Posted by: jackslife | January 17, 2008

The consoling power of an evangelical cliche

I know this title is a little weird, but this article mirrors some conversations, readings, and thoughts that I have been having recently. While I am not ready to go running to the arms of the Catholic church like Michael Brendan Dougherty did, I have been thinking a lot about the evangelical view of Scripture recently. In “The Bondage of the Will”, Martin Luther makes it pretty clear that he believes that everything in Scripture is completely understandable by a believer. He doesn’t deny the mystery of God, but he does deny the mystery of Scripture. I’m not sure that I completely agree. I am happy that Martin Luther found Scripture so easy to understand, but I find many passages that present great difficulty. The mere fact of the wildly varied interpretations of Scripture by intelligent Biblical scholars seems proof enough that we can not with confidence say that we understand all of Scripture completely. I think this entire discussion is pretty well summed up by the question of what 1st Corinthian 13:9-12 means. Is “that which is perfect” the Bible? It depends on who you talk to. If it is, we don’t see through a glass darkly anymore. I just can’t shake the feeling that I don’t know in full right now.

I’m also struck by the helplessness of this post. All of the “I’m praying for you” type comments seem so close to the random “be of good cheer”, and then walk away. I do think that Michael’s comment about the dual life of evangelical teenagers is a bit ridiculous, as I don’t think Catholics are free from that type of duality.

All in all, I find this to be a tremendously melancholy post. It is beautiful in it’s tragedy, much in the way a Flannery O’Conner story is.

Update:  BTW, I also don’t agree with the concept of the Anonymous Christian, just to be clear. 🙂



  1. Thanks for the link. I agree: Catholics can have a dual life in the same way. I didn’t mean it to be a criticism of Evangelicals. It’s just that, typically, Catholics are not as vocal about their faith, and there is something about the sacrament of penance that makes sense of that dual life.

    Also, obviously, the post has more sympathy for the simple, explicit faith of “John” than it does for Karl Rahner’s theology which I find barely plausible.

  2. Yeah, not a very well thought out post script that I tacked on to the end there. My main point was the Evangelical view of scripture, which I have long felt presumed too much understanding. I was not at all offended by the comment about the dual life in Evangelicals, as I agree with it. I probably shouldn’t have used the word ridiculous to describe your comment. 🙂 I just think that all Christians fall pretty short in the imitation of Christ, which should be our goal.

    Your post did do a wonderful job of contrasting John’s simple faith with the more complicated version that I think protestants tend to be guilty of sometimes. My Calvinist friends would cringe to hear me say it, but doctrine isn’t everything.

  3. on simple faith: Yeah, this Jesus guy once had nice things to say about the faith of a child too.

    I do agree that some evangelicals would do well to appreciate the mystery more; I think that many Catholics (as well as some evangelicals) don’t even try to understand their faith, and perhaps even believe that it is not for them to try. This , coupled by blindly following people who do claim to understand, can lead to little worldwide problems like the dark ages.

    So, I think some balance is called for here.

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