This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Loss of Vision In Today's Religious Spectrum

Since I had a strongly-worded message last week, I wanted to follow up this week with an equally important but toned-down talk about some related issues based on some material I have been reading in my graduate school course textbooks.  I am still very disturbed by a lot of the nonsense that is floating around out there, but this week I wanted to address some specifics as to what is transpiring in much of Western Christianity today. 

To begin, the incident that inspired last week's very caustic message had a good ending to it.  I had originally submitted a reading response a couple of weeks ago in regard to a text we are reading in our "Christianity and World Religions" class entitled Introducing the Quran For Today's Reader, by John Kaltner, a professor at Rhodes College in Tennessee (a college interestly enough founded by the Freemasons - hmmm!).  To me, Kaltner is essentially an Islamist - not a Muslim mind you, but an Islamist in that he seems to be promoting a new syncretistic religion called Chrislam - and the entire purpose of his book is to basically whitewash the Quran so that it can, as the back cover of this book reads, "foster a contemporary understanding and appreciation of the Quran."  Any rate, the first chapter just sort of set me off a couple of weeks ago when I wrote it, and I essentially used a class assignment to slam the book and its author.  Admittedly, as the professor correctly pointed out later, that was not the forum to attack the book so after a chat with the professor (this thing caused both of us a great deal of grief through the week) we came to an understanding that while in class I needed to stick to the book's subject matter, but outside the class the professor said I was more than welcome to rip it to pieces;  so, I will do that here, as these articles are my forum God allowed me to have to defend, proclaim, and uphold the truth against error.   And, Kaltner is a master at writing errors - to read his book, a less-informed person would think the Quran is all about love, peace, equality, etc.  But, a mistake was made at the outset - Muslims do not just rely on the Quran, but also on the hadiths, and even in the supposedly "peaceful" verses of the Quran, there is a contradictory thing called taquiyya (meaning that any lie to accomplish the will of Allah is acceptable, in Islamic theology) in which the "peaceful" verses of the Quran must be viewed in conjunction with the commentary on said verse as spelled out in the hadiths.  That being said, I want to go on record as saying I don't hate individual Muslims at all - over the years I have had some good Muslim friends, and in many cases they are peaceful people who live their lives like the rest of us do - but rather that infernal religion; Islam is a demonic religion any way you look at it, and Allah is not the same God that Jews and Christians worship, not even close - his attributes are different, and there is also evidence that Allah may actually be a vestigial lunar deity of pre-Islamic Arabia.  That being said, I would say that if you come across Kaltner's book, give it a read - however, do not take what he says as truth, because he has a skewered idea of what that is.  

A second issue sort of related to this came up in another class and involved a book by Pentecostal author Allan Anderson entitled An Introduction to Pentecostalism.  I myself am a former Pentecostal, and I love studying Pentecostal history.  I thought actually that Anderson's book would be a good read, but boy, was I mistaken!  Starting on page 176 of this book, in a section entitled "Between the Lines of Missionary Letters," Anderson spends 7 pages of text basically calling Pentecostal missionaries "racists" by citing a few isolated references to "savages" in some letters, as well as (God forbid!) saying that pagan deities were demonic (see page 179 as an example).  Thing is, it is Anderson who was wrong and the missionaries who were right - anyone who knows my position on this will affirm that I believe that there is a demonic spirit behind every pagan idol, and the chief deity of a cultural religious system is often the territorial spirit over that region.  No, Mr. Anderson, I didn't say that, but Scripture did -  and, the early Pentecostal missionaries, as well as millions of Christians who have evangelized foreign lands over the centuries, knew this.  They knew that these cultures oftentimes had more of an appreciation of the supernatural than many of our rationalistic Western cultures do, and it was an education for them.  And, contrary to many accusations Anderson makes in his text (although, to be fair, he does admit on page 178 that not all of them were racist bigots - mighty big of you, Mr. Anderson! - and that many of them had servant hearts and genuinely loved the people they ministered to;  I would say a big "DUUUHHH!" to that, because isn't that why God called them to those particular people??) many Pentecostal missionaries (not to mention a myriad of other Protestant and Catholic missionaries too) respected this openness to the supernatural on the part of the people they were working with, and they would never be intentionally racist or paternalistic against these people.  In contrast, let us look at the people that Anderson would possibly hold up as "model Christian workers" who in particular often would sheep-steal from other churches as well as demean and misunderstand other cultures.  Dr. Loyal Jones, professor of Appalachian Studies at Berea College in Kentucky and one of the foremost authorities on Appalachian Christianity, accurately tells about the Allan Andersons among us and their attitudes:

"The stereotypes about the mountain people had taken a strong hold by the first decade of the twentieth century.  Early missionaries and other travelers had reported a strange and peculiar people.  Few of the later observers had the ability to observe another culture with any sense of objectivity, and religious people were particularly intolerant of religious beliefs and practices that were markedly different from their own.  Henry Shapiro, in his book Appalachia on Our Mind (1978) suggested that missionaries created a public image of Appalachia that never corresponded to reality so as to justify and obtain support for the work they proposed to do in the region.  At the time, few people questioned the work of missions to "underdeveloped people," whether they were seeking to save lost souls, to turn professing Christians from an odious fundamentalism, to educate the ignorant, or to minister to the sick" (Loyal Jones, Faith and Meaning in the Southern Uplands {Urbana, IL:  University of Chicago Press, 1999} p. 4)

As an Appalachian-American myself, I know about the stupid stereotypes of inbred snakehandler Holy-Rollers that often is perpetrated by the intelligentsia about our people, and it sickens me.  This type of idiocy is not something I have ever seen on the part of Pentecostal missionaries I have known, but I have seen it displayed by the academics who criticize these missionaries.  Take the Society for Pentecostal Studies for example.  It was founded in the early 1970's as a solid academic organization, and for many years it did its job well - that is, until the early 21st century, when many of its membership radically redefined the SPS as an activist organization promoting crap like "liberation theology" and the tone and language of many of these supposedly learned people shocks me in its lack of charitable attitude - I have heard these "scholars" refer to average laypeople in the typical Pentecostal church as "hicks," "rednecks," and other such pejorative terms, and as many of them teach courses at colleges, they waste the tuition money of their students by going on these 20-minute rants about why it is wrong to display an American flag in a church, etc.  And, many of them have embraced some very anti-Israel rhetoric in recent years, calling supporters of Israel "dispensationalists" when not even using that term in its proper context.  Ironically though, while support for Israel is a cardinal sin for these "scholars," they will often have their students read without hesitation some vile and hateful garbage by "Black Liberation" theologians like James Cone (a guy who mentored Rev. Jeremiah Wright, not to mention has said that Whites are evil and going to hell and that a Black skin is all it takes to get into heaven - really?  I don't recall reading about skin color in relation to salvation in the Holy Scriptures, so what makes James Cone any different from White supremacist Richard Butler?  To me, they sound exactly the same!).  There are a few things I want to clear up for these scholars, although I wonder if their Ph.D.'s will allow them to grasp the concept!  First, not everyone who supports Israel is a "Zionist" or a "dispensationalist," and support for Israel doesn't mean blanket assent for everything Israel does; the Israeli government, just like ours, has done some stupid things over the years, but it doesn't detract from the prophetic reality of their existence.  In other words, there is still a human factor - the leaders of Israel, like all of humanity, are imperfect and capable of sin and mistakes, and not everything they do is right.  For instance, I really wish that Israel would have used more discretion in building bridges with Middle Eastern Christians, because in reality both groups need each other.   However, that would be the subject of a whole other discussion beyond the scope of this one.   Second, not everyone who believes in the immanency of Christ's Second Advent is a "dispensationalist."  That pejorative has been bandied about, and is neither fair to those who are actual dispensationalists nor to those who have a futuristic eschatology. 
In other words, these supposedly learned men have set themselves up as a new Sanhedrin, and they diminish the message of the Cross with that nonsense.  Many of these professors on a personal level are actually nice people, and I enjoy talking to them on many issues.  However, their activism is problematic, and they need to be a little more careful.

At any rate, I have said my piece for the week, so we'll leave it at that. I hope to get back on course with some actual teaching on some basic doctrines and such in the coming weeks, so please pray that I don't get ticked off by any of this bunk I have to read as class assignments!  God bless until next time.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Special Message

As some of you know, I have been without a computer for a couple of months, as our old one crashed recently and we have replaced it more recently.  However, during that couple of months I have had this stirring in my spirit to say something, and I have a lot to draw off of at this point - some personal experiences, a couple of references, as well as material from a research paper I submitted for one of my grad school classes.  What I am about to say is a tough subject, and it will step on the toes hard of some who read it, but a stirring in my spirit says it needs to be addressed.  It is a little change of plans from what I had hoped to write about, as I still intend to devote this year to a series of article on fundamental things that we as Catholic Christians believe.   But, the Holy Spirit has some other ideas, and this message is meant for specific people who probably will not be happy about it, but again, it needs to be said. 

I want to begin this by first of all giving a short "Reader's Digest" version of the class paper I wrote, as it has a lot to do with the subject matter of this article.  If you read II Timothy 3, you will note that there are a number of characteristics that will manifest themselves in the last days, and what this passage addresses is not the secular world, but rather the religious environment.  Verse one, in the NKJV, opens with a warning that in the last days "perilous times" will come, and St. Paul the Apostle, who wrote those words, also alludes to this in 6:13, which is within the classic "armor of God passage - he calls it there "the evil day" and admonishes believers (that would be us) to perservere, withstand, and he then tells us the equipment (the armor) we need to dress ourselves to do so.  That word "perilous," I found out, is referring to the Greek word chalepos, which denotes a gradual wearing-down of the defenses of the ones being attacked by the assailants.  That is important, because the grocery-list of characteristics that begins in verse 2 of II Timothy 3 and goes through verse 9 are things that gradually overtake people in the Church, causing them to apostatize.  This leads to what the Church has historically taught to be the "Great Apostasy."  Much more can be said on this, as it also ties into parables Jesus spoke in Matthew 13, as well as the image of the whore called "Babylon" in Revelation 17, but if you want to have more elaboration on that, I can share the paper with you sometime on all that.  What I want to focus on here are II Timothy 3, verses 7 and 9, as they are relevant to what I am about to address here.

Some already know that at the present time I am attending a Pentecostal university - the same one I received my Bachelor of Arts - in order to pursue a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree.  I have seen this university twice in my life, as both an undergraduate and a graduate student, and to be honest coming back to it for the graduate program is almost like landing on a different planet.  This school, an institution founded in the 1930's as a Pentecostal ministerial training school, has a vibrant spiritual past - the further back in its history you go, the more revivals and seasons of renewal you see.  However, something has happened to this particular university in the past twenty years that is disturbing, and the spirit on that campus is so foreign to the heritage of the school these days that one wonders if the place is the same at all.  When we first moved back here a couple of years ago, God opened the door for me to finally go for my graduate degree, which I had been desiring to do for years.  However, I have actually started to question in recent months - "Why on earth am I in this place?"  I suppose I should elaborate some at this point as to what happened.

At this school in the past 20 years or so, postmodern theology has made some deep and carcinogenic inroads onto the campus of this university, and it is reflected in the way the professors are teaching the course curricula.  Doctrine and heritage are no longer important, as the "new" emphasis seems to be on what is called "missional Christianity."  As a result, traditional evangelism - meaning reaching out and converting the lost by preaching the Gospel and particularly the message of the Cross - is pooh-poohed by the powers-that-be at this institution now, and instead an emphasis on "meeting needs" - such as addressing hunger, poverty, etc. - is the order of the day.  Compassion ministries are fine, and they have their place, but it cannot be at the expense of the message of the shed blood of Christ, the Agnus Dei slain for the sins of the world, upon the rough, splintery cross erected on Calvary's crest.  The cross and the blood of Jesus are why we are Christians in the first place, and they are given so that all men may have the opportunity for redemption and eternal life, and it is the mandate of the CHURCH to proclaim that message to all.  Yet, on this campus today it is denigrated and even mocked.  That is bad enough in itself, but it gets worse - those who are supposed to be charged with the theological formation of so many young minds have themselves become nothing but lying hypocrites on that campus, and the scandal of it is almost inconceivable.  And, that is the focus of what I want to talk about. 

Let us look at II Timothy 3:7 - St. Paul describes certain leaders in the last-days churches as being "always learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth," and that describes so many professors on this university campus.  They claim to be Pentecostals for instance, and in their books they make good and eloquent arguments for things like the gift of tongues, yet it is obvious by being in a class with one of them for five minutes that they rarely (if at all!) appropriate it.  The denominations these academic paragons belong to are churches like the Assemblies of God and the Church of God, two of the largest historically Pentecostal denominations in America.  Both denominations affirm in their doctrinal statements that speaking in tongues(typically reference to glossolalia) is the initial, physical evidence, the experience of being "baptized with the Holy Spirit." I once was part of another Pentecostal denomination, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, that affirmed the same thing even more dogmatically.  On campus, you hear a lot of talk about this, and if you ask anyone there, professor and student alike, they will tell you they verbally affirm that.  Yet, I have yet to see anyone actually practice the gift on campus (I am no longer Pentecostal, but must confess that as a result of what I have seen, I pray in tongues more today on that campus than I have done in the whole 27 years I have been a Christian!).  And, God forbid if a real revival were to break out on that campus - I could just see these self-assured professors either decrying it or trying to write a hermeneutical discourse on it that might get them accolades at the next Society for Pentecostal Studies conference!  That is why II Timothy 3:7 applies to these professors - they are always reading, always learning, but fail to see the truth even when it hits them, as the late Dean Martin once sang "in the eye like a big pizza pie!"  You mention these things in class, and some of the professors (one recent class I had in particular) will stare down their arrogant nose at you as if you just stepped off a Klingon Bird-of-Prey or something in an episode of Star Trek.  But, as verse 9 says, they have become so deluded and enamoured of their own academic prowess that it causes them to deny and ignore what is plainly evident - it's as if a new spirit, not unlike that which drove the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus' day, is blinding them.   And, that imp is a powerful sucker too - it has a stranglehold on that campus at this point in time that within a short period - I would give it ten years, if that, provided the Lord tarries - that campus will be totally secularized.  But, it gets even worse as we'll see.

At one time, missions and evangelism drove the spiritual direction of that campus.  Not so today - the order of the day now is pluralism and "missional Christianity" as it is called (a friend of mine calls it "Christian humanitarianism").  We are to be like the poor, serve the poor, etc.  That all sounds good, and in itself there is nothing wrong with that, but it is what is getting tangled up into the mix with it - postmodern theologians (often heretical) such as Jurgen Moltmann and Stanley Hauerwas have in essence become new "popes" to these professors, and they always bewail the "plight of the poor" in class and have even told students that they need to go live a week on the street in a box, etc.  Yet, their rhetoric rings hollow, and I will now tell you why.

Anyone who has read my articles for a while and knows my story will attest that I myself know what poor is - I grew up with an alcoholic single mother who was a backslidden minister herself in a small town in West Virginia in the late 1970's and early 1980's.  I am, as a matter of fact, one of the few Gen-Xer's who ever had to use an outhouse, had his clothes washed either in the bathtub or a wringer washer, and our heat, hot water, and cooking were often furnished by a wood stove (not to mention well water).  At one point, when I was 10 years old in the winter of 1980, my mother and I lived in this rickety trailer in the town of Kirby, WV, where we spent the winter sleeping on couches in the living room because we could not afford heat.  Our oven in the house served as a heater, clothes dryer, and food preparation apparatus - we subsisted on potatoes most of that winter, although at the first of the month when Dad's child support check of $100 came in the mail, it was a luxury to have macaroni and cheese and bacon - those were a real treat.  The only steaks I remember having those years came from deer my step-grandfather (he and my grandmother lived a few miles away from us, and they were as poor as we were)shot out-of-season; thanks be to God for understanding game wardens who knew some of  us killed game throughout the year to survive, and they often looked the other way.  In the summers, it got to such a point when I was 15 that I had to sneak out at night and raid the neighbors' gardens so we'd have a meal the next day.  Many times, my clothes - all second-hand - didn't fit right, and I often had to secure them with safety pins so they would not pop off or fall off me, and on more than one occasion I had to do the newspapers-in-the shoes thing, or if we were more fortunate, Super-Glue on the soles.  In the summer of 1979, when I was nine years old, we lived at my grandfather's place in Martinsburg, WV.  At the time, my step-grandmother had passed away, and our family was in shambles, and oftentimes Mom and I were there for weeks at a time with no income, and many times we subsisted on fried corncakes, canned peaches and applesauce, and the good charity of an old widower we called Pappy Beavers next door who would give us a couple of slices of fresh-cut ham on occasion.  In short folks, that was poor!  Many of the kids I grew up with in that town of Kirby, WV, grew up the same way too, although in many cases they had it worse - some of them were abused by their parents, some were totally neglected and had to raise themselves, etc.  Yet, God had his hand in my life, and he raised me up - today, I have a good job, a college education, and am working toward a graduate degree because people believed in me - I could name a personal "Hall of Fame" of teachers, church people, relatives, and others whom God put in my life, and in their own way, they ministered to my needs in a way that motivated me to do and be what God intended me to be.  And, THAT is the ministry the poor today desire and need - they don't want some college kid who is barely on the poverty line themselves sleeping in a box under the freeway bridge because some pompous theology professor with an agenda laid a guilt trip on them.  So, why do they encourage it?  The better question is why don't these professors set the example and put their money where their mouths are?  Let's address that one, shall we!

The average cost of tuition at my university for a graduate-level class is about $500 per credit hour.  An average class is 3 credit hours in duration, and on average there are 15 students to a class.  In the case of graduate courses, those classes last about 8 weeks, which means there are six terms a year if you count summers. So, let's do the math on that one.  At $1500 per student in a class, and 15 students average to a class, that means about $22,500 is what a course will bring in.  Let's say the university takes about half of that, and the professor gets half - that means the professor is getting about $11,250 per course as his cut.  Multiply that times six, and what a professor makes an academic year before taxes then is approximately $67,500.  Being that is under the $100K threshold, I would reckon the average professor pays about 15% in income tax, which in this case would be $10,125.  Deducting the tax, a professor makes about $57,375 annually.  However, these professors also teach undergraduate classes, which would double that amount hypothetically to $114,750 maximum.  To be fair, not all the professors at this particular university probably make that much, but you know they are not hurting!  If you also take into account these men publish books, speak at conferences, etc., they could bring home as much as $150K-$200K per year, which is more than a junior attorney at a large law firm makes!  Many of them also have homes that average between $300,000 and $500,000 in value (and I know, as I have been in some of their homes!) and they drive some pretty high-end vehicles too.  I said all that, and also shared my own testimony, to say this - these professors, many of whom I might also mention were raised pretty comfortably in nice families, and many of them had decent upbringings, sure live pretty good for bellyaching so much about the "plight of the poor" and how the Church supposedly lacks ministries of compassion - really???  And, what is worse is their poor students, who in many cases really are poor - many of them are flipping burgers at MacDonald's for minimum wage just to survive in college, while the college bookstore (mind you, a supposedly "Christian" institution) charges them exorbitant prices for textbooks which thankfully many students have figured out you can get for much cheaper on, and these "enlightened" professors are laying guilt trips on their students about purchasing a 20-cent bag of ramen soup (which in many cases may be an only meal!); I mean, how dare them purchase Oodles of Noodles when a bum is sleeping in a box under the I-4 overpass!  These professors don't know a hill of beans about what it truly means to be poor, and perhaps they need to talk to me and some of the neighborhood kids that were my neighbors - we can tell them.  I know this is going to be strongly-worded, and it won't make me any friends, but nonetheless here it is - these professors are hypocritical in that area of their lives, yet they sit in judgment over others, setting themselves up as "experts" on the poor.  The verse for them is Romans 1:22.  My heart aches for the students - many of them come to that campus with a passion for God and His service, yet because their churches have been dumbed-down by all this "emerging church" and other heretical fads already, they lack formation.  Then, on campus, many of them backslide.  And, about community outreach!  Years ago, when I was an undergrad at this same school, you could not go to a supermarket, restaurant, or anything else in town without running into someone from campus.  Yet, I noted something one night when the wife and I were eating at one of our favorite restaurants - a question came into my mind: "where are the students??"  This campus is starting to resemble the Scientologist compound at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater - it's an exclusive club, and no one contributes to the local economy, you don't see them at local events, and many of them don't even work at jobs in the community.  A very integral witness a Christian has is to contribute to the well-being, economically and otherwise, of the communities they are part of.  This institution used to do that, but now it's almost nonexistent.  You talk to students now, and they have jobs at the campus, maybe as a staff member at some local congregation, or on rare occasions at places they should not be working at as Christian college students (one report I got was a student working in a bar - now that's a witness there: telling someone "Jesus loves them" while shoving a beer bong up their nose!).  And, they have the professors at this institution to thank for that - the whole "I'm OK-You're OK" feel-good gospel (let's not step on anyone's toes, oh no - God forbid you mention sin, the blood of Jesus, the Cross, or the possibility of hell!) is mostly their creation, and it has become clear to some of the alumni as well as some of the more-informed students I have talked to that these professors are on their own mission.  They are introducing socialism in the form of  "Christian humanitarianism," and they waste tuition money by either insulting publicly in class students that disagree with them, or they go on these ridiculous discourses with no relevance to the subject matter they are supposed to be teaching (one professor spent 20 minutes bewailing how wrong it was to have an American flag displayed in a church - really?? Another spent 45 minutes ranting about TV preachers - here's a thought on that: turn off the channel then!  It doesn't take your Ph.D. to do that, does it?).  I guess that is why the new president of the university, rather than being noted for his character or his notable contributions to the academic world, was heralded by the local paper as being "hunky and trendy."  Again, really??   I still question at times why I am on this campus, and to be honest, I have thought of other alternatives.  However, my wife - God bless her! - shook me back into reality about why I am there, and here it is.

In addition to pursuing my own academic success, I believe now that this formerly Christian campus is now a mission field, and I am there to sow some seed into the student body.  These students are mostly younger (early 20's for many) and they often have been only exposed to the dumbed-down postmodern "Church" and its values, which are foreign to the message of the Gospel.  It is time a more tradition-based faith be restored to many of those students, and many of them are lost and don't know the Lord - they need to make that pilgrimage to the blood-stained cross of Calvary for real, and let Jesus cleanse them, heal them, and restore them.  I have a responsibility to tell the truth, although it won't have a Dale Carnegie effect for me, but I don't care about that - when I stand before God, I want to know I did what I was meant to do, or else I have failed in my calling.  This campus needs your prayers, folks, as do a lot of Christian campuses that have taken a similar turn for the worse - revival is essential.  First, however, Jesus needs to do a housecleaning- there are faculty members who are apostate on these campuses, and they need to be removed. The one way to do that is to pray that modern-day Sanhedrin out!  God will hear the prayer of the sincere in heart, but it must be a persistent prayer.  Any rate, more can be said but I have preached enough.  Again, pray for the students on this university, and pray for me too - and, it wouldn't hurt to pray for God to pierce the hearts of the professors either.  God bless until next time.