Thursday, October 14, 2004

The Trials & Tribulations (but Mostly Joys) of Being an Apologist

Jose Molina asked in BlogBack,

Dave, can I ask you a question? How are you able to do what you do?

By God's grace! "God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). I love this work, because God put that desire in me. This is what I am here on this earth to do. Everyone has a vocation. They just have to be willing to discover it and to pursue it for the sake of the Kingdom.

I'm Catholic and I love Jesus, the Bible, and the Church very much, but I cannot imagine doing apologetics or being a theologian. It seems like a tedious, nuanced, and perhaps frustrating vocation.

Sometimes, but most of the time it is very enjoyable. I have the freedom to pursue whatever motivates me at the time, and to follow my theological interests. There always seems to be something at any given time: doors or opportunities to do more apologetics. I simply walk through them. It's not like being a professor who has to do certain things, give lectures that maybe bore him, or write a paper he doesn't feel like doing. I do have that luxury, though, of course, I get relatively little remuneration.

You must peruse obscure books and chase ideas and beliefs down rabbit holes

Naw, I enjoy it. It's fun, because, like I said, I do whatever interests me at the time. If I am challenged, I get extremely motivated, because I love challenges.

and what do you get for all your hard work? You get people leveling insults like the following: [several examples given from my sidebar]

LOLOL. Every job has its frustrations. I'm sure all of you who have a boss looking over your shoulder, or boring work you don't enjoy, or weird co-workers, or who haven't been promoted or appreciated at work as they should be, or who are struggling with running your own business, have more frustrations than I do.

Opposition proves that I am hitting nerves and that I must be saying something that is effectively getting out my message. This is always the case (excepting those times when we really do screw up and cause people to get angry through our own fault). Virtually all the insults come from anti-Catholics. That's par for the course. They act that way with almost anyone who opposes (or exposes) their falsehoods about the Church or about people (personal attacks), and their false theology. I'm delighted about that, because it strongly indicates that I am doing something right.

Jesus told us we would have opposition, and would be hated (and to even rejoice when we are persecuted). The sad, tragic thing is that it so often comes from fellow Christians. This is how Satan divides the Body of Christ and conquers. I receive far less insults and ad hominem nonsense and slanderous bilge from atheists than I do from anti-Catholic Protestants.

I get a lot "back" from my work. I know I am helping people, because they are nice and considerate enough to let me know that. That's very rewarding and fulfilling because it is what I am trying to accomplish. It makes you feel good, and makes all the trials worth it. This is a "service" profession. I know that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, under God.

There's nothing like being right in the center of God's will. That's how life is supposed to work, and we aren't happy if we step outside of that "circle." I get to do what I enjoy doing (writing, dialoguing, research, sharing the gospel and the fullness of Catholic truth). I even get paid for it (something, anyway; I can always use more; the bills and debts seem to never end).

The personal attacks are more than made up for by kind folks like you and many others, who have encouraged me and said that they appreciate my labors. You can see those positive remarks on my sidebar and in my two papers, Catholic Accolades for This Website and Non-Catholic Accolades . . . That's enough for me. I know what is behind the personal attacks, so they are ultimately of little concern. Sometimes I get upset, because I am a human being and hate to be lied about and misunderstood, like anyone else, but mostly I consider them almost a joke; a source of humor. When I read the stuff I posted on my sidebar, I bust a gut laughing, it is so funny to me. My wife, of course, plays a crucial role in helping me deal with that junk, too, as I noted in my post about my 20th anniversary. I couldn't have done this without her.

It was much, much harder as a Protestant campus missionary from 1985-1989, because then I got virtually no positive feedback at all from anyone (except my wife Judy). I was doing all this work and only getting negative feedback, and was poor as a dog (at one point we even had to move in with my parents for a year, as a married couple). Two churches I was attending essentially did hardly anything to support me financially (though both gave me reason, initially, to believe that they would). I didn't seem to be accomplishing anything (this was before the Internet and I was confined to passing out paper materials).

It was a very difficult experience to go through. I never questioned God, but I sure didn't understand what was happening to me. It seemed absolutely absurd and ludicrous. I became quite cynical for a while; again, not about God, but about those who call themselves Christians, and who claim to "have a heart for missions." Now it is vastly different, because I have published books, and my website, and blog, and published articles in journals. Everyone needs to have that encouragement on the human level. I couldn't have done what I tried to do in the 80s very long (which is why I gave up in late 1989, thinking that I had been a total failure and not having any idea what I would do for a living).

But that was God's will. Everything is in God's Providence. We must rest in that, whether it is good or bad from our perspective. I think it is fairly obvious in retrospect that He was testing me to see how much I really was committed to my calling. This is how life and the Christian walk is. I had to go through that living hell to get to the fairly good place (humanly-speaking) where I am now. It's never "perfect." But if I pass whatever tests God has for me now, maybe it will be better in the future. Maybe not, too. I (like most of us) will probably have to endure many more trials before the end of my earthly sojourn. I want to accept whatever God has planned for me in the future. We all need to follow the light that He has revealed to us.

All in all, then, I am very happy doing this work. I love to get to my computer and do some more writing and sharing. I always loved ideas, long before I was ever serious about Christianity, and have an insatiable intellectual and theological (even historical) curiosity, so God used those desires (which were ultimately from Him, anyway) to lead me to the field of apologetics.Thanks for asking and for your encouragement! I appreciate it very much. And now I have another "paper"! LOL

James White's Response to My Open Letter

[Link to my Open Letter]

Posted on his blog, 10-14-04:

10/14/04: Quick response to Dave Armstrong’s “Open Letter.”

Dave: Regarding your suggestion that you and I spend an hour on the DL “chatting” and getting to know each other: I don’t believe that would be a proper investment of an hour of our webcast. While at times we do less than serious things for portions of the show, I don’t think “getting to know your local Roman Catholic apologist” has ever appeared on the proposed topics list (not that I generally make one anyway). My conversation on the Dividing Line to which you refer was about people who have no knowledge of my writings or my debates making absurd but deeply personal accusations based fully and completely upon ignorance. And the caller, aside from having said I was yellow-bellied, had no “history” with me that goes back for years and is less than pleasant, including, in just the past few months, illegally altered and utilized copyrighted materials. One does not simply sweep such history under the rug and “make nice.”

If you wish to come on The Dividing Line, then we shall surely seek to accommodate you. However, I would wish to discuss the issues that separate us. You say Roman Catholicism is biblical. I say it is not. Most of the material on the web just keeps repeating the same old things over and over again. Shall we address key exegetical issues, relating to justification, election, atonement, the New Covenant, etc.? This is the kind of interaction the listeners of The Dividing Line appreciate and can utilize. If you would like to do this, we can make arrangements.

Regarding a written debate (something about which you have written often on your blog), I am currently under contract for two books, wish I had time to be working on a third, and have three major articles to write before January. I am teaching a Jan term class, and have been traveling more than ever in my entire life (and more than I really would like). Over the next 18 months or so I am tentatively scheduled to visit England, Singapore, and Israel, all in a teaching capacity. Unless you could suggest a topic that would truly offer something widely useful and helpful that is not covered elsewhere, I do not see how I would be wise to invest time in such an adventure.




I will not be commenting on this any further, since I desire to "end" our often-ugly interaction on a positive note. I made what I thought was a very reasonable and constructive, positive offer. You see the response to it above.

People can, of course, comment as they wish here. I will likely not agree with everything stated below (just so James won't think my silence means consent to all opinions expressed). But I am certainly curious about the reactions of Catholics, as I also am in the reactions of James' circle of friends and admirers (though not sure where to see those in written form -- unless they are expressed here).

Debate on the War in Iraq (vs. Secret Agent Man)

I have tremendous respect for my (Catholic) friend "SAM"'s thinking and writing skills. That's why I am highly interested in this discussion. I will respond to comments he made in the "St. Blog's Parish Hall" Main Forum. I don't claim to know all the ins and outs of just war theory and various legal-ethical criteria for when war is justified, but I do have some general thoughts on the matter which I would like to try to convey (and see if they can stand up to scrutiny). SAM's words will be in blue:

[comments made on 11 September]

How do you "stop" someone from doing what you suspect that he might do in the future?

By disabling his capability to do what can be reasonably surmised that he will do, given the chance. If you catch a dirty old man with thousands of pictures of nude boys and a list of phone numbers of young boys (and he has a record of past molestation), you stop him from acting further and doing what anyone can see that he will likely do (after all, they nail men who are going to meet some young girl, by police officers pretending to be young girls on the Internet; that's preventive; a "preemptive strike").

If you catch a drug dealer with $10,000,000 of cocaine or some other drug, you confiscate the drugs. They weren't going to be used to create a fake white sand beach.

Likewise, if you have sufficient reason to believe that Saddam Hussein has nuclear capabilities, and the will to use such horrible weapons, and great hostility towards the US (and many of his own people), and connections to terrorists, you take action before something terrible happens.

As you indicate, the menace must be sufficiently immediate so as to justify dispensing with nice concerns about misinterpretations, future changes of heart, unanticipated events which may remove the threat altogether, etc.

I don't see how it has to be "immediate" so much as reasonably certain given present capabilities and will.

. . . did Iraq present that degree of immediate menace to the United States on March 19, 2003. I don't think it did.

Tyrants getting hold of nuclear weapons have been a legitimate concern for almost 60 years now. Again, "immediacy" is less ethically important and relevant than deleterious longterm consequences and likelihoods.

I think Iraq was a legitimate subject of great anxiety, but great anxiety about being burglarized isn't the same thing as waking up to find a stranger in your bedroom at 3:00 o'clock in the morning.

Obviously, we had an idea who might "burglarize" us or cause a possible proliferation of WMD to terrorists. It isn't like we are in our "bed" fantasizing about a completely fictional, paranoid "attack" that never comes. No; the proper analogy is to find a burglar out on the lawn (or even on the other side of the state) with plans to invade your house (or other houses with people you know and care about), and connections to other bad guys, and lots of weapons, and a criminal record (etc.). The anxiety thus becomes grounded in highly rational, deductive reality and straightforward prediction (in other words, compelling circumstantial evidence).

If I may be permitted to use Aristotle's distinction, that a "tyrannical" regime is one run for the personal benefit of the ruler to the exclusion of the common good, I think it's arguable that no regime is ever entirely "tyrannical."

I see, so then we are never (or only very rarely) justified in overthrowing tyrants and dictatorships because they don't exist by definition? This is an odd way to define away problems and to justify inaction. I know that is not your intent, but the result comes out practically the same, far as I can tell.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (a/k/a Planned Parenthood), Saddam Hussein's abortion laws were far more restrictive than our own.

So were Adolf Hitler's . . .

Of course Saddam Hussein had no regard for the dignity of womanhood, mothering, or children. The man was, as Christopher Hitchens says, the head of a sociopathic crime family. But is it possible to portray Iraq under his rule as a society where the common good did not, in any respect, exist? I don't think so, . . .

I don't see that these fine-tuned distinctions are all that relevant, given all that we do know about Saddam . . . Again, one could say that about Hitler: all the good stuff he did for Germany and the German people.

So, what do we mean when we talk of "tyrannical regimes" which may be legitimately abolished by the unilateral decision of a foreign power?

It was not unilateral; it was sanctioned by the UN, and some 30 other countries have participated with us. But we mean regimes which are notoriously in violation of human rights, which are led by malevolent rulers, who have the will and capability of developing and using WMD, and who have known links to terrorists.

I would hope that the first thing we mean is that we're willing to discuss a level of criminality, evil, and abusiveness that we're willing to stomach before we decide to destroy another state.

Saddam's regime had that in great abundance. But note that taking down a tyranny is not the same as "destroying a state." Did we "destroy" Germany in WWII?

If any evil justified such a war, we should have to invade Sweden because of this. [he linked to a Christianity Today article]

This is curious reasoning. You think we could justifiably attack Sweden because one man was jailed for a month for supposed "hate speech" against homosexuals and suppression of freedom of religion and speech, yet mass murder of one's own people and designs to develop WMD and connections to worldwide terrorist networks are not sufficient? Wow . . .

If we decide not to invade Sweden, we've committed ourselves to accepting the continued existence of a regime that punishes or imprisons Christians for spreading the Gospel.

There are all sorts of sins and evils in the world. I don't see how giving one example of some tyranny in one state automatically means that we shouldn't attack any tyrannous regime. I've never understood this reasoning. One can't do everything. But that doesn't mean that one does nothing. If we couldn't do good acts simply because we are being so-called "hypocritical" by not doing every conceivable analogous good act, then we would do nothing at all, for to do anything would constitute automatic hypocrisy, which is a sin. So it is a vicious circle (and a rationalization for doing nothing, which is a sin of omission). In scale of evil, I see no comparison between Sweden and Iraq. Perhaps this was merely a reductio ad absurdum on your part (I'm not sure), but I don't think it succeeds in that purpose, either, because the comparison is too weak.

After that, it's a question of how much punishment, how frequently, how terrible, etc., a regime has to inflict on Christians before we'll act.

If genocide or other systematic mass murder is involved, I think we should act. We should act, therefore, in the Sudan. As for Iraq, we know Saddam killed his own people by the many thousands, and we had every reason to believe he would do much worse to outward enemies, if he had the power to do so.

Is America's addiction to abortion on demand, a never-ending river of pornography, and an exploitative economic system sufficiently "tyrannical" to qualify as a regime that should be destroyed? More people have died at the hands of American abortionists than Saddam and all his henchmen.

This is why I argued right after 9-11 that America was far past sufficient evil to warrant divine judgment. But you and I had a very spirited dispute about that and even recently you reiterated that you still disagreed with me. So what is it that you don't agree with in that belief of mine? That America should be judged? But you seem to argue that here (or something similar) -- at least by rhetorical analogy -- , so I am confused. I do confess that I would have to think quite a bit about why we shouldn't be destroyed as a regime. For one thing, there are no very large nations that are not themselves committing genocide against the preborn, are there? So who would destroy us? According to biblical history, God can use one wicked nation, however, to judge another. I argued that this may indeed have been what was happening in 9-11, even though it was an unspeakably evil act. But you vigorously disagreed, and still do (somehow). So please enlighten me as to where we agree and disagree here. Yet even if we are a "wicked" nation (and I argued that we are quite arguably the most wicked one, because we have more knowledge of what is right), God could still use us to judge another wicked nation, just as Babylon judged Israel.

[see my paper, The Judgment of Nations: Biblical Passages and Commentary]

The concept of tyrannical regimes that demand obliteration at our hands (or anyone else's) is a very dangerous idea.

That may be, but if we never did that, the world would be far worse than it is now. Were you against the Cold War, too? Were we to simply allow Communism to flourish unchecked because it is "difficult" and "dangerous" to ethically decide when to act to counter such tyranny and despotism? I think your position will ultimately create more problems than you think it solves (just as pacifism does).

It's true that, when we invaded Iraq, Saddam had used nerve gas to kill thousands and thousands of innocent people. But we weren't attacking Iraq to save those people. No use of American military power in 2003 could have saved them. They'd been dead for years before the first M1 rolled into Iraq.

Obviously. But this misses the point, which is precisely that if Saddam had the willingness to do such a thing to his own people, he would certainly do it against us and others (like Israel), especially since we had already defeated him in the Gulf War. So you see relevant facts but you analyze them wrongly. But beyond all that, I do happen to believe that it is a good thing to liberate peoples from tyrants like Saddam and the Taliban. Call that "naive idealism" or whatever you like, but I think it is very much in line with the many biblical injunctions to rescue the oppressed and to save those who are being led to slaughter. We talk about loving everyone in the world abstractly, as Christians, yet so often we'll do nothing to help rescue those being led to slaughter, simply because they are from another country, and due to all the UN- or French-type legal "diplomatic" and Chamberlain-like jargon that prevents much good action.

Should we have used military power at the time? I think, arguably, we (or someone else) should have.

Apparently you are forgetting that the UN and international mandate that we were operating on then forbade us from getting involved in internal Iraqi affairs. That's what we get when we depend totally on an international mandate: it prevents actions which you yourself think are justifiable. So you can't have it both ways: you can't be opposed to our more (not totally) "unilateral" action, and be in favor of the previous scenario in the Gulf War, which was designed only to get Saddam out of Kuwait (and possibly Saudi Arabia). We played that game then, and that's how it worked (Kerry talks the same game now, yet voted against the Gulf War which had every element he is demanding for the present war). Whatever one thinks of that situation, many thousands of Iraqis died at the hands of Saddam after we left. Thus, it has been argued that the present war is a continuation of the former, which met just war criteria more strictly (and "classically") than the present war.

But we didn't, and we're not entitled to do a selective rewind of history to justify present policy according to situations which have passed into history.

That's beside the point again. Saddam's killing of the Kurds showed what an evil man he is. We don't want such a man and regime getting hold of nuclear and biological weapons, because he would use them, and/or deliver them to terrorists who are even more willing than he is to use them (and to also kill themselves in so doing, if that is what it takes). But if our going there prevented more innocents from being slaughtered, then I say we did the right thing in that regard, too. We're using the military might that we have, not to conquer land, but to liberate people from tyranny and to prevent horrible use of WMD.

Shall we next invade Turkey and give the Armenian genocide as our justification? It's an absurd argument, . . .

Yes it is, but the only problem is that it is not the proper rationale for why we are there. I'm not sure anyone in government has argued in this way (though they may have). The example is used to show that Saddam is evil; it indirectly confirms that he should have been taken out because of his horrendous potential for even greater evil.

and President Bush's use of it does nothing but erode his own moral credibility.

You would have to document exactly what he said. I suspect that if he could clarify, that it would be in the sense I have argued, not in the sense of what you criticize as "absurd." In fact, we already know this, because Bush's rationale was 1) possession of WMD (or plans for same, which we KNOW he had for sure), and 2) probable links to terrorist networks.

On what moral basis would we justify choosing to save the people of Iraq, while leaving the people of Syria and North Korea in the same or similar amount of suffering?

Because 1) one can only do so much at any given time. This is especially true since Bill Clinton had gutted the military by nearly half. 2) Because Saddam had the greater willingness, capability, and means of delivering WMD, and connection to terrorists. 3) It was more related to our national security interests at this time, since there was a proximity to the terrorists and the oil reserves. That's the difference. I would favor taking some serious steps with the other two tyrannies, too. Absolutely. But one thing at a time. Again, because we can't do everything at once doesn't mean we do nothing and let the civilized world go to hell (as it was in grave danger of doing in the 30s and 40s).

I don't really know the answer to all this, except that I think civilization might be better served by a healthy prudence about invading and conquering "morally unacceptable nations."

So you tell me when we should invade? Only when they are bombing cities like London? Even then we had to be an ally with another tyrant who had killed (starved to death) 10 million of his own people (Ukrainians) in the previous decade. One might be able to make an argument that Hitler couldn't have been defeated without Russian help. Welcome to Realpolitik. I don't like it anymore than you do. But the real world involves such crazy scenarios. I'm all for prudence. I think plenty was exercised with regard to Iraq and Saddam. he had the entire 90s to straighten up his act. He did not. We were extremely prudent and patient (if not too much). I don't see how we could have been any more than we were.

Everyone's morally unacceptable, when you get right down to it. And there are higher values which can only be served by restraint and alternative strategies such as internal solutions.

So we just sit on a mountaintop and wish the bad guys away (much like Gandhi wanted to do with Hitler)?

Two wrongs don't make a right. If, having committed one wrong (an unjust attack on Iraq), one finds oneself in a position either to do good (like install a more civilized government) or compound the error (by restoring Iraq to the mercies of a sociopathic crime family), one must do the good.

But that's just it. You admit that installing the decent government is a good thing, yet you fail to see that we had to do what we did in order to accomplish that secondary benevolent goal. You think it was a bad thing to do that which we had to do to get to the good thing. I don't believe it was a "bad thing." I don't believe in "the end justifies the means" anymore than you do. I think it was fully justified by traditional just war theory which is properly developed in light of present nuclear and terrorist capabilities. Many Catholic thinkers have elaborated upon this argument (Weigel, and Novak for two, as I recall).

I believe that SAM has written quite a bit more on this topic, but I can't quickly locate it, and it is 2:40 anyway. So I will stop for now, and reply to other similar arguments as I find them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Elaboration Upon One Biblical Argument for Purgatory (Matthew 5:25-26)

In my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, I cited Matthew 5:25-26 and then St. Francis de Sales' excellent commentary on it, in my chapter on purgatory. Here is that portion (pp. 129-130 of the current Sophia Institute Press edition, but the footnote numbers are different):

Matthew 5:25-26 [RSV] Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.

(see also Luke 12:58-59)
St. Francis de Sales:
Origen, St. Cyprian, St. Hilary, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine say that the way which is meant in the whilst thou art in the way [while you are going with him to court] is no other than the passage of the present life: the adversary [accuser] will be our own conscience, . . . as St. Ambrose expounds, and Bede, St. Augustine, St. Gregory [the Great], and St. Bernard. Lastly, the judge is without doubt Our Lord . . . The prison, again, is . . . the place of punishment in the other world, in which, as in a large jail, there are many buildings; one for those who are damned, which is as it were for criminals, the other for those in Purgatory, which is as it were for debt. The farthing, [penny] . . . are little sins and infirmities, as the farthing is the smallest money one can owe.

Now let us consider a little where this repayment . . . is to be made. And we find from most ancient Fathers that it is in Purgatory: Tertullian,11 Cyprian,12 Origen,13 . . . St. Ambrose,14 St. Jerome15 . . . Who sees not that in St. Luke the comparison is drawn, not from a murderer or some criminal, who can have no hope of escape, but from a debtor who is thrown into prison till payment, and when this is made is at once let out? This then is the meaning of Our Lord, that whilst we are in this world we should try by penitence and its fruits to pay, according to the power which we have by the blood of the Redeemer, the penalty to which our sins have subjected us; since if we wait till death we shall not have such good terms in Purgatory, when we shall be treated with severity of justice.16

11 The Soul, 100,10.
12 Epistle 4,2.
13 Homily 35 on Luke 12.
14 Commentary on Luke 12.
15 Commentary on Matthew 5.
16 St. Francis de Sales, CON [The Catholic Controversy], 372-373.

Recently, a Lutheran pastor wrote to me. He had read material from two of my books on purgatory (and is increasingly convinced of the truthfulness of it), and was asking about this passage in particular. He asked me:

If we could nail down what the full range of experience was concerning debtor's prison in Jesus' day then perhaps I would find the clincher here. What I'm seeing from writings on other periods of history though is that there was little if any expectation of persons gaining freedom from debtor's prison. Couple that with Jesus' words in these passages which sounds like a warning to avoid debtor's prison (because by implication it doesn't sound like a comforting place given Jesus' comments) I'm not sure that one can put a positive spin on " will not get out until you (the sinner) have paid the last penny."

Here was my reply, in full:

My responses for now (without a great deal of additional study) would be the following:

1) First of all, there is an assumption by Jesus that it is possible to get out of this place: "you will never get out till . . . " This motif of being able to get out of debtor's prison is repeated by our Lord Jesus in Matt 18:30: ". . . put him in prison till he should pay the debt" (repeated in 18:34). This could not be said about hell at all, because no one can get out of hell. We wouldn't say of, e.g., a corpse in a casket: "he will never get out of there till . . . " To say such a thing presupposes the possibility of leaving the place. If one can't leave, it wouldn't be described in such a fashion. Therefore, if we apply the passage to the afterlife at all, it must refer to purgatory and not hell.

2) Secondly, purgatory is not all that "comforting." It is a place of punishment for temporal sins, and purging. We have hope, of course, because everyone there is saved and not damned, and it may be even more pleasant than this life, for all we know, but that doesn't make it all that "comforting" in an immediate sense, because we know from this life that purging ourselves of sins and sinful tendencies is not an easy process. We have plenty of analogies for purging in our earthly existence. So I don't see how this is a disproof at all. If one was trying to apply the passage to heaven, I could see that, but not if it is said to be a description of purgatory.

3) As for Jesus warning us to avoid this place (purgatory, as we believe), that makes perfect sense. No one has to go to purgatory, if they achieve sufficient sanctity by God's grace in this life. It is a good thing to avoid purgatory if we can. That's what Jesus is saying.

4) It can't apply to hell, either, because the "debts" are metaphorical for remaining sins on our soul. We don't get saved from hell by paying off our debts (in Catholic theology, by penance for temporal sins). We get out by means of the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross on our behalf. It is sheer mercy, not a mere debt-paying process (because none of us could ever pay off the debt in that case). This is good Catholic theology, too, I assure you. We don't gain salvation by our good works. That is the heresy of Pelagianism.

Jesus often uses the metaphor of "debt" for sins and the necessity of forgiveness (e.g., Mt 6:12-15, 18:23-35, Lk 7:36-50, 11:4). Therefore, it makes much more sense (granting these theological premises) that the passage refers to purgatory, since the "debts" are sins that we are still being purged of. We're not being punished eternally in this instance for the sins, but having them purged from us because we are already saved. That's why Jesus says that we can get out of the place or state. Again, we don't gain heaven and eternal life by paying off debts ourselves, because this would never be sufficient. But we can gain the entrance to heaven (having already been saved by the cross and God's mercy and forgiveness and election) by purging our sins entirely in purgatory by this painful process.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [a Protestant work], in its article on "Debt, Debtor" (vol. II, 814-815) states:

Debt and debtor are used in a moral sense also as indicating the obligation of a righteous life which we owe to God. To fall short in righteous living is to become a debtor. For this reason we pray, 'Forgive us our debts' (Mt 6:12).

Now, again, in Catholic theology, this is sensibly spoken of penance and purgatory, not of hell or of salvation. The above description fits very nicely with the Catholic (and biblical) concept of purgatory. We "owe God a righteous life"; not in order to be saved (as both Protestants and Catholics agree that we can be saved while still possessing actual sinfulness and less than perfect sanctity), but in order to (already saved) enter heaven, where no sin is allowed (Rev 21:27; implied also by the tenor and content of Isaiah 6:1-8, where the prophet Isaiah comes in contact with God).

5) Jewish tradition held to the practice of forgiving debts every seven years (Deut 15:1 ff.; cf. Ex 23:10-11, Lev 25, Neh 10:31). This was not always heeded (Amos 2:6-8, 4:1), but nevertheless, it is an indication that the notion of a debtor's prison was not always (or usually, it seems to me) a lifetime sentence. Otherwise, Jesus simply wouldn't talk in this manner. We must assume that His thought here represents the common understanding of that time and culture. There was also the Jubilee Year, whereby all debts were forgiven every 50th year (Lev 25:9,13,28, Num 36:4). Even slaves (enslaved due to debt) were to be freed (Lev 25:10,39). Properties were also restored to their original owners (Lev 27:17-29, 48 ff., 27:19).

6) The fact that Israelites at various times became corrupt, or that the poor were excessively oppressed by the rich and powerful (condemnations throughout the prophets), or that the Jubilee Year was not always properly observed, does not eliminate the applicability of the metaphor. Every analogy to human existence will be flawed to some extent because of human sin, but that doesn't wipe out the principle that our Lord was trying to put across by means of these metaphors. Men might oppress unduly (including debtor's prisons) but we know that God is just, and He will let us out when we "pay" what we owe.

7) Tertullian wrote around 212 A.D., concerning this passage:

. . . it is most fitting that the soul, without waiting for the flesh, be punished for what it did without the partnership of the flesh . . . if we understand that prison of which the Gospel speaks to be Hades, and if we interpret the last farthing to be the light offense which is to be expiated there before the resurrection, no one will doubt that the soul undergoes some punishments in Hades, without prejudice to the fullness of the resurrection, after which recompense will be made through the flesh also.

(The Soul, 58,1)

Hope that is helpful to you! I found it a very interesting study, myself. I love delving deeper into the Bible. It is always a great blessing and a further education.

May God abundantly bless the fruitfulness of your pastoral ministry,


"Christianity Today" Magazine Likes my Muggeridge Web Page

Cool! Here's what one writer for perhaps the leading evangelical Protestant periodical stated:

Meanwhile, the best web site from which to explore Muggeridge is hosted by Roman Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong.

(Chris Armstrong, Christian History Corner: 'St. Mugg' and the Wrestling Prophets; CT, 3-22-04)

I know that this magazine has also recommended my C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton pages. I always appreciate the further exposure, and it's especially gratifying, coming from my Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Electoral College & "Swing States" Again Key in 2004 Presidential Election

The race is so close in this sense that either candidate moving decisively ahead in a few key "swing" states could turn the election. This is where all the "action" is at the moment, and why Bush and Kerry keep visiting these states (including my own Michigan; I have already attended a Bush rally). The Rasmussen state-by-state rundown of projected electoral votes gives a good idea of the state of the race at present.

This polling data (as of 10-11-04) gives Bush 240 projected electoral votes, compared to 194 for Kerry, leaving 104 (nine states) as "toss up" status (270 are needed to win). Remember, it is the electoral college which ultimately decides the election, not the popular vote. As most of you probably recall, Al Gore actually received more popular votes in 2000, but he lost in the electoral college (271-266), so he was defeated (after desperately trying to cheat in Florida).

I found it quite humorous then and now that if he had simply won his home state, Tennessee, he would have won, 277-260. But alas, he lost it by four percentage points. I was in an elevator at work the day after the election and heard two liberals bellyaching about how Gore couldn't win his home state. One said, "I was really surprised by that." I piped in (trying hard to conceal a triumphant smile), "it doesn't surprise me at all." The other one then looked at me (having figured out my wry humor), and said, "You're a Bush supporter, aren't you?" LOL I quipped, "the state that knows and loves Gore the best: Tennessee."

As I predicted (in a general way) in my September 10th post, 2004 Presidential Election Predictions, Bush is in control of every single one of the Southern states, and he also has leads in most of the western states, excepting those on the west coast, Hawaii, and New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado (all toss-ups). Near-western Iowa is still up for grabs (7 electoral votes).

Kerry (again, quite predictably) controls all the northeastern states and (of course), Washington D.C., making this election almost able to be characterized (thus far, anyway) as "east and west coasts vs. the south and the rest of the west." He also is leading in Illinois (Chicago obviously being key there). What it comes down to, then, are the mostly midwestern states, particularly Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes), Ohio (20), Michigan (17), and Minnesota and Wisconsin (10 each). Of these nine "battleground" states, Colorado, Nevada, and Ohio voted for Bush in 2000; the rest for Gore. If Bush takes the same three again, he would win, assuming he maintains the other 240 projected electoral votes. He is leading by a projected 46 votes already, so much more pressure is on Kerry (if Rasmussen is correct in its existing projections).

The Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New Mexico votes were all close in 2000 (within two percentage points). Michigan and Pennsylvania were both five points in favor of Gore, while Ohio went five for Bush. Nevada and Colorado went four and nine points for Bush, respectively.
Here is how Rasmussen is polling each of the remaining "undecided" states:

Pennsylvania (21) 47%-47 (Oct. 2)
Ohio (20) Bush 48 Kerry 47 (Oct. 3)
Michigan (17) 46-46 (Sep. 30)
Wisconsin (10) Bush 49 Kerry 46 (Oct. 1)
Minnesota (10) 46-46 (Sep. 26)
Colorado (9) Bush 48 Kerry 44 (Oct. 2)
Iowa (7) Bush 48 Kerry 45 (Sep. 26)
Nevada (5) Bush 47 Kerry 45 (Sep. 24)
New Mexico (5) 46-46 (Aug. 18)

The good news is that Bush leads every time there is a lead. If we give Bush all the states where he leads, and Kerry all the tied states (assuming the others stay as they are projected), Bush handily wins, 291-247 (I predicted a month ago that Bush would win by 60; this is 44). Kerry (judging by Rasmussen projections) thus has an uphill battle, because this last assumption is letting him win Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota, and also New Mexico, and he still loses by 44 electoral votes. Even if he took Ohio, too, along with those states, he would still lose, 271-267. If he took all five of the states with 10 or more electoral votes (which isn't likely, by the odds), he would eke out a close win: 272-266. But with Bush leading in two of those, and a dead heat in the others, that isn't likely. Bush will likely take the remaining toss-up western states, leaving Kerry with the unenviable task of having to gain all five of the midwestern and northern states.

The Real Clear Politics website has an interesting compilation of various polls for the "battleground states." Here are their findings:

Penn. Kerry 49 Bush 45
Ohio Bush 49 Kerry 47
Mich. Kerry 49 Bush 46
Wisc. Bush 49 Kerry 44
Minn. 46 46
Colo. Bush 50 Kerry 45
Iowa Kerry 48 Bush 47
Nev. Bush 49 Kerry 45
N.M. 47 47

If we give Kerry all these states where he leads, and also the two where it is a dead heat, and add the existing Rasmussen projections, Bush still wins 284-254. So once again we see that, although it is close in these states, Kerry is the one who has the uphill struggle, not Bush.

As of October 8th, USA Today / CNN / Gallup polling for these states concludes as follows:

Wisc. Bush 49 Kerry 46
Colo. 49 49
N.M. Bush 50 Kerry 47

My own prediction (more specific now than my earlier one of a month ago) is that Bush will take all the battleground / swing / toss-up states where he leads in the Rasmussen polls, and also New Mexico and Minnesota. Kerry will take Michigan and Pennsylvania. By current Rasmussen projections, that means that Kerry loses 306-232, or by 74 electoral votes (again, my prediction a month ago was a Bush victory by 60 points). That would give Kerry 18 states and Bush 32: exactly what my prediction was on September 10th (but what I believed at least two months before that, in early July, as I noted in that post). We'll see how close my predictions are (I will do a post the day after the election examining that). So far, I seem to be uncannily close to the mark in many ways.

Pray for a Bush victory. John Kerry in the White House would likely be a repeat of Clinton administration incompetence and anti-military cuts. Ultra-liberal Kerry as of late is repeating obscurantist rhetoric about terrorism not being the threat that it clearly is (consistent with his anti-military opinions and voting record ever since he left Vietnam). Clinton (busy with other more pressing matters such as; well, you know) passed up an offer by the Sudanese to turn over Osama Bin Laden (I remember hearing about him before 9-11, and wondering why no efforts were made to capture this evil man), as well as other opportunities (see: article 1 / article 2 / article 3 / article 4 / article 5 / article 6 / other articles).

Kerry and the Democrats are showing that they are as dense and ignorant about terrorism as they were concerning the Communist threat (post-McGovern). Reagan was the one who basically won the Cold War (with great help from the pope). The elder Bush won the Gulf War. Bush and subsequent Republican presidents will have to be the ones who win the War on Terror, given the usual, altogether predictable, Chamberlain-like Democratic leftist head-in-the-sand intransigence on the issue.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Is Sola Fide (Faith Alone) a Legitimate Development of Patristic & Augustinian Soteriology?

Heresy can only be defined as the apostles and Church Fathers defined it, according to the ancient principle of apostolic succession. In a nutshell, heresy is that which has not been passed down from the beginning, from the apostles and our Lord Jesus. If something is novel and cannot be traced back, it is heresy, and to be utterly rejected, according to St. Paul in particular. All other definitions are ultimately circular:

X What is heresy?
Y That which is false and wrong according to the Bible (i.e., as interpreted by Calvin/Luther/whomever)
X And where do they get their authority to state that?
Y From God, but they would trace their beliefs to the early Fathers, particularly St. Augustine.
X But Catholics also trace their beliefs from St. Augustine. Who is correct?
Y If you look at Augustine's teachings, you will find that the Reformed are his true legatees.

Applying this oft-stated Protestant principle, I then appeal to Protestant scholars Alister McGrath and Norman Geisler, with regard to the historical basis of sola fide (faith alone and extrinsic, imputed justification), one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation:

Whereas Augustine taught that the sinner is made righteous in justification, Melanchthon taught that he is counted as righteous or pronounced to be righteous. For Augustine, 'justifying righteousness' is imparted; for Melanchthon, it is imputed in the sense of being declared or pronounced to be righteous. Melanchthon drew a sharp distinction between the event of being declared righteous and the process of being made righteous, designating the former 'justification' and the latter 'sanctification' or 'regeneration.' For Augustine, these were simply different aspects of the same thing . . .

The importance of this development lies in the fact that it marks a complete break with the teaching of the church up to that point. From the time of Augustine onwards, justification had always been understood to refer to both the event of being declared righteous and the process of being made righteous. Melanchthon's concept of forensic justification diverged radically from this. As it was taken up by virtually all the major reformers subsequently, it came to represent a standard difference between Protestant and Roman Catholic from then on . . .

The Council of Trent . . . reaffirmed the views of Augustine on the nature of justification . . . the concept of forensic justification actually represents a development in Luther's thought . . . .

Trent maintained the medieval tradition, stretching back to Augustine, which saw justification as comprising both an event and a process . . .

(Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993, 108-109, 115; emphasis in original)

This spectacularly confirms that sola fide was a novelty and corruption, and that infused, intrinsic justification was the ongoing tradition, and that of St. Augustine, supposedly the great forerunner of Luther's "faith alone." Norman Geisler makes the exact same point:

. . . one can be saved without believing that imputed righteousness (or forensic justification) is an essential part of the true gospel. Otherwise, few people were saved between the time of the apostle Paul and the Reformation, since scarcely anyone taught imputed righteousness (or forensic justification) during that period! . . . . .

For Augustine, justification included both the beginnings of one's righteousness before God and its subsequent perfection -- the event and the process. What later became the Reformation concept of 'sanctification' then is effectively subsumed under the aegis of justification. Although he believed that God initiated the salvation process, it is incorrect to say that Augustine held to the concept of 'forensic' justification. This understanding of justification is a later development of the Reformation . . .

. . . a feature in Augustinianism which Protestants will no doubt find interesting is that God may regenerate a person without causing that one to finally persevere [City of God, 10.8] . . .

Augustine does not deny the freedom of the human will . . . He resisted the notion of double predestination, which argues that God not only decides to elect some to eternal life but also actively predestines others to eternal destruction . . .

. . . the distinction between justification and sanctification -- which came to the fore in the Reformation -- is almost totally absent from the medieval period . . .

Like Augustine, Aquinas believed that regeneration occurs at baptism . . . he held that not all the regenerate will persevere . . . Aquinas believed that humankind is unable to initiate or attain salvation except by the grace of God . . . he is completely dependent on God for salvation . . .

Whereas the Reformers distinguished forensic justification and progressive sanctification, Augustine and Aquinas did not . . .

Augustine never held the doctrine of 'double' predestination . . . and actually argued against it . . .

Before Luther, the standard Augustinian position on justification stressed intrinsic justification. Intrinsic justification argues that the believer is made righteous by God's grace, as compared to extrinsic justification, by which a sinner is forensically declared righteous (at best, a subterranean strain in pre-Reformation Christendom). With Luther the situation changed dramatically . . .

(Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, with Ralph E. MacKenzie, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995, 502, 85, 89, 91-93, 99, 222; emphasis in original)

Much the same demonstration can be made with regard to sola Scriptura and other Protestant distinctives. To summarize, then: the only (biblical, logical) way to determine heresy and orthodoxy is the historical criterion of apostolic succession. Any other method is circular, with no way to resolve competing claims.

Sola fide cannot be a legitimate development, because it is different in essence from infused justification. If some Reformed Protestants claim that our view is Pelagianism or a false gospel of works, etc. because of its difference from the Reformed extrinsic, forensic, external, imputed righteousness, then how can their view be said to be merely a "development" of ours, via Augustine and others?

A development cannot proceed from an entirely false view to a true one, or change in its essence. This violates the very definition of development, on any coherent theological view of what the word means. It is not simply random evolution or change, but consistent change: consistent with what has come before it, not radically divergent.

That would be like saying that orthodox Chalcedon trinitarianism could have "developed" from Arianism, Sabellianism, or Monophysitism. Therefore, sola fide must be considered as a corruption of Augustinian (and patristic) soteriology, because it is entirely novel in essential aspects, as my two Protestant citations showed.

St. Augustine rejected double predestination, perseverance, imputed justification, and accepted free will, sacramentalism, baptismal regeneration, the Real Presence of the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the Mass, the central authoritative roles of the Church and Tradition, as well as Scripture, the papacy, purgatory, penance, intercession of the saints, an exalted role of Mary, and human merit. In other words, he was a good Catholic. As if this were some amazing revelation . . . .

How, then, can a Reformed Protestant claim on the one hand that his views are descended from St. Augustine, yet on the other hand assert that Catholics are heretics, Pelagians, and adherents of a false, idolatrous gospel, for believing the same sort of things that St. Augustine also held? If I am a heretic and not a Christian, then neither was Augustine. If he was one, then so am I.

Without too much trouble, one can find Catholic distinctives in St. Augustine's classic, The City of God. For example, the great Doctor appears to be talking about purgatory in XX,25-26 (". . . at the judgment those who are worthy of such purification are to be purified even by fire; and after that there will be found in all the saints no sin at all . . . "). Cf. XXI,13.

He clearly rejects the Lutheran/Calvinist "bondage of the will" (V,10 and XII,7). He teaches the sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (X,5,20; XXI,25), baptismal regeneration (XIII,7; XX,6), development of doctrine (XVI,2), authoritative Tradition (XVIII,38), and prayers for the dead (XX,9; XXI,24).

How is it "outside" of God's working to simply reject His working? This is absolutely illogical and nonsensical. How does a prisoner's refusal to accept a governor's pardon somehow make the pardon null and void, or change the essence of the fact that the governor does all: all pardon comes from him, but a free agent can reject it if he so chooses? This is what Augustine states in City of God, V,10:

It does not follow, because God foreknew what would in the future be in our will, that there is nothing in the power of our will.

He doesn't create a false dichotomy, which is so characteristic of Protestant thought. He accepts the paradox and mystery (not contradiction) of divine sovereignty and human will, as Scripture also does.

Let me put it in capital letters: (in Catholic, Tridentine teaching) GOD DOES THE ENTIRE WORK OF GRACE AND JUSTIFICATION. MAN MERELY GOES ALONG WITH IT, OR REJECTS IT. Even merit is God rewarding His own gifts, as Augustine accurately puts it. God's grace is always primary and initiatory. Once one is walking in that grace, there is merit, yes, but it must also be understood as ultimately initiated and entirely caused by God.

[originally uploaded on 24 November 2000; very slightly-revised]

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Making Fun of Myself: "Paperback [Blogosphere] Writer"

Since it seems to be a recurring theme (or complaint, depending on one's perspective) that I write so fast and so much, I thought it was high time that I do a parody of myself (besides, it's just a lot of fun). Here it is; a take-off on the Beatles' 1966 rocker, Paperback Writer (see original lyrics):

Blogosphere Writer
Dear sir or madam, can you read 12 books?
They took me days to write, will you take a look?
Inspired by the writings of a man named Lewis*
And it is my job, so I want to be a blogosphere writer,
Blogosphere writer.

It’s a controversy with a Catholic man
And some Protestants just don't understand.
My sons are working for the daily news**,
It’s a steady job but I want to be a blogosphere writer.
Blogosphere writer

Blogosphere writer

Here's a thousand pages, give or take a few,
I’ll be writing more in an hour or two.
I can make them longer if you like the style,
I can crank 'em out and I want to be a blogosphere writer,
Blogosphere writer.

If you really hate it we can have a fight***,
I could write a million pages overnight.
If you must reject it, you can leave my blog
Cuz you need a break and don't want to be a blogosphere reader,
Blogosphere reader.

Blogosphere writer

Blogosphere writer - [background vocals] blogosphere reader
Blogosphere writer - [background vocals] blogosphere reader

*C.S. Lewis has been my favorite writer for many years now, and I regard him as one of the major influences in my desire to learn more about apologetics and to follow that line of work as my vocation.

**my three sons, wife and I all work (to various degrees -- I do it every day, as the main guy) delivering newspapers, as an additional part-time job to make ends meet (me being your stereotypical "starving author / apologist" -- well, not literally, but you get my drift . . . we're not exactly "rolling in dough" around here, even with the needed extra income. Rumors bandied about in some quarters of folks supposedly converting to Catholicism in order to make more money are greatly exaggerated!)

*** tongue-in-cheek reference to my love of challenging, feisty (particularly socratic) dialogue / debate.

Friendly Open Letter and Proposal for James White

Dear James,

Hope you are well today. I listened with great interest last night to your lengthy, amiable conversation with a Catholic who goes by the nickname "Jonathan Prejean" -- on your Dividing Line webcast (October 5th, 2004). It was very encouraging and heartening to hear a Catholic and a Protestant simply talk as "normal human beings," without all the rhetoric and polemics that so often happen on both sides.

I couldn't agree more with your impassioned complaint about people not getting to know you, and rather, resorting to childishly attacking you personally when they know next to nothing about you. I have also tried to simply talk with folks who are some of my severest critics, but they were not willing (I have had very similar experiences to yours on the Internet, though not on the scale you have gone through, no doubt). I agree with Jonathan that you seem to be a good family man and committed Christian. I have never stated or believed otherwise. You mentioned, for example, that no one tries to get to know anything about your family. Your daughter Summer is extremely impressive (I've read some of her writing, posted on your blog). I can only hope my four children (all 13 and younger) turn out nearly as wonderfully. Yesterday was my 20th wedding anniversary, and I wrote a lengthy praise of my wife Judy on my blog. So I am very devoted to my family, too.

You said that you get along fine with Fr. Mitch Pacwa. Yes, we all get along better with some people than with others. I have that experience, too. I was so impressed with the conversation that I got the idea that you and I ought to try something similar, rather than always fighting with each other about theology and apologetics (and sometimes descending into personal material, or something close to it -- on both sides). If you want people to get to know you better personally, I am completely willing to do so, and always have been.

My name was brought up on the show and you claimed that you used to take me seriously, but then I got "odd" (I think that was the word used) and you decided to take a humorous approach, where I am concerned (though your recent multi-part critique of one of my radio talks did not appear to me as merely humorous, at all).

Well, I could (and would) make the same complaint that you make: we have never really gotten to know each other as men; as human beings with feelings and a "real life" outside the Internet; as guys who love to have fun and joke around (you obviously possess that trait, too, as I do); as family men who are in ministry. You don't know me personally any more than I know you on that level. I can only get hints of it here and there, such as your show yesterday. I always knew you were a "human being", you can rest assured (since you said some critics of yours seem to not know that). Hopefully, you know that about me, too. :-)

It's not like I haven't tried something alone these lines in the past. I've apologized to you some dozen or more times now, for past statements of mine. I've tried (in vain) to achieve reconciliation through a mutual friend (Catholic) who was getting along better with you, and attaining some level of personal communication beyond the outward polemics. I've said nice things about you on many occasions and urged others to refrain from personal attacks and to stick to the subject. I've defended you publicly when others were far more critical of you than I have ever been, even accusing you of being demon-possessed (!) in some instances. I've publicly praised your work on defense of the Holy Trinity, against Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, and King James-Only advocates, and in the areas of pro-life and opposition to homosexual "marriage." I was willing to engage in a lengthy question-and-answer session with you in your chat room. Perhaps you have apologized and said nice things about me, too, but if so, I am not aware of it; maybe you can direct my attention to a writing where you have done so.

Here is an example, from the very paper (now removed) where I was most critical about your methods and (what I perceived as) personal attacks against several Catholic apologists:

I also call equally upon Catholic apologists to repent of any slanderous remarks about Protestant polemical opponents, such as those casting aspersions upon motives, honesty, basic reasoning ability, supposed hidden sins, deliberate "twisting of Scriptures," etc. We are not faultless in this matter, either, and I certainly include myself in this - very much so. I have seen many instances of pitiable rhetoric in looking over some exchanges of Catholic apologists and Dr. White.

Looking back at some of my own remarks about him in private correspondence (and on lists), I can see that they were indeed reprehensible and wicked, and that he was understandably angered and upset by their unpleasant and overly-extreme and at times arrogant nature (and was right to rebuke me at the time). It is with shame that I openly confess that I have done my share to contribute to the alienation and ill will between Dr. White and myself. I have not always acted with love and compassion and patience, as I should have, as a Christian. I have failed far too often, as a man and as an apologist. May God help me do better in the future.

On the other hand, I have apologized to Dr. White on several occasions -- oftentimes on public lists . . . we had two particularly intense conflicts, and I am sure I did not conduct myself in a Christlike fashion at those times, either. But I did ask for forgiveness, and presently I sincerely ask Dr. White's forgiveness once again for all that I may have written which misrepresented or hurt him or caused undue harm in any way, shape, form, or fashion.

It was never my intention to utter any deliberate falsehoods or slanders against Dr. White (or anyone else, for that matter). In the heat of "apologetic battle," unkind things are often said (and that's putting it mildly!). I am sure that this present paper contains some unfair or false accusations as well. If any false allegation can be shown to be just that, I will immediately apologize and retract it.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that this paper can accomplish its purpose: to minimize unworthy, destructive rhetoric in theological and apologetic discourse, and to convict us all of falling short in taming our tongues. We all fail in this; the difference lies in those who allow the grace of God to enable them to improve in this area and to learn more and more to avoid "foolish talk."
This was written on 9 March 2000. I believe it is possible for us to get along much better than we do now. You mentioned Fr. Pacwa as a clear example of what is indeed possible. My friend Steve Ray said that you were a nice (and funny) guy when you two met at the debate on Long Island earlier this year. I say that we should cut through all the nonsense and make an effort to get to know each other personally, too. My complaint is very similar to yours. I think people don't make the effort to become at least personally acquainted with each other as fellow human beings, before launching into rhetoric and disagreeing. I have made that criticism of the Internet for years. In fact, I have become so fed up with Internet discussion boards (including Catholic ones) that I no longer participate on them (or lists) at all. Without the personal element as a foundation, those exchanges often (and quickly) become ugly.

My proposal, then, is this: You often state how you want people to come onto your Dividing Line webcast and simply talk. I heard a great example of that last night. I think it is possible to do this, even in our case. So I am proposing this: how about if I come on and we talk for the whole hour, in a similar manner to your almost half-hour long discussion yesterday with Jonathan (amiable, cordial, good-natured, conciliatory, non-polemical)? It would not be about things where we disagree. We would actually be on the same side.

This is true, of course, in many areas: fighting the cults (Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons: I have opposed the former as an expert of sorts for 23 years now, and have debated Mormon elder Dr. Barry Bickmore), pro-life, defense of the Trinity, conservative politics, opposition to theological liberalism and higher criticism of the Bible, defense of the Resurrection and the Bible, responses to Islam (I have done a debate on that, too, now), other areas of general Christian apologetics (I write about all kinds of things), etc., etc. We could talk about our family lives and about the difficulty of life in ministry, and of how frustrating it is to deal with personal attacks from folks who know next to nothing about us. We have a lot of things in common. Why not truly get to know each other better; doing something edifying for listeners (and readers)? You were calling for that yesterday on your show. I couldn't agree more that it is a great need today with all the impersonal and ad hominem material on the Internet.

So why don't we agree to do something positive like that for a change, that people on discussion boards on both sides can try to emulate? Let's set a good example together, and show that it can be done. I think it would be wonderful and very constructive and helpful for apologetics and Protestant-Catholic relations in general. You have wanted me to come on your webcast for years. I would be happy to, but I want to get to know each other first. After that groundwork is laid, perhaps eventually (after some trust is built up) we can also talk about things where we disagree and do some apologetics.

What do you say?

Sincerely, in Christ,

Dave Armstrong

P.S. I would even extend this proposal to other well-known figures in apologetics and severe critics of mine, such as your friends David T. King and Eric Svendsen. If they are up to it, by all means, I would invite them to engage in conversation with me (on your webcast, if you are agreeable).

P.P.S. I sent the following letter (via e-mail) to James White at approximately 5:50 PM EST on 7 October 2004:

Hi James,

I have written an open letter to you on my blog [URL given], about a possible talk we could have on your Dividing Line webcast. See what you think. If you respond, I'll post your words on my blog (you may want to post them on yours, too). This is totally public, not private (like your letters to Dr. Seifrid).

Thanks and have a great day,

Dave Armstrong

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

"It was twenty years ago today . . . " (High Praise for my Wife Judy on our 20th Anniversary)

20 years! It's unbelievable how one's perspective of time changes as you get into your 40s. 20 years now seems like 5 did when I was 20 or 25.

I think it is neat that today it is a sunny, gorgeous fall day in the Detroit area, with temperatures in the low 70s. This is exactly how it was on our wedding day. Then we went down to the Smoky Mountains for our honeymoon and hit the fall colors at exactly the peak. It was truly breathtaking and spectacular, and perfect for Autumn worshipers like we were then and now. We went hiking in the woods today in the middle of writing this. It was glorious. There are some great woods near Henry Ford's mansion, only a few miles from our house.

Where do I begin? This is my "open anniversary card" to my wonderful wife Judy. Usually, private cards are the norm, but once in a while I think it is appropriate to publicly sing praises to one's spouse and to share with the world the love and pride that you feel. I am delighted to do so.

I do love her with all my heart and consider myself a very happy man, and blessed to have such a woman for my wife. This was the second-best decision I ever made in my life (second after the God-ordained choice to become a serious disciple of Jesus in 1977). Judy is, I think, everything that God intended women to be: gentle, sweet, very compassionate towards others (when she hears of some tragedy, she will often start crying, even if it involves a stranger), understanding, exceedingly wise, yet innocent and childlike in exactly the right sense of those words, feminine, patient (after all, she lives with me!), a good listener, sympathetic, a lover of good art and music and nature, romantic (in all senses of the word), fun-loving, a marvelous mother, forgiving and merciful, soft-spoken, passionate and principled about Christian truths and beliefs. The list is endless.

What made me fall in love with Judy back in March of 1984 was (apart from her obvious beauty) the fact that she was a godly, caring woman (as seen in the above listed traits). That, to me, says it all. But there is a story here, and I would like to briefly recount it, because I think it might have some value for young people today who are in the process of selecting a lifelong mate.

Judy and I are very compatible and happily-married. We like so many of the same things, it is amazing. I'm not saying we have the perfect marriage, or trying to claim some great credit for ourselves. We both have faults (I am stubborn, too critical, often compulsive, a workaholic, and a creature of sometimes too-inflexible routine and habit, among many other faults, and my wife has a bit of a temper, though no one seems to know that except me :-), and we fight sometimes. But on the rare occasions that we do, we usually resolve it "before the sun goes down" (as the Bible recommends) and we are very careful not to lash out in those hurtful-type words that can cause long-lasting emotional damage, lodge in one's memory, and erode trust. Our "fights" are what many people would call merely "mild disagreements." We both know how to say we are sorry when we need to.

Our compatibility and happiness are not our own doing, or to our credit. All the glory goes to God. But it is true that we were both very careful in how we chose a marriage partner. Even that is by God's grace, yet God (in some mysterious way) gives us the freedom to choose, in matters of marriage as well as spirituality. As we look back, we think the "secret of our success" are the following factors:

1. We were platonic friends first, for a year-and-a-half.
2. We both prayed very hard for our mate, and didn't rush into a new "rebound" relationship after both of us had been hurt in previous relationships.
3. We both waited on God and for the right person, tried to trust Him, and were very selective; allowing God to guide and confirm the choice that we made. This involved a great deal of loneliness and hardship for both of us (believe me!), but it worked out in the end.
4. We didn't have sex until we were married.
5. A realization that what may appeal at first to our senses or in a purely erotic way may not always be the best choice in the long run.

These are all very difficult paths to follow; make no mistake about it. But we believe that this is how God designed the love and marriage relationship between a man and a woman. If you fall "madly" in love "head over heels" right away (#1), obviously you don't gain an accurate understanding of the nature and character of the person you may eventually intend to marry. You know: "love is blind." This is no way to enter into the possibility of one of the most important and far-reaching choices one makes in life. Now, granted, such things happen sometimes and we have relatively little control over them. Yet we can take steps to avoid a total domination of the powerful instincts of "new love." We have the power to limit time together and so forth, so that a more rational decision-making process can occur. Judy and I didn't have this "animal attraction" right away, as it happened. But as far as we are concerned, that was better. We got to know each other very well, and then the "serious / romantic" feelings and desires started to naturally follow.

The factors of #2 and #3 are related. We think it is supremely important to be willing to wait and suffer for the right person to come along, and to trust God for that eventuality. I KNOW how difficult this is. I lived it for many years (I had hardly any dates between my senior year in high school and age 25; I was so selective). I probably took the principle of "pickiness" too far, in retrospect, but I am still happy that I was too selective rather than not enough, so that I avoided possibly getting "hurt" and "burned" many times, or hurting someone else.

#4 is self-evident (or should be, but is less and less, these days, in our culture), and much has been written about it from a Christian perspective (see, e.g., my paper, Dialogue: Is Premarital Sex Wrong?). No one who is having sex with someone else is in any state of mind to make such a serious life-choice as marriage. Sex is too dominant and powerful to allow for rational deliberation. That's precisely why God designed it solely in the context of a lifelong, committed relationship, where it belongs. Apart from that, it is highly dangerous and destructive. Over 40 years of the vaunted sexual revolution has demonstrated that beyond any doubt, for all who care to see.

My only direct advice to young couples is to make sure you pick someone who shares your values in this regard. Otherwise, forget it. The temptation is too strong to be resisted unless both people are in absolute agreement that premarital sex is wrong. We know that very well from our own experience, because abstaining with someone I knew I was going to marry, in the passionate throes of young love, was perhaps the most difficult thing I have ever willingly chosen to do in my life (thus one I am quite proud of). C.S. Lewis wrote that it is the person who resists temptation who understands far more of its power than the one who readily gives into it.

The factor of #5 has caused much misery and unhappiness, I think. It is simply untrue that we can know that we are compatible with a person at first glance. Sexual attraction and "chemistry" and "hitting it off right away" are not the final barometers of "our type" of girl / guy. I know for a fact that the type of woman I am naturally attracted to (the very outgoing, vivacious, "bubbly" type) would not have been the kind of personality that works best with me in a marriage situation. Given the choice on my own, apart from the more serious considerations above, I would have chosen that type of personality, but I am convinced that I wouldn't have been nearly as happy. This holds for me alone, with my own particular temperament and personality and lifestyle. Everyone has to determine this for themselves. But I have often heard that we ought to get to know a person for at least a year until we can conclude that we know them very well at all. After all, everyone "puts their best foot forward" at first in relationships. That is not a reliable guide for what a person will be like 10, 20 years down the line.

I hope my "preaching" is not taken the wrong way. I'm just trying to share a few things that I think I have learned about love and marriage, by God's grace, in order to perhaps help a few young couples avoid needless hurt, misery, and heartbreak. No one seems to talk very much about these things, but I think they are extremely important, because a wrong choice in this area can have the effect of changing one's entire life, and determining whether it will be essentially a "happy" or an "unhappy" one -- at least in terms of the marriage relationship and related family matters. I am convinced, more than anything else, that to achieve such happiness, one must choose the person who is best for their particular personality and compatible in all the important areas: religious commitment (above all), attitude towards children and child-rearing, interests, moral values, attitude towards money and life goals, etc.

Getting back to praising my lovely wife Judy; I want to publicly thank her and express my gratefulness for some things that I appreciate the most about her. First of all, she is wonderfully understanding. This means everything to me, as a person who often felt misunderstood, growing up, and even too often in adulthood. Being misunderstood has always been a heavy cross for me to bear (and I think it is for many). We all need someone who will truly know us (the real "us": with the good and the bad, not just a "yes man" or an enabler), and not have any number of misconceptions and false notions in their head about us. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

No matter what anyone else wrongly thinks (and I get my fair share of bum raps in my line of work, because I oppose a lot of false ideas and people don't care for that), I know that at least one person in the world really does deeply know me and love me as I am, with an unconditional love. God does, too, of course, but we need human beings to also do so. And it is also all the more special when the one who understands you the most is the one who knows you far better than anyone else: the one with whom you share all of yourself and your deepest desires, fears, and aspirations.

The second thing I am deeply grateful for is Judy's correct understanding of the whole vexed issue of the "headship of the husband." This has never been a "big deal" for us because we get along so smoothly and easily. We always do things as partners. We don't force each other to do anything, and we are secure enough to let the other do what they want, without fear and mistrust. It is voluntary cooperation and working together. I understand that some (many?) couples are not as compatible as we are (we are blessed in that way), and that this wouldn't be nearly as easy for them, as more disagreements arise. But that is the case in our marriage, and I am very glad about it. She respects me as the husband, and that is how God designed marriage (as revealed in the Bible); it's how the so-called "male ego" works.

It's not a silly "the guy's always right, no matter what" scenario -- far from it -- but rather (to briefly express a very important aspect of men), a respect that men need in order to be men. There is a reason that the Bible states, "Wives, be subject to your husbands" (Ephesians 5:22), and "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Eph 5:25). This is not a stupid, rationalized, male chauvinist domination; it is simply an acknowledgement of the reality of God-created gender: men and women are surprise!) ontologically different, and don't have identical needs and strengths. We complement each other and make each other whole and complete.

In the same passage (as Pope John Paul II has often pointed out), Paul also teaches us to "Be subject to one another out of reverence to Christ" (Eph 5:21). After all, husbands and wives are fellow believers in Christ in relation to each other, before they are man and wife. The idea is to approach each other in Christian love and self-sacrifice, with all that that entails (1 Corinthians 13, etc.). Men are not to "Lord it over" their wives. Quite the contrary; St. Paul writes: "Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies . . . For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church" (Eph 5:28-29). So the basis of proper love of a wife rests on the two principles of 1) the analogy of Christ and His Church, and 2) the analogy to the natural love of self.

My friend Al Kresta has a delightful way of expressing how God intends for this to work. He says that if a man foolishly says something to his wife, like, "submit, woman!" that the wife ought to shoot back with "get crucified, buddy!" The man actually has a harder task, since he is commanded to be like Christ, whereas the wife is commanded to simply submit. It comes down to, again, the selection of a mate. No woman would object to a man who acted like our Lord Jesus Christ more often than not. The point is to find the right man, then the often-dreaded and disparaged "submission" is no problem at all. That's how God designed it.

The third area where I deeply love and respect Judy is her skills as a wonderful mother and homeschooler. I see my four children developing every day in godliness and character, and I know this is mostly due to her, since she is with them more than I am, as the teacher. As they say, the father may be said to be the "head" of the household, but the mother is its "heart" and "soul."
Fourth, I admire her strength and perseverance. Judy has a meek and mild temperament (phlegmatic, according to the classic four temperaments). But (like Jesus Himself) this is not to be mistaken for weakness or "being taken advantage of." We have done many things in our married life which were "nonconformist" or considered "radical" (or worse, by some of our critics). These include homeschooling, involvement in the pro-life activism of Operation Rescue (1988-1990), my leaving a full-time job and entering full-time campus ministry in May 1985, as a Protestant, choosing to go on a sugar-free diet (in 1984), and converting to Catholicism in 1990. In each case we were in full agreement.
Apparently, some folks can't comprehend that a couple would agree on such things, and falsely assume that one must be "forcing" the other to do what they really don't want to do. This wasn't the case with Judy (and I am not a person who "forces" anyway: I'm quite easy-going and soft-spoken: I am a melancholy / phlegmatic temperament). She enthusiastically agreed on all these things. It is no "weak" person who would sit at abortion clinics to block the doors so some preborn babies can live and not be slaughtered, or who would go witnessing on the streets of inner-city Detroit (not to mention childbirth!). And when we disagreed for a short time on whether to home-school or not (I wasn't as enthusiastic about it), she didn't try to quarrel and nag in order to get her way. She prayed and waited and used persuasion and I eventually came around.
Lastly, tied into this has been her total willingness to support my vocation as an apologist and evangelist, from the beginning, which has involved tremendous financial sacrifices and insecurities, waiting many years to be published, terrible misunderstandings and even betrayals in some cases, conflict with one Protestant congregation, petty jealousies, slander at times, lack of support when promised it (both by individuals and churches), a few lost friendships, and so forth. It is no picnic. She has always absolutely believed (as I do) that I was called by God to do this work. It may be a cliche, but there is no way I could have endured the frustrations and disappointments and stress that has come with this work without Judy. I would have quit long ago (especially if I knew beforehand what it would entail).
In fact, in 1988 when I was struggling as an evangelical campus missionary and apologist (I finally was basically forced by circumstances to give up in late 1989, and felt that I had been a complete failure with no future to speak of, and no other career aspirations, at age 31), I went through a significant depression. 

I would have certainly thrown in the towel at that time, except for Judy's encouragement and confirmation that I was called to do what I was doing, and had to persevere, no matter what. Little did I know that God's plan for me was to convert to Catholicism and to (slowly, over years) begin my apologetic career anew. Even then it was no bed of roses. We have been through many difficulties and great disappointments. But through it all, Judy has always believed in what I was doing with all her heart. She doesn't do all this because she "has" to, or because of some imagined coercion that I put onto her (as some husbands do). It is her free choice, and she doesn't believe in forsaking a path that has been made clear through God's guidance and discernment of His will by many means. She's not a quitter; she's in it for the long haul.

This is of incalculable, priceless worth for anyone in Christian ministry. You don't have to waste resources of emotion and energy fighting half the time with your spouse. That's all settled, and when trials come, they can be endured together as partners who willingly endure it for the sake of the Kingdom.

These are some of the reasons I love my wife Judy so much. I truly believe she is the best woman in the whole world (at least "for me," if we must qualify that), and I can't imagine being married to anyone else. I am very thankful to God for the privilege and joy of being married to such a woman, and to be able to raise our four precious children and go through life together. Suffering and tribulations will come (and they have in our lives, for sure), but it is a lot easier to endure them with a true partner and soulmate.
I wish my beautiful wife Judy the happiest of anniversaries. I love you with all my heart and soul, and thank you so much for putting up with this poor sinner and all my "shenanigans" (as I half-jokingly say to her), and sharing your life with me.

Monday, October 04, 2004

What is it With Anti-Catholics & Written Debate? (The Sad Case of Eric Svendsen as a Typical Example)

It isn't just James White who has this weird view. I saw on his blog today a picture of no less than 24 of his own published books. I have three published books (and notes in a Bible, and a chapter in two other books, and a pamphlet -- I have completed nine other books). Yet the man won't debate me in writing because he claims that he doesn't like the medium, and that oral debate is the only good way to go about such things. And this, despite the fact that he has a book out which debates Dave Hunt on Calvinism, and another in which he interacts with three or four other men on the issue of Church government. Bishop White never ceases to amaze me . . .

Dr. Eric Svendsen, his good buddy and fellow anti-Catholic champion, takes exactly the same position (well, kind of; when it suits his purposes: read on). An author himself (some six or seven published books, I believe), Eric nevertheless refuses to debate Catholics in writing (he only likes to tear down straw-men, caricatured versions of Catholic belief in his books). Well, that is, except (again, like James White) those whom he selects to devote a great deal of time to in rebuttal; e.g., Robert Sungenis (see Example 1, Example 2, Example 3, Example 4, Example 5), Ronald K. Tacelli, S.J., Reformed Protestant Paul Owen, who is not an anti-Catholic (see Example 1, Example 2, Example 3), and John Pacheco. So Eric does written debates, but he doesn't, for principled reasons, and because he has no time (being a family man and busy scholar and anti-Catholic polemicist and all). You try to figure it out. I have long since given up trying to understand the convoluted "reasoning" and "rationales" of these folks.

Tonight I was rummaging through old archive pages from Steve Ray's Catholic Convert Message Board (public material) and ran across an exchange between Eric and I (Mark Shea was also involved in the early stages). I thought it might be interesting reading for those poor desperate souls who follow the Catholic / Anti-Catholic ongoing Internet battles.

I couldn't retrieve all the relevant posts, because they were too old or otherwise inaccessible, for some reason. At one point, Eric challenged the Catholic apologists on the board to a debate. I quickly replied that I would be glad to debate Eric in writing. But of course he didn't want to do that. Since this time, Eric has started up his own Areopagus discussion board, where (notoriously) almost any Catholic who disagrees with the anti-Catholic muckety-mucks who run the board is kicked off, usually with unnecessary personal insults and falsehoods about what had taken place. Obviously, Eric is being consistent with his own stated position: substantive written debate with Catholic apologists is to be avoided at all costs (except for those who point out something particularly irksome to Eric -- see the above ten linked examples).

Eric's words will be in blue. Mark Shea's will be in red. Words of "Ronnie," another anti-Catholic who defended Eric in a post to me, will be in green.

Unfortunately, there are some prominent members of this list who have decided to engage in ad hominem attacks on my character, integrity, motives, etc., instead of dealing with the weaknesses of their own approaches (which is what the challenge points out). I am not familiar with most of those who have engaged in this sort of thing; and, quite frankly, their opinions of me mean very little. I am only concerned about those who are viewed as "major defenders" of the RC faith. I think it is fair to say that Mark Shea ranks among that lot. He, more than anyone else on this list with whom I am familiar, has spearheaded these attacks on me, and has been very dismissive of my views. As a result, I have challenged him to a public debate on this very issue-namely, epistemological foundations. If he is right, and my challenge was "silly and stupid" (repeated more than once in this forum), I think it reasonable to back it up in a public debate to see whether his objections will stand. What follows is an exchange that took place recently between Mr. Shea and me. I don't normally post private email; but the situation dictates it. Shea has attempted to humiliate me in a public forum behind my back. It is only fair that he be taken to task publicly:

I write:

Hello Mark,

I have seen my name mentioned quite a few times by you on the Catholic Convert board, mostly in reference to my epistemological challenge. I wonder whether you would care to engage me in a public debate on this issue, just to clear up some misunderstandings that I think you may be perpetuating about my views (perhaps unwittingly, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt). Is this something you'd care to do? If so, we can talk about a date and venue that works for you. Please let me know.

Eric Svendsen

Shea responds:

Thanks anyway, but as I've made clear repeatedly on Steve's board and elsewhere, I don't believe in debates. Have a Merry Christmas!


I respond by excerpting quotations form Shea's posts regarding my challenge over the past few months:

* "The deep goofiness of such challenges" (October 06, 2000)
* "Bottom line: four posts full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Eric offers $100k to the winner. Eric shoots. Eric misses. Eric makes self referee. Eric declares self winner. Eric keeps the $100K. Yay Eric. Eric is invincible!" (October 06, 2000)
* "His reductionist admission which took it for granted that it's all about power and self-interest speaks volumes." (October 07, 2000)
* "If Eric want to be taken seriously, he should advance the argument without couching it in such stupid terms" (October 07, 2000).
* "Instead, he stupidly put this dumb "challenge" forward and made himself look as stupid as a Catholic who imagines he has overturned the Reformation by showing Jack Chick to be an idiot." (October 07, 2000)
* "The "challenge" distracted from the arguments. Further, the arguments themselves are barely worth refuting." (October 07, 2000)
* "Eric Svendsen: The Best Ethics Money Can Buy!" (October 06, 2000)
* "Eric is dismissive and gives verbose accounts of his dismissiveness. But the fact is, you and I know beforehand that the game is rigged. Eric is bound and determined, in advance of and in the teeth of all evidence, to arrive at the conclusion he arrives at, no matter what." (October 06, 2000)
* "Go back and tell your Master Eric that this "challenge" is one of the best things to happen to Catholic apologetics in many a day! Please urge him to keep boasting about how he remains unconvinced! It's too perfect!" (October 06, 2000)
* "Don't you--doesn't Eric--see what a deeply, incredibly stupid blow to anti-Catholic apologetics this "challenge" is?" (October 06, 2000)
* "Have you ever tried to point out to him how deeply stupid and damaging his "$100,000 challenge" is to his own case" (October 06, 2000)

And those posts are only a few that I selected from your posts over the course of only two days. I have found that those who protest this much over what they claim, after all, is "much ado about nothing" are in reality attempting to hide the fact that they cannot answer such challenges. I'm calling your bluff, Mark. You claim you don't "believe in debates." Am I to conclude that what you do you believe in are trumped-up, unsubstantiated ad hominem attacks that you are unwilling to defend in a public forum? Do I take it that it's not okay to hold a public debate where I have the opportunity to hold you accountable for misrepresenting my position and where I can press these points home to show that you really do not have an adequate answer for them--and where everyone listening can see for themselves which side holds up under close scutiny--but that it is perfectly okay (by you) to call into question the integrity, intellectual honesty and character of another person behind his back in a forum he isn't even part of? Is that your idea of a fair exchange of ideas? I'd think that a man who has engaged so freely in the nonsense you have above with such bravado and confidence and in a decidedly back-handed way should be willing to back all that up publicly in front of the man he has taken to task. I certainly am a willing (and eager) participant. How about it, Mark? I personally would love to see how your "silliness" argument holds up in a face-to-face debate. Are you willing to give it a shot? If so, I salute you, and I will immediately begin working out the details of date and venue. If not, then I suggest you refrain from this kind of nonsense in the future. Which will it be, Mark?

Eric Svendsen

Shea responds:


It's not my problem if you chose a silly tactic in an attempt to score a rhetorical point. It remains a silly tactic whether I debate you or not. You don't have $100,000. You never, under any circumstances whatever, had any intention of ponying up said cash. Making yourself judge and jury of whether you should pony up such cash and then loudly announcing that nobody had convinced you to do so simply made it clear that you are a more-than-usually self-interested opponent of the Church. The fact that you still don't seem to see that elementary point is now simply funny. The fact remains that I don't believe in debates and am not interested. Your questions turn on the standard flat-footed rationalistic approach to the Faith which assumes a faithful Catholic must form his thoughts on the basis "That which is not forbidden is compulsory". Since the Church is, in fact, profoundly disinclined to define her dogma unless she has to, you imagine you are scoring a stunning rhetorical triumph by showing that Catholics disagree about a great many things. Me, I think it is one of the best things about the Church that orthodox Catholics "agree about everything. It is only everything else they disagree about." (Chesterton). Bottom line: I think you whole set of questions is ill-conceived from the start and I deleted the challenge the first time it came to my computer because they struck me as tone-deaf to the catholicity of the faith. I haven't changed my opinion and still disbelieve in debate.


I respond by first quoting Shea and then addressing his point:

Anyone can have an opinion. The one thing that separates valid opinions from silly opinions is the willingness and ability to back them up in the face of opposition. Your silly arguments against my challenge, quite frankly, would not stand up in a public forum. You would look foolish and silly in front of (tens of) thousands who may listen to such a debate, and I firmly believe that is the real reason you are unwilling to submit them to a forum that would be taped and widely distributed to both sides. You have styled yourself as a defender of the Roman faith. Fine. Defend it, and defend it with integrity. As it stands, you have acted with dishonor and a lack of integrity and have opted instead to attack someone else's views as "silly" and "stupid" behind his back and without being willing to back it up. Again, I suggest that if you are unwilling and unable to back a statement that is intended to demean and belittle your opponent, simply bow out of this arena. Such a person has proven himself incapable of assuming the great weight of responsibility that is bound up in styling himself a defender of the faith, and is thereby disqualified from being taken seriously. Such "apologists" come a dime a dozen these days.

Eric Svendsen

Well, there you have it folks. I am and always have been willing to debate the best that Rome has to offer. I don't mind penning my views because I am willing to back them up in a public forum and submit them to close examination. But let me reiterate, I am interested in debating only the best because I don't want any charge from anyone to the effect that the reason the Evangelical side won such and such debate was because the Catholic side was represented by someone too uninformed to debate the issue. Consequently, I summarily reject any offer to debate amateur RC apologists (I just wanted in advance to save some of you the trouble of writing and asking for a debate). By "best" I mean someone who has been trained in theology, has written books on these issues, and who is at least apparently well-informed. Mark Shea has a reputation for these qualifications, and he is supposed to be one of the elite RC defenders today. Yet he is either unwilling or unable (or both) to submit his comments in a forum in which it would be very difficult for him to get away with the kind of nonsense he has been perpetuating about my views. I find that exceedingly distasteful and disingenuous. It is very easy to do armchair apologetics in which you simply refuse to be held accountable for your careless assertions. It is quite another thing to hold those same assertions under the microscope of an opponent who will be only too happy to point out their flaws. This, Shea is quite unwilling to do. I suspect I know why.

One more thing: I do not now, nor in all likelihood will I ever, become a participant in this forum. Written debates, in my opinion, are completely ineffective because they allow an opponent to obfuscate too easily. Don't believe me? Let's just test my theory. I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that most of the responses to this post will once again ignore the real issue and proclaim something like: "Aha! So he admits he wasn't going to pay the money!" Watch and see. Public debates, on the other hand, disallow these kinds of bad arguments to stand. My offer to debate Mark Shea publicly on any issue, anywhere and anytime will remain an open invitation. How about it Mark? You openly and publicly criticized my views. Are you willing to put your criticisms to the test? If not, how about doing us all a favor by refraining from stating your unsubstantiated opinions from this point on?

[from the 12-27-00 post (humorously titled to get viewings), Re: Hot, Steamy Triple XXX Action!!!--Corrected Version]

[Why not compromise] and do one of each ? Since Dr. Svendsen doesn't think the written medium is the best way to debate and you don't think the oral medium is the best way to debate. There is evidence that both forms can be beneficial, respectful, and edifying if both parties are committed to respectful and fair dialogue. James White vs Robert Sungenis and James White vs Mitchel Pacwa are evidence of oral debates working correctly and I'm sure Dr Svendsen has experience written debates that have worked fine. What do you say ?

I am absolutely opposed to doing oral debates with anti-Catholics. This has always been my position. I do not condemn the very idea, on moral grounds, however, and I do recognize that some good comes from them (as in the Sungenis-White debates), though I am not sure that it is a "net gain" when all is said and done. I have called for before-and-after surveys to determine how much of the audience actually changed their minds as a result. My thoughts on this are laid out in great detail in my paper I referred Eric to in my last post.

As for Eric and I; he said he has done one oral debate, and I have done none (nor do I plan on ever doing any). The closest I have gotten to that was my "live" chat last night with Tim Enloe and James White, in their forum. But even then, I was very careful to "negotiate" a format which agreed with my Socratic-oriented approach (Q and A and back-and-forth dialogue), which I strongly believe to be more conducive to understanding and learning and constructive discourse on both sides, as opposed to mere rhetoric, clever tricks, "citation wars and ambushes," and suchlike.

Both Eric and I have done much writing. He has books, and I will soon have a book published, and have chapters in three other books, and many articles published. So I think it is much more sensible and reasonable for me to refuse to do the thing I have many philosophical and methodological objections to, and no experience with, than for Eric to refuse to engage a Catholic apologist in the written arena -- which he is quite experienced in, as I am.

Also, my opposition to oral debates with anti-Catholics is well-known (among the circles I move in) and a longstanding opinion, whereas Eric seems to have arrived at his "no writing debates" position very recently, perhaps in the last week, as a result of his acerbic, icy exchanges with Mark Shea on this board. Perhaps I misunderstood his request; I didn't know he was referring solely to oral debates at first. I do know that he was dialoguing with me (quite a bit) back in 1996, when we were both members of James White's sola Scriptura Internet discussion list. I have these exchanges posted on my website.

Furthermore, he was asking in his initial post for free exchange of ideas and so forth. I am certainly willing to do that, and I think that is easily shown by all the dialogues on my website, with people of almost every imaginable major belief-system. So it seems as if Eric was not totally committed to his expressed desire, since he so quickly turned down someone who was willing to engage in the sort of discussion he claimed he was seeking. That rubs me the wrong way. I think a man ought to stand by his words, especially when he is the one initially extending the challenge/invitation, or however he would describe his first post. You know: say what you mean, and mean what you say. But I will not ascribe insincerity to him, because I think that is wrong. I'm just publically expressing my confusion about what he has written and how he has subsequently acted.

[from the 12-30-00 post, It makes no sense to me . . . ]

Hi Eric,

Thanks for your lengthy reply (sure beats your one-sentence reply last time). I'm a family man, too (3 young boys). I do understand that. Shortly, I will go out hiking on the frozen river in the foot of snow we have here. And I don't make $200,000 a year like you said you do (not to disparage that at all: I am not an anti-capitalist), so I have to spend a great deal of my time making the little money I do make (in addition to much "free labor" doing apologetics and evangelism because I am called to it, and am accountable to God for the stewardship of the gifts he has granted me; "woe to me if I preach not the gospel").

Who is unwilling to subject his views to scrutiny? Not I.

But I find it exceedingly strange that you view this endeavor as restricted solely to a public, oral forum. As I said in a post responding to another person: we have both written tons of material and hardly ever debated orally (you once and I, never). Yet you now want to frown upon written dialogue (Plato would be surprised to hear that) altogether. I find that very odd. In effect, this means that none of your views can be scrutinized except in a public debate, so that such scrutiny has happened exactly once! That is willingness to be examined? Hardly! OTOH, I have dozens of debates on my website, where everyone can read the other side of any given issue and make up their own minds. That reaches many thousands more than your public debates do, I think.

And a public debate forum is the best place to do that, for the following reasons. Here are the advantages of a public debate:

1. No one can easily obfuscate the issues when his opponent is present and is able to correct his error immediately.

So you find immediate, spur-of-the-moment corrections more compelling than a correction which resulted from hours of careful research with primary sources, Scripture, etc. Odd . . . Funny, too, that you folks are the ones so devoted to "written only" in your notion of sola Scriptura, whereas when you jump up to the present day you reverse that and wish to switch over to "oral Tradition," so to speak. Weird beyond my comprehension . . .

2. There is much better quality control to prevent tangents and rabbit trails.

But not much to prevent various rhetorical tricks and "ambushing" tactics. E.g., last night with James White (though I did think it was a good exchange overall, and I enjoyed it) he immediately confronted me with dense, historically complex claims about the Fathers and what they believed about Mary. I did my best "on my feet," but I replied that if I had to come up with a list of fathers who denied the sinlessness of Mary, that would take a little time, as I didn't have a source at my fingertips (and looking for one would bore the observers). Someone later described this technique perfectly as "quotes without quoting."

That is the sort of tactic and strategy which I find very annoying and unfair, bordering on unethical in some instances. Clearly, spontaneous, unexpected questions about patristic consensus, so-and-so's views on x, y, and z and so forth are much more appropriate either for experts in that area, or for written papers, where the non-expert and non-historian has the time to look up the sources from people who do study this for a living.

3. There is a definite time limit, a start time, and a stopping point.

I agree that this is a good thing.

4. There are no sideline debaters innundating you with a plethora of opinions while you are concentrating on one person.

That is not a problem with a one-on-one dialogue. You simply take it private, away from a list situation.

5. Perhaps the most important point of all, what takes 10 seconds to say usually takes 10 minutes to write. I just don't have that kind of time.

Truth takes time to find and communicate; sorry. Propaganda, OTOH (such as the norm of today's political rhetoric) is very easy to quickly spout. Evangelicalism lends itself far more easily to shallow rhetoric and slogans; Catholicism does not. It is complex, nuanced, and requires much thought and study. And thought takes time, no matter how you slice the cake.

6. What takes 10 seconds to clarify in a public debate, usually takes three of four additional posts (over several days) to clarify in a written forum.

I see that as a positive good. Again, truth and the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom requires time. I understand if you don't have that time: we all struggle with prioritizing. We all do what we can do, hopefully devoting time to theology as our Lord makes a way, within the pressures of daily living (turning off the idiot box as much as possible, etc.). But that is a separate issue: time pressures vs. the relative constructiveness of writing vs. speaking. Apples and oranges.

Again, the principle of diminishing returns comes into play. I am not willing to part with what little free time I have--and I certainly am not going to cut into my family time.

Fine, but give that as your initial reason, then, after all your rhetoric about seeking an open-minded person to "debate." Don't give us all the high-sounding ideals and then introduce your lack of time as the primary reason to refuse a person willing to take you up on your offer, albeit in a fashion you despise (writing). That gets old real quick.

Why go to the Steve Ray board at all, and unethically reveal private letters of Mark Shea if you were solely interested in open-ended "dialogue"? I don't see the point. His critiques (whether strong-worded or not) of your public website material were also public, and completely permissible, within the context of the usual ethics of the battle of ideas. They were not personal attacks (no matter how often he used the words "dumb" and "stupid," because they were referring to your ideas, not you). But you immediately post his private letters and make it a personal thing, which merely confirms -- no doubt -- in his mind that further discourse with you is futile (as we find is almost always the case with anti-Catholics; they can't seem to avoid ad hominem swipes). Later, in this letter, you take swipes at me, too (gee, why am I not surprised?).

I figure that since you thought nothing of posting Mark's private letters to you, then obviously you have no problem with me posting yours, so all this will also go on the Bulletin Board. And I am forwarding it to Tim Enloe precisely to make a point about the reasons anti-Catholics give for avoiding written dialogue and scrutiny of their claims, which has long been a bone of contention between us, and a pet peeve of my own.

7. There is much more interest, hence wider audience distribution, of a public debate.

I'm not so sure about that, especially with the advent of the Internet, but you may be right (there are cassettes, too). In any event, that has no bearing on my own objections. It is not public debate per se I am opposed to (let me make this very clear), but the perversion of it by unworthy tactics and methods, which is the usual result when one is dealing with anti-Catholics. So I am actually supporting what I consider to be true debate, not the pale imitations of it which pass for "debates."

Most people prefer to listen rather than read.

That may be true, but even if so, that doesn't justify your total refusal to engage in written debate.

8. It is more exceedingly difficult to get away with falsehoods, half-truths, and the like in a public arena than it is in a written one.

Quite the contrary, it is much easier to disinform and misinform, because one can put up an appearance of confidence and truth very easily, through rhetorical technique, ctach-phrases, cleverness, playing to the crowd, etc. (like Jesse Jackson or "slick" Bill Clinton habitually do, or guys like Hitler who were quite spectacular orators). These things are by no means as "certain" as you make them out to be.

In a written forum you can change the subject, downplay the falsehood, counterattack and hope the smokescreen will be thick enough to erase the memory of the falsehood, etc. That's much more difficult to do in a public forum.

It may be a little more difficult, but the shortcomings of a public debate more than make up for this possible "advantage."

Witness my debate with Gerry Matatics in which he was forced to admit that he could not cite any passages to support his view of heos hou, adelphos, and Josephus' reference to James. In short, there is instant accountability in a public forum, whereas in a written forum, several attempts at pinning someone down through several exchanges over a period of several days results in the reader thinking "What was the point again?"

Well, I do admit that this is a good thing, and indeed I looked forward to that aspect in my "live chat" last night. I now know what you mean, from my own experience too, because I asked James White to name me one father who knew what all 27 NT books were, in the first three centuries. He could not, and cited Athanasius, who -- I pointed out -- came to the age of reason in the 4th century (c. 296-373), as I am sure he is well aware . . .

Sorry, but it is a completely ineffective way to conclude which position is the stronger one.

People abuse written dialogue just as they do oral. I have no problem agreeing about that (it's self-evident). What else is new? Good dialogue, in whatever form, is always a rare thing, to be treasured when found . . .

Canned? Artificial? Self-serving Anti-humble?

Yes, because the debater always has to be right in such an event; he can never admit he is wrong because that would not "go with the program." But last night both Tim and I freely admitted it when we didn't know something or other. There's no shame in that.

All of these apply with at least as much validity to a written forum where it is very easy (because there is no face-to-face interaction) to dehumanize your opponent in an uncivil way. There is far more of a human touch to public debates than written debates.

That's a good point, one I am quite familiar with, as I have often been a victim of scurrilous, vicious, scandalous, and slanderous attacks myself, all in the written medium (some witnessed by you yourself, in 1996). But when, e.g., a Catholic offers to meet the alleged premier Protestant debater, James White, for lunch when he was in Phoenix, as Steve Ray did, White flatly refused, saying that it would "compromise the gospel" to do so. You can bet your bottom dollar, however, that if Steve took up White's offer to publically debate him, the latter would have no problem whatever doing that. So he will debate someone, while he won't have lunch with them. This is "civil" and a "human touch"? Gee, more weird stuff.


When you mischaracterize a forum, you can make it appear just as appealing or unappealing as you like.

I attended a debate between Dave Hunt and Karl Keating, and I have also attended political debates and creationist-evolutionist ones. I know the atmosphere very well. I am also thoroughly familiar with how anti-Catholics conduct themselves on lists and bulletin boards. These opinions do not arise from nothingness; they are backed up with scores of experiences (and wounds, in some extreme cases).

Here are the facts. In 90% of the cases, the "zealous partisans" come from the Roman Catholic side, not the Evangelical side.

How do you prove that, pray tell?

Yet, in a written debate forum, the "zealous partisans" are even more multiplied, contributing their caustic opinions in "hit and run" fashion throughout the entire debate. Sorry, I've seen this too many times to know it's true.

Again, that's on a public bulletin board or list forum, not a one-on-one exchange which can later be posted on a website. But one can refuse to read and answer certain people in that situation. I do that myself on the Steve Ray board. Some people have more than proven to me that they do not wish to engage in dialogue, but only to preach or condescend. They therefore forfeit the right to be responded to as respectable, thoughtful participants. We must love all; but we are not required to interact with all.

None of your points downplaying oral debates are valid, Dave. And all of your points apply with greater force to a written forum.

Nice try. But I have answered your points (agree or no) and I have a huge 64K-long paper expounding upon the shortcomings of oral debate (with anti-Catholics) which I highly doubt you will ever interact with (I would be delighted to be wrong). So I am not likely to change my mind unless and until my best arguments on any given point are refuted or shown to be fallacious or ill-supported by the evidence. That's just how I operate. I hold to a view until it is demonstrated to be inferior to another one.


. . . readers of the Steve Ray board and my website (I will post this on both) make up their own minds as to what that might mean.

What that might mean, Dave, is just what I said it means above. I am quite willing to take your views to task in a public forum. I would be laying myself on the line just as much as you would be. I have no inherent advantage in such a forum. Both of us would have to defend our views in equal ways. Yet you are unwilling to do that. I will let those same readers make up their own minds as to what that might mean.

What I am willing to do is what I did last night (and much enjoyed doing): debate you "live" one-on-one in James White's chat room (we would negotiate format and subject, just as Tim and I did). This seems to me to be a reasonable compromise. Certainly that situation is more akin to oral debate than to written debate in my sense of the term. What say ye?

[Eric never accepted this challenge -- just as James White refused to accept my offer of a similar scenario; I said he could question me all night long if I could question him for an hour about anything, "live"]

One final thought. I have read through some of the exchanges between you and me that you have posted on your website. I think your readers might be interested in knowing that what you have posted are "doctored" accounts. In the original version (which I have), there is no "I Dave Armstrong had the final word and Svendsen was unable to answer it." Have you clarified to your readers that you took liberties after the exchange was over to "spruce up" your original comments and add a "final" comment to the end of each exchange in order to appear the victor whom no one could answer? Shame on you, Dave.

Shame on you for resorting to personal attack and casting aspersions upon my motives (without sufficient evidence) when you could have simply asked me to clarify and modify these exchanges to your liking (which I am perfectly willing to do, of course). I did not deliberately set these up with any intent to delete some response from you. These are old debates, and -- as you well know, even given some of your reasoning above criticizing list debates -- they can get pretty confusing fairly quickly. I posted what I had in my files, and was not aware that I was "doctoring" anything.

Now, since you pointed this out (in typically hostile, suspicious anti-Catholic fashion), I will be more than happy to post whatever you have in your files, and add it to the debates, until I get your wholehearted stamp of approval as to the resulting paper. But if I didn't answer any of your replies at the time, I will now, as my custom is to always answer an opponent, excepting instances where he gets personal or radically off-subject. Almost always -- as a simple matter of fact --, my opponents cease dialoguing before I do, so is it my fault that I get the "last word" by default? It's my website, after all. I have the "right" get the last word on mine (especially if my opponent quits); you do on yours, too, if you so desire. But at least readers can see both sides on mine. How many dialogues appear on yours?

So now the ball is back in your court. If you want to accuse me of dishonest editing of dialogues, and I am willing to modify the papers (while vehemently denying the charge of deliberate ethical mischief, as you imply), then it's your turn now to put up or shut up. So our "dialogue" becomes ugly and unsavory even before it has begun. What a crying shame. One of the joys of last night's chat was the fact that Tim and I seem to have a respect for each other, and we have transcended the silly personal disputes (which we did engage in at first). I think that is a beautiful thing.

And now you want me to engage you in yet another exchange that will be "doctored" after the fact? Thanks, but I'll pass. And thank you for illustrating one more reason why written debates are to be avoided.

And thank you for illustrating why I object to oral debates with anti-Catholics in the first place, because we almost inevitably get mud-slinging and unnecessary charges. Every word you "spoke" in a live chat debate would appear in the final product on my site. I have the right to add a few clarifying footnotes in the website version, because (again) it is my website, and I am interested in the pedagogy of allowing readers to pursue further study on the subject if they should so choose. The goal is education, after all. A footnote is not an interference with a text, or else there would be scores of books (including the Bible and the Fathers' writings) which would become illegitimate.

Yours in Christ,


[from the 12-30-00 post, Svendsen's Further Denigration of Written Debates & (Obligatory) Personal Attack ]

Hi Eric,

Since you don't have experience in oral debates and I do have experience in both formats, I seems to me that I am in a much better position to compare them and evaluate the effectiveness of each one than you are.

That misses my point (which I will not reiterate - why bother?), and assumes the foolish fallacy that one must literally do or experience something in order to have an informed opinion on it. By that reasoning, no anti-Catholic could critique Catholicism unless they had actually been one, so they could properly understand it. I couldn't have critiqued the Jehovah's Witnesses or the hyper-faith pentecostals (as I was doing in the early 80s), because I hadn't been one of them, etc. I think people can see through that "logic."

I think the general opposition to oral debates on the Roman Catholic side is not what you assert it is, Dave.

How is that relevant to my own critique? I'm not subject to other Catholics' views on the constructiveness of oral debates, for heaven's sake! In fact, I have locked horns with some on this very issue (a few have even gotten mad at me). Be that as it may, however, if you want to make these sorts of self-serving conclusions about why many of us don't like public debates, then I am just as justified in speculating as to why guys like you, or James White, or William Webster are so unwilling to interact with virtually all critiques of their work, even when matters of simple, bald fact are demonstrated to be in error in their writing.

I think rather it stems from the fact thatRoman Catholics don't fare well in that venue.

Under my thesis, I could readily agree with that. It is true that the Catholic faith is not conducive to an environment where sophistical carnival-barker, used-car salesman types try to distort, twist, and misrepresent it at every turn (and this need not be deliberate at all: it matters not - the end result is the same). Nor is it required of us to engage unworthy, uninformed opponents. James White (on his website) recounted how R.C. Sproul told him that he thought all Catholics were unworthy to debate. If one such as Sproul (whom I admire and like very much, by the way) can take such a view, why can we not take precisely the same view with regard to anti-Catholic debaters?

Given my position, I think it is very "conciliatory" of me to even engage you guys in a forum such as James White's, last night. The reason it worked, I think, was because I insisted on a Socratic format, so as to virtually eliminate the possibility of sophistry and clever rhetoric which typifies so much of anti-Catholic jargon. But I also knew that Tim was a very thoughtful, sharp, and intellectually honest person, so I never thought it would degenerate into a shouting match or mud-slinging contest. People on both sides complimented us on our "civility," and I am very happy about that outcome. I had a point to make (in addition to the theology) about a certain lie about my character, having to do with my manner of speech and interaction with people of other persuasions.

This is not a case (as is commonly asserted on the RC side) of the Evangelical side simply having better gifted orators.

You mean someone thinks our homilies at Mass are better than Protestant sermons? I've yet to meet such a Catholic. LOL

What are the odds that all the best orators just happen to be Evangelical?

Not oration per se, but homiletics, is an area where you guys definitely have it over us. But that is no part of my own critique. I'm only speaking for myself on this one.

I don't think anyone can deny that Gerry Mataticsis a gifted orator and is quick on his feet. I would say the same thing regarding Patrick Madrid. The real reason the Evangelical side fares better in these debates is because--surprise!--it is easier to fare better when you hold to a view that is actually supported by the evidence. It's just that simple.

I'm sure it is that simple in your mind. But in my "papist" mind, if you guys believe this, then the notorious reluctance to engage in written exchanges is quite difficult for me to comprehend. If I have a chance to blow an error out of the water, I take it. So did Paul and Jesus. I don't ignore any open door. But anti-Catholics love to pick their venues and opponents very, very carefully.

In public debates, anti-Evangelical apologists end up spending their alloted time engaging in highly dubious exegesis that results in convoluted conclusions based on passages that are strung together in patchwork fashion. By the end of the debate, it becomes painfully obvious that they are promulgating untenable positions. Heck, If I had to do that, I wouldn't want to debate publicly either!

Yeah, and it is good you have only done that once, if you habitually make the sort of shallow exegetical argument that you do in one of your books:

. . . Catholics . . . insist in their writings that Mary is to receive honor, not worship; but their explicit practice more resembles worship than honor -- bowing to, praying to, and singing praises to anyone must be considered worship, not mere honor.

(Protestant Answers: A Response to Recent Attacks Against Protestant Theology by Catholic Apologists, Atlanta: New Testament Restoration Foundation Publications, 1995, 90)

Now what does Holy Scripture (which I assume you agree is normative) teach us about these sorts of actions? Does it inform us that they "must be considered worship"? Hardly, as Patrick Madrid has shown in his book Any Friend of God's is a Friend of Mine (San Diego: Basilica Press, 1996, pp. 97 ff.). Judah is praised by his brothers and they bow down to him (Gen 49:7). The Jews are praised by other peoples in Deut 26:18-19 and 32:43. Even God praises spiritual persons (Rom 2:29). St. Paul praises those who imitate him (1 Cor 11:1-2)!

You go on to compound your absurdity and shocking unfamiliarity with biblical motifs when you stated that bowing before an image or statue must be an act of idolatry. My good friend Pat Madrid makes short work of this, too, citing many instances of biblical persons bowing before creatures (Gen 19:1, 27:29, 33:3, Joshua 5:14, Ruth 2:8-10, 1 Kings 1:16,25, 2 Kings 4:37, 1 Sam 24:8; 8 more references are given). Jesus Himself sanctions the practice in Rev 3:8-9. Of course, statues and images or icons only serve to represent creatures, just as a photograph of a fallen war hero holds a place of honor in the home of such a person's family members. This is not rocket science . . .

So you want to take Catholic exegesis to task? Go ahead; it could hardly be as ridiculous and foolish as this sort of "exegesis" you engage in, which sounds more like a canned John Knox or Carlstadt sermon than anything to be found in the Bible. Like so much of anti-Catholic belief, this, too, is an instance of the precedence of man-made tradition and preconceived bias over the clear teaching of Scripture.

And perhaps if Dave was better informed, he would know (as many RC apologists already do) that "no written debates" became a personal policy for me a couple of years ago.

I'm sorry to hear that. I didn't know (I don't closely follow anti-Catholics!), and I made the mistake of assuming that your noble words on the bulletin board about open-mindedness and the exchange of ideas presupposed the benefit of written discourse. Sorry. Now I know better.


Perhaps I misunderstood his request; I didn't know he wasreferring solely to oral debates at first. I do know that he was dialoguing with me (quite a bit) back in 1996, when we were both members of James White's sola Scriptura Internet discussion list. I have these exchanges posted on my website.
Yes, and they nicely illustrate one of my objections to written debates--they remain open with no official end. Dave has pulled out a six-year old closed debate, dusted it off, spruced up his comments, added a final response at the end of each one, and victoriously proclaimed that his arguments have gone unanswered. In other words, unbeknownst to the rest of us who partook in that debate, the debate is still ongoing, with no end in sight. Sorry, Dave. Some of us have moved on to other things.

I've already dealt with this. No need to waste more of my time.

What is "easily shown" on your website is that your definition of "dialogue" is to continue unilaterally in a debate that was completed six years ago.

It was four years ago (1996), but that's a minor point. This is so silly . . . just come and finish me off (the poor, dumb, deluded Catholic), if it is so easy! I gave you a golden opportunity to do that (on my own website, no less). But I suppose you would rather harbor this petty and groundless resentment, than to step up to the plate and do some work. It's always easier to take that course. Then you can squawk like a whining child about how terribly hypocritical and "unfair" I was, never, of course, mentioning to sympathetic ears that I provided you the opportunity to help me revise the tracts to your satisfaction, which is as much as anyone can be expected to do in such a situation.

Editing is always controversial. You must know that, as an author yourself, but it doesn't follow that it is deliberately deceitful and slanted. I guess such fair-mindedness is so foreign to you in the circles you move in, that it immediately strikes you as disingenuous, and therefore unworthy of any response from you.

Go back and read my initial post and you will find that I have stood by the very letter of my words. My invitation was to debate in a public setting. That stands. I did not even hint that I would engage in a written debate. Another nice illustration of the misunderstandings that abound in written correspondence.

I did misunderstand that, and stand corrected. I still think it is a sad thing, no matter when you came to this pessimistic conclusion about writing.

No need to be confused, Dave. Just need to read more carefully, that's all.

I'll make a deal with you: I'll read your words much more carefully, if you will cease from undue speculations about my motives and supposed desire to twist and/or delete your words in our dialogues which I have posted. Deal?


It appears from the title in your subject line that you are under the impression we are even now engaged in a debate. Sorry, but we are not;

It (I think obviously) referred to discussing the possible debate. That's what we're dealing with curently. Good grief!

nor will we be if this is the forum. Nice try, Dave. You have an open invitation from me to debate me face to face, anytime and anywhere of your choosing. Let me know if and when you change your mind.

1. I've challenged you to debate in the James White chat room, where you could have your blessed spontaneity and opportunity to immediately correct all these errors you think we commit, but apparently you are not of a mind to compromise at all and must take a hardline position. Too bad, but no skin off my back. I won't lay in my bed tonight, crushed from this huge disappointment of not being able to debate one of the "big 3" valiant anti-Catholic knights; a man who has subjected his views to scrutiny exactly once, according to his own reasoning that public debates are the only substantive place to do that. :-)

2. I don't see that a "live chat" is all that different from a public debate in many respects. It was close enough last night that even James White was willing to engage me for the first time in four years. He must have thought it was similar to the public debates he prefers to engage in, since he won't participate in written exchanges with me, ever since his unfortunate performance -- steeped in obfuscation -- in our little failed argument about supposed inconsistent Catholic use of "private interpretation/judgment", that this is of no interest to you, having just triumphantly declared on the bulletin board you so decry as a medium that no one has yet done so, because they "can't" (it's not logically possible, so we are told), blah blah blah. Then you proceed to ignore one who has responded. I find it more comical than anything else. I always get a kick out of such ironic folly. Your refusal to interact with a critique of one of the central points of your polemic is a strong indication to me (among many) that you lack the dialogical spirit in the first place. I know: you're busy, right? Aren't we all . . .

4. The fact that you have already launched ad hominem salvoes (I admit I was a little surprised, but I should know better by now, where anti-Catholics are concerned) and will not accept my explanation of my posting of our previous discussions, nor follow up on my sincere offer to revise them as you wish, is also not encouraging. It's the same old same old: petty nonsense and an absurd concentration on minutiae and trivial items. I have better things to do with my time. Go spend more with your family (that's one thing we can agree on, if nothing else). I'm sure they appreciate you infinitely more than Mark Shea and I do, having observed the low level of both your reasoning and your rhetoric these past few days. So by all means, go . . . good riddance . . .

In Him,


[from the 12-30-00 post, The Sadly Predictable Outcome (Eric Svendsen's Obfuscations, Ad Hominem, and Fleeing Feet) ]

Hi Eric,

I guess you must have a pre-publication version of my book. The most recent edition (Reformation Press, 1999) addresses all of Madrid's arguments in detail.

I have Madrid's book, not yours. So what are your answers, pray tell? Did you edit out your absurd statements and make a more subtle argument? Oh, I momentarily forgot: you don't do written dialogues (even though you keep answering my letters, and seem to be sitting at your computer waiting to pounce upon my next installment, so quick do you reply).

I thought there was something fishy about your extreme comments about my posted dialogues with you ("methinks thou dost protest too much"), so I went back just now and took a look at them (I have almost 500 separate web pages on my site, so some papers tend to run together in one's mind after a while). I looked through all four which included you, and for the life of me I couldn't even find a SINGLE additional note added in later.

Now granted, I did skim and may have missed one or two, but I couldn't find any (first of all, when I add footnotes later, they are usually bracketed in order to make them clearly distinguishable from the text). I have already stated that you are most welcome to send me additional posts of yours, to add in as you will, but -- strangely, since this frosts you -- you want no part of that. I will comment further on individual statements of yours below.

Editing is always controversial. You must know that, as an author yourself, but it doesn't follow that it is deliberately deceitful and slanted. I guess such fair-mindedness is so foreign to you in the circles you move in, that it immediately strikes you as disingenuous, and therefore unworthy of any response from you.
This would be humorous if it weren't so sad. As an author myself, I do not atttempt to pass off a "doctored" dialog as though that dialog actually took place.

But it was not doctored, and it did indeed take place! That is proven by the fact that you, too, possess the dialogues. Granted, there are variations in editing with a back-and-forth dialogue such as occurs on discussion lists and boards, with their sometimes tedious and confusing constant re-posting of previous comments, as we are doing presently. I have my own fairly consistent style, in which I try to approximate a Socratic dialogue as much as possible. But I never mess around with opponents' actual words. I merely divide paragraphs up so that my responses to each clause or sentence appears right after that sentence. But even then, the color coding I use allows the reader to read one side solely and consecutively, if he wishes.

Now some (not very many) have quibbled with this policy and considered it unfair. I don't mind that; everyone is entitled to their opinion. But my first responsibility is to my readers, to make for an interesting discussion which flows, and can be easily followed. I think that serves both parties, and reinforces the thrust of their arguments. Lately, in order to deal with the infrequent complaints I get about this, I have included the person's e-mail address, with the proviso that if a reader wants to get the debate in the literal, original format (or the opponent's variant preferred format), they can write to my opponent.

So it's one thing to disagree with this Socratic-oriented editorial policy I have adopted; quite another to make wild, groundless accusations of deliberate dishonesty and deceit, which you have done, apparently on a quite misguided basis and a simple misunderstanding, as I will show. In so doing, you ethically repeat James White's accusations of Steve Ray's alleged deliberate dishonesty, regarding the famous Augustine quote "Rome has spoken," or whatever it literally is. You guys just can't cut us any slack, no matter what we do. We could rescue you from an alligator-filled swamp -- save your life -- and you would come up with some nefarious motive which would minimize and dismiss any good deed on our part. :-)

Are you really trying to say that it's okay to take a several-year old written debate, modify the responses you gave during the actual debate to make your arguments look more tenable,

BUT I DID NO SUCH THING!!!! I modified not a word of my response, that I can see (or yours). I didn't change any words which actually appear in the debate. I would never do that (sometimes I add clearly-indicated footnotes, but not in these instances). Best I can tell, you are assuming that indented and minimized sections were later additions. This proves that you didn't read the dialogues (or at least not with any proper attention or carefulness), for if you had done so, you would have seen that the immediately following comments of yours were addressing and responding to the indented portions (my comments), which were in the original dialogues, not added later.

This was my technique for indicating where you were citing a previous comment of mine and replying (the equivalent of the >> << color="#3333ff">fail to tell your readers that we on the Evangelical side were not even aware of your new arguments else we would have addressed them too,

WHAT new arguments????!!!! There ARE none! I can't "fail to tell" my audience about something that isn't there! LOL You must be so used to telling people about a principle of sola Scriptura which is completely absent from the Bible, that you expect me to tell people about "new" and mythical supposed additions which are not to be found in my papers . . . :-) You ought to put your manifest talents to use writing legends my kids can enjoy. You might put C.S. Lewis to shame in your imaginative myth-making, and your magical ability to (so you think) read the motives in other people's minds.

add a new final response after each of the Evangelical responses

Again, you must be referring to my indented, minimized comments, which were my earlier posts, to which you were responding. That's all I can figure, otherwise I am completely baffled and mystified by your wild charges.

to make it appear as though we on the Evangelical side were just plain blind-sided by your dazzling logic and hence bowed down and proclaimed you the undisputed victor by virtue of our "failure" to respond to your final comments, and then pass that off to your readership as a real debate that actually took place?

LOL You are more than welcome to send me portions which occurred after what we have posted (I may not have kept all of them, or thought that they went on to a different subject). As I stated before, I will now reply to anything of yours which I didn't reply to earlier (and you can always counter-respond). Or we can make a new paper which you can edit for my site, if you wish.

Or, if I think your argument is weak and self-refuting (which would not be a rare happening, I'm sure), I will let it stand as a testament to the bankruptcy of your entire point of view. There is a philosophy on talk radio which might apply here: if a person is making a fool of himself, you get out of the way and let him do it, if for nothing else but the entertainment value. Deluded self-righteous absurdity is a delightful diversion. Thank you for brightening my day.

Without once mentioning to them any of these facts?

They ain't facts! They are utter misunderstandings on your part.

And you're asking me if that strikes me as disingenuous?

If it were true, it certainly would be, but since it isn't, it ain't!

Again, it would be humorous if it weren't so sad that you cannot even see what's wrong with this picture.

I'm afraid the humor is all in your deluded and confused, literally quixotic comments, based as they are on a complete misunderstanding of the indentation technique I used to indicate previous comments in the debate, not (as you imagine) future ones added in so as to assure my victory. LOL And this was easily ascertained by simply reading the papers. Relief to your self-created and unnecessary conundrum is spelled: C O N T E X T (and I will need R O L A I D S if this asinine, wrongheaded nonsense continues on much longer).

May God help my patience . . . but this is the beauty (and in this instance, saving grace) of (written) dialogue. You make the false charge, and I clarify and show it to be the nonsense and tomfoolery that it is. And many readers on the bulletin board (and later, of my website) get a good, hearty laugh, so that their days can be made brighter too! That's worth $100,000 itself . . .

And here are the papers, so that readers can see that your charges are entirely baseless and the supposed grave sins on my part nonexistent:

Dialogue on the Alleged "Perspicuous Apostolic Message" as a Proof of the Quasi-Protestantism of the Early Church (Dave Armstrong vs. Dr. James White & Dr. Eric Svendsen)

Dialogue: Are Dissident "Catholics" a Disproof of the Catholic Church's Claims of Ecclesiological and Doctrinal Unity? (Dave Armstrong vs. Dr. Eric Svendsen, Dr. James White, Andrew Webb, &Phillip Johnson)

Dialogue on the Logic of Catholic Infallible Authority (Dave Armstrong vs. Dr. Eric Svendsen)

In Him,


[from 12-31-00 post, Eric Svendsen's Scurrilous, Absurd Charges of My Alleged Editorial Mischief ]

Much better was Eric's letter to me two weeks later (dated 1-13-01):

I would like to apologize to you for the way in which I communicated my disinterest in an online debate . . . I do not think you've fairly considered all the things I do that prevent me from engaging in ongoing online discussions. Ministry comes first to me, but I have to choose my battles carefully and focus on those things that make the most efficient use of my time. However, my method of communicating all that to you was caustic and unbecoming a Christian apologist, and for that I apologize. I intend to treat my opponents fairly, and with respect and dignity, and to the extent that I failed to do that, I apologize.

The same goes for my dialog with Mark Shea . . . I came on strong because I felt he took some swipes at my credibility and capabilities as an apologist. In short, I felt he disrespected me . . . I would never dream of calling my opponent's views "stupid" in a public forum . . . I think such
terminology, if not an ad hominem attack, is nevertheless highly insulting. However, in spite of the extent to which Mark wishes to diminish me by labeling my views as "stupid," I should have continued along the high road that I had been taking since I heard of his comments several months ago. Again, I apologize. From this point on I have resolved not to lower myself to be moved by that kind of insult.

This was hopeful and encouraging. I wrote back to Eric on 1-31-01, concerning the disputed dialogues with him (from the 1996 sola Scriptura discussion list headed by James White) that I posted:

How is it "massaging" to include all your replies to me? . . . It is also a fact that I informed you of these dialogues as soon as I put them up, but received no reply from you. I would have been just as willing to work with you for a mutually-agreeable result then, as I am now. If there is some wicked, nefarious motive in that gesture as well, then surely I am unaware of what it might be.

. . . I have already acknowledged that editing of such exchanges is a subjective matter, where good people can disagree in good faith. I continue to strongly disagree that it is some terrible, unspeakable thing for me to collect some tidbits of the discussion that went on on that list . . . But as a sincere and well-intended gesture of conciliation and an attempt to resolve the difficulties you have with these dialogues, I again extend an invitation for you to add whatever you wish to them to make them "fair" and representative of both sides equally, in your opinion. This time I will even offer substantially more than I have previously: you can add whatever you like and I will not add anything else at all. That is, in effect, you can have the last word (on my website, which virtually no one would ever do). Is that fair enough for you?

Your brother in Christ,


If a person doesn't reciprocate (Eric never responded to the above), you can only hope and pray for something better, and at least have the knowledge that you tried your best (by God's grace) to make it right. Sadly, subsequent communication from Eric reverted to ad hominem personal attack of the crudest sort. Readers curious enough to follow this any further can see the sort of comments that Eric has made about me since early 2001 when he wrote the very nice letter just cited:

Response to Protestant Apologists Eric Svendsen's and David T. King's Public Charge of My Alleged "Deceit" and Inability to Debate

Eric Svendsen's Satire (including of me)

Hurry, Hurry; Read All About it! My Harshest Anti-Catholic Protestant Critics' Opinions of Me and My Work

When Eric later brought up the incident concerning my editing of the papers, I noted:

In any event, Eric keeps talking about this now almost three years later, never mentioning that I tried very hard to work together with him to rectify what he thought was unfair, nor that I removed the dialogues after he refused to cooperate to make them mutually-agreeable.

What can one do? You try to get along with folks, and work towards solutions to conflict, but it is impossible with some people. Their prior hostilities against differing theological opinions apparently mitigate against conciliation and amiable discourse. I believe this is why I have never been able to engage in ongoing, constructive, good-natured dialogue with any anti-Catholic (with one possible exception that I can think of).