How does Christian faith promote scientific endeavor?

Last Saturday (April 22, 2017) I participated in the March for Science. You can see in the picture above what my sign said.

Lots of people took photos of it. Several engaged me in conversation. One person looked at the sign in near disbelief and asked, “Is that all true?” “Yes,” I replied, “I support science, and I have a Ph.D. in theology.” “Well,” she responded, “it sounds like you and I could have a great philosophical discussion some day. But in the meantime, thanks for being here.” I told her I’d felt it was important for me to be there.

Pittsburgh’s NPR station had a reporter covering the event. When she spotted my sign, she took my picture (that’s her photo above) and interviewed me along the route. I shared the coverage on Facebook and one person commented, “You should post an article on your blog about how exactly your theology leads you to support modern science.” I thought that was a great idea. So here goes!

As George Harrison said in the movie Help!, “I don’t want to knock anyone’s religion,” but faiths such as Buddhism teach that the material world is an illusion. We need to look past it and escape from it in order to find enlightenment and truth. The Judeo-Christian world view, by contrast, is that the material creation is a genuine reality with positive spiritual import. It was created intentionally by a good God (not by mistake by a bad demigod, as the Gnostics taught) and declared to be “very good.”

In fact, the Bible holds that creation itself can speak to us about God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands,” Psalm 19 says. Paul writes in Romans that “since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” So Christian faith gives us confidence that when we observe the world around us, in effect, we can trust our eyes—what we’re seeing is not a spiritual illusion.

Beyond this, the Judeo-Christian world view is that the created world is orderly and harmonious. It’s not hopelessly swirling about in confusion and chaos. Of course the Bible, since it comes from a pre-scientific era, doesn’t say specifically that the universe is governed by rules and laws such as the Law of Gravity or the Law of Thermodynamics. (When it comes to this view of the universe, which is no longer the state of the art but which has made indispensable contributions to our understanding, we may quote Alexander Pope’s intended epitaph for Isaac Newton: “Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night: God said, ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was light.”) But the Bible does portray the creation as intentionally well-organized and regular, allowing observations of phenomena to be made today that will still be valid tomorrow, and permitting conclusions drawn in one area to be applied in other areas. If all were chaos instead, we couldn’t make sense of out anything.

And ultimately I would argue that Christian faith actually encourages us to go out and explore the created world. As I told the reporter along the march, I believe that science answers questions of what, when, and how, while religion answers questions of who and why. The two are not in competition because they’re answering different questions. Science intentionally limits itself to what can be observed and measured, so it does not properly get into metaphysics. (Saying that there is nothing beyond what can be observed and measured, for example, is not a scientific statement!) Similarly, the Bible was not written to give us comprehensive information about the natural world. Instead, I believe it pushes us out into that world to find the information out for ourselves.

Let me advocate for this, in conclusion, by quoting some relevant thoughts from the book Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology, and Biblical Interpretation, which I co-authored with my brother-in-law Stephen Godfrey, who is curator of paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum. (We hope to put this book online soon as a series of blog posts, followed by a question-and-answer forum. Stay tuned!)

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; it is the glory of kings to search out a matter.” King Solomon, who wrote these words, was noted for his natural-scientific investigations: “He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish.” In these days when many of us enjoy the kind of leisure for cultural, artistic and scientific pursuits that only kings formerly enjoyed, we may paraphrase Solomon’s words in this way: “God has hidden countless fascinating and wonderful things in his creation, and he wants us to delight in discovering them.” When we do, we bring him pleasure by fulfilling his purposes. So all those who are called to scientific enterprise should pursue that calling without fear or doubt, but rather with joy and enthusiasm. There is no script that you need to follow, no predetermined conclusion that your results need to square with. If there were, God would not really have “hidden” these treasures for us to find. They’re out there – go get them!

Why can’t I feel God’s presence in my life?

Q. Does God leave people even if they’re trying to be a good Christian, if they make mistakes but confess them afterwards and truly seek forgiveness? I personally do not feel anything of God in my life, but I try and try every day. I read the Bible and go to church every Sunday. I feel empty and have felt that way for a long time. I have forgiven people who’ve wounded me deeply. But my joy is gone. What’s going on?

Thank you for your question. I sympathize deeply with your situation. I can’t speak to it as knowledgeably as I’d like without knowing the specifics, but let me share some thoughts based on my 20 years’ experience as a pastor and my lifelong study of the Bible.

I can assure you that you’re not alone in your situation. I’ve counseled many other people who seemingly were doing everything they should (pursuing spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading and worship, asking and granting forgiveness, etc.) but somehow didn’t feel God’s presence or the joy of the Lord.

First, to answer your opening question directly, no, God never abandons a person who’s earnestly and sincerely seeking him. We do hear in the Bible about God withdrawing his presence from an individual or community, but this is always the last step in a long process of God trying to bring them back from unfaithfulness to obedience. This does not happen to people who are already seeking God. David recognized after his grave sins against Bathsheba and Uriah that he had put himself in danger of this, so he pleaded desperately, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” The prophet Nathan assured him, “The Lord has taken away your sin.”

The book of Hebrews in the New Testament, speaking to people who are earnestly following God like you, reminds us, “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.'”

So if God has not left you—and I feel confident assuring you of that, on biblical grounds—then, as you ask, “What’s going on?” Why don’t you feel God’s presence, if he really is present in your life, and why don’t you feel the joy that usually accompanies obedience, since you’re faithfully doing things such as asking and granting forgiveness, which require sincere willingness?

Let me suggest a couple of possibilities, which is the most I can do without knowing the particulars of your situation.

One possibility is that you might not be using the spiritual disciplines that are best for you, or not using the spiritual disciplines generally in the right way. As a rule, it’s good for us to build some structure into our lives to make sure that we invest in our relationship with God as we want to. For example, if our desire is to give regularly and appropriately to God’s work, then the discipline of tithing (giving 10% of our income) is a good way to make sure that happens.

However, the disciplines we often stress as the key to a close relationship with God—Bible reading, prayer, and church attendance—are actually only three of some three dozen disciplines that Jesus’ followers have honored and practiced over the centuries. Not every discipline works equally well for each person, and the ones that work for you can change at different points in your life.

I suspect that there are actually some disciplines you’re already practicing, without recognizing them as such, that would more effectively help you draw close to God than the ones you’re pursuing deliberately right now. For example, theologians have long spoken of the “two books” of God, Scripture and nature. Psalm 19 seems to speak of these two books because it begins by saying, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” But in its second half, the psalm talks about how “the law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul; the statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” Two books, nature and Scripture.

You may be one of those people who appreciates and learns about God when you are out in his creation; you might just not be recognizing this as just as valid a spiritual discipline as Bible study or church attendance. Or maybe that’s not one of the disciplines that does it for you, but some others might. I’d encourage you to read a book or books about the various spiritual disciplines in order to recognize the ones that will most effectively help you draw close to God. The most comprehensive discussion I know is in Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. You might start there, and once you identify some approaches that seem promising, investigate them further in books that discuss them in more detail.

But I also said you might be pursuing the disciplines in the wrong way. You said, “I try and try every day.” The effort is admirable, but I’d encourage you to see the spiritual disciplines as “means of grace,” that is, doors that we open in our lives for the grace of God, which is already waiting just outside, looking for a way to get in. In other words, God sends his grace to us first; we just need to open a door for it. Jeff van Vonderen discusses this distinction in his book Tired of Trying to Measure Up, which, he says, “is written for Christians who live under a deeply ingrained code of expectations and rules that shame them and drain them of spiritual strength.” If that rings any bells for you, I’d recommend you have a look at his book, or another one on the same theme.

But here’s one more thought. It’s also possible that your feeling of spiritual dryness is actually a sign of growth and strength. Many people reach a place where their experience of God has outstripped their beliefs about God. When this happens, people can often have doubts. They need to realize that they no longer believe in the God they once knew simply because now they know God better. A person in such a situation can also feel as if God is absent, but this is only because they can no longer feel close to the kind of God they don’t believe in any more.

This doesn’t mean that they don’t believe in God at all, or that God is truly absent. They just need to recognize that the God they now understand better is waiting there to meet them in their new place of maturity and wisdom. This is actually a process that can be repeated over and over again in our lives, because as finite creatures we are always learning more about the infinite God we love and serve.

It’s a bit like the process that takes place in a healthy marriage. As a pastor I often explained, in premarital counseling or wedding sermons, that marriage is “the process of getting to know the same person over and over again for the rest of your life.” Married couples can hit a “dry patch” and discover that they need to relate to one another differently, and start doing different kinds of things together, to get that spark back because they’ve both grown and changed. This is a healthy and inevitable process, and the same thing needs to happen in our relationship with God. (Although we’re the ones who’ve grown and changed, not God!)

I hope these reflections are helpful to you, and I certainly wish you every blessing from God as you pursue the close relationship with him that you desire.

 

Does studying church history lead a person to support Roman Catholic doctrine?

Q. I appreciated your writing on pre- and post-millenialism. I thought it was very interesting. Thank you. You have a Ph.D. in Church History. What do you think of this video? Thank you for your time.

In the video in question, a Presbyterian minister who has converted to Catholicism is interviewing a Baptist minister who has also converted to Catholicism. The Baptist actually grew up Methodist, but he changed denominations when he got married. Divisions arose in his family over the doctrinal differences between the two denominations. He realized that the differences were due to the way people were interpreting the Bible, and he wondered who had the authority to say how the Bible should be interpreted.

He also started studying church history and through these studies, he says, he first began to be persuaded of Roman Catholic doctrine. He quotes John Henry Newman, an Anglican who became Catholic, to the effect that “to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” In other words, the claim is that if you really understand what followers of Jesus have believed from the start and for most of their history, you see that Catholics have it right and Protestants don’t.

As someone who, as you noted, has earned a Ph.D. in church history, I do not find this claim convincing. (Full disclosure: I am a Protestant.) What I have seen instead is that throughout history, different understandings of various doctrines have continually been arising within the community of Jesus’ followers. And it is not always the earliest understandings that have been carried forward into Catholic teaching today. To give just one example, the split between the Catholic and Orthodox churches was occasioned by the addition, by Western popes, of a phrase to the Nicene Creed, so that it then stated that the Holy Spirit proceeded “from the Father and the Son.”

The Orthodox churches objected more to the Pope adding this phrase to the creed unilaterally than they did to the phrase itself. The creed had been adopted by a council of all the bishops of the church, and they felt that if it were going to be changed, this could only be done by a similar council. But this illustrates the essential issue here: the question is not so much who has the authority to interpret Scripture (though Catholics grant this authority to the Magisterium or official teaching of the church), but who has the authority or power to enforce various interpretations. The Pope, it turned out, did not have the power to keep the Orthodox churches in line, and this caused a split that lasted nearly a thousand years and was only reconciled relatively recently.

We might say that the Pope at the time of the Reformation similarly did not have the power or authority to bring the new Protestant groups back under Rome’s doctrinal control, and another split occurred that has persisted to this day. One difference is that while the Orthodox churches remained essentially unified in their understandings, the Protestant groups have continued to split and bicker. So I can certainly understand how someone would want an authority to step in and say, “This is how we’re going to understand things,” and be comfortable finding that authority in the Catholic Magisterium.

But that’s different from saying that this authority is reflecting what followers of Jesus have basically believed from the start and in almost all places and times. Actually, the Catholic Church as we know it today dates essentially from the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, when the variety of practices then in use were standardized. Before that, the Catholic Church itself exhibited great diversity, as frankly it still does in many respects today.

In conclusion, I have no problem with people being on a spiritual pilgrimage as followers of Jesus that leads them to find a new home in a different denomination. I have no problem with Protestants, even Protestant clergy, converting to Catholicism if they come to find their heart’s home there. But I am a bit uncomfortable with the way this video speaks of the Roman Catholic communion as the “true church,” as if Protestant expressions of Christianity were somehow “false,” and of converts “coming home,” as if those of us who remain Protestant are still wandering off somewhere. Let’s recognize all sincere followers of Jesus as “true” Christians, honor one another’s convictions, and make sure that we explore and discuss our differences peacefully and respectfully.

 

Is there a second chance for salvation after death?

Q. A loved one passed on recently who was not a Christian. A relative who was very close to him was desperately trying to find some information on how, maybe, there could be a chance that he would not go to hell. We stumbled onto this concept of Hades as an “interim destination” for the dead, distinct from hell as a final destination, where people might have a second chance. We’d like to know your thoughts on this.

On this blog I’ve expressed some thoughts very similar to those in the post you found, which I read and in which I found much to agree with. For example, in my post entitled, “Will there be anyone in hell who doesn’t want to be there?” I summarize my position this way: “I guess you could say I believe in some kind of opportunity to respond to God’s offer of salvation even after death.” I’d invite you to read that post and I hope it will offer you some further encouragement. As I also say there, “based on what I understand God to be like, I can’t imagine God leaving sincerely repentant people in hell [or Hades]—that is, people who wish they had repented, based on what they now realize.”

Nicholas Kristof, you are not far from the kingdom

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has been having a fascinating series of conversations with Christian leaders, beginning last Christmas with Timothy Keller and continuing this Easter with Jimmy Carter, asking “Am I a Christian?” if I don’t believe in Jesus’ virgin birth, miracles, and resurrection. Here is my response to those interviews.

Nicholas Kristof

Dear Mr. Kristof,

I’ve read with great interest your recent interviews with Timothy Keller and Jimmy Carter—two men whom, like you, I respect greatly. Please allow me to share my own (completely unsolicited!) thoughts in response.

I actually disagree with the implicit premise behind your questions to these men: that the boundary around Christianity consists of beliefs. You asked Timothy Keller, for example, whether you could be a Christian if you didn’t believe in things such as the virgin birth and the resurrection. He replied at one point (granting this premise): “In general, if you don’t accept the Resurrection or other foundational beliefs as defined by the Apostles’ Creed, I’d say you are on the outside of the boundary.”

I personally believe in Jesus’ virgin birth, miracles, and resurrection. Like Mr. Keller and Mr. Carter, I find these to be reasonable beliefs, well substantiated in the authentic gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. I also find them vital to a coherent understanding of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us. I even think that if anyone chose to follow Jesus, this might well lead them to these same conclusions eventually. But all of that is different from saying that such beliefs determine who is or isn’t a Christian.

I have been a pastor myself, and in one of my churches I once preached a sermon entitled “A Wall that Lets People In.” The sermon was about Nehemiah rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem after the exile. I noted that the regathering community needed such a boundary in order to establish its own identity. But those walls, I also noted, had gates. In fact, just as much is made of the rebuilding of the gates, which were designed to let people in, as of the rebuilding of the wall that we would otherwise think was designed to keep people out. That’s just the kind of boundary that now surrounds the Christian community: one that defines the community so people can find it, but which then invites people in rather than keeping them out.

So what is that boundary? Is it a collection of beliefs? Certain regular worship practices? A set of behaviors adopted or avoided? No, because boundaries like those would simply place a barrier between those who were already in and who were not yet in.

The defining-but-inviting boundary around the Christian community is supposed to be the love that its members have for God, and as a result for all other people, out of gratitude for what Jesus has done for them. Love of the character that Jesus modeled and taught is so distinctive that it identifies the community of his followers, and at the same time it draws others in to become part of the shared life it creates. “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples,” Jesus said, “by the love that you have for one another.” Before his followers were ever known as Christians, their community was called The Way, because people recognized that they were following a certain way of life.

At one point Jesus was speaking with a scribe who asked him what the most important commandment was in the Jewish law. Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” The scribe agreed: “‘You are right, Teacher,’ he said, ‘To love God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (That is, than regular worship practices.) Jesus told him in response, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

In other words, because love for God and neighbor were the truly important things, Jesus ultimately defined membership in the community of his followers not in terms of a boundary, but in terms of proximity. The issue was not out or in, but far or near. So when I hear you say, “What I admire most about Christianity is the amazing good work it inspires people to do around the world,” my response is, “If you want to love in the way that Jesus loved, then surely you, too, are not far from the kingdom of God.”

My best wishes to you in your continuing journey of faith, and a happy Easter to you!

Christopher R. Smith

Was Judas set up to fail?

Q. Here’s a Good Friday and Easter question. Jesus tells the disciples about his betrayal, “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” If it was already determined how Jesus would die, and who would do it, was Judas set up to fail? Did Jesus mean that Judas would only have to be annihilated (like never born) instead if hell?

A traditional icon of Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss. Was this a set-up?

Your questions are similar to ones that some other readers of this blog have asked earlier, which is not surprising, since they are questions that will occur to thoughtful and compassionate listeners to the story of Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection.

A couple of years ago I did an eight-part series of posts on the question of whether Judas was doomed from the start. Had he  been selected before all time, and identified in biblical prophecies, as the betrayer of Jesus? The series begins with my response to the question, “Did Jesus forgive Judas?” but it necessarily opens out into these other issues. By the end I find it necessary to ask, “Did Jesus betray Judas?” I’ll quote a bit from the opening of that post to show why that question comes up.

So here’s the script.  Jesus needs to die for the sins of the world, but to do that, he needs to be betrayed. So God chooses someone, Judas Iscariot, before all time to be the betrayer. In the mysterious interplay between divine sovereignty and human moral responsibility, Judas is somehow also personally culpable for this, so he pays for the deed (and all his other sins) by going to hell forever.  Not that he ever had a chance of salvation; he was a “son of perdition” and so “doomed to destruction” anyway (as some English versions translate this phrase).  Jesus himself knew, from an early point in his public ministry, that Judas would betray him. “I chose the twelve of you,” he says, long in advance of the betrayal, “but one is a devil.”  John explains that “he was speaking of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, one of the Twelve, who would later betray him.”  And by this John means not that the “devil” Jesus refers to here would eventually be recognized as Judas; already at this time it was known, at least to Jesus, that Judas was the betrayer.

I’m not buying it.  Why not?  Because there’s absolutely no way that Jesus could have recruited Judas to be his disciple on this basis.  “Come and follow me, because I need you in my inner circle to betray me at just the right time, though for performing this necessary service you’ll burn in hell forever.”  Nobody would take that offer.  Instead, Jesus would have had to make Judas think he was inviting him to join in announcing the good news of the kingdom of God, proclaiming liberty to captives, healing the sick, helping the poor, while all along he was actually setting him up.  In other words, the only way for Jesus to get Judas to sign on as a disciple, so that he would then be the betrayer, would have been to deceive him.  And when true reason for his “calling” came to light, we could not blame Judas for feeling that Jesus had betrayed him.

But such a course of action is simply not consistent with the character of Jesus as it is clearly and consistently portrayed in all four gospels.  I think we have to conclude instead that Jesus chose twelve disciples in good faith, all as potential true followers, but that he knew at the same time that one of them would betray him.

(Though Jesus, as I argue throughout the series, didn’t know exactly which one that would be until very close to the time of the actual betrayal. I truly believe that human freedom is so radical that there are some human choices that are undetermined to such an extent that even God doesn’t know what they will be. But, as I argue in another post, also prompted by a question about Judas, “It is no failure in omniscience not to know what cannot be known.”)

In my series I hold out the possibility that Judas could have repented and been saved. But assuming he did not repent and was lost, was he then  annihilated, as if he had “never been born”?

This is another question that I’ve addressed in an earlier series of posts. I have a three-part series on the question “Is Hell a Place of Never-Ending Punishment?” After a long and somewhat technical examination of the relevant Scriptures, I conclude:

The biblical data does not present a simple, straightforward picture of “hell” as a place of never-ending punishment for those who reject God.  The picture is complicated, and readers of the Bible must understand the Hebrew and Greek terms and ideas behind our English translations in order to reach the most informed conclusion possible about this issue.

My personal experience shows me that followers of Jesus who are people of good will and equally committed to the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures can come to different conclusions about whether those who ultimately reject God are annihilated or instead suffer never-ending punishment. The statement about Judas offers possible support for the former view.

But as I also say at the end of my series about hell, “The Bible doesn’t tell us nearly as much as we would like about the fate of people after death.  But it does tell us a great deal about the character of God, in which justice and mercy are perfectly balanced.” And I think especially in this Holy Week we can find great encouragement in the recognition that God, “in his great mercy, has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Whatever questions may linger in our minds about some of the most complicated and uncertain matters treated in the Bible, the resurrection assures us of God’s mercy towards us and God’s desire that we live in hope, not doubt or dread. And that’s really something to celebrate!

“No offense, but are Pentecostals and Catholics genuine followers of Christ?”

Q. The following question might be a little offensive to some, but I truly, truly mean no offense. I would like to know your thoughts on Pentecostalism and Catholicism. I know some people frown upon Pentecostalism, which I do not understand why. Are they considered as orthodox and genuine followers of Christ? As for Catholicism, I cannot come to terms with how they can be considered as Christians when they worship Mary, saints and erect statues of their saints. Isn’t that specifically forbidden by God in the Bible?

The simple answer to your question is yes, Pentecostals and Catholics are orthodox and genuine followers of Christ. That is to say, we shouldn’t think that people aren’t true Christians just because they are Pentecostal or Catholic. I’m not talking here about simple church attendance or church membership. I’m talking about people whose faith and trust is in Jesus. If that’s true of people who are Pentecostal or Catholic, then they are fellow believers and “joint heirs of the grace of life.”

You should know that the official teaching of the Catholic church is that followers of Jesus should not worship Mary or pray to the saints. However, Catholics do believe (as I do myself, even though I’m Protestant) that one of the most important ministries of those who have gone on ahead of us into the presence of God is to pray for us who remain here on earth. And so as followers of Jesus, we may reasonably ask any of the saints in heaven (including our departed loved ones) to pray for us, just as we would ask a brother or sister in Christ to pray for us here on earth.

Moreover, the Bible does not actually forbid making statues and other representational works of art, including those that depict human forms. When God gave Moses instructions to build the tabernacle, for example, He told him to include images of almond blossoms, pomegranates, and cherubim (angelic figures in human form). Some of these images were embroidered, but others were carved. Solomon’s temple similarly had images of cherubim, palm trees, and flowers.

What the Bible does forbid is making images of God and bowing down to those images—in other words, idolatry. But artistic depictions are acceptable if they celebrate the lives of faithful people who came before us and remind us that with them, we form a community that embraces believers both in heaven and on earth. (These images create a visual arts version of the “hall of fame of faith” whose literary version is found in the book of Hebrews.)

I’m grateful, for instance, that Mary, our sister in Christ, obeyed God by agreeing to become the mother of Jesus and by supporting him in his ministry right to the end. Though all the disciples fled, she stood by him at the cross. Her life is an inspiration and example to us, and it’s good to be reminded of it. A statue or painting can do that.

Unfortunately, in actual practice, popular piety sometimes does turn these acceptable activities into praying to the saints instead of asking the saints to pray for us. (For example: “Lost something? Pray to St. Anthony to help you find it.”) In the same way, popular piety can consist of worshiping statues instead of letting the statues lead us into worship. It’s been well said that an icon is something that you see through into the spiritual realm, whereas an idol stops your gaze and makes you see only it. Statues are supposed to be icons, but unfortunately they can become idols.

But as I said, this is not the official teaching or practice of the Catholic church. Catholic leaders and teachers would be just as dismayed as you if they discovered that any of their people were actually praying to the saints or treating statues as idols rather than icons. Their response would be to “explain the way of God more adequately,” as the Bible puts it.

As for Pentecostals, some people have a problem with their belief that certain gifts of the Holy Spirit remain available today, such as prophesy, healing, miracles, and “speaking in tongues” (that is, praying or bringing a message in a language one has not formally acquired). It’s specifically people who don’t believe these gifts are still available today who object to Pentecostals’ pursuit and use of them. (But I have no problem with this!)

Some people also disagree with the Pentecostal teachings that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is an experience separate from and subsequent to receiving salvation by trusting Jesus, and that the sign of this experience is speaking in tongues. These are classic Pentecostal teachings that have not been continued, by and large, in the charismatic groups that have emerged from the Pentecostal movement. (I discuss the baptism of the Holy Spirit somewhat in this post and speaking in tongues in this post. You’ll see that I respectfully disagree with the way these beliefs have classically been articulated within Pentecostalism, though I encourage both the experience of being filled with the Spirit and, for those who are given that gift, speaking in tongues.)

Let me say in conclusion that my Christian faith has been deeply enriched by my interactions with both Catholic and Pentecostal sisters and brothers, and that I’m honored and grateful to be part of one household of faith with them.