A New Christian is Embarrassed

It’s been one year to the day since I last wrote on this blog. I’ve changed my mind about a few things, I suppose — although I imagine the change isn’t so much a conversion of ideals as it was a revelation to me by others about what I might have already known to be true.

I first embraced the idea of Christ in 2013. I intended not to join a church until a close personal friend in Christ convinced me it would be a good idea to join the body of Christ. I tried out an evangelical church, and then a couple of others, until settling on a Catholic parish, the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. I went through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) as a catechumen and was baptized on Holy Saturday. There I learned a bit about the the faith — its tenets, history, sacraments, doctrines, and so on.

I then spent a year as an RCIA sponsor to a Catholic-baptized man reentering the Catholic faith through confirmation.

I read some of the Bible as well as the catechism.

I listened to sermons online by various pastors from various Christian traditions. Notably, I delved into Fighting for the Faith, a Lutheran program.

I conversed with friends and family — and an ideological foe or two — about Christianity and its tenets.

I found out people have their own ideas about the faith. There is much to disagree on. I learned where I might have gone wrong in my first 30 months as a person who professes Christianity.

My first writings on the faith on this blog were intended to be a record of my thoughts and understandings — and misunderstandings — about the faith, so that I might show people what it’s like to become a Christian — and to show myself, it turns out, how naive I was. My intentions included a certain evangelistic fervor as well. I wanted to show people that even a properly skeptical person such as myself could stoop so low as to join the rest of the human race in embracing something so human as religion.

I probably still sound like an ass. I’ll read this in five years and roll my eyes at this writing as today I roll my eyes at my earlier writings.

I don’ believe in “personal growth” as a virtue unto itself. Cancers grow, too. That said, I have indeed changed my mind about a few things, and come into a greater awareness of What’s Out There in terms of the way people think about Christianity and Christian doctrine. I’ve formed some strong opinions along the way and become less tolerant of divergent thinking. How vain a pursuit it is to come up with something new for its own sake. I guess even that urge isn’t new; the Bible talks about it in the book of Acts, I believe. Paul observed that when he encountered the Greco-Roman culture, people tended to be infatuated with whatever New Thing was in vogue at the time, which is really the only reason the hoi polloi gave him an audience in the first place.

So let me return to basics. Here’s what I believe to be true of the Christian faith:

The Holy Trinity is a real thing. I understand it better than I’m supposed to. I have no problem wrapping my mind around God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I suppose the reason it’s easy for me to understand is that I don’t think too hard about it. I just accept it.

The penal substitutionary theory of atonement is a real thing. Many of my fellow parishioners think that the theory is a new idea. It’s not. Google “Justin Martyr” and you’ll see it’s been there from the start. You’ve got a lot of leftist activists running around trying to pass it off as a fad, when really it’s their “liberation theology” from 1950’s South America that’s the fad. Don’t even get me started. The point is that penal substitution is the only way in which Christ was able to accomplish anything at all, and it’s the only reason why millions of devout have any hope at all in their lives. I don’t care if you think it’s some kind of cosmic child abuse: God sent his willing Son to suffer and die in our place as atonement for our sinful nature. Were that not the case, then grace itself would be meaningless and we can all go home to our pointless lives. God’s wrath is what makes his love worth anything; we deserve hell, but we get heaven. If you think that’s unfair, it’s because you are in thrall to human definitions of justice.

I do believe in both scripture and tradition. However, I lean more towards scripture. If you’re surrounded by a hundred opinionated parishioners and you don’t know what to conclude, consult the Bible directly. It’s all in there. And if you want some clarification, the catechism is an easy and absorbing read. It provides thoughtful synthesis of principles which can be found in the Bible. Then cross-reference it with the Bible, also easily accomplished. Who cares what the latest academic theological trends are? Listen to the arguments and think for yourself. You do not need a degree, although that certainly helps a lot. You just need to want to know what’s true.

God is who and what he says he is. Yes, he is violent. Yes, he is wrathful. He’s not Mister Rogers, okay? It’s our job to do as Christ commands; it’s God’s job to be God. Different rules apply.

I figure if you’re going to recite the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed every week at church, you ought to actually buy into it. Otherwise you’re lying and you’d better stop it. It’s called having a modicum of honor. This is not some high school play in which we recite lines but don’t actually believe what we are saying. We’re not playing a part. We are confessing before God and neighbor what we claim to believe.

I have some cognitive dissonance too, though. I understand being of two minds. Just don’t go far out of your way to be a hypocrite, is my point.

I believe in the efficacy of the sacraments. I understand the need for the spiritual to manifest itself as the material. The Lord’s Supper is the real presence of Jesus Christ. Start with that assumption and build out your theology from there. It’s the core of everything.

I believe in a wrong way and a right way to interpret scripture and form opinions. Christianity is not Build-a-Bear. We don’t get to decide what God is like and then worship that idea. Our own special opinions look a hell of a lot like a golden calf. It’s idolatry and it’s damnable. Our job is to find out what God is and then to find out what he wants. You can’t get it from direct revelation unless you’re a prophet, and you’re not a prophet, smart as you may be. You can’t claim to be speaking for God unless you are directly quoting scripture. That’s the safe bet. Otherwise you’re a false prophet and you’re going to burn in hell.

Certainty is a good thing. That there is a right and a wrong, a good and a bad, a heaven and hell, these are good things. Justice means nothing without both reward and punishment.

The rules are the rules. Jesus didn’t come to tell us to break the law. He even said so in the Bible. You can’t just go around being an ass. At the same time, we are saved through our faith, not through our works, because our works are all borne upon the wings of wickedness. At the same time again, faith without works is dead, as the book of James points out. Don’t think about it too hard; just get your doctrine right. That’s all I ask.

I’m not the leftist hippie I was when I started this blog. Not everything is flowers and rainbows. And you know what? I actually find hope and joy in knowing there’s something called original sin. I find comfort in having my sinful nature acknowledged and dealt with. Just as you can’t love something you’re not honest with yourself about, God’s love would be a big fat lie if it was based on your worthiness. You’re not worthy. At all. None of us are. And some of us are going to hell. Exactly who will burn and who will not, I don’t know, but by faith, we can rest in God’s mercy forever.

And that’s the good news, folks. The gospel. Or a paraphrase of it, anyway. Don’t take my word for it. Read the book yourself, fool.

I was and remain your fool in Christ.

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One thought on “A New Christian is Embarrassed

  1. Absolutely straight up and fabulous. You are calling it for real and it’s refreshing as it gets. Bravo. It’s the kind of writing that gives strength to people who read you.

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