Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Apologetics and Dispensationalists

<b>This post represents the clarification promised in my previous post concerning my views on our Apologetics priorities. I have now received Carl Olson's book Will Catholics be Left Behind and will begin reading it tonight. I believe, based on my first observation, that the book is a proper response to the problems discussed below, ie., it is aimed at presenting the truth of these issues to Catholics who may well be innocent of them.

The Catholic Church teaches that, since her founding, coincident with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the waiting Apostles at Pentecost, she has possessed the fullness of truth. She believes that this fullness of truth is guaranteed to her by the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit in her midst.

Since her founding two millennia ago the Church has faced two great challenges to the fullness of truth which she possesses. One came with the Protestant Reformation and it's elevation of the judgment of the individual over that of the Magisterium of the Church. The other finds its roots in the Enlightenment. The present day heritage of the Enlightenment is the predominantly secular-materialist worldview that we live with today.

There is a qualitative difference between these two challenges faced by the Catholic Church. The difference is that the children of the Reformation, while challenging the teaching authority and unity of the Church do not deny Christ, nor do they deny the necessity, for the most part, of obeying the two Great Commandments Jesus gave us, love of God with heart, mind and strength, and love of neighbor as one loves oneself. While they may not possess the fullness of truth they do possess elements of the truth and share in communion with the Church, albeit an imperfect one.

Those who subscribe to the predominant secular-materialist worldview of today’s society, however, deny absolutely even the possibility of the existence of not only a Supreme Being but of the existence of objective truth and the possibility of moral absolutes that govern human behavior as well. This worldview that is so evident in our universities, our media and our courts is inimical to the interests of the Church. It allows no possibility of communion with the Church and many of its proponents would be just as happy if the Church were eliminated from any presence in society.

There are numerous examples of this already occurring. For example, a student in Washington State who won a scholarship had it withdrawn when it was learned he planned to major in Pastoral studies. An abortion protester was sued under RICO statutes by pro-abortion foes when his protests began to have an effect. Christmas displays in city parks that had been set up for years have suddenly become horrible violations of the "separation of church and state" clause. (By the way, has anyone ever actually found that clause of the Constitution?) One party in the 2002 US elections attempted to portray Christians as religious bigots and/or zealots, indistinguishable from the Islamic Fundamentalists who killed 3,000 people at the World Trade Center. Many people unquestioningly accept the idea that if Christian believers are not blood-thirsty, baby-killing terrorists, in league with Al-Queda, then they are intellectual and emotion simpletons, who must be excluded from any role in society.

This hostility is not, however, directed only against Catholic Christians. It is directed against Christians of every stripe; there is no particular discrimination between Catholics and Protestants. It results in the situation we have in society today where abortion has become a "right" and moral limits on personal conduct are denied.

I would say that all Christians share a common bond because they all understand that God created us as human beings for a purpose, there is a supreme goal set for each of our lives. The goal is to spend eternity with God in heaven. Anything that keeps us from reaching that goal must be overcome; there is nothing more important in our lives. Outright rejection of Christ and God’s law written in our hearts will keep us from reaching that goal. I believe the modern, secular-materialist worldview present in society today represents, with its rejection of both God and his Commandments, a huge threat to our ability to practice and profess our Christian faith and achieve our final destiny. Failing to resist it may well mean eternal separation from God.

While we wish to bring our separated brothers and sisters in Christ to the fullness of truth, it is just as important to present the truth of Christ to society in general. Our Protestant brothers and sisters, however lacking in the fullness of truth they may be, remain, nevertheless, brothers and sisters in Christ -- separation is not divorce and estrangement.

My original post questioned the fact that so many Catholics seem to spend a lot of time getting worked up over the very visible presence of Dispensationalist theology in the literary market place today. It seems to me that dispensationalists, while they may be in error in regards to the truth as we understand it are still Christians. They do not deny Christ. They may even be anti-Catholic, but they do not represent the danger to Catholics that the secular-materialist worldview so prevalent in society today does.

It may also be that views about society and culture that come out of dispensationalist theology may be questionable, or even goofy. I don't know about this and will have to read Carl Olson's book to gain some insight into this question. Where they are in error they should be confronted with the truth. But judging from the Doctrinal Statement published by one of the preeminent dispensationalist seminaries in the country, I don't see a completely anti-Christian worldview contained therein. It seems not greatly different from that of many Protestant statements of faith.

The point of my post, then, is that it seems, in terms of our apologetics effort, we should consider our priorities.

Christopher Dawson writes that the problem facing Catholics today is not that of being a minority in a predominately Christian culture, the problem facing Catholics is confronting an increasingly secular-materialistic culture. The culture today has made great headway in divorcing religion from nearly all other aspects of human life. One of the reasons this is so is that many Catholics are so poorly catechized in the truth of the faith that they easily fall prey to the pressures of society all around them. They have no way to resist because they don’t even realize there is anything to resist. Their lives are virtually indistinguishable from those of their pagan neighbors, when they should be quite different. They may also be falling prey to the overtures of Evangelicals or Fundamentalists, again from ignorance of the differences in Christian belief between Protestants and Catholics. However, I believe this is our fault, not theirs.

It seems to me all of this places a very high priority on teaching Catholics the basics of the faith so as to more effectively challenge the secular-materialist worldview of society. A second priority is presenting the fullness of truth to our separated brothers and sisters in Christ. I think at times these priorities are reversed. We find it easier to argue with our Protestant brothers and sisters for the very reason that we speak different dialects of the same language. But the generally accepted attitude present in society today is that religion is to be removed from every corner of society; unless this view is challenged and a return made to the Christian traditions of Western society, it will make little difference whether we agree with our Protestant brothers and sisters or not. As Benjamin Franklin said, we should all hang together or we may well all hang separately.

We may well be fiddling while Rome burns.

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