Thursday, April 10, 2008

TheGodFearin' Fiddler Harassed by a Fundamentalist at Bob Hope Airport!

This week I traveled on business to Pasadena, CA and stayed at the Fuller Theological Seminary guest house. I only brought one book on the trip so I could focus and finish it rather than switching between books as I am prone to do. I ended up finishing the book about halfway to my destination and so I wanted something to read on the way back. Luckily the seminary had a nice book store and after much deliberation, I decided to find out what all the fuss was about N.T. Wright's recent book: Paul in Fresh Perspective.

I told my boss on the car ride back that it was a controversial book that had caused a lot of uh..well controversy in the Presbyterian ecclesial community.

We were flying American Airlines so if you heard any of the news something like 500 planes were grounded due to lack of inspection and ours was one of them. So we switched to US Airways and I guess that's a red flag for security so we were all searched thoroughly by the TSA. As the security guard was handing my bags back to me he said "I'm not sure if I should let you fly with that book by N.T. Wright" I just smiled assuming it to be his way to say in jest "I don't agree with his theology" but he went on to say the book ought to be burned. My boss asked him why and he said he was a graduate from the Masters Seminary (John MacArthur's). The rest then, should come as no surprise.

He never acknowledged me again in the conversation and the words he used to describe Wright's views to my boss were "blatant heresy". Blatant heresy? I just don't know what goes through some of these people's heads. When I was a Protestant who hated the Catholic Church, I never dared use that word "heresy". It was a meaningless word to me because I understood the meaning. "Heresy" isn't anything that diverges from my personal reading of the Scriptures. "Heresy" is that which dissents from an objective source - the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. If it means anything other than that, it is purely subjective and meaningless. As a Protestant, both alternatives were meaningless so I wouldn't have the audacity (or ignorance) to use the word.

I had to interject with a smile (not a smirk) just before leaving "Well, I'm a Roman Catholic" in response to which he just gave me an unenthusiastic look and walked away. I had considered pushing it a little bit further but I thought it better not to upset a TSA guard before boarding a plane.

At any rate, I really couldn't help but chuckle at the event. I hope if I'm ever in a similar situation I'll have the courage to look the person in the eye and explain politely why I disagree or perhaps it wouldn't even be my place at all to critique the book of a complete stranger.


Thos said...

Wow! Good story! I wonder what he would have done if you'd be carrying the Koran or Book of Mormon...

I was less than impressed when I heard Bishop Wright speak at St. Mary's seminary in Baltimore a few weeks back. His intelligence gives him a certain self-confidence that I find unappealing. He's also fond of taking up political causes the are unrelated to his theological notoriety.

He did make one tongues-speaking Pentecostal cry, which made it a little more interesting...

Peace in Christ,

Gretchen said...

You are a magnet for this type of thing, GFF. Get used to it. :-)

Tim A. Troutman said...

Gretchen - It's starting to look that way!

Thos - I'm sure you know that I didn't mean to imply that I agree with all of Wright's stuff. To date I've listened to one recorded lecture and read his "Jesus and the Victory of God" which I thought was awesome.

I did notice a few things in that book that I disagreed with (at least the implications of) but they were very few.

He's a great scholar though no doubt about that. I'm sure I'll have some posts about this book up in a little while (in addition to posts about the other book I completed "Mary Throughout the Centuries" by Jaroslav Pelikan.)

BTW, good to see you back on the blog scene.

Anonymous said...

Are airport employees allowed to harass the customers? Maybe you should contact the airline and let them know. What if he finds rosaries, etc.? He won't be able to keep from harassing other people. What a jerk.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Well to be fair he didn't really cause me any harm so not much I can do about that. It was unprofessional though.

Dave Gudeman said...

Tim, there is another possibility for the word "heresy" that you don't consider: that a heresy is a Christian teaching that is wrong. This is an objective criterion.

Compare your statement about heresy to this: "evil" isn't anything that I don't approve of. "Evil" is that which is opposed by an objective source -- the Catholic Church. If it means anything other than that, it is purely subjective and meaningless.

Surely you see the problem with this analysis. You are confusing the criteria of judgment with the authority of judgment. These are two separate issues.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Dave, the word heresy could mean a whole host of things but it doesn't, it means one specific thing. It's divergence from Church teaching.

Protestants (and even Orthodox) can use "unbiblical" or "evil" or good old fashioned "wrong" but using the word "heresy" makes the word meaningless.

Catholics did start using the word long before there was a full list of canon law and council writings to draw from to prove the true Church teaching. In fact, she hammered out a great deal of her teaching in the process of labeling someone or some doctrine a heresy.

But that was then and this is now. The word then, (whatever it meant historically or wherever it came from) now has much more historical connotation. So that by using it, one evokes all the memory of every doctrine condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. It evokes nothing else in our linguistic memory for no other person or entity has ever used the word licitly.

So while the heretics condemned by the Church may have well in turn condemned the Church as heresy, their words were empty and meaningless. St. Hippolytus did just such a thing by accusing Pope Callistus I of heresy but was eventually reconciled to him before his death.

Luther or Calvin may have called the Church heretical but the phrase itself doesn't even make sense. How can the Church be against Church teaching? It's like calling a square circular. How can it be so? How did you identify the squre in the first place if it was circular?

If the Roman Church isn't the true Church, then there's no such thing as heresy because there would be nothing to apostatize from until Luther or Calvin set up their ecclesial communities (which did condemn heresies and which did put to death those who disagreed with their authority).

As a Protestant, I agreed with all this and that's why I thought the word "heresy" was a useless and meaningless word.