Part IV: Mr. White’s 17-Page Second Counter-Reply (4 May 1995)
My book (2013, 395 pages; available for as low as $2.99).
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4 May 1995
Dear Mr. Armstrong:
Over the years I have attempted to establish “standards” to guide me in how I should invest my very limited time. Working, as I do, with Mormons, JWs, and now Roman Catholics and even KJV Only folks, I have to attempt to be balanced. It is not an easy task. Normally, I will admit, your letter’s tone would be sufficient for it to be dismissed. I have learned to recognize sophistry when I see it, and as I grow and mature, I have learned to ignore such argumentation as falling under Paul’s prohibition of 1 Timothy 2:23. The number of simple misrepresentations, and gross caricatures, of my letter to you and the position I espouse was enough to do almost irreparable damage to your credibility and keep me from investing any of my limited time in responding to you. However, it almost seemed to me that you were hoping that would be the result of your arrogant letter, so I guess part of my reply to you is based upon a desire to deny you that very accomplishment.
Allow me to take a moment to concentrate, in one paragraph, just some of the kind, helpful, truly “Socratic” comments you included in your letter: “Would that all of your ‘crusades’ were so worthwhile and useful for the Body of Christ”; “Is ‘sola scriptura’ the eleventh commandment”; “that towering intellect brother Brewer”; “Boy, where to begin with such inanities!”; “your wild speculations”; “wishful and baseless theories”; “you resort to unfounded, condescending scenarios of my alleged ignorant gullibility”; “like a true idealogue in the worst sense of the term, you grasp for straws”; “You’re just one little old cult researcher with a pulpit, a para-church ministry and a Master’s from Fuller”; “Your whole enterprise presents a quite humorous (but tragic-comic) episode in self-delusion and blindness to the absurdity of one’s own position”; “I’m in a helluva lot better company than you are”; “You make a silly remark”; “Your letter goes from bad to worse”; “How preposterous! What lunacy!” “Messiah-Luther”; “You have no case, pure and simple”; “You gleefully note”; and so on.
Do you find the use of bluster and bombast helpful, Mr. Armstrong? Does it aid your case? Or is it a cover for an inability to honestly face the issues? You lamented the unwillingness of “Protestants” to correspond wth you. Seemingly you have decided that this is because you are so great, so intelligent, so well-informed and so well-read that there is none who can even begin to respond to your arguments. Might I suggest to you, Mr. Armstrong, that it might be because some of us have standards with reference to the behavior of those with whom we correspond? I will not debate Vinney “85% of those who hear me think I’m a lunatic” Lewis, either, and there’s a reason for that: he is not worthy of being noticed on that level. Seemingly you have taken at least some of your cues from Mr. Lewis, though, of course, you seem to disagree with him (and these days, Gerry Matatics) on the issue of the “separated brethren.” Anyway, if you wish to get people to engage in extended conversation, Dave, try not insulting them and misrepresenting them in every other paragraph.
I mentioned above the many misrepresentations in your letter. Let me enumerate some of them for you. First, you wasted a large number of key-strokes beginning at the top of page 4. First, it didn’t seem to occur to you to consider the possibility that James Akin and Patrick Madrid are fallible folks with an agenda. I have fully responded to James Akin’s article (and to Patrick’s blast as well), and pointed out the errors he made with reference to both my position and my actions in the past (more on that later). You are in error, as he was in error, to say that I exclude people from the kingdom on the basis of their acceptance or rejection of limited atonement.
Such is a caricature, and is unworthy of anyone who wishes to be taken seriously as an apologist. It is a misrepresentation, and if you continue to use it, you only convict yourself of dishonesty. Then you make the incredible leap (hoping no one notices the shift in terminology, perhaps?) from the term “Protestant” to the term “Christian” for the rest of this page, and on the basis of this dishonest shifting of terms, attack me on all sorts of issues, none of which are even worthy of response. This kind of argument is a mere wasting of time and effort, Mr. Armstrong. Those who have something meaningful to say don’t waste their time on such things.
The exact same kind of silliness is to be found on page 7, where you write in the best style of Gail Riplinger, “Your letter goes from bad to worse at the bottom of p.2. Now ‘sacraments… replace the grace of God’!!! How preposterous! What lunacy!” And I might add, “What dishonesty on your part!” Did you think I don’t keep copies of my letters, Mr. Armstrong? I’ve gotten used to finding out what Mrs. Riplinger deletes with those ellipses, so did you think I would not look at what I originally wrote to see why you had to edit my words? As we both know, I wrote the following:
“Faithful in preaching the apostolic message of the gospel? Certainly not, and that is the issue, Dave. If you feel a communion that replaces the grace of God with sacraments, mediators, and merit, can be properly called ‘Christian,’ then please go ahead and use the phrase. But please understand that if a person shares the perspective of the epistle to the churches of Galatia they will have to hold to a different understanding, and hence may not be as quick to use the term ‘Christian’ of such a person.”
I can certainly see why you needed to edit the “quotation,” Dave, as what I originally said, in its original context, was neither preposterous or marked by lunacy, but was perfectly understandable. That you chose to misrepresent my own letters not only indicates to me that you might have a difficulty defending the concept of mediation and merit in Roman theology (the two elements you conveniently deleted), but it again indicates to me that if you will dishonestly use my own words, what might you be willing to do with Irenaeus or Tertullian? Personally, Dave, I feel you not only owe me an apology for such behavior, but you have some serious work to do to restore your credibility as an honest apologist and researcher.
Finally, I mentioned the arrogance that marked your letter. I will note examples as I provide responses to your points, but one sentence that stuck in my mind came toward the end of your letter, from page 12:
“One brother of a friend of mine (the editor of the New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge), also made much of Salmon and early on waxed eloquently about his debating ability. When I gave him my “sola Scriptura” paper and informed him that I had not only read but would also devour Salmon for lunch, he promptly vanished, never to be heard from again, presumably crushed because his champion was not unanswerable. Oh well, such is life for a lonely Catholic apologist. I also tried for four long years to “recruit” Protestants into my ecumenical discussion group, but failed. Apparently the prospect of being refuted by Catholics, who aren’t supposed to know anything of the Bible or the Christian life, is horrifying.”
You are kidding, right? I mean, the above paragraph simply drips with an arrogance that I’ve seen displayed publicly by the likes of Vinney Lewis and Art Sippo, and in writing by folks like Patrick Madrid. I have to keep reminding myself that you are the same person who has declined my challenge to publicly debate. If you would “devour Salmon for lunch,” Mr. Armstrong, wouldn’t that make me a mere before-dinner snack, given my obvious inferiority to Salmon as a scholar? Sort of makes your protestations about not being an orator rather empty, don’t you think?
Well, having spent nearly three pages on materials that should not have even been included in a letter such as yours, I turn to responding to the actual assertions made therein. You noted that, “If indeed I’m a Christian, then your words about my beliefs violate several clear biblical injunctions, such as, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness.’ ” No, that would only be true if what I said about Roman theology was in fact untrue, and you did not even begin to demonstrate that anything I said was inaccurate on that account.
Next you noted, “We Catholics — notwithstanding harsh Trent language — still officially regard Protestants as our ‘brothers in Christ,’ whereas so many of you regard us as non-Christians.” Yes, I’m sure the Council of Constance considered Jan Hus a “brother in Christ” as they burned him at the stake, Dave. And I’m sure the Waldensians of the Piedmont Valley were quite comforted by the fact that they were being raped and slaughtered by “brothers in Christ.” I am reminded of a radio program I did on WEZE with Gerry Matatics, formerly of Catholic Answers (and now, seemingly, accusing them of dishonesty and libel). He called back after the program just to make sure that I understood that since I am anathema, that means that I do not have eternal life and should I die today, I would go to hell. He can quote dogmatic works just like you can, Dave. That’s the nature of conflicting teachings in the supposedly infallible Magisterium. You can ignore such contradictions if you like, Dave, but that won’t make them go away.
I found your next comment most fascinating: “You showed great perception in perhaps realizing that I would never spend a dime on an anti-Catholic book, even at the used-book sales I like to frequent.” Really? May I respectfully suggest you remove the term “apologist” from your letterhead, then, for it is simply not possible for a person to be a serious apologist who would harbor such an attitude. I have spent literally thousands of dollars on books that attacked my faith — I have a very respectable Roman Catholic library, a huge LDS library, shelves of Watchtower publications, books from Prometheus, even the Soncino Talmud! How in the world are you to defend your faith if you do not take the time to invest in acquiring the works of those who would refute you? You noted reading Salmon. How did you do that, if by not obtaining the book? If you borrow from a library, you are limited to how much use you can make of the book. I’m sorry, but such an attitude is very strange coming from one who claims to be an apologist.
I suppose I should take your next comment as a compliment: “I’ll admit that you’re by far the most intelligent of the anti-Catholics, which is, however, not saying much (as you yourself admit in your comments on anti-Catholicism on pp.20-21 of Fatal Flaw, yet even so you paradoxically enlist that towering intellect brother Brewer for your Foreword!).” Just a few things: 1) I’m a Protestant apologist, not an anti-Catholic. When you start calling yourself an anti-Protestant, I’ll allow you to get away with calling me an anti-Catholic. 2) Bart Brewer may not measure up to your standards of a “towering intellect,” but I’ll take his humility, dedication to Christ, and simple kindness over your attitude any day, Mr. Armstrong. [Dave (present note): that’s fascinating, since Brewer has freely admitted in print that his exodus from the priesthood started by his flirting with teenaged girls]
You noted, “Again, I think I get the edge since I’ve actually been on both sides of the fence, whereas you haven’t.” Why do you find this to be an advantage, Mr. Armstrong? Gerry Matatics has often made much of the same concept, yet, I have to wonder why someone would think that way. Obviously, from my perspective, you are, to use the proper term, an apostate. To make one’s apostasy a badge of honor, and to say that this gives you an “edge,” bewilders me. Scripture says a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways, and we are warned about those who are blown about by every wind of doctrine. I noted the many, many churches that someone like Bob Sungenis was in prior to his move to Rome (Gerry Matatics, too, moved through a number of different positions, just as he has in Roman Catholicism since his conversion), and I just have to point out that such instability is not an edge, but a distinct disadvantage, wouldn’t you say?
You referenced your book a number of times in your letter, even using it as reference source and saying things like, “See my chapters on such and such.” Yet, as you wrote, it may be published by Ignatius Press (though getting a 750 page book published is pretty unlikely these days — that’s a pretty hefty book and would be most costly). How, may I ask, can I make reference to a book that is yet to be published and is not available to me?
In regards to your use of the phrase, “constructively ecumenical,” what do you mean? One Roman apologist (who asked to be “off the record”) confided to me just recently that “ecumenical dialogue is a joke. The only reason we are talking to you is to bring you back to Rome, nothing else.” I think he has a good basis in history for such a statement, don’t you?
Next I encountered another example of misrepresentation. You wrote the following: “You claim I didn’t have an adequate knowledge of ‘Roman’ theology, hence I was open prey for clever, devious papists who easily reeled me in by means of Babylonish guile, because I had indeed already ‘rejected the tenets of the Reformation’ and was ‘not truly a Protestant to begin with.’ Boy, where to begin with such inanities!” Indeed, where does one begin? How you got that perspective from the two sentences I actually wrote in my letter is difficult to figure out. Here’s what I wrote:
Your story in Surprised by Truth is almost predictable, Dave, no offense intended. Your rejection of Roman theology was not based upon a knowledge of why, and hence was ripe for refutation. You admit you rejected the tenets of the Reformation when you say, “I had always rejected Luther’s notions of absolute predestination and the total depravity of mankind.”
Funny how you can change the above sentences into a diatribe replete with terms like “papist” and “Babylonish guile.” Inane was a good word, but it only describes your caricaturization of my statements, nothing else.
Now, am I to conclude, Dave, that I should not take what Roman apologists say at face value? I mean, you did write the article in Surprised by Truth, right? And if you did, could you be so kind as to show me where in that article you give the slightest evidence of being familiar with, say, Calvin’s discussions on sola scriptura or sola fide? You mentioned such biggies as Charles Colson and Hal Lindsey, but where did you give me even the slightest indication that you were, in fact, fully aware of why Roman theology was to be rejected? Where did you tell us that you had read, say, the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, or maybe Hardon’s works? If it is in your article, Dave, I must have missed it. Could you cite the page numbers to me that would give me any reason to retract what I said above? I’d appreciate it.
You asked me, “What do you know about the extent of my studies, or how well-read I am, or who I’ve talked to? Next to nothing.” Indeed. Do forgive me for taking your own conversion story as being reflective of your actual experience. I’ll try to remember not to take such writings at face value in the future. They must be meant only to lead people to consider Roman Catholicism, not to tell the truth about your background or experience.
As to the idea that a person would convert to Rome based upon Scripture, Church history and reason, such a conversion will take place only when a person makes the final epistemological leap in submitting to (I might say “succumbing to”) the absolute claims of Rome. Once that decision is made, the rest falls into place naturally enough. And since you gave me no reason to believe that you had ever encountered the claims of Rome in any meaningful way prior to your conversion, I can only repeat what I said before: you were ripe for conversion. I guess I should modify that a little: the Watchtower makes the same kind of final epistemological claim upon its adherents, so you had encountered it, just not dressed in the liturgy and history of Rome.
Next we find you saying, “Secondly, you denigrate my being impressed with Catholics in Operation Rescue.” Really? Well, let’s see if I denigrated anything at all:
“And your involvement in Operation Rescue simply gave you the opportunity of seeing that Roman Catholics can be real nice folks who really believe in the teachings of the Church in Rome. And the feeling of ‘brotherhood’ created by standing against a common evil, joined with the simple fact that you were not truly a Protestant to begin with, is reason enough to explain your swimming the Tiber.”
I’m sorry, Dave, but again I fail to find any evidence of “denigration” in the above sentences. Where is it? Or might you be hyper-sensitive, as I’ve found other folks who wrote in Surprised by Truth? You see, Dave, I, too, was involved for a while with Operation Rescue. I left the movement because of the issue of Romanism and the implicit statement that I had to overlook fundamental differences on the gospel itself “for the good of the movement.” Maybe, just maybe, it is you, Dave, who jumped to “condescending scenarios”?
In regards to desiring in-depth, give and take correspondence, I simply point out that the constant use of bombastic language is hardly commensurate with such a desire. Note your words at the bottom of page 3, wherein you liken my faith to “merely subjective whims and fancies, abstractions, and countless arrogant counter-charges and self-proclaimed ‘authorities.’ ” Personally, I’d see such a sentence being applicable to the modern state of Roman apologetics in the U.S. today, but that’s another issue.
Next you wrote, “Thirdly, it’s news to me that belief in supralapsarian double predestination and total depravity (man is a worm on a dunghill) constitutes the quintessence of true Protestantism and hence, Christianity.” Of course, what I had said was that since you rejected predestination and total depravity, you were not a true Protestant (speaking in the historical sense — you connected Luther with the beliefs, as you will recall), and I stand by the statement. Surely you recall Luther’s admission to Erasmus that he, above all of Luther’s other foes, had focused upon the real issue, that being the concept of “free will” versus the bondage of the will, and that, of course, brings up both predestination and total depravity. Luther was not systematic enough to get into debates about supralapsarianism or infralapsarianism — such is not the issue.
If you always denied that man’s will is bound to sin and that God has predestined a people unto himself, you may have been attending a Protestant church and may have been in the majority of what is called Protestantism today, but the fact remains that as to the Reformation and the heritage thereof, you were a traitor, more at home in Rome’s semi-Pelagianism than in Paul’s Augustinianism (to create a wonderfully anachronistic phrase that speaks volumes). Not that you were alone: the majority of “Protestantism” today is treading water in the Tiber on that issue. Of course, I said all of that (possibly not with the same colorful terminology) in The Fatal Flaw. And as I mentioned, you are simply wrong to say I exclude those who reject limited atonement from the Christian faith.
Just a quick note: “Spare me. No reputable pastor or evangelist openly presents Five-Point Calvinism as the gospel.” You are kidding, right? Well, given the twisted, contorted, Jack Chickian-Gail Riplingeresque view of the Reformed position you present in this very paragraph (page 4, at the bottom), maybe you aren’t. I shouldn’t expect you to know the historical realities of people like Jonathan Edwards, or Charles Haddon Spurgeon, or Whitefield, but you even mentioned Sproul, who, of course, is Reformed. You probably didn’t read much of Gerstner as a “Protestant,” nor would I expect you to know such names as Albert Martin. Well, anyway, I’ll have to tell my pastor that you believe he is not reputable. I’m certain he will be most disappointed. :-)
I would like to quote your words regarding the Reformed position:
“Besides clear scriptural counter-evidence, TULIP is false because, simply put, it transforms God into a demon-god who creates people solely for the reason of damning and torturing them for eternity, through no fault or choice of their own, and makes Him the author of evil. This is absolutely blasphemous and one of the most abominable lies from the pit of hell ever devised.”
I get the distinct feeling, Dave, that you don’t like the Reformed gospel. No surprise, given your love for Roman theology. Those who have never realized their own helplessness often hate the gospel, I’ve discovered. I’ve seen similar paragraphs from other Roman Catholics, from atheists, from Mormons, and even from some “Protestants,” too. I have to really focus my attention just to realize that the authors of such diatribes are actually referring to the gospel of grace, so plainly presented by Paul in Ephesians 1 and Romans 8 through 9: it’s hard to recognize that, given how twisted is the torturous presentation. Of course, if I were to present Roman theology in such terminology (without a single reference to a single Roman source) I would be dismissed as a raving “anti-Catholic.” But, I’ve rarely found Roman apologists to be consistent in their arguments, so I shouldn’t be surprised that you would use such a double standard here, either.
Again, as a historian, I find your comments about Puritanism “evolving” into Unitarianism quite humorous (you did mean that to be a joke, right?). As a student of Jonathan Edwards I must say I would be one of the few folks who would get such a joke. I can tell this is a joke because of your statement that Joseph Smith began as a “Calvinist.” Again, your research couldn’t be that bad, so I must take this as a joke, too, though a not overly amusing one.
You then noted, “You’re just one little old cult researcher with a pulpit, a para-church ministry and a Master’s degree from Fuller — hardly in the same league with the many stalwart figures mentioned above.” I have no idea which stalwart figures you might be referring to, but it makes no difference. A few corrections: I’m not really that old, and I don’t have a pulpit. Other than that, yup, you are very much on the money. Just one little fellow out here enjoying God’s blessings and being used by Him to help people see through false claims, whether those claims come from Salt Lake City, Brooklyn, Gail Riplinger, or yes, Rome itself. Of course, you, too, are just one little fellow, a novice convert to Romanism, eyes bright with the zeal of a convert, but far too young in your journey with Rome to even begin to have the whole story. I simply have to say, “So?”
Now, you managed, sadly, to miss the point of nearly every objection I raised (and, I note in passing, you skipped entire sections of my letter in your response, too). In your rush to characterize my ministry as “a quite humorous (but tragic-comic) episode in self-delusion and blindness to the absurdity of one’s own position,” and to claim just about all the early Fathers as your own, and join yourself with “the massive structure of the Catholic Church, the Fathers, Christian Tradition, the Councils, etc.” (p.5), you missed the weight of my objection. When I pointed out that “you might be wrong,” you responded, “Of course. What else is new? But the point is, I’m in a helluva lot better company (no pun intended) than you are.” I’m sure you wish that to be the case, Dave, but again, how do you know you are in company with, say, Athanasius or Ignatius or lrenaeus? In the final analysis, is it not because Rome tells you so?
Oh, I know, I read the rest of your letter (even your vented hatred of Luther and Calvin) — I know you claim to be able to analyze Rome’s claims, yet, you also admitted that, “in a sense” I am right in stating that you cannot really question Rome’s pronouncements. As you said, “In a sense it is true because the Catholic is not arrogant enough to assume that he is the arbiter and final judge of all truth given him from any source.” Does that mean, Dave, that you are not responsible before God for what you believe? That once you sign over the title-deed to your mind to someone else (teaching magisterium, Prophet, Governing Body, whatever) you can no longer be held responsible for the truth? I wonder why the Pharisees didn’t point that out to the Lord when He held them directly responsible for God’s revelation to them?
Well, we can’t question Rome, of course, for Rome has all authority. Instead, we must repeat what we’ve been taught, sort of like our mantra: “We submit to a Tradition [make sure to capitalize this term.] which includes all the great Christian minds who have reflected upon that Deposit of Faith, [not only capitalize these terms, but make sure to ignore all those Fathers who directly contradicted Roman dogmas and teachings], received from Jesus and the Apostles [but never engage in public debate to defend that statement!] and developed as a result of battle with heretics for nearly 2000 years [but don’t bother to tell anyone why the term Roman Catholic, aside from being an oxymoron (how can something be limited-Roman-and “universal”?), is not something that the early Fathers ever thought of using to describe themselves].” Then say that you are very proud to repeat this statement of faith. I hope you are not too offended if I say, Dave, that I see precious little difference between that kind of statement and the “testimonies” of the Mormon missionaries who speak with such enthusiasm and honesty about their trust in Joseph Smith and the living Prophet and the Book of Mormon.
I’m glad you realize that your decision to embrace Roman authority is a fallible one. That means that every time you assert Roman infallibility you will be honest and say, “I think Rome is infallible, but I’m not really certain of that.” Most Roman apologists don’t come right out and say things like that. They seem to want their audience to think that you really can have absolute and infallible certainty about Roman authority.
It’s sort of hard for me to believe, Dave, that the following paragraph is really reflective of your conversion process:
“I did accept the authority of the Church initially because of clear superiority over the absurdity and historical implausibility of the Protestant a-historical, Docetic-like, ‘mystical’ conception of the Church as its Tradition, and desperate reliance on ‘sola scriptura,’ an unbiblical, man-made, self-defeating, arbitrary tradition.”
That’s pretty reflective, wouldn’t you agree? You weren’t using such terminology as that in 1990, that’s for certain. Be that as it may, does it make you feel better to pile on the epithets when making such speeches, Dave? I mean, we all give in to the temptation once in a while, I’m sure, but again, do you find such unsubstantiated accusations worthwhile when writing to someone who has defended sola scriptura in public debate and who is a recognized expert in that particular subject? Patrick Madrid, the editor of Surprised by Truth, even called me upon hearing my debate against Gerry Matatics on that very subject and said, “For the first time I have to admit that a Protestant clearly defeated a Roman Catholic in a debate on sola scriptura.” Of course, I would not be the first person to suggest that you trust Patrick’s opinions — his errors in “The White Man’s Burden” fill more than 20 pages of small-print, triple-column text.
Be that as it may, I again have to note that your high words sound, well, a bit “tinny,” in light of your unwillingness to defend those statements in public debate. It is easy to hide behind a word-processor, Dave. You can always blow smoke in written debates — of course, you can do the same in formal debates, too, but without as much ease, that’s for certain. It surely struck me as strange that you would talk about Protestant apologists as “chickens,” yet you end your letter by referring me to someone I’ve never heard of before to defend your position. You say, “My challenge to you is to refute my arguments therein and elsewhere.” Again you challenge me to respond to an unpublished book that I’ve never seen. How am I supposed to do that, Dave? I mean, I have no idea which of the various Roman Catholic views of “tradition” you espouse. Matatics takes one view, Madrid another. There are all sorts of different takes on the topic. You seem really enamored with Newman, so is that your view? How am I supposed to know?
You asserted that Protestant use of the Fathers is “selectively dishonest — no question whatsoever.” I do hope you don’t mind my being very Protestant and questioning your pontification (pun fully intended). How about some examples, drawn, logically, from my own writings, my own debates? Surely you have listened to these debates, right? You said that you had engaged in this activity yourself in 1990. How so? Where did you do this? Did you put any of this in writing? You said evangelicals do this all the time. Such as? Who? I don’t know too many evangelicals who bother to cite patristic sources to begin with, do you? Might I suggest that if you’d like to impress this upon me, you might wish to paint with a little finer brush? I’ve heard these arguments before, as I think you’d admit.
You said that usually the Protestant misunderstands the concept of development. Well, before Newman came up with it, I guess we had good reason, wouldn’t you say? But, does that mean that those Roman Catholics I know who don’t like Newman are actually Protestants, too? I’m kidding of course, but those who hang their case on Newman and the development hypothesis are liable for all sorts of problems, your eating of Salmon for lunch notwithstanding. Might it actually be that the Protestant fully understands development but rightly rejects it? I addressed development and Newman in my book (written before I engaged in all the debates I’ve done since then), and personally, I don’t think your brief dismissal was, well, worthwhile. And as for Newman’s statement, “to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant,” I would say, “to be deep in Newman is to cease to be an historically consistent Roman Catholic.” I can only shake my head as I look at Newman’s collapse on papal infallibility and chuckle at his “deep in history” comment. He knew better.
Next we have this paragraph:
“Your treatment of the Canon of Scripture misses the point, which is that the Catholic Church, and ‘extrabiblical authority’ was necessary for you guys to even have your Bible, let alone construct with tortured ‘logic’ myths such as ‘perspicuity’ and ‘sola Scriptura’ from this book which you would never even have but for the Catholic church, which, inexplicably, preserved it even though it supposedly destroys that same Church’s belief system– evident to any ‘plowboy.’ My paper on ‘sola Scriptura’ deals with this.”
First, I hope you are not referring to the brief paper about CRI that you sent me on sola scriptura, because if you are, I’m very disappointed. Your comments on 2 Timothy 3:16-17 are easily refuted, as I will demonstrate later. Hopefully you are referring to some other paper as yet not entered into evidence in this discussion (though you keep referring to such items). As to “my treatment” of canon issues, which treatment? In the book, in debates, in written materials, what? I’ve debated Patrick Madrid, Robert Sungenis, and James Akin in the sola scriptura folder in America Online, accompanied by my co-belligerent Gregory Krehbiel, and I will simply point out that those Roman Catholics aren’t there anymore. And there’s a reason for that, I’d say.
Next we read, “It’s the oldest rhetorical trick in the book to simply dismiss an important question as irrelevant, when one can’t answer it, as you did with my query as to when Catholicism became apostate.” No, the oldest rhetorical trick in the book is to ignore the central parts of your opponent’s arguments while accusing him of doing the same thing (that’s the important part). Your question remains irrelevant. First, it is an improper question, since it is based upon the identification of Roman Catholicism with the earlier Catholic Church, and, as anyone knows, that is an improper identification. Secondly, it assumes something that is not true: that apostasy always takes place in a single act or definition of doctrine, and such is not always the case. Personally, I believe that there were believers within what even called itself Roman Catholicism for a long time — in fact (are you sitting down?), there still are, by God’s grace. So again, your question was irrelevant, and my brief response was based upon a recognition of that irrelevance.
Next you commented, “Likewise, you scoff at my disdain for the indefensible existence of 23,000 denominations. You don’t dare admit that this is a valid point against Protestantism because you would obviously then be in big trouble.” Do you really think, Dave, that I have not encountered this argument before? I mean, do you think that you are the only Roman apologist brilliant enough to come up with the ol’, “Well, look at all the disagreements among Protestants, that proves sola scriptura doesn’t work!” argument? You truly do flatter yourself. But to show you that you are not the first on the block with your arguments (and that your arguments are not particularly compelling), I provide you with the text of a post from America Online written in response to James Akin and his use of the very same argument:
James Akin of Catholic Answers wrote: [missing text here]
“….sola scriptura and hence of Protestantism itself…..”
On one point I certainly agree with Mr. Akin: Catholic apologists often DO use this argument. But is it a valid argument? Let’s examine it.
First, and very briefly, it seems to me to be an inconsistent argument: that is, it refutes the position of the one using it. It presupposes the idea that if (in the case of Protestantism) the Scriptures are meant to be the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church, then it must follow that the Scriptures will produce an external, visible unity of doctrine on all fronts. As Patrick Madrid put it, Presbyterians and Baptists would not be in disagreement about infant baptism if the Bible were able to function as the sole rule of faith for the Church. I say this is an inconsistent argument because the solution offered to us by Rome — namely, the teaching Magisterium of the Roman Church, replete with oral tradition and papal infallibility — has not brought about the desired unity amongst Roman Catholics. I have personally spoken with and corresponded with Roman Catholics — individuals actively involved in their parishes, regular attendees at Mass, etc., who have held to a WIDE range of beliefs on a WIDE range of topics. One need only read the pages of This Rock magazine to know that you have conflicts with traditionalists over every conceivable topic, from the Latin Mass to modernism in Rome. I’ve been witness to debates between Catholics on canon laws and excommunications and Father Feeney and other items that rival any debates I’ve seen amongst Protestants. And I haven’t even gotten to the liberals in the Roman fold! Obviously I don’t need to do that, as the point is made. If sola Scriptura is disproven by the resultant disagreements amongst people outside of Rome, then Roman claims regarding the Magisterium are equally disproven by the very same argument.
But my main reason for adressing the common argument made by Roman apologists is that it reveals something important about Rome’s view of man himself. Dr. Cornelius Van Til often commented on the errors of Rome regarding their view of man, and how these errors impacted every aspect of their theology, and he was quite right. We see an illustration right here. Rome’s semi-Pelagianism (I am talking to a Roman Catholic right now in another venue who makes Pelagius look like a raving Calvinist) leads her to overlook what seems to me to be a very fundamental issue. Let me give you an illustration: Let’s say James Akin writes the PERFECT textbook on logic. It is completely perspicuous: it is fully illustrated, completely consistent, and it provides answers to all the tough questions in plain, understandable terminology. It covers all the bases. Now, would it follow, then, that every person who consulted this textbook would agree with every other person who consulted this textbook on matters of logic? Well, of course not. Some folks might just read one chapter, and not the rest. Others might read too quickly. and not really listen to Mr. Akin’s fine explanations. Others might have read other less-well-written textbooks, and they might importy their understandings into Mr. Akin’s words, resulting in misunderstandings. Most often, people might just lack the mental capacity to follow all the arguments, no matter how well they are expressed, and end up clueless about the entire subject, despite having read the entire work.
Now the question I have to ask is this: is there something wrong with Mr. Akin’s textbook if it does not produce complete unanimity on questions logical? Is the problem in the textbook or in the people using the textbook? In the real world it is often a combination of both: a lack of clarity on the part of the textbook and a problem in understanding on the part of the reader. But if the perfect textbook existed, would it result in absolute unanimity of opinion? No, because any textbook must be read, interpreted, and understood.
Let’s say the Bible is perspicuous, in the sense that Westminster said, that is, that “those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation. are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.” Does it follow, then, that there must be a unanimity of opinion on, say, infant baptism? Does the above even say that there will be a unanimity of opinion on the very items that “are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation”? No, obviously, it does not. And why? Because people — sinful people, people with agendas, people who want to find something in the Bible that isn’t really there–people approach Scripture, and no matter how perfect Scripture is, people remain people.
Now, Roman apologists may well way, “See, you’ve proven our point. You need an infallible interpreter to tell you what the Bible says because you are a sinful person, and hence you need a sinless, perfect guide to tell you what to believe!” Aside from the fact that such a concept itself is absent from Scripture, and is in fact countermanded by Scripture (did not the Lord Jesus hold men accountable for what GOD said to THEM in SCRIPTURE?), we need to observe that Rome is not solving the problem of fallible people. Once Rome “speaks” the fallible person must still interpret the supposed infallible interpretation. The element of error remains, no matter how much Rome might wish to think it has been removed. Indeed, beyond the problem of interpreting the infallible interpreter, you still have the fallible decision of following Rome’s absolute authority rather than, say, Brooklyn’s, or Salt Lake’s, or Mecca ‘s, or whoever’s — That remains a fallible decision, and hence the longing for that “infallible fuzzy” that comes from turning your responsibilities over to an “infallible guide” remains as unfulfilled as ever.
Finally, the argument put forth (plainly seen in the arguments used by Karl Keating in Catholicism and Fundamentalism) is even more pernicious, in that it attacks the sufficiency of Scripture itself. We are seemingly told that the Holy Spirit did such a poor job in producing Scripture that while the Psalmist thought it was a lamp to his feet and a light to his path, he (the Psalmist) was in fact quite deluded, and was treading very dangerously. Instead of the glorious words of God spoken of in Psalm 119, we are told that such basic truths as the nature of God, including the deity of Christ or the personality of the Holy Spirit, cannot be derived solely from Scripture, but require external witnesses. And why are we told this? Well, it is alleged that arguments can be made against these doctrines on the basis of Scripture passages. Of course, one could argue against ANYTHING if one is willing to sacrifice context, language, consistency, etc. But are we really to believe the Bible is so self-contradictory and unclear that we cannot arrive at the truth through a whole-hearted effort at honestly examining the biblical evidence? That seems to be what those across the Tiber are trying to tell us. But it is obvious that just because the Scriptures can be misused it does not follow that they are insufficient to lead one to the truth. Such is a flawed argument (no matter how often it is repeated). The real reason Rome tells us the Bible is insufficient is so that we can be convinced to abandon the God-given standard of Scripture while embracing Rome’s ultimate authority.
I never saw a response from Mr. Akin to that post, either, but I could have missed it, too. I’d be interested in a meaningful (i.e., not bombastic, not filled with line after line of meaningless epithets) response from you to this post.
“This won’t do either, for the simple reason that we have dogmas and Councils and papal encyclicals and infallible utterances which constitute our teaching– definite, observable, and documented for all to see, even the most wild-eyed liberals such as Kung and Curran and McBrien. It doesn’t matter a hill of beans what these people say they or the Catholic Church believe. I could care less.”
Well, that’s quite interesting. Yes, you have dogmas — you have to pick and choose what you will call dogmas (like, killing heretics to receive indulgences isn’t a dogma, though indulgences themselves are), but you have dogmas. You have councils, too — you have to pick and choose what of the earliest councils you will and will not accept (Canon 6 of Nicea, Canon 28 of Constantinople, for example), and even what councils were “good” and which ones weren’t (you don’t want Sirmium or Ariminum, for example), but you have councils. The fact that councils were called seems to cause you a problem, and the fact that they were obviously not considered infallible, even by those who attended, also causes a problem, and of course the fact that no one thought the bishop of Rome had to call councils, confirm councils, or even have an active role in councils for the first few hundred years is yet another problem, but, like I said, you have councils. And yes, you have papal encyclicals — oodles of them, in fact, though which ones are infallible and which ones are fallible, and who is to tell, and just how binding such encyclicals are, is anyone’s guess.
You say you have infallible utterances, but again, I have yet to find a simple way of finding out exactly which utterances are infallible. I have found lots of folks who want to say that Christ’s Vicar has spoken infallibly an average of once a millennium, but there are all sorts of other folks who would say there are many more infallible pronouncements, though they don’t infallibly known how many infallible pronouncements there are, which makes the whole infallibility issue a real mess at times. I’m sure wild-eyed liberals think of you as a wild-eyed conservative, what’s even worse, the traditionalists probably think of you as a wild-eyed liberal! Ah, but I must remember: Rome is united in all things. Just ask Patrick Madrid and Gerry Matatics. Everyone is one big, happy family. No disagreements, no confusion as to what is, and what is not, infallible teaching. How truly wonderful.
Of course, all of that just points out that having an “infallible interpreter” solves nothing. Once you have an infallible interpretation, you then need an infallible interpretation of the infallible interpretation. You’ve simply moved your epistemological problem back a step, nothing more.
I have to mention that your “I could care less” reminds me of a comment Gerry Matatics made on a radio station in Denver less than two years ago now while he and I were discussing various things. Someone asked about some Roman Catholic writers who were not quite as conservative as Gerry and in response he said, “Well, I call folks who believe like that Protestants.” Hey, that’s very convenient. “We are all unified as Roman Catholics — and if you don’t agree with me, you aren’t a Roman Catholic.” I like how that works, don’t you?
You made a statement on page 10 that made me wonder. With reference to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society you said that they deny God’s omnipresence, deny that He is a Spirit, and say that He has a physical body. Really? Could you give me some references to Watchtower sources where they say this? I know the Mormons do all those things, but it’s news to me that the Witnesses do that, too.
You wrote, “I will note that both cults and Protestantism are man-centered, whereas Catholicism is Christ-centered.” Really? The church that allows its followers to venerate saints and Mary, instructs them to do penances lest they suffer in purgatory, directs them to priests and intermediaries, preaches indulgences, “re-presents” the sacrifice of Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice over and over again, and makes a man the Vicar of Christ on earth is “Christ-centered,” while the church that cries “Christ alone,” that speaks of the sufficiency of both His work and His Word, that proclaims that He alone is worthy of worship, veneration, service (latria, dulia, etc.), and says that one can have true and lasting peace with God solely through Him, is man-centered? Well, if you say so, Dave. Personally, I don’t find a particle of truth in your statement.
I see a rather glaring double-standard in your sentence, “It’s pointless to respond to it other than to refer you to my various tracts about development or to Newman’s essential work on the subject.” To which I have to respond, “Newman I know, but who is this Armstrong fellow?” :-)
I can only guess that you have a hidden TV camera in my office, Dave, because all through your letter you noted my mental state when making various comments. For example, on page 10 you write that I “gleefully note the divergent views of Lateran IV and Vatican II on religious tolerance.” Gleefully, Dave? And how do you know how gleeful I might be? Be that as it may, yes, these two councils disagreed on this topic. And, of course, because you have to, you say, “the teachings involved here are not religious dogmas of the faith, but rather disciplinary measures.” Really? How is that? Who told you that? You aren’t engaging in “private interpretation” and providing me with a “magisterium of one” are you, Dave? Where has Rome officially said this? I’d like to see this infallible pronouncement.
What is more, where does Vatican II say, “This discussion of religious tolerance has nothing to do with faith and morals, this is a disciplinary thing”? And you utterly ignored the entire point of my argument at this point, Dave, by saying, “So, as almost always, what you think is a knockout punch to your detested ‘Romanism’ rebounds back to you with much more force, for the reasons just recounted.” That was, quite simply, Dave, a very lame reply. Since this section seemed to fall right out of my letter to you, let me try it again and see if you are up to providing a meaningful response:
In your fifth point you mention the Inquisition “disproving” Catholicism. The problem with your point is this, Dave: we Protestants don’t claim infallibility. Rome does. There is a big difference. Please note the following comparison:
IV LATERAN COUNCIL
Convicted heretics shall be handed over for due punishment to their secular superiors, or the latter’s agents. . . . Catholics who assume the cross and devote themselves to the extermination of heretics shall enjoy the same indulgence and privilege as those who go to the Holy Land.
This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs.
Not only do we see the obvious conflict between these two ecumenical” councils, but we see that the IVth Lateran Council specifically taught that those who would take up the cross in the effort to exterminate heretics would enjoy the same indulgence as those who went to the Holy Land. Now, Dave, surely you can see the vast difference between the silliness of, say, a “Protestant” like Benny Hinn teaching his ideas as facts, and an ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church teaching that indulgences would be given to those who took up the cause of exterminating the heretics (i.e., simple Christian folks who were slaughtered at the behest of the Roman hierarchy). What is more, is not the granting of indulgences based upon the exercise of the keys? Does this not then touch upon the very faith of the Roman church? I believe it does.
Now, Dave, why didn’t you deal with what I wrote to you? Where is your discussion of the difference between an organization that claims infallibility and Protestants who admit their fallibility? And where do you deal with the offering of indulgences for the extermination of heretics, and the fact that the granting of indulgences involves the use of the keys? And do you really want to say that statements like this are irrelevant to faith and morals? Personally I think most folks can see through this, don’t you? I mean, you say your church is infallible with reference to faith and morals, so when faced with evidence to the contrary you simply define those errors as having nothing to do with “faith and morals.” Where can I find an infallible definition of faith and morals, Dave? It must be a pretty narrow definition, wouldn’t you agree? There must not be a whole lot in the field of “faith and morals” if killing people who are “heretics” (defining who is and who is not a heretic has nothing to do with faith and morals, Dave?) and gaining indulgences for so doing is simply a “disciplinary” thing.
I was left overwhelmed yet once again by,
“As for your lengthy attempted refutation of papal claims and their biblical justification, I refer you to my chapter on the papacy and infallibility, which runs 98 pages, single-spaced.”
First, my comments were not lengthy — they were a mere drop in the bucket. Secondly, I don’t have your book which may be published by Ignatius Press, so how I’m supposed to refer to it is just a bit beyond me. I may someday publish a full-length work on sola scriptura, but till then I’m not going to be referring people to a source they can’t even read. I could have simply said to you, “As to the papacy, simply see my debates against Gerry Matatics (Phoenix, 1990, Denver, 1993), Dr. Robert Fastiggi (Austin, 1995) and Butler/Sungenis (Boston, 1995).” Now that would have accomplished a lot! And as for your 98 single-spaced pages, I have to admit this is the one line in your letter that made me chuckle more than anything else.
You see, Patrick Madrid boasted about his being able to “bury me” under 50+ pages of quotations from the Fathers on sola scriptura, and Scott Butler crows about his 91 citations from Chrysostom proving Petrine primacy, and you have your 98 single-spaced pages on the papacy and infallibility. Well, that surely finishes the debate! I mean, 98 pages! I mentioned that to a friend of mine and his response truly amused me: “Tell him to shrink his font so that you can fit more than a few words on each page and go from there.” Really, Dave, think about it. If I said, “I have 196 pages of material in small print with condensed spacing that proves the papacy to be in error,” would you be overly impressed? I mean, I would have twice the material you do! Wouldn’t that end the debate? No, of course not. I know JW’s who have “hundreds of pages documenting the Trinity is a pagan invention,” too, but I have not stopped adoring the Trinity on the basis of such high-powered testimony.
You dismissed von Dollinger with a mere wave of the magical developmental wand, Dave. Your words were, “Your three long quotes, which you obviously thought were so unanswerable, have little or no force against my position.” All I can say is, you might be wise to avoid publicly debating that issue if that is all you can come up with.
In light of the above it was rather hypocritical of you to then write, “You blithely dismiss my points 7 and 8 with your by-now familiar hit-and-run tactic of glib avoidance when you have no answer.” Well, I’ll let you think I have no answer, if you like, Dave. That’s to my advantage.
Just a few more items. With reference to various moral issues you wrote, “The very fact that you don’t regard this as of any ‘weight’ merely confirms in my mind the Protestant tendency of unconcern for holiness and morality. . . .” Having studied the lives of various of your popes, Dave, and having observed the huge mass of nominal Catholicism all around me here in the U.S., I can only remind you of the old adage about throwing stones while living in glass houses. I guess you probably didn’t read Packer’s A Quest for Godliness.
If you are going to engage in patristic debate, Dave, I would suggest sticking to contextual citations. You attempted to get around my citation of Clement’s epistle by citation of 58.2. Unfortunately for your position, I’m one of those few Protestant apologists who happens to have a pretty good patristic library, a good grasp of Greek, and enough experience as a professor of church history to make me dangerous. The entire sentence is:
[seven lines of Greek text which didn’t scan]
To which I add my own hearty “amen” indeed. But why did this supposed Pope of Rome (of course, he was probably just the scribe for the body of elders that existed in Rome at the time) use such terminology as “the elect” like that, Dave? Perhaps he wasn’t nearly as opposed to that concept as you are, maybe?
You then dismissed the central canons from Trent with yet another wave of the hand, saying they “prove nothing.” Really? They prove nothing? Of what good are they then, Dave? Are they just a waste of paper or do they have some meaning? The rest of your paragraph only indicated to me that you are not very clear on the issues revolving around justification, grace, and the like. I’m tempted to say, “See my debate against Dr. Mitchell Pacwa on justification” but that wouldn’t be nice. :-)
You then turned to Ignatius for a quotation, and again, demonstrated that context for the Roman apologist is an inconvenient problem. “Let none of you be found a deserter” to which you add, “so much for Calvinism.” Huh? Would you mind explaining the connection here, Dave? I mean, please show me how the context here has the slightest to do with anything like the Reformed faith. Show me where Ignatius, in writing to Polycarp, refers to the bishop of Rome as the center of the Church, and that we are not to desert him. Good luck, as there was no single bishop of Rome at the time, which may explain why Ignatius doesn’t ever refer to the bishop of Rome while writing to the Romans. If your 98 pages of material on the papacy partakes of the same kind of “here’s a sentence I like, who cares if the context is relevant or not” type of citation, well, it would probably not be worth the effort of going through it, wouldn’t you agree?
There is more I’d like to get to, but I’ve put far too much time into this already. Let me close with three items. First, I am going to import into this letter my reply to Akin’s article that you don’t seem to have seen. Then I will import some of the written “debate” between myself and Robert Sungenis on 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I simply don’t have time to rewrite all of this for your benefit, and, given the use of the patristic sources I just went through, I have to wonder about the benefits of such an effort in the first place. You will note these posts are not exactly ancient history, as they were written fairly recently. I will attach these as sort of an “addendum” following the close of this letter, though they will be consecutively numbered along with the letter. I will close with your blanket accusations against Protestant apologists. You wrote,
“I must, regretfully, inform you of another reason for my declining: the widespread intellectual dishonesty, evasiveness, and uncharitability of anti-Catholic debaters. Akin in his article on your book starts out by recalling how you have refused to shake hands with your Catholic opponents, or even pray the Lord’s prayer with them. This is contemptible, petty behavior. Madrid’s article ‘The White Man’s Burden’ concurs, by citing your rude treatment of him and of Dr. Art Sippo . . .”
Of course, I feel that Roman Catholic debaters (note I don’t have to define them as “anti-Protestant debaters”) are far more guilty of intellectual dishonesty, evasiveness, and uncharitability than any Protestant debater I know. A few examples. You cite Akin’s errors (he’s admitted errors in his statements to me personally) about my not shaking hands with opponents. I refused to shake hands with Art Sippo, PERIOD. I have shaken hands with Gerry Matatics after every debate; the same with Dr. Mitchell Pacwa, Dr. Robert Fastiggi, Scott Butler, and Robert Sungenis. Ask them. I refused to shake hands with Dr. Sippo because he was a liar, plain and simple. He was also incredibly rude I might add. He walked off the stage while I was speaking (why should he listen to what I have to say? He didn’t care what my position was to begin with), made faces at the audience, and during the question and answer period sat on his desk swinging his legs and making mocking gestures. Talk about rude! (He hasn’t changed, by the way. Just this morning I received an Internet message from him, the first by that medium, that started with this line: ‘Orthopodeo’ . . . oh, come now, James. Isn’t that handle a little bit presumptuous? It sounds to me like someone boasting of their own righteousness. But don’t worry. Those of us who really know you always think of you as ‘Pseudopodeo’ anyway.” Yes, a very kind and gracious man.)
Next, with reference to the Lord’s Prayer, that is quite true. However, if you put it in context, you might find it far less problematic. The incident took place at Boston College, April, 1993. It was at the end of the second of two debates against Gerry Matatics. The first debate had been on justification, and we had both made it quite clear that the other’s position was anathema in our opinion. The second debate was on the Apocrypha. At the very end of the debate, during audience questions, a man got up and said, “I think these debates tend toward disunity. I’d like us all to stand and say the Lord’s Prayer together.” I explained that I could not do that for a number of reasons. First, we didn’t have the unity such a prayer would pretend we had; secondly, the night before we had both agreed that the other was preaching a false gospel, and you can’t sweep that under the rug with a prayer; and finally, prayer is an act of worship, and must be undertaken in spirit and truth, and this was not the context for that. Matatics, having already moved into a very traditional perspective, simply said, “If you want to know what I think about it, ask me afterwards.” The moderator led in the prayer, and I, and most of the Protestants I knew of in the room, remained seated.
As to Madrid’s accusations, they are groundless. I did not mistreat him in any way. He did not offer me his hand after the debate, so he says. I thought we had shaken hands, but he says we didn’t. Fine, the only reason was because, as he admits, we were both surrounded as soon as the debate was over. There was nothing more to it than that. As to your assertion that I refused to attempt to prove sola scriptura from the Bible, that is simply untrue as well. If you are relying solely on Madrid’s article, you should at least get the tape and show some level of honesty in your comments. Anyone who listens to the tape or reads the transcript finds a world of difference between Patrick’s almost fantasy-like recollection and the reality of what took place.
In light of this, your reasons for declining a public debate are left rather hollow. Perhaps you will reconsider your refusal? I have no idea who Gary Michuta is, what his position is, what he’s written, what his background is, or anything else. [funny, then, that he later debated him on the deuterocanon in 2004] You wrote to the folks in the cult directory. You have the stationery that says “Catholic Apologist.” You claim to eat Protestant apologists for lunch. I think you need to defend your position in a scholarly manner.
Sola scriptura, sola fide, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria,
Recte Ambulamus ad Veritatem Evangelii