No Apology

I was taking inventory of my friends this morning, and I realized I have quite a few friends named “James” who all have the same passion for deep thought and, as a consequence, apologetics. You know: who blames them? There’s really a lot of trash running around claiming to be “theology” and/or “Christianity”, and as the book of Hebrews points out to us, the ability to discern good from bad is a mature skill, not the entry-level stuff.

At any rate, James the New Jersian, AKA TQuid, is roiling the Catholics this week for their new superhero ex-Calvinist convert, and I have to admit something. The whole discussion left a bad taste in my mouth.

Now, before we start taking bets as to when I’m going to go to confession and renounce my Baptist baptism and start worshipping bread as God or selling statues of St. Century21 to bury in the front yard to help sell your house, a lot of the bad taste comes from watching Catholics try to talk out of both sides of their mouths.

On the one hand, there’s the necessary and obsessive smack-talk about “authority” – the Pope has authority; the Bishops have authority; the Church has authority; the Protestants have no authority; even the Bible is nothing without the Pope; etc. etc. etc. yes, very compelling, I am sure. That’s why so many Priests and Bishops are engaged in apologetics and so many of these other guys are under the direction and supervision of Magisterial fact-checkers. Not.

See: all that talk falls apart when we start thinking about who these guys are and how they are allowed to operate in terms of speaking about and (allegedly) for the Roman Catholic Church. “I’m not inventing this stuff, I’m just reporting it,” comes one version of the common reply, but seriously: you’re not authorized to report it, bub. So when you take your own relationship to this authority even half as seriously as you want me to take it, you can come back and try out those arguments again and see if they look any better framed in a way which your bishops will sign off on.

And while it would be fun or useful to consider the matter of the current Catholic Catechism which is promulgated for the explicit purpose of educating the faithful about what they are supposed to be faithful to, I’m not going to go through all that today. There’s a log in our own eye – those of us who are reformed and not catholic or Catholic – which I’d like to talk about which constitutes the other 20% of the bad taste in my mouth this morning.

It’s become a sort of maxim in my repertoire lately, but the truth is that we Baptists like a good fight. We like a good tussle – either in a business meeting, or when Dan Brown publishes trash, or when some kook walks into my bookstore and tries to sell me The Trail of Blood, essentially trying to say what the Catholics say, but instead of a guy in Rome he’s convinced that it was Baptists what first loveth Jesus (John, after all, was a Baptist), or whatever. We don’t mind breaking out our Formal translations at 10 paces and doing our worst.

And listen: sometimes, that’s necessary and important. Any pastor ought to be able to defend the faith from error. There’s no question about that. But when that’s the primary mode of evangelism we resort to, we have forgotten that the people Jesus argued with were not people who ultimately came to Him.

Let me give you an example, and I’m obscuring the identities of the people involved because they didn’t ask to be blogged today. There’s this guy I know who has been a Catholic all his life, and he what you might call a “committed Catholic” – it’s not that he’s all enamored by the nuances of Lumen Gentium and all that, but he’s been a Catholic since he was baptized as an infant, and that’s the only expression of faith he has ever known. He reads his Bible a lot, and is somewhat fixated on the book of Job, but his Bible reading has made sense out of his life, and his view is that if he has any hope in this life or the next, it is in Christ.

There’s another guy I know who was talking to this first guy, and it came up that the first guy had the opinion that while Christ was his only hope, it is also true that he didn’t know explicitly if he was saved or not. He said to the second guy, in words to this effect, “I hope what I have done in this life tells me something about what will happen to me in the next.”

Now, the second guy listened to the first fellow carefully, and asked him, “I guess I don’t know what you mean by that, First Guy.” And the first guy looked a little taken aback – because he thought he was saying something somewhat obvious and profound. But he thought about it a second and said, in words to this effect, “I hope the faith I have in this life is proving it will be the faith which saves me when I see Christ.”

The second guy then opened up a Bible and talked to First Guy about Acts 2, and Peter’s charge to the crowd that they should “therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ”. That is, on the one hand, we shouldn’t doubt that Jesus is who we say He is, and on the other, if He is who He says He is, He is “Lord” – that is, Adonai, God, the one with the authority to Judge – and “Christ” – that is, “Messiah”, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who has come to save, and does in fact save. And in that, if our faith is in Him, He will save us. Assurance is a function of who Christ is, not a function of how well we serve Him.

It was something First Guy had not considered before, and he found some comfort in it.

But there was something else which happened after that conversation – First Guy was watching Second Guy to see whether he believed this stuff or not. That is, after they discussed this Jesus whom those in Jerusalem crucified, First Guy was watching Second Guy’s life – the way he treats his kids, the way he treats his wife, the way he acts with others, the things they do as a family, the commitment he has to doing other things besides making a theological point.

And as I type that, let me say clearly that my many friends named James all seem (to me, anyway) to pass this test well. They contend for the faith earnestly, and the live as if they believe what they have contended for.

But as First Guy watched Second Guy’s life, he realized that Second Guy wasn’t kidding around or just trying to win a fight. Second Guy was about the work of God in Christ. And Second Guy isn’t some international hero of sanctification and evangelism: Second Guy is a guy with two jobs, a hard working wife, busy and smart kids, and a church which needs more people to turn the corner and stop sitting in their own pew. He has a house on a street full of people he doesn’t even know – he’d admit that. But He puts his hand to the plow God has given him. And he doesn’t look back.

And in that, First Guy doesn’t have an argument with Second Guy: he has a problem which he has to resolve. He has to resolve whether the comfort of a ritual is causing him to do what is right for the sake of a Jesus who is Lord and Christ, or if he is using his comfort as an excuse to call himself a disciple.

So the other 20% bad taste in my mouth is the backwash of internet apologetics. It has a serious and significant problem: it is only half the work. By any account, it falls far short of real evangelism even if it is foundational and necessary for real pastoral work and real evangelism to take place. And if you, today, are visiting my blog and you are looking for an argument about Jesus, my argument is this:

Know for certain that Jesus is both Lord and Christ – know it because He is raised from the dead, and know it because you can see my life changed. It must be both. It must be both. My argument to you is a worthless piece of trash – a clanging cymbal – if this Lord is not my Lord, and this Christ is not my Christ.