Bishop Barron recognizes the need for intellectual engagement not only with the broader culture, but also and maybe even more importantly, with those remaining in the pews. His “Word on Fire” Ministry has been targeting the none’s especially the younger cohort, engaging their intellects with several initiatives including science to present evidence for the mind not just emotion for the heart. He recognizes the need to “Proclaim Christ in the Culture” for conversion between the mind and the heart, constantly quoting the work of Thomas Aquinas.
The dumbing down of our faith has concluded to many, now believing in a fake God and a false Jesus: a teddy bear deity. The church has concealed most of the gospel. Very rarely, if ever is there any teaching from the pulpit on our obligation to offer up our talents to serve Him. Little, if ever, any talk about Heaven and hell or the wailing and gnashing of teeth. No warning of judgment or need to repent from sin. Little recognition of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to save us from the fires of Hell. Why else would He have voluntarily been brutalized and killed if everyone went to Heaven? Apparently, the Gospel message can’t be discussed in the fake church where feelings trump truth. So, the result is most come once a week for an hour, listen to a 10 minute homily, which rarely if ever presents a true representation of the Gospel, instead laity hear a teaching of only one side of Jesus personality… the "Winnie the Pooh" Jesus.
For me, presenting half the story is cowardly or dishonest. Let me give an example of my father, John Palmer. He was amazing, a kind gentle giant. At almost 6 ft 8 and 275 lbs, he was a formidable presence that almost every kid in our neighbourhood feared. He took us everywhere and did everything with us. He let us play on his shoulders in the pool, took us camping, told us stories in the tent in the backyard… but we also knew if we didn't tow the line, show respect, especially to my mother and follow his house rules, or commandments, we were in BIG trouble and subsequently punished, and I can tell you first hand his wrath was no fun…
Now, If I tried to only portray the teddy bear side of John Palmer it wouldn't be an honest or compelling representation of who he was and how incredible he was. It would not demonstrate his commitment to forgiveness and justice. The truth is that people are attracted to virtue like that of my father. Although certainly not Jesus, it was the “fullness” of who he was as a man that the community loved and respected not just John the gentle Panda bear.
Likewise, the none’s are attracted to the fullness of truth and they want to be engaged in their hearts and in their minds, it's not an either/or, but both. They want their beliefs whether it be about their iPhone or anything else, to be grounded in reason, not just feeling and emotion. I’ve witnessed this firsthand. A few years ago I was doubting my own faith and it was through evidence and reason, in making a connection between my mind and my heart where I had a conversion of heart. So much so I felt a responsibility to share what I learned and produced my “Faith and Reason, Evidence for God and Christianity” magazine. Then I collaborated with other like-minded individuals to create the FAR180.com website and YouTube channel. Part of our parish renewal ministry is to offer churches, as part of their faith formation, the “F&R” magazine (of which thousands of copies have been distributed around the Maritimes and from which I make zero profit.) In addition, I also offer talks on the topic of faith and reason and I especially enjoy giving the talks to youth groups, the generation producing most of the none’s. They are craving this information. This is especially obvious when I quote CS Lewis, “if Christianity is not true it's of no relevance, but if it is it's an infinite importance.” I tell them think about it, if it's not true who cares, but if it is, death, judgment, heaven and Hell, an accountability for our lives… if it is true what could be more important? The expressions on their faces is one of shock, like it's the first time they've been told this. However, the truth is, they want to hear this. They want to know if it's true what the consequences are, and they are insulted that some adults think they should be shielded from the full truth of Jesus’s message. The feedback I love the most from speaking with youth groups is that what they enjoyed and remember the most is learning that Christianity is true!
Young people don't want some watered-down pablum version of Jesus, they can deal with and want the truth. When it comes to the Gospel, they are not given enough credit. Think about it for a minute, think about what they are exposed to, especially sex and all of its secular acceptance, and at such young ages. They're more worldly than many adults. So, it's laughable to me that some leaders in the church believe that they need to soft pedal religion... Seriously what a slap in the face to young people thinking that they can’t handle the truth. I also believe part of the issue is that many church leaders don’t believe the truth in the Gospel.
God gives us the gift of free-will, allowing us to accept or reject His complete message. What arrogance of the leadership in the church thinking they know better than Jesus, by presenting a hippie or beatnik God that loves and forgives you no matter what, and would never let you go to a bad place even if you spit in His face. You don't need to reflect very long as to why people are not attracted or want to commit their life to this kind of a "flower child" God. What effect has this new Gospel had on the modern west in the last 50 years? Simply put, it is another ingredient in the decimation of the church.
I believe that the parable of the prodigal son best represents the Gospel, especially that of the attributes of the father. He gives his son free will, allowing him to dishonour his father and family by his pride, arrogance and selfishness. The son is permitted to leave with his inheritance, and his father allows him to fail. But its the teaching of repentance, confession, forgiveness and love which is the best example of the Gospel. Like a good parent that allows their child to fall down and learn from their experiences but be there for their child with their hand out picking them up and kissing their bruises.
Yes, it's true that some of us respond better to love and hugs, however others respond to fear and then by learning about God’s mercy, they begin to love Him. I believe it's the combination of both, in the fullness of the Gospel, that provides what Christianity truly is... you just need to read it.
As lay people we need to take responsibility and approach our Parish leadership offering to present the intellectual side of our faith and include citing Bishop Barron's work, adding credibility to our efforts. We need to be part of the solution, presenting the rational or intellectual element of our faith, learning from Bishop Barron and Thomas Aquinas. That said, we need to be prepared for push back. Not everyone is interested in the intellectual side of our faith. I have heard some say, “I don’t need evidence or reason, I only need to believe on faith.” Which is good for them but not their son or daughter who may be listening to the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris or the late Christopher Hitchens. That said, when we encounter those types, we need to simply remember Jesus words, not too brow beat them into submission but to dust off our sandals and get to the next town.
To sum it up for me regarding faith and reason, the answer is not complicated, why am I a Christian? Because it's true… the evidence is beyond any reasonable doubt!
Blog post image credit from Wikimedia: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marinus_van_Reymerswale,_Saint_Jerome.jpg