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.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review of Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates, "Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest"


Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates, Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest.  Bloomington, MN:  Bethany House, 2017.

The "Empty Nest Syndrome" - many get it, and many also have difficulties dealing with it.  After having a child in the house for 18-plus years, it is quite an adjustment when one's son or daughter launches out into the big, bad, and unknown world.  Parents naturally worry about their kids, as well as missing their presence around the house.  This book, which I received as a review copy from the publisher, is a little different than the more weighty theological topics I normally review, but it is nonetheless an essential topic to address.  As is my practice when doing a review like this, I want to first know a little something about the authors as well as some of the sources they used to research their own material, so we'll start there.

Barbara Rainey, the first co-author of the book, was a founder along with her husband Dennis of a ministry called FamilyLife, which is a ministry that deals with deepening the marriage relationship. One of the ways they carry out their vocation in this ministry is with something called Weekends to Remember, a program in which retreats are provided for couples to enrich their own marriage relationships.   They do have a website (http://www.familylife.com) that provides more detailed information about what they do.  The other co-author, Susan Yates, is a popular Evangelical Christian speaker at marriage and parenting conferences and also has authored several other books.  She likewise has her own website (http://www.susanalexanderyates.com) that provides more information on what she does.  On the outset, these ladies provide a valuable service, as catechesis on the importance of the marriage covenant is a vital thing not only for the Evangelical audiences their material is geared to, but also to traditionalist and conservative Catholic audiences as well that share many of the same convictions.  However, the "proof in the pudding" is what sources they used for their writing, and I want to examine that next before I deal with the content of the book itself.

In looking at the "Notes" section in the back of the book, it appears that the authors use pretty standard marriage and family resources, both from psychological and from standard Evangelical Christian sources, which for me makes them pretty "safe."  It is important to examine the material that an author (even Christian authors) draws from these days, as unfortunately there are a lot of things out there that can be deceptive,  However, I do not see anything questionable in their source material, so it is now time to look at the book itself.

The chapters of the book deal with some practical issues that many people at some point face in regards to family relationships, and they relate specifically to the "empty nest" situation - the authors include chapters on loneliness, disappointment, how to relate to one's spouse, how to relate to adult children after they leave home and start families of their own, and how to deal with extended families, as well as a chapter I want to look at in more detail here shortly entitled "What Do I Do With Me?"  Other chapters in the second section deal with the reality of "moving forward," which entails chapters on learning how to "take a break," "celebrate," discovering new purpose in life, and finding ways to impact the world around oneself.  A series of inventories and exercises are also provided in the appendices which are designed to help the reader implement the information given in such a way as to make their own life more meaningful.  It is obvious that this book is geared toward a female audience, which makes it somewhat weird for me reading it, but at the same time there are some general things that can apply to either men or women, and therefore there are valuable and practical insights that can be taken away from the book by anyone who reads it.  There are a couple of chapters I want to focus more on now, and at this point I will begin to examine in detail two chapters of the book that piqued my own interest.

The first chapter I want to examine more closely is Chapter 8, which is entitled "What Do I Do With Me?"  The chapter begins on page 131, and it opens with a series of interesting questions - "What have I become? Does anyone need me? What is my purpose now that my kids are gone? How do I know what to do next? What am I good at? Where do I start?"   The author talks about dealing with a post-40ish "identity milestone," to use her term,  and the scenario is when the initial shock of the "empty nest" hits a person.  At that point, one is faced with identity questions about oneself, and the questions posed at the beginning of the chapter have a lot to do with this.  One faces a feeling of being lost, wandering, and it is a normative and healthy reaction.  One statement that stands out in regard to the female audience this book is addressing is on page 132 - "We were made for more than motherhood."  I could say, as a man, that the same is also true - men are more than fathers.  Another very vital point at the end of the same page is the importance of defining our identity in relation to God and His purposes for one's life, and that He is in control of our destiny.  Although this can be viewed by some as an Evangelical fix-all answer, it nonetheless is a truth - the challenge for the reader is to come to terms with it and begin to utilize it.  The authors themselves rightly acknowledge on page 133 that the task of keeping our "affections" aligned properly with God's will is a difficult task, and you don't necessarily have to be a mother of adult children to understand that.  Each of the authors then gives a personal testimony on pages 134-136 of their own struggles, and this is actually a masterful device in that it shows the reader (especially a reader who may be dealing with a similar situation) that these are not mere Evangelical platitudes, but indeed the authors themselves faced these issues as well.  It is always good when a writer can open up with their own experience to connect to the reader, in that it shows the reader that someone else has blazed the "unknown trail" already, and it gives a path in the wilderness so to speak.  That is an endearing strength of a book like this also.  On pages 136 through 138, the authors have a subsection of the chapter entitled "Second Chances."  In this section, what I got out of it personally is that oftentimes we are given a "second chance" to detour back to the original path we should have been on in the first place, and the "empty nest" period is a good time to seek that road out.  It is a veering off the original course that makes the questions that were stated at the beginning of the chapter relevant to us as individuals, and this time is a perfect season to explore those questions and take them to heart.  Once we are on the path, as noted on page 138, the answers reveal themselves to us, but they also have a starting place, and that is God.  This is pretty common-sense stuff which anyone can relate to, although often it sounds more easy in retrospection than it does at the time the situation is being faced.  At the end of the chapter, a section encouraging prayer for direction is provided, including sample prayers that can be prayed as well as guidelines for writing one's own prayer,  At the end of the chapter, a form is also provided for the reader to write out their own story.  Again, this is very practical material, and it also is challenging.  Sometimes the best and most effective advice comes from someone who can write from practical experience rather than the extensive tomes of verbose theologians and Bible scholars, and this book is just that - a practical series of guidelines of two ladies who themselves have experienced what they talk about.

I now want to deal more in-depth with Chapter 12, which is entitled "Changing Your World," and begins on page 199.  "Changing the world" is a broad term which can have a lot of meanings, and the essence of reading this chapter is to ascertain what the authors are talking about.  On page 200, an important point is made when the authors affirm that changing the world doesn't necessarily entail traveling the world.  Excellent point to start, but what do they mean by all that?  The authors give a variety of things - very service-oriented vocations such as fostering children, caring for the elderly, etc. - as one interpretation of what it means to "change the world."  This hearkens back to the questions in Chapter 8, in that God's will and direction is the obvious starting place for one's own quest to "change the world."  If I were to add anything personally to this chapter, I think it would be important to mention that the key to "changing the world" on a personal level is assessment of what one has to work with.  Many of us, of course, have gifts, talents, and skills that provide the raw material of some great endeavor, but we also need to learn how to refine and use those too.  I don't think the authors would have an argument with that idea as well, but maybe they were under the assumption that this aspect was implied - in the case of my reading of the text, it certainly was.  I was also drawn to the end of the chapter as well, beginning on page 123 with a section entitled "Take the Next Step."  These sections seem to be found at the end of many of the chapters, and in essence the authors seem to be providing a step-by-step process for the reader to implement what they are writing about.  The idea of a personal mission statement is a good one actually, and it is also challenging - fortunately, the authors provide a good template based on material from Chapter 11 to work with, and here is where they deal with personal application of assessing one's assets, documenting them, and then determine where using them would be most worth the investment of time and energy.  A series of traits and themes worth incorporating into such a statement are also included - attitude, service of others, and a section called "Finishing Well" which focuses on proper stewardship of health, vibrancy, being well-read, and both living and dying with dignity ("living well" and "dying well").  From a Catholic perspective, it is an excellent incorporation of eschatological emphasis on a personal level.  Again, this doesn't have to be just utilized by female "empty nesters" either, as anyone in any situation (I would add even negative situations, such as losing a job or having one's spouse pass away) can do something with this material, as it is actually some excellent guidance.  If I were to have added one thing though, I would also recommend journaling, as you can release so much and also sort out a lot of issues by doing that as well.

Although it could be argued that the "self-help" aspect of this book makes it one among many that one can buy for a dime a dozen at any Goodwill store, it is also a very practical and Christian-based program for those going through similar situations, and thus it can be a valuable resource.  It also may prove valuable to Christian counselors and "life coaches" as well, not to mention it can be a handy resource for the clergy.  Personal experience is sometimes a master teacher, and the ladies who authored this book exemplify it well.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Anglican Catechesis - Addressing and Correcting Deficiencies


For the past four years, I have been pursuing a Master's degree in Catechetics at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and in the course of those studies I have learned a lot. However, some of what I have learned has also been disturbing when I look at my own church, which is Anglican - catechesis is undiscovered territory for many Anglican parishes in our tradition, and it is a scary thing when one really thinks about it. I want to briefly deal with this situation here, and share some observations.

If one looks at traditional Anglican catechesis, it is largely confined to about four pages in the back of the Book of Common Prayer (if you are following this, it is on pages 577-583). As a result, there are a lot of faithful attenders in our Masses who are deficient in even basic doctrine, and this may have contributed to the decline as well of the Episcopal Church, the mainline body which many traditional Anglicans trace their roots back to (most to a schism that happened in 1977 in St. Louis, when my own communion, the Anglican Catholic Church, and many others were formed and constituted what is called the "Continuing Anglican" movement). A lack of solid catechesis can be detrimental to a Church, and although many will affirm orthodoxy, many don't know what they are affirming. By contrast, the Roman Catholics have the 1500+ page Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is so thorough and even cross-referenced that it would be impossible not to understand it. The Eastern Churches likewise have extensive catechisms, notably one called The Rudder, and both the Roman and Eastern Churches have strict procedures for training their catechists to teach effectively. A guiding document in the Roman Church for this is what is known as the General Directory for Catechesis, which I have almost had to memorize during my graduate program at Steubenville, and it is a valuable resource. One statement from the General Directory (hereafter called GDC) that is very applicable to the situation of catechesis in our traditional Anglican churches is this - in GDC 2, this paragraph is noted:

The course of catechesis during this same period has been characterized everywhere by generous dedication, worthy initiatives and by positive results for the education and growth in the faith of children, young people and adults. At the same time, however, there have been crises, doctrinal inadequacies, influences from the evolution of global culture and ecclesial questions derived from outside the field of catechesis which have often impoverished its quality.
(http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cclergy/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_17041998_directory-for-catechesis_en.html - accessed 6/12/2017)

Note the last sentence in that paragraph - doctrinal inadequacies, influences from the evolution of global culture, and ecclesial questions derived from outside the field of catechesis that have impoverished its quality. Secularization and the via moderna have had their influence, even on die-hard traditionalists at times, but what have been some things that have affected the quality of traditional Anglican catechesis in a negative way? I want to note a few of those here:

1. Lack of adequate instructional time - the average parish in one of our dioceses limits Sunday School instruction, Bible study, and catechesis to a mere 30 minutes before or after Mass, and that is insufficient to even cover the material properly.

2. A general indifference on the part of parishioners - many Anglican parishioners are basically good people, and they display a generosity that exemplifies Christian charity beautifully. However, when it comes to commitment to Bible study or catechesis (especially for adults), many of the people who should be there are not, and that can be very discouraging for a priest or a catechist.

3. Influences of Freemasonry and other outside things - an alarming number of Anglicans are involved in Masonic lodges, they consult horoscopes, and many also get faulty theology from sources like the History Channel. Although again I must stress that personally many of these people are basically decent individuals and do these things in ignorance, the point is that if they had proper catechesis to begin with, they wouldn't be allowing these things to influence them. Many of our bishops know the dangers of Freemasonry, and they have a sort of "discourage but tolerate" position, which actually I cannot fault them for - some of this stuff is so deeply embedded in the older generations that it would be impossible to exorcise it, so I believe the bishops in their wisdom are just letting those influences sort of die off. However, we must properly catechize the younger generation.

4. General inconsistency on rubrics, etc. - Traditional Anglicans (especially vestry members, older lay readers, and sacristans) are often sticklers for getting everything "just right" during our Masses, and they can be super-critical and unforgiving to someone "learning the ropes." I have dealt with more than my fair share of those, and honestly, they are a royal pain in the keister! The inconsistency though with many of these same individuals lies in the way they are casual about some things they should be taking seriously, such as correct pronunciation of the names and words in the Epistle readings on Sundays - I cringe every time I hear a lay reader butcher even the simplest of Biblical words, but it happens all too frequently. Part of proper catechesis is educating about reverence for God's Holy Word, which is infallible, inerrant, and the record of the divine kerygma. We should, as lay readers, take pride in our task of reading the Holy Word of God, and do so with reverence and try to read it properly! That is why another important aspect of catechesis is also special classes for lay readers, acolytes, sacristans, and others who participate in the Mass. It would save a lot of problems at the Mass itself.

It is also worth noting that as Anglicans, we are not exclusive - we are first Catholic rather than merely "Anglican," and our liturgy, theology, and spirituality need to be defined in the context of the wider Church as a whole. The late Fr. Louis Tarsitano, in his pioneering catechetical text An Outline of the Anglican Life (Houston: Classical Anglican Press, 1994) states "Anglicanism is not a pastiche of private or borrowed customs," and "The Anglican Church does not own the middle way (Via Media - my add) to Christ; but we maintain it for his honor and for the sake of salvation." (Tarsitano, p. 1). Our own Archbishop Haverland likewise says that "Anglican Catholics, I think, are right not to explain the unity of the Church in a manner that excludes either the Romans or Easterners. How the essential unity of the Church is maintained despite apparent disunity is a mystery and mercy of God." (Mark Haverland, Anglican Catholic Faith and Practice. Athens, GA: Anglican Parishes Association, 2011. p. 140). Actually Aquinas explained this "unity in disunity" perfectly when he emphasizes the reality of supernatural grace in the Summa and other texts. In essence, I would personally agree with the Roman Catholic Cardinal Christophe Schonborn, whose notable phrase "Finis ominum Ecclesia (The Church is the goal of all things)," sums up the role of the Church (the subject of a future article, and also one of my comprehensive exam questions for my Master's program!) - within the Church is the fullness of salvation, and since the Church is the custodian of that precious gift, it's custodians must take that mandate seriously in both evangelization and catechesis (which do go hand-in-hand). In Cardinal Schonborn's book, Loving the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998), he makes the case for this very thing when he expounds upon the kerygma as being culminated in the Church (more on that in another article as well) but also specifically in the person of Christ. He describes the Church specifically as the "inner ground" of God's plan of creation (Schonborn, p. 21). This mystical communion encompasses all who are part of the Church, and that includes the Anglican Catholic tradition - we are part, but not all, in other words. The same applies to our Roman and Eastern brethren, as well in varying degrees to devout and faithful Protestants who are part of and participants in the whole Church by embracing orthodoxy. This higher but also inclusive view of the Church is the heart of Anglican understanding of ecclesiology. That being said, our catechesis needs to reflect that, and we can benefit greatly from the collective wisdom of the whole Church, which is one reason why I reference the GDC, a Roman Catholic document, here. There are three things of note that the GDC says therefore which should be the goal of catechesis, and this is where our discussion continues.

In GDC 27, the internal life of the Church and its dependence upon sound catechesis is discussed at length, and what it says is that certain enrichments will be evident, including the following:

1. Liturgical life properly and profoundly understood as the source and summit of ecclesial life.

2. A universal call to holiness and a greater commitment to mutual service and charity (meaning catholicity).

3. Sacred Scripture is savoured, reverenced, and meditated upon more intensely - especially by lay and clerical leaders!

4. The resulting spiritual renewal will intensify the evangelistic mission of the Church.

Aha! #4 affirms that proper catechesis will bear evangelistic fruit! They are intimately connected, in other words. This is integral to the life of the Church, as it is her means of procreation. That being said, we often lack at times in our Anglican parishes because while we have a commendable (albeit misguided!) commitment to doing things "the way we have always done them," at the same time there are some things that need to go - not liturgically or theologically, but rather attitude. The complacency of so many of our laity regarding discipleship - their Bibles gather dust while the coffeepots in the parish hall are always perculating....hmmm, better stop before a sacred cow becomes a casualty, right?? - is a scandal. We do so many other things so well - as mentioned, one of the strengths of our local parishes is generosity - Anglicans help each other when one experiences difficulty, and on that aspect of charity our people are the best. My wife and I owe much to the kindness and generosity of many of our faithful fellow parishioners, who have indeed been a tremendous blessing to us. Now, imagine if that charitable aspect of our faith were augmented with an equal love of Scripture and a hunger for learning the faith and also reaching out to others in evangelization - we would be truly the Church God intended. That is where proper catechesis needs to be taken more seriously. Another aspect of this as well is knowing why we pray and say things in our liturgy, as catechesis is based primarily on "Four Pillars," which are all incorporated into our traditional Anglican Mass - the Lord's Prayer, the Decalogue, the Creeds of the Church, and the Sacraments themselves. Ultimately, all four of those are what are called Christocentric - all of them point us to Jesus ultimately. A true catechetical program would be centered first and foremost around those four things, and every other aspect of study would incorporate those and point us back to their Source, which is Jesus Christ Himself. Thanks be to God for great instructors at Franciscan University who taught me the importance of this, and now it is time our Anglican tradition embraces them as well, as our whole reason for existence falls upon them, and ultimately Jesus Christ Himself.

The bottom line of an effective catechesis is to make our people come to love Jesus and know Him, and too many of our people don't - they "go through motions" and know all the correct rubrics, etc., but they don't know Him. A necessity for re-evangelization of our people is vital to our survival as a Church, and it starts with encouraging proper catechesis. Until we do, we face a crisis of faith - many will proclaim it, but many also won't truly have it within themselves. Religion and relationship are both integral to the Christian life, and in order to have them the mysteries of faith must be taught and also encouraged to be lived out. If we start doing that, we will be a force to be reckoned with as a communion. God bless until next time.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Review of Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz, "Answering the Toughest Questions About Heaven and Hell"


Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz, Answering the Toughest Questions About Heaven and Hell.  Minneapolis, MN:  Bethany House, 2017.

In studying fundamental theology, one of the main aspects is what is called Eschatology, meaning the study of the "Last Things."   Although much about this subject often emphasizes prophetic and futuristic events, that is only a small fraction of how the Church has historically taught on the subject, as what the Church understands as Eschatology can be condensed down to what is called "the Four Last Things" - death, judgment, heaven, and hell.  This particular book by Bickel and Jantz deals with the latter two, as anagogically they sum up the final destinations of all of us.  The book addresses some important questions, and thus is why I chose to review it.  However, again, I want to also look at who the authors are, as well as what source material they used, before delving into the content of the book itself.

Bruce Bickel is an attorney in Fresno, CA, and he has collaborated on other books with Stan Jantz, who in turn is a writer and speaker living in Orange County, CA, and he is the CEO of something called Conversantlife.com, which serves as sort of a forum for other writers on a variety of topics.  Together, according to that website, Bickel and Jantz have co-authored over 50 books.  A lot of background material is lacking on them when doing an online search, so this is essentially all I could find out about them. 

Regarding the source material they used for the book, I notice an odd mix of both standard Evangelical literature as well as some "Emerging Church" writers such as Douglas Moo, Rob Bell, Dallas Willard, and Scott McKnight.  Utilizing such source material regarding such a fundamental topic raises concerns, especially the references to Rob Bell who espouses some heretical universalist soteriology.  That is why I am also going to be focusing attention on a couple of chapters in particular.

Beginning with Chapter 1, the basic question of the existence of an afterlife is addressed.  On page 12, the authors affirm the basic Christian doctrine of life after death, which so far is good.  Further down the page, an important statement is made regarding fundamental eschatology - "Be it heaven or hell, Christians claim everybody's headed somewhere."   The authors then begin to tackle the question of if the Christian position is the only way to see a post-death future, and in subsequent pages they present a sort of brief overview of the positions of other religious traditions on that topic.  They correctly note that 99 percent of the world's population ascribe to some view on an afterlife, but they also say this doesn't solve the issue of whether it is a reality or not.   Of the world's major religions, the authors on pages 14-16 discuss the views of Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam, and on pages 16-18 the perspective from science is addressed.  It must be noted here that neither of the authors would be what would be considered "Young-Earth" Creationists - their frequent references of Hugh Ross (a leading proponent of the "Old-Earth" view) permeate the discussion, as well as their stating of "millions of years" on page 13.  However, they do present an intriguing discussion of the scientific issue, and a few things are worth noting.   First, the demand for physical proof (empirical evidence) at times permeates man's desire for understanding if there is an afterlife, but one thing the authors lack in that discussion is the role of metaphysics - there are some things that are true but not tangible, in other words, and tangibility does not necessarily make a criteria for truth.  Beginning then on page 17 and going into page 18, the authors discuss first of all the relation of biology to the afterlife.  The authors admit at the end of the first paragraph in this section that self-awareness cannot be explained - emotions, feelings, and other aspects of personality, for instance, are not tangible, but they are real.  As they note in the second paragraph, the qualities of the mind and body are indeed different, and that death to the body might not necessarily mean death of the mind - this is both Aristotelian and Thomistic as far as conclusions go, and again without specifically saying it the authors are making a valid distinction between biology and metaphysical reality.  Quoting Dinesh D'Souza, they make an equally astute observation on page 18 as they affirm that consciousness indeed operates often outside the physical laws of nature (the realms of the metaphysical, in other words) and that consciousness is independent of the body - the intersection of the physical and metaphysical, the authors note on page 19, is teleology, which they define as the study of why things are.  The teleological argument discussed, as noted in the last sentence of the section on page 20, is that this doesn't establish scientific proof necessarily for an afterlife, but it opens the possibility.  To put it in philosophical terms, where physics leaves off, metaphysics fills in. However, in the next section discussing physics specifically, the authors note that there are now possible physical possibilities for life after death, including a multidimensional universe, and also the existence of multiverses (ala Michio Kaku?) and alternate universes, and although I would differ with them somewhat for even entertaining that, they make a good point on page 21 by noting that at times reality can be stranger than science fiction and more bizarre than the most creative of wild imaginations.  That means the possibility of a scientific basis for life after death (for more on that, I would recommend Frank Tipler's The Physics of Christianity). However, as noted on pages 21 and following, Christians (and indeed humanity in general) are people of the heart as well, and there are two observations the authors note that point to the reality of life after death.  One, on pages 21-23, is what they term "cultural obsession."   This has to do with man's obsession with finding his own immortality, and it has led to some extremes that have pushed us to seeking ways to cheat death - they note that medicine in general, age-defying products in particular, cosmetic (plastic) surgery, and an emphasis on the young at the expense of the old.  To this, I would also add more sinister movements of eugenics, transhumanism, and other attempts to purge humanity of apparent weakness in order to create a more perfect specimen of the species that would ensure some degree of immortality.  A desire to live forever is something that is inherent to human nature, as the authors accurately state on page 23, but the section lacks in that it doesn't deal with the root issue as found in Genesis 3 - why we lost our immortality in the first place.  Sin and death are consequences of the Fall, and man deteriorates and dies because sin and death came in at the Fall.  Having affinities with a more "Old-Earth" position however, the authors cannot in reality make the connection to reconcile that reality with their view, and that is where the book is weak on this topic.  The redemption though is in the following section, as the authors begin a sort of Bible study on the issue of life after death, and they conclude the chapter with an affirmation of the orthodox Christian position that life after death is a cosmic reality.  

The next chapter I want to look at a little more closely is Chapter 5, which deals with the question "Do all roads lead to heaven?"  The term "roads," as clarified by the authors on page 66, is synonymous in this context with other religious traditions besides Christianity, and it is an important topic to address.  On page 67, there is something I wanted to explore closely, in that there can be potential confusion on the part of the reader with where the authors stand on this subject.  The paragraph of focus opens with this statement - "In past generations, becoming a Christian was like joining an exclusive club.  Only those who believed in and followed the club rules could be members, and only the members (those who were 'saved') were going to heaven.  Unfortunately, this way of believing often led to a smugness on the part of the members."   Further in the next paragraph, it follows with this:  "Thankfully, such a distorted view of what it means to be a Christian - Tim Keller accurately calls it 'deadly triumphalism' - has fallen out of favor with Christians today."  There are many, many potential problems with these statements that need to be addressed.  First, let us look at who this Tim Keller guy is.  Tim Keller is described in a Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Keller_(pastor) - accessed 6/2/2017) as being a Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and apologist.  He also seems to be identified with the "Emerging Church" movement, and identifies his theology as not "conservative" or "Evangelical" but rather by the ambiguous moniker "orthodox" - however, what does he mean by "orthodox?"  Examining his theological position, he has a rather iconoclastic view of "traditional religion," saying that salvation is substitutionary, and he also is quite ambiguous regarding the Creation/evolution discussion.  Although also pro-traditional marriage and pro-life, he also is a cultural conformist in many areas, which may be problematic for his more traditional positions.   His soteriology is eerily similar to "Emerging Church" gurus Rob Bell and Brian McLaren in that he dismisses the traditional view of salvation (based on passages such as John 14:6 and Romans 5) in favor of a broader approach.  The authors therefore would be at odds with a more sacramental theological position that an Anglo-Catholic traditionalist like myself would hold, in that the inerrant truths of Scripture point all to Christ, but it is also up to the individual to accept or reject Christ, as well as accepting the consequences of said choice.   Rather than being Time Keller's "deadly triumphalism," this is the prevalent view of the Church as taught throughout the centuries, and the authors and Keller had best exercise caution at thinking they know more than Jesus, the Apostles, and the many great Fathers and Doctors of the Church through the ages.  A further red flag pops up on pages 67-68, as the authors reference a heretical text by Rob Bell entitled Love Wins that promotes universalism - although the authors acknowledge problems with Bell's text on page 68, it is still problematic that they are still noting in a negative light the idea of exclusivity, and more clarification is needed.  While false triumphalism is indeed an error as well, the authors need to exercise more caution so as not to confuse the fact that Jesus is the only way to salvation with the smug attitudes of the triumphalist - the true Christian is not smug about the eternal damnation of others, nor does he or she arbitrate based on the "likes" and "dislikes" of individuals who is "saved" and who is not - to do that is to do the Holy Spirit's job, and that is not possible.  There are those who do seek answers, like the example of Ari the book uses, but that doesn't mean we just extend salvation to them either just because they are "sincere" - no, we witness Christ to them, and that is the way they will find the answers they seek.  I am actually quite relieved though when I read on page 69 the following statement - after a discussion about the one true road to God, they conclude that section by saying "We know, this is harsh.  But it's what the Bible says in pretty much the same way:  ' There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death' (Proverbs 14:2)."  It is perfectly fine to point out the wrong way, but it is also equally important to point out the correct path too, and that is John 14:6 - "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no man cometh unto the Father except through Me."  Fortunately for the authors, they devote pages 70-72 to the fact that Jesus is an exclusive way to salvation, and thankfully they rely on referencing a sound Roman Catholic apologist, Peter Kreeft, to substantiate their position.  Beginning on page 73, they also affirm that no man-made road reaches heaven, and this is also consistent with both Scripture and the teaching of the Church.  However, the final section of the chapter, pages 74-79, deals with another aspect of the question - there may only be one way to heaven, but are there more ways to Jesus Himself?  Interesting question that merits a discussion of its own, which follows.

The authors open this section with an important question they quote from Kreeft on page 74 - what subjective relationship must one have with Jesus in order to be on the right way?  Is it a simple "prayer of the heart," in other words, or is it a systematic approach?  How much knowledge does one have to have about Jesus to be "saved?"   I will take it one further on that last question - what does it mean to "be saved?"   This term salvation means different things to different Christian traditions - to Evangelicals, it is a one-time event synonymous with conversion, whereas with more Catholic traditions it is a lifestyle that is lived out after conversion.  The authors make an important point on page 76 that provides an answer to this dilemma - salvation by faith in Jesus is not as straightforward or formulaic as we think?  Hmmm...odd statement coming from a couple of Evangelical Protestant authors, but not so odd when thought in the context of the historic Church.  The authors deal with some interesting Evangelical cliches that I myself often questioned in my days as an Evangelical many years ago - questions such as what does it mean to "ask Jesus into your heart," or "accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior."  Is  it merely a profession, or is there something more to it?   I prefer the Catholic understanding personally of conversion and salvation - they constitute a mystery of faith that cannot be articulated, but you know something real has happened.  It seems - and I could be wrong - that the authors are sort of coming to that conclusion as well.

So, the base question - does the exclusivity of believing in Jesus marginalize others?  On pages 76-77 the authors tackle that question by noting that Christians first don't have a monopoly on truth - that is actually correct, and also Thomistic, as natural law even applies outside the Church as well.  Also, although Jesus is the only, true way of salvation, this in no way implies marginalization - John 3:16 affirms that Jesus died for all men out of great love, and that it is up to the person as an individual to choose to follow Him or not; that choice, as a gift of free will, is to be respected but also lamented if it is a wrong choice.  The final point they make in that section is that it is people rather than truth itself that marginalizes - people who are well-meaning but misguided can let their convictions create walls that generate marginalization, in other words.  The convictions themselves are not necessarily evil, but the attitude with which the conviction is carried out may be the marginalizing factor.  Those are actually some good points.  In the following section - pages 77-78 - the authors bring home the point by suggesting that the way to Jesus is exclusively one, but its availability is to all.  This is a fair and orthodox way of stating it.  

On pages 78-79, the authors tackle the question of why people are reluctant to follow Jesus, and some obvious things is that it is an emotional decision rather than an intellectual one, and this therefore means one's choice is based on how they "feel" about it.  However, they also discuss the role of faith, and although they don't explicitly state it, they do correctly conclude that faith is not based on feelings, but often transcends them.  Also, when one relies on reason alone without faith, one is subject to only empirical data, and faith oftentimes transcends the empirical.  If I may add to this, faith is transformative, and as a response to supernatural grace, it aids in making our minds and hearts open to being healed, elevated, and perfected by that same supernatural grace, and in essence we see the "bigger picture" that mere empirical data or emotional response cannot provide.  On that note, the chapter ends on a fairly orthodox note that would elicit little argument from historic Church teaching.

The rest of the book deals with other specifics - hell, what happens at the moment of death, whether animals go to heaven, etc.  However, these two pivotal chapters set the stage for the rest of the book, in that they address the fundamental questions that need to be answered in order to move forward.  In that regard, perhaps Chapters 1 and 5 should have been together, and the rest of the book following, but the flow of the text does bring everything together.  There is much to concur with in Bickel's and Jantz's text, but there are also concerns - the reliance on "Emerging Church" writers such as Tim Keller and Scott McKnight, for instance, as well as some rather normative Evangelical convictions that would be at variance with more traditional Patristic and Catholic viewpoints.  However the text is not without its merit, and it does provide some good material for pastors, catechists, and others when these questions inevitably will arise.