This week I’ve been teaching a class on ministry with young adults at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI. As part of this, I did a quick review of contemporary worldviews, especially postmodernism. I skipped the standard over-simplifications, and did some explication of one of the leading postmodernist philosophers, Jean-François Lyotard.
Postmodernism is defined by Lyotard as skepticism of metanarratives–I happen to accept a metanarrative, one Seventh-day Adventists refer to as the “Great Controversy,” which provides the framework for understanding Creation, the fall of Satan and of man, the sending of a Savior, his life, death, resurrection and high priestly ministry, his return in glory, and his ultimate eradication of evil and inauguration of an eternal kingdom in which all shall be in union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Postmodernism is generally understood to suggest that you can’t really know what is truth–I believe that Sacred Scripture is a reliable source of Truth, which must stand over against all human institutions and beliefs.
Armstrong says my problem was I never accepted apologetics. That’s incorrect. Apologetics is simply a defense of the faith, an explanation. My sermon was an exercise in apologetics. I did not accept the rationalistic, forensic style of apologetics that has its roots in the Reformed tradition and that has crept into Catholicism through converts from the fundamentalist Presbyterian Church in America. I did not accept the eisegetical method whereby they anachronistically attempt to read Catholic teaching back into the Bible, denying the Catholic church’s own teaching that the development of doctrine explains why Catholic teachings are not to be found in the Bible.
Pace Armstrong, I did give reasons in that sermon why I left Adventism in the first place, but as this sermon was preached to an Adventist audience, I gave shorthand references to historic controversies which members in the audience would recognize. Armstrong does not understand the cryptic references to Brinsmead, Ford, etc. But that was enough reference for the audience. These were Australian theologians who taught a version of justification by faith which they used to critique Adventist teachings on Christ’s high priestly ministry.
Armstrong charges I didn’t present reasons why I became a Catholic. Of course I did. I spelled out the questions that I asked in the light of the ELCA’s abandonment of Scripture, Christian tradition, and Christian morality:
Where to find a clear sense of Christian morality? Where to find a Church that was consistent through the ages? Where to find a Church that spoke with authority?
Those are the questions that led me to resign from the Lutheran ministry at the end of 1992 and enter the Catholic Church.
But there was more to it than that.
I was also hurting. I had a very difficult time as a young, inexperienced pastor. In my first church I was thrown into an old conflict that I didn’t have the skills to handle. In my second church, I followed a pastor who had molested a young girl, and I had to repair the damage done to the church. I felt alone—and I found that my best support during this time, and during the hospitalization of my children and wife, came from Catholic friends, especially some who called themselves “Franciscan.” They lived out a true Christian spirit of love and simplicity modeled on the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. They prayed with me and taught me to pray. So I was attracted not just by the Catholic Church’s claim to authority, but by the beauty and love of many of its members, and by its rich traditions of prayer and spirituality.
That seems pretty clear–I was attracted by its authority, its history, its traditions of prayer and spirituality, and the Christian spirit of its members. Those seem to me to be the standard reasons why Protestants become Catholic.
I then noted that my trust in that authority crumbled. If you accept Catholic authority, you will accept the teachings that she asserts on her own authority, without Scriptural foundation. If you question her authority, then you abandon those teachings which have no other foundation. That is simple logic.
Many Catholic teachings have no other foundation than the Church’s claim to teach with authority: purgatory, Marian dogmas, saints, indulgences, the papacy, etc. These are not Bible doctrines.
And Catholicism has never claimed that they were. It has always upheld the authority of Tradition over against the Protestant claim that Scripture alone is to be the norm of all teaching and practice. That some apologists now try to read late developments into Scripture does not make them Scriptural.
The sexual abuse crisis has shown that the teaching of Trent still stands: Catholicism is a closed system of self-justification, which rests on its own authority. The clericalist, hierarchical system at its heart accepts no external criticism, whether it come from the laity or from Scripture. Consider the recent statement of Bishop Anthony Fisher, the organizer of the recent Catholic Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, who denounced a lay woman’s story of her daughter’s rape by a priest and subsequent suicide as “dwelling crankily … on old wounds.” He doesn’t get it. He can’t get it. He’s set apart. He’s experienced an ontological change that makes him metaphysically different from a lay person. He has an indelible character. Her comments can only bounce off that armor. And it’s the armor in which the whole structure is surrounded–the armor of pride, arrogance, hubris. Neither the pleas of a suffering mother nor the clear teachings of Scripture can make a dent in it. It is a structure of sin (to use Catholic terminology).
So I had plenty of reasons to leave; I gave some, I suggested others. But they are there. And they thus constitute an apologetic.
Now Dave says he had a different approach to becoming Catholic. He says he studied all the arguments for and against every doctrine. “I could no more convert to another belief-system without having abundant reasons for doing so than water could cease to be wet.” I don’t discount that. But that wasn’t my path to Catholicism, nor is it the path of most people. I embraced Catholicism because I was seduced; I accepted her claims to authority. I drank deeply of that cup. Having accepted her authority, I affirmed her as mater et magister. I listened to her own reasons, given throughout her history, and I accepted them because I was in love. I grew gradually to embrace her teachings more and more fully, moving from a more liberal Catholicism to a more conservative approach (but not the neo-fundamentalism of the Presbyterian converts). I loved John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But when I began to have doubts in her authority, when her golden cup dropped from my hand, and I gripped more firmly God’s Word, this all had to come crashing down.
At that time, I chose not to enter into a debate. I still choose not to do so. Because I still do not accept that form of apologetic. I had been posting many articles expressing my doubts before I took the step, and I posted more after the fact–those blog posts I compiled here. These articles aren’t exhaustive, but they document some of the questions I considered. Call them what you will–but I think it a stretch to call them “postmodernist mush.”