Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
I am currently reading your book By What Authority: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition. I'm only about four chapters in, but what I've read so far about "modernist" Christians (which today I believe we refer to as progressive Christians) and the Jesus Seminar has really stuck with me.
Before going any further, I want to tell you that I am also a Catholic convert. I come from a Southern Baptist family (although in recent years my father has become Episcopalian and my mother has joined some fringe non-denom church.) Feeling lost and spiritually empty for most of my life, I eventually found my way to Rome. I have never felt the presence of God in my life like I do now. Being a writer, I've feel that God has called me to use that gift to spread his message, and so I've turned to apologetics.
But that's not why I'm writing. Going back to the modernist/progressive idea of Christianity (which seems to thrive mostly in Protestant/Evangelical circles) I'm curious about your opinion on the state of that belief system today. I write about this constantly in my journals.
Progressive Christianity, to me, is a very dangerous kind of heresy. It paints a picture of Jesus who is far more than forgiving. In that way of thinking, he's extremely passive, and virtually contradicts everything he originally taught.
My belief is that it all stems from secular humanism. You have people who want to be "Christians" but don't want to be ousted from the rest of society for sticking to major points of the faith, or perhaps they want to be able to live as they please without feeling guilt, so they rearrange the Gospel, the life of Christ, and God's Will so that they can "have their cake and eat it too"....if you will. It seems to be much more prevalent today, especially with abortion and gay "marriage" being big hot button issues.
There is a quote from Benedict that resonates in my head every time I read, discuss, or write about this subject, "This Catechism was not written to please you. It will not make life easy for you, because it demands you a new life."
Anyways, I love to know your thoughts on today's "Modernist/Progressive Christians". Obviously there's much more to say that can fit into an email.
Also, as I said, I am an aspiring apologist. I've received a lot of support form those in my parish, and a few in the diocese as a whole. If you have any suggestions on how to further myself in this work, I'm all open to hearing it.
1. It is a noble thing that you want to get out there and proclaim the Faith and I salute you for it. FWIW, I wrote a piece some time ago addresses some of the aspects of this work. You can find it here.
2. You are right, as far as it goes, that progressivism, liberalism and secularism are dangers that the Church faces and they certainly need to be addressed as we seek to learn, live, and pass on the faith.
At the same time, it’s important to be aware that these are not the only forms of dissent from the Faith. Here’s Uncle Screwtape on the danger of being too mindful of The Other Guy’s sins. Speaking from the perspective of hell strategizing to destroy souls, Screwtape says:
We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Byronic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of the mere "understanding". Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.
In short, while it is important to defend against modernism and progressivism insofar as they oppose the teaching of the Faith, the key is to remember that we are to be for the Faith and not merely against modernism and progressivism. For, like all heresies, modernism and progressivism will also emphasize (in fact, over-emphasize) some real truths of the Faith as well. And those subcultures of the Faith most resistant to progressivism and modernism will, themselves, have blind spots where they tend to minimize aspects of the Faith—because they sound too modernist and progressive. That has been no small part of the reaction to Pope Francis: people get so caught up in fighting about whether Francis belongs to "my" tribe or "their" tribe that they stop listening to him and end up listening only to each other. The key is to look at everything in light of the Faith rather than looking at the Faith in terms of opposition to a small human ideology.
The key, then, is to always keep your eye on the ball and remember that we need to be for the Faith more than we are against any particular distortion of the Faith.
That said, knock yourself out. God is pleased with a faithful son who seeks to serve him and will bless and guide you as you seek to bear witness. You refresh my heart with your love for God. May he bless your work in the Vineyard through Christ our Lord.