So Many Wars
A significant segment of my branch of Christianity, evangelicalism, sees fighting the culture war as a primary mission of the church. We need to, they say, be proactive in opposing the great conspiracy of secularists, liberals, feminists, gays and all other sorts of nasty people trying to stamp out historic Christianity. I’ve written before how I think this, at best, a huge tactical error so I won’t go into it here.
This week I saw an article by Tim Challies firing off a shot in another war, that against Catholics and in particular Pope Francis. He lumps Francis in with a long line of false teachers going back to Arius and goes on to explain in detail what is wrong with him. You can read his long article at the link above. It is clear that Challies is worried that the winsome Francis is going to be seen as such a nice guy that too many evangelicals will, I don’t know, not hate him for the heretic he is?
It is no great surprise Catholics have not taken kindly to Challies’ article. Among the most thoughtful of the responses is one by Frank Beckwith, which goes to great detail in explaining how Challies misunderstands the Catholic teaching on justification. The accusation of wrong teaching on justification by faith is the primary shot Challies fires at the Pope so, if Beckwith is right, Challies is guilty of setting up a straw man and attacking it. I’d certainly think that a trained Catholic theologian is a better source for understanding Catholic doctrine.
Now Catholics and Protestants have been on unfriendly terms for years. You can find plenty of nasty things they have said about each other going back to the birth of Protestantism. It is interesting that Challies picks up some of the nasty Catholic stuff and quotes it while ignoring some of the nasty Protestant stuff. With no more authority than his own opinion he “contends for the faith” by firing off his salvo at Francis.
There are some things about what I understand of Catholic teaching that don’t seem right to me. I know a few ex-Catholics who are quite vehement that they have been misled. But I also know an ex-evangelical that has turned to Catholicism with the same complaint. I just don’t get how an aggressive and confrontational contending for the faith has become the primary weapon for so many in evangelicalism. It would seem to me that if you think someone is wrong your first goal would be to try and persuade him, not convince him he is a fool.
What bothers me even more is the way that non-theologians, following their favorite trusted scholars like Challies, take his arguments as the Gospel itself and make poorer and even more vindictive attacks on the enemy. And make no mistake, Challies has painted Francis as an enemy. Just look at some of the insulting discussion in the comments section of Challies’ article and you will see his followers have doubled down on his criticism.
As unhelpful as I think the culture war is, this propensity to start wars with Catholics, charismatics and other members of the global Christian community is even worse. Do you think they are wrong? Fine. Reach out to them. Reason with them. But reasoning with them has two critical components that Challies misses. It starts with a basis of respect and love; and it is willing to spend as much time listening and learning as speaking.