Tuesday, June 08, 2004

John Wesley: a "Catholic Methodist"?

Since discovering very "Catholic" things about various Protestants seems to be quite the thing these days, I was fascinated by this information I picked up today on Pontificator's blog, from Alastair Roberts, frequent visitor to this blog. I love Wesley! But now I think he is even cooler than I did before:
------------------------------------------------------------------------

I came across this interesting letter a few months back. It is addressed to Wesley’s wayward brother-in-law, Westley Hall.

December 30, 1745.

DEAR BROTHER,—Now you act the part of a friend. It has long been our desire, that, you would speak freely. And we will do the same. What we know not yet, may God reveal to us!

You think, First, that, we undertake to defend some things, which are not defensible by the Word of God. You instance three: on each of which we will explain ourselves as clearly as we can.

1. ‘That, the validity of our ministry depends on a succession supposed to be from the Apostles, and a commission derived from the Pope of Rome, and his successors or dependents.’

We believe, it would not be right for us to administer, either Baptism or the Lord’s Supper, unless we had a commission so to do from those Bishops, whom we apprehend to be in a succession from the Apostles. And, yet, we allow, these Bishops are the successors of those, who are dependent on the Bishop of Rome. But, we would be glad to know, on what reasons you believe this to be inconsistent with the Word of God.

2. ‘That, there is an outward Priesthood, and consequently an outward Sacrifice, ordained and offered by the Bishop of Rome, and his successors or dependents, in the Church of England, as vicars and vicegerents of Christ.’

We believe there is and always was, in every Christian Church (whether dependent on the Bishop of Rome or not) an outward Priesthood ordained by Jesus Christ, and an outward Sacrifice offered therein, by men authorized to act, as Ambassadors of Christ, and Stewards of the mysteries of God. On what grounds do you believe, that, Christ has abolished that Priesthood or Sacrifice?

3. ‘That, this Papal Hierarchy and Prelacy, which still continues in the Church of England, is of Apostolical Institution, and authorized thereby; though not by the written Word.’

We believe, that, the threefold order of ministers, (which you seem to mean by Papal Hierarchy and Prelacy,) is not only authorized by its Apostolical Institution, but also by the written Word. Yet, we are willing to hear and weigh whatever reasons induce you to believe to the contrary.


But don't break out the champagne yet. Alas, there is some bad news, too. Dr. William Tighe added this sobering bit of information:

Well, yes, but when did John Wesley write this? In later life, he abandoned his earlier belief in the apostolic succession of bishops, and came to believe that presbyters and bishops were the same office; hence his consecration of Asbury & Coke as “superintendents” for American Methodists in (when? 1782?); subsequently they termed themselves “bishops.” Charles Wesley, who had not, like John, abandoned his earlier beliefs about Catholic Church Order, reproached John bitterly for these “consecrations.” Wesley, like Luther, changed some of his ideas as time went on – and for both of them the changes were away from historical Catholicism, not towards it.


It's a bummer, but this is what Protestantism tends to do, doesn't it? Move away from historic Catholic Christianity . . .

Alastair replied:

Yes, I was aware of that. However, this letter from Wesley does come 7 and a half years after his evangelical conversion. Wesley certainly did not see his evangelical convictions to be incompatible with his high ecclesiology for many years.


And this is an excellent consideration, assuming that Wesley did adopt a "lower" ecclesiology later in life. He managed to believe this "Catholic" stuff for seven years after adopting an evangelical stance and undergoing a profound personal experience of the Holy Spirit, and saw no radical inconsistency in that.

There are all sorts of examples of this, where the beliefs of prominent Protestant figures don't fit into the modern ("post-modern"?) evangelical mold: Luther's belief in the Immaculate Conception and baptismal regeneration, Bullinger's seeming acceptance of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, Wesley's quite Catholic notions of sanctification and rejection of sola fide, Keble, Pusey, Newman and the Tractarians, C.S. Lewis' casual acceptance of purgatory and prayers for the dead, widespread Protestant belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary and the wrongness of contraception until very recent times (and a growing movement going back to that stance today), etc. G.K. Chesterton made one of his perceptive analogies between Protestant "borrowing" or continuing lots of different Catholic beliefs and practices, to Robinson Crusoe going out to the wrecked ship again and again to retrieve more things.

I think Protestants ought to ask themselves why that is. Is it not rather obvious that Rome remains, and indeed always has been the standard for the parameters, nature, and shape of historic Christianity? Time and again, Protestant movements discover (or I should say "rediscover") some "new" truth, only to realize that we Catholics had held it all along, from the beginning. It's shipwrecked Crusoe going back to the "ship" of historic Catholicism, which is still sitting out there. Once this happens over and over, I think some folks (like myself in 1990) will start thinking of converting to this remarkable Church which seems to somehow (despite all its outward warts and flaws and laxity and/or ignorance of many of its members) "get it right" over and over. Ronald Knox made the journey across the Tiber. He wrote in his recounting of that odyssey:

I read . . . Milman's (soundly Protestant) History of Latin Christianity . . . he comments upon the extraordinary precision with which, time after time, the Bishops of Rome managed to foresee which side the Church would eventually take in a controversy, and "plumped" for it beforehand . . . Each time Rome . . . thinks today what the world will think tomorrow . . . the Catholic party is the party in which the Bishop of Rome was, and nothing else . . . The Papacy seemed to be the thing which medieval Christendom was certain about . . . I had taken no new intellectual step: I saw the same set of facts, and my intellect made an entirely different report of them . . .

I had been . . . fully prepared to find, that the immediate result of submission to Rome would be the sense of having one's liberty cramped and restricted in a number of ways . . . My experience has been exactly the opposite. I have been overwhelmed with the feeling of liberty . . . You can carry a weight so long that you cease to feel it; instead, you feel an outburst of positive relief when it is withdrawn. The suppressed uncertainty of mind was like a dull toothache that had been part of my daily experience . . . It was not till I became a Catholic that I became conscious of my former homelessness . . . I now found ease and naturalness, and stretched myself like a man who has been sitting in a cramped position . . . Nor do I feel cabined and cramped because intellectual speculation is now guided and limited for me by actual authority, as it had been . . . . by my own desire for orthodoxy.

(A Spiritual Aeneid, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1950 ed., 192-196, 218-220, 222)


Sunday, June 06, 2004

I Like and Appreciate "Reformed Catholicism" a Lot, BUT . . .

. . . my friend, "Pontificator" (a traditionalist Anglican [Fr. Al Kimel: who later became a Catholic] ) has made, I think, some important criticisms of the movement, with which I largely agree. They deserve careful consideration from those in the self-titled "Reformed Catholicism" movement. This present paper of mine -- I hasten to add -- does not at all undo or clash with the expressly ecumenical effort of my recent post responding to (indeed, mostly loudly applauding) Joel Garver. He was dealing mostly with soteriology. In that area, I think there is remarkable existing agreement, and great potential for more as discussions continue. But -- sadly --, other issues do not present such a bright and rosey prospect for actual agreement.

I am both ecumenical and an apologist for Catholicism (a religious point of view that we don't feel needs any qualifier: people know what you are talking about when you say simply "Catholic"). That makes me distinct from "Reformed Catholicism" or "Anglo-Catholicism" or any other "x-Catholicism" that exists (either with a big "C" or a little "c"). But I am happy to find whatever common ground I can with all these brothers and sisters in Christ. People seem to be enamored with this word "Catholic" (and well they should be, because it implies a oneness and universality of the Church. This is the biblical and historic Christian concept).

The two endeavors do not contradict at all (as I have been arguing for 13 years now). They are not mutually exclusive (much as many people -- caught up in an "either/or" mentality and modality -- would like to believe). One can adhere to one set of beliefs and defend them against all comers, and also simultaneously seek unity with other Christians of different stripe, insofar as possible without denying one's own theological and doctrinal identity and distinctives. Apologetics is good, and unity and appreciation with other Christian traditions is good; I refuse to dichotomize the two).

With that disclaimer out of the way, I shall now post Pontificator's paper on his blog: “Reformed” + “Catholicism”–Water and Oil? in its entirety, with my responses in blue:

* * * * *

It’s been a pleasure discovering various sites on the internet devoted to the advancement of catholicity among the Protestant churches.

Indeed; I am quite pleased about this development also.

I’m not just talking about Anglo-Catholic groups within Anglicanism, but catholic groups among real Protestants.

So Anglicans are "unreal" Protestants? Just teasing . . .

Pontifications readers are probably already quite familiar with the splendid work of Thomas Oden. Oden is an evangelical Methodist who is seeking to reground Protestantism within the consensual tradition of the Church. Given the Anglican sacramentalism of John Wesley, and given Methodism’s distance from the 16th century Reformation, I have not found it surprising to find Oden and other Methodists (Geoffrey Wainwright immediately comes to mind) recalling the Church to its patristic roots.

One would hope they would be consistent with the roots of their own heritage, beginning with John Wesley (one of the Protestants in history I admire the most, particularly for his extraordinary evangelistic zeal), so this shouldn't be surprising at all (at least among those more historically-minded and -conscious within Methodism, which tends to be the scholars). But Protestant denominations have a bad habit of developing in directions quite foreign to the conceptions and goals of the founders of said groups.

But I admit I have found it surprising to find a Reformed Catholicism movement within the churches of Geneva. Reformed Catholicism? Is it an oxymoron? The Reformed-catholics obviously do not think so.

One could quibble with the category distinctions in play here, but beyond that, I think it is commendable to build bridges between these two camps, since historically there has existed such extreme antipathy between them.

It’s clear, however, that what these catholic reformers mean by catholicism is very, very different from what Orthodox and Catholic Christians–and even Anglo-Catholics–mean by that word.

Well, I agree. The goals may be very laudable, but when one gets down to closely analyzing terms and definitions, then one runs into (in my opinion) several thorny issues which can hardly be resolved by simply using words which "the other guy" tends to use more than our own tradition.

The contributors of Reformed Catholicism are emphatic in their insistence that Reformed Christianity is catholic, not sectarian; but I wonder what historical ecclesial reality they are speaking about. It’s not a matter of counting up the number of times the word catholic is used in the Reformed catechisms and confessions. It’s a question of the compatibility of Reformed teaching with the historic beliefs and practices of catholic Christianity.

Exactly. Well stated. This has long been a criticism of mine against certain sectors of this movement. It seems to me to make little sense ultimately unless there is some concrete, institutional, historically-continuous body or communion where it is embodied and instantiated. This is where the Catholic or Orthodox views are, I think (agree or disagree), far more internally coherent. And this criticism would apply to Anglicanism as well (as Pontificator is painfully aware, as a traditionalist in a rapidly liberalizing denomination, which shows itself presently excited about compromising with the blatantly non-Christian cultural zeitgeist).

It’s a question of what kind of churches actually emerged from the theologicical and ecclesiological teachings of Calvin & Company.

Bingo! Sorry for my Catholic bias in terminology there . . .

Isn’t “Reformed Catholicism” talking about an idealized church that has never existed?

Quite arguably, yes. I would like to hear their responses to this criticism, which has very much been my own, when the (wishful) attempt is made to find a supposedly close affinity between historic, patristic, medieval Catholic Christianity and later Protestantism.

Double predestination, the denial of the Eucharistic real presence and sacrifice, the restriction of the number of the sacraments to baptism and the Supper, the abandonment of the historic Episcopate and the apostolic succession of the ordained ministry, forensic justification, sola scriptura, the denial of the infallibility of the Church, the rejection of the veneration of images, the rejection of the invocation of the saints–these characteristic teachings of the Reformed tradition all dramatically depart from the faith of the Fathers.

Sadly so. And the fact that a small number of high-minded, well-intentioned, ecumenical Reformed Christians seek to modify some aspects of some of these tendencies or dogmatic positions, does not, and cannot alter or alleviate this huge difficulty of historical continuity and grounding in the Fathers. They are betwixt and between as long as they follow this course: the majority of their own Calvinist brethren will reject much of what they say, and their beliefs can never become identical to Orthodoxy or Catholicism or even Anglo-Catholicism in some respects. I hate to come off sounding like a naysayer, but what can I do? This is my sincere opinion.

The appeal to the Vincentian canon rings hollow on Reformed lips.

When closely scrutinized, I agree. Cardinal Newman couldn't even synthesize St. Vincent with Tractarian Anglicanism, let alone "Reformed Catholicism."

The Calvinist Reformation was not a conservative return to Patristic Christianity; it was a revolutionary recreation of Christianity–with the consequent destruction of Catholic culture–in the futile attempt to bypass fifteen hundred years of Church history to repristinate an apostolic Church that never existed.

This might be a harsh way of describing it, but I essentially agree. I think that Luther and Calvin were by essence revolutionaries, not "reformers." They maintained some things, true, but in many many respects they were novel innovators. And I don't simply state that because I am a Catholic. My apologetic writings have, I think, demonstrated the factuality of these contentions time and again. Most of what was distinctive in Luther and Calvin and other early Protestants was an innovation and a novelty in terms of previous Church Tradition. What was not an innovation was simply a preservation of what already existed (thus they deserve no particular credit for that). So the distinctives that make Protestantism what it is cannot be accepted by Catholics and Orthodox because they clash with received Tradition and apostolic succession. Protestantism was simply a different animal, because they had "switched the rules" whereby theological and doctrinal truth are determined.

Particularly unconvincing, I’m afraid to say, is the interpretation of Calvin’s doctrine of Eucharistic presence as catholic. While I readily grant that John Calvin’s understanding of the Eucharist is superior to the views that became representative in the Reformed churches, it still denies the fundamental Eucharistic realism that is found in the Fathers–and that includes St Augustine, who is perhaps closer to Calvin than the other Church Fathers. Contra Mr. Johnson, Calvin certainly cannot be rightly interpreted as being an authentic return to the Eastern view of Eucharistic transformation as found in St Cyril of Jerusalem.

I agree. I have written about that already on my blog, in a general sense (and dialogued with some reformed catholics), and I hope to soon examine the eucharistic theology of St. Cyril of Jerusalem and compare and contrast it with that of Calvin, since this particular claim has been made. From what I have seen in briefly examining St. Cyril, it looks like the claim will be shown to be insufficiently established.

For the Orthodox Christian, the consecrated elements are the Body and Blood of the Lord and are thus worthy of true adoration. For the Reformed, such a belief, and certainly all acts of prayer and adoration directed to the elements, is idolatrous.

Yes. Calvin has some very choice words for the Mass, which would hardly be able to be harmonized with the Fathers.

Darwell Stone’s A History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist remains the classic treatment in English on this subject. And if I may, I also refer the brethren to my own humble attempts to discuss this subject, Eating Christ and Sacrament of Presence.

Thanks for the references.

I applaud the intent of these catholic-minded Reformed reformers–may their tribe increase!

As do I.

–but their project is unconvincing and doomed. Catholic movements within Protestantism have always been short-lived. The Mercersburg theology of Nevin and Schaff is a good example. The Tractarian movement was a different kind of movement, because it lacked all sympathy for the Reformation and sought to recall Anglicanism to a pre-Reformation identity; but it too failed.

History seems to show this, yes. Again, it is not pleasant to have to be a "prophet of doom", so to speak, but I am skeptical that our friends will succeed in changing much. If anything, they will (ironically) simply succeed in creating yet another denomination which will itself undergo the usual process of decay and revival and more decay, which has typified virtually all Protestant movements for 500 years. But having said that, I do commend them for their ecumenical effort, for the seriousness with which they approach Christian history and things like baptism and the Eucharist, and for their refreshing ecumenical attitude towards Catholics and welcome opposition to the massive structure of Protestant Anti-Catholicism. I would like to personally thank them for these things and more, and they have my deep respect.

To be Protestant is by definition to be non-catholic.

I agree with this. It is, after all, built into the very word, isn't it? What are they protesting? Well, obviously Catholicism. A Protestant might object: "No! Not Catholicism, but the corruptions which crept into Catholicism over hundreds of years." But once one analyzes what those corruptions are considered to be, it is clear that most of them are part and parcel of Catholicism, so that, in the end, it is the Catholic system which is being attacked or rejected, in those areas where Protestants dissented. This is easily demonstrated in particulars.

To be Protestant is to be a denomination, ruled by private judgment. That is part of the Protestant DNA. Whether that is a good or bad thing each person must decide for himself.

I agree again. It has not been demonstrated to my satisfaction, over the course of many dialogues on this general topic of authority, for almost 14 years now, that Protestantism can overcome its inevitable recourse to private judgment. It is part and parcel of what it is. There are only so many options in matters of authority. If you reject episcopacy, apostolic succession, councils, the papacy, a binding Tradition, and the Rule of Faith as practiced by virtually all Christians for the first 1000 years and (if we exclude the papacy) by all for another 500 after that, then necessarily the final court of appeal winds up in the individual. People can protest and complain about that characterization all they want, but I have not seen any cogent disproof of that scenario. The last time I discussed it, I was told by two people that they intended to reply. They have not as of yet. I hope they do, because I consider this the most damaging argument against their claims.

* * * * *

[The following will be my words, in black, unless otherwise noted]

Another Anglican friend of mine, Edwin Tait, responded in the comments section of this post:
Pontificator, I’m not sure I accept your definition of “Protestant DNA,” or even that there is such a thing as “DNA” in Protestantism. By definition, Protestants have altered their DNA once in becoming Protestants. There is nothing necessarily preventing Protestants from altering their “DNA” again in a more Catholic definition, it seems to me. I admit that in practice this is a very difficult project–more so among the Reformed than among Anglicans or Methodists (the two Protestant traditions with which I currently have the most contact). But I wonder what solid basis you really have for dismissing it as impossible? This is a very live issue for me. If the project of “reformed catholicity” in its Anglican and Methodist variants is an impossible one, then clearly I must become Catholic or Orthodox. And I recognize that you’re facing a similar situation as you work through these issues.
If there is a "DNA" in Protestantism, then it is sola Scriptura and private judgment, since these are the aspects that all Protestant groups I am aware of hold in common. To yield up these principles of the rule of faith would be to cease to be Protestant. It would be like trying to play baseball without a bat. It is simply too central. If there is nothing at all which can be regarded as a "non-negotiable" in Protestantism, then we are really talking about nothing. But we are talking about something that exists: this thing called Protestantism.

Meanwhile, Paul Owen, over on the Reformed Catholicism blog, cites Luther and Charles Hodge saying nice stuff about the Catholic Church. This is all well and good (and I'm glad to see it); however, I myself do not understand how it is possible to synthesize these remarks with many others by Martin Luther which suggest quite otherwise. I have compiled many of them in my paper:

Did Martin Luther Regard the (Roman) Catholic Church as a Non-Christian, Apostate Institution?: Featuring dozens of citations from Luther's own writings; particularly On the Councils and the Churches (1539) and Against Hans Wurst (1541)

Perhaps someone can help me understand this. The same would apply, of course, to John Calvin. I see the reformed catholics citing his positive remarks about Catholic baptism and so forth, but I have seen much else where he excoriates the Catholic Church in the most offensive terms (especially when dealing with the Mass, which is, after all, our central act of worship every Sunday).

In the fourth century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem speaks of "the spiritual Sacrifice, the bloodless worship," and the "propitiatory victim." (Catechetical Lectures, 23, 8, 10) St. Ambrose believed that "It is He Himself that is offered in sacrifice here on earth when the Body of Christ is offered." (Commentaries on Twelve of David's Psalms, 38, 25) And later in that century, and early in the fifth, St. John Chrysostom writes:
Have reverence before this table, of which we all participate, before Christ, who was slain for us, before the sacrifice, which lies on the table.

(Homilies on Romans, 8, 8)

Do we not offer daily? Yes, we offer, but making remembrance of His death; and this remembrance is one and not many . . . Since the Sacrifice is offered everywhere, are there, then, a multiplicity of Christs? By no means! Christ is one everywhere . . . So too is there one Sacrifice.

(Homilies on Hebrews, 17, 3. See also The Priesthood, 3, 4, 177; Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 24, 2)
The venerable St. Augustine taught that "Christ is both the Priest, offering Himself, and Himself the Victim." (City of God, 10, 20) He applies Malachi 1:11 to the Mass, calling it the "Sacrifice of Christians," and also cites the precedent of Melchizedek. (Sermon Against the Jews, 9, 13. Cf. Questions of the Hepateuch, 3, 57) Referring to this priest-king of Salem in his famous work, The City of God (16, 22), he writes: "The sacrifice appeared for the first time there which is now offered to God by Christians throughout the whole world."

Martin Luther, although accepting a weakened form of the Real Presence, relegated the Mass (somewhat inconsistently) to the status of a mere memorial. As usual, he made a number of polemical remarks on the subject, calling the Mass "the abomination standing in the Holy Place." (Against Henry VIII, [1522]; referring to Daniel 9:27) Luther's successor Philip Melanchthon felt certain that "the cruel raging of the Turks is inflicted now as a punishment for the idolatry in the Mass." (Loci Communes, 1555 ed., chapter 22. From translation of Clyde L. Manschreck, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982 [Oxford Univ. Press ed. of 1965], 221).

John Calvin, arguably more influential for later Protestantism than Luther himself, unleashed his full fury against this longstanding Christian belief:
The height of frightful abomination was when the devil . . . blinded nearly the whole world with a most pestilential error - the belief that the Mass is a sacrifice . . . It is most clearly proved by the Word of God that this Mass . . . inflicts signal dishonor upon Christ, buries and oppresses his cross, consigns his death to oblivion, takes away the benefit which came to us from it . . .

This perversity was unknown to the purer Church . . . It is very certain that the whole of antiquity is against them . . . Augustine himself in many passages interprets it as nothing but a sacrifice of praise . . . Chrysostom also speaks in the same sense . . .

But I observe that the ancient writers also misinterpreted this memorial . . . because their Supper displayed some appearance of repeated or at least renewed sacrifice . . . I cannot bring myself to condemn them for any impiety; still, I think they cannot be excused for having sinned somewhat in acting as they did. For they have followed the Jewish manner of sacrificing more closely than either Christ had ordained or the nature of the gospel allowed . . .

The Mass . . . from root to top, swarms with every sort of impiety, blasphemy, idolatry, and sacrilege.

(Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1559 ed., Book IV, chapter 18, sections 1, 9-11, 18. From translation of Ford L. Battles [edited by John T. McNeill], Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 2 volumes, 1960, vol. 2, 1429-1430, 1437, 1439-40, 1446)
How can one consider another a Christian "brother" when that person's weekly worship is regarded as "abomination," "blasphemy," and "idolatry"? Calvin even errs on the
plain facts of early Church history, as demonstrated in the proofs from the Fathers presented above. These are some of the many questions I would (with all due respect and appreciation) ask "Reformed Catholics."

Saturday, June 05, 2004

S. Joel Garver's On The "Catholic Question" (With Commentary by Dave Armstrong)

Dr. Stephen Joel Garver is an assistant professor of philosophy at La Salle University in Philadelphia, who writes also on theological topics. He is a Reformed Protestant. Joel's words will be in black and mine in blue. See his complete essay. I will not respond to everything, but rather, to selected portions where I disagree (but I didn't all that much), or which are particularly stimulating and thought-provoking (the latter are numerous, as Dr. Garver is an excellent and ecumenical writer, with lots of important insights to offer). His words will be in blue. See also the background documents:

Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT)
The Gift of Salvation
ACE: An Appeal to Evangelicals
--------------------------------------------------------------

My primary focus here is not upon social or political issues or inter-confessional cooperation per se. Instead, my focus is upon the possibility that 20th century Roman Catholicism, at least in certain quarters of it, has reconfigured itself so that it is more open to the genuine concerns of the Protestant Reformation and is more able to incorporate important Protestant distinctives concerning justification into its own theological interests and traditions.

I think this is true. Dialogue and ecumenism have definitely taken a giant leap forward in the last 100 years (especially the last 50). I think that often it is the case that we are not as far apart on many issues in actuality, as many on both sides have supposed. That is a function of increased mutual education and understanding. And Catholics can accept many things that Protestants believe as not contrary to existing dogmas. This was a strong underlying theme of Louis Bouyer's book from 1958: The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism.

Furthermore, I believe that, among the various Protestant confessional traditions, Reformed theology has a unique ability and responsibility to engage Catholicism on these matters.

I agree, though Lutheranism and traditional Anglicanism are not far behind in that respect, and closer to Catholic thought in specific areas (such as the Eucharist in Lutheranism and the authority of Tradition in Anglicanism).

The various statements which have been produced, it seems to me, do not engage the relevant doctrinal and theological issues at a level that is sufficiently deep, at least not deep enough to allay my fears of too hasty of a unity or too harsh of a polemics.

I disagree with this. It is the very nature of such statements that they function in a "creed-like" fashion within an ecumenical framework and context. Such summaries are not intended to be extensive theological treatises, nor can they be. They are basic tools for further, much more involved discussion (and distinct from the latter). They are, in a word, a "start."

I question the advisability of an ecumenical process that is premised upon less centrally doctrinal concerns and the danger, therein, of relativizing the truth-claims of the Christian Gospel as those have been understood within classical Protestantism.

These are attempts at finding what we truly have in common, and areas of almost total agreement. Social and political and moral issues are often areas of common ground, so they were emphasized in the ECT document. It is an effort to promote what Protestant apologist Francis Schaeffer called "co-belligerency" against the zeitgeist and secular world which all Christians confront and challenge. I don't see that "relativizing" is in play here. Acknowledging whatever we have in common (e.g., sola gratia) is not watering-down anything. It is simply stating that "we agree on points a, b, and c. We still disagree on d, e, and f." No one has to deny their own distinctives. This is what I regard as the practical genius and workability of ECT. It's a realistic approach to ecumenism; neither a liberal compromise nor a pie-in-the-sky pretense that groups agree on particulars when in fact they do not.

Furthermore, such dangers are heightened, it seems to me, when such ecumenical projects are pursued outside of the framework of established ecclesiastical organizations, among para-church ministries. It is not clear to me that such public declarations of unity are necessary or salutary for continued cooperation between Christians from a variety of churches. Still, the goal of unity in truth, among all Christians, is praiseworthy.

Well, one must start somewhere. Parachurch organizations have been the source of many helpful initiatives and endeavors among Protestants, and even in the Catholic Church, there is a growing lay involvement (encouraged by Vatican II and Pope John Paul II) such as the movement I am myself a part of: lay apologetics and evangelism. Both sides should certainly seek to be in accord with the more "official" doctrines that they are seeking to represent.

In the case of ACE [Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals], I do not doubt that their response is motivated by a zeal for maintaining our Reformation distinctives which we all should rightly see as important and central to the message of the Gospel. The efforts of ECT are, evidently, a great worry to ACE, in that ECT can appear to compromise that Gospel message in the ways I have outlined already.

I think this is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the goals and nature of ECT, and a needless alarmism. ECT does not require Protestants or Catholics to give up their distinctives. It only highlights the common ground. I happen to believe that the Gospel can be defined in a (biblical) fashion that includes all the major Christian traditions (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism), and I have seen various prominent Reformed writers (e.g., N.T. Wright) make the same point. He wrote:
When Paul refers to ‘the gospel’, he is not referring to a system of salvation, though of course the gospel implies and contains this, nor even to the good news that there now is a way of salvation open to all, but rather to the proclamation that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead and thereby demonstrated to be both Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord. ‘The gospel’ is not ‘you can be saved, and here’s how’; the gospel, for Paul, is ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’.

(Rutherford House lecture: New Perspectives on Paul)
I don't believe that the Gospel is confined to the Reformed Protestant sophisticated soteriological version of it (TULIP, etc.); I think it is larger than that, as a matter of category. See my papers:

The Gospel, as Preached by the First Christians

Good News: An Evangelical / Catholic Presentation of the Gospel Message

What is the Gospel?

Therefore, I don't see that ECT forces anyone to compromise. It is a sort of Mere Christianity effort (for those who are familiar with C.S. Lewis). Lewis himself wrote in that book that Christians ultimately need to go into their own "rooms" (which represented denominational traditions) but that they could come into the great hall which represented those doctrines held in common by all Christians. That is what ECT is about.


In the following remarks I make use of two documents in particular, ECT's "The Gift of Salvation" (hereafter "Gift") and ACE's "An Appeal to Fellow Evangelicals" (hereafter "Appeal"). My basic thesis is the following. Whatever the peculiar motivations of the ECT statement and no matter how problematic those motivations may or may not be, I cannot see that "The Gift of Salvation" affirms anything in regard to Catholic and Protestant unity that is not true as far as it goes.

. . . the co-signers claim that each of their traditions may be understood in such a way so that they may jointly affirm a modest commonality in faith between Catholics and Evangelicals, one that is, on the part of the various signatories, fully consistent with, convinced by, and faithful to their respective traditions . . .

In this regard it is important to note that nowhere does "Gift" imply that no traditional differences remain on how the full implications of the Gospel are to be understood. Some of those differences are even said to be "persistent" and "serious," thereby requiring "further and urgent exploration." Thus, "Gift" evinces a willingness to admit that there are areas in which Catholics and Evangelicals cannot yet agree.


Good.



The fact that "Gift" does not affirm the doctrine of "sola fide" in its precise Reformational formula is really no surprise. First, the document never claims to do so. Second, so long as they wish to remain faithful to Catholic teaching, it is not possible for the Catholic participants to affirm the sola fide formulation . . . The Council of Trent closed the door on the option of affirming the sola fide formula in Canon 9 of its Sixth Session. Even as Protestants, we wish to maintain that while only faith justifies, faith alone does not. The "sola" of sola fide is adverbial, not adjectival. As the post-reformation Reformed theologian Francis Turretin writes, "faith alone does not justify, but only faith justifies; the coexistence of love with faith in him who is justified is not denied, but its co-efficiency or cooperation in justification" (Institutes of Elenctic Theology).

Despite the real differences, there is very significant common ground between the two traditions, which are not nearly as far apart as the common polemics on both sides would suggest. See my papers:

Reflections on Faith and Works and Initial Justification

Martin Luther on Sanctification and the Absolute Necessity of Good Works as the Proof of Authentic Faith

I doubt that the denial of imputation necessarily amounts to a denial of the Gospel itself, at least so long as one maintains that salvation is by grace alone, because of Christ alone, and that faith is sufficient for receiving it. Experience and history suggest that such a doctrine can lead to saving knowledge of Christ. And the "Gift" statement appears to be affirming at least this much in regard to justification.

Of course denying imputation is not a denial of the Gospel, because it is only a technical theory of soteriology, whereas the Gospel is the Good News of the events in Jesus' life and His death on the cross and Resurrection and Ascension (at least that is how the Bible clearly seems to define it). Protestant scholars Alister McGrath and Norman Geisler have both pointed out that imputed justification was essentially absent between the time of the apostles and Luther. So if it is essential to the Gospel, then there was no Gospel for all that time. This would include the "Gospel" of people like St. Augustine, St. Athanasius, St. Anselm, and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Before turning to the resources of Reformed theology, it will be helpful to outline precisely what a Catholic who is faithful to his church's teaching may or may not affirm in regard to imputation. The main difficulty here is, naturally, the Council of Trent. It spoke of inherent righteousness worked in us by Christ through the Holy Spirit flowing from the merits of Christ. It is by this righteousness that we are justified (i.e., made just; Trent never talks of being declared just). While, in some sense, this righteousness is truly ours and created in us, it is also God’s justice "for that justice which is called ours, because we are justified by its inherence in us, that same is of God" (Decree of the Sixth Session, Chapter 16).

Now, in itself, this does not eliminate an affirmation of "double justification" as proposed by the Colloquy and Diet of Regensburg in 1541 (also known as the Diet of Ratisbon; the "Regensburg Book" or "Liber Ratisbonensis" can be found in Melanthonis Opera, Corpus Reformatorum 4:190-238). According to the doctrine of duplex iustificare we are declared just in virtue of the imputation of Christ's justice and are made just in virtue of the infusion of Christ's justice (on the Protestant side Melanchthon, Bucer, Pistorius, and probably Calvin seemed willing to accept this; on the Catholic side it was Cardinal Contarini, Eck, Gropper, and Pflug). Thus "justification" is used in a dual sense, to cover what is affirmed in the Protestant doctrines of forensic justification and sanctification. The difficulty is that Trent, in an apparent reference to Regensburg, asserts that the infused, inherent righteousness of which it speaks is the "single [unica] formal cause of justification" (Chapter 7). The use of "unica" here (solitary, unique of a kind, one and one alone), seems to close the door on any theories of "duplex iustitia" or "duplex iustificare."

Nevertheless, Trent never explicitly condemns double justification in any of the anathemas of its Canons, though it had opportunity to do so (and we know that some of the members of the Council of Trent were amenable to the doctrine). Moreover, Trent leaves the door open to a doctrine of double justification when it only condemns those who insist that we are justified,
by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and "the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Rom 5:5) and remains in them...

(Canon 11, Sixth Session; emphasis mine)
This seems to open the door to the inclusion of the imputation of the justice of Christ within justification (not distinguishing, at present, two kinds of justification), so long as infusion is not denied.

This is very helpful and constructive ecumenical analysis. I don't believe that Trent rules out imputation altogether (as long as infused justification is not thereby denied). Kenneth Howell, a convert from Reformed Protestantism, makes this point in an essay on my blog: Trent Doesn't Necessarily Exclude All Variants of Imputation.

Furthermore, even in "double justification" while infusion is a formal cause (causa formalis) of being made just, the other side of the duplex—being declared just—technically speaking, has no formal cause because it does not have reference to any subjective (i.e., formal) change in the individual. Imputation is not the "formal cause" of the forensic declaration and so the assertion of imputation does not contradict the idea that justification, qua being made righteous, has a single (unica) formal cause.

. . . It seems to me that perhaps those of us who are Reformed rather than Lutheran would have hope that some kind of rapprochement between Protestants and Catholics is possible on this issue, especially in light of the modern developments within Catholic biblical and theological studies. After all, the central motif of Calvinian theology is not merely "imputation" (especially as that is understood in some sectors of confessional Lutheranism), but union with Christ. As Calvin himself writes:
Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our heart—in short, that mystical union—are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body—-in short, because he deigns to make us one with him. For this reason, we glory that we have fellowship of righteousness with him.

(Institutes 3.11.10; emphasis mine)
Amen!

Calvin is not denying that justification (now being thought of in the narrower Protestant sense) is based on the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us, nor that justification in the primary biblical sense, is a forensic declaration. But what he is denying, is that the divine action of the Father, through the Spirit, uniting us to Christ, is an action to be conceived of wholly imputatively. The very same action by which we are united to Christ, unites us with all his benefits. And so, Calvin might well affirm that, in this sense, justification is not by means of (as Trent would say) "a sole imputation" that excludes the "pouring forth of grace and charity," even if the purely forensic aspect of God's one action is not identical with the pouring forth of other graces. For Calvin, by receiving Christ himself (the grace of God), all that is his, is also ours--whether his legal title to righteousness and vindication before God or his own divine charity--and in the application of redemption one is not prior to another. Thus one of Calvin's favorite phrases to describe justification is "fellowship of righteousness," emphasizing that we are in Christ and he is in us.

This is an excellent example, I think, of where Catholic and Protestant theology are far closer than generally supposed, even though they are not identical. It is unfortunate that slogans and catch-phrases have been so widespread (especially in Protestant circles). They foster an "either/or" mentality that works contrary to an effort to understand those outside our own faith-traditions. We must not only learn what someone believes, but why they believe what they do, and what lies behind usually simplified almost mantra-like expressions of various doctrines, such as sola fide or infused justification.

Only with distinctively Reformed emphases, I think, can we meet the Catholic objections to the Protestant focus on imputation. Not all Protestants, however, may be entirely happy with these emphases, and they have, in reality, been historically the focus of anti-Reformed Lutheran polemics and even a matter of some dispute within the Reformed tradition itself . . .

Oh yes. There are those in all camps who will oppose any effort at recognizing common ground as intrinsically a compromise position or a distortion of one or both viewpoints. The anti-Catholics and anti-Protestants will both work against any such effort in the most stringent, oppositional terms. But that can't stop those of us who are very concerned with Christian unity and more mutual understanding.

Nevertheless, the distinctively Reformed focus on union with Christ can answer some of the Catholic objections to imputation. On the Reformed view justification need not be a mere "legal fiction" nor is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness something that occurs alone, apart from union with all of Christ’s other benefits. While Christ’s righteousness is a iustitia aliena in that it is not accomplished by us or in us, it is also a iustitia inhaerens in that Christ himself, with his forensically declared righteousness, is truly in us by his Spirit. While Christ’s righteousness is extra nos in that it finds its origin and is accomplished apart from us, it is also in nobis in that we ourselves, in the transformative and enlivening action of being raised in union with Christ, have fellowship with his righteousness. While differences between Catholics and Protestants do very much remain on this particular issue, we cannot continue to say that there is a complete impasse between the Catholic doctrine of infusion and Reformed doctrine of imputation. To do so would be to close a door on any further conversation.

I couldn't agree more. I think this is very well-stated and argued indeed.

While Catholics do emphasize the cooperation of the believer with divine grace, Catholics also may teach that the grace of cooperation is a divine gift and, within the Thomistic tradition, God is seen as acting in the sinner in a way that could well be described, in Reformed terms, as monergistic. Catholics can quite honestly state, in the words of the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, "Justification, as a transition from disfavor and unrighteousness to favor and righteousness in God’s sight, is totally God’s work" (paragraph 156.5; emphasis mine). This is because "as sinners...[people] are incapable of turning themselves to God to seek deliverance." Therefore, it must be the case that, "Justification takes place solely by God's grace." Thus whenever persons consent to God's justifying actions, "such personal consent [is] itself an effect of grace, not...an action arising from innate human abilities" (Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, paragraphs 19 and 20). Since this is case, we are never to place our trust in our own accomplishments, whether faith or works, but wholly in the mercy of Christ. It is of the very nature of faith to turn from self and apprehend Another.

To make room for "cooperation" or "assent" is not necessarily to replace Reformed monergism with a semi-Pelagian synergism. Rather, it is to place the human response of faith, which is truly an act of the person, within the framework of faith as an absolute gift . . . They [Catholics] too share with us the emphasis of Augustine and the Council of Orange that salvation is by grace alone (sola gratia).

This is a superb and wonderfully sympathetic description of Catholic theology. It is a delight to see such understanding coming from a non-Catholic and I highly commend Dr. Garver.

For now, I shall note that so long as we trust Christ alone, I cannot see how it affects our salvation whether or not we put our trust in Christ's righteousness as imputed or as infused. We are saved by faith in Christ, not faith in a particular doctrinal formulation. How Christ’s righteousness becomes ours is perhaps an area of disagreement between Catholics and Protestants, but it doesn’t undermine the saving power of the Gospel. If it did, then surely Augustine was not saved for he explicitly and self-consciously believed that it was infused and inwrought righteousness which justifies since he saw the meaning of the word "justification" as "to make just" (see, e.g., his De Spiritu et Littera 26, 45; cf. Alister McGrath’s Iustitia Dei vol 1[Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986] for more on Augustine's views). In any case, an Evangelical could well argue that, since Protestants are correct and justification is in fact wrought by imputation, then the righteousness of Christ in which Catholics place their faith is, among other things, an imputed one, regardless whether or not they understand it in that sense.

. . . since Catholics hold that the gifts of faith and charity are given along with the gift of salvation as the means by which that salvation is received, they maintain the absolute primacy of grace. Since they maintain that faith and charity are Christ’s work of faith and charity in us, they maintain the absolute primacy of Christ’s work alone.

. . . the Second Vatican Council seems to have broadened the notion of faith beyond the narrowly intellectualistic definition of Trent. Thus it describes faith as that "by which man entrusts his whole self freely to God offering ‘the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals’ [Vatican I] and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him" (Dei Verbum 5). Furthermore, the individualistic, abstract, Aristotelian categories of scholasticism (e.g., fides formata or informata) are being revised within Catholic theology by the introduction of more personalist and existentialist ones. Saving faith is not mere assensus, but includes the fiducia emphasized by the Reformers.

Bravo!!!! This is excellent!

There is much reason to believe that there is a significant material convergence on this issue of the sufficiency of faith for justification, at least among certain Catholics and certain Evangelicals. And this is a convergence that is entirely consistent with their respective traditions. If the Catholic co-signers of "The Gift of Salvation" are willing to say that what they "affirm here is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by faith alone," then I think we should take them at their word. At the very least, our reaction should not be to continue in anti-Catholic polemics that claim that Catholicism continues in a clear and persistent denial of sola fide.

Again, it is often discovered that when the two sides really talk to each other and listen carefully, that they are not as far apart as either thought. I have much more hope that accord can be achieved with regard to the issue of justification than for the issue of authority and Tradition, where the differences are much greater.

I am hesitant, however, to maintain that our criterion of authenticity in regard to that Gospel is best expressed in the idea that justification by "faith alone" is the sole article by which the church stands or falls.

. . . the criterion of sola fide can risk becoming reductionistic in regard to the fullness of the biblical Gospel since the sacraments, preaching, the Lordship of Christ, and so on, are not simply dispensable. Such a criterion also focuses, it seems to me, too narrowly upon a particular formulation of the Gospel, one that does not possess a biblical warrant that is wholly beyond dispute. Thus, such a criterion does not address the possibility that the content of that Gospel may be accurately expressed in other terms. Given what we have seen in this essay, it appears that there is, at present, an open willingness within Catholicism (at least in certain of its quarters) to incorporate the concerns of the Reformation into its own theology.

In this light, I do not think that it is helpful to maintain, apart from further considerations, that the Catholic Church continues uniformly to preach a different Gospel or to have no authentic evangelism. To perpetuate that belief apart from careful study, theological precision, and extensive documentation, appears to caricature the best elements in Roman Catholic theology, if not to make an outright fabrication of them. In the past, such carelessness has, I believe, led any number of people to mistrust their Protestant leaders, theologians, and sources, even to the point where, in reaction, they abandoned their own Protestant distinctives to join the Roman Catholic Church. In this regard, Lorraine Boettner's Roman Catholicism stands as a crowning achievement in anti-Catholic pornography, leading more than one person astray with its vicious distortions and half-truths. As evangelical Protestants, we can and must do better than this. [bolding added]

I think Dr. Garver's way of approaching this general topic of ecumenism, particularly with regard to matters of justification and the Gospel, is exactly right, and should be followed by those on both sides who are interested in further unity and understanding across the party lines. I give this paper an A+ for the cogency of its arguments and the accuracy and profound insight of its content. Kudos!

Friday, June 04, 2004

Eric Svendsen's & Other Anti-Catholics' Inconsistent Use of Anti-Evangelical as a Description of Catholics

Ever since I have dealt with anti-Catholics (particularly after going online in March 1996), I have heard the objection ad nauseum that use of the term anti-Catholic is either a mere epithet (like calling someone a "moron" or an idiot" or a "bigot") or else that it is used inconsistently and arbitrarily, with complete subjectivity, exclusively by Catholics, in order to avoid real, substantive discussion. Also, some seem to think that its use is justified only in referring to political or violent agitation (that they would also wholly oppose), such as with the "Nativism" or the "Know-Nothing" movements of 19th-century America, where Catholics were run out of town, denied civil rights, or subjected to church-burnings, etc. Indeed, the latter is often the case, but this doesn't rule out a doctrinal, theological use.

This usage is, in fact, quite prevalent among historians and sociologists. I have compiled a lengthy paper which not only details the proper definition and use of the description anti-Catholic (i.e., in its theological / doctrinal sense), but also documents use of the term by no less than 55 such scholars, book titles, etc. (virtually all of them non-Catholic, insofar as their affiliation could be determined): Use of the Term Anti-Catholic in Protestant and Secular Scholarly Works of History and Sociology.
Briefly, the definition I have used for years, both as a Protestant and a Catholic, is:

Belief that the Catholic Church and its set of doctrines and beliefs is a non-Christian institution; not worthy to be regarded as Christian. Those Catholics who manage to attain to real Christianity must do so despite Catholic teaching, not because they fully adhere to it. In other words, you can't be a good, faithful, obedient Catholic and be a Christian theologically or doctrinally.


That paper was prompted by comments such as the following by "Romans45" (one Ronnie Brown), a prominent anti-Catholic Internet figure. These are typical of what one might hear from many anti-Catholic luminaries, and "drove me over the edge" to document the falsity of such charges once and for all. The drone is very familiar:

There is no standard definition of "anti" in reference to religious denominations. It is a made up term and therefore individuals make up their own definition . . .

Make no mistake about there is no standard definition. Every Catholic that uses it defines it according to their own whims.

. . . some even defined it so that it basically includes any and everyone who disagrees with them . . .

I think it is totally meaningless and only used as a prejudicial term . . . Everybody uses it, but few agree on what it really means, few use it consistently, . . .

I don’t accept the loaded definition that Catholics use and neither does any dictionary or any other objective reference work. It is only a prejudicial term invented by Catholic apologists.

They can define whatever they want, but that doesn’t make it the standard definition even when they disagree amongst themselves about what it means.
Furthermore, no one has to accept their definition especially since it is only defined by a few apologists who have no real authority even over those in their own camp.

. . . anyone who arbitrarily makes up a prejudicial definition and then claim it is a standard definition.

. . . it is an irrational position . . .


After I produced some 50 scholarly examples to the contrary, Ronnie at least admitted this much:

OK, maybe the term is not invented by Catholic apologists, but the prejudicial way in which they use it is a novelty.


Now, this being the case, one would think that the anti-Catholics would refrain from using the term "anti-Evangelical" or anti-Protestant or anti-Christian (when used of a Catholic, implying that he is "against" Christianity when he critiques Protestants), since the use of anti-Catholic is so decried by them as an invalid description and alleged purely irrational, prejudiced insult. But this is not the case (as usual, a double standard must apply in the anti-Catholic mentality). And exhibit #1 is Dr. Eric Svendsen:

Eric Svendsen

Writing about the rules for his NTRMin Areopagus board:

"Forum Rules--please read BEFORE posting for the first time"
3/6/03 10:08 am

[the bolding is my own emphasis, as throughout]

. . . the board offers a forum for asking about, and/or answering anti-Christian (read, anti-Evangelical) arguments posed by other religious groups, or even non-religious groups. It is not a forum for non-Evangelicals to air various antagonistic anti-Evangelical agendas . . .

7. All posters are asked to show respect for the views of the host site, whether you happen to agree with those views or not. For a detailed list of those views, click the "Beliefs" link in the navigation bar to the left. To those who feel they cannot comply with this rule, please feel free to visit another discussion board where you may be more comfortable. This applies especially to non-Evangelical posters who have a history of antagonism against Evangelicalism . . .

9. Thou shalt not post links to Roman Catholic apologetic sites, or any other site that has an anti-evangelical agenda.


Referring to same:

"Re: forensic justification"
1/6/04 1:01 pm

. . . I think you had better take some time to read the Forum Rules regarding anti-Evangelical agendas before posting in this forum again.


In a response to Tim Enloe, a Presbyterian with whom he had a falling-out:

"Tim Enloe's blog" 4/1/04 12:14 pm

. . . known anti-Evangelical antagonists like Dave Armstrong . . .


In a post about Reformed scholar Paul Owen:

"The Coppersmith in Paul Owen"
4/2/04 10:32 am

. . . one who decided to send the critique to an anti-Evangelical antagonist . . .

Indeed, Owen seems to enjoy rubbing shoulders with heretics. He has been invited to write articles in Mormon journals, and he has befriended one of the most vitriolic anti-evangelical Roman Catholic epologists that exist [John Pacheco].

. . . opted instead to send it to an anti-Evangelical Roman Catholic . . .


I submit that if Eric doesn't like the term anti-Catholic, he ought to stop using its equivalent, anti-Evangelical. Or if he wants to keep using it, he (and those who follow and surround him, including Ronnie Brown and others who have complained about the term anti-Catholic) should have no objection to anti-Catholic (rightly-understood). He should get with his good friend James White, who is at least consistent, and refrains from using these sorts of terms in describing Catholic critics of various aspects of Protestantism. He is equally wrong in his analysis of the meaning and use of anti-Catholic, but at least he doesn't hypocritically do that which he condemns. Fellow anti-Catholic and associate and moderator on Svendsen's NTRMIn Areopagus board, Jason Engwer, seems not to be aware of that board's own terminology in its rules and the use by his boss Eric. He points out that James White doesn't use the term anti-Evangelical (thus implying it is wrong or at least unhelpful to do so), yet is oblivious to the repeated use by Eric Svendsen:

"Re: Hmmm"
11/3/03 5:18 pm

The term "anti-Catholic" has a history, not only in online apologetics, but also in politics and elsewhere. Roman Catholics use that phrase much more than Evangelicals use the phrase "anti-Evangelical". Often, Evangelical ministries will refer to Roman Catholic apologists as "Roman Catholic", whereas Roman Catholic ministries will refer to Evangelical apologists as "anti-Catholic". I think the term "anti-Catholic" is used, and in fact abused, much more than the term "anti-Evangelical". While the term "anti-Evangelical" could be abused in some contexts, the history of the term's use so far seems to be much less questionable than the use of "anti-Catholic".

One illustration I would point to is James White's interaction with Roman Catholic apologists over the years. He's been involved in discussing Roman Catholicism in many public forums for more than a decade, and there's a long trail of literature we can trace between him and Roman Catholics responding to him. He has frequently been referred to as "anti-Catholic" by Roman Catholics, whereas I don't recall him ever applying the term "anti-Evangelical" to Catholics he disagrees with. If he has ever used such terminology, it's at least rare enough that I've missed it or forgotten it, despite having read so much of his material and listened to so many of his debates.

Another example I would cite is my own web site. I've been writing articles in response to Catholics for years, and I don't think I've ever used the term "anti-Evangelical". I've frequently been called "anti-Catholic", though.

(complete post)


In another post shortly afterwards, Jason asks:

How many Evangelical apologists can you think of who frequently use the term "anti-Evangelical"? I can think of many Roman Catholics who have used the term "anti-Catholic" against me and against other people. Catholic Answers, for example, uses it a lot.

("Re: Persecution complex" / 11/3/03 5:51 pm)


Well, to answer his question, I am happy to direct Mr. Engwer to his comrade Eric Svendsen, who owns the very board he was writing on, and is a published full-time anti-Catholic Protestant apologist with a doctorate. Engwer is trying to make one point about relative frequency of use. That is one thing. But implied in his argument is that use of anti-Catholic is wrong in principle. If we grant that and accept his reasoning, then clearly (again, by his own standards and criteria), anti-Evangelical would be equally wrong, whenever used, no matter how infrequent. What's wrong is wrong. Thus Svendsen (and others documented above and below) would be guilty of the same shortcoming and ought to be condemned with equal vigor if the very term is inherently objectionable. This is about internal inconsistency and double standards.

Moderator "Hilasterion" jumped in and offered a lame reply when a Catholic pointed out the inconsistency that I note (misspellings corrected):

As I said, the term anti-evangelical is NOT used in the same way anti-catholic is. Thus the terms are no more than superficially similar . . . The argument is easy to maintain. We use anti-evangelical to describe, as the rules state, antagonistic postings. Whereas anti-catholic is bandied about with such frequency as to be little more than a slur. You show lack of discernment in not noting the difference.

("Re: Persecution complex" / 11/4/03 7:47 am)


This simply begs the question. He states what he assumes but does not demonstrate it or make some sort of plausible, logical argument to back up his contention. I could go into greater logical detail, but I trust that the reader can go read the remarks by Svendsen and others and deduce that there is little or no difference in the usage. If one is wrong, then so is the other.

Of course it needs to always be pointed out that so-called "anti-Evangelicals" such as myself do not regard Protestants as non-Christians. I have the greatest respect for them, and write papers about that. I have a million links to Protestant websites. Eric doesn't even allow a link to a Catholic site on his Areopagus discussion board. He doesn't think Catholicism is Christian. That's why we call his belief-system in that regard anti-Catholic, because it denies the reality that Catholicism is Christian, and is a big lie. Others fall into the same mistake and hypocrisy:

John F. MacArthur, Jr., Pastor, Grace Community Church and host of the radio ministry, Grace to You.

Writing in a review of a book by Eric Svendsen:

A chorus of squawking trumpets is playing many uncertain sounds these days, and the evangelical movement is in desperate need of a clarion blast that will rise above the din. Eric Svendsen's Evangelical Answers sounds just such a note. This is a perceptive, intelligent, and solidly biblical reply to the recent barrage of Roman Catholic anti-evangelical propaganda. If you have been confused by the claims of modern Catholic apologists and are looking for reliable answers on a rock-solid biblical foundation, I urge you to read this book.


Even reputable 19th-century Church historian Philip Schaff joins in, though he (unlike Svendsen and MacArthur) continues to regard Catholicism as a Christian system of belief (thus is nor to be classified as an anti-Catholic):

Mediaeval Catholicism is pre-evangelical, looking to the Reformation; modern Romanism is anti-evangelical, condemning the Reformation, yet holding with unyielding tenacity the oecumenical doctrines once sanctioned, and doing this all the more by virtue of its claim to infallibility . . . Catholicism and Protestantism represent two distinct types of Christianity which sprang from the same root, but differ in the branches.

(The History of the Christian Church, Volume VII: HISTORY OF MODERN CHRISTIANITY THE REFORMATION. FROM A.D. 1517 TO 1648. CHAPTER I. ORIENTATION. § 2. "Protestantism and Romanism")


The famous 19th-century Calvinist preacher Charles Spurgeon can also be added to this list:

We have nowadays around us a class of men who preach Christ, and even preach the gospel; but then they preach a great deal else which is not true, and thus they destroy the good of all that they deliver, and lure men to error. They would be styled "evangelical" and yet be of the school which is really anti-evangelical.

("Gems From Spurgeon," compiled by James Alexander Stewart)


Prominent anti-Catholic Richard M. Bennett, in his article, "The Alignment of New Evangelicals With Apostasy," where he rails against ecumenical efforts, outdoes all the others in all his dramatic use of (usually irrational) "anti" language:

The real effect of the New Evangelical compromise with the Gospel is to put a stop to the evangelization of Roman Catholics across the world. If this compromise of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ is accepted, then Bible believing churches will refrain from evangelizing Catholics. The impact on the true church in third world Catholic countries in Central and South America, in Africa, as well as in Spain, Portugal, and the Philippines, is already apparent. If this anti-Evangelical trend continues unchecked it will become ruinous to the spiritual welfare of millions of souls. But this is exactly the policy the ECT signers promulgate . . .

. . . Neuhaus’ anti-Scriptural words . . .

J. I. Packer like a modern Pied Piper is leading many thousands of Evangelicals astray. Charles Colson, Bill Bright, Mark Noll, Pat Robertson, Os Guinness, Timothy George, and T.M. Moore to mention just a few of the more prominent New Evangelicals have publicly denied the Gospel in endorsing the anti-biblical terms and erroneous doctrinal concepts of the Church of Rome. All together, they are falsely identifying Catholics as “our brothers and sisters in Christ”, thereby reinforcing the tragic and catastrophic delusions of these poor souls and denying them the substance of saving truth! . . .


One who goes by the nickname "A.believer" launched into an attack on yours truly (in the process lying about and grossly misrepresenting the goals and nature of my Luther research), using the same flawed terminology, on Christian Forums (7-24-03):

Anyone who's been involved in discussions about issues related to the Reformation with people who have a vested interest in believing and in having others believe that the Reformation was the result of a wicked, unstable, and debauched reprobate seeking to undermine legitimate, God-ordained authority, has probably been confronted with certain isolated quotes by, and "facts" about, Martin Luther that caused him or her to raise an eyebrow. RC convert, Dave Armstrong, for example, has a whole section of his website dedicated to proving the "instability" and "immorality" of Luther. It isn't difficult to discern, when confronted with one or two sentence quotes such as Mr. Armstrong has posted on his website, when no recourse to the original documents from whence they came is provided, that something fishy is going on. Even so, one wonders, where do people get these things from and what, if any, basis in truth might they have?

I was recently made aware of a long tradition of "anti-evangelical" authors who sought to poison the well against Luther and the other Reformers, with the intent of a priori closing peoples minds to honest consideration of the truths that sparked the Reformation--a tradition that began most notably with a man by the name of Johannes Cochlaeus--a contemporary of Martin Luther. Author Cochlaeus apparently had no compunction about ripping Luther's words completely out of context and juxtaposing these quotes onto his anti-Luther pamphlets in order to make Luther appear as a fairly demonic lunatic, and he showed no restraint in airing his opinion that Luther was, indeed, a "child of the devil."
Facts are facts. Related papers of mine contain nothing even remotely "anti-Evangelical", let alone "anti-Luther." They were simply concerned with Luther's historical belief pertaining to Mariology.

Michael Hamblin, -- also seemingly not an anti-Catholic himself -- in a page entitled "Evangelical Resources on Roman Catholicism," writes:

. . . Few are as "anti-Protestant" as the professional Roman Catholic apologists . . .


This ought to be sufficient to establish my contention . . .

Gospel Truth

I was delighted to find that not only N.T. Wright (in one of the papers listed on my sidebar), but also now P. Andrew Sandlin, a prominent Reformed writer today, basically agree with what I have been contending for twenty years, both as a Protestant and as a Catholic; i.e., that the Gospel is not a formulaic mantra of technical soteriology, or TULIP, or simply "faith alone," but rather, the Good News (the word's literal meaning, after all) of the events of Jesus' life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension, which make salvation possible. It is refreshing to see several Protestants comment upon what I have thought was rather obvious, and an explicitly biblical proposition, in light of the opposition I have often received from Protestants to this notion. Another Reformed writer, S. Joel Garver, states the same thing in an important and oft-cited Internet paper I shall shortly comment on here.

Sandlin writes:

The Gospel is the evangel, the good news, closely related to the kerygma, the message and proclamation of the God of heaven and earth anchored in redemptive events of human history - notably the loving, sacrificial death; victorious, bodily resurrection; and glorious, conquering second coming of Jesus.


He then goes after some distressingly common distortions of the Gospel in certain Protestant circles today:

The Gospel is not a free ticket to a halo-and-harp-studded heaven for rebels who want a little eternal life insurance. The Gospel is not merely a Get-Out-of-Hell-Free card. The Gospel is the trumpet blast of the King.


He rightly distinguishes between technically correct soteriological belief and knowing-in-Whom-we-have-believed-and-trusted-for-salvation:

They need not know "theology" to be saved; they do need to know that Jesus and His redemptive work is their only hope and that in trusting Him, they are abandoning themselves to Him.


See his entire article, What is the Gospel?, from the Reformed Catholicism blog.

Here are my own related papers. The first dates originally from 1982. I recently added some commentary designed to show how Catholics would express things differently, or add a few points to the usual evangelical presentation of the Gospel:

Good News: An Evangelical / Catholic Presentation of the Gospel Message

What is the Gospel?

The Gospel, as Preached by the First Christians

Thursday, June 03, 2004

The "Ignorance" & "Poverty" of Jesus & the Disciples (?)

Finally back in business! I know your prayers must have done the trick! This is from an interesting exchange via e-mail with a friend of mine (and fellow metro Detroiter). Her words will be in blue:

A little while back I fired off an e-mail to you regarding the idea that Jesus and his disciples were dirty, poor and ignorant ..... the question came about because some friends attended a talk given by a fairly intelligent episcopalian Dean in which he raised the question about whether Jesus (and his friends - but mainly Jesus) were poor and ignorant... yes, I know the problems with episcopalians and Biblical interpretation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! However ..... here is the text of my question -If you have time, I'd really appreciate your thoughts. Is this actually a Church teaching? Is it to be found in early Church writings? Is this a later idea? It is of course often thrown at the Church that this was "how they controlled the masses" ... but I can't say that this sounds sensible at all.

It seems clear to me that they didn't have a lot of money. Somewhere it says that they were supported by several women. I don't know what the Church has said about it. It's pretty much common knowledge, I think. The patriarchs and kings were rich men, but those in the prophetic tradition usually were not. We see that in John the Baptist: the last of the prophets.

We always have this tradition that Jesus - and the disciples - were poor and ignorant (well, Jesus was not totally ignorant!!!!!!!!!!!!) - but you know what I mean) .... giving rise to speculations about whether Matt, Mark, Luke and John could have written gospels etc.

Not "ignorant," but relatively uneducated. Most of them were not intellectuals, from what we can tell. Several were fishermen. A tax collector might have been a little more educated (who knows?). Luke, however, was a doctor, and was an educated man. His Greek shows that (so I understand). I believe literacy was pretty widespread in Israel, so writing is no problem.

But also, there's always been some emphasis on Jesus being just plain 'poor' .... so we should not mind being poor too.

The Bible teaches us that it is not a disgrace to be poor, as long as we haven't caused our condition by not working (Paul wrote: "if any man does not work, let him not eat"). And it teaches that riches are not inherently evil, but they are the cause of many temptations, and often work against spirituality as an idol or distraction. I think the biblical attitude is expressed by Paul, where he says that he can be content in any situation: whether he has plenty or nothing, and is suffering (Philippians 4:11-13). He continued to make tents, but he did not always do so, and was supported by his flocks, or else had nothing at all on many occasions. He decided to preach the gospel "for free" (1 Cor 9:11-18). His position was that his labors as a missionary and evangelist were worthy of remuneration from other Christians and those whom he helped (and were now Christians), but that those he was preaching to should not have to pay for it.

Where does this come from? I know Jesus talks about the son of man having no where to lay his head - but that's kind of a poetic description of an itinerant preacher who does not buy a house and settle down but rather travels and stays with friends and family.

There is no indication that they have much money at all. In fact, when Jesus sent out the 70 to evangelize he told them not to take anything (Lk 10:4-7). They were like the early Franciscans: completely dependent upon the people to whom they preached the gospel. There are several little indications like that. It would take too long to locate all of them (that's your homework! LOL). E.g., Jesus told the rich young ruler to give up everything he had to follow Him. That indicates that all or many others had done the same.

Joseph was a carpenter - a worthy and important trade - he probably made a very reasonable income. And then there are our fishermen who owned their boats and nets and who would also have made a good income assuming a good catch. And Matthew of course was a tax collector so he could count, read and write and do his sums ...

Sure, but we have no indication in Scripture that Jesus did carpentry after the time of His baptism in the Jordan. We are specifically told that the fishermen "left their nets" and their trade; they gave it up (see Lk 5:10-11, Mt 4:18-22, Mk 1:16-20; cf. Mt 9:9 [Matthew] ). We have no reason to believe that Matthew would have continued collecting taxes; that would hardly fit in with his new task as a disciple. Jesus talks about "all who have left families" and so forth to follow Him, how they would be rewarded a hundredfold (Mk 10:29-30). The disciples had said to Him: "We have left everything to follow you" (Mk 10:28) It was a complete break. Therefore, it is a series of deductions based on indications like these which lead one to conclude that they were poor. But they were not "ignorant"; they were just relatively less educated and not of the intellectual class (as the scribes and Pharisees and rabbis would have been). Paul, of course, was an intellectual, and seems to even be a genius.

And Jesus read the scripture in the synagogue - so he could read - and then, what language would he have been reading?

Aramaic or Hebrew.

We hear about the gospel writers quoting primarily from the Septuagint (Greek, right?) ... so they could read Greek? So they could understand and speak Greek?

I believe so. There is some debate about whether the Gospels were originally written in Aramaic.

That would make them bi-lingual at least? Did the Roman occupying force speak latin? aramaic? greek?

Mostly Latin and Greek, I think. I'm no expert on all these linguistic questions.

How did our 'ignorant and poor' Jesus and disciples understand them thar Romans??

I think they spoke Greek as well, because the Middle East had been Hellenized. In The Passion, Mel Gibson had Jesus speaking Latin to Pilate. I'm sure he based that on some scholarship. One doesn't have to be an intellectual to know several languages, of course.

And then there was the gold, frankincense and myrrh that the 3 kings/wisemen/maggi (whatever the latest fashionable pc term might be) .. since THEY thought they were coming to visit a real KING they would not have brought just a teaspoon of each - they would have brought a generous portion, right?

That's a different question altogether. It looks like these were rich men, higher up in the social order.

So where do we get the idea of poverty, lack of education etc etc??

As far as I know, from the passages I have cited. When someone is more highly educated (Luke, Paul), that is mentioned in Scripture. Fishermen are not usually highly-educated intellectuals. And we can tell from the style of their writing. Luke is said to have a very sophisticated grasp of Greek. Paul's style and content is obviously on a very high level. Matthew, Mark, John, and Peter write on a more common, everyday level.

Is this chronological snobbery perchance? Or are there other first hand accounts that I've not yet read that describe poverty and ignorance?

Okay; now I'm gonna look up something in my New Bible Dictionary. Under "Poverty" (pp. 1016-1017) I found the following:

. . . so often were the rich oppressors that 'the poor' became almost a synonym for 'the pious' (Ps. 14:5-6).

. . . The worldly-minded Sadducees were generally wealthy, as were the tax-collectors.

Jesus was the son of poor parents (Lk 2:24), but there is no reason to suppose He lived in abject poverty . . . it appears that He used to pay the Temple tax (Mt. 17:24). Some of His disciples were reasonably well-to-do (Mk 1:20) and he had some fairly wealthy friends (Jn 12:3). He and the Twelve, however, shared a common purse (Jn 12:6). They were content to go without the comforts of home life (Lk 9:58), and yet found occasion for giving to the poor (Jn 13:29)

. . . the apostles were poor but made many rich (2 Cor 6:10).


Hope this was helpful to you.

Thanks so much, Dave! really appreciate your input: this is one of those areas where we take something for granted that might not be quite as we imagine it to be!

You make the valid point that "Fishermen are not usually highly-educated intellectuals" ...that may be true today, but I don't know that it was true back then only because a fisherman and a carpenter back then would have had a very different social status from fishermen and carpenters today...We can tell they were not highly polished intellectuals from the way they wrote but they could still have been what we would term nice, educated, comfortably off middle class professional folk.

And of course, there are those who gleefully claim that because of the poverty and lack of education the Gospels and other writings of the New Testament (with the exception of Paul's writing of course) are evidently 'fakes' of some kind - written MUCH LATER by people WHO NEVER KNEW JESUS etc. etc. and Paul has to be brought low by being called a bigot or something equally charming. The priest at [church name omitted to protect the guilty -- Episcopalian, I believe] told me that he thought Paul had got a number of things "wrong" --- you know the arguments put forward by these people.

From all you write here, and my own reading of the New Testament it seems that there was a pretty good level of literacy among Jesus and at least a number of his disciples -and the lack of material goods was more by choice because they became itinerant preachers - and like many ministries today (like my friend Dave Armstrong!) they did rely on their friends for financial and living support. THIS WOULD SEEM TO BE THE REAL LIFE CHRISTIAN PATTERN - voluntarily giving up the comforts you could afford in order to do the dear Lord's work... and enabling others to do the Lord's work too by letting them support you.

As you rightly say, they paid their taxes, they gave alms to the poor, they kept a common purse (which Judas held) .. and there seems to have been some fishing going on during the 3 years - ie the story of the calming of the storm for instance - and Jesus sitting in a boat to teach the people on the shore - and Peter walking on the water outside the boat - and then, after the Crucifixion we see Peter going out to fish again (see John Chapter 21) ..so they may have given up their full time jobs in order to follow Jesus - but perhaps not 100%? Quite interesting.