Darwinism as Science and Philosophy

I am pleased that you published the essay by Phillip E. Johnson entitled “The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism” (November 1997), because now I can understand exactly what Mr. Johnson’s quarrel with evolutionary theory in general, and with Darwinism in particular, is based on. He makes a basic mistake about what necessary relation a scientific hypothesis might have to a particular ontology”in this case, to the ontology he calls “materialism.” Mr. Johnson’s idea”that “Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence””is simply wrong. Neither evolutionary theory nor any other scientific hypothesis has any necessary relation to any particular ontology. Scientific hypotheses are physical statements, not metaphysical ones. They concern only the analysis, prediction, and retrodiction (explanation) of the phenomena of nature, and can in no case pass beyond such phenomena to any kind of “ultimate reality,” or to “things in themselves” (as Kant put it) . . . . Lewis Beck’s comment that “anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything” need not be the case for someone who has adopted, say, the Thomist metaphysics, in which grace is seen as completing nature, but never as coercing it. This would be an example of an ontology that is (or at least aims to be) compatible with the “standard model” of the world furnished us by modern science. Similarly, Pope John Paul II’s recent comments on evolutionary theory can be seen as accepting evolution as a correct description of the system of natural phenomena that we observe, without considering such theories to extend to the matter of the authorship of that system. I should add that I myself am exactly the kind of atheist and materialist that Mr. Johnson has been so polemically engaged against. But I recognize, as should he, that science, and the structure of scientific hypotheses that constitute the modern view of nature, cannot in and of themselves furnish us with a metaphysics, much less with anything resembling a full-blown philosophy. Mr. Johnson’s much-maligned “materialism” can be, as a matter of science itself, no more than an epistemological model employed in scientific investigations, which constitutes only the scientific method, or the “heuristic” of science. This method has been validated by its historical success, and will be invalidated and abandoned when”and only when”it no longer succeeds in the investigation of nature . . . . Mr. Johnson, along with many others, may not like evolutionary theory’s doctrines, but they should recognize that they will need to find some conceptual framework in which to accommodate them”until or unless some better theory emerges”or suffer the risk of finding that their thinking has less and less connection to the world as we actually find it today.

Edmund Weinmann
Huntington, NY

Phillip E. Johnson does a nice job exposing the popular cant of Lewontin, Gould, Sagan, and other unrestrained neo-Darwinians. Their arrogant attempts to reduce every aspect of the human condition to evolutionary processes are obviously driven by ideology, not science. I have taught and published scientific articles on human ethology and sociobiology for many years and have never once felt evolutionary theory to be a threat to my faith as a Catholic. Why? Because Darwin’s theory deals mainly with phylogenetic changes in physical structures and some of their correlated physiological and behavioral functions. He had no empirical evidence that mind (the soul) evolved in the same way physical structures did. He hoped such evolution did take place, but apparently was intelligent enough to know that the attempt to reduce mind to matter in any convincing way was neither good science nor an efficient way to spend his time. Today, after more than a century of effort, empirical data suggesting that the human mind has evolved solely through natural selection or genetic drift are simply not available. What is available are many exciting speculations by bright, if not unpartisan, thinkers in evolutionary psychology. Their speculations have stimulated interesting empirical research and for this reason alone are not to be ignored or disparaged. But the results of such research, whatever they are, cannot be convincingly interpreted in the current manner evolutionary dogmatists want. What is convincing in science are replicable empirical findings, broadly consistent with other findings, not rhetoric about presumed historical events. Scientific materialism, especially of the rebellious adolescent kind, may sell books and get one on TV. But by such bread one cannot live as a happy or honest scientist or as a satisfied layperson. Humans have a persistent curiosity to find the ultimate bread and not to be satisfied with a half-baked loaf of ideology.

William Charlesworth
Stockholm, WI

Phillip E. Johnson appears to be defending God but is showing a serious lack of faith and constructing a major barrier to belief with his ill-conceived attack on the foundation of the scientific method. Surely he is aware that science is the child of the Church. The scientific enterprise was born as an attempt to understand the Creator by studying His creation. The scientific endeavor aims at predicting measurable events on the basis of control and measurement of prior events. To anyone who knows God, this is a statement of faith in the faithfulness of the Creator who makes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust, not a denial of God’s goodness and power. When the skeptics heard the disciples speaking in tongues at Pentecost they said “they are drunk,” and even Jesus’ own family thought he had cracked up. The unbeliever will always find an excuse not to believe. The proper answer to such potshots is to continue living the truth. When one defends belief one must be careful to give God His due. He has chosen to make an orderly universe that yields to intelligent investigation. He will provide proofs. To try to defend Him with ill conceived arguments that earn well-deserved ridicule gives ammunition to the enemy. Professor Johnson equates the materialist assumption of the atheist with the law of cause and effect. A law professor should be able to see that the consequence of insisting on Special Revelation to understand science would be to terminate the scientific enterprise . . . .

Peter M. Webster
Toronto, Ontario

Phillip E. Johnson decries the commitment of the scientific community to scientific materialism. That this bias is demonstrable is all too true; but this alone is not the foundational basis for the lionization of the theory of evolution by scientists. The life of a scientist necessarily involves a commitment to materialism. Each of us expects the scientist to be a materialist at heart. It is the job of the scientist to examine material evidence, to test it, and to form theories and hypotheses based upon the evidence presented. An a priori commitment to materialism is demanded of the scientist in his work. What is not demanded, or even desired, is that the scientist make judgments of value based upon his findings. This is what has caused the abnormal, almost religious adherence of scientists to the theory of evolution. Many scientists have concluded that evolution is worthy of belief. The process of making judgments of value based upon material evidence is more properly the realm of the higher sciences”cosmology, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, philosophy, and theology. Carl Sagan, et al., have not been properly trained in these higher sciences; therefore, conclusions proposed by them in these areas should be suspect . . . . It is bad enough that scientists choose to believe in a theory of origin, that, as Mr. Johnson correctly points out, remains unsupported by many in the scientific community. What is far worse, however, is the eagerness of otherwise scholarly men and women to exit their realm of expertise and enter the realm of theology and faith. What these scientists really support is another religion, that of Scientism. One of the basic tenets of this religion is the belief in evolutionary theory as the explanation of universal origin. As such, the accepted theories of Scientism should be afforded as much respect as the beliefs of other religions, and should undergo thorough critical analysis with an eye to how the accepted theories of this faith stand up to the material evidence presented.

Michael Beeman
Dearborn Heights, MI

I should be humble about the criticism I am hereby making, since much of what I have learned on this subject comes from Phillip E. Johnson’s own work. But in his essay “The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism” he seems to me to have missed the negative import of what Pope John Paul II has done in his statement on evolution to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Johnson, William Provine, and others have been making clear the incompatibility between the spiritual origin of man and the Darwinian/neo-Darwinian/materialistic view. As they have pointed out, both scientists and religionists have labored to obscure this incompatibility in order to obtain a truce in the war between them, but it is a truce, as Johnson argues, that stands on the terms of the materialist. Now the Pope has thrown his strength behind the obfuscation, although no doubt unwittingly and with the best of intentions. First, he upgrades the status of evolution to “more than a hypothesis,” just when proof for Darwin’s theories is being shown to be less and less adequate. Then he reintroduces something like the language of the obfuscators”evolution is acceptable as long as we allow that God somewhere along the line imparts the soul or spirit to man. But evolution does not allow that God does any such thing. It is an entirely materialistic explanation”that is why scientists are so attached to it. Allowing in some vague way that a spiritual element is compatible with evolution is simply an indulgence that scientists may grant in public to avoid conflict but disavow in the practice (and probably the teaching) of science itself. This is what I conclude from reading Johnson among others.

Carol Iannone
New York, NY

Phillip E. Johnson replies:

The point of my article was that neo-Darwinism finds its main support in an a priori adherence to metaphysical materialism, and not in empirical evidence. I relied on direct quotes to show that Richard Lewontin, one of the most prestigious spokesmen for evolutionary biology, agrees with me about what is at issue, although he approves of the a priori commitment to materialism. As Lewontin puts it, the crucial assumption is that “We exist as material beings in a material world, all of whose phenomena are the consequences of material relations among material entities.” Edward Weinmann knows better than to take on Lewontin, so he writes as if I were relying on the authority of Kant rather than on Lewontin. He then gives the standard spin-doctored story that scientific materialists typically resort to when they are challenged: we are just innocently proposing hypotheses for testing, and aren’t saying anything about ontology or ultimate reality. Baloney. When science educators tell their students that fully naturalistic evolution is a “fact,” they are telling them this is how things really are, and implying that God had nothing to do with the process. Mr. Weinmann himself says that those of us who deny that neo-Darwinism is true are at odds with “the world as we actually find it today.” That is an ontological statement, and he commits the fallacy of begging the question when he attempts to back his ontological claims by citing the success of science (specifically, neo-Darwinism). Whether science has been successful at explaining biological origins by a materialist theory is the point at issue. William Charlesworth is correct that Darwinian science has been unsuccessful in explaining the origin of the mind, but he should understand that it has been equally unsuccessful in explaining the origin of the bacterial cell. Neo-Darwinism is a sham all the way up and all the way down. If Peter Webster actually read my article, he did not understand a word of it. This subject has nothing to do with Special Revelation, or speaking in tongues at Pentecost. Rather, the subject is what the scientific evidence actually shows when it is viewed without bias, rather than through the distorting lens of atheist philosophy. I discuss the recent statement of Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Chapter 6 of my latest book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds . I greatly admire the Pope, who on this subject as well as others is fighting a courageous battle against the forces of modernism inside and outside the Church. The papal statement did say that materialism is unacceptable when it extends to the human spirit, but it neglected to say that mainstream science insists upon a fully materialistic theory of evolution, one which resolutely keeps that divine foot outside the door. Any deficiencies in the statement are probably attributable to the vigorous lobbying of a clique of academics that dominates the “Religion and Science” field, and that wants to “save” religion by bringing it into conformity with evolutionary naturalism. The Blood of the Martyrs

Nina Shea’s complaint in “Atrocities Not Fit to Print” (November 1997) concerning the persecution of Christians around the world is very American but perhaps not very Christian. American because “in publicity of the press do we trust.” Less than Christian for the same reason. I live in the Third World and work directly in over thirty countries. Among them are some where friends and associates have recently been murdered because they were Christians. Other friends have fled their homeland because they knew the threats against them to be real. It is interesting to contrast the reaction of one of my friends with that of Ms. Shea. When I ask him about the recent murder of several from his church he answers, “I thank God for their deaths.” He not only is not concerned to publish the “news” of the deaths, he believes God is bringing forth great fruit from bloody seed once again. One is reminded that the Good News is based in blood and that we followers are not greater than our master. Why would Ms. Shea expect the secular press to support us? I would suggest it is neither “logistical difficulties” nor a “simple lack of understanding and interest” that keeps correspondents of foreign desks from reporting. They are simply from the camp of unbelievers, which we are actively seeking to invade with life. As a result, for them, we have the smell of death about us (2 Corinthians 2:16). As much as we feel-good, late-twentieth-century Christians may want to deny it, we have enemies who mean business. Some of them are journalists. It would be more instructive for us to learn what St. James meant when he instructed Christians to “consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). We say we believe there is power in prayer but our trust in the press belies that. We herald the power of the Word but wallow in words written. We talk of the sharp sword of spiritual warfare and disdain it for the poor pen of publicity.

William T. Hunter, Jr.
Santo Domingo,
Dominican Republic

Nina Shea replies:

While it is true that martyrdom is glorious and the Bible makes a strong assertion that persecution for righteousness’ sake will ever confront the Christian, we must put anti-Christian persecution in proper perspective. The persecutors are wrong and the persecution itself is an evil. We are solemnly compelled by the Scriptures to take up the cause of the needy and to speak for those who are victims. As I quoted evangelical author Ravi Zacharias in my book In the Lion’s Den , “The Scriptures challenge us to reach out to those who hurt, to do all in our power for the rescue of those who are victimized, and if need be, to beseech the powers of the land to give each citizen the right of being treated as a fellow human being.” The New Testament gives us clear guidelines for addressing persecution. First, we must pray. When Peter and Paul were in prison, the entire church gathered to pray for their release. There is also a call to action. This is the moral imperative of the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan stopped to extend the love of Christ to the victim. The apostle Paul urged the early Church to take responsibility for the well-being of fellow believers. “Therefore,” he said, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). He also wrote, “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners” (Hebrews 13:3). There is precedent for appealing to the government for justice. In Acts, when the mob wanted to lynch Paul, he laid claim to his Roman citizenship and demanded a hearing before Caesar. Just as the Bible tells us that the poor will always be with us, yet commands us to help them, we must take the same compassionate approach towards persecuted religious believers. I Do, Really

As an independent evangelical pastor without benefit of prescribed liturgy, I have sometimes felt pressured to dumb down weddings. So thanks, thanks, a thousand thanks for David Blankenhorn’s “I Do?” (November 1997). I hope the article sparks a renewal of respect for marriage vows. If my fellow pastors would recognize the deep wisdom, not to mention plain good sense, of Mr. Blankenhorn’s proposals, we could make a credible gospel challenge to the culture of divorce. We wouldn’t eliminate the church-hopping that takes place when would-be brides and grooms shop for a clergyman who will give them the ceremony they want. But we would witness to the integrity of the wedding service. If couples heard that witness from three or four ministers in succession, who knows? They might think twice before saying “I do.”

(The Rev.) Kenneth Langley
Christ Community Church
Zion, IL

Although The Book of Common Prayer now has a form for solemnizing marriages that allows the couple to write the rest of the service, the vows are still required in one of two traditional forms. And since Episcopal clergy are required by both their ordination vows and Canon Law to adhere to the text and rubrics of the Prayer Book, I would like to add the Episcopal Church to David Blankenhorn’s list of churches in which the bride and groom do not write their own vows. I would also like to commend to the author and your readers the marriage service in The Book of Common Prayer on two other points. The “Declaration of Consent” in this service (“Will you love, honor . . . ”) requires the reply “I will” and not “I do.” In fact, nowhere in the service are the bride and groom asked to respond “I do.” The question is not one of “how do you feel about this person today?” but “how will you act towards this person until the day you die?” It is not a question of emotion, but of will. This response, alone, is sufficient for a lifetime of marriage homilies. I would further note that the actual vows in the marriage service do not ask for a response but require the bride and groom to repeat them, word for word. Both here and in the declaration of consent the wording is in the classical form and demands the expectation that these promises are made in God’s name and “until we are parted by death.” . . .

(The Rev.) Charles B. King, Jr.
The Church of the Holy Cross
Warrensburg, NY

David Blankenhorn’s “I Do?” serves as a striking case study illustrating George Orwell’s observation, “If thought corrupts language, language also corrupts thought.” Without doubt, modern wedding vow language has been both reflective of and corrosive to the concept of marriage in our country. About fifteen years ago in the course of my pastoral ministry, I perceived that couples inventing their own vows tended to destroy the sense of community and continuity that should characterize a wedding. The mature in the midst were not hearing and remembering what they had said at their own weddings, nor were the young hearing what they should anticipate. A vital consensus was evaporating. My discontent over this launched a search for a better way. The search ended outside my own denominational heritage when I discovered The Book of Common Prayer . After some serious effort at blending the language of the 1928 and 1979 editions, I formulated a wedding ceremony and wording for the vows that I humbly believe cannot be improved upon. I am the first to admit that these words are almost entirely borrowed, and the first to point out that their dignity, beauty, substance, and relevance make “personalized” vows sound trivial by comparison. Though I am not a hard-nosed pastor, I have, since slightly adapting this noble language, made it the nonnegotiable element in every wedding ceremony I have performed, including such phrases as “with my body I thee honor.” I have found every couple I have worked with eager to say to each other what these very traditional vows require them to say and completely uninterested in composing their own vows. And I live in California, of all places!

(The Rev.) Jay F. Dudley
Northridge Church of God
Fair Oaks, CA

The One True Church

I just finished reading “The Denomination Called Catholic” by David R. Carlin in the November 1997 issue. I would like to suggest that his breaking the Christian experience in America down into three parts, Church, Sect, and Denomination, is too limiting. There already is a “Fourth Way” in America; it is called a Movement. Movements have always been more characteristic of the religious experience in America than specific religious institutions. From the Great Awakening through modern day revivalist and monastic movements, the reality of religious experience has been trans-institutional. The reason for this is that for Americans salvation is seen as a direct individual relationship of the soul with God, rather than a result of being a member of the One True Church. What keeps this approach from becoming a case of isolated individualism is that God put us here on earth for a purpose. An individual who has experienced the love of God seeks to share that love through fellowship with others.

Robert Maynard
Williston, VT

. . . I was astonished by David Carlin’s article denouncing “democratization” and “frequent ecumenical councils” and the “tolerance of dissent,” concluding with the view that the Roman Catholic Church is “better than all competing religions” as a religion that sees truth and “sees it whole” while other religions are either false or only partially true . . . . What ever happened to John XXIII? Are there any liberals left today in the Catholic Church? Is the next step to teach that error has no rights and that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church? Must we read Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor again? . . .

(The Rev.) Robert M. Haven
Mt. Dora, FL

Typology, Protestant and Catholic

Peter J. Leithart paints with a mountain-sized brush (“Typology and the Public Church,” November 1997) when he suggests that “evangelicals are at one with Protestant modernism in their rejection of typology.” In point of fact, most Protestant scholars, especially evangelicals, do not reject typology. How could they given the fact that Christ and his apostles employed that method of biblical interpretation? What Protestants do typically reject, however, is the uncontrolled use of typology. This is necessitated because of their acceptance of sola scriptura . A Protestant’s only source for authority is the Bible. He has no right even to be a Protestant if he is wrong about this foundational matter. Because of that, Protestants, more than Roman Catholics, must be extremely careful about the way they interpret Scripture. Thus, their scholars have devised a number of rules about the way they interpret a text in order to limit the dangers of eisegesis. The problem with the use of typology within a Protestant setting is its inherent subjectivity. Roman Catholics do not have this problem. Since they recognize a second nexus of authority in the Church, their use of typology is controlled. If an interpreter strays the Church can correct him or her. Protestants, however, must correct themselves. Therefore, in the use of typology they have decided to accept any typological interpretation of the Old Testament mentioned explicitly by Christ or his apostles within the New Testament, while maintaining a posture of unease or distrust toward any other. This method may rob them of some of the richness to be mined from the Old Testament text, but it allows them to be more confident that the Word of God is not being replaced by the word of man.

David McKay
Carthage, IL

Peter J. Leithart replies:

I generalize, of course, and am happy to concede that recently evangelical scholars have been notably kinder to patristic and medieval exegesis. Mr. McKay, however, confirms my original charge: to select a handful of texts for typological interpretation is precisely to reject typology as the controlling hermeneutical framework, for what is to be done with that remaining mass of the Old Testament never cited by the apostles?

As for the Protestant-Catholic difference: I would roundly dispute the idea that Scripture is the "only" authority for Protestants, since Scripture itself requires submission to a "second nexus" of authority in civil and ecclesiastical matters (Romans 13:1-7; Hebrews 13:17). And I find the distinction between Catholic scholars corrected by "the Church" and Protestants correcting "themselves" somewhat misleading. Whoever are these Protestant censors, if not "the Church"?

Staying or Leaving

It is with deep compassion that one reads William Murchison’s account of "developments" in the Episcopal Church (“Episcopalians: The Leftward Center,” November 1997). However, the utility of the enterprise of an "emerging province" seems questionable, and one wonders if it is anything more than the brave, empty words uttered so frequently during the past thirty years. Anglicans in general, and Anglo-Catholics in particular, have a most peculiar sense of catholicity, one that is ultimately but a form of congregationalism that fails to comprehend the situation or to take seriously the reality of those around them. For example, among other points unmentioned by Mr. Murchison is that much of the Anglican Communion, including the Church of England itself, is in little better theological shape than the Episcopal Church in this country . . . .

Mr. Murchison claims that the four remaining Anglo-Catholic dioceses in the U.S. are becoming a basis for the formation of a new province within the Episcopal Church or within the Anglican Communion. If one can get beyond the question of why bother given the state of things, one must then ask if the claims for this new group are in fact credible. Facts indicate they are not. First, without becoming yet another breakaway group, it has no power to endure as it cannot canonically perpetuate itself in either the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion. Second, Mr. Murchison glosses over the fact that in the much vaunted but poorly thought through effort to bring a bishop to trial on dogmatic grounds, those presenting the case chose not to appeal the preliminary ruling to the House of Bishops because they believed they could not win politically: hardly a credible commitment to witnessing to Eternal Truth, the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field . . . .

Having reached my own crisis regarding the Episcopal Church a year ago, I made the commitment to become Orthodox, letting go of the hell of a purposeless effort of trying to find a way to remain Anglican, and to focus on the Way to become Christian. Though theologically challenging, . . . the overwhelming experience is of the consolation of the Spirit surpassing understanding. I have been especially richly blessed in the Antiochian Archdiocese in that I have been able to know both a vibrant, healthy, and warmly receptive Byzantine Rite parish and a new Western Rite mission, which has helped provide an efficient idiom for worship and prayer in these hectic times.

John R. Heffernan
Reston, VA

William Murchison replies:

When one stalks out of a once-beloved, now-corrupted relationship or institution, the understandable temptation is to look back and exclaim, phooey! I think this is what Mr. Heffernan, God bless him, is doing, as he proceeds from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy. He may be right about those of us who have chosen to stand and fight on Anglican ground; I only wish he could acknowledge that we stand because it is our ground. There has been much holiness, much devotion here. Maybe there can be again. But running won’t bring that about; only standing”and praying”will do the job.

A Catholic Rush to Judgment?

Regarding “Sin and Risk Aversion” (Public Square, November 1997): It is in the nature of witch hunts that those in politics, religion, and journalism who have promoted them, participated in them, or publicly endorsed them have done so under the guise of "the public good," and with a perceived "public sanction" that has historically consisted of two equally influential components: the noise of a few, and the silence of many.

It was, therefore, with appreciation for the courage of Richard John Neuhaus that I read his comments concerning the politically and emotionally explosive topics of the sexual abuse of children, public hysteria, and the response of the Church’s hierarchy and clergy to those within their ranks who have been publicly accused of sexual abuse.

As one of the incarcerated priests from whom Father Neuhaus has received the correspondence he cites, I have a firsthand account of the presumption of guilt, rush to judgment, and shunning to which his comments give voice. As Fr. Neuhaus is aware, I have maintained my innocence throughout this process, and continue to do so. I live daily with the devastating fact that I would not now be incarcerated if I did not maintain my innocence. The choice presented to me at trial three years ago was to either participate in a negotiated lie, and serve a token prison sentence, or stand by the truth and serve a life sentence. I continue to opt to reject a negotiated lie, and I remain in prison.

Fr. Neuhaus’ article presupposed that some would view the correspondence he has received as self-serving. Perhaps, at some level, it is. I stand to gain nothing, however, from writing of my experience in the justice system and the Church. I will not gain freedom. I will not be believed by most, and I will not regain respect, acceptance, trust, support, or even a letter or prison visit from my brother priests or diocesan authorities. The Corporal Works of Mercy should not, in any case, be exercised because an institution has been embarrassed into doing so. I know that anything I write merely leaves me open to further ridicule, judgment, and presumption of guilt. Writing about this feels much more frightening to me than it does self-serving . . . .

Attempts at risk aversion by shunning the accused, which has undeniably been the response of some in the Church, have not really served to either avert financial risk or improve public perception of the Church’s integrity in the matter. A growing number of clergy have personal experience of the Church’s current efforts to indicate that it no longer "shelters" its accused, but now holds them in disdainful contempt. The process has merely been seen as the Church’s attempt to respond to a public scandal by perpetrating a private one. I correspond with a number of imprisoned priests, guilty and not, who live as outcasts and pariahs in both the unforgiving prison society in which they now exist and the apparently unforgiving Church which they once served.

Gordon J. MacRae
Concord, NH

Evangelizing Catholics

As an evangelical, I too am disturbed by the strident statements made by some evangelical leaders about Roman Catholicism (While We’re At It, November 1997). I personally know too many genuine believers (my daughter-in-law included) in that communion to paint with so wide a brush.

However, Catholics would be mistaken to conclude that all defections from their church are the result of misleading attacks by "Catholic bashers." Ralph Martin, lay leader in the Catholic charismatic renewal, addresses this issue in "Why Catholics Leave" ( New Covenant, July/August, 1990 ).

Martin states that one response to this situation is to blame Protestants for evangelizing Catholics. However, Martin’s view is that "while ‘underhanded’ means of evangelizing are not unknown, most of these ex-Catholics were not lured by such means." Often "they met coworkers, friends . . . or a preacher at a church service . . . who offered them a fuller experience of Christ . . . than they were experiencing in the Catholic Church." Indeed, "Many talk as if they’ve encountered the Lord himself for the first time."

Bishop Flores of San Antonio spoke almost thirty years ago "of many Catholics who have been ‘sacramentalized’ but never effectively ‘evangelized.’" Father Avery Dulles, S.J., has written more recently of the "many Christians, including Catholics, [who] were never evangelized, [who] have never made a living personal commitment to Christ and the Gospel."

Ralph E. MacKenzie
San Diego, CA

History and Truth

Richard John Neuhaus (While We’re At It, November 1997) muses, along with Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard, that Martin Luther today would be so aghast at subsequent history that, given a chance, he would go back and say just the opposite of what he said during the Reformation. I suppose one could just as easily argue that the birth of this nation resulted more from the "secondary motives of history" than from the "genius of its founding," and that, seeing both personal liberty and governmental regulation gone haywire, the founding fathers today would say the opposite of what they said then.

So what? I’d like to think of them as less gutless than that, just as I personally would like to think of Luther as one bold enough to say "Here I stand. I can do no other," not, "Here I stand unless things don’t work out down the road." But either way such an argument does not address the issue of whether what was said then remains true or not. A disowned truth remains true.

I realize Father Neuhaus and I disagree on what constitutes an authoritative source of truth, but we should agree that neither Luther’s opinions (real or fancied) nor the current state of the Church address the issue of whether Lutherans confess the truth or not. Truth derives from the authority of its source, not the desirability of its consequences. God judges individual Christians according to the fidelity of Christ, and the Church by her fidelity to Christ, i.e., the revelation of Scripture and the Scriptures’ God.

(The Rev.) Peter A. Speckhard
Community of Faith Lutheran Church
Spring Grove, IL

RJN replies:

Here I stand. For the truth as best as I can understand it. The truth is infallible; my apprehension of it is not. Now we see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13). Given persistent disagreements among us, in the End Time, when everything is clarified, many of us (I expect all of us) will have occasion to say that some things were not as we thought they were. I trust we will be judged faithful when we know more as we were judged faithful when we knew less.

Articles by Various

Loading...