Trash Talk

If someone were to follow me around and record my every word and thought, I suspect I could be proven as guilty as anyone else of gossip and (at least inadvertent) misrepresentation of things I don’t understand. I certainly have been guilty in the past. Doing so is, by all historic and magisterial Protestant accounts, a sin against the commandment not to bear false witness.

In my Evangelical Protestant youth, I was guilty, for instance, of judging the sins of Roman Catholic kids by saying “well of course they’re lax; all they have to do is go mouth some words to a priest who will use his dark priestcraft to pronounce a bogus ‘absolution.'” (I didn’t actually talk that way; this is an adult version of the sentiment I no doubt expressed more crudely.) I don’t know where I got that idea; it probably is one of rather few things for which I could blame my parents (most of the spiritual distortions that came into my life came from folks other than them).

I had absolutely no idea how hard it is to examine one’s conscience, go to a Priest, kneel (the Orthodox practice), confess, listen attentively to the advice given for amending one’s ways, and then carry out a possible penance (in the Orthodox practice, in my experience, calibrated to helping amend one’s ways, not a punishment).

Ironically, my tradition was far guiltier of inculcating moral laxity than the Catholics we accused. Saying to Jesus just one time, in public or private, The Sinner’s Prayer®, and then walking away with “Eternal Security®” was a trifle in comparison to confession through a Priest.[1]

I had at least one friend who very explicitly claimed (who knows what really was going on in his testosterone-crazed head – or mine, for that matter?) that since he had gotten very publicly saved (he, one of the cool kids, kind of sparked a little “revival” at my boarding school), he could now do as he pleased, and he predictably pleased to do the same shit he was doing before he “got saved.” (There’s something in scripture about a “dog returning to his vomit,” if memory serves.)

Lurid misconceptions about the ease of auricular confession[2] was not the only such irony. The biggest was the accusation that this group, that group, or the other group followed “the traditions of men.” For those not in the know, this somes from an accusation by Christ Himself toward Jewish religious leaders of His day. The opposite of “the traditions of men” is “the commandments of God.”

It’s ironic because we know the names, birth dates and death dates of the very specific men (and occasional women) who founded almost every Protestant tradition. In contrast, Catholicism and Orthodoxy both plausibly claim apostolic foundations, indeed foundations in the act of Jesus Christ Himself in building “my Church.”

Well, the Evangelical/Calvinist thralldom to the notion that they are free of the traditions of men, and that they strictly follow scripture, may be breaking.

Someone familiarly called “Tom Wright” in this video (I think the very entertaining speaker is referring to Bishop N.T. Wright – and the venue certainly appears to be Edman Chapel at Wheaton College) apparently is challenging their beloved doctrine of forensic justification, and effectively throwing down the mortifying gauntlet that it is an unscriptural tradition of men in need of, of all things, reformation (intelligent Protestants claim to be, and I think really intend to be, “ever reforming” when they stray individually or colletively).[3]

This is one of very many hopeful signs in the world – signs that I, a pessimist by temperament if not conviction, need to keep in mind. If this core doctrine of Lutheranism, Calvinism, and of Evangelicalism (which is largely Calvinistic on this point) is collapsing, then some millions of Christ-followers will be looking around for a spiritual home, chastened and more ready to accept that tradition is unavoidable and that the question is the foundations of the tradition.

I have lived for decades each in the Evangelical and Calvinist traditions before entering Orthodoxy. So I’m not, I hope, trash-talking again, but rather speaking of things whereof I know, when I say that Calvinists and Evangelicals who truly love Christ will rue their delay in embracing Orthodoxy once they’ve come over.


1. I suspect, but cannot claim to know with certainty, that a lot of fist-pounding assertions about the evil of Islam is also trash-talk by people who know no better than I do on that topic. I do know that there are many schools of Islam – kind of like Protestants in that regard – and that some appear notably more pacific than others. I know, too, that the Koran has pacific as well as belligerent admonitions toward non-Muslims.
2. I just love the self-congratulatory brackets about “laughter” and “applause” in this transcript of a screed.
3. A tip of the hat to Eclectic Orthodoxy for the recommendation of the video.
I apologize for any formatting oddities. This is my first effort at using footnotes, and they’re not working quite right.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.