Catholic is not liberal

Catholic does not mean liberal. Catholic means comprehensive and universal, but this universality is the promise of God, which Christians look forward to (that is, it is an eschatological concept). But meanwhile Christians must say that this is not yet the world they anticipate. They live by faith and in hope, and look forward to what they don’t yet have. This present world is full of false totalities which cut people out. It is not true and not kind to say that everybody is already in, or that all are saved and included. The liberal creed is that there is no ‘in’ and no ‘out’, and no distinction between Christians and non-Christians, and that it is rude to suggest that there is. It is the law of the liberals church that there may be no preaching, and that we should not try to teach anyone anything or impose our views on others. The liberal creed is that that it is rude, wrong, unacceptable to suggest that the gospel converts. Indeed the liberal creed denies that there is anything we can learn from listening to any part of the Christian or Western tradition, and thus that there is any point in studying that tradition – so no point in exploring the lives and thoughts of previous generations. There is nothing new for us to hear or learn.Philip Turner puts this better than me.

Many, if not most, of the classical themes associated with pastoral care can find no place within a theology dominated by the notion of radical inclusion. The atoning power of Christ’s death, faith, justification, repentance, and holiness of life, to mention but a few, appear at best as an antique vocabulary to be either out grown or reinterpreted. So also does the notion that the church is a community elected and called out by God from the peoples of the earth for a particular purpose. That purpose is to bear witness to the saving event of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and to call people to believe, repent, and live in an entirely different manner. It is this witness that defines what many call “the great tradition”, but a theology of radical inclusion must at best trim such robust belief. To be true to itself it can find room for only one sort of witness, namely, inclusion of the previously excluded. Indeed, the connection of the existence of the Church to a saving purpose makes little sense because salvation is not an issue for a theology of radical inclusion. God has already included everybody, and now we ought to do the same. Within a theology of ‘radical inclusion’, Christianity is no longer presented as a religion of salvation. Salvation, which normally refers to the restoration of a right relation between God and his creation, cannot rightly be the theme of Christian witness because God has accepted us all already (save perhaps those guilty of exclusionary practice).

Philip Turner on the ‘theology’ of the Episcopal Church in the United States

But the liberal view is wrong. One opinion is not just as good as any other. Not all views are equally valid. It is not sheer conceit that makes me think I can tell you somthing you don’t know, and vice versa. I dont know everything already, so I really should go and get find someone who knows better than me when, say, my computer is playing up. I should listen to that expert and be guided by him – it is not demeaning for me to do so, for he really does have knowledge that I don’t, he has the relevant craft skill, that corresponds to the reality of the functioning of my computer.

Of course this liberal creed is self-contradicting, for prohibits teaching, while it is itself a teaching. And it is contradicted by real life. You know that you don’t know how to fix your broken computer. Only someone who has undergone the training to receive the knowledge that you don’t have, can help you. You want him to instruct you on this, you pay him and demand that he gives his verdict. In just the same way, surely, you concede that there is a lot about life that I don’t know about, but I want to know about it, and I am prepared to listen and even to undergo the discipline and training that makes me more competent, whether with my computer – or at life.

It costs effort to refute every day the liberal untruth, the falsehood of the view that all views are equally valid. it is tiresome, and Christians are doubtless tiresome when they talk about truth, and insist that truth is worth talking about and worth the unpleasantness of these daily little disagreements. 

paying my respects

I know what I would like this blog to be like. Pontifications. Now that is a blog. There isn’t another one like it. The first great thing about this was that it was anonymous, which gave it are a sort of seriousness. The second thing was that the man behind it, Alvin Kimel, really worked at it, posting a phenomenal amount, and of top quality stuff from all parts of the Christian tradition. He has taste, and I have to admit that he has broadened my taste. He posted lots of C.S. Lewis, Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers and Newman. I read his extracts from these writers who I had assumed i knew all about without ever actually having read them. I read, and I was impressed and thrilled. I scoff no more. Kimel quoted passages which sounded as though they were written this morning, absolutely fresh, to the point and accurate about our present predicament. Of course we always think our predicament is unprecedented. You can still see these wonderful extracts.

I can’t compete with Kimel’s Pontifications but imitation is flattery, and all that. He wrote, still writes, pieces about the struggle for the Episcopal church in the US, so it had a hard news feel to it, which this blog wont have. His blog showed him agonising about whether to stick with the Episcopal Church, which seemed to understand nothing about Christian obedience. Kimel gave up on it, which was a bit of a bombshell, and joined the Roman Catholics in the autumn of 2005. Though Pontifications is no longer his sole work, you should go and have a look, and explore his archives, for the wonders that are there.

One, holy, catholic, apostolic

The church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. In fact I just want to think through these four marks of the church with you. There are others, of course – evangelical and charismatic are two I want to talk about too some time. But meanwhile, these four, because they are from the creed (see, nothing is too obvious to be said) and because we say the creed. That is once a week, the congregation of which I am a member (I’ll tell you about it later) say these words – out loud. If we say them we own them, so we cannot just shrug when asked what we mean by them.

I hope to talk about these four marks of the Church – one, holy, catholic, apostolic. Really I am amazed to find myself saying this sort of thing, me, the evangelical Christian. To use this proud title, evangelical, demands that you confess, that is say out loud, this creed, with these four words, one, holy, catholic, apostolic, every week. Shall I make this plainer? You cannot be evangelical without saying this creed, and saying these four words, which are four vital promises and instructions to us. A service that does not include three lessons from Scripture, one of which is from the Old Testament, and this creed (and much else that we shall come to), is not an evangelical service. The Christians in that service, that is not shaped and governed by these four marks of the church, are not receiving the sustenance by which they can grow: they are being sold short.

But in St Mary’s I don’t remember ever hearing these four words – one, holy, catholic, apostolic) expounded. Really, I wonder why we have a sermon.


So it is time to get this blog up. It is going to be a disrupted beginning. Today I have been left in charge of the bouncing babe all morning, for the first time. This is only possible because he is now taking a bit of rice in milk. He is not at all keen on the bottle but he will have to get keener. So circumstances – the yelling in the background – will mean that this blog stays fairly spontaneous for a bit.

Here are my thoughts. I will do say three entries a week, one will be me chuntering on, two will be paragraphs culled from a classic and a contemporary piece of theology. I want to show you who is worth reading, talk about the movements I think are worth learning from and pursuing, and try out my own work on you.

So I am going to recommend some authors and books to you. Nothing controversial there. Of course the book I really want to put in front of you is my own – but I can at least talk through some of the exploring that went on in the course of writing it. More of that later.

And I think it would be easiest to let the church year serve as our agenda. I want to talk a little about the Sunday service, its three readings from Scripture – and that will give us the opportunity to talk through some real Christology – who Jesus Christ is and what difference he makes. 

Spiritual gifts and orders in the Church

Another characteristic of the eschatological community which the Eucharist as the body of the Risen and corporate, spiritual Christ must portray, is its charismatic nature. All the members of the Church possess the Holy Spirit through Baptism and Chrismation (or Confirmation), and being a charismatic means in the final analysis being a member of the Church. Ordination is a bestowal of a particular charisma on certain people and as such it does not raise the ordained person above or outside the community, but assigns him to a particular position, an ordo. The Eucharist includes not only the laymen but also other charismata and orders. Its proper performance therefore must include a variety of orders and not simply what we call the laymen or the clergy.

John Zizioulas The ecclesiological presuppositions of the holy Eucharist

being obvious

I want to use this blog to say some things that should be obvious. Why? Because they don’t appear to be known by the very people to whom they should be best obvious. Every Sunday morning I listen to a clergy person who either has learned these really obvious things, or has decided that they have found something more important to say, something from some other source. What should be most obvious is  that we have to hear from him or her what the Scripture readings that we have just heard, say. The job of the minister, teacher, clergy, whoever, is to say again what the Scripture readings say, to open the Scripture to us. It is not sufficient to refer to a line or two of one of the New Testament readings in passing. Opening the Scripture means talking us through all three readings please. Their job description, to which they gave their promise at their ordination, is to serve the Word of God, and to serve us by serving that whole Word up to us. They simply have to repeat what we have heard, using other words so that we hear it again, and clearer, in all its strangeness and directness. So, this blog is just a response to the sermon I heard and the service I took part in part in on Sunday. For this reason it is full of things that are really obvious to most of you. It is my questions about what was and wasn’t said in that sermon, and my questions about what we heard and said and sung in that service and it is my ‘thank you’ and my ‘Amen’.