Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Reply to Kevin Johnson's Critiques of Catholicism (and Brief Notice of the Continuing Anti-Apologetic Rhetoric of Josh Strodtbeck)

Self-described Reformed Catholic Kevin Johnson (see his blog) wrote a post entitled Steve Ray Deletes My Comments. It seems, however, that many people who protest about having their remarks deleted think little of consistently applying the same ethic in their own forums.

I know from firsthand experience. Kevin's blog used to cite my laudatory comments on its front page. In the past, I engaged in several dialogues with Kevin and other Reformed Catholics -- all posted on my blog. But, alas, I apparently launched one criticism too many and so it was decided that I had to go, and I have been banned from his blog for quite some time now (and am not the only Catholic to have been, judging from recent comments). But when Kevin wanders over into Catholic apologist territory, he expects to be accorded the complete freedom of speech that he is only too ready to deny Catholics in his home base. Kevin wrote:
I’ll just allow our readers to decide whether my comments represent such things or not. It’s actually quite comical that Mr. Ray can’t endure serious examination of his apologetic. Well, to each their own, I suppose…
That double standard noted, I still think it is worthwhile to reply to his comments, because they represent a rare extended foray into the Catholic apologetic domain by Kevin. He will likely ignore my response (what else is new?), since he labors under a pronounced hostility towards both Catholic apologists and Catholic converts (and guess who fits into both categories?), but that is neither here nor there.

I'm quite familiar by now with the strong tendency of the Reformed Catholic camp being unwilling (and unable?) to defend their own positions when they are scrutinized. Kevin's own attitude towards Catholic apologetics is well-mirrored by Lutheran former seminarian Josh Strodtbeck, who contributes to the Reformed Catholicism blog, and wrote in this very thread:
Catholic apologetics, as I have discovered with my own pet apologist over on my personal blog, is basically a self-congratulatory bubble. They don’t take kindly to anyone actually coming through the bubble’s wall. I would say you had best leave their weird little subculture alone.
Also, recently on his own blog, Josh repeated the same sort of unhelpful inanities:

"I've appointed myself Chief Defender of the Faith." These self-appointed apologists are usually laymen, almost always converts from another tradition who apparently feel the need to constantly justify to themselves and the world their change of ecclesiastical allegiance. Selectively reading history or Scripture, ad hominem attacks, "complex questions," etc, it's all there. A common trait is inventing justifications for doctrines that were unheard of at the time of their promulgation, contrary to other doctrines, not seriously entertained by any real theologian of their tradition, not the real motivation for the apologist's own belief, or not consistent with the doctrine as it was actually intended to be understood and thus require creative reinterpretation.
And again on RefCath, Josh opines:
A former Catholic friend of mine once remarked to me that she had always considered Catholic apologetics spiritually corrupting, because it always seems to involve venturing reasons for belief that are not the reasons the apologist himself believes, or at least are not the reason that the Church teaches the particular doctrine. Ex post facto justifications are never a good idea in any other kind of discourse, so why would they be proper in theology?
It is almost certain that Kevin will indeed leave our "bubble" alone after he is replied to, so Josh need not worry. It is now standard practice at RefCath (and also Josh's blog) to mock Catholic apologetics, rather than attempt to seriously interact with it. But I will not repeat this error of method and charity. I will indeed treat Kevin's remarks seriously and spend time dealing with them. One can only hope that he and his friends will one day reciprocate so a real, productive discussion can take place. Kevin's words will be in blue:

[T]his morning I encountered the statements of Catholic “apologist” Steve Ray arguing for the
Blessed Mother to be considered “the Queen Mother” of our Lord.

Why is it that the critics of apologetics so often will put "apologist" in quotes, as if it isn't what it is? What is the purpose and justification for that? Steve Ray (whom I've known for 25 years, and long before he became a Catholic) is definitely a Catholic apologist. He has at least three books published, speaks widely, has produced a well-received video / DVD series on the history of the Church, and is often on the radio. He has a blog and a popular discussion board. What else must he do to be referred to as an "apologist" without the implied-denigratory quotation marks? Do we call someone a "baker" or a "cashier" or "mine worker"? Kevin wouldn't even consider putting quotations around those professions, but with Catholic apologists, he thinks it is necessary.

At a certain point it becomes pure prejudice, in my opinion, with no rational justification. Another related put-down often used by critics such as Kevin and (as we see above) Josh Strodtbeck, is to mock Catholic apologists as "self-appointed." That's another discussion, but I merely note it as another manifestation of irrational hostility and an insulting, smearing mentality.

Catholic apologists work hard (especially the e-sort) these days to justify everything from the text of Scripture and in doing so they often wind up looking like the most bizarre fundamentalists on the planet.

I've dealt with this bogus objection many times. It's very simple: we apologists speak the language with which our opponents are most familiar. That is nothing more than applying the Pauline principle of "being all things to all people." When discussing things with Protestants, Catholics will often emphasize biblical proofs. This does not for a moment suggest that we think biblical proofs are all we have for our positions (I make this very clear in introductions to my books that center upon biblical apologetics). But it does show how we shape our method according to the hearer (in fact, Vatican II was itself very insistent upon this).

Of what possible use is an authoritative reference to a papal encyclical or obscure council, in apologetics, if the dialogue partner couldn't care less about those things? It's simple common sense. Not only do we speak the language that hearers can relate to, but in recourse to biblical arguments, we are relying upon a standard that is readily agreed-upon by both parties. Therefore, the Bible is used rather than documents of Catholic Tradition. I should think this is rather obvious, but there it is.

Here’s a tip for all our Catholic friends. When you’re defending the traditional doctrines
of Catholicism, just admit it. You’re working with traditions. Not biblical doctrine.

In other words, Kevin simply assumes what he has a burden to prove. Obviously, the Catholic denies the premise that Catholic "traditional" doctrines are somehow "not biblical doctrine" by their very nature. And of course, to argue these points requires very long and complex discussion (that we are more than willing to engage in). So it is better to just state what they haven't proven, so as to avoid the time-consuming labor of actual interactive and serious discussion. Just caricature and mock the Catholic apologists so you don't have to do any significant work in defending your own positions . . . Not impressive at all . . .

And you’ve accepted such things by faith in the Magisterium.

To some extent, yes, of course (just as every Calvinist accepts implicitly and in faith that John Calvin and other luminaries of the early Protestant movement offered special insights that they accept). But neither instance of "faith" rules out the fact of possible biblical and historical and reasonable evidences that involve far more than simply faith.

Whether or not the traditions are present in Scripture is really immaterial.

It is not at all. Catholics believe in the "three-legged stool" of Scripture - Tradition - Church and so we expect to find biblical indications, even if only implicit or indirect in some cases (the Assumption being a notable example of non-explicit biblical indications).

There is no Queen Mother tradition in the Scriptures that would allow you to take these sorts of
logical leaps:

This is simply untrue and again assumes what it needs to prove. But my present purpose is to discuss these matters in general terms, so I can't go off discussing one specific Marian issue.

[Responding to Steve Ray] I would love to engage with you regarding this discussion but you are going to have to drop your standard polemical approach that you may use with your average everyday evangelical.

I think this may be true to some extent, but no more true of Steve Ray than it is of Kevin Johnson on the other end of the discussion. He, too, constantly assumes a polemical stance against Catholics, particularly apologists and converts. I've observed it myself for years (and have documented it in several papers). But it has gotten worse recently. As I said, he and I used to engage in pretty god discussions (I thought), but no longer, by his choice. I'd love to engage Kevin, too, in intelligent, non-polemical discussion, if only he were willing.

What I would welcome is an actual response to what I have already written–something you have yet to put forward . . . So, please, I would love to discuss this further, but I think it might be worth your time to consider that there is more here to deal with than a complete dismissal of yet one more Protestant. I’d like a response to my initial comments–I hope you can make time for it!

I know the feeling well: having authored many scores of papers that remained completely unanswered by James White, Kevin Johnson, and other Protestants: both anti-Catholic and ecumenical. But I have responded here. I gave Kevin what he wants. Will he ignore it again, contrary to his stated wishes?

You speak as if you know my opinion on things when it is clear that you don’t since you yourself stated that you have no time to find out “the various details”.

I can't speak for Steve Ray, but (speaking for myself, as a fellow Catholic apologist) I am extremely familiar with Kevin's strain of belief, having followed it for years.

Really this is a matter of you’re not interested in conversing and that’s fine. Since that’s the case, I’d just ask that you quit making absurd statements about what it is you think I believe.

The same statement exactly describes Kevin's relationship with Catholic apologists as of late. He makes many ridiculous comments about us, but shows little or no willingness to discuss things. Granted, he tried with Steve Ray, who appealed to lack of time. I have less time than I did before, having taken on full-time work recently, but I would be happy to engage in the same sort of discussion.

In the meantime, I do hope you won’t mind if I comment here or there on what you’ve publicly made available on the Internet. Maybe down the road you’ll take some interest in what it is I have said because in this case at least it speaks directly to the points you are attempting to make.

This statement applies directly to my critiques of the Reformed Catholic perspective as well.

No, /sola Scriptura/ and /sola fide are not mere inventions of men.

Whether they are or not, it is a demonstrable fact that neither belief was held by the Church Fathers. I have documented this myself in great detail. Protestantism claims to be a "reform": i.e., to hearken back to what was present earlier. Therefore, it must be able to demonstrate an early pedigree for its distinctive beliefs (and indeed John Calvin and the Lutheran systematic theologian Martin Chemnitz were both well aware of this). But it cannot. Therein lies the serious conundrum of historically-minded Protestants (folks like Kevin). If they can't demonstrate historical continuity, then it makes no sense to use the word "reform". "Revolt" or "departure from precedent" would then be the much more appropriate descriptions. It becomes a question of proper semantics and accurate history.

For one thing, a closer look at the issue will reveal the legitimacy of what I am saying as well as demonstrate that from the text of Scripture we either have plain witness to both or can deduce them from the text. /

I've debated this issue probably more than any other, and with many leading exponents of it. I remain as completely unconvinced as ever, that this doctrine can be proven from Scripture.

I don’t think we’ll agree in regards to either given your precommitment to the Roman Magisterium and her opinion. Really, for your view it doesn’t even matter if the Scriptures did teach the two doctrines in question. You’re bound to obey Rome regardless and it is this blind obedience that will get in the way of even considering the matter properly.

This is a constant double standard, used in contra-Catholic polemics. What is never also stated is the fact that every Calvinist also has commitments to presuppositions that cannot be overcome. The most obvious example is TULIP itself. No Calvinist can deny the truth of those tenets and continue to be a Calvinist. And they cannot because it is considered an authoritative, binding interpretation of Scripture: not in the full Catholic sense of an infallible Church, but enough so to be more than an adequate enough analogy to overthrow the polemical "point" against the Catholic system. We all accept things that we cannot absolutely prove (whether from Scripture or any other way), so why keep talking about that? Much better to argue each particular through . . . Note also the lovely insulting touch of "blind obedience." Kevin (like a fish in water) is so soaked in contra-Catholic thinking that he seems to not even realize what a rank insult this is to a Catholic, as if our faith were completely irrational and almost applied without the slightest thought or reason.

Never mind Keith Matheson’s book on the subject,

I issued a lengthy critique of his reasoning (never replied to).

James White also has a book titled “Scripture Alone”,

I've engaged White on the issue at great length. He systematically ignores my critiques of his arguments, and has done so for twelve years and running.

and David King and William Webster compiled a three volume work on the subject.

I replied to Webster twice (completely unanswered) and to King (who fled for the hills). I've also profusely documented (notably in debate with anti-Catholic Protestant apologist Jason Engwer, who fled halfway through the very public debate on the Protestant CARM discussion forum: his own "territory") how many Church Fathers did not accept sola Scriptura at all, contrary to Webster and King's revisionist claims.

Volume two of that trilogy is aptly subtitled “An Historical Defense of the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura” and some 450 pages long. I think Ray’s readers would find the ten plus pages of bibliography and references to the early Church Fathers enlightening.

I've yet to see anything remotely approaching a compelling proof that any major Church Father accepted this belief. Many Protestant historians concede that to hold to the contrary is historically incorrect.

But to your points, I’m happy to discuss these passages with you.

Yes; the proof's in the pudding, isn't it? Steve Ray has no time. I'm more than willing to take my time to have such a discussion (I'm less busy than Steve is). I've done it many times before.

The question really comes down to why you would see these things in Scripture when without reference to Catholic tradition they wouldn’t necessarily be there. Are there theological presuppositions you’re bringing to the table in providing us with the view you have? If so, what do you think they are?

Good topics of discussion all . . .

Setting up a straw man is a regrettable choice in doing apologetics and it is subject and should be subject to scathing responses by those who know better.

I couldn't agree more . . .

[T]here is nothing but Rome’s tradition that would link the wonderful Scriptural typologies concerning Mary, the Church, and the Communion of Saints to her role as someone to pray to, someone who intercedes or mediates for us, and someone who carries near divine status as she is often considered in Catholic circles.

Oh, I have tons of stuff about all of this . . . but "near divine status" is a gross caricature of what we believe.

Kevin goes on to discuss various Marian issues. I see no good reason to spend more of my time at this juncture delving into those (things I have written about at great length already) unless Kevin shows himself willing to discuss the issues with me. If he does change his mind on that, then there is no limit (other than time) to what could be constructively, amiably discussed.

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