Doing it in lower case

My first user name on the Ship of Fools discussion boards was Post-Denominational Catholic. It was a silly idea on my part, really. I wanted to make a pun on both postmodernism and non-denominational Christian communities (which, I must say, is my favorite paradox in contemporary ecclesiastical discourse). The Catholic part would be obvious to a number of readers.

Of course, this proved to be too long and too clunky even for me (I got known as PDC sometimes) that it was changed to something closer to my real name.

The point of this anecdote is to suggest that when it comes to defining what one does (in this case, the kind of “thinking about God” that is commonly called theology) it is always good to come up with a convenient and handy way of describing it. And then one has to worry, later on, how to define oneself in relation to how other people do it.

This enterprise is indeed made more interesting when we consider that some of these labels often gain a more profound and universal significance, or a significance closer to what it says, when we change the case. Let me give two examples:

1. “Evangelical” with a big “E” has gained a good deal of baggage because of its associations with the kind of Christianity that is connected, for better or for worse, with a high view of Scripture and a low view of Church and the political complications thereof, notwithstanding Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren. (I will not of course go into detail into the complicated way it wove through Pentecostalism, and the resultant “worship wars.”) However, turn the capital letter into a small one and you get something pretty different. As Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America said, being evangelical is being “of the gospel.” It does clarify things somewhat, and it rids the term of some of its unfortunate connotations, at least in the North American and Philippine setting.

2. The same could be said for the word “Catholic” and the diminutive thereof. “Catholic,” in my country, is often used in a binary opposition with “Christian.” This is tragic because, historically, the terms go together. Even many of the churches of the Reformation use creedal statements that speak of the catholic, or universal, nature of the church. (Here, already, we see the diminutive, the lower case, being used to give a proper understanding of the term.) I would suggest that using the diminutive in this case would diminish its use as a polemical opposition, but on using Catholic with a big “C” I think it does have a particular significance in the light of a properly (Roman) Catholic theology that does exist and has a long pedigree. (At the same time, to overcome the binary, I would suggest that Roman Catholics in this country claim and celebrate the term “Christian” whenever they could, with a tacit understanding of its ecumenical implications. That’s another essay entirely.)

Now where is this all leading to? If I would identify my theological position, I would agree that it would have to be founded on the Gospel (making it evangelical) and it is grounded in the faith of the church universal (making it catholic), which has passed it on in different ways over the centuries, not merely in propositional truths which we must accept (a deeply modern construct), but also in the life of a community of believers that ultimately culminates, and starts from, the celebration of the Eucharist.

But of course, that is open to judgment and revision. Part of this project is to see, perhaps, how this has changed in the light of what I am learning. And I offer these in the hope that I can figure things out, with God’s grace and “with a little help from my friends.”

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