White’s & Hays’ Anti-Catholic Analyses of My Catholic Conversion

White’s & Hays’ Anti-Catholic Analyses of My Catholic Conversion February 24, 2018

Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White (words in brown) made the argument that I was supremely ignorant as an evangelical, and so that amply explained my conversion, which need not give anyone the slightest pause.

Hence his description of me in December 2004 as “one who has given very little evidence, in fact, of having done a lot of serious reading in better non-Catholic literature to begin with. In fact, I would imagine Armstrong has done more reading in non-Catholic materials since his conversion than before. In any case, this lack of background will resound loudly in the comments he offers, . . .”

And so I went ahead and showed White exactly what I had read in my 13-year evangelical period, which included many Reformed scholars [he is reformed Baptist] and otherwise solid evangelical biblical scholars or Church historians, such as, e.g., Bernard Ramm, John Walvoord, R.C. Sproul, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, A.W. Tozer, Francis Schaeffer, Harold Lindsell, Merrill Tenney, James Montgomery Boice, Lorraine Boettner (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination), Oswald Allis, George Marsden, J. Gresham Machen, Kierkegaard, John MacArthur, J.I. Packer, Billy Graham, Walter Martin, G.C. Berkouwer, F.F. Bruce, D.A. Carson, Norman Geisler, Alvin Plantinga, Gerhard Maier, Augustus Strong, Charles Hodge, Gleason Archer, John Gerstner, A.A. Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, Dunn, Alford, Westcott, J.B. Lightfoot, Peter Berger, Os Guinness, Thomas Oden, John Ankerberg, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jonathan Edwards, Ronald Nash, Carl F.H. Henry, Charles Colson, Dorothy Sayers, and James Davison Hunter, among many others.

Now, how did White respond to that?: “Mr. Armstrong has provided a reading list on his blog. In essence, this means that instead of blaming ignorance for his very shallow misrepresentations of non-Catholic theology and exegesis, we must now assert knowing deception.”

[further discussion with ecumenical Presbyterian friend Tim Roof (words in green) ]:

For White (and anti-Catholics like him, generally), there is no such thing as an intellectually honest conversion from an educated Protestantism to Catholicism. Thus, he claimed at first that I was dumber than a doornail about Protestantism and never was a true Protestant at any time (never having been Reformed).

After I provided my reading list he (even he!) could no longer plausibly argue that I was an imbecile. I knew too much. Thus, the only choice left in his severely limited thought-world was deliberate deception. I couldn’t possibly be sincere or honest, knowing what I did, in becoming a Catholic.

I have never thought this pertained to you and your own history, Dave. And I would never attribute this to Catholic converts in general. However, I have heard several high-profile men who have converted to Catholicism from Protestantism whose descriptions of what they believed while Protestants bore little relation to what Protestantism actually teaches. I mean, I’ve heard some say some truly astonishing stuff. In those cases, it makes sense to me that they converted to Catholicism since what they believed before was so convoluted. My own Pastor, Carl Trueman, Chairman of the Church History Department at Westminster Theological Seminary has told us, “If you’re not a Roman Catholic, you had better have good, solid reasons as to why you are not.” In other words, don’t be Protestant simply because you’re not Catholic, or because you think it’s “cool” or “hip” or whatever. Know thoroughly what and why you believe the way you do.

I completely agree with your last part. Thanks for not thinking I am either a dumbbell about Protestantism or a deceiver.

I would just add that whenever we speak of “Protestantism” we have to make a hundred qualifications or exceptions; which brand? Thus, those from one sector may not understand others, etc. They are going by their own experiences and may be overly extrapolating to others and being a bit inaccurate.

I think I had a pretty firm grip on Reformed thinking, since I had read so much of it, as seen in my list of books that I had read. But most Arminians have a poor understanding of Calvinists and often vice versa as well. But in any event, we all have to know what we believe and why we do. I help with the latter, as an apologist.

I would only add that most Calvinists started out as your garden variety Arminian, which is to say that Calvinists TEND toward much more serious and deep study. This is the case with me.They typically are better able to give a defense of their faith. This is a generalization, of course; there are always exceptions. But the trend is much more going from Arminian to Calvinist rather than the other way around, and converts to Catholicism TEND to be Arminian as Protestants rather than Reformed/Calvinist.

Calvinists definitely are more educated as a whole, among Protestants. I was gonna actually say that above. Arminians are much more prone to theological liberalism, too.

I think Arminians being more prone to liberalism, as you have said above, may be a function of that system being (in my view) more emotion-based and less intellectual-based. Liberalism TENDS to be much more about emoting and much less about the consequences for others of one’s actions. I am not saying that evangelical Christians are “dumber” than Reformed. However, I do think that pursuit of biblical and theological knowledge is much more characteristic of Reformed theology than general evangelicalism. I am speaking broadly, of course.

I agree again, and I am a former Arminian. Calvinists tend towards other vices: a certain “coldness” and over-intellectualizing of faith; minimizing of legitimate religious experience, disbelief in continuing miracles, and anti-Catholicism, as well as anti-anything other than Calvinism.

You show none of these traits. James White shows all of them.

Conversion is extraordinarily complex (at least for those who try to think through issues). All the more reason to excoriate the tunnel vision “ignoramus or lying deceiver” choice that White has limited himself to . . .

My only caveat to what you have said would be a Calvinist belief in continuing miracles but not a belief in the continuation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit.

It’s interesting to note how Steve Hays (equally anti-Catholic) was, in 2006, still able to say some nice things about me: something White has never ever done in 22 years. He changed a few years later and started saying that I was “evil”, but at this point he was much more nuanced (words in blue):

*****

“An open letter to Dave Armstrong” (9-9-06) [most of it]

I don’t think I’ve ever accused him of being a traitor or apostate or infidel.

Everyone is entitled to his own usage. I won’t judge someone else’s usage. They have their reasons.

But those are not the adjectives I’d reach for in the case of Armstrong.

Those are words I reserve for extreme cases, not borderline cases.

To judge by his conversion story, he had a rather brief and superficial experience [untrue!] with Evangelicalism—reading popularizers and attending emotive, anti-intellectual churches [untrue as a generalization].

A transition from a shallow brand of Evangelicalism [untrue!] to devout Catholicism is not the same thing as apostasy—much less infidelity. Not by my definition, at least.

And, unless he’s sheltering his wealth from the Feds, I don’t think one can accuse him of changing sides for fast cars, fast women, and a vintage pint of sherry.

So it’s not as if he’s another Kim Philby or Guy Burgess with a Rosary.

I have nothing to say, one way or the other, regarding his state of grace. But his sincerity is unquestionable.

I also don’t dislike him. And this is not a pro forma disclaimer to prove what a charitable guy I am, for there are some bloggers whom I do dislike. (Sorry, no names!)

I don’t think there’s anything malicious about Armstrong—unlike some people who come to mind.

In addition, I don’t think I’ve ever said he was unintelligent.

For the record, it’s obvious that Armstrong has a quick, nimble mind.

Then writing generally in the combox, Hays added (in a remarkably fair way, given his anti-Catholicism):

The term “apostasy” carries with it a heavy presumption that the apostate is a hell-bound reprobate.

I think it’s unwarranted to assume that all Catholics or converts to Catholicism are damned.

In addition, when you use the same adjective for Dave Armstrong or Scott Hahn that you use for John Spong or Robert Price, the charge loses credibility and can backfire.

In fact, some former evangelicals have swum the Tiber precisely because they discovered a disconnect between hyperbolic polemics and the less lurid reality.

We should avoid the temptation to exaggerate and overplay our hand.

I replied in the combox as follows (this comment was later deleted):

Thanks, Steve, for the nice things said. I appreciate it. This was a classy piece. Just a few observations, if I may:

Your theory of my odyssey from evangelicalism to Catholicism is — shall we say? — “interesting.” I was in a shallow environment, so that Catholicism was quite possibly even a “step up” and I get a pass for ignorance; therefore I am not an apostate, etc. (never having been a Calvinist – is the implication). This reminds me of a statement I saw from Phillip Johnson, where he said that much of evangelicalism was worse than even Catholicism in the 16th century.

The problem, of course, is that this is an inaccurate portrayal of what I used to believe and the circles I used to be in. You claim that I “had a rather brief and superficial experience with Evangelicalism—reading popularizers . . .”

James White made the same argument [see above]: that I was supremely ignorant and an evangelical, and so that amply explained my conversion, which need not give anyone the slightest pause.

Will that be your approach now, too, once you have discovered that I was not nearly as ignorant as you would like to make out presently? I hope not.

My “brief and superficial experience with Evangelicalism” included intense anti-cult research and many other informal studies on various theological topics. You can see, for example, what sort of thing I was doing and writing back then by perusing the following papers (dated 1982 and 1987). If you want to classify this as “superficial,” you have every right to, but I don’t think one out of hundred evangelicals who read this stuff would agree with you.

Biblical Refutation of “Hyperfaith” / “Name-it-Claim it” Teaching: Is it Always God’s Will to Heal in Every Instance? 

Jehovah’s Witnesses: “The Apocalyptic Arians”: A Biblical and Historical Critique 

This experience included intensive street witnessing at the Ann Arbor Art Fair in Michigan, for ten straight years, and in many other places (often, Kingdom Halls or Marxist meetings), and a five-year stint as a campus evangelist.

As for “attending emotive, anti-intellectual churches,” this is also grossly inaccurate. It is true that I attended some charismatic churches, but they were not “anti-intellectual” by any means (if they had been, I wouldn’t have been there in the first place). One of the non-denominational churches I went to had an assistant pastor who had a master’s in philosophy. Later, the pastor was Al Kresta, one of the sharpest people I have ever met, who had a very popular evangelical talk show for ten years in the Detroit area, on the largest Christian radio station, WMUZ. He later converted to Catholicism, but in any event, he is no anti-intellectual, by any stretch of the imagination.

I also started out at a Lutheran church, with a brilliant, missions and outreach-minded pastor named Dick Bieber. Lutherans are generally not accused of anti-intellectualism, to my knowledge.

The man who “baptized” me (when I believed in adult believer’s baptism), and who married me has a Ph.D. in education, etc. Another good friend, who pastored a Reformed Baptist church that we often attended, eventually obtained his Ph.D. and is now a professor at a college in Michigan. Hardly “anti-intellectual” circles again . . .

You can stereotype charismatics if you wish as “emotive and anti-intellectual,” but as in all categories (even Calvinism) you can always find solid proponents and shallow ones. I believe in the spiritual gifts, on biblical grounds. I never believed, however, that everyone had to speak in tongues in order to truly be indwelt with the Holy Spirit, because I saw that as contrary to Paul’s clear teaching on the gifts.

At the same time, also, I was issuing strong critiques of excesses within the charismatic movement (see the paper above about healing: from 1982). I was strongly criticizing Jim Bakker even before the big scandal hit. I attended MENSA groups and meetings of university philosophy professors during my evangelical apologist / evangelist period in the late 80s. Etc., etc., etc. “Anti-intellectual”? Um, I don’t think so. Strange that you would claim this.

I became an avid pro-lifer and participant in Operation Rescue all during my evangelical period. Was all this “a shallow brand of Evangelicalism”? I think not.

The only way you could make such a claim (having truly understood my background) would be on the basis that all non-Calvinist brands of evangelicalism are “shallow” and “superficial.” I think that is rather silly and laughable (and would apparently include even your own compatriot Jason Engwer), but then I think that about the tiny anti-Catholic wing of evangelicalism too.

So, thanks again for the nice things you said, but I had to correct the misrepresentations of the state of my theological and spiritual knowledge and what sort of fellowships I was involved in as an evangelical.

I converted precisely for the reasons that I have explained in my four or five different accounts. It wasn’t because I was ignorant of evangelical Protestantism. It wasn’t because I despised or hated same or came to regard it as worthless. It wasn’t because I was disenchanted with where I was. My journey began out of simple intellectual curiosity about why Catholic believed certain things that I thought were exceedingly strange and puzzling (particularly, the ban on contraception, and infallibility).

Many of the things I hold very dear now (love of the Bible, interest in Christian worldview, pro-life, opposing cults and atheists, evangelism, fighting cultural sexual immorality, apologetics in general, strong family values, political conservatism, concern for the poor, love for great Christian authors and thinkers) were cultivated during those days. That’s where I initially learned all that stuff. It was the air I breathed. I’ll always be thankful for that and remember those times with the utmost fondness. Ironically, you appear to view many of your evangelical brothers and sisters far, far more negatively than I would ever dream of characterizing my own past.

You see, those of us who were evangelical and loved it, who later become Catholics, don’t have to reject our past and regard it as an evil, bad thing. We simply think that we have come to understand in faith some additional elements of Christianity that were lacking in our previous Christian circles (a sense of history, sacramentalism, ecclesiology, the saints, greater emphasis on the Incarnation and actual sanctification, etc.).

As I wrote recently, it isn’t “evil vs. good”. Rather, it is a matter of “very good” and “better” or “a great deal of truth” and “the fullness of truth” or “excellent” and “best.”

***

Unfortunately, two-and-a-half years later, Steve Hays’ fairly tolerant, nuanced analysis quickly changed to an outright hostile one. It came about because I dared to believe and defend the sister of an anti-Catholic who was being publicly trashed by her brother because she revealed that she had been systematically sexually abused by their father (an early “#metoo” moment, back in 2009):

I used to think that Dave Armstrong was just a jerk. Not deeply evil. Just a jerk. . . . He isn’t just a narcissistic little jerk. He’s actually evil. It’s not something we can spoof or satirize anymore. He’s crossed a line of no return. (4-13-09)

[I]f you do a spot-on impersonation of someone who’s hypersensitive, paranoid, an ego-maniac, narcissistic, with a martyr and persecution complex, then how are we supposed to tell the difference between the person and the impersonation? The make-up, inflection, &c, is just uncanny. . . . For that matter, have you ever encountered a self-obsessive individual who admits to being a self-obsessive individual? Don’t we expect a self-obsessive individual to deny how self-obsessive he is? A self-obsessive individual spends endless amounts of time talking about how he’s not a self-obsessive individual, which, of course, is just another way of talking about himself–over and over again. Does that ring a bell? Sound like anyone you know? . . . Not only is Dave an idolater, but a self-idolater. He has sculpted an idol in his own, precious image. A singular, autobiographical personality cult. (7-16-09, on James Swan’s Boors All site [later deleted by Swan] )

[Y]ou play the innocent victim when someone exposes your chicanery. . . . you’re a hack who pretends to be a professional apologist . . . you don’t do any real research. . . . If I did pray for Armstrong, do you think I’d announce it in public? But suppose I didn’t? . . .  Dave isn’t somebody who lost his faith and went quietly into the night. No, Dave is a stalwart enemy of the faith. He’s no better than Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. Just like the militant atheist, his modus operandi is to destroy faith in God’s word to make room for his alternative. In this case, his corrupt denomination. (1-28-10; comment at 11:53 PM)

I realize that, due to your persecution complex (by the way, you need to have your psychiatrist up the dosage), you imagine that only “anti-Catholics could ever find fault with your stainless conduct . . . Are you hearing voices? . . . I didn’t say you were evil in this one instance. You have an evil character. This particular instance brought that to the fore. . . . Since you can’t out-argue [Jason Engwer], you try to discredit him by creating a deceptive narrative about his performance. . . . There’s always a clientele for P. T. Barnums like you. . . . I’m supposed to be taken in by your bipolar tactics? (1-29-10; two-part comment at 8:25 PM)

It’s entirely possible for a schizophrenic guy like Armstrong to contradict himself from one moment to the next. Indeed, just look at the wild mood swings which he has put on display in this very thread. . . . The question is not whether the accusation makes sense, but whether Dave makes sense. Dave is confusing logical consistency with psychological consistency. It’s psychologically possible for an emotionally unstable guy like Dave to be logically inconsistent. . . . 

That disclaimer would be a bit more plausible if Dave didn’t go on and on and on in one hysterical comment after another after another. One of Dave’s problems is his lifelong love affair with himself. He reacts to any imagined slight the way a normal man reacts if someone slights his wife or mother or girlfriend. . . . Dave is self-important. . . . People who are truly self-effacing don’t ordinarily crow about how truly self-effacing they are. If would help Armstrong if, in refuting the allegation that he’s emotionally unhinged, if he didn’t become emotionally unhinged whenever he hears the allegation. A hundred hysterical comments later: . . .
*
Well, since you ask, one of Armstrong’s problems (yes, the list is long, I know) is his repudiation of Pauline sola fide. And we see the practical outworking of his life. Because he doesn’t trust in the merit of Christ alone for salvation, Dave has an insatiable need for self-justification. He, like other Catholics, has no peace of mind. . . . 
*
Yes, Dave, that’s evil. Pure evil. . . . 
*
Of course, that’s symptomatic of Armstrong’s instability. He will post reams and reams of high-strung reaction pieces in the heat of the moment, then, after a cooling off period, when it dawns on him that his impetuous commentary unwittingly backfired, he will follow that up with a mass purge. (4-18-10, on James Swan’s Boors All site [later deleted by Swan]. Somehow, when Swan engaged in his “mass purge” of Hays’ remarkably unhinged comments, that evidenced no metal instability on his part. Nor did Hays’ own multitudinous deletions of my comments on his page, and eventual banning of yours truly indicate his own psychosis)
*
Both Paul Hoffer and Dave Armstrong are bad men who imagine they are good men. That’s not unusual. Bad men often have a high opinion of their own motives. And Catholicism reinforces that self-deception. (12-7-11; comment at 12:51 AM)

*

***

(Dec. 2004; added dialogue from 2-21-17; additional citations added on 2-24-18)

Photo credit: photo by Nick Youngson [The Blue Diamond GalleryCC BY-SA 3.0  license]

***

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