Are Protestants Heretics? Are Catholics?

Are Protestants heretics? Edward T. Oakes, S.J., looks at that question from a Catholic point of view here. I wish a prominent Protestant theologian would ask and answer the reverse question–Are Catholics heretics?–with as much clarity and grace.


The Life Appeared (1 John 1:1-3)

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According to 1 John 1:1-3, the foundation of the Christian faith is eyewitness testimony about Jesus Christ. But what did the eyewitnesses see: the mere facts of Jesus’ ministry or their spiritual significance?
Let’s read 1 John 1:1-3 again for an answer to this question.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
It is very clear that John was an eyewitness of the facts of Jesus’ ministry. He heard what Jesus said, saw what Jesus did, and touched Jesus’ resurrected body. Such is the plain meaning of this text.
But it is also clear that John interpreted the facts of his experience. He attached spiritual significance to what he heard, saw, and touched. He believed that what he heard, saw, and touched warranted the conclusion that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God who entered the world to give us eternal life.
Notice how John describes Jesus in these verses. First, he is “from the beginning.” This timestamp is a deliberate echo of the opening verses of the Gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (1:1, 2). According to John, we misinterpret the facts of Jesus’ ministry if we date them only to the early first century. They begin in eternity.
Second, in John’s description, Jesus is “the Word.” This also is a deliberate echo of John 1:1, 2. In the Gospel, the Word is both “with God” and “God” himself. This introduces a distinction into the Godhead between “the Father” and “his Son,” which both the Gospel and the epistle recognize (John 1:14, 18; 1 John 1:1, 2).
Third, this eternal Son of God entered history as a human being. John repeats the verb “appeared” two times in verse 2. That Jesus’ appearance was not spiritual in nature is clear from the fact that John says he and other eyewitnesses “touched” Jesus. The eternal Son of God entered human history in material form. Or, as the Gospel puts it, “the Word became flesh” (1:14).
Fourth, the purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world was to give us “life.” In verses 1 and 2, John describes Jesus as “the Word of life,” “the life” and “the eternal life.” This indicates the close connection between Jesus’ person and work. As the Gospel puts it, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (1:4).
Have you received that life?

Heard, Seen, Looked at, and Touched (John 1:1-3)

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Is the Christian faith built upon eyewitness testimony, or is it a decades-later invention of people who never saw or heard Jesus?
Several years ago, Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code, a novel whose climax is the revelation that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and bore children. Despite the fact that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, many readers took its claims about Jesus and Mary Magdalene literally. Such readers doubted that the whole truth about Jesus could be found in the New Testament Gospels or the creeds of the Christian church.
Not long after The Da Vinci Code topped the New York Times bestseller list, the National Geographic Society translated and published The Gospel of Judas, a fourth-century copy of a second-century Gnostic text. This so-called gospel presents Judas Iscariot in a radically different light than the New Testament Gospels present him. Rather than being Jesus’ betrayer, Judas Iscariot turns out to be Jesus’ best disciple.
The net effect of reading The Da Vinci Code and The Gospel of Judas is that some readers have become skeptical about the historical trustworthiness of the New Testament and, by extension, of the Christian faith itself. This skepticism is unwarranted for three basic reasons: (1) The Da Vinci Code is a novel whose historical claims are as fictional as its plot.[1] (2) The Gospel of Judas is a mid- to late-second-century text that has no connection to events in the first century.[2] And (3) the New Testament documents make a credible claim of being based on eyewitness testimony.[3]
Consider, in this regard, 1 John 1:1-3:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
Notice John’s language: heard, seen, looked at, and touched. In these verses, John claims that the Christian faith which he proclaims is based upon eyewitness testimony, both his and others’. In Luke 1:2, Luke makes a similar claim about the contents of his Gospel, namely, that it is based on the testimony of “those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” And in 1 Corinthians 15:4-8, Paul claims that many people were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus, including “Peter,” “the Twelve,” “more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time,” “James,” and Paul himself.
Either these claims are true, or they are false. If false, then we can know very little to nothing about the historical Jesus, for the New Testament documents are our best and oldest sources of information about him. But if true, then our very lives may depend on what these eyewitnesses heard, saw, looked at, and touched.

[1] The best expose of historical errors in The Da Vinci Code is Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel, The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2004).
[2] Darrell L. Bock takes on The Gospel of Judas and other Gnostic gospels in The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities (Nashville: Nelson, 2006). See also J. Ed Komoszewski et al, Reinventing Jesus: What The Da Vinci Code and Other Novel Speculations Don’t Tell You (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2006).
[3] For a good introduction to the historical reliability of the New Testament, see Paul Barnett, Is the New Testament Reliable? (Downers Grove, IL; InterVarsity, 2005). For a scholarly defense of the eyewitness character of the Gospels, see Richard J. Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006).


According this article, a Chuch of England parish is planning to use U2 songs in place of hymns at its service of Holy Communion. Additionally, there will be lights and video and–my favorite–space for the congregation "to dance and wave their hands." The purpose of this "U2-charist" is to draw attention to the Millennium Development Goals. Funny, I thought the Eucharist was supposed to draw attention to Christ. Of course, the first "U2-charist" was held somewhere in America. Oy!

Six Questions about 1 John

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Today begin a devotional study of 1 John. To introduce this New Testament book, I will answer six questions: Who wrote 1 John? What kind of book is it? When was it written? Where was it written to? Why was it written? And how does it apply to us today? [1]
First, who wrote 1 John? Formally speaking, 1 John is anonymous. But internal evidence indicates that the author was an eyewitness of Jesus Christ (1:1, 3; 4:14; 5:6-7). Additionally, the authoritative way he addresses his readers indicates that he was a leader of some standing within the church (e.g., 2:1-2, 8, 15, 17, 23, 28; 3:6, 9; 4:1, 8, 16: 5:21). The testimony of the early church is that the Apostle John wrote 1 John, and he certainly fits the bill of this internal evidence.
Second, what kind of book is it? Since the early church, 1 John has been referred to as a letter. However, it lacks a standard epistolary greeting and conclusion. Contrast it, in this regard, with 2 and 3 John, which have both. Nevertheless, it is a written communication of some sort. Notice how often John uses the verb “I write,” for example (2:1, 7, 8, 12-14, 21, 26). No doubt John’s readers received his communication through the mail, but it seems more like a sermon designed to read aloud than like a letter. Nevertheless, because of the long custom of the church, we will refer to 1 John as a letter.
Third, when was 1 John written? Just as the letter is formally anonymous, so it is also undated. However, various Christian documents from the late first and early second century allude to it, so it cannot have been written any later than then. Most commentators give 1 John a date sometime in the 90s. The Apostle John would have been an aged man by then. Perhaps this is why he refers to himself as “the elder” in 2 and 3 John.
Fourth, where was it written to? Again, nothing in 1 John itself indicates to whom John wrote this letter. However, just as early Christian documents enable us to specify an author and a date, so they help us specify a location. These documents consistently point to Ephesus and its environs as the location in which and to which 1 John was written.
Fifth, why was it written? According to 1 John 2:18-19, a group of false teachers had seceded from the church and was trying to convince other church members to do the same. Concerned about the spiritual danger of the situation, John wrote the church to warn it about “those who are trying to lead you astray” (verse 26). These false teachers made at least two errors: they denied the power of sin over their lives (1:6-10), and they denied that Jesus was the “Christ” who had come “in the flesh” (2:22 and 4:2 respectively). These are spiritually dangerous errors in the first and the twenty-first century.
And finally, how does it apply to us today? For an answer to that question, make sure to read tomorrow’s Daily Word!

[1] I am heavily dependent upon D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 669-687, for my answers to these questions.

Our Worst Ex-President?

Jimmy Carter was not our best president, but is he our worst ex-president? Joshua Muravchik marshalls the evidence for that conclusion in an essay in February’s Commentary magazine. Make sure to read the entire thing. What struck me in particular was Carter’s consistent anti-Israel-ism, for which Muravchik provides chapter and verse. Criticism of Israel is, of course, entirely within the bounds of acceptable political discourse, but according to Muravchik’s account, Carter’s criticism of Israel is both hypocritical (in that he does not voice similar criticisms of Arab abuses) and borderline anti-Semitic. And that, as Muravchik notes, is ironic: "It is sad that a President whose cardinal accomplishment was a peace accord between Israel and one of its neighbors should have devolved into such a seething enemy of Israel. It will be sadder still if this same man, whose other achievement was to elevate the cause of human rights, ends his career by helping to make anti-Semitism acceptable once again in American discourse."