Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bill Cork's Catholic-to-Adventist Conversion: If You Have No Reason to Stay in a Communion, or to Join Another, Why Stay (or Leave?)

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Dr. William Cork


Josh S. (Lutheran) had written about Bill Cork's odyssey on his blog:
It's interesting. [link to original sermon] The last few paragraphs are especially interesting. I kinda wondered why he would switch from RC-ism to SDA-ism, but I guess it makes sense if his wife and kids were SDA the whole time. I think the phenomenon of such radical theological shift is really fascinating and makes me appreciate Luther that much more. I think that when so much doctrine is put forward almost entirely on the premise, "trust us," when you stop trusting the guys in charge, nearly every doctrine falls, including biblical doctrines like baptismal regeneration and the Real Presence. Chemnitz has some interesting remarks to this effect on the lack of Scripture proofs in Trents statements on infant baptism.
I replied:
This is precisely what can happen, of course, when one ditches apologetics and doesn't incorporate it into his belief-system. If you don't understand why you believe what you believe, then all it takes is a few difficulties or disappointments or a bit of adversity (or family conflicts) and it can all come crashing down like the proverbial house built on a foundation of sand.

I wasn't the slightest bit surprised by this news about Bill Cork because I had seen how he was trashing apologetics: the very thing that could have been a great aid to prevent him from returning back to where he was. In other words, if you have no reasons for why you are in a certain place, then there is no reason to stay there! It's as simple as that.

It's common sense, really: if you trash the very enterprise that is dedicated to giving a rational defense, then obviously you must not think that it can be defended at all, and so therefore, you leave yourself wide open.

This dynamic applies to any Christian body, not just to Catholics. In fact, I saw on this very blog where you wrote that Lutherans don't really do apologetics; they simply proclaim. If you want to go that route, then don't be surprised if you see folks leaving Lutheranism, since Lutheranism has deliberately, consciously shunned the apologetic enterprise. If Lutherans must simply accept the whole thing with blind faith and check their mind at the door, then what else would you expect?

Some folks will have sufficient faith, but others who aren't so blessed will be dissuaded by skepticism and outside influences.
Then I read Cork's testimony and replied at greater length:

* * *

Yep; I read Cork's sermon and found exactly what I expected to find: postmodernist mush:

1) No reasons given for why he left Adventism in the first place, other than the natural rebelliousness and cynicism of a 21-year-old ("I was not only over my head theologically, but was beginning to get a big head on my shoulders, too . . . I can laugh now at my attitude in those days.").

2) Refreshingly, he did, at least, have a decent reason to leave a liberal ELCA church (sanctioning of homosexuality). But one needs no apologetics to know this because it is an intuitive moral question that is ingrained in all of us.

3) No reasons given for why he became Catholic in the first place other than friendly Franciscans and the "beauty and love of many of its members, and by its rich traditions of prayer and spirituality."

I'm glad he met some loving Catholics, but this stuff can be found anywhere. You want family values and squeaky clean morals? The Mormons do great at that. If you want nice people, the Methodists will do (having been raised Methodist and with both parents and all four grandparents Methodist, I can say that). You want traditions of prayer and spirituality? The Orthodox can do that; even the Anglicans, with their glorious Book of Common Prayer. Pentecostals have great committed prayer (and experience, if that is your thing); Mennonites have a great spiritual tradition and understand simple living. Lutherans and Anglicans have pretty church buildings and an appreciation of art and music. Reformed are good at culture and Baptists at evangelism and missions. Etc. etc. None of this is any compelling reason to choose one truth claim over another. Yet this is all he has given us. He apparently had no theological clue as to why he left Adventism and none for why he adopted Catholicism.

And people are surprised that he decided to make another change?

This guy could be a director of religious education, did evangelism, and was a campus minister and didn't even have an elementary understanding of the apologetic, biblical basis for his beliefs?

4) At length Cork concluded: "Many Catholic teachings have no other foundation than the Church’s claim to teach with authority: purgatory, Marian dogmas, saints, indulgences, the papacy, etc. These are not Bible doctrines."

Good grief. How in the Hades does a guy become a Catholic, teach, become involved in extensive lay ministry for thirteen years and not even have the slightest awareness of the abundant biblical apologetics to be had for all these doctrines??!!

So he was sitting there teaching all this stuff, while at the same time believing that the Church gave no biblical reasons whatsoever for the beliefs? This is incomprehensible to me. When I was an evangelical, I sought to understand the apologetic for that (broad) position; when I was considering Catholicism, I extensively studied the apologetic for Catholicism and critiques of Protestantism. I could no more convert to another belief-system without having abundant reasons for doing so than water could cease to be wet.

But in our postmodernist era, reasons in matters of religion count for little or nothing. It's all subjectivism and private religion. Reason leads to division and fights (so the pomo mentality goes), so let's just make religion a private matter of taste . . .

This is fundamental. One may agree or disagree with the defenses given, but at least people ought to make some attempt to become familiar with the arguments that Catholics give on these things, from the Bible. My own apostolate specializes in that. But I am only one of many Catholic apologists.

Cork, however, didn't do that. He simply concluded that the Catholic Church supposedly requires everyone to believe these things with no biblical rationale whatsoever, as if it is sheer blind faith.

For heaven's sake, just in my writing alone, he could have found dozens upon dozens of biblical arguments in favor of all these doctrines. I would have been happy to send him any of my books for free, if he would just read them with an open mind and see the arguments that a Catholic gives.

But if you "diss" apologetics, this is the sort of ludicrous, head-in-the-sand attitude that you develop. Far better to understand the apologetic / biblical arguments of your own communion and reject them; say they are woefully inadequate or inferior to alternatives (and hopefully understand those properly too), but to pretend they aren't even there is truly astounding.

And so we see that it took very little to send Cork back to his former allegiance. He had a loving wife who had always been SDA, and that is always a strong motivator to a man (I understand that), but it is no theological reason. It's not a rational basis for rejecting one belief-system and adopting another. And so, how does he become an Adventist again? By pure non-rational subjectivism:
Eventually the scales fell from my eyes and I asked, “How did I get here?”

Like the Prodigal Son, I looked up and realized, maybe I can go home.

And that’s when an old professor at AUC, Rick Trott, said, “Come home.”

That’s when I was here at this church, for a concert by my little brother, and Roy Chin stood in this spot and looked me in the eye and said, “Come home.”

How many times do we hear that invitation in Scripture? Come home. Turn around. Be converted.
I could just as well become a Hare Krishna or a Muslim with this amount of reasoning involved.

Cork then got "re-baptized." So an educated man like himself was somehow led to believe that Catholic baptism isn't valid anymore? On what basis does he do so? What did he teach about baptism all those years when he was involved in Catholic education? He must have taught his charges something about baptism and these other doctrines. What was it? Did he just tell them to "trust the Church"?

What few reasons Cork did offer for his change had to do with sin: as if it were monopolized by the Catholic Church (patristic anti-Semitism, the crusades, and the recent sexual scandal).

Jesus was already scathingly criticizing the young churches (see the book of Revelation). Does Cork think he has found the perfect church, where no sin can be found? This is no reason to leave one belief-system and join another (on the grounds that one is filled with sin and the other is supposedly completely different).

He objects to anti-Semitism from 1600 years ago in the Fathers, yet he can stomach the rampant anti-Catholic bigotry that is present in SDA? That's odd.

I could write more about it, but that is my general response. I contend that (at least from the data offered in this sermon) Bill Cork had insufficient reasons to leave SDA in the first place; had insufficient reasons to become a Catholic; had insufficient reasons to forsake the Catholic Church, and insufficient reasons to become SDA again. And this is a highly educated man.

In this age, folks can make such changes and not be expected to give any reasons at all (I am being general below; not implying that Bill Cork would necessarily say any of these things):
"hey, it just felt right"

"God told me to leave SDA/become Catholic / leave Catholicism / join SDA again"

"it's my personal business"

"I had no reason to be a Catholic, so why not rather be an SDA for no reason, since my wife is already there?"
None of this will do. This is more than just a Catholic apologist defending Catholic beliefs. This is a general principle of incorporating a rational understanding into religious belief; of loving God with our minds as well as with all our heart, soul, and strength. It's a matter of the biblical command to know what we believe (1 Peter 3:15) and to contend earnestly for it (Jude 3).

Now, again, it may be that there were some apologetic reasons in play in his journey, somewhere (I don't deny that any exist, period, and would be happy to interact with these, should Dr. Cork wish to do so). But I have seen none mentioned in this sermon / testimony. So why should anyone be surprised that the man has been tossed to and fro, and for no particular compelling reasons at each junction where he switched trains? This is to be fully expected. If he has no reason to be SDA this time around, then it is entirely possible that he could leave again for no reason and join something else for no reason because he has no reason to stay.

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