[originally posted on my blog on 25 April 2010; Eric Svendsen’s words will be in blue]
There was a time (the early years of the 21st century) when Eric Svendsen (of “NTRMin” fame), a former Catholic, was (by all appearances) the second most influential anti-Catholic to be found online, after Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White. I first ran across him in 1996 when I participated in an e-mail list discussion group on sola Scriptura, hosted by Bishop James White himself, that he was also part of. In those days, Eric and I could actually have a civil dialogue (!!!). I thought he was a friendly sort: a bit different from the typical and sadly numerous vitriolic, axe-to-grind, obnoxious, know-it-all (about Catholicism) anti-Catholics online.
But in time everything goes the way of the dinosaur, and our relations inevitably soured (because of his anti-Catholicism). I posted some of our dialogues from that time and place later, and he accused me of deliberately slanting them, to be biased and unfair to him. I offered to work with him to edit them whatever way he wished — trying to be as conciliatory and fair as I could — , but he refused.
Svendsen decided in the late 90s to cease debating Catholics in writing, and hence, refused my offer to take him on in such debate (which is ironic, since I am regularly mocked by anti-Catholics for my 2007 decision to cease trying to debate them any longer). He wrote on Steve Ray’s discussion board in December 2000: ” ‘no written debates’ became a personal policy for me a couple of years ago.
This was a matter of time stewardship for him, as he went on to explain (just as it largely is for me, too). This may also be the key to the demise of his website and blog (it would be my best guess as to his own reasoning). He’s a pastor of a church, after all, and I believe he has some sort of business that has brought him considerable wealth. Hence, he wrote in a letter to me, dated 1-13-01:
I do not think you’ve fairly considered all the things I do that prevent me from engaging in ongoing online discussions. Ministry comes first to me, but I have to choose my battles carefully and focus on those things that make the most efficient use of my time.
That’s a perfectly legitimate, sensible reason. Yet if we refuse to do oral debates with anti-Catholics (as I have always done for several good reasons: none of which include fear or inability on my part), we are always accused of concealing our “real” reasons for doing so. Hence, Eric had to cynically spin and wax condescendingly as follows in a piece from December 2000:
I think the general opposition to oral debates on the Roman Catholic side is not what you assert it is, Dave. I think rather it stems from the fact that Roman Catholics don’t fare well in that venue. . . . The real reason the Evangelical side fares better in these debates is because–surprise!–it is easier to fare better when you hold to a view that is actually supported by the evidence. It’s just that simple. In public debates, anti-Evangelical apologists end up spending their allotted time engaging in highly dubious exegesis that results in convoluted conclusions based on passages that are strung together in patchwork fashion. By the end of the debate, it becomes painfully obvious that they are promulgating untenable positions. Heck, If I had to do that, I wouldn’t want to debate publicly either!
Despite this stated antipathy to online discussions and debate, Svendsen — a year or two later — nevertheless opened up his NTRMin discussion board, called The Areopagus, claiming (on an old — also defunct — prominent Catholic discussion board) that it would be a place where free discussion took place, and no nonsense allowed (right . . .).
Within a few weeks it was the same old same old: massive double standards of what anti-Catholics could say, vs. what Catholics could utter; arbitrary bannings (myself being one, very quickly), absurd fact-challenged rantings from Eric and resident “enforcer” David T. King [the most foul-mouthed, uncharitable anti-Catholic I’ve ever encountered online, bar none]; very few actual dialogues, patronizing lectures, and so forth. When I and fellow Catholic apologist Scott Windsor were banned, Svendsen had the following to say:
We stopped interacting with them because trying to explain their errors to them became much like trying to explain physics to a five-year old. You can explain these things in vain only so many times before the principle of diminishing returns comes into play. (Areopagus, 3-22-04; link now defunct)
I observed Eric behaving in exactly the opposite way of his stated intentions of charitable, civil discourse, expressed to me in a relatively friendly, irenic letter (the last such one from him) of 1-13-01:
I would like to apologize to you for the way in which I communicated my disinterest in an online debate . . . my method of communicating all that to you was caustic and unbecoming a Christian apologist, and for that I apologize. I intend to treat my opponents fairly, and with respect and dignity, and to the extent that I failed to do that, I apologize.
The same goes for my dialog with Mark Shea . . . I came on strong because I felt he took some swipes at my credibility and capabilities as an apologist. In short, I felt he disrespected me . . . I would never dream of calling my opponent’s views “stupid” in a public forum . . . I think such terminology, if not an ad hominem attack, is nevertheless highly insulting. However, in spite of the extent to which Mark wishes to diminish me by labeling my views as “stupid,” I should have continued along the high road that I had been taking since I heard of his comments several months ago. Again, I apologize. From this point on I have resolved not to lower myself to be moved by that kind of insult.
Svendsen would never dream of calling someone “stupid” — that is, until 4-27-03 on his discussion board:
After a while one just gets tired of the stupidity of some people. Some people have emotionally hysterical fits when you tell them there is both an objective and a subjective element to determining the canon. Why? Well, because that makes it more difficult for them pin you against the wall with their grubby little hands so that they can do everything in their power to destroy you. That is, after all, why some on this board persist with the nonsense they do . . . They persist in taunting and flaunting and hounding that they weren’t satisfied with my answers; but neither one of them can make a simple case for their own views . . . To give them even more answers at this point would be to dignify their inane responses and to throw pearls before swine. I decline to do that.
Before we knew it, our hero was even condemning folks to hell and expressing wonderfully irenic, charitable sentiments like the following:
RC apologists will do or say just about anything–true or not–to advance their cause. They engage in the strategy of deception regularly. (Areopagus: 4-27-03)
[W]e have experience with those who use the “strategy of deceit” to mislead people down the road to a false gospel. (Areopagus: 6-4-03)
Apart from absurd, slanderous statements such as the above, Svendsen through the years has been given to ridiculous histrionics; the most famous and notorious being his ludicrous 1999 offer of $100,000 to anyone who could give proper answers to 18 of his “tough questions” for Catholics. To my knowledge, the $100,000 wasn’t delivered (my, what a shocking surprise!).
Eric later explained (with more spinning than a spinning wheel) that it was done in humor: the point being that Catholics can’t possibly answer these things, so that the money could be offered in the first place: there being no conceivable eventuality of any necessity to deliver it to dumb, dense Catholics who would never be able to reply. This stunt was pretty much the end of Svendsen’s credibility in the eyes of most Catholic apologists.
Another astonishing statement was when, on his discussion board on 17 January 2004, he described Catholics as:
. . . those who would raise Mary to the status of the Trinity and proclaim a false gospel that condemns.
Challenged by Reformed Protestant theologian Paul Owen to prove this absurd description, Eric retorted on 19 January 2004:
If what you mean by this is that you’ll find no official RC statement that says “we elevate Mary to the status of the Trinity,” then I’m happy to agree. Of course you’re not going to find anything as overt as that. What you’ll find instead is that Mary is [laundry list of Catholic titles for Mary given] . . . With titles like these, who in the world needs an explicit statement that Mary is on par with the Trinity?
Since Owen dared to disagree with Svendsen and defend the Catholic Church against ridiculous and utterly false charges, he had to be pilloried as a traitor to the cause. Thus, Dr. Owen — a fellow Protestant; even a Reformed one — was supposedly all of the following things, as stated by Eric Svendsen on his discussion board:
1) of questionable motivation.
2) of questionable adherence to Reformed Protestantism (“claims”).
3) has “no knowledge about that which he addresses.
4) is locked up in “an ivory tower.”
5) is insincere when he claims he wants to engage in discussion with different viewpoints.
6) dares to befriend a Catholic apologist!
7) “entertains idolatrous beliefs”.
8) rubs shoulders with “Judaizers”.
9) undermines “evangelistic efforts of others.”
10) is equivalent in character to Alexander the Coppersmith.
11) is “emotionally disturbed.”
12) is “extremely divisive.”
13) has “an unhealthy interest in quarrels.”
14) is a “cowardly antagonist.”
15) is obsessed with “slander” (of Svendsen).
16) wants to destroy ministries that proclaim the gospel.
So much for Svendsen’s stated intentions of 1-13-01:
I intend to treat my opponents fairly, and with respect and dignity, . . . I would never dream of calling my opponent’s views “stupid” in a public forum . . . I think such terminology, if not an ad hominem attack, is nevertheless highly insulting.
Even more unbelievable, perhaps, was his mocking of the looks of a theological opponent (yes, you read that right) — one who happens to be a medical doctor –, in a piece on his website [link now defunct] (around May 2004, I believe, since that was when I documented it):
I’ve included here a photo of Artie Sippo to help the reader get a sense of the situation. Artie’s physical appearance would be completely irrelevant were it not for his “brave” comments above. . . . [It] begins to make profound sense once we take into consideration his physical appearance. While it pains me to point this out, it’s entirely necessary in understanding Artie. Artie is a portly little fellow who somewhat resembles Radar O’Reilly on the hit TV series M.A.S.H. I have seen this phenomenon quite a bit on the Internet. Those who are the most bombastic, the most threatening, those who engage in the most swaggering and in the most bravado, and those who claim to be the “bravest” on the Internet, usually turn out to look a lot like Artie. My personal theory is that it’s an alter-ego issue. Men who share Artie’s physical traits were usually the victims of bullies in childhood. Now that Artie is grown up, he must redeem himself for having allowed bullies to push him around in school the way they did. He feels guilty and angry for not sticking up for himself then; and he has resolved that he will not allow it anymore. To compensate for being bullied, he has now become the bully. The Internet provides Artie with a faceless forum in which to swagger and threaten with impunity; in which to live his dream of being a real “macho-man,” completely without fear of the physical retribution he so dreaded as a child. In short, it gives him a chance to “get even” with his perceived superiors. What is so embarrassingly obvious is that someone who looks like Artie would never dare use words like “sissy boy,” “coward,” and “yellow” to another man’s face in a private room with no one else around—that would be far too harrowing an experience for him. But he is quite willing to do it from cyberspace where no harm can be done to him for spouting such nonsense. Artie Sippo is a very sick, very disturbed individual who is obviously still working through a good deal of baggage that he brought in from childhood. He is to be pitied, and I feel sorry for him. . . . Artie is portly little fellow, who bears an uncanny resemblance to . . . a well-known stuttering cartoon character (see his photo above).
How is that for uncharitable quack psychoanalysis? It is almost beyond rational comprehension, that this came from an educated man — indeed, a pastor — with at least one advanced degree in theology. But there it is. This is how low the man is willing to sink.
Another notable highlight in Eric’s Internet tenure was his National Enquirer-type spoof, primarily directed towards reactionary Catholic Robert Sungenis. Note the swipe at me on the bottom right (not my face there), and supposed association with CAI (a myth) and with Holocaust denial (an outrageous lie, of course). This was removed in fairly short order, but with neither a retraction nor an apology: public or private. Thanks to Internet Archive, we can preserve it in all its pathetic “glory”.
Svendsen mocked Blessed Pope John Paul II when he died, on his discussion board on 4-4-05, falsely claiming that he taught universalism and seriously questioning whether he went to heaven:
Don’t you know by now that the Evangelical way is to come to Christ by faith alone, give personal testimony that God and God alone saved you by his own grace and apart from any good thing you have done, insist in your testimony that you merely believed in Christ and trusted in him alone for your salvation, forsaking any good works as a means to your salvation—and then forget all that and confidently assert that the pope, who spouted Roman Catholic reliance on good works, baptism, the sacraments, Mary and the saints, and believed in a universalism, has “gone home to be with the Lord” and is now in heaven? What’s wrong with you anyway? It doesn’t have to be logical, as long as it sounds spiritual!
This is how anti-Catholics “argue,” folks. If their theological case is so superior (as they claim and brag about till the day is long), why is it that they have to resort to and soil themselves with such silly, juvenile behavior?
Eric Svendsen, like White, [the late] Steve Hays, “Turretinfan,” and other active online anti-Catholics, often exhibited a huge double standard, in objecting to our use of the (quite scholarly and common) term anti-Catholic, while at the same time using his own “anti” terms in the other direction. I documented his own rank hypocrisy on this score in June 2004 and again in June 2oo5.
To be fair, sometimes Eric Svendsen has been unfairly attacked by Catholics, too, and Catholic apologists. I defended him in the case of one attack that occurred on the Crowhill discussion board (run by Greg Krehbiel), in which it was denied that Eric believed in the Incarnation and the Trinity. It was said that he wasn’t a Christian at all.
And to his credit, Svendsen issued the following blanket apology, on 4-30-05 on his blog (“Towards Higher Ground”):
Waddling in the muck of Internet apologetics eventually takes its toll. I’m moving on to higher ground. While I’ll continue to point out the errors of errant theological systems (such as Roman Catholicism), as well as the mis-steps of certain evangelical leaders who seem to walk a bit too close to the edge of the heretical cliff, I am going to pass on the mud-wrestling challenges from Internet e-pologists. To that end, I have deleted a previous entry written in rash response to Dave Armstrong, to whom I apologize along with any others I may have mud-wrestled in the past. While I may continue to check in on their various blogs from time to time, any response to them will be a tempered and measured one.
I accepted the apology to me and apologized in turn for an error in characterizing certain of his remarks. But he never acknowledged my apology, and in the past had said — more than once — that my apologies are insincere.
It didn’t take long, unfortunately, for Svendsen to go against his newfound resolve. Exactly five days later he endorsed a fake blog that was purporting to be written by yours truly: a blog that engaged in wholesale lying, mockery, and smear tactics. He wrote on his discussion board:
[W]hile I don’t normally endorse anonymous blogs, the parady [sic] at the “I’m a Moron, But I Love Myself” blog captures the DA phenomenon exactly [smiley-face icon]. (Focusing on the Follies of Dave Armstrong, 5-4-05, 4:41 am)
Wow. So now we have observed the sad spectacle of one of the most well-known and influential Protestant anti-Catholic apologists endorsing a blatantly unethical (and probably illegal and legally actionable) attempt of using someone’s name under false pretenses on a fake blog, for the purpose of relentlessly lying about them and harming their reputation. What a world . . .
In the meantime, we’ll continue to chronicle the descent of mainstream anti-Catholic apologetics . . . into the abyss of wholesale smear campaigns and deliberate lying about those persons whom they theologically oppose.[the fake blog was removed by the end of the day on 4 May 2005]
The funniest incident between Eric and I came in January 2005. I had some technical problems for a few days, and he concluded that I had fled in terror from the Internet, cowering in fear from the prospect of daunting, invulnerable critiques from the likes of Bishop James White and himself. He wrote on his blog (original URL intact in the date):
It appears that direct and substantive critiques of his work have proved too much for Dave Armstrong. He has pulled the plug on his little blog experiment gone bad (Read). It seems Dr. White, in his critiques of Armstrong’s arguments that supposedly “confound Protestants,” ended up “confounding” Armstrong himself . . . Wasn’t it Dave Armstrong who criticized me for closing the comments section of my blog . . .? Wasn’t it Armstrong who criticized James White for not opening a comments section on his blog? . . . And now, as poetic justice would have it, Dave Armstrong is not merely closing the comments section of his apologetic blog–he’s getting out of the apologetic blog business entirely! Wow; bravo James [White]! If we had only known earlier that it would take only five consecutive exegetical critiques of Armstrong’s argument to shut him up (Tit 1:10-11), many would have done this a long time ago. Well done! : ) (1-4-05)
How ironic that here I am five years later standing over what may be the “grave” of his website and discussion board. Perhaps it is only a temporary glitch (or ditch, should I say?). I at least allow that to be a possibility (unlike his silly response when my blog went down for a day or two). In this instance, a fellow anti-Catholic and rapt admirer of Svendsen, James Swan has also announced their probable demise at the smear-fest site, Boor’s All, so it looks like it is indeed the case.
But (oddly enough) Svendsen had claimed he was done with Internet apologetics before: on 2 November 2005, on his blog. Perhaps this gives a clue why his sites are now down (possibly for good):
After more than a decade of being involved in Internet apologetics, I am packing it in. I guess I could blame it on the fifty-plus hours of work that I am putting in weekly. But it’s much more than that. My absence from this forum over the past few months (with only occasional exceptions) has given me a renewed sense of appreciation for the importance of doing ministry in and through the local church. The comparison between a focus on that kind of edifying ministry and a focus on constantly correcting the incorrigible and vitriolic pooling of ignorance that comes from self-styled “apologists,” each promoting his own version of a false gospel, is staggering; and it is something that no longer holds a modicum of attraction for me. I have recently been commissioned by the elders of my church to revamp the church’s educational program, and I am eager to get started on it. All the spare time I would otherwise have dedicated to Internet activity will be devoted to that task. I have enjoyed getting to know many, many fine people through this venue over the past decade, and I wish them well. The website, discussion forum, and blog will remain open, and will continue as always. It’s just that I won’t be contributing to it as I once did. I do not anticipate returning to this kind of venue in the future, though there is always that possibility. I would ask the friends of NTRMin.org to pray for me as I refocus on those things that are truly and biblically relevant.
Eric Svendsen has put out several anti-Catholic books with small publishers:
Evangelical Answers: A Critique of Current Roman Catholic Apologists (Reformation Press, 1999)
Who is My Mother? (Calvary Press: 2001)
Upon This Slippery Rock (Calvary Press: 2002)
Here are my own dialogues with and critiques of Eric Svendsen’s views:
Have Heterodox Catholics Overthrown Official Doctrine? (vs. Eric Svendsen, James White, Phillip Johnson, & Andrew Webb) [6-3-96]
Anti-Catholics everywhere are bemoaning Svendsen’s departure. They will be wearing black for the next week (perhaps mixed with sackcloth and ashes). I think they have it exactly backwards. Far from being a tragedy, this is great news for the anti-Catholic cause, since Svendsen was one of the most notorious examples of the “angry, irrational anti-Catholic.”
Hence, his Internet presence and his tirades and whoppers hindered the movement and caused many inquirers, no doubt, to look elsewhere, since they would have figured that the truth doesn’t need to be “defended” by such nefarious means. Eric was “bad PR,” in other words. His absence represents a net gain in that sense for anti-Catholicism.
But, rest assured, there are others to take his place and to exhibit the sneering, hissing mentality when any Catholic is within a country mile. So the proud tradition continues and Svendsen’s legacy is alive and well: perpetuated in his followers and his fan club. For those who want to continue to desecrate New Testament ethics and Christian unity: to trample upon the Golden Rule and the Royal Commandment alike, this is good news. For the rest of us, it is a disgrace.
Svendsen’s Real Clear Theology blog remains online: with the final post dated 12 April 2009. I may still refute some of his articles on his site, on boring days when I run out of stuff to do.
Here are some further clarifying comments of mine from the original combox discussion:
For the record, I do not myself claim that Svendsen cares nothing for the truth, is insincere, or that he preaches a false gospel (depends how “gospel” is defined, and I think I am going by the Bible there).
The gospel, for both Protestants and Catholics, is the incarnation, redeeming death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. It shouldn’t be a dividing point at all. We can agree on sola gratia and agree that semi-Pelagianism is heresy.
Defined correctly, Svendsen still holds to a saving gospel. He just gets particulars wrong of how that saving gospel is applied to us, and the more minute points. Many Calvinists make the mistake of collapsing the gospel to TULIP. But it doesn’t follow that they deny the gospel (the Good News) insofar as its actual definition, drawn from the Bible itself.
I think he has some false theology, based on false premises, and has often acted uncharitably, and has an anti-Catholic view that I consider intellectual suicide. But I don’t have to go this extra distance and start questioning the state of his soul.
I leave those kinds of ultra-uncharitable judgments to the anti-Catholics. I don’t think we gain anything by stooping down to that level of calumny of others. I would hope that we could be different and exercise as much charity as we can.
I also have never gotten involved in the heos hou dispute [a huge squabble with several Catholics lambasting Svendsen’s knowledge of Greek]. I’m strictly neutral. I figure that he is probably wrong — wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he was –, but I myself took no stand and it formed no part of my critique of him.
I also thought some of the criticisms of him during that went over the top, along the lines of what I am criticizing above.
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Photo credit: Eric Svendsen’s book Evangelical Answers, from the Amazon book page.
Summary: Eric Svendsen was once the second most active and influential anti-Catholic Protestant polemicist online, after James White. But in 2010 he disappeared from the Net.