Do Roman Catholics Worship Mary?

Roman Catholics do not worship Mary in the same sense that they worship God — or at least, they are not permitted by the teachings of the church to do so! To distinguish between levels of honor (“worship”), the Latin terms “latria”, “dulia”, and “hyperdulia” are used. Latria is the worship that is due to God alone. Only God, Jesus Christ (who is God), and a consecrated host (which according to the church is really Jesus Christ, who is God) may be treated as objects of “latrian” worship. To wit, There is no creature — including Mary! — to whom a Catholic may justly offer latria. For this reason, it is probably best in the current English usage to render only latria as “worship”. To translate “hyperdulia” and “dulia” as “worship” today would be grossly misleading.

Dulia is the honor given to the Angels and Saints, and hyperdulia is the special honor given to one particular Saint, namely, Mary the Mother of God. If one were to translate “hyperdulia” (or “dulia”) as “worship” (as do some English renderings of Latin devotional texts), then there is a sense in which Catholics do “worship” Mary and the Angels and Saints — however, this “worship” is not the same worship that is due to God alone! Mary and the Angels and Saints are mere creatures. They are not the “I AM” (Exodus 3:14), the “ocean of being” (St John Damascene) “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). To offer latria (“worship”) to Mary and the Angels and Saints would indeed be idolatry. However, what is offered to Mary and the Angels and Saints — their peculiar honor, or (depending on one’s choice of translation) “worship” — is a hyperdulia and dulia that differs fundamentally from the worship offered to the One God.

In conclusion, while it might be etymologically defensible to say that Catholics “worship” Mary (on the basis of certain translations from Latin texts), but in the current English diction, this would probably not be accurate in terms of its connotations. Catholics do indeed honor Mary (just as many Reformed Christians accord no small deal of honor to John Calvin), but they do not accord to Mary the special honor due to the Trinity alone. Roman Catholics, therefore, are not permitted to offer Mary worship (latria), but they are obligated to offer Mary “worship” (hyperdulia). The flexibility of words in the English language is of tantamount importance when treating these questions, and those who ignore critical linguistic nuances are unlikely to find well-reasoned answers to them.

Recommended readings:

  1. Lumen Gentium, paragraph 66, accessible here:
  2. St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 103, Article 3, accessible here:
  3. Catechism of the Catholic Church 971, accessible here:
  4. Pope St John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, accessible here:
  5. Fr. Aidan Nichols, There is No Rose: The Mariology of the Catholic Church, available for purchase here:
  6. Fr. Thomas Joseph White, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Roman Catholicism. The book includes a description of Catholic Mariology. It is available for purchased here:

Immaculate Judith: Marian Typology in the Book of Judith (Part 2)

(Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato: Virgin Mary.)

As a recent convert to Roman Catholicism from Protestant Christianity, I have become enamored with some distinctly Catholic ideas.

First, I find the Catholic approach to reading the Bible highly stimulating. Unlike certain popular forms of evangelical Protestant Christianity, Catholicism believes that oftentimes, it is the non-literal, allegorical (“spiritual”) meaning of the Bible that is most important. In fact, some influential Christian authors like Origen Adamantius of Alexandria (circa 185-254 C. E.) go so far as to say that sometimes the literal meaning of a given biblical text is positively false, a “scandal” meant to awaken the reader to the underlying “spiritual” meaning of the text. There is evidence that even the authors of the New Testament read and interpreted the Old Testament with respect to its non-literal meanings.

Second, I have come to have a greater appreciation for Saint Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Since according to Catholic orthodoxy, Jesus was fully human and fully God, Mary can even justly be called “the Mother of God”. Such a title inevitably bequeathed to her great honor among Christians. Indeed, in the Gospel According to St Luke, Mary herself claims that, “from now on, all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).

Third, I now am obliged to accept as Sacred Scripture certain books that were omitted from the Canon of Scripture by Protestants, including Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Maccabees, and some other books, as well. Combining these three principles that are novel to my spiritual life, I have been able to couple the Catholic tradition of reading the Bible with special attention to hidden, non-literal meanings to an appreciation for the role of St Mary in the life of Jesus. In doing so, I have encountered a school of thought that attempts to find in the Old Testament — including the books of the Bible I formerly considered null on account of my past religious persuasion — signs and images that symbolically point to Mary. The Book of Judith has been traditionally understood to contain precisely such portraits that were realized historically in Mary.

One of the more fascinating parallels between the female protagonist Judith (for whom the book is named) and St Mary is that of being preserved from defilement. Judith, an especially attractive widow, sneaks into the encampment of Israel’s enemies, wins the favor of the enemy general Holofernes, and eventually succeeds in being alone in a tent with him. Ultimately, Judith is able to behead Holofernes while he is lying on his bed in a drunken stupor. Thanks to God’s providential wisdom, Judith was able to kill Holofernes without ever having been sexually or otherwise physically molested by him, even though he lusted after her on account of her remarkable beauty and was briefly alone with her. Later in the book, Judith considers this to have been a fitting outcome of her story.

This story results in a moving allegory of St Mary. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is a dogma that Mary was conceived in her mother’s womb “immaculately”, meaning that she was preserved from original sin in her conception. Whereas the sin of our first parents (known in Scripture by the names “Adam” and “Eve”) resulted in the loss of the primordial “state of grace” for all of their descendants (which is to say, all of the human race), Mary was, by a special act of Christ’s divine grace, preserved from inheriting the privation of the original state of grace that is known theologically as “original sin”. (Note that original sin is not to be understood as an “original guilt”, whereby even an infant “deserves” to be punished for sin. Original sin is more akin to a medical defect that one inherits from one’s parents than to a punishment that one might unjustly receive for the sins of someone else.) Just as it was fitting for Judith to be preserved from sexual mistreatment from Holofernes in the process of slaying him, so also according to Catholicism was it fitting for St Mary to be preserved from the stain of original sin (a mistreatment inflicted upon the human race ultimately by the Devil) in the process of her conception, which culminated in her destiny to become the Mother of Jesus, who by his death and resurrection would vanquish the Devil. As Judith was kept safe (immaculate) from sexual intercourse with her enemy, so also was Mary kept immaculate from original sin due to the perversion that the Devil inflicted upon the human race through the sin of our first parents.

If it is true that the Old Testament points vaguely to spiritual realities fulfilled historically in the life of Jesus, then Judith might plausibly be read as an allegory in support of the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception of St Mary. The God of Israel who preserved Judith from being tainted by Holofernes also preserved the Mother of our Lord from being tainted by the Devil.

Immaculate Judith: Marian Typology in the Book of Judith

Artemisia Gentileschi - Judith Beheading Holofernes - WGA8563.jpg

(Artemisia Gentileschi: Judith Beheading Holofernes.)

The authors of the New Testament did not believe that the Old Testament ought always to be understood literally. While it is impossible to escape the relevance of the literal meaning of biblical texts (after all, as St Thomas Aquinas says, we are able to use the literal meaning of the Bible to discern its “spiritual” meaning), it is nevertheless clear that the earliest Christians believed that the Old Testament contains signs and hints of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Hence St Paul refers to a rock from the Torah as Christ and understands Sarah to be a type of the Church, and the author of 1 Peter understands Noah’s Ark to be a mythical precursor to the Sacrament of Baptism. On the early Christian understanding, the Old Testament is filled to the brim with signs of future realities that were made evident in Jesus Christ.

St Irenaeus made similar observations regarding St Mary, Jesus’s Mother. Since Mary is uniquely implicated in the life of Christ (some traditions in Catholicism refer to her as “co-redemptrix”), it would not be strange to see symbols of her in the Old Testament. Irenaeus sees Mary as the new Eve, who by her obedience heals humanity just as Eve by her disobedience contributed to the Sin of Adam that cast humankind into the dark domain of the Devil. Similarly, Mary is also seen as a fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant. As the Ark was the locus of God’s presence with Israel in the Old Testament, so also is Mary, literally pregnant with God, a physical Temple of God in Christ. The Old Testament contains signs of Mary.

A sign of Mary that recently caught my attention is found in the biblical book of Judith. The virtuous woman Judith, for whom the book is named, claims that God will deliver Israel by her hand (Judith 8:33). God’s power works through Judith to save the people of Israel. Just as Judith’s intercession is invoked for the salvation of Israel, so also are the prayers of the Immaculate Judith, Mary the Mother of God, used by God to save the new Israel, namely, the Church. One interesting way in which Judith’s representation of Mary is manifested is in Judith’s slaying of Holofernes, an enemy of the children of Israel. As Judith beheaded Holofernes, so also is Mary the woman who by her divine pregnancy and childbearing (of Jesus) crushed the head of the serpentine demon, the Devil.

Images of the eschatological realities evident in the New Testament are everywhere in the Old Testament. In order to have a fuller experience of Christ and His Mystical Body the Church, the faithful ought to commit themselves to the writings of the Old Testament.


The Universalism of David Bentley Hart


Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart is by far one of the most interesting and provocative theological writers of our time. Devoting a considerable portion of his writings to engagement with unbelief, Hart has written books on the problem of evil, aesthetics, the revolutionary social effects of Christianity, and the concept of God in the world’s great theistic traditions. He has also written numerous articles on various topics, ranging from book reviews to comments on pornography and ecumenical dialogue with Roman Catholicism. Hart has even dabbled in writing fiction, believe it or not. He is prolific, brilliant, and eclectic. One popular Christian writer in America, Peter Enns, called him a “walking thesaurus.” (I sometimes think it might be more appropriate to call a thesaurus a “stationary Hart.”) I think that it would be difficult to overstate Hart’s influence on contemporary theology.

Because David Hart is eclectic and provocative, it is not surprising to me that he unabashedly favors universalist eschatology. He argues that belief in eternal Hell is a moral absurdity, and its acceptance in mainstream Christian theology a tragedy.

On the first score (favoring universalism), Hart is actually not terribly revolutionary. Christianity’s first major philosophical theologian, Origen of Alexandria (circa 185-254 A.D.), posited that Hell might be a remedial punishment instead of an everlasting abode. At least one bonafide Christian saint, Gregory of Nyssa (circa 335-394 A.D.), explicitly advocated for Origen’s view. (According to some, including Hans Urs von Balthasar, it is possible that St Maximus the Confessor also held to this remedial understanding of Hell. However, to be fair, Balthasar’s claim has been disputed.) It would seem, then, that Hell has disturbed the Christian conscience since some of the earliest days of theological speculation. And Origen and St Gregory of Nyssa are not minor figures, either. St Gregory Nazienzen, a major theological figure and friend of St Gregory of Nyssa, wrote very positively of Origen, and the Second Council of Nicea called St Gregory of Nyssa the “father of fathers.” Although their stance might have been a minority position, their erudition defies a casual dismissal of their views.

However, despite the precedence for Hart’s universalism in the thinking of certain major Christian theologians, his claim that the notion of eternal Hell is a moral contagion that threatens to destroy the analogy between divine and human goodness even on the level of semantics strikes me as questionable. Hart criticizes St Augustine for believing in everlasting Hell, but I think it would be exaggerating to say that Augustine’s belief in Hell was predicated upon a morally defective understanding of God. It might be that, contrary to Hart’s assertions, the idea of eternal Hell is actually morally coherent, and that theologians as prolific as Augustine and Aquinas (in the West) and John Chrysostom and John Damascene (in the East) believed in eternal Hell not because they were morally deficient, but because they were morally in tune with the utter seriousness of sin and the lengths of human depravity.

In contrast to this possibility, Hart is somehow more comfortable concluding that the majority of Christian thinkers throughout history would have gotten such a central question completely wrong than that his own thinking on the subject might be mistaken. As a compliment to Hart’s intelligence, I will grant that he might be thinking rationally here. Maybe eternal Hell — even if conditionally imposed — really is an intolerable moral evil in its own right, and somehow most Christians have simply not had the intellect or the resources to discover that incontrovertible truth. Perhaps Origen and St Gregory really did figure out the eschatological mystery of Scripture, and the rest of us simply need to get on board with them.

Yet, I confess that I am dubious of all this. Hart might indeed have the moral vision and wisdom to judge that which is appropriate for God to do in response to the sin of rational wills (whether angelic or human), and that God’s response “cannot possibility be” eternal Hell. Surely all of us should at least hope that Hart is correct. Shall we wish everlasting punishment on even the most depraved human beings, and if we did so, would we be portraying really the God of love? However, speaking for myself, I do not think that I have the wisdom or moral vision to discern the eternal will of God, and so I do not think that I can embrace the universalism of Hart. What I can do is admire Hart’s optimism and his faith in the power of eternal love — that is, the power of God, who in His very being is love (1 John 4:8, 4:16).

In conclusion, I truly hope that Hart is correct; however, I do not feel confident saying that he is correct. I pray for the salvation of all, but I do not presume upon it.


Thoughts on “the Reformation”

art, cathedral, Christ

October 31st, in the 1517th year of Our Lord. This is traditionally considered to be the day on which Professor Martin Luther — a Roman Catholic priest, Augustinian Monk, and theologian — nailed Ninety-Five theses to the door of a chapel in protest against Johann Tetzel and the Pope who authorized Tetzel, namely Leo X. The beginning of “the Protestant Reformation” is often dated here, and perhaps justly so. Luther’s protest led to the spread like wildfire of various reforms and revolts throughout Medieval Europe.

This year (2017) marks the 500th Anniversary of the nailing of Luther’s theses. Since October 31st is only a few days away, what can we say about “the Protestant Reformation?”

In my opinion, we might say many things. First of all, we may certainly say that it is erroneous to think of “the Protestant Reformation” in a singular sense. Probably the sole major uniting belief among the various “Protestants” — particularly the Lutheran, Zwinglian, and Calvinist Protestants of the “Magisterial Reformation” — was contempt for the Pope and the rejection of the validity of his office. The most famous example of the immediate discord between Protestant sects is probably the notorious disagreement between Lutherans and Calvinists regarding the ontology of the sacrament of communion (Luther favoring “consubstantiation” whereby the real substance of Christ’s Body and Blood dwells alongside the substance the Bread and Wine, and Calvin espousing a middle way between Lutheran and Zwinglian ontologies of the Eucharist that involves Christ becoming not physically, but spiritually present to the communicants through the sacrament). Furthermore, there were also the so-called “radical Reformers”, principally the Mennonites and the Anabapists, who would not have agreed with certain aspects of the Magisterial Reformers’ expositions of doctrine. In short, what we encounter looking back five hundred years is not a single united “Protestant Reformation”, but a fairly large number of divided, independent “Protestant Reformations” [1]. Whatever the first Protestants were, they were not undivided.

Second, we ought to observe that in the time period during which Luther lived and died, religion and politics were by no means separate entities. This is no less true of the Protestants than it was of the Roman Catholics. Luther would have been burned at the stake (as Jan Huss was, for example) if it were not for the favorable political ties that enabled him to evade capture by the Roman Catholic Church. On both sides, political factors are at play all throughout. This is not by any measure to diminish the genuine role that religious discussion — especially soteriological (relating to eternal “salvation”) and ecclesiological (relating to the nature of the church and its authority) discussions — did play in the Reformation. It is simply to call attention to a trait that this time period does not necessarily share with many Westerners today.

Third, we should remind ourselves the profound role that the Reformations played in shaping modern society. We are who we are because of the debates over soteriology and ecclesiology that were encapsulated into Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and the Council of Trent.

Fourth, and finally, for those of us Westerners who still hold to the truth of the Christian religion, the sacredness of its Scriptures, and the ontological reality of its Church, we ought to take to heart the words of Hans Urs von Balthasar [2]. Balthasar reminds us that in the divisions between Protestants and Roman Catholics, we are faced not merely with differences in theology and ideas (although differences there of course remain). We are divided also by blood, scars, and bruises [3].

[1] See especially Reformations (Carlos M. N. Eire) and Reformation Myths (Rodney Stark).

[2] The Theology of Karl Barth (Hans Urs von Balthasar).

[3] I take the Roman Catholic side of this ecclesial dispute. (Perhaps someday I will get to blogging about that.) I consider Irenaeus Against Heresies III.3 essential reading for Protestant Christians. It can be accessed online for free here:


A Plea to Turning Point USA

Today I wrote a plea to Turning Point USA regarding its mission statement and “professor watchlist.” I have copied it below.

Subject: A comment concerning the part of your mission statement, which says “Empower.”


I was raised (and homeschooled) in an conservative evangelical and Republican home. My father has been a Republican longer than he has been a Christian. For my family, political and fiscal conservativism are basically creeds.

As for myself, I’m still developing many of my views concerning politics and the global market. (I haven’t even had an economics class, to my personal shame!) For me, Christianity is the most important aspect of my identity. At the moment, I do not really mind whether I am a “conservative” or a “liberal.” It is my belief that Christianity is unconcerned with our secondary identities.

One verse in the Bible says that, “There is no Jew nor Greek, there is no slave nor free, there is no ‘male and female;’ you are all one in the Messiah” (Galatians 3:28). To me, being a Christian *is* a political ideology. To be precise, it is a monarchy. For me, to say that “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9) is a political confession of Jesus’s universal Kingship. To put it in today’s terms, one could reasonably say that “Jesus is President of the world.” That is my belief.

(Note: None of this means that our civil governments do not matter. The author of Galatians 3:28 was also the author of Romans 13:1-7, which teaches Christians to “submit” to the governing authorities that God has allowed to have power. I love America, and desire the best for her and her people.)

Having provided a brief sketch my personal background, I would like to say something about TPUSA’s mission statement, specifically, the part called “Empower.”

Under the heading “Empower,” it is written, “…the *fight* for free markets and limited government” and also “…equipping activists with the knowledge and strategies needed to *combat* the left…” (emphases mine). Since I consider myself a Christian, I will point out that the rhetoric of these statements are extremely disturbing to me. Why is it called “fight”? And why is it called “combat”?

If the motto of the United States, “E Pluribus Unum” (“out of the many, one”) — which is written on the back of our currency — is taken to be correct, then it implies that all Americans are supposed to be *one the same side.* No one should be fighting each other. We should all be lifting each other up insofar as we can. That is, we should not be in a “fight” for anything, unless it is a matter of obvious human rights needs and injustices.

Considering the disagreements upon “free markets” and “limited government” that exist in the U. S., I think it can safely be said that these do not qualify as obvious human rights needs. Whether we are on the “left” or the “right”, we should not be fighting each other. We should be helping one another.

One of the things that really bothered me about Hillary Clinton’s campaign, in fact, was that she said that Republicans are her enemies. That is profoundly troubling to me. We are supposed to be united in America.

The great lie, I believe, of the right-wing / left-wing divide is that we live in a bifurcated country. But I think we do not live in a divided country. Our decisions affect the lives of everyone around us. We should all be united as patriots. As our current President said after the election of Donald Trump, “We’re patriots first.” I believe that unity (“E Pluribus Unum”) is the best paradigm for making America great again.

Having written all of this, I believe that it also relates to the “Professor Watchlist.” I strongly encourage you to consider removing the Professor Watchlist from the Internet. There are other countries (which do *not* have “limited” governments) make watchlists, and some of them imprison, torture, and even kill professors who disagree with them.

I do not want America to become a country like that. Therefore, I implore TPUSA to consider removing the Professor Watchlist from the Internet. TPUSA could even keep the list, and simply re-name it. Perhaps TPUSA could call it the “List of Professors whose work challenges our Political Mission.” That would be much better, and I think it would even welcome positive debate between the left and the right. But I think that when it is called a “watchlist,” it has a disturbingly totalitarian ring to it. If TPUSA is truly committed to “limited government,” then it absolutely behooves TPUSA to avoid totalitarian rhetoric.

I also suggest rephrasing two key parts of the “Empower” statement in TPUSA’s Mission statement. Here are my suggestions played out:

“Empower young activists to get involved in the *propagation of* free markets and limited government. Through building strong campus networks, organizing conferences and training workshops, and equipping activists with the knowledge and strategies needed to *critique* the left, TPUSA empowers young people to make a difference within their own campus and community” (emphases mine).

I believe that the above changes — from “fight for” to “propagation of” and from “combat” to “critique” — would go a long way in marketing the mission of TPUSA to American college students around the country.

I wish you the best in your mission to “make America great again.” I pray that, as an organization, you will do so using the rhetoric of peace which I believe has its origins in the Christian gospel.

I will close with three verses from the Bible which outline what I believe is an excellent Christian view of “fight” and “combat.”

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:10-12).

Our fight is not against women and men, but against the unseen forces of evil that threaten to poison every economy, government, and person.

* I edited one phrase in the original e-mail that was somewhat vague.


We Shall see Him as He Is: 1 John 3:1-3

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies herself as he is pure.

(1 John 3:1-3, paraphrased from the English Standard Version.)

This is one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture to me. God–the Father of all, as J.R.R. Tolkien names God in The Silmarillion–will appear, and with him, the form of the children of God, the form so precious to God that the imprisonment of everyone to disobedience (Romans 11:32) was worth it all. And even further still, by some miracle, “we shall be like him.”

The offer to be like God, the ancient serpent’s false offer to Adam and Eve, will actually be fulfilled by the true, great, and precious purpose of God Himself. The father of lies will surrender to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The prowling lion will be defeated by the Lion of Judah. He who is in the world is lesser than He who is in us.

God Himself, through the hope-giving of the Holy Spirit, will purify us as he is pure, so that when he appears we shall be like him.

I can only exclaim with Paul the Apostle,

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

(Rom. 11:33-36 ESV)

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:29 ESV)


‘Neither Do I condemn you’: How I have come to Approach Sexual Sin

I will begin today’s blog post by defining ‘sin.’

I am no expert, but my friends who are familiar with Greek tell me that the Greek word used to describe sin in the book of 1 John is ‘hamartia.’ It basically means, ‘Missing the mark.’ It reminds me of Romans 3:23, which says ‘For there is no distinction: all have sinned and fall short [miss the mark] of the reputation of God.’ I do not view sin so much as a vile thing that we ought to be ashamed of (although it is that). The real problem with sin in my view is that we miss the mark–the best in Christ–that God has for us. Sin is a barrier to the experience of living ‘abundantly’ (John 10:10). I hate sin not only because it is wrong. I hate sin because my Father hates it.

Concerned about sin? Yes, for it is the tragic barrier to real living.

We come now to sexuality. What is a sexual sin? A sexual sin is simply an act or disposition towards sexuality that misses the highest mark–for God’s mark is always highest, best, and most lovely–for sexuality. This of course begs the question: what is God’s mark for sexuality? If I am to strive to be perfect as my perfect Father in heaven desires, what does it even mean for me to be perfect in my sexuality? Jesus gives us a clue in the sermon on the mount. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30 ESV)

Jesus is clear that true holiness will involve a kind of sexual perfection that does not even sin in the mind. For Jesus, the enemy of ‘holy matrimony’ is not inappropriate sexual affairs, but inappropriate imagination. Before an act can be committed, it must be imagined and desired. Jesus is striving for holiness.

Now does this mean that if we mess up, that’s just it, we’re going to hell? No. Not if the first letter of John has anything to say about it. ‘My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ (1 John 2:1 ESV) Jesus himself elaborates here. ‘Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.’ (Matthew 12:30-31 ESV) Every sin and blasphemy, including sexual sin, will be forgiven people. (In my view, even the blasphemy against the Spirit would be forgiven if only the blasphemer would cease to blaspheme, but that is perhaps a topic for another time.)

Okay. There we go. Our terms, sin and sexual sin, are laid out very generally. That’s all fine and dandy. A bit too philosophical, perhaps, but well and good. There is, however, another part of the story that is important for our answer, and that pertains to my story, my background.


Most of my life, I’ve been a very worrisome guy. Worry seems to be the final frontier for the power of God’s Spirit in my life. May I submit to his purpose for me.

Much of worrying for me pertained to theological issues. I was a young earth creationist, and I believed the people who weren’t were suppressing the truth. I was a deterministic thinker set on Calvinism, and I believed that it was just for God to create people only to torment them forever and ever. I was unsympathetic to alternative interpretations of the Bible to those to which I had been conditioned in my younger days. I believed God was true, but I was terrified–sometimes horrified–of the picture of him that I had so long carried. When the Bible said God desires all people to be saved, I didn’t believe it. When the Bible said God was love, I did not believe it. Anyone with this kind of psychology would feel like I did, at least, so I presume.

When it came to sexuality, I was probably just worried about myself and my friends. I didn’t want us to do the wrong things. I didn’t want us to forsake God. I wanted things to be ‘ok.’

I think I was still wrestling with these thoughts. My meta-cognition is not keen enough for me to recall to what extend I had become more laid back about these issues, but I do have a few guesses.

I began to believe that which I had originally professed, that God is love. I began to believe–for the first time, perhaps–that God loved us ‘while we were still sinners.’ If that is true, what is the difference between my sexual sin and someone else’s sexual sin? Before the cross of Christ, sin and his child death are less than nothing. They have no existence when pitted against grace. I guess I finally came to believe the following two verses:

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)

I realized that before the power and the presence of Jesus Christ our Lord, no sexual sin has power over anyone. (Philosophically of course, people still sin sexually, so has sin won? On my view, no, but again, that may be a topic for another time.)

The point, dear reader, is this. I’ve come to a point in my walk with God in which I utterly trust him to do that which is right. I am not afraid to commit myself or my friends into his loving hands. If I or my friends should fall sexually, I have no doubt that God is able to more than infinitely restore us.

Practically, this means:

1) It is no longer my role to condemn. A person’s sin, I believe, is between himself and God. There is only one man for whom I may speak on the day in which God judges the secret thoughts of men, and the man is me. Will I try to help others? Yes, of course, but I must help them in the ways in which Christ approves, and apparently, he does not approve of the kind of judgments so often rendered by humankind.

2) It is absolutely my role to demonstrate love to others by keeping doors open for our relationships. If my friends are doing something wrong, I am confident that God can use me to help, even that he can speak without my voice. My actions themselves are a voice in the mouth of God, or so it would seem to me. Would I be demonstrating my love by offering a condemnation that God has forbidden me to give? No. I think not. I will let the Spirit speak to a person’s sin. I will speak to the hearts of people by loving them at the same time that God does–while they are still sinners.

3) It is written in 2 Timothy 4:1-8: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” The appearance of Christ was and is an altogether lovely thing to all that is the good creation of God in this world–including sexuality. I cannot preach a loving thing in an unloving manner. If I am to be concerned about sexual sin, I will do so on the Lord’s terms–through the renewal of my mind, that by testing I my discern that which is excellent and pleasing to God. (Romans 12:1-2)


It is not so much that I am less concerned about sexual sin than that I am more confident in the power of God through grace. As I pray for myself and my friends and for sexuality on earth to be conducted as it would be in heaven–in holiness, the fear of God, and out of a desire to love, for love is the cardinal virtue with faith and hope–I lack no confidence that he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion in the day of Christ.


Sacramental Odyssey: What I learned from visiting a Roman Catholic Mass

Having been raised Protestant, my exposure to the Roman Catholic Church has been fairly limited, aside from a single mass that my family visited once while on vacation. The usual Protestant dogma concerning Catholics — veneration of Mary, emphasis on tradition and rituals, nominal faith — is upsetting to me, because it sells Protestants short of the approach to Christianity that dominated in the Western world during the first 1,500 years after the life of Christ.

I offer two ideas below that I believe would benefit Protestants–myself included–to consider.

  1. Roman Catholics may venerate Mary, but do not many Protestants venerate Scripture? “The Bible is the final authority”, it is often stated. That may very well be the case, but for what, and to what end? Without God, without Christ, the Bible is just one of many very old collections of religious texts. Maybe the same goes for Mary in Catholicism. Without God, without Christ, Mary would just another ancient person, no more extraordinary than Homer or Nero. All that aside, if one is to admire any historical figure of Christian faith, Mary would definitely not be a bad choice, especially if we are to believe anything that is written in Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke.
  2. Emphasis on tradition and rituals. I’m surprised to see this criticism emerge from Protestantism — particularly from American evangelicals (the religious community in which I was raised), whose most popular theologians seem remarkably incapable of divorcing their inherited theology from what the Bible actually teaches. To take an obvious example: how is it the case that many evangelicals believe that Genesis 1 offers a literal account of creation (the earth was created 10,000 years ago without evolutionary processes), while simultaneously believing that when Christ says “this is My Body” when referring to the bread of His Last Supper, it is metaphorical?

Introductory thoughts completed, here’s what I did learn visiting a Roman Catholic Mass this evening:

  1. Roman Catholics love to pray. During mass, each member of the audience is expected to pray and to relish the delightful reading of Scripture and well-written liturgy.
  2. Roman Catholics appreciate church history. The clergy trace their succession of Holy Orders all the way back to the Apostolic age. A strong emphasis is placed on specific saints in Christian history that, in my view, has the potential to inspire the Catholic to live a life worthy of the good news.
  3. Roman Catholics go to great lengths to beautify the place of worship. In an age in which the doctrine of the beauty of God is oft hidden beneath the doctrine of the wrath of God — in my view beautiful itself, if properly understood — Catholicism presents a refreshing break from any spirituality unconcerned with beauty.
  4. Roman Catholics feel very much in touch with the Global Christian movement. Time would fail me to speak of the benefits of this attitude, especially in light of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, many of Paul’s statements throughout his letters, and the letters of John.

I believe that Protestants should look for ready allies in Roman Catholics who are hungry for the kingdom of God to rule on earth and the peace of Christ to rule in hearts.


The Enemy of my Enemy: Conservative vs. Liberal

Conservative vs. Liberal. True battle, or false dichotomy?

In an age in which many resist labels, many succumb to implicit labels by polarizing their views through a ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ lens. Apparently, this happens more in U.S. academia than in U.K. academia, but the point remains that in the U.S., too often are well-meaning people polarized by self or others for this or that belief that identifies with this or that ‘party’, ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal.’

A view of the world that can split any given issue into ‘black’ and ‘white’, ‘conservative’ or liberal’, is oversimplified.

Instead of bowing to the demands of the idol of party, we ought to approach issues on a case by case basis, letting the data and the results of a given approach speak for themselves.

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” ~ Jesus Christ (John 7:24 ESV)