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Proof of what is unseen

Avery Cardinal Dulles

Mark Ward

What is the Catholic view of salvation? Not all Catholics agree, and, sadly, the great majority of Catholics I have met simply do not know what their church’s (official) view is. But Avery Dulles, S.J., a cardinal and a professor of religion at (Jesuit) Fordham University, is as authoritative a voice as any but the pope, I would think.

Dulles has this to say about salvation in a recent First Things article:

“Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments. Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found. Jews can be saved if they look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled. Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will. Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice. God’s saving grace, channeled through Christ the one Mediator, leaves no one unassisted.”

Dulles’ article is mainly about how Christians over the centuries have viewed the fate of the unevangelized. He’s glad that he need not be limited by the NT when theologizing on this topic (emphasis mine):

“We seem to have come full circle from the teaching of Paul and the New Testament that belief in the message of Christ is the source of salvation. Reflecting on this development, one can see certain gains and certain losses. The New Testament and the theology of the first millennium give little hope for the salvation of those who, since the time of Christ, have had no chance of hearing the gospel. If God has a serious salvific will for all, this lacuna needed to be filled, as it has been by theological speculation and church teaching since the sixteenth century. Modern theology, preoccupied with the salvation of non-Christians, has tended to neglect the importance of explicit belief in Christ, so strongly emphasized in the first centuries. It should not be impossible, however, to reconcile the two perspectives.”

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Luke Timothy Johnson in a Fairminded Quotation

Mark Ward

One of the most memorable and important quotations in the debates over homosexuality in the church:

Luke Timothy Johnson, New Testament professor at Emory University, has openly admitted what few liberal Christian defenders of homosexuality will: “I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.”

Commonweal, June 11, 2007

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Planet Narnia

Mark Ward

“Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis” (Michael Ward)

I’m still skeptical. A secret thematic organizing principle for the Chronicles of Narnia?

But I’m open, and I’m listening.

Michael Ward’s opening arguments can be summarized as follows:

  1. I know that charlatans, ne’er-do-wells, and cranks love to write about Lewis, but I promise I’m not one of them! (His careful style and broad footnoting have persuaded me that he’s telling the truth.)
  2. Many other sound literary critics have proposed different underlying themes for the Narniad, including Christology and the seven deadly sins. Perhaps they’re on to something.
  3. Lewis was known to be secretive and even playfully misleading. It should be no surprise, then, that he might hide a major theme in the Narniad. Per George MacDonald, an artist who has to write, “THIS IS A HORSE” underneath a picture he’s drawn is no artist.

Ward spends a lot of time on number three, and interestingly, his first chapter is called “Silence.” Indeed, his argument is partly, by necessity, one from silence. For example, Ward (no relation) must deal with one of the most famous quotations Lewis gave about Narnia, namely that it all started with an image of a faun in a wood (and, ergo, not as a planned septet). Several times I found myself reacting to a claim by Ward with, “Hmm… That could go either way.”

I plan to read the rest of his book to see whether or not it will indeed go his way.

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The Real Truth about the Chronicles of Narnia

Mark Ward


Just picked up a book via the new free inter-library loan program in South Carolina.

It’s one of those crazy books with a crazy premise that only crazy people would write (or, ahem, read…).

I’m told that it says that each of the Chronicles of Narnia was written based on the theme of a particular body in the solar system. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for example, was written on a sun theme.


Right? …ha ha? Why does Lewis attract so many crazies?

Well… No. Apparently not this time. This book was published by Oxford University Press, written by a good friend of Phil Ryken, and is receiving a preliminary hailing around the blogosphere. It’s not actually crazy.

I’m intrigued!

Can’t wait to jump in!

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Textual Optimism: A Critique of the UBS4

Mark Ward

I’m on the plane to Tampa and I’m reading Textual Optimism: A Critique of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament by Kent W. Clarke, part of the JSNT monograph series now edited by Stanley Porter,

The opening chapter on the history of (mainly modern) textual criticism is a fine summary, and it would make an excellent class reading assignment. Westcott and Hort get the most space, but that material is readily available elsewhere. Those familiar with it may want to skip to the history of the UBS GNT (and how it relates to the Nestle-Aland series of GNTs).

The focus of this work starts in the second chapter. Here Clark examines the textually optimistic shift in the A-D rating system from UBS 1-3 to UBS4.

Did you follow that? Briefly, the UBS GNTs rate each textual variant unit with the following system:

  • {A} The text is certain.
  • {B} The text is almost certain.
  • {C} The editors had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text.
  • {D} The editors had great difficulty arriving at a decision.

The remarkable set of statistics Clark has compiled show clearly that while the overall number of treated variants went down slightly from UBS3 to UBS4 (1444 to 1431), the number and percentage of A and B ratings went up significantly while C ratings dropped significantly. The D rating is now almost non-existent: the 144 D’s in UBS3 have decreased to just 9 in all of UBS4.

This could be because the UBS4 has chosen to treat different variants, but Clark rejects that as a sufficient explanation. Here are some of his key summary statements:

“There is…an astonishing upgrade in the UBSGNT4 and, therefore, a newly proposed quality of text.” (90)

“There is a strong tendency for each biblical book (excluding Mark) to move towards an increasing degree of certainty regarding debated readings, and thus, an overall upgrade in the quality of text. These UBSGNT4 modifications progress at an inconsistent rate and are incongruent with those alterations made throughout [previous editions].” (90)

Here are some key stats detailing the shift from UBS3 to UBS4 (the number of ratings is followed by the percentage of the total):

  • {A} ratings: 126 / 9% to 514 / 36%
  • {B} ratings: 475 / 33% to 541 / 38%
  • {C} ratings: 699 / 48% to 367 / 26%
  • {D} ratings: 144 / 10% to 9 / 1%

More exciting statistics to come, D.V.

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A Clear and Present Word by Mark D. Thompson

Mark Ward

I’ve been reading a fantastic book called A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture by Moore Theological College’s Mark D. Thompson. It’s part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, edited by D.A. Carson.

Moore Theological College brings a few names to my mind: Peter D. O’Brien, Graeme Goldsworthy, and a new name whose work on verbal aspect (the latest volume in the Studies in Biblical Greek series) I have to admit is beyond me right now, Con Campbell. Ah, yes, and John A. L. Lee. He wrote a very entertaining volume in the SBG series on the history of New Testament lexicography. The Brits/Aussies seem to write their academic literature with a bit more verve than we Americans do. Maybe I’m wrong.

Back to Thompson’s book…

Thompson makes probably one major point: God goes with His Word. This truth makes the author-reader relationship for the Bible totally unique. Obviously, this truth does not guarantee that all Bible readers will arrive at the same—correct—interpretations. Sin enters the mix through the Fall’s noetic effects. But we can have real confidence (con+fide; i.e., faith) that God’s word is understandable despite modern and postmodern challenges to that faith.

I hope to make some more comments on the book in future posts.

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