Evangelical Singer Quits the Faith, Catholic Bishop Shows the Way Back

Recently, a Christian musician named Jon Steingard, of the band Hawk Nelson, announced on Instagram that he no longer believed in God. His announcement went mainstream when he was featured on major media outlets like the Today show, NPR, and People magazine for interviews.

Having been a high school teacher for two years, and a theology teacher at that, I am very much aware of how common Steingard’s thinking is among teens and young adults. I had a couple atheist students for whom the existence of evil and the “problems” of the Bible were major hurdles to the Christian faith.

In the video below, a well-known Los Angeles bishop, Robert Barron, responds to some of Steingard’s reasons for leaving. Bishop Barron does a good job of working through those objections from a thoughtful and intellectually rich Catholic perspective, and shows how those wandering down similar paths could find their way back to Christ.

A Protestant and a Catholic Sit Down Over Chicken Wings

Here’s a great pair of interesting videos made by a Protestant, Matt Whitman. He has a YouTube channel, The Ten Minute Bible Hour, in which he interviews people from different Christian traditions. In these two videos, he interviews Dr. Jeremy Holmes, a Catholic theologian.

I like these videos a lot because the two men address the big Protestant/Catholic questions head on, but do so without “getting weird or threatened” by it, to use Matt’s phrase. They are good examples of how Christians can talk maturely about their disagreements. I also think Dr. Holmes does an excellent job of explaining the Catholic faith.

I hope you enjoy them:

 

A Short Easter Film

This weekend is the highest point in the Church’s liturgical year. It begins on the evening of Maundy Thursday, the night of Christ’s betrayal, and continues through Good Friday, Holy Saturday, to the morning of Easter Sunday. Catholics call it the “Triduum,” or “Three Days,” during which we celebrate the Son of God setting us free from our sins through His suffering, death, and resurrection.

In honour of the Triduum, the Augustine Institute has made a beautiful 30-minute film that takes you to Jerusalem, to the places where our Lord suffered and made His ultimate sacrifice. I hope you find it helpful in making real and vivid what the Church remembers during these holiest of days: Triduum: A Spiritual Pilgrimage

The Dark Road is A Holy Road

Michelangelo’s Pieta

As a landscaper, you do end up chatting a bunch with clients and clients’ neighbours. And not a chat goes by anymore without someone remarking on the strange and unsettling times that have very suddenly befallen us.

Everyone is troubled, and some more than others. No one knows what lies ahead. Maybe this will be a hiccup and things will soon return to normal. Maybe it’s a harbinger of something much worse to come. Either way, whether it’s little or much, suffering is upon us – as are all its attendant questions.

There’s something I would tell my students when they asked about suffering and God – I can’t remember where I first heard it. But it’s simply this: the Son of God could have chosen whatever human life He wanted. He could have been the king of the world, with unbeatable armies, fabulous cities, and riches and power at the top of the world. He could have announced Himself as God human-style, with massive displays of wonder and might. He could have made it happen any which wildly impressive way.

But He chose none of it. He chose, rather, to enter into the mystery of human suffering. The beginning of why God allows suffering is that of all the possible lives the Second Person of the Trinity could have chosen for Himself, He chose the suffering life.

When we suffer, we pray, and we pray harder. God has probably heard a lot more prayers this week than He heard two weeks ago. Many of us are praying fervently and consistently for a swift end to this pandemic, and an equally swift return to regular life.

But what if our prayers go unanswered – what if our Father says no?

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All Good Things

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory (2 Timothy 3:16).

I think it’s time I drew this blog to a close. There’s always more to say, and indeed on some topics there was so much to say that I couldn’t write a succinct enough post.

I tried writing a post about Mary in Scripture, for example, but that topic involves more than just looking at scriptural evidence – it involves looking at how we read Scripture in the first place. When modern Protestants say that Catholic teaching about the Mother of God is not in the Bible, that’s because they are interpreting the Bible differently than the Catholic Church does.

So, a post about Mary in Scripture required looking at how the Apostles, Church Fathers, and even the Reformers interpreted the Bible, and contrasting that with how most modern Protestants read the Bible today. That was a far bigger project than I anticipated, and I could not make it wieldy enough for a blog post, or even a series of posts.

And that was one topic among many. So, it’s not for lack of material that I’m closing up here.

Rather, it’s because I’ve run out of steam for this kind of polemical blogging. There’s only so much you can write about in a blog post, and I often felt that I was barely touching the surface of things. To walk with Christ in the Church He established, to read the Scriptures in the context of her apostolic teaching, to reach out and touch the garment of Christ in her sacraments, and to rest on His bosom through the prayer life she nurtures – that is to know the meaning of your life, the fullness of being a new creation in Christ.

It is to know, with heart, soul, mind, and strength, that the Catholic faith is the religion of the Incarnate God. Every doctrine, every practice, every moment of the Mass, is a proclamation that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

But that is so easily lost if all I’m doing is arguing.

I’m not making an absolute end – if I were in a band I’d call this an “indefinite hiatus.” I’ll leave open the possibility of responding to public, Reformed attacks on the Catholic faith. But I have no intention of posting further in any regular way. I may one day, if the Lord so leads me, and my family so permits me, write a book.

But as for now, life is busy enough without writing. My wife and I have four young children, homeschooling the two eldest, and I’ve just undergone a big change from teaching high school in Kelowna to landscaping in the Fraser Valley. We are very happy to be back in familiar territory among family and long-established friends. All this makes it a good time to wind things up here.

Below you can find links to all the posts I’ve written about the Catholic Church and her teachings, topically arranged (most posts fit more than one category, and thus are mentioned more than once). There’s a chronological list at the bottom. I’ve also included some resources I’ve found helpful over the years.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

My Top 5

The Sin of Becoming Catholic
On Denying the Gospel for the Sake of God’s Glory
That’s Not in the Bible!
The One Teaching that Christ’s Disciples Couldn’t Stand
Fragrant Mary on the North Wind

Catholicism in the Bible

On Scripture and the Bereans
Flashes, Thunders, and Shakes: The Bible on Prayers to Saints
King David’s Clean-Heart Gospel Passion
The Intrinsic Evil of Contraception
The One Teaching That Christ’s Disciples Couldn’t Stand
Is Venerating Images a Form of Idolatry?
Mary and the Perfect beauty of Scripture
Does Rome Teach a False Gospel – or the Plain Message of Scripture?
What Christ Said About Purgatory

Sola Scriptura

From Sola Scriptura to a Radical Surrender of Fate
On Scripture and the Bereans
The Scriptures, the Spirit, and the Sheepfold:  A Reply to Dr. Wes Bredenhof
That’s Not in the Bible!
The Sin of Becoming Catholic
Does the Devil Make You a Catholic?

Justification and the Gospel

King David’s Clean-Heart Gospel Passion
On Denying the Gospel for the Sake of God’s Glory
Does Rome Teach a False Gospel – or the Plain Message of Scripture?
On the Gospel Coalition’s Salvation by Works
A Brief Response to “Catholicism Made Me Protestant”

Mary, Images, and the Saints

Fragrant Mary on the North Wind
Flashes, Thunders, and Shakes: The Bible on Prayers to Saints
Strange Distractions from the Gospel
Is Venerating Images a Form of Idolatry?
Mary and the Perfect beauty of Scripture
The Protestant Mary-Worship Problem (feat. the Book of Praise)
Feminism and Power vs. the Blessed Virgin Mary

Church History

With Faces Thitherward
Don’t Let Your Hatred of the Catholic Church be Greater than Your Love for Christ
The Protestant Mary-Worship Problem (feat. the Book of Praise)
Who Does the Name “Catholic” Belong to?
Feminism and Power vs. the Blessed Virgin Mary

Conversion Stories

With Faces Thitherward 
On Becoming Catholic (Arenda)
How Life is Different Now that We’re Catholic
Going Deeper with Jesus in the Catholic Church
I’ve Changed My Mind

Called to Communion Posts

With Faces Thitherward 
The Scriptures, the Spirit, and the Sheepfold:  A Reply to Dr. Wes Bredenhof
King David’s Clean-Heart Gospel Passion
On Denying the Gospel for the Sake of God’s Glory

Chronological Order

2016
With Faces Thitherward
From Sola Scriptura to a Radical Surrender of Fate

2017
On Scripture and the Bereans  
Fragrant Mary on the North Wind
The Scriptures, the Spirit, and the Sheepfold:  A Reply to Dr. Wes Bredenhof
Flashes, Thunders, and Shakes: The Bible on Prayers to Saints
On Becoming Catholic
Don’t Let Your Hatred of the Catholic Church be Greater than Your Love for Christ

2018
King David’s Clean-Heart Gospel Passion
That’s Not in the Bible!
On Denying the Gospel for the Sake of God’s Glory
The Sin of Becoming Catholic
The Intrinsic Evil of Contraception
Strange Distractions from the Gospel
How Life is Different Now that We’re Catholic 
Going Deeper With Jesus in the Catholic Church
I’ve Changed My Mind
The Protestant Mary-Worship Problem (feat. the Book of Praise)

2019
The One Teaching that Christ’s Disciples Couldn’t Stand
Is Venerating Images a Form of Idolatry?
Mary and the Perfect beauty of Scripture
Who Does the Name “Catholic” Belong to?
Does Rome Teach a False Gospel – or the Plain Message of Scripture?
On the Gospel Coalition’s Salvation by Works
What Christ Said About Purgatory
Feminism and Power vs. the Blessed Virgin Mary
Does the Devil Make You a Catholic?
A Brief Response to “Catholicism Made Me Protestant”

Other Resources

Catholic Answers YouTube Channel
Called to Communion
Dr. Lawrence Feingold (a Jewish atheist convert to Catholicism – can’t be beat)
Dr. Brant Pitre (Catholic New Testament scholar) – YouTube Channel
Shameless Popery
Catholic Nick
Jimmy Akin (or just google “Jimmy Akin + whatever Catholic issue you’re interested in” and you’ll find good answers)
Church Fathers

A Brief Response to “Catholicism Made Me Protestant”

The following is an answer to a comment left on my previous post, a comment that I thought would be better addressed with its own post. Jason Vander Horst writes,

Hi Jeremy,

I enjoyed reading this article titled “Catholicism Made Me Protestant” and thought I would pass it on in the hope that it would further stir your thinking as you wrestle through these ultimate questions. Here’s a short quote:

“Catholicism had taught me to think like a Protestant, because, as it turned out, the Reformers had thought like catholics. Like their pope-aligned opponents, they had asked questions about justification, the authority of tradition, the mode of Christ’s self-gift in the Eucharist, the nature of apostolic succession, and the Church’s wielding of the keys. Like their opponents, Protestants had appealed to Scripture and tradition. In time, I came to find their answers not only plausible, but more faithful to Scripture than the Catholic answers, and at least as well-represented in the traditions of the Church. The Protestants did more than out-catholic the Catholics. They also spoke to the deepest needs of sinful souls.”

If you haven’t yet read the article, I highly suggest you read “Catholicism Made Me Protestant”, before reading my response to it. 

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Does the Devil Make You a Catholic?

Credit: Alan Frost

I.

For almost three years now, I’ve written mainly about the doctrinal questions that separate Catholics and Protestants, hoping to remove from Reformed minds some of the obstacles that had existed in my mind when looking into the Catholic faith. But perhaps the most perplexing and anxiety-inducing question in becoming Catholic wasn’t a doctrinal question at all, but a personal, spiritual one: am I being deceived by the devil?

Growing up Reformed, I held it to be an undisputed fact of reality, like water being wet, that the Catholic Church had forsaken the gospel to follow traditions of men. The Mass, priests, veneration of Mary, purgatory, holy water, transubstantiation, relics, the Pope – it all seemed so obviously unscriptural and ungospel-like to my Reformed mind that I didn’t think anyone with a modicum of scriptural knowledge could take it seriously. I don’t think I ever considered the Pope to be the antichrist, but I certainly thought of the Roman Catholic Church as having been thoroughly corrupted by the devil. The very name “Roman Catholic” conjured up all sorts of wrongness.

I won’t rehash here why I got started looking into the Catholic faith in my fourth and final year of Reformed seminary, which you can read about in my post, With Faces Thitherward.

But in short, when I realized that Catholic teaching was not some historical novelty, but went right back to the beginning of the Church; and when I encountered that teaching, not as it had been easily dismissed by me, but as taught, believed, and defended from Scripture by devout Catholics themselves; and when I began to see some of the glaring problems in my own Reformed beliefs – well, the whole thing was accompanied by an acute fear that I was being deceived by the devil.

II.

There was no easy way to deal with that fear. I remember kneeling on the floor of my study many times, emotionally spent, in exasperation begging of God to protect me from evil and to show me the truth. I prayed from Psalm 25 repeatedly:

O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

There was a terrible helplessness that plagued the whole ordeal. The more I prayed and searched the Scriptures, the more my objections to the Catholic faith fell away. I read the best Reformed apologists I knew of, and yet their case against Rome crumbled when answered by Catholic apologists. I was doing exactly what my Reformed background had taught me to do, and it was the Reformed case against Rome that was failing.

But what if this was due to some spiritual trick? Was I being blinded to something obvious? Was I, in some diabolical way, being kept from seeing the truth of Reformed teaching and the falseness of Catholic teaching? If so, what could I do differently?

That was the troubling part – there was nothing I could do differently. I was already immersed in Scripture and prayer, not to mention attending a Reformed seminary. I couldn’t do anything differently – and all the while I was being convinced of the thing I always thought was the enemy.

At times, I wondered if my whole sense of truth itself was twisted, so that what I was convinced was true was actually false. Of course, that would apply to being convinced of Reformed teaching no less than being convinced of Catholic teaching – it would all be illusory.

It seemed that if I was being deceived, then I could never really know it, and there was nothing I could do about it. This is a wretched and dangerous place to find yourself in, for there appears to be no way out.

III.

But there was a way out. There was a reason why I was experiencing that particular psychological turmoil. The feeling of helplessness was being produced by an incoherence in my thinking, and I was able to pinpoint that incoherence by reflecting on what Scripture said about deception.

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Feminism and Power vs. the Blessed Virgin Mary

I.

Back in my first year of teaching high school, one of the girls in my grade 12 class remarked that Christianity was “anti-woman.” I objected that since the greatest non-divine person in the Catholic faith was, by far, a woman, how could Christianity be anti-woman? “Because,” she responded, “Mary is praised for being a mother,” as though being a mother was some lesser form of being a woman, and praising it a way of praising inferiority.

I read an outstanding article some time ago by Abigail Favale, “Confessions of a Feminist Heretic.” In it she describes how motherhood transformed her from being a liberal, pro-choice feminist Protestant to being a conservative, pro-life Catholic (the Protestant/Catholic element does not feature strongly in the article).

She describes how she formerly saw mothers as “women who lost themselves in their children and their home lives, compromising their independence and ambition and freedom, ceding control of both body and mind.” Similar to how my student saw it, motherhood to her meant a lesser life.

Favale goes on to point out, “The feminist movement, since its second wave, has continually and firmly fought. . . for women to alter their biology, often through violence, so that it functions more like a man’s.” And later,

This is a framework that makes women at war with themselves. Men can have sex until their eyes pop out; they will never get pregnant. This is not true for women—just ask my husband, who was conceived after a tubal ligation. The myth of complete sexual freedom, complete autonomy, is based on male biology, and women can only pursue that ideal by doing violence to themselves.

This is key. Feminism is portrayed as glorifying the feminine and attacking the masculine, but actually, it often does the reverse. Feminism makes traditional masculine qualities like strength, boldness, independence, and ambition out to be the ideal for women, even at the expense of their own biology. As Favale observes, the goal of abortion is to allow women to live like men, forsaking their femininity for a masculine reality.

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What Christ Said About Purgatory

Christ spoke often of heaven and hell in His parables (in fact, almost everything we know about hell comes from the gospels). But according to Christ, heaven and hell were not the only two possibilities for the conclusion of this earthly life.

Dr. Brant Pitre, a Catholic Scripture scholar, explains how Christ teaches about purgatory in a parable from Luke 12:

H/T Called to Communion

On the Gospel Coalition’s Salvation by Works

The Gospel Coalition website is one of the most significant Reformed hubs on the internet. Many of the biggest names in the Reformed world have written there, from Timothy Keller, to Kevin DeYoung, to John Piper. There are obviously big disagreements between these writers, but where they all agree is on the gospel. They have all gathered around a shared idea of what it means to be saved.

Here’s what one of their writers, Erik Raymond, says about salvation:

If you are saved then you are saved by works.

No, I am not retreating or backsliding or apostatizing into Roman Catholicism or other synergistic form of salvation. I am simply restating the truth that the Bible declares. You are saved by works.

Let me elaborate and clarify the statement: You are saved by works, just not your works. If you are saved, you are saved based upon the works, the merits, the doing and dying of Jesus. This is the truth of the gospel.[1]

Raymond writes that he is “simply restating the truth that the Bible declares,” which is that “you are saved by works, just not your works.” He goes on later in the article to claim that Christ “had the obligation to earn the basis for our righteousness,” and that “God declares us righteous (legally perfect) based upon the perfect obedience to the Law of God by the Son.” This is the idea found in what is perhaps the most important question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, QA 60, found in Lord’s Day 23:

Yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.[2]

The idea here is that salvation is a works-based reality. We are restored to God by being declared righteous, and we are declared righteous by perfectly obeying God’s law. Without that foundation of good works, there is no declaration of righteousness, and no restoration to God. We remain separated from Him.

That foundation is missing from our lives, of course, as no one perfectly obeys God’s law. The salvation provided by Christ, then, is that He has “accomplished all the obedience” required of us in our place. If we believe this, then that perfect record is “imputed,” or credited, to us, and we receive the necessary declaration of righteousness and are restored to God. According to Raymond, this performance-based picture of salvation “is the truth of the gospel.”

Not the Old Testament picture of salvation.

To briefly recap what I’ve written about this in the past, this is simply not the picture of salvation promised before Christ. There’s no shortage of law-breaking in the Old Testament. Israel in the desert repeatedly broke God’s law. Israel in the Promised Land repeatedly broke God’s law. Individual Israelites like King David repeatedly broke God’s law. Law-breaking was the single most consistent feature of Israel’s life with God, the one thing the Old Testament writers really didn’t want you to miss.

This makes God’s promised solution stand out all the more clear. When faced with this repeated law-breaking, God does not promise to restore His people by sending someone to obey the law in their place. That’s not what David longed for, and it’s not what Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel revealed as the solution. Rather, what’s repeatedly promised is that God will restore His people by giving them new hearts. That’s what the Holy Spirit inspired David to seek, and it’s what was promised through the prophets. But I won’t rehash that further here.

Salvation is not by works – period.

Here, I want to provide a much more direct and obvious criticism of the Reformed position, especially regarding Raymond’s claim that he is “simply restating the truth that the Bible declares.”

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