Edgar C. Whisenant is a man possessed--possessed by his own failed powers of prognostication. Two years ago he sold millions of copies of 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. When 1988 disappeared, Whisenant said he discovered an arithmetical error and published a new book demonstrating that the rapture would occur in 1989. Now that 1989 is history, will Whisenant begin a well-earned retirement? Don't count on it. After all, we're coming up on a new millennium. Just think of the possibilities for a man of Whisenant talents!
The ultimate convention: the annual meeting of the Association of Fundamentalists Evangelizing Catholics. This year proselytizers will meet in St. Paul, Minnesota from May 7-11. They'll hear professional anti-Catholics such as Bart Brewer, Bill Jackson, and Dick Knolls explain how to make real Christians out of "Romanists." Our prognosis for the event? See Matthew 15:14.
Want something further afield? Then try the World Congress of Fundamentalists, which is meeting in London July 16-20. No definite word yet on location, but we hear plenary sessions may be held in Ian Paisley's hotel suite.
If you don't want to try a convention of Fundamentalists, how about a convention of secular humanists? From May 3-6 Free Inquiry magazine will sponsor a conference on "The Scientific Examination of Religion" at the Amherst campus of the State University of New York. We're betting it won't really be very scientific. Don't hold your breath waiting for a scientific examination of the cures at Lourdes or the miracle of the sun at Fatima, for instance. They're inexplicable if one adopts an anti-miraculist position, and this gathering, we bet, is mainly interested in debunking, not examining, religion.
Of Guatemala's 8.3 million residents, 3 million identify themselves as Evangelicals. Catholic officials complain about "sheep stealing." Give us a break! What is needed isn't Catholic consternation, but Catholic competition. Guatemala, like the rest of Latin America, is at least residually Catholic in culture, and the Catholic faith happens to be true (Evangelicalism is only partly true), which means we should win this one hands down--which we will, unless we sit on our hands.
Pastor and radio preacher John MacArthur, in The Gospel According to Jesus, chides Evangelicalism for its "cheap grace" view of salvation. MacArthur says that "accepting Christ as one's personal Savior" is only part of what is involved in "getting saved." The Christian also has to accept Christ as his Lord, which means making a commitment to obey him. MacArthur has come under fire for his views. In So Great a Salvation, Charles Ryrie (of Ryrie Study Bible fame) challenges MacArthur and other proponents of "Lordship Salvation," claiming their view is really a denial of salvation by grace. Of the two camps, MacArthur's seems closer to the Catholic position because of its insistence on obedience (that is, good works). This fight isn't over yet. We'll keep you posted on developments. One thing, though, is clear: Evangelicalism is a house divided, not just on peripheral issues, but on the main ones, such as the meaning of salvation.
Fundamentalists Anonymous has been praised by some Catholics for bringing the wayward out of Bible thumpery. But the praise may have been bestowed too early. In a recent FA newsletter, Jim Luce (who doesn't write anonymously, you'll note) says that he and FA founder Richard Yao "were invited to a screening of [‘The Last Temptation of Christ’] weeks before it opened. We loved it." They also loved having dinner afterward with Martin Scorsese, the director. Perhaps FA should take anonymity more seriously.
Imagine a diocese in which there are plenty of priests. Does your imagination have to go back to the fifties to conjure that up? It needn't. Such a diocese can be found, today, in Lincoln, Nebraska. The average priest working under Bishop Glennon Flavin is only 43; the national average is about decade older. Lincoln has one priest for every 680 Catholics; the rest of the country, one for every 905. And--surprise!--new priests being churned out in Lincoln are (as the saying goes) "well adjusted." What's the secret? According to vocations director Fr. Leonard Kalin, it's the emphasis on spirituality and orthodox teaching.
This Rock's editor, Karl Keating, debated Dave Hunt (author of The Seduction of Christianity and Whatever Happened to Heaven?, which mentions Catholic Answers' apologetics work) on KKLA radio in Los Angeles. Station managers said the show generated more listener reaction than any other in the station's history, so they aired it again later that same week. An unscientific poll scored it this way: Catholics 1, Fundamentalists 0.
Remember the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, court guru to the Beatles and founder of Transcendental Meditation? The word is out that he's buying up tracts of land near Oklahoma City and plans to build a community that is "noise-free, pollution free, and free from crime and anxiety." This news won't lesson anxiety for the folks at the Southwest Radio Church, which is headquartered in Oklahoma City, claims the Pope is the Antichrist, and says all sorts of Bible prophecies are now seeing fulfillment. (We wonder if the Bible prophesied the Yogi's move into the neighborhood.)
We are pleased to report the thinning of Jimmy Swaggart's monthly magazine, The Evangelist. It used to be fairly hefty. In recent months it dropped to sixteen pages. Come to think of it, we haven't seen it for quite a while. (Good Lord! Maybe prayers really are answered!)
Former-priest-turned-professional-anti-Catholic Bart Brewer has been on the phone to us lately, but we haven't been able to figure out why he calls. One thing we know is that he hasn't been calling to report on the status of his building project, about which he remains rather tight-lipped. We've learned Brewer's Mission to Catholics is gathering funds to build a halfway house for priests and nuns who are "unpoping." The complex will include space for MTC's new offices. The land has been purchased, a well has been dug, permits have been applied for. Construction is expected to begin in a few months, as soon as mortgage financing is arranged. By the way, Brewer still refuses to debate Catholics Answers' staffers, having torpedoed himself when he last debated one of us. We think his stand on this issue is reasonable.
Several of us got a VIP tour of the new Mormon temple in Las Vegas, after which we promptly went to a casino and dropped a few quarters into slot machines. The slots didn't pay off, but the tour did--at least it paid off in that we can say we've been "inside." (Once a temple is dedicated, non-Mormons aren't allowed past the doors.) And what's inside? Not much, really. No one would mistake the interior of a Mormon temple for, say, the interior of a Catholic cathedral (at least a cathedral built to look its part). Although large, the Las Vegas temple is disappointing artistically--its paintings, for instance, remind one of the illustrations found in cheap Bibles. You know the kind. The one impressive sight: a dunk-'em-deep baptistry of jacuzzi proportions, resting off the ground on the backs of a dozen (apparently plaster) oxen.
Jerry Falwell's Fundamentalist Journal has gone out of business. (No, it wasn't a matter of post hoc, propter hoc; it disappeared several weeks before this inaugural issue of This Rock came off the presses.) Falwell's magazine simply wasn't profitable, despite its circulation of 70,000. Neither has Falwell's ministry as a whole been very profitable lately; in the last year 500 employees have been laid off.
Alberto Rivera, who claims to have been a Jesuit priest and a bishop and who goes around the country "telling all" about the "Catholic Conspiracy," was speaking at the Mountainview Church of Christ in Winchester, Virginia. The talk consisted of the usual slanders. During the question period Gerald Matatics stood up and explained how Rivera was hornswoggling the audience. He offered Rivera and the church $1,000 apiece if Rivera could prove any of the anti-Catholic allegations made in his lecture or in his publications. Mountainview's pastor and a burly assistant didn't like the odds, so they put Matatics, a Christendom College theology professor, in a hammer lock and shoved him outside. Reason and good manners prevail again.
It's news to us: In U. S. Catholic magazine, contributing editor Robert E. Burns writes that, "as long as I can recall, it has been Catholic teaching that no attempt should be made to dissuade a person who is faithful to another religion from his or her beliefs." Does this mean Hernan Cortes was wrong and should have encouraged the Aztecs to go on sacrificing thousands of people on their outdoor altars?
Another surprise from Burns: Seven paragraphs later he says the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons "have had limited success in bringing converts to their beliefs." Strictly speaking, he's right--they haven't had infinite success, infinite being opposed to limited. The fact is that everyone knows they've had lots of success, everyone except those who think having the highest growth rates among well-known religions is something to be ignored. Read on.
The Los Angeles Times, as a sidebar to an article titled "Analysts See Evangelical Growth, Catholic Strength in 1990s," printed a chart showing rising and falling church memberships. Between 1965 and 1987 the Catholic Church in America grew from 46 million to 53 million members, the increase being due mainly to immigration and infant baptisms. That's about 15% growth. The Episcopal Church dropped by 29% to 2.4 million. The Christian Church (Disciples) collapsed by 42% to 1.1 million. But the Mormons quadrupled their membership, going from half a million to four million. True, that's "limited success," but if the Catholic Church had had proportionate "limited success," there would now be 184 million Catholics in America, three-quarters of the population.
There's been a certain humor in the way the Communist parties of Europe have been falling over themselves to change their names to something more palatable. The same kind of thing has been happening among secular humanists. Many of them don't like to be called secular humanists, you see. Paul Kurtz, professor of philosophy at SUNY Buffalo, has a solution: a new moniker. Secular humanism will now be known as eupraxophy. (Try to say that three times fast.) The word comes from eu (good) plus praxis (practice) plus sophia (wisdom). "Good practical wisdom"--hey, isn't that Catholicism?
The Jehovah's Witnesses, in the latest issue of The Watchtower, ask, "Whose Prayers Are Answered?" Not yours, you rosary pray-er! Here's the scoop: "Jehovah does not answer insincere, repetitive prayers. ... Millions ... use rosaries or recite prayers from prayer books. But those wishing to be heard by God will avoid repetitive prayers and will pay attention to Jesus' further instructions." How about paying attention to his example also? He went into the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed the same prayer three times--that is, he repeated the prayer. Oh, but he was sincere, say the JWs. Well, so are Catholics when they pray the rosary (which consists of very biblical prayers). And what about praying from prayer books? Didn't Jesus, as a boy, do that kind of thing in the Temple? And aren't Christians encouraged by him to pray the Lord's Prayer, which, as it happens, is found in the pre-eminent prayer book (the Bible)?
The December issue of Ensign, the magazine of the Mormons, reports that the "Melchizedek priesthood" is doing quite well, thank you. (Mormonism has two priesthoods, the other being the Aaronic.) By the end of 1988 there were 798,000 men in the Melchizedek priesthood, up from 696,000 just four years earlier. "Remember that these numbers do not include all adult males in the Church," says the magazine.
Lord MacKay, Lord Chancellor of Britain, is in hot water. An elder in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, he committed a gross blunder. He attended Mass--not once, but twice. These were funeral Masses for colleagues of his, and he only observed, but no matter. He was disciplined by his church, which is decidedly anti-Catholic. You can read all about it in 1521, the publication of the Vocal Protestants' International Fellowship, a British outfit in league with American anti-Catholics. The editor is Peter Trumper. He's the kind of fellow who prints, side by side, photos of Pope John Paul II and the Ayatollah Khomeini and says there's no difference between the two.