Sunday, February 9, 2020

The only relevant question. . .

Recently I read a piece by a Roman Catholic priest who quoted Dietrich von Hildebrand, a theologian I have not read much of, who wrote: “With a religion the only question that can matter is whether or not it is true. The question of whether or not it fits into the mentality of an epoch cannot play any role in the acceptance or the rejection of a religion without betraying the very essence of religion.”  Those are good words and especially considering they were written in 1967 -- the time when some so-called Christian theologians were exploring the fringes of Christianity while dismissing the historicity and truthfulness of the basic claims of the faith.

Von Hildebrand continues:  “Even the earnest atheist recognizes this. He will not say that today we can no longer believe in God; he will say that God is and always was a mere illusion.”  The most central attack on the faith is its truth and historicity.  The most basic claim of the Christian faith is that it is true for all people and for all time.  It is no coincidence that the claim of the Scriptures and the assertion of our Lord is that the Word of the Lord endures forever even while heaven and earth may pass away.

Again, von Hildebrand: “Enamored of our present epoch, blind to all its characteristic dangers, intoxicated with everything modern, there are many Catholics who no longer ask whether something is true, or whether it is good and beautiful, or whether it has intrinsic value: they ask only whether it is up-to-date, suitable to ‘modern man’ and the technological age, whether it is challenging, dynamic, audacious, progressive.”  How apropos to the present!  We have endured ages of theologians who would suggest that the truthfulness of the claims of Christ and the words of Scripture are of little consequence to the spiritual importance of its moralism.  Yet authentic Christianity refuses to be reduced to a morality or ethic.  It is not that these are not important but unless they flow from that which is true objectively and eternally, they are little more than thoughts and suggestions that come and go as the wind.

What is surprising to me is that Rome has embraced the skepticism of the scientific approach to Scripture and the claims of Christ more than some and earlier than other churches.  Yet in Rome this dismissal of truth coexists with theologians who insist that Scripture is not myth or legend.  In Lutheranism we have wrestled with the same skepticism about truth and the same dead end that would suggest fact is not important with respect to the keryma.  And where has such skepticism left us?  It is not simply that truth is rejected but that the individual has become the arbiter of truth and even reason must give way to preference and the feeling of the moment.  That this has happened within churches that value truth admits how easily we are tempted by the father of lies.  That this happens inside churches confirms the reality that the greater threats are not from those outside but from those within God's House who claim to speak for Him.

Protestantism has pretty much given up on the idea of truth larger than the individual and the moment.  By and large most denominations have willingly sacrificed what they once believed, taught, and confessed on the altar of relevance.  Even once stalwart enemies of a changing truth find themselves caught up in the pressure of the moment more to be relevant than faithful.  So it is within my own church body where the fight continues against the fear that if we preserve the faith we will not grow it.  Maintenance fights against mission and liturgy against outreach as false contradictions are invented and straw men do battle over and over again.  In the meantime, von Hildebrand reminds us that truth is the only relevant issue both to faithfulness and to outreach. 

1 comment:

William Weedon said...

It’s actually a point that Lewis drove home in nearly the exact same words some decades before. In Mere Christianity, I believe.