Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lutheran (LCMS) Contra-Catholic Rev. Paul T. McCain Greatly Admired the Late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (Hope for Ecumenism Springs Eternal!)


I have renewed hope for traditional Lutheran - Catholic ecumenism, in light of this article from Pastor McCain (a figure of some importance in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod): A Grief Observed: Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-2009. I was delighted to learn of the open, irenic sentiments that Pastor McCain is capable of expressing, at least with some Catholics. My own experience with him has been, unfortunately, vastly different. But I suppose this is the expected difference of response to a lay apologist like me (for dreaded "Romanism"), as opposed to his approach to a great and famous man who concentrated much of his focus on ecumenism and Christ and culture issues.

I am very much an ecumenist, too, but many people see the two endeavors as contradictory, not complementary, so that aspect of my outlook is often ignored, unknown, or thought to be insincere, etc. (though I have written quite a bit about it). It's part of the nonsense apologists have to endure: an "occupational hazard." So, for example, in his last comment on my blog, under a paper critical of Luther, Pastor McCain wrote:

I had not looked in at this site for a very long time, but there was no surprise when I did recently. Armstrong is still spouting his nonsense that is an embarassment [sic] to any good Roman Catholic with only a modicum of a decent education in Reformation history. I suppose its only to be expected though that the Roman Catholic Church have its share of amateur "apologists" who bring shame on it much as we have ours as well. If this wasn't such a tragedy, it would be, truly, laughable.

(20 September 2009)

I don't mind Pastor McCain's personal attacks too much, though, seeing what company I am in, in that regard. Pastor McCain has attacked the Holy Father as well, in very uncharitable tones. Even here, though, there is occasionally a ray of light. When I posted an article defending Luther in his views on marriage and sexuality, strongly urging folks to interpret them in context, Pastor McCain commended me on my blog:

I appreciate the words of caution being expressed about how best to read Luther.

So he is capable of it even in my case. Would that he would be aware of my many articles also where I defend Luther or commend his views (I've collected 27 of them in two sections on my Luther and Lutheranism web page, and another was recently posted, concerning Luther and theosis, for a total of 28). Even my book about Martin Luther is quite irenic, given the critical nature of it, and in fact, a full one-third of it is devoted to documentation of areas where Luther and Catholics substantially agree. Yet I am perceived as an extreme "anti-Luther" zealot by Pastor McCain and others. What can one do?

Just for documentation's sake, and to illustrate the low level of so much of polemical Internet discourse, I found a few more of the always-colorful put-downs and pseudo-psychoanalyses from Reverend McCain (my replies below are in blue):

Dave, for a man who takes such evident pride in his breadth of knowledge, you sure blow it when you cite an ex-seminarian's blog [i.e., Josh Strodtbeck] as any sort of authority on things Lutheran.

(5-29-07 on my blog)

Congratulations, Josh. Your typically over-the-top exaggerations have now made it possible for Dave Armstrong, self-appointed "Catholic apologist" to accuse Lutherans of only using 1% of the Bible.

(to Josh Strodtbeck, on his blog, 5-29-07)

Dave, I've been wondering for some time if you are a convert to Roman Catholicism and now I see in your revised comments that you are. Many things now make a lot more sense. It has been my experience that converts such as yourself exhibit a near-breathless desperation constantly to be, no pun intended, justifying their decision to join Romanism.

(5-30-07 on my blog)

Matthew, Romanism is an anti-Gospel movement in the Church catholic. If Dave chooses to attack Lutheranism and label its proponents as "stupid and ignorant" he, and his little band of groupies, have no legitimate right to whine and complain when they are criticized and attacked for their error.

(5-30-07 on my blog)

[see Matthew's reply / rebuke]

Matthew, where did you ever get the idea that ordained ministers are called to be wimpish creatures? I find no Biblical model for the type of minister you have in view. As for "charitable" views, I do not recall labelling Mr. Anderson's [i.e., me] views as "mind numblingly idiotic" or "stupid and ignorant" has he has done toward others in recent days. Even a brief review of this blog site reveals the degree to which Mr. Anderson indulges in this kind of puerile rhetoric.

Matthew, it is unwise of you to to post this kind of message on this blog site, of all places.

Your whining, and the kind of whining routinely indulged in by Mr. Anderson betrays a lack of confidence in your own position.

Mr. Anderson has made a little business for himself playing at apologetics, and thrives on the kind of petty sniping that this blog site seems to be more about than anything else. The whiney tone is unbecoming a Christian man.

If you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen.

(5-30-07 on my blog)

Didn't one of the Matrix movies have that guy that kept saying "Mr. Anderson"?

One hopes that Rev. McCain will actually engage the arguments in due course. He seems to be long on preaching and personal attacks and short on argumentation and dialogue. In the meantime, it is instructive to see the way the man thinks.

(me, 5-30-07)

I try not to waste any time defending myself against flatulent personal attacks of the sort we see above. How could one do so even if they wanted to? It's so subjective and non-substantive that it becomes like two three-year-olds and their back-and-forths: "yes you did!" "No I didn't!"

If Rev. Denny McLain (I betray my age there!) actually makes an argument, then I'll respond to it. I look in vain, trying to see where he has done so in the context of the board discussions here.

If a man of the cloth wants to make a fool of himself here I can only tell observers (especially non-Christians) that this is the price of free speech and free exchange of ideas, and that his demeanor does not by any means represent that of many thousands of godly, devoted, committed Protestant pastors. I have many as personal friends, and there are few categories of people who are more upstanding individuals.

(me, 5-31-07)

Thanks for proving my point Dave.

(5-31-07 on my blog)

This is the sort of silly runaround that has been my experience with Pastor McCain. On another occasion, he expressed what I call the "contra-Catholic" position perfectly:

I believe our separated brethren in the Roman Church belong to a false-teaching Church, but I do not believe they are all, necessarily, non-Christians.

(6-2-07 on my blog)

He responded to a brief comment of mine on his blog today with more classic contra-Catholic rhetoric:

The Lutheran position is the catholic one. As I’ve said many times, when it comes to Roman Catholicism, what is uniquely “Roman” is not catholic, and what is genuinely catholic, is not necessarily what is taught by the Roman Catholic Church.


Presumably I can ascend to the honor of at least being a Christian myself, in our friend's eyes. One can only hope . . . But the usual approach from him where I am concerned, is personal attacks:

Dave, your blog site, and many others similar to it, both RC and Protestant, would be a lot more interesting if you would stop all the defensiveness. In other words, when you are criticized or attacked, don't waste your time responding, it only comes off as self-serving and defensive and self-indulgent.

Stick with teaching doctrine.

Your blog is clogged up with all kinds of "personal attack" posts and then "I'm being attacked" posts.

Silly, Dave. It just makes you appear small, immature and quite insecure.

The better theological blog sites out there devote far more attention to dealing with issues and teaching rather than attacking other bloggers by name and playing the "he said, I said, then he said" game.

In other words, stop taking yourself so seriously and stop all the self-referential posts. You are just making yourself foolish and your position weak.

(6-3-07 on my blog)

I wholeheartedly agree, Rev. McCain. You've attacked me a number of times on my own blog (including above) and I have ignored it.

I will continue to speak out against unethical behavior and slander (as opposed to defending myself, which I am trying to avoid as much as possible), because the Apostle Paul thought that was a great sin, and I fully agree with him.

If that makes me unpopular and appear in your eyes as (how did you put it?) "self-serving and defensive and self-indulgent" and "small, immature and quite insecure" then so be it.

When I rebuke these behaviors and people don't like it, their beef and fight is with Paul, not me. Let them war with the Bible if they must. I can't stop them, but I can speak out against sin and wicked divisiveness.

(me, 6-3-07)

I'm embarassed for you Dave. You just can't stop talking about yourself in your blog posts and recounting the "blogger who offended me" of the day story in actual posts you put on your blog site. It is truly pathetic Dave.

I've never put up a blog post on any of my sites naming you by name, and engaging in the long screeds you are so fond of or the immature humor you like to indulge in. Grow up. Be a man and stop acting like a 14 year old kid in an Internet chat room.

I'm quite sure that Rome deserves better and, frankly, even you realize it.

I hope you have some friends who can counsel you and help you find a more constructive manner in which to go about your "apologetics" work.

Truly, I'm embarrassed for you.

(6-3-07 on my blog)

That's my last comment here, or anywhere, about you, Dave. The best/worst thing that a person can do to a dysfunctional personality like yours is ignore them. God bless.

(6-3-07 on my blog; but alas, he did comment on my blog again on 9-20-09, seen above; he also blasted me in a post on his blog, just 19 days later)

Who cares if it is on yours or not? You have done your insults sent my way on other Lutheran blogs, such as Josh Strodtbeck's and Pastor Weedon's, and you do it here. Do you think God cares that you have managed to be selectively tactful on yours, but nowhere else, as if ethics is some kind of hide and seek game?

So you keep yours pure and don't care if you pollute other blogs with your puerile, patronizing rhetoric?

(me, 6-4-07)

This is the sort of tomfoolery and silly nonsense that I have been through with Pastor McCain. I would love to have had substantive, fruitful dialogues with him, as I have had with many other Lutherans online, such as "CPA," a professor of history, and several others. I would still be delighted to do so if he would drop his hyper-condescending tone with me. How infinitely better is his ecumenical tone with another orthodox Catholic: Fr. Neuhaus:

Pastor Neuhaus, was, for me, a source of ongoing inspiration and encouragement. . . .

I fervently differed with Father Neuhaus on several core issues of the confession of the Christian Gospel, and he knew that. Over the many long years I had struck up a very informal and not-frequent-enough conversation with him, as I'm sure thousands of other people. I know he kindly entertained my letters and thoughts because of our shared Lutheranism, a Lutheranism he believed fervently was realized fully in communion with Rome, a Lutheranism I believe must remain apart from Rome as long as Rome clings to its Gospel-obscuring errors.
Having said that, I am already cringing at the possibility that there will be featured in a certain newspaper from New Haven a graceless, ham-fisted tirade against Richard John Neuhaus the Catholic convert and more's the pity. But the Roman Church has its share of graceless, ham-fisted apologists and I suppose we must have our fair share too.
I always enjoyed my back-and-forths with Father Neuhaus. . . .

s much as I disagreed with Father Neuhaus, I agreed with so much of what he wrote in First Things. Of course, he was a constant advocate for his "new" church, but he was fair and even-handed in his criticism, liberally applied, from a conservative point of view, of all trends and movements in Christendom. . . .

I will miss Father Neuhaus, and I join with many others in expressing my appreciation for his life and work, both for what he did that I fervently agreed with, which was much, and that which I had to disagree with, which was substantial. In both cases, he challenged me to think, to reflect, to grow and to strive for excellence in our common confession of Christ.

Like I said above, "I have renewed hope for traditional Lutheran - Catholic ecumenism." I'm glad to see this from Pastor McCain, despite my sad experience with him. Some people we rub the wrong way, or they get in their head (for a variety of possible reasons: real or imagined) some wacky perception of us, and we seem to be able to do nothing about it. Some folks cannot stand being disagreed with on any plane. But we have to overlook that and see the positive in them, as evidenced by other interactions of theirs that are free from the prejudices we ourselves (by simply existing, or so it seems at times!) provoke in them. This is a classic case of that.

Pastor McCain is a good man and zealous for Christ, but one that I have not been able to get along with. I don't have to demonize him, however, simply because he doesn't get along with me. I choose to look at the good things he has expressed, while not ignoring the less-than-stellar sentiments that he thinks are perfectly justified (hence my documentation of them again). I would like to think that he can see the wrongness of those in due course, too. But for now, I want to stick with the positive as much as possible.

People are mixed bags. We are all an odd mixture of good and bad. This shouldn't surprise us in anyone, and we mustn't conclude that they are all bad because they are sometimes bad. All we need do is honestly look at ourselves and our own divided, often hypocritical hearts. This contradiction in mankind was insightfully commented on by St. James:

James 3:7-12 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, [8] but no human being can tame the tongue -- a restless evil, full of deadly poison. [9] With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. [10] From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. [11] Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? [12] Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

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