First Thoughts on Attending a Catholic University

I’ve just started school at the University of Dallas, where I am pursuing a master of arts in philosophy.  It is a small Catholic university in Irving, TX, and they do not try to hide the fact that they’re Catholic.  Not much has happened so far, but it’s been interesting, and I’ll enumerate some thoughts below.

-UD’s philosophy program falls under the very generic label of “continental philosophy,” as opposed to “analytic” philosophy taught by most schools.  That doesn’t mean they’re not analytic but that they prefer to look back on old texts than necessarily tackle contemporary issues and logic chop them.  Analytic philosophy is what I’m used to, so it’s a little different.  That is, however, one reason I found the school intriguing.  I could have went to the University of Houston, where the training would be more in-line with what I’m familiar with and in a program that has more national prestige, but due to a variety of factors (ministry being a big one), I wanted to stay in the DFW area.  At UD, I think I’ll be stretched in different ways, which I’m hoping is a good thing.  It’s already challenging; the first day of one class, we poured over the professor’s translation of Aristotle’s The Categories, and he translated it for accuracy of the original text and not for easy readability.  It was late (it’s a three hour class and I had two before it) and I was really hungry, and it was tough sometimes trying to follow the reading and discussion.  I’m hoping that this is good for me and even helpful when it comes to reading Scripture more carefully.

-I wouldn’t say that all the professors are conservatively Catholic, but they like being called Catholic, generally.

-In line with the above two points, while I’m no Catholic, I’m hoping it will be theologically helpful to become more and more familiar with the likes of Aquinas and Augustine and even the Greek philosophers because they had a large influence on the philosophical and theological development of the church.  That doesn’t mean I buy everything they said, but certainly helps make my views more clear as I see where ideas came from.

-One professor seems to have a not-so-high opinion of Protestants, particularly evangelicals, and pretty much attacked a straw man.  He went on a tangent and blasted those Christians who try to read the Bible literally in every respect when the Church didn’t do this in the beginning.  These Protestants claim that Catholics are heretics, but in their naive attempt to read Scripture literally all the way through, they expose themselves as heretics and therefore not really Christian because the Church never did that.  “It’s a 20th century heresy,” he claimed.  He clearly found such evangelicals exasperating.

Now, if he’s talking about those ultra-literalists, like the old-school Church of Christ, then he might have a point.  In fact, I think one would be hard-pressed to find a Christian who truly reads every single part of Scripture literally because even those strict literalists concede that God really doesn’t have a material hand even when the Bible talks about the hand of God.  If he’s blasting those strict literalists, then fine; most evangelicals would join him because many parts of Scripture were clearly not meant to be read literally.  However, I think it was clear that that’s not what he meant, taking aim at the idea of inerrancy more than anything.  For example, he blasted Christians for ignoring the light of reason that tells us that the earth is billions of years old and trying to stick to a young earth model.

This criticism, however, is off-base.  The Protestant criticism, stemming from before Luther but made famous by him, was that the Catholic Church’s allegorical interpretations threatened to go off into la la land rather than be based on the text.  As I pointed out when I discussed the Song of Songs, it’s very difficult to put boundaries on allegorical interpretations and make them text-oriented because you can make the text say almost anything you want if you just conjure up some allegory.  It’s not that Scripture always has to be ready literally, but that it must be read faithfully to the text.  If that means understanding an extended metaphor, a poem, or an idiom nonliterally, then that’s the way it should be read.  But if that means reading an epistle with the idea that the author is making a literal argument, that that’s the way it should be read too.  That’s why there are plenty of evangelicals, ones that hold to inerrancy strongly, that disagree with a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and have no problem with the idea of an older earth (such as my Hebrew professor at seminary).  This whole inerrancy = strict literalism idea is a complete misunderstanding of what inerrancy means.

In any case, I just laughed it off because it wasn’t pertinent to the class, but it did show me how evangelicals still tend to be misrepresented.  Young earth creationists happen to think that Genesis 1 should be read literally, but it does not follow that they think every single part of Scripture is supposed to be read that way.  We agree that the text should drive interpretation, even if we sometimes disagree on the right way to approach a particular passage.

-Interestingly enough, this past Wednesday two Catholic students showed up to our college ministry’s large group, and in discussion, they were placed with me (going to a Catholic university), one student who used to be labeled Catholic but became saved in our church, and another student whose dad used to be Catholic and used to attend an all girls Catholic school.  Neither student had ever gone to a Bible study like that before, so it was good to be able to share what we believe and the differences we have with Catholics in a non-hostile way.  It was a good confirmation that God can use my schooling for his purposes.

Anyway, I’m sure school will start to pick up and I’ll be challenged to keep up with the reading and understand it at a master’s level.  It won’t be easy, but hopefully I stay disciplined and truck on through so I can use this experience later for God.

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