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Starting out, my goals are simple: I love history and religion, and I think American religion is a particularly rich field to mine for historical gold. Because America has been primarily a Christian nation in practice, I’ll focus on various Christian sects, but I won’t look at it exclusively.

The rest of what I’m looking to do can be summed up from the about page:

Studies tell us that America is less and less a religious nation, and more and more of the population are self-identifying as non-religious.

They still believe in God, generally, but not necessarily in a specific god or path. While Europe is entering what is their third generation of a truly non-practicing public, America is seeing its first generation of not non-believers but rather unaffiliated, uncaringly unattached nonreligious.

Meanwhile, many of the more popular forms of religion have intentionally shed their traditional garb or incarnations, and as a result, America is losing not only its religion, but its religious practice and heritage. Traditional mountain hymns may get set to contemporary rock music, but the tent revivals in which those hymns were originally sung no longer happen. Reserve your own judgment whether or not this pragmatism is a good thing.

Until recently, America could still be described as a religious nation (and perhaps it still can), and the goal of this blog is to chronicle her religious practices and history. Much of the American psyche has been shaped by religion, and perhaps understanding what she is today can only be accomplished by viewing her through the lens of a religion-tinted past.

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There were a few rallying cries in the Reformation. One of those was Sola Scriptura, or “scripture alone.” Though there are varying degrees of nuance attached to it, the generally accepted definition of sola scriptura is that it is “the doctrine that the Bible is the only infallible or inerrant authority for Christian faith…and that scripture interprets scripture.”

That is contrasted with the Roman Catholic view, quoted here from the Catechism to make sure I don’t screw it up:

The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it.78

112 1. Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture”. Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.79

The phrase “heart of Christ” can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.80

113 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”81).

114 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith.82 By “analogy of faith” we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

In short: scripture is to be interpreted in light of the church’s traditions. Orthodoxy has a similar belief, defining Tradition as “that which has lived on in life of the Church.”

So, for the Catholic reader, there is already an interpretive framework in place — Holy Tradition.

But for the Protestant, there is no interpretive frame work, unless you consider scripture itself to be the interpretive framework (and, perhaps you can). That leads to the problem, however, of how you ensure good, sound theology when exegeting — how do you keep people from coming up with crazy ideas after reading the Bible?

For the true Protestants (I’ll get to evangelicals in a moment), that means confessionalism. For example, the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod says this:

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod accepts the Scriptures as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and subscribes unconditionally to all the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God. We accept the Lutheran Confessions as articulated in the Book of Concord of 1580 because they are drawn from the Word of God and on that account regard their doctrinal content as a true and binding exposition of Holy Scripture and as authoritative for all pastors, congregations and other rostered church workers of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Likewise, Reformed churches require their pastors to teach within the bounds of the Westminster Confession, and — to stretch it a bit — the Southern Baptists require their missionaries (though not their pastors, per se) to only believe within the boundaries of their continually evolving confession.

What bothers me about this is thus: is it really true to your own beliefs about sola scriptura to say, “We believe scripture to be the only authority, but because we believe this book or document to be a proper exposition of scripture, it’s authoritative, too?”

Looking back at much of the Auburn Avenue controversy, half of the arguments about their beliefs weren’t “is it scriptural?” (half were), but rather, “is it in line with our confession?”

But at least within confessionalism there are boundaries to keep people from straying too far from the shore.

Evangelicals, on the whole, don’t really stick to confessions beyond a very non-binding statement of church beliefs that are something to the effect of “We believe in God, and Jesus is coming back soon to rapture us all.” I have personally heard a couple of preachers/evangelists say, “I am sincerely convinced that anyone who reads this Bible passage under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will come to the same conclusion I have.” I can only assume they were expressing confidence in the Holy Spirit.

But with no interpretive framework (except, perhaps, dispensationalism), people have become not only independent, fundamental Baptists, but disciples of Creflo Dollar and snake-handling Pentecostals as well.

Perhaps I have finally come to a place where I truly understand what a catch-22 is.

“Prayer is an activity becoming to the dignity of the mind, or rather, is its real use.”
St. Nilus of Mount Sinai

My application to become a Thomas Nelson book review blogger was accepted, so from time to time I’ll be posting book reviews for them on here.

I signed up mostly so I could get review copies of new study bibles, but I’ll probably pick up a few non-fiction titles every once in a while. Free books, hooray!

I admit I have all sorts of authority issues, though perhaps not in the usual way. Whereas most people tend to reject authority (especially ecclesiastical authority), for the last year or so I’ve been increasingly attracted to it, at least within a certain apostolic context.

That means that I’ve had to address the issue of the Papacy, and all that follows from its current dogmatic definitions.

But here’s the question I have for [Roman] Catholics: If the Orthodox claim that the Church as a whole is protected by a charism of infallibility (something the RCC affirms), then why does the Church need a universal, infallible bishop of final appeal in matters of faith and morals? It seems like the office is redundant if the Church already has a special protection via the Holy Spirit.

First, an update:

As of Tuesday evening, still no sign that the baby really wants to make an appearance. I’m fairly sure the people I work with have a betting pool on when she’ll arrive  (or when I will crack) — that would explain the crestfallen faces when I answer “nope” to their morning inquiry: “No baby?”

Now, a few unrelated things that have caught my attention in the last week:

-Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me’s Peter Sagal has written an essay about technology and imagination that I enjoyed.

-Peter Leithart has a solid critique of iconoclasm that even traditional Protestants will have to — or at least, should — consider.

-Pennsylvania authorities have thrown an Amish man in jail because his outhouse didn’t come up to the local building codes. I’m not really sure how to respond to this, except to stare at the story and ask, “Are you kidding me?”

It’s officially six years since the war started in Iraq. To paraphrase Thomas Merton, we’re enjoying the benefits of the world we worked so hard to create.

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