Saturday, July 07, 2007

Reply to Steve Hays' Critique of Robert C. Koons' Treatise, A Lutheran's Case for Roman Catholicism: Sola Scriptura & Rule of Faith

Steve Hays is an anti-Catholic Reformed apologist, who oversees the Triablogue site. Robert C. Koons is a professional philosopher (with some formal theological training also) who recently converted to Catholicism from a conservative Lutheran background. He wrote an extensive (and excellent, thought-provoking) paper comparing Lutheran and Catholic soteriology (i.e., a fifty-cent word for "study of the doctrine of salvation"). Hays replied on his blog, on 22 May 2007. Steve Hays' words will be in blue; Dr. Koons' words in green (all citations from his paper were cited by Hays, unless otherwise noted).

* * * * *

I’ve always thought that the doctrine of justification is the crux of the Lutheran/Catholic controversy. If the Roman church has been in error on this point, to the extent of condemning the true understanding of the basis of our righteousness before God, then the Reformation was fully justified. Conversely, if Rome has not been in error, if her position can be charitably interpreted as a faithful exposition of the gospel and her condemnations (at Trent) as the rejection of genuine errors, then the Reformation, which destroyed the visible unity of the Church and broke ancient bonds of fellowship, could not be justified. All other issues are secondary: sola scriptura, the role of the papacy, purgatory, the veneration and invocation of the saints, and so on.

For Calvinism, the main soteriological conflict with Rome is not over sola fide, but sola gratia.

This is an ethereal, fictional "conflict", then, because "Rome" does not deny sola gratia at all. The real conflict is between the Catholic (biblical / somewhat "paradoxical") "both/and" perspective:
Catholicism / Bible / "Both / and" outlook: God does all and enables all, pertaining to grace and salvation, yet man can also cooperate with God and in a non-Pelagian sense "participate" in the process.
and the typically Reformed "either/or" mentality:
Reformed / Calvinist outlook: God does all, therefore it is senseless and heretical to speak of man doing anything as regards to grace and salvation, and to do so is at least a semi-Pelagian position, detracting from God's sole work in salvation.
Sola fide is just one aspect of sola gratia.

We do agree on that.

Rome denies sola fide because Rome is committed to synergism.

Rome denies sola fide because Rome is committed to biblical soteriology, and sola fide is unbiblical. But there is, nonetheless, much commonality between comparative Catholic and Reformed (or Lutheran) soteriology, if all views are rightly understood, beyond all the partisan polemics and misunderstandings and misrepresentations.

From a Reformed standpoint, therefore, it’s deeply misleading to suggest that if you can just get sola fide out of the way, then all the other differences amount to a mopping up operation.

Granted, but why use the word "misleading", subtly implying that Dr. Koons was doing any such thing, when he made it clear in the very citation that Hays provided, that he was concentrating on the Lutheran/Catholic disagreements?: "the doctrine of justification is the crux of the Lutheran/Catholic controversy".

It's fine if Hays wants to bring in his Reformed approach to things (as a sort of "footnote" or aside), as long as he doesn't confuse the reader with regard to what Koons himself was attempting to argue. One can also treat the "Reformation" proper as the initial Lutheran expression of it, that occurred when John Calvin was only eight years old, and so obviously a non-player. This appears to be what Dr. Koons had in mind.

It’s also odd to have him treat the debate over sola Scriptura as a secondary issue. For one of the questions at issue is whether the Catholic doctrine of justification is unscriptural. If Scripture is the rule of faith, as the source and standard of doctrine, then the exegetical foundation of any given doctrine is hardly a secondary issue.

This begs the question. Being "scriptural" and being in accordance with sola Scriptura are not one and the same. This is a clever sleight of hand often employed by Protestant apologists (akin to the fish not knowing that it is in water: to the Protestant, sola Scriptura is the water he lives in or the air he breathes; thus taken absolutely for granted), but it is a basic fallacy, according to Protestants' own given definition of sola Scriptura, which is, broadly speaking, as follows:
Sola Scriptura: the belief that Scripture is the only final, infallible authority in matters of Christian doctrine.
For something to be "scriptural" or "biblical" on the other hand, is to be in accord with the following qualifications:
"Biblical" / "scriptural": supported by Scripture directly or implicitly or by deduction from explicit or implicit biblical teaching; secondarily: not contradicting biblical teaching.
As we can see, the two things are quite different. This is how and why Dr. Koons (and myself and any Catholic) can be entirely committed to explaining and defending Catholic doctrine from Holy Scripture (indeed, it is my apologetic specialty and the focus of all my published books), while not adhering to sola Scriptura in the slightest. Protestants don't have a monopoly on Scripture; nor is sola Scriptura necessary to thoroughly ground doctrines in Scripture. The Protestant merely assumes this and goes on his merry way.

So when Hays caricatures the Catholic position as "exegetical foundation[s]" of any given doctrine supposedly being a "secondary issue" he is engaging in sheer obscurantism, straw men, and circular logic, because he has presupposed that sola Scriptura is essential to exegesis or desire to biblically support any doctrine, when it is not at all. Very clever, though. I've never denied that Hays was clever (even exceptionally so), but unfortunately, he is often guilty of sophistry and fallacious thinking (he thinks the same of me, lest someone thinks I am being unduly harsh).

We've already seen it, and we are only barely getting started. We'll observe much more of this as we examine his reply. It always takes a ton of work to thoroughly refute one of Hays' lengthy screeds, because they are filled with this sort of thing, and it is highly tedious and laborious to have to keep pointing out basic fallacies (doubtless one reason why few reply to his stuff, and why I knew I had to set aside significant time to do so myself).

There are two reasons why the Lutheran position must bear the burden of proof: the Lutheran doctrine was novel, and it precipitated a fragmentation of the Church’s unity.

This begs the question, and it fails to draw an elementary distinction. “Novel” in relation to what? Novel in relation to Scripture or church history?

That might be true if it stood alone, but of course, Koons' paper goes on to delve into all these issues, and so it is not improper for him to make the claim and then go on and defend it from the Bible and history.

Even if sola fide were novel in relation to historical theology, that doesn’t mean it's novel in relation to biblical theology.

Strictly speaking, that is correct; however, one has to immediately ask why, if something is so biblical and true, was it so difficult to locate in historic theology? Does God not have the power to guide the Christian Church in major areas of theology, so that she doesn't fall into serious heresy or, worse, apostasy? These are questions that the anti-Catholic, with his view of a widespread, horrendous loss of biblical truth and "the gospel" for some thousand years or so before Luther and Calvin appeared as the Grand "Reformers" of "biblical" truth, has to grapple with (but alas, rarely does). Both Catholics and Lutherans are highly concerned with historical continuity, both appeal to the Church Fathers, and both claim to uniquely preserve just that, in a dogmatic sense.

Even if it’s novel in relation to Augustine or Chrysostom, that doesn’t mean it’s novel in relation to St. Paul.

That's right. But to be novel in relation to those two eminent Fathers is itself a novelty, given how both sides have argued through the years, in claiming to be legatees of the teaching of those two men and other eminent Church Fathers. Therefore, it is relevant to note whether there is actual agreement or disagreement, since Catholic, Lutherans, and Calvinists alike all appeal to St. Augustine as in agreement with their views.

Putting this another way, Tridentine theology might not be novel to Aquinas, but still be novel to St. Paul or St. John.

And of course, we argue that both Lutheran and Reformed theology is novel according to Augustine and Paul and John alike. It all has to be discussed at great length.

[passing over ecclesiological questions dealt with by Koons and Hays because it is too large of a separate issue and I want to center on soteriology: that makes up the bulk of Dr. Koons' paper]

Lutherans argue that an authoritative Church is unnecessary, since the Scriptures themselves can act as the judge in any case of doctrinal controversy. This claim depends of course on the thesis of the perspicuity or clarity of the Scriptures. I have not been able to find a consistent formulation of this thesis among Lutherans. Sometimes, it is admitted that the Scriptures are not always clear (as Peter writes about some of Paul’s epistles). However, if the Scriptures are not always clear, then there will be questions about which it is not clear what, if anything, the Scriptures have to say. The Lutheran position, however, depends on the claim that, on every disputed question, the Scriptures can always act effectively as the supreme court of appeal.

Suppose that Koons is right about this? So what? What’s the next step?

Obviously, to locate an alternative, biblical rule of faith; sola Scriptura having been shown to be unbiblical and false.

i) He acts as if there are only two choices: Catholicism or Lutheranism. Where is his argument for such a restrictive choice?

Not quite. The choice is between those who adhere to sola Scriptura (basically, all Protestants) and those who do not (Catholics, Orthodox, and perhaps a few very "high" Anglicans or "Anglo-Catholics" and Methodists of similar disposition). Koons deals with Orthodoxy on pp. 55-57, and in effect rules them out on the basis of their rejection of the papacy: itself grounded in Scripture.

ii) There is also the paradoxical way in which he allows a great deal of internal development and alteration in the case of Catholicism, while allowing no flexibility in the case of Lutheranism. Why treat Catholicism as fluid, but Lutheranism as static?

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Lutheranism did overstate its case. Maybe it can’t nail down quite as many things as it originally claimed.

Why does he cut Catholicism so much slack when he’s unwilling to cut Lutheranism any slack? Why not make the same retrospective allowances for Lutheranism as he’s made for Catholicism?

Because that is how Lutheranism views itself. It leaves little room for development of doctrine. So I would contend that Dr. Koons is simply treating Lutheranism according to its self-perception, which is only sensible and proper.

This is especially odd because he regards Catholicism as indefectible and, in some cases, infallible. So Catholicism ought to be less revisable than Lutheranism.

Indeed it is. Hays makes the usual Protestant (and especially anti-Catholic Protestant) misunderstanding that development entails change in any essential way. It does not at all.

iii) But suppose that Lutherans don’t want to modify their position? Even if they are inflexible, how does that disprove other Protestant alternatives?

Why can’t a Protestant say that where Scripture is silent, that’s a point of liberty?

They could indeed do so, but most often they do not do this. Koons is not dealing with Hays' abstract mind-pictures, but with the reality of Lutheranism and larger Protestantism as it is.

It isn’t necessary to stipulate in advance that Scripture has an answer to every question we pose. If Scripture offers no specific guidance on certain questions, how does that invalidate sola Scriptura? Why would it not mean that there is more than one right thing to do?

This is sensible; however, in practical terms it doesn't work, because if a non-scriptural "tradition" is appealed to in Protestantism, then the door is left wide open for contradiction and doctrinal chaos, because it then finds itself in "no-man's land" insofar as the Bible is silent and it has no binding authority other than Scripture: hence, chaos and competing truth-claims, which is a situation condemned, not encouraged in the Bible itself: particularly by the Apostle Paul.

Lutherans have held, in fact, that every doctrine taught by Scriptures is a doctrine upon which church fellowship hangs. The Book of Concord is an attempt (futile, in the end) to settle in advance every possible dispute about the interpretation of Scripture, in order to provide a sufficient and permanent basis for confessional unity.

And maybe Lutherans are wrong about that. Perhaps they overplayed their hand. But how is that an argument for Catholicism?

Why does Hays assume that every argument Dr. Koons makes is (in the latter's mind) automatically an "argument for Catholicism"? It doesn't have to be at all. It could simply be one more strike against Lutheranism. I don't see why Hays feels it necessary to do this logical hair-splitting and supposed reading of his opponent's mind. If Koons actually stated such a thing, Hays would have noted an indubitable logical truth, but Hays has not shown that Koons argued in such a way in the first place. That being the case, it is simply unhelpful nitpicking and minutiae.

Lutherans must insist that the Scriptures are not only clear, but clearly clear, when they are clear, and clearly unclear, when they are unclear. Even if the Scriptures are utterly clear on all the important doctrines, unless we can all tell exactly which passages address the ‘important’ doctrines, the Scriptures will not be able to act as the unmistakable judge in all doctrinal controversies.

Assuming that this is correct, it would only mean that Lutherans need to scale back some of their exaggerated claims, not that Catholicism is true.

As argued above, if sola Scriptura is shown to be unbiblical, untrue, and unworkable, then one must choose a substitute system, because (I agree) the issue of authority and the rule of faith is absolutely central to everything else in Christianity. So Hays can toy around with the logical minutiae and "possible possibilities" -- in his usual fashion -- but at the end of the day he (like all Protestants) has a huge and troubling issue that he has to resolve, and no one has done it satisfactorily within the Protestant system (least of all, Hays himself, because he deliberately deals only with the peripheries of the subject, rather than facing it head on), I would contend, with all due respect.

In the heat of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, it was quite possible for polemical theology to get a bit carried away, for fear of making any damaging concessions. And, from our distance, it is possible for us to modify or moderate excessive claims.

True. But that doesn't make it any less difficult for a Protestant to construct a coherent, cohesive, self-consistent system of authority today. The basic conundrum remains, as it always has.

For example, this is what a lot of Presbyterians have done in reference to the Puritan form of worship. They decided that the Puritans overreacted in this respect. Protestant theology has a capacity for self-criticism, and that’s because we submit to the Bible as our rule of faith. Our commitment is to Scripture, and not to tradition—not even Protestant traditions.

Simply a (typically) circular appeal to the very thing being critiqued, and as such, obscurantism . . .

There is only one coherent basis for the doctrine of sola scriptura: an empirical, a posteriori argument that uses actual error to eliminate all other claimants to infallible. If it can be shown that popes and councils have actually erred (by contradicting the Scriptures, for example), then the Scriptures will be left as the only remaining infallible authority. This basis places a heavy burden of proof on the Lutheran side, however. The Lutheran must demonstrate, without begging any question, that popes and valid councils (when properly interpreted) have in fact erred when proclaiming dogma (that which must be taught and believed in the Church).

I agree that a Lutheran apologist or theologian (or Protestant in general) assumes a burden of proof. But why does he assume the sole burden of proof or even a preponderant burden of proof? Why isn’t there an equal onus on a Catholic apologist or theologian to “demonstrate, without begging any question, that popes and valid councils (when properly interpreted) have never erred when proclaiming dogma”? Both sides have their own burden of proof to discharge.

I agree. But I would turn the tables (using one of Hays' favorite approaches) and argue: "assuming, for the sake of argument, that one has demonstrated catholic self-contradiction in dogmatic proclamations: does that automatically make sola Scriptura true by default?" Of course it does not. So the Protestant has as much burden of proof in establishing sola Scriptura, as the Catholic does for his system. And they have failed to do so in no uncertain terms. Hays himself will try to skirt the issue and wiggle himself out of his own dilemmas at every turn. We have seen it already, and we will till the end of his paper. It must be that way, because sola Scriptura is a thoroughly indefensible doctrine, any way you look at it. That's why it is simply assumed as true by most Protestants.

[passing over more non-soteriological arguments and garden-variety illogical objections to development of doctrine, in trying to get to our main focus]

Lutheran protestations to the contrary, I cannot believe that every proposition in the Book of Concord can be deduced directly from the text of Scripture, interpreted only by means of neutral, grammatical-historical methods. At some point, one has to make judgments about which system of theology best makes sense of the biblical data, and these human judgments will be fallible and variable, except where superintended by the Holy Spirit. Hence the need for an infallible magisterium of the Church.

Even if that’s the problem, how is that the answer? You don’t need a magisterium to ensure a certain result.

That's right, strictly speaking, yet in practical terms (since people invariably disagree in doctrines and interpretations), this is exactly what is needed. What the Catholic argues is that sola Scriptura is incoherent and unbiblical and unworkable. We then assert that our system is not any of those things. This is not absolute proof, true, but it is a necessary prerequisite to hold a biblical, rational belief in faith. What is true cannot be unbiblical and irrational.

What one requires, rather, is a doctrine of providence. God, in his providence, will see to it that his elect come to a saving knowledge of the truth. What is needed is not an infallible church, but infallible providence. Providence is a deterministic process, using various means to secure its appointed end.

That tells us nothing in concrete terms; it is merely a typically Protestant desperate, pious-sounding abstraction (and ultimately logically circular when actually applied to real human affairs). How does this help us attain to the truth unless someone can tell us with definite assurance, "this is the truth about doctrine x, and it is dogmatized in this Christian communion" (and provide some solid epistemological basis for believing same?

It is hard for me to believe that God intended the Scriptures to be the sole and sufficient norm for doctrine, given their silence on so many issues that must be resolved if the Church is to function: May infants be baptized? Should those baptized by heretics or hypocrites be re-baptized? Which baptized Christians may commune, and which should not? Should repentant heretics and sinners be reconciled to the Church, and if so, how and under what conditions? Should orthodox members of schismatic sects be excommunicated? Should orthodox members of non-schismatic congregations be excommunicated, if those congregations practice improperly ‘open’ communion? Must the threefold ministry of bishops, presbyters and deacons be respected at all times? How are clergy (in each order) to be ordained, elected, called or installed? Must there be at most one bishop in each city? What authority do bishops have, and what superior authority, if any, must they respect? What constitutes an authoritative council of the Church? These are matters upon which the Scriptures provide little explicit guidance, and yet, for practical reasons, it is impossible for Christians simply to agree to disagree about them.

Two basic problems:

i) He is assuming, without benefit of argument, that there can only be one right way of doing anything.

I don't see that above. What I see is a critique of ultimately insuperable problems in Protestantism, that even an atheist could make, because these judgments can be made independently of one's own belief-system.

He needs to foster a proper appreciation for the principle of the adiaphora. In many cases, there is more than one licit option available to us.

Scripture teaches that many mutually-exclusive views of baptism can be true at the same time? That's interesting . . .

ii) He is also trying to intuit God’s intentions instead of bothering to study divine precedent. There was no magisterium in second temple Judaism. As a result, you had a great deal of diversity in thought and practice. Cf.

Why is what was acceptable for God’s old covenant community unacceptable for God’s new covenant community?

Because folks have learned a few things and advanced in understanding over hundreds of years. Because we now have the Holy Spirit to guide us, and the apostolic deposit, and the power of regeneration and the New Covenant. We have had the benefit of the teaching of the God-Man, Jesus, and that of the Apostles. We have the New Testament. I should think that even Steve Hays would readily agree that these are humungous differences between the Church and "second Temple Judaism."

If you want to know God’s intentions for the future (e.g. the church age), a good place to start is with his historical modus operandi.

it is good, but it's just a start, which is the point. Hays and many like him cut this option off, in effect, by their goofy, twisted conception of what they mistakenly believe development of doctrine to be.

The sola scriptura position puts an impossible burden on each believer: in order to recognize true congregations, the individual believer must evaluate the congregation’s confession for complete freedom from doctrinal error. To perform this task, the believer must not believe the essential doctrines of the faith, he must know exactly which doctrines are essential and which are a matter of legitimate difference of opinion. This seems inconsistent with the variety of talents, gifts and callings: not every believer can be expected to be a theologian. The sola scriptura theory condemns the majority of believers to de facto exclusion from the true church, by virtue of their inability to distinguish truth from error on all disputed matters.

This objection is predicated on a number of assumptions for which he offers no supporting argument:

i) There are degrees of responsibility according to one’s aptitude and opportunities (Mt 25:14-30; Lk 12:48). Sola Scriptura doesn’t not imply that every Christian has the same intellectual obligations.

Dr. Koons did not argue that it does; rather, he is saying that the logical reduction of the sola Scriptura position requires every believer to make basic, crucial decisions and choices and judgments that in fact are best reserved for the experts (or a magisterium, as it were). He sees this as a reductio ad absurdum, as opposed to accepting a state of affairs where everyone has to be a theologian or else they will be at a fundamental disadvantage. Hays has not shown how this doesn't apply; he simply (as so often) plays logical games around the edges. He offers no positive apologetic for sola Scriptura, which is exactly what he must do.

ii) There are degrees of doctrinal error. Why must one belong to a doctrinally inerrant denomination (or independent church)? Maybe I’m an amil. Does that prevent me from joining a premil church?

One has the burden of finding the "most true church" within Protestantism or else succumbing to doctrinal indifferentism and de facto relativism, as millions of Protestants do, because their system is of little use in leading them to theological certainty in faith.

iii) Not all “disputed matters” are matters of doctrinal truth and error. Some matters are disputed because of what the Bible has left unstated. That is left to individual discretion and conscience.

This is always the Protestant appeal, in trying to divert away from the crucial issues. It won't work. Baptism is not a secondary doctrine. Nor is sola fide, etc.

iv) Let’s also remember that church membership, in the modern sense, is a postbiblical development. In the NT, baptism is the rite of church membership. A baptized Christian was a member of the NT church, period. There is no Biblical mandate to belong to a particular denomination. Church membership, in the modern sense (i.e. the age of schism and sectarianism) is adiaphorous.

So is denominationalism. Well said! yet every Protestantism is a member of a denomination, if only in the vaguest sense of "generic Protestant" -- which is different from historic Catholic Christianity and cannot historically trace itself back to the apostles.

The Catholic position, in contrast, places a reasonable burden on the layman: he must simply recognize which congregations are in fellowship with that global church that is most continuous historically with the church of the apostles, i.e., with that church that has the most secure claim to being the Catholic (universal) Church. In other words, the believer need master only one, relatively small set of doctrines: those concerning the identity of the true Church, not, as Lutheranism requires, an exhaustive knowledge of every disputed point of theology. This effectively limits the believer’s choice to two: the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox, each of which recognizes the other as a part of the true visible church.

This is a classic case of special pleading:

i) Why should we assume that catholicity or historical continuity is the criterion? What about the possibility of institutional apostasy? We have examples of that in the OT.

Because both the Bible and common sense and logic rule that out. The Bible teaches indefectibility of the true Church (Matt 16:18; John 16:13; Acts 15:28 [implied] ). Paul presupposes that there is one truth and that it wold continue on in perpetuity in the Church. Apostolic succession is taught in Scripture. This, in turn, entails a state of affairs whereby there will always be an unbroken line of apostolic truth institutionalized in one historic Christian Church. The fathers teach the same. Protestantism departed from this understanding.

The argument from common sense and logic are that it is senseless for God to establish a new community of believers (granting His providence and omniscience and the indwelling and guidance of the Holy Spirit) and yet not enable it with enough power and protection to even survive through history. So we have both biblical indications and God's nature to lead us to the catholic and Orthodox view of the historical Church.

ii) Does he really think it’s such a simple matter to identify the “true church”?

It is made rather more simple than it might be, due to insuperable Protestant internal difficulties and self-contradictions, both in actual denominational teaching and in Protestant foundational structures (sola Scriptura, the conundrum of an "unbiblical" canon, etc.).

iii) Isn’t the identity of the true church related to true doctrine?

Absolutely. Hence, our belief in faith that God preserves true doctrine in His one true Church. And we can defend all our doctrines from Scripture, history, and reason.

Does he think a church that teaches false doctrine is a true church?

No; no more than a Protestant does. If we didn't think Catholic doctrine were true, we wouldn't be Catholic.

ii) Koons is also assuming there’s only one true church,

As the Bible always assumes without even argument . . .

so that a Christian’s mission in life is to go on a theological safari or expedition to discover the one true church. Now, that may reflect the Catholic outlook.

And the biblical one . . .

And that may also reflect the viewpoint of confessional Lutheranism.

Rightly so, because they recognize that the Bible teaches this over and over, and plainly . . .

But many evangelicals, myself included, do not take the position that there is one true denomination, such that we must continue our quest until we hit upon the long lost church of the apostles. That’s all very romantic, and it makes for fun fiction, viz. In Search of Atlantis, the Holy Grail, the Fountain of Youth, King Solomon’s Mines, &c. . . . most Evangelicals do not operate with such a nominalistic paradigm, as if the true church must be identified with one concrete particular throughout time and space.

This is a classic, textbook expression (complete with obligatory mockery and straw man construction) of postmodernist, relativistic, pessimistic, literally anti-biblical, faith-challenged mush, as I have critiqued in the following papers:

Anglican Anti-Traditional Principles of "Development" & the "Cult of Uncertainty" (vs. Dr. Edwin Tait)

Response to Rev. Michael Pahls on "Theological Humility" and the Protestant "Non-Quest" Regarding Christian Certainty (vs. Rev. Michael Pahls)
Hays is reduced to embracing a counsel of despair: the very opposite of a hopeful, sunny biblical faith. In this mentality, one cannot find the one true Church of Scripture. It's futile to even try. God is not able to preserve one truth or lead His followers to it. This is how low Protestant sectarian chaos and doctrinal relativism has brought most Protestants. They no longer think it is even possible to find and believe in one Christian truth (it is viewed as a "romantic" and childlike notion, as we see Hays -- astonishingly -- do above). This was not at all true of the original Protestant "Reformers" (Luther, Calvin et al), but it has been the sadly predictable outcome of a ridiculous proliferation of contradictory beliefs.

Many denominations and independent churches exemplify the true church in varying degrees. And saving faith does not demand membership in a doctrinally inerrant church. There’s a difference between good, better, and best.

How sad. How unbiblical.

Let’s remember that even in NT times, the apostolic churches were not doctrinally inerrant.

Like the Council of Jerusalem? That is certainly not how they viewed what was going on at the time (Acts 15:28-29). And this binding decision had partially to do with something so trivial to us today; so "secondary" as what food to eat. Paul took the decision so seriously that he proclaimed it to the masses in his missionary travels (Acts 16:4). This is infallibility and inerrancy. No one was at liberty to dissent ("they delivered to them for observance") from "the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders".

For as soon as an apostle was away from one church, to plant or tend another, false teachers might come and sow seeds of heresy.

The existence of a heretic doesn't disprove the existence of a true Church any more than the existence of Arians disproved that there was an authoritative Council of Nicea that decisively refuted their errors. This is again, an illogical argument of despair. In its own way, this is perhaps the clearest indication that the Protestant like Hays has actually conceded the argument on authority to the Catholic, and admitted that Protestants really have no authority and are left to glib acceptance of irresolvable differences and relativism amongst themselves.

They're unable to accept Catholic authority in faith, based on Scripture and historical evidences, and so are left with this thoroughly unacceptable and unbiblical "alternative" of doctrinal relativism and no chance of finding one theological Truth or Church. This nonsense doesn't even comply with how Luther and Calvin and the original Protestants conceived of themselves. It's a postmodernist corruption even of historic or "classic, Reformation" Protestantism.

Dr. Koons continues to build on his powerful presentation. At one point, Hays charges (twice): "All assertion, no argument." Yet that is largely what he himself has been doing all along. He hasn't supported sola Scriptura or shown that it must be held from Scripture, to the slightest degree. He has given up the fight altogether, in terms of finding one true Church or even one true set of theological beliefs. He has adopted the counsel of despair.

At least Koons (both as a Lutheran in line with the authentic original heritage of that body, and as a Catholic) exercises faith in the traditional manner, related to doctrinal truths. Hays, on the other hand, seems too sophisticated to exercise such faith. He (like all atheists, in how they view any form of Christianity) knows better. He "knows" that such faith is only a child's fantasy, akin to Atlantis or the Fountain of Youth. Is this not pathetic? And Hays wants to claim that his approach is eminently biblical whereas Koons' and the Catholic outlook is allegedly not?

When Koons starts presenting patristic support for Catholic claims, Hays plays games with those and offers nothing substantial in rebuttal ("Cyprian was a critic of papal primacy", etc.: as if that is relevant to use of St. Cyprian as an advocate of generic apostolic succession).

Hays continues on with more of the same of this objectionable method of his, concluding:

He has cast the alternatives in the form of a straw man argument . . . No attempt to seriously examine the actual alternative. Such intellectual impatience and resort to demagogical caricature hardly befits a Christian philosopher. Moreover, it contradicts his own standard of charity. Is this the most charitable construction he can place on the opposing position?
I couldn't make a better description of Hays' own method, myself. Of course, he can't see this, but he thinks he sees it in his opponent. He even resorts to rather stupid, refuted time and again, garden-variety objections:

How can Mary, as a human being, hear millions of daily prayers simultaneously, much less process millions of daily prayers?

Very simple: the saints, being with God in heaven, are outside of time. That being the case, they simply have no problem of number and sequence as we do, since we are temporal creatures, and hence, severely limited in that sense.

How did she “allow herself” to become the mother of Christ?

By saying "yes" to God at the Annunciation.

What control did she have over a virginal conception?

The power to say no! Perhaps Hays thinks that God would force her to bear Jesus if she didn't want to? He didn't force Adam and Eve to not rebel and to always do the right thing. He could have prevented the Fall had He done so. Likewise, God didn't force Mary to do anything she didn't want to do. She willingly agreed. In this instance, human free will did the right thing rather than the wrong thing.

What could she do to either cause it or prevent it?

Say no, just as Eve (and Adam) said yes to sin and brought about original sin and the Fall.

I was foolish enough to think that Hays was gonna deal with the soteriological arguments. But he never did. I believe someone else took a crack at them. I'll have to take a look at those. But Hays has offered us nothing here of any note or substance, to prove to anyone that Protestantism is a superior choice over Catholicism.


Xpy said...

I found Koons' article excellent in that it brought up great points for Lutherans and non-Catholic Christians in general to consider seriously. He was sincere throughout which made his article very palatable to the non-Catholic reader (I am Orthodox Christian). Do you have any idea how I can reach him? His UTexas sites don't work so I imagine he is no longer there (???) and I can't find his blog that is often referred to.

Also, do you know of another place I can view his article other than Scribd? I wanted to quote a paragraph of his (because I couldn't have "said" it better myself) but Scribd does not allow you to Copy and Paste.

Thank you!


Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Joshua,

Here is a copy from Internet Archive (pdf):

And here is his faculty page (apparently a current one):

It has contact info.

God bless!

Dave Armstrong said...

For some reason I pasted the wrong link above, for a current web page with this important paper by Dr. Koons. Here is the correct one: