Friday, September 07, 2007

Yet Another James White Hit Piece / Correction of Erroneous Blurb Concerning My Catholic Conversion


King of the anti-Catholics, Reformed Baptist apologist James White has issued his by now standard mocking "reply" to any reasoned criticism I offer to his work (the latest one having to do with his unfortunate and ultimately heretical claim that "vicar of Christ" can only apply to the Holy Spirit and not to the pope) . There is little new here. My entire argument was dismissed (without the slightest consideration) as "inane", "ridiculous", "embarrassing", "absurd", "childish", "laughable", "Unworthy of anyone with the slightest modicum of concern for the truth", "twisted argumentation", not for "the serious reader", "despicable", and "Jack Chick level materials".

Beyond that, he rendered his usual arrogant, groundless judgment against my honesty, using words like "self-deception" and "if those on the far side of the Tiber manning the defensive works actually claim to love the truth, then why are they so deathly silent in the face of the likes of Armstrong?" and "When Armstrong produces something that has any kind of accuracy to it, he is just borrowing from what he's read from others" and "Could it be that Armstrong has deceived Sophia Institute? I suppose."

This sort of worthless gibberish is neither here nor there. It's a big yawn. Obviously White is threatened by what I do, since this is what folks do when they can't answer a rational objection. Never were Shakespeare's famous and insightful words more true: "Methinks thou dost protest too much."

He did issue one sensible criticism, worthy of reply, though (even an unplugged clock is right twice a day, after all), in between all the obligatory potshots and ad hominem rhetoric. He cited the beginning portion of a letter sent out by Sophia Institute Press, my publisher, written about myself. Here is what he posted:
A lifelong Protestant Scripture scholar has recently brought forth evidence that Catholicism is the only Christian religion that agrees completely with the Bible --- evidence that's so compelling it led him to become a Catholic!

Dave Armstrong's odyssey began decades ago when disputes among his Protestant brethren launched him on a quest to discover the true Bible-based church. The closer he looked at Scripture, the more he found key teachings that were denied by this Protestant sect or ignored by that one.

Worse: his hard-core Protestant convictions were shaken by mounting evidence that of all the Christian churches today, only one --- the Catholic Church --- is thoroughly biblical. Says Armstrong: "That was entirely contrary to what I had so cavalierly assumed as an Evangelical Protestant."

Not one to make hasty decisions, Armstrong undertook nearly two-decades of study to resolve, once and for all, the core issues that divide Catholics and Protestants.
This contains several inaccuracies. I don't know what happened here. It's very strange. I had nothing to do with it whatsoever and didn't even know about it till White's article. But in any event, it should be corrected. Sophia has been nothing but a class publisher, and a pleasure to work with (I happened to visit their office in New Hampshire just last month). I'm sure they will take steps to rectify the mistake. Meanwhile, I will post below my letter to my editor, Todd Aglialoro, since White has challenged me (and Sophia) to do so with these provocative lines, but far more importantly, because it is the truth, and a correction of a big mistake:
This would have made a funny parody on a Protestant site, but given that this is being used to try to bilk people out of their money, it is not humorous at all. If young Dave Armstrong was a "lifelong Protestant Scripture scholar" then the US is filled with literally millions and millions of "lifelong Protestant Scripture scholars" and the phrase no longer has meaning. In fact, my small church has dozens of them. My youth group is filled with lifelong Protestant Scripture scholars. . . .

This isn't an advertisement. It's a travesty. But, it does provide an insight into the mindset of those who market Romanism.

Could it be that Armstrong has deceived Sophia Institute? I suppose. Or, could it be that some over-zealous copy writer for Sophia Institute went off on a tangent and Armstrong is not responsible for it? Sure. And if that is the case, I'm sure I will see an article on DA's website tomorrow correcting the advertisement. But the chances of that are about as good as my finding a retraction and apology for his absurd accusation of implicit Trinitarian heresy based upon his inane handling of a single Latin term.
Here now is the letter I wrote to my publisher, Sophia Institute Press:

* * * * *

I have a concern about a Sophia piece written about me that is now being severely criticized by the anti-Catholic apologist James White. He makes a number of perfectly valid points because there are serious inaccuracies in this blurb. Here is the excerpt that James White put up on his blog, along with his usual hit piece against my apologetic competence and character (that has been occurring for now twelve years and running): [I then posted the excerpt seen above]

Who wrote this (or was it not really from Sophia, as claimed)? It has several glaring inaccuracies that could have easily been corrected by a reading of one of the several versions of my conversion story (particularly the one in Surprised by Truth). I shall detail them, one-by-one:

1) I am not now, nor have I ever been, a "scholar", if by that one means (as most people assume, I think) some sort of academic, formerly trained (graduate-level college or seminary courses). I certainly don't want to be called this, seeing that I have taken great pains to deny that I am one or ever claimed to be. One oft-heard strain of the "anti-apologetics" mentality is that apologists pretend to be scholars when they are not; this doesn't help matters any.

2) Nor can it be said that I am a "lifelong" Scripture "scholar" or student. I was raised in a nominal Methodist home and cared very little for Christian theology until I was 18 and converted to evangelical Christianity. I didn't do any serious apologetic study until I was 23, in 1981. I started reading the Bible itself only in 1977. Why would someone describe me by this title? I could see "avid student of the Bible" (i.e., since 1977!) or "Bible-based apologist" or "amateur biblical exegete" or suchlike but the "scholar" and "lifelong" part are untrue.

3) It is also untrue that my conversion was caused solely by a study of the biblical basis for Catholicism. It was in fact caused primarily by three things (one moral matter and two historical ones):
A) The contraception issue;

B) Development of doctrine as a key to understanding the progression of Church history and the historical background of distinctively Catholic doctrines;

and:

C) A deeper study of the so-called "Reformation", incorporating Catholic as well as Protestant historical accounts.

The "biblical evidence for Catholicism" theme that is what I am known for now came immediately after my conversion, when I undertook in-depth study along those lines (that eventually became A Biblical Defense of Catholicism), in order to explain my conversion to my Protestant friends, and to defend the Church herself in terms that they could relate to.
4) It is false to say that my "odyssey began decades ago". It began in early 1990 and ended in October 1990. Prior to that I was fairly happy as an evangelical. I started my eventual conversion journey (without knowing it at the time) by thinking more deeply about the issue of contraception.

5) Nor did my odyssey commence as a result of disputes among fellow Protestants. Most of us agreed that contraception was fine and dandy, and that is what I first started questioning. It was pro-life Catholics, if anything (in the rescue movement that I was a part of) who influenced me to think more deeply about that issue.

6) I wasn't trying to find the one true Church when I began this spiritual and intellectual odyssey. I didn't even think in those terms, being a very "low church" evangelical with a theology more Baptist than anything else. In fact, I fought vigorously (with Catholic friends) against papal infallibility in particular, utilizing such anti-infallibilist sources as George Salmon, Hans Kung, and Joseph Dollinger. Like Newman (and with his aid), I more or less backed into the truth of the Catholic Church being the apostolic Church of history. I converted, one might say, because of giving my best shot fighting Catholicism, and in the end failing in my attempts to demonstrate the superiority of evangelical Protestantism. It was not the result of a quest to answer the question of "who is the true church?" I was fighting against Catholicism and its vision of ecclesiology and then ran smack dab into Newman and development, at which time I conceded that I couldn't answer his analysis or refute it, and was, therefore, convinced by it.

7) Now, it is indeed true that I have since found that the Catholic Church is far more biblical, and uniquely so, as a result of my intense study of biblical Catholic apologetics. Every time I have done biblical apologetics (often in the course of Internet debates with Protestants) these past seventeen years I have found this to be the case, without exception. But that started right after my conversion, not before, therefore was no cause of that conversion.

8) It is false to say that I "undertook nearly two-decades of study to resolve, once and for all, the core issues that divide Catholics and Protestants." As I wrote above, my entire conversion process occurred within the space of one very intense year: 1990. I've been doing apologetics ever since, but not in the sense of "resolving" anything, for the apologist, by definition, is a strong advocate of a position already; not trying to "resolve" differences. The apologist proclaims what he already strongly believes and gives reasons for it.

Needless to say, if this description is being used to promote my books or those from Sophia in general, it should be pulled at once, due to all these serious errors. Obviously, someone was too hastily making unfounded assumptions about my life and conversion process. But such a description has to be in compliance with the facts. My conversion story has been "out there" in a bestselling book since 1994 (and in three magazines and website and blog articles), so I don't see any reason why those facts could not have been ascertained, so as to avoid this mishap, now being exploited by enemies of the Church in a deliberate effort to harm my name and reputation, that of Catholic apologetics in general, and that of Sophia Institute Press.

* * * * *

White has issued his "Armstrong Update" (added to the original hit-piece). This is about as charitable as he ever gets towards me, admitting that something I wrote is actually sincere (wow!; I'm so flattered by his immense graciousness that I'm speechless):
UPDATE: Dave Armstrong has posted a letter to Sophia Institute asking them to explain the inaccuracies in the book-promotion e-mail noted above. I speculated on the possibility that an over-zealous copy writer was to blame, and according to Armstrong, that's the case. I have no reason to question him. His letter seems sincere. Sadly, he still can't bring himself to admit that his "vicar" argument is as empty as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's eschatology, but that is just part of the "persona," as is the wacked-out picture he has included in his reply (another warped picture of yours truly).
* * * * *


My editor at Sophia, Todd Aglialoro, has written, clarifying matters. He gave me permission to post his words:

We will make sure that all website copy about you is in conformity with the facts as you've listed them below, and of course in all future statements. Meanwhile you would be quite right to say that the error was the fault of "an over-zealous copy writer." We're a small group of over-busy people at Sophia, and under deadlines it is all too easy to fall both into imprecision and into handy marketing boilerplate that is usually quite harmless -- unless a hostile party were to comb through them trying to establish some malicious intent to deceive.
* * *
Dave, rather than edit the link to the eblast on our website, we've simply disabled it completely. There's nothing we can do to take back the emails that have already gone out, but at least there are no more active links to that text.

No comments: