Defending the Faith
As a Catholic who lived part-time in an Evangelical Church for a decade, I faced many challenges against my faith coming from certain Biblical verses. I worried about catholic education, how our RCIA brothers and sisters could handle these challenges, and how my catholic books might help all Catholics answer these questions.
At first, I assumed (wrongly) that those who were brought up in ‘Bible-only’ churches must know the details of the Bible better than I did.
Over time, I developed the LISt Method and learned how to answer these challenges and defend my faith.
The ‘LISt’ approach is simple. Three steps. Listen. Investigate. Suggest.
First, I listened to the Evangelical claims and the exact verses they used.
Then, I investigated these verses and the surrounding scriptural context.
Finally, I suggested to my challenger a more complete and Catholic interpretation of these same and supporting verses.
The result? For myself and others with whom I’ve shared the technique and insights of the LISt – well, we are no longer afraid to answer bible-based challenges. We were all much more confident in our Catholic faith. We can reach out to our Protestant brethren in a spirit of ecumenism.
How does LISt work?
Let’s look at this method starting with a key challenge we Catholics face. Often, we are challenged to define the ‘Gospel’.
Let me first suggest the following as a perhaps a very simple description of the Catholic view of the Gospel*:
We believe all people are created and loved by God and therefore we are all called to have faith in Jesus as Savior and obey Jesus as Lord so as gain eternal life.
How do we obey Jesus?
We do good
We avoid evil and repent when we fall
We obey Jesus through those to whom he gave his earthly authority
Now, to understand the power of the LISt Method, let's take a deeper look into the challenges that come from ‘Reformed’, ‘Bible-believing’ churches with regards to their understanding of the Gospel. They make the case that the ‘good news’ Jesus brought to the earth (as the see described by the Bible), is this:
After the sin of Adam and Eve, every human being is born Totally Depraved and destined for hell. However, God decided at the beginning of time to ‘elect’ or chose a limited group of individuals to save through the atoning work of Jesus. Therefore, none of the prayers, practices sacraments or Masses of the Church can help us, our fate is predestined and only those who believe as we do are saved.
So, let’s apply LISt using some of the specific verses non-Catholics use to defend their view of the ‘Gospel’ (starting with Total Depravity), through which they challenge our Catholic faith. The following are some of the most commonly used verses to support their doctrine of Total Depravity. And remember, when we 'investigate' these issues, there is a wide range of contexts to consider - cultural, historical, through the use of the Catechism, etc., but let's stick only to the context within the Bible for our discussion here.
The claim: Man’s heart is full of evil and set to do evil
First, Listen to the first verse: Ecclesiastics 9:3 “This is an evil in all that happens under the sun, that the same fate comes to everyone. Moreover, the hearts of all are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
Then, Investigate: Let’s read the preceding verses, which go entirely against the doctrine of Total Depravity - “to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to those who sacrifice and those who do not sacrifice. As are the good, so are the sinners; those who swear are like those who shun an oath.”
Finally, Suggest: According to this section of Scripture, there are both righteous and unrighteous, we do not universal total depravity.
Let's Listen a second verse on the same topic:
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11
Investigate: This is another complete failure because the preceding verse says this –
“‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8
Suggest: Jesus commands us all to seek, and knock and find, none of which would be possible if we were Totally Depraved.
Again - first, we listen to specific verse:
"The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their ways are vile;
there is no one who does good.” (Psalm 53:2)
Using the Catholic Bible Method, we don’t shy away from this challenge either. Instead, we investigate the verse and see in the preceding psalm the following:
"The righteous will see and fear;
they will laugh at you, saying,
“Here now is the man
who did not make God his stronghold
but trusted in his great wealth
and grew strong by destroying others!” (Psalm 52)
We can then suggest that we cannot conclude Total Depravity from one verse in Psalm 53 that reads ‘no one does good’ and then ignore the verse in Psalm 52 that claims there are ‘righteous’.
The claim - Man has incredibly deceitful and wicked hearts
Listen to the verse: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9)
Investigate and see this just two verses earlier
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.” (Jer 17:7)
Suggest: There is nothing in Jeremiah 17:9 that instructs us that the heart is totally depraved. It is ‘beyond cure’ without Jesus, but since we read in verse 7 that there are those we ‘trust(s) in the Lord’, we again are back to a denial of Total Depravity
Another claim - Our minds and consciences are defiled
Listen again to the verse: "The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (see again Jeremiah 17:9)
Investigate other parts of the Bible that touch on this idea:
“To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.”Titus 1:15
Suggest: Here is an example where the verse that is used calls out that there are ‘pure’, so we are not all Totally Depraved.
The claim: All people love the darkness
Listen to the verse: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19
Investigate: Immediately after this verse (in John 3:20), we read this about the people who do choose to live by the light, “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Suggest: Simply point out that we cannot use a few verses from the Bible that seem to claim people are bad and ignore all the verses that say that people are good or righteous. The only path is to understand we all have the choice and responsibility to do good or to do evil.
All the prayers, sacraments, teachings and practices of the Church are designed to help us make the correct decisions with God’s help to have faith and act faithfully to our Lord.
I hope this has been helpful.
Next month we will apply the LISt Method to another critical challenge to the Catholic faith – ‘Limited Atonement’.
* Among the many who were nice enough to review this resource, I received a comment about my short-hand version of the Catholic Gospel. By no means is my abridged version meant to reflect all of the Catholic faith, but I think a sentence this reviewer offered may give a hint as to the broader scope of what is truly the Christian Gospel: “Catholics believe in the Good News of Jesus, that all people are eternally loved by God who is Father, Son, and Spirit; that Jesus came as God’s Son made flesh into our midst; that in his death and resurrection, Jesus pours the Spirit upon us so that we may live as disciples, sharing life as a community through prayer, sacrament, and service. This discipleship begins, now, the experience of the eternal Kingdom into which Jesus would bring all people.” - Thank you, Father Frank.