The Heart and Soul of the Reformation

The concept of “the righteousness of God” was at the heart and soul of the Reformation. Not only, “how is God righteous?” but “how can we, sinners, be righteous before a perfectly holy God?” That’s the question Martin Luther wrestled with. It’s the question that was at the heart and soul of the Reformation, and it’s the subject I discuss in my latest post:

The nature of the “righteousness of God”: Martin Luther was right

I want to thank all of you who responded

We were truly blessed by the response we received from our request for help yesterday. I am reminded of Tennyson’s “Ulysses”, who said:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

A little bit about my Catholic background – 1

I’ve been prompted to write about myself from two different perspectives. I’m not really shy about telling “my story,” and I’ve done so briefly, in the context of my church, and also here, a bit:

I’m a former Catholic — I was born in 1960 and raised in the Catholic Church by a devout family. But by the time I was in high school, I had also heard the Gospel from some friends — and I just could not comprehend why this “Gospel” was not what “the one true Church” was teaching, especially not if it was in the Bible. Needless to say, it created a great deal of turmoil in my spirit, and it set off a struggle that would consume me for a long time. In fact, that question — an overwhelming desire to find “the reason why,” motivates me today. But the issues I investigated in leaving Roman Catholicism continued to tug at my heart and mind. How could such a big, authoritative and seemingly wonderful thing have gone so wrong?

But there were two recent episodes that prompted me to go a bit deeper with this. First, in some comments at a blog where someone picked up some of the things I was writing about the early papacy, an individual questioned whether I was genuinely Catholic. Or at least, he suggested that I had only nominally been Catholic.

Here’s a quote from a commenter named Leo:

What I said, was “The catechesis you received must have been awful.”
I was giving you the benefit of the doubt, since there are two viable options:

1. You left because you did not really and truly understand what the Catholic Church really is, believing it to be something of your own misunderstanding.

2. You know darn well and believe that the Church was founded by Christ Himself and has been protected from teaching error on Faith and Morals yet you decided to leave anyway. That would be apostasy.

You also said, “And yes, I had a very clear understanding of the “Eucharist”.”

Well, that’s nice, but it does not negate what I said. My comment was, “Well, you certainly never came to believe in the Eucharist or you never would have left.”

Notice that my observation was that you would never have left if you had come to believe in the Euchrarist. You may have had a clear understanding of the Eucharist, but your actions display a complete lack of faith in the Eucharist.

So there you have it. This individual, who had never met me, imitates Christ (from the pericope of the woman at the well from John 4), and he tells me everything about myself, without ever having met me!

This is the sort of thing that’s prompted by a statement by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, to the effect that, “There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.” But Sheen here was speaking with a typical Roman Catholic style of exaggeration. Lots of people know what the Roman Catholic Church is.

So I qualified Leo’s statement:

There is a third viable option. I really and truly knew and understood everything the Roman Catholic Church said about itself; after a careful reading of Scripture, I decided to reject it as false. I was devout; I considered becoming a priest, and I attended Opus Dei “evenings of recollection” for two years. And I assure you, “the catechesis I received” through Opus Dei was only in the sense that it was purely Roman Catholic.

Nevertheless, I confess Jesus Christ as Lord — I am saved by grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone, and Soli Deo Gloria.

And then there have just been some of the individuals who have asked me privately to expand on this.

Regarding your Catholic experience, I think I am most interested in the events or influences in your life that moved your heart toward Jesus Christ, especially in such a way as to move you seriously toward studying for the priesthood. I find that fascinating, and I expect it would be quite moving.

So in what follows in the next few posts, I will try to give a little bit about that sort of thing.

The fabric of the one person

I’ve got a hankerin’ to do something here. I’ve been letting this go, in favor of another blog where I’m a member of a team of writers:

(see my posts at Beggars All Reformation and Apologetics)

There’s a blog that gets about 300 visitors per day; its subject matter, church history, is something that has been near to my heart for a lifetime. As a young writer, I was very conscious of the fact that I really wasn’t proficient enough in any subject to write about it proficiently; now as an older writer, who has studied the subject with something akin to a life-and-death kind of passion, I am at home writing in that world.

At any rate, God and Christ are the center of my life, my “eternal presupposition”. From there flow my my life, my passion, my family, my work. They make me who I am. The overriding cry of the Reformation, “to God alone be the glory,” is, or should be, the motto of my life.

These things are the center of my life, they are my anchor, but of course the winds of life blow one in many different directions. My career, my wife’s search for an ongoing career (I wish she didn’t have to work but we need the money), trying to usher my children in good directions — and my other interests, including politics, business, economics, and how they tie together — all of these things are woven into the fabric of the one person.

Well, I’m waxing poetic. It’s 3:30 am, so maybe I can be forgiven for that, eh?

Tom Peters is writing a new book

I note this because Tom Peters is one of my favorite “business guru” authors. As the previous posting relates (just down below), I think Peters is almost always right on the mark with his predictions of the way business is going to go. And I note this too, because it was his book The Tom Peters Seminar in 1995 and 1996 that provided both the inspiration and the blueprint for my own excursion into the freelance world (“Bugay Communications”). And I note this because, right now, as I face the job search, and as I am making the effort to think through what I can do and want to do for the next 10 years or more, his “Reinventing Work” trilogy” (The Brand You 50, the Project 50, and the Professional Service Firm 50) are at the top of my pile of books, again, providing inspiration and a blueprint.

(You may ask, “isn’t it a bit self-defeating to use a business book that’s 10 years old as your “inspiration and blueprint”? But in my opinion, his more recent work, “Re-Imagine,” is not much more than a repackaging and an expansion of the themes in the “50” books.)

At any rate, his new book is entitled The Little Big Things: 179 Ways to Be Excellent and is due out in about January 2010.

It seems to me that as he gets older, he keeps re-circling the same themes — this time it’s “Excellence” — and that in using the number 179, that possibly the packaging, or re-packaging, of the excellence theme, will take on the form of a “to-do” list, similar to that found in the “50” books. So this new work will be re-set in the context of today’s current economic woes. But the “how to” and the “what to do” portions of this work will again, largely, be similar in nature to what I’m reading now.

Is the recession over?

I’ve been reading a lot of snippets that suggest that the answer to that question may be “yes”.

The OECD, which measures “leading indicators,” suggests improvement is on the way:

Some of the world’s leading economies showed tangible improvement in May … They suggested many major economies — including the U.S., the euro zone and China — could end their declines later this year. Overall, the OECD lead indicator rose by 0.8 point to 94, the sharpest rise this year, but it was still down 7.3 points from May 2008. The indicators are designed to indicate turning points in economic activity about six months in advance, and the calcuations are based on a wide variety of data.

This article suggests that “an increase in exports bodes well for growth”:

Tentative signs of life in global trade are emerging, buoying growth forecasts in the U.S. and China, two of the world’s most important economies. U.S. exports grew in May, while imports fell, helping to narrow the trade deficit to its lowest level in nearly nine years. The report prompted economists to revise up their estimates of second-quarter gross domestic product. Some even suggested the economy might have grown slightly in the second quarter. “It’s a very good sign for GDP,” says Paul Ashworth, senior U.S. economist for Capital Economics in Toronto. “The economy didn’t shrink by much in the second quarter, and there’s an outside chance it recorded a gain.” Forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers increased its second-quarter GDP forecast from minus 1.6% to plus 0.2% on the news. New figures from China offered more support for the prospect that the massive drop in global trade is abating. Exports in June fell 21.4% from a year earlier, a smaller drop than May’s 26% decline, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Friday, citing official data.

That’s not huge, but it’s more in the right direction.

Still, I think everyone acknowledges that there are drags on the economy. The WSJ’s David Wessel suggests the recovery will be a painful (i.e., “jobless” one):

All signs point to a recovery so painful that many Americans may not realize when it finally arrives. There are signs the recession may end in coming months, but the U.S. economy’s recovery is likely to be so painfully slow that many won’t feel the difference. First, the good news. Auto sales and housing starts have fallen so low that they are unlikely to fall further, hence the talk of “stabilization” in those big, beleaguered industries. The mountain of unsold goods in factories, warehouses and stores, though still large, is shrinking. That eventually will lead manufacturers to stop reducing production and laying off workers. U.S. exports perked up in May. Credit markets are beginning to heal. Big companies are selling bonds. Even banks are selling new shares of stock. “Right now, we’re like a patient whose condition has stabilized and whose fever is just starting to come down,” Janet Yellen, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said recently.

But the job market remains awful. In December 2008, forecasters surveyed by The Wall Street Journal predicted the jobless rate would hit what then seemed a very high 8.1% at the end of 2009. Surveyed again this past week, forecasters now anticipate year-end unemployment of 10%. That suggests 775,000 more Americans will join the ranks of the jobless in the next six months.

On balance, though, I think that the signs are very hopeful that my own job search is going to be a good one.

“The Birth of Europe”

There is a sense of impending doom about most modern attempts to describe the late Roman empire … Nothing is more redolent of the age than the melancholy reflections of the late Roman philosopher Boethius (c.480-525). “The most unfortunate sort of misfortune”, he wrote in his Consolations of Philosophy, “is once to have been happy.” (Davies, Europe, pg. 213)

Effective Roman Government

From my reading list:

Roman government seems to be the subject of many misconceptions. It was in constant flux over a very long period of time, and did not attain any great measure of homogeneity, except, perhaps, briefly in the age of the Antonines. Its undoubted success was due to the limited but clearly defined goals that were set. It provided magistrates to settle disputes and to exact tribute. It provided an army for external defence, law enforcement, and internal security. And it supported the authority of approved local or regional elites, often through their participation in religious rites and civic ceremonies. The magic combination involved both great circumspection, in the degree of the state’s encroachment on established rights and privileges, and utter mercilessness, in defending lawful authority. (Davies, Europe, pg. 171)

By the mid-third century the Roman Empire was showing all the outward symptoms of an inner wasting disease. Political decadence was apparent in the lack of resolve at the centre, and in disorder on the periphery. In the ninety years from ad 180 no fewer than eighty short-lived emperors claimed the purple, by right or usurpation … The army dictated to its civilian masters with impunity. The barbarians flooded over the limes [frontier line], often unchecked. The raids of the Goths turned into permanent occupations. (Davies, Europe, pgs. 191-2)