinction between Protestant theology (and that theory of soteriology is hardly dead) and Catholic. My argument is, it's a distinction without a fundamental difference.

Sort of like the split over transubstantiation v. "real presence" v. symbol, in the Eucharist. There, I prefer the answer of the German Evangelical and Reformed church: "Let it be unto you according to your faith."

2:57 PM  
Blogger rick allen said...

Just a note before this one slips below the fold....

I am curious about what you have been thinking about soteriology (after the billions spent on advertisements and robo-calls I am a little wrung out about politics). As I say, I think the notion of salvation is pretty fundamental in Christianity, though there are great differences about "saved from what" and "saved in what way" and "saved for what."

And to approach a controversay with an assertion of inessential difference--"Let it be unto you according to your faith"--doesn't bridge the gap, or end the controversy, but adds a third, equally distinctive position.

2:38 PM  

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