Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #16

Reply to Hays’ “Catholicism” #16 May 26, 2023

Theological Presuppositions; What Was Apostolic Teaching?; “Church” Defined; Christian Unity; Faith Isn’t Philosophy

The late Steve Hays (1959-2020) was a Calvinist (and anti-Catholic) apologist, who was very active on his blog, called Triablogue (now continued by Jason Engwer). His 695-page self-published book, Catholicism a collection of articles from his site — has graciously been made available for free. On 9 September 2006, Hays was quite — almost extraordinarily — charitable towards me. He wrote then:

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

Two-and-a-half years later, starting in April 2009 and up through December 2011 (in the following quotations) his opinion radically changed, and he claimed that I have “an evil character,” am “actually evil,” “ego-maniac, narcissist,” “idolater,” “self-idolater,” “hack who pretends to be a professional apologist,” given to “chicanery,” one who doesn’t “do any real research,” “a stalwart enemy of the faith . . .  no better than [the atheists] Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens,” with an intent to “destroy faith in God’s word,” “schizophrenic,” “emotionally unhinged,” one who “doesn’t trust in the merit of Christ alone for salvation,” “has no peace of mind,” “a bipolar solipsist,” “split-personality,” and a “bad” man. He wasn’t one to mince words! See more gory details.

I feel no need whatsoever to reciprocate these silly and sinful insults. I just wanted the record to be known. I’ve always maintained that Hays was a very intelligent man, but habitually a sophist in methodology; sincere and well-meaning, but tragically and systematically wrong and misguided regarding Catholicism. That’s what I’m addressing, not the state of his heart and soul (let alone his eternal destiny). It’s a theological discussion. This is one of many planned critiques of his book (see my reasons why I decided to do this). Rather than list them all here, interested readers are directed to the “Steve Hays” section of my Anti-Catholicism web page, where they will all be listed. My Bible citations are from the RSV. Steve’s words will be in blue.


[Chapter 4: Catholic Apologetics]

Ecclesial consumerism

There was a time in European history when Roman Catholicism was the only game in town. Moreover, to publicly question Catholic tenets was an invitation to be tortured to death by the religious and/or civil authorities, so there was a powerful incentive to keep your head down even if you entertained private doubts. [p. 135]

Hays would love his readers to think that such things didn’t happen under Protestantism. Think again! No one was more intolerant and bloodthirsty than Protestant England in the 16th and 17th centuries. Catholics didn’t receive full civil freedom until the 1830s, and even then anti-Catholicism attitudes were endemic.

In addition, for devout Catholics, it’s not just a set of beliefs but an all-encompassing way of life. [p. 135]

And it’s not for serious, devout Protestants? It should be! It’s in evangelical Protestantism that I heard and accepted the maxim, “Jesus is Lord over all of life.”

Everyone within your inner social circle was Catholic. A complete, off-the-shelf package. That’s how it used to be–less so now. That conditioning produces tunnel vision–so that any alternative is inconceivable. For those deeply immersed in Catholic culture, a break with Catholicism requires a radical paradigm shift. [p. 135]

Everyone within your inner social circle is anti-Catholic Protestant. A complete, off-the-shelf package. That conditioning produces tunnel vision–so that any alternative is inconceivable. For those deeply immersed in anti-Catholic Protestant culture, a break with anti-Catholicism and/or the much larger Protestantism requires a radical paradigm shift.

A person’s religious affiliation shouldn’t simply be a cultural given. To be randomly born into a particular religious package is not a good reason
to be an adherent. That’s the luck of the draw–which doesn’t reliably select for truth. [p. 136]

I agree 100%.

In my experience, Bryan [Cross] always commences his discussion of Catholicism with key assumptions taken for granted, as if that’s already been established. Bryan’s view of Catholicism is like an axiomatic system in which the first principles are arbitrary postulates. [p. 138]

In my experience, Steve Hays always commences his discussion of Protestantism with key assumptions taken for granted, as if that’s already been established. Hays’s view of Protestantism is like an axiomatic system in which the first principles are arbitrary postulates.

[Catholicism is] a schismatic and heretical body which broke with the NT exemplars. [p. 138]

I would like to see a systematic exposition of these “exemplars.” This reminds me of a ludicrous exchange from June 1996 that I had with Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White, the premier anti-Catholic Protestant (Reformed Baptist) apologist of our time. His words will be in green below (the original exchange — see the link — is here compacted and abridged for more brevity and clarity):

I believe it is vitally important to believe in what the Apostles taught. Which, of course, is exactly why I cannot embrace the teachings of Rome. In fact, it is fidelity to the apostolic message that is the strongest argument against the innovations of Rome over time, Dave.

Why not boldly tell us, then, James, precisely what“the Apostles taught”? [and I wanted to know what they taught, specifically, on 18 issues that I laid out]

That’s pretty easy, Dave. I have 27 books filled with their teaching. Where shall we start? I guess we could start with the apostolic teaching that we are justified by faith and so have peace with God (Romans 5:1).

Why, though, if sola fide is true, did “scarcely anyone” teach it from Paul to Luther, according to Norman Geisler, in his latest book Roman Catholics and Evangelicals (p. 502)? Very strange, and too bizarre and implausible for me.

The Apostles also taught that Jesus Christ was and is fully deity (Colossians 2:9), and that’s really important, too!

Absolutely. But you guys got this doctrine from us, so big wow!

Are you saying that the Bible is insufficientto answer these questions? That God’s Word is so unclear, so confused, so ambiguous, that these issues cannot be determined by a careful and honest examination of the Bible?

It’s irrelevant what I think, because I’m asking you. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that it isclear, sufficient, and perspicuous. Okay, now, please tell me what it teaches on these issues! Does anyone not understand my argumentation here? Is it that complicated? This is the essence of my whole argument in this vein. If we grant your perspicuity, then tell us these doctrines that are so clear.  I’m saying: be true to your own principles, and don’t be ashamed of them. Either demonstrate this abstract, ethereal notion of perspicuity concretely and practically, or cease using it if it has no content, and if it is only useful as a content-less slogan to bash Catholics with.

People who call themselves Protestants disagree on every point above; people who call themselves Roman Catholics disagree on every point above, too. So what?

Again, I’m just holding you to your own words (“fidelity to the apostolic message”). If you would rather admit that your own phrases have neither definition nor doctrinal or rational content, that would be one way (albeit not a very impressive one) out of your felt dilemma. I’m simply asking you to define what you mean by “apostolic message.”

I hope all on the list realize what is being said here. A person with the entire NT in his hand cannot know what the apostolic message was unless he likewise has Roman “tradition” alongside! Imagine it!

All the more reason for you to tell us what this mysterious “apostolic message” is. According to this curious illogic, one can “know” what the message is, without the Catholic Church, but they can’t tell mewhat it is, what it consists of!

Christ is the way, truth, and life, and hence fidelity to Him would cause one to put truth and consistency in the forefront of the examination.

What does this have to do with anything? Consistency is primarily what I’m calling for, and I’m asking you what the truth is, but you don’t want to tell me!

I get the real feeling, Dave, that you well know that your questions have been and will be answered,

If they have, I’ve missed it. Please, somebody send me that post. If they “will” be answered, when, and by whom, I wonder? . . . Why don’t you select just five of this present list of items out of my entire list of 18 in which Protestants differ, and tell me what the Apostles taught, so I can know what you know?

Your argument won’t get you anywhere, Dave (and your style is certainly not going to win you any points with the more serious of our readers, either).

Is that why no one is answering? My style? Maybe I’ll try a boring, staid approach, then.

You well know what the Bible teaches on these topics.

James, James! This is the whole point! We know, but you guys can’t figure it out. Hence your reluctance to answer (I can think of no better reason). A short answer to my question surely wouldn’t put you out.

White went off on even more distant tangents after that. The fact remains that he would not tell me what the “apostolic message” was in areas where Catholics and Protestants disagree; let alone on the eighteen points I asked him about. He claimed that it existed, but would not get specific. It was pathetic and absurd in equal measure.

Hays’ sophistical attempts to talk about “NT exemplars” reminded me of this. He won’t (and did not) get specific, either, because he knows (and I submit that Bishop White also knew) that close analysis of early Church history is embarrassing for the Protestant view every time. So the usual strategy is “out of sight, out of mind.”

Presuppositional Catholicism

In my experience, Bryan Cross never begins with evidence; rather, he always begins with his preconception of what “the Church” must be like. By definition, “the Church” must be such-and-such. He has an unfalsifiable paradigm. Kinda like Barth’s concept of suprahistory, where Christian essentials safely exist in a Never-never land sealed off from the risk of empirical or historical disconfirmation. Even if he occasionally appeals to the church fathers, I suspect that’s filtered through his Catholic paradigm. The Roman Magisterium has the “final interpretive authority” regarding the consensus patrum. So there is no independent evidence for Catholicism, only value-laden evidence that takes the Catholic paradigm for granted. It’s a kind of Catholic presuppositionalism. An axiomatic system in which the “the Church” is axiomatic, but the axioms are indemonstrable. [p. 139]

In my experience (especially after going through this atrociously argued book), Steve Hays never begins with evidence; rather, he always begins with his preconception of what the invisible “Church” must be like. By definition, the invisible “Church” must be such-and-such. He has an unfalsifiable paradigm. Kinda like Barth’s concept of suprahistory, where Christian essentials safely exist in a Never-never land sealed off from the risk of empirical or historical disconfirmation. Even if he occasionally appeals to the church fathers, I suspect that’s filtered through his low church, non-denom Calvinist paradigm. Steve Hays has the “final interpretive authority” regarding the consensus patrum. So there is no independent evidence for his low church, non-denom Calvinism, only value-laden evidence that takes the low church, non-denom Calvinism paradigm for granted. It’s a kind of Calvinist presuppositionalism. An axiomatic system in which the “the Church” is axiomatic, but the axioms are indemonstrable.

And Hay’s never-ending incomplete sentences are about to drive me batty! And I have 556 pages to go! I will need serious prayer for my patience and great difficulty in suffering folly and lousy arguments, to endure it.

The address of the “visible” Church is Shangri-La. Although you can’t find it on the map, it’s oh-so visible–unlike those hapless Protestant denominations. [p. 139]

The address (if there is said to be just one) is in the Vatican City in the center of Rome. Anyone can find that.

Elevator out of order

Notice how Bryan [Cross] opposes “the Church” to individual Christians. He’s covertly uses “the Church” as a synonym, not for the faithful, but for a tiny subset of the church: popes and bishops in union with the pope. [p. 155]

Yes, because he’s being biblical. So, for example, in Matthew 18:17 Jesus recommends regarding a non-repentant sinner: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” If the Church is simply the faithful, then the passage would read, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the faithful.” How does that work? Obviously, some of the “faithful” must be selected in order to function as an authoritative Church, whether locally (as in this instance) or the entire Church.

Likewise, in the Jerusalem council, the early Church had to make a decision about circumcision and how the Mosaic Law related to Gentiles, and “apostles” and “elders” (Acts 15:2, 22-23) gathered in Jerusalem. They came to a decision that “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (15:28). This binding decision was then announced to Christians in widely different locations. Paul was traveling through Asia Minor (Turkey) and he “delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem” (16:4). So how does this scenario work out with Steve’s equation of the Church and the faithful?

Again, only some of the faithful: the “elite” if you will, carefully selected, including Paul, Peter, and James the bishop of Jerusalem, made the decision, guided by the Holy Spirit, to be observed by all Christians. That’s not some kind of democratic “every man for himself” low Church, non-denom Protestant authority. Rather, it’s full-blown, infallible Church authority, contrary to sola Scriptura. (since something other than Scripture was infallible: the Church). It’s also both hierarchical and papal authority. Peter was present at the council and provided the key rationale for the final decision. Apostles and elders functioned as later, bishops would, gathering in council under the authority of a pope: sort of like the US Congress and the President, except that the pope, unlike the President whose veto can be overridden, must always be agreed with by the council.

In these cases and others that could be brought forth, the “Church” is indeed different from individual Christians, and they can be distinguished from each other.

Since Christians aren’t united in one faith in a visible catholic Church (as Bryan defines it), that was never Christ’s intention. If that was his

intention, then he’s fallible and mistaken. I don’t think God has failed intentions. [p. 155]

Nonsense. The Bible and God give us the ideal of what we are supposed to be like, and we fail and fall short every time. Is that God’s fault? No. Was the fall of man and original sin his fault? No. Is God the author of sin? No. Would the Church be perfectly one and holy just because Jesus wanted that? No. God gave human beings free will, and that always incudes the possibility of failure and sin, and much evil. Therefore, our falling short is distinct from the question of God’s perfect will and intention.

He wanted us to be perfectly one (John 17) and Christians clearly are not. But the Catholic Church has the largest amount of doctrinal unity, and has continually for almost 2,000 years. Protestantism has great amounts of self-contradiction and disunity, by nature of its tragically faulty rule of faith. So that introduces a false concept alongside the usual sins and foibles of human beings.

Maybe Bryan thinks that Christ’s intentions are realized in the church of Rome. If so, that would mean Jesus only intended for “Roman Catholics to be united in one faith in a visible catholic church,” rather than Christians in general. [p. 155]

No; God intended for all Christians to be spiritually and doctrinally united and all in the same Church: the Catholic Church.

Now there is a sense in which a Catholic convert no longer relies on his own judgment. But that’s because he’s given up, and not because the process of inquiry yields a flash of insight that transcends the epistemic starting-point. [p. 158]

No, because it’s a thing called “faith”: which Hays completely neglects in his entire analysis of Bryan Cross’s argument. I’ve long noted this in anti-Catholic apologetics and contra-convert analyses, in which they almost seem to reduce the Christian faith to mere philosophy. Everything is premises and logical conclusions and epistemology and absolute certainty. But faith is a huge part of it, too! Faith doesn’t operate on the same plane as reason (though we must always seek to make it consistent with reason). It’s not certain in the way that 2+2=4 or “if a=b and b=c, a=c” are. Hays at length finally did mention faith, but in the case of Catholic converts, he characterized it as “blind faith” (p. 158), ruling out the possibility of “divine illumination” (p. 158), so he is immediately hostile to it. He simply assumes without argument that a Catholic converts’ faith must be blind and unsupported by evidence, the Bible, internal verification by the Holy Spirit, etc.

Then Hays gets a little closer to the mark:

A Catholic inquirer may come to believe that his sect is divinely protected from error, but his belief isn’t divinely protected from error. [p. 160]

No one said that it was. But it can be correct without being infallible. And if — in the final analysis — this belief is indeed correct, then that person has arrived at a true state of affairs: an infallible and indefectible Church, and is in a great place. I would say that both are taught in the Bible, and I wrote a 150-page book about it: Biblical Proofs for an Infallible Church and Papacy (March 2012).

He can’t appeal to an infallible teaching office to retroactively validate his fallible belief in an infallible teaching office. [p. 160]

That’s quite correct. But what he can do is note that the Bible (itself inspired, infallible, inerrant revelation from God) teaches that the one true Church is infallible. That ain’t simply “him” believing or saying it; it’s God. Protestants don’t even make the claim! It’s precluded by their false “pillar” of sola Scriptura.

Instead, he comes to a point where he “surrenders” his judgment to the judgment of the magisterium. [p. 160]

Nope. He surrenders it to the Holy Scripture that teaches an infallible and authoritative, institutional, hierarchical, visible, and historically continuous Church. And if he studies Church history, he finds these notions predominating, too, until the Protestants came along and tried to deny it.

But he doesn’t do that because reason proved the magisterium to be divinely protected from error, thereby rendering independent judgment
unnecessary beyond that point. He wasn’t infallibly guided to infallibly discover an infallible guide. [p. 160]

Ah, but yes he was, because Holy Scripture (whether this person knows it or not) teaches it.

[H]is assent to the magisterium can never rise any higher than “human opinion”. Even if an infallible teaching office did exist, that lies beyond the reach of reason to demonstrate. [p. 162]

Nonsense. Scripture and Church history both validate it.

So the vicious circularity of the Catholic appeal remains inextricable. [p. 162]

Hays wrongly thinks so because he has completely ignored what the Bible has to teach us about this matter.


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Photo credit: The Whore of Babylon (workshop of Lucas Cranach): colorized illustration from Martin Luther’s 1534 translation of the Bible [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: The late Steve Hays was a Calvinist and anti-Catholic writer and apologist. This is one of my many critiques of Hays’ “Catholicism”: a 695-page self-published volume.

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