Monday, December 17, 2012

Escriva's Opus Dei & Frame's Doctrine of the Knowledge of God

With John Frame’s The Escondido Theology and Evangelical Reunion in the back of my mind (but not the reason I decided to watch the movie There Be Dragons – I was skimming through the Netflix movies and thought it would be an action movie about the Spanish Civil War J. Instead, I discovered the movie to be based upon the life of the Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva. The “action” surrounds the relationship of Escriva and a perhaps fictitious childhood friend Manolo. The more important part of the movie describes Escriva’s saintly development and his influence on others.

In regard to the “Second Kingdom” and Frame’s “Escondido” conflict and debate, I noticed that Escriva was very-much involved with Christian “application.” Frame’s criticism of the Escondido professors includes his assertion that they teach that “Those who try to show the application of Scripture to the daily problems of believers are headed toward a Christless Christianity.” Did Escriva and his Opus Dei drive his followers toward a “Christless Christianity”? Without knowing fully what the Escondido Professors are arguing (or the effects of Opus Dei), and perhaps having them wrong, if we have our “eyes upon Jesus” which is something urged upon us through Scripture (and in countless sermons I can bear witness to), won’t we want to “behave” and “act” as He would? If so then we have entered the theological world of “application.”

On page 76-77 The Escondido Theology, Frame defends himself against R. Scott Clarke when he writes, “the application of God’s word” was his [Frame’s] focus in the first seventy-five pages [of the Doctrine of the Knowledge of God]. After describing this focus he responds to R. Scott Clark’s criticism by asking, “am I not permitted to make mention of what we do with God’s word? Even after speaking elaborately about the primacy of God in revelation? Theology is certainly something we do . . . and it is certainly the application of the revelation of the Word.”

Perhaps we can’t see it if we just look about us today, but we can learn about it from reading Church history, that is, the swing back and forth between faith and works, or more specifically between the extremes of “one needs only faith and needn’t at all concern one’s self about what one does,” and “one won’t make it to heaven unless his good works qualify him for the trip.”

In reading the excerpt from Escriva’s book it is clear that his works-like injunctions aren’t taught from the average Protestant, and probably not from the average Catholic pulpit. But surely, since we have been saved for good works, it isn’t out of line to describe some of them. [See an excerpt from Escriva’s book The Way at

I wouldn’t support all of Escriva’s injunctions, nevertheless it is refreshing that Escriva saw the lack of “application” in the church of his day and chose to do something about it. Also, it is notable that his superiors, perhaps up to the pope himself, allowed him to create his Opus Dei organization.

When I was in the Charismatic Church “Faith Fellowship” back in perhaps 1979 or 1980, a recent graduate from Talbot, Ron Galla Rini wanted to do something that I now take to be similar to what Escriva advocated (although Ron never mentioned Escriva as far as I can recall). I was influenced by Galla Rini and as a result started a Prayer Meeting at Douglas Aircraft Company. Galla Rini didn’t specify what we should do, and I don’t think Escriva did either, but he urged us to “do something,” to embrace “application.” I was as caught up in application as the movie portrays Escriva’s followers as being. The prayer meeting that resulted was remarkable. Everyone who attended at Douglas was as caught up as I was. We prayed for something one week and then the next week reviewed my notes and asked for a report on whether the prayer was answered. Week after week the prayers were answered. A Plymouth Brethren member (and skeptic) attended and couldn’t reconcile the answered prayer to his belief that his denomination comprised the only true church.

But when the Faith Fellowship eldership discovered what Ron Galla Rini had put in motion they demanded that it be abolished. I was very upset at the time, but years-later suspect that most protestant churches would have acted as the Faith Fellowship eldership acted. It is threatening to have a recent seminary graduate urge a group of church members to go out into their neighborhoods doing what Christ did, or might do. Yet the Catholic Church permitted Escriva to do what he did, and beyond that in 2002, canonized him.

Someone might at this point observe that the Catholic Church has always been more “works-oriented” and as a consequence a natural home for Escriva’s Opus Dei. This is probably true. One recalls that Luther had a lot of trouble with the book of James. But should we also have trouble with it? Is it for Catholics only and not for us? If it is for us as well, we must take seriously James 2:14-20, “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, "You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?”

If we think there is a conflict between Faith as we understand it and what James wrote in 2:14-20, then we don’t have an adequate grasp of Faith. I am not, by the way, accusing the Escondido professors of that. I haven’t read them as much as I’ve read Frame. I’m merely asserting this passage of James as relating to Frame’s beliefs -- and Escriva’s as well – mine too.

1 comment:

Tim Hawes said...

Faith and works can become, for us, a false dichotomy. We come into the kingdom by grace, and not of ourselves. However, we keep the kingdom by works. That's why in the Reformed liturgical tradition, confession of sin and prayer of corporate repentance came first, and then the reading of the law. Just as Israel is freed from slavery in Egypt first, and then are given the law. One gets the sense that after deliverance, if they rejected works, would have no other choice but to return to Egypt. Lutheranism has this backwards, bringing the law in first, and then repentance. For them, there is nothing beyond salvation. For those who refuse the false dichotomy, they [we] are saved in order to do works of faith.