Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
An uber-brief response to the Crimson Catholic
01/10/2005 - James WhiteJonathan Prejean has offered some comments on the first sections of my interaction with Dave Armstrong. Since they are brief, I will be brief in response. As he quotes me extensively, I will put my original words in blue, his replies in red, my replies are in purple.
Now, of course, DA will respond with text files (liberally salted with URL's) that will average 10x the word count of anything I have to say. That's OK. I shall win the award for brevity and concise expression, and let him take home the bragging rights to verbosity and bandwidth usage.
[False and unwarranted.]
Anyone at all familiar with Dave Armstrong over the years knows better. Just look at his website. I began experiencing this with the very first letter Armstrong sent me in the mail. This one isn't even arguable. :-)
I will start there in the next installment simply because Armstrong notes The Roman Catholic Controversy in his book, hence, his section on the verse should "confound" my own exegesis of the text.
Only if you allow that Armstrong doesn't wish to be taken seriously. If Armstrong is going to respond to some of the work, but then leave clear refutation of his own position untouched elsewhere, how can anyone take him seriously?
He writes, "Catholics believe that there is such a thing as a binding, authoritative Sacred Tradition and that it is explicitly indicated in the Bible (notably in the above passages)." So, we here have Armstrong wedding himself to these passages as "explicitly" presenting Rome's full-blown (capital "S" capital "T") Sacred Tradition. But given the hesitation of many a Roman Catholic scholar, it is quite possible Mr. Armstrong has over-reached himself just a bit. The mere presence of the term "tradition" is hardly sufficient to establish the position enunciated by Armstrong.
[False attribution of an argument based on unwarranted inference. Contrast the author's explicit statement that "the question is not whether but which."]
It is a simple statement of fact, actually, placing Armstrong in the proper context for the serious reader. As to the last sentence, it is likewise a simple statement of fact: Armstrong leaps from "tradition" to "Sacred Tradition" when anyone who knows the field and Roman Catholic writing thereon knows that leap cannot be made so simply.
How a Protestant is "confounded" by these passages is difficult to determine, at least, if meaningful exegesis of the text is the standard. And the first thing to note about Armstrong's work at this point should have a rather familiar ring to it if you have been following the Dave Hunt series: there is no meaningful exegesis offered to substantiate these grand claims by Armstrong. Examine pp. 38-40 for yourself, and you will find no discussion of grammar, lexicography, syntax, or anything else relevant to meaningful exegesis.
[Assumes facts in dispute, namely, how one defines "exegesis."]
The meaning of exegesis, however, is not in dispute. It is amazing that anyone would think it is, but this says a lot about the viewpoint of the reviewer.
Instead, Armstrong depends upon secondary sources, and even then, the conclusions offered by secondary sources. He quotes Thomas More, but then focuses upon John Calvin, evidently seeking, it seems to me, to prejudice the reader through the use of quotations using language that was common in the day but is considered harsh and even non-Christian today. Indeed, one can judge the character of the discussion by noting these telling words: "Be that as it may, it is scarcely possible to discuss that issue constructively , because (in my opinion) Protestants are so afraid that any serious discussion of Tradition will cast doubt on sola Scriptura and lead to undesired 'Catholic' consequences." I'm sorry, but such rhetoric detracts from the work, at least for any serious minded reader.
[Poisoning the well. Contrast the author's explicit statement that "[i]n the theologically supercharged sixteenth century, it was probably impossible for the polemics to have been otherwise."]
Simple observation that is accurate, nothing more.
Armstrong moves into a dialogue after this that again offers nothing in reference to exegesis of the texts themselves, and in fact has only a marginal connection to the issue of the meaning of "tradition" in the Pauline corpus. How one leaps from para,dosij in Paul to Sacred Tradition as defined by modern Rome is left unanswered.
[False. Answered by appeal to history.]
False: lexical and contextual study of para,dosij is how its meaning is determined, not by appeal to history.
The fact that this is a present command, that the tradition referred to had already been delivered, in fulness, to the entirety of the church at Thessalonica, is not noted. (This observation would require the RC apologist to trace the content of his alleged oral tradition back to Thessalonica, and, as they well know, that cannot be done for the major elements of that alleged tradition as Rome has defined it).
[False attribution of argument based on unwarranted inference. This appears to be an attempt to reverse the Catholic argument that 2 Tim. 3:16-17 refers to the Old Testament, but that reversal fails because the use of "tradition" here need not be all-encompassing, as White's unwarranted claim asserts.]
Actually, it has nothing whatsoever to do with 2 Tim. 3:16-17, and I honestly can't figure out how anyone could think it does. It is a simple observation that if you are going to misuse the text this way, you have to realize that it means the full content of said traditions had already been delivered to the entire church at Thessalonica. Nothing more.
The immediate context of the passage and its relevance directly to the gospel (and hence to the content of the "tradition" delivered by Paul) is likewise ignored. In essence, nothing presented in regards to the meaning of 2 Thess. 2:15 in context is addressed by Armstrong.
[Irrelevant. The point being demonstrated isn't the extent of tradition delivered at Thessalonica, but the use of tradition as an authoritative means of transmission.]
Completely relevant only to the person who actually believes Armstrong's claims to providing us with exegesis of biblical passages. How Prejean can so utterly misunderstand the most basic elements of exegesis is hard to understand.
Now, if the standard of being "confounded" involves presenting a compelling, exegetically sound, contextually derived interpretation of a passage resulting in a clear vindication of the Roman Catholic reading (though, how Dave Armstrong, a private Catholic, could actually know the "official" Roman understanding of a passage without engaging in "private interpretation" is difficult to say anyway), then we need to re-work the sub-title to "91 Bible Passages that Confound Protestants."
[Unwarranted. The introduction made clear that the goal was to show Catholicism to be "at least as Biblically respectable" as Protestantism. IOW, the claim being confounded is merely that Catholicism is not Biblical.]
If Prejean wants to change the goal and the claims, that's fine. Then that means he must agree that the subtitle needs to be changed, and the stated goal should be to offer just enough exegesis to try to make Catholicism believable, but not compelling. :-)
The Protestant Verses: Can Dave Armstrong Exegete This Passage?
[Irrelevant, but the argument itself is unwarranted, as shown below. I'm leaving out the bare assertion of the Protestant view of what "works" means, which is also unwarranted.]
Completely warranted: can Armstrong exegete the passage? Can Prejean? Or are we not allowed to ask such questions?
This brings us to a question that must be answered by every person who believes the Bible to be God's Word. Who is the blessed man of Romans 4:8? It seems an obvious question.
[It's not obvious that the passage refers to any one particular individual or even a class of individuals in particular. Hence, this assertion is unwarranted.]
So, Paul presents as an example an illustration we cannot figure out? The referent is quite clear, it just does not fit with Roman Catholic theology.
The religions of men cannot answer this question. Man's religions, centered as they are upon man's works and merits and will, must, as a result, lack a perfect Savior who can save in and of himself, without the aid of the creature. Their systems, drawing from the nearly universal synergism of human religiosity, always make room for man's success, or failure, in "doing things," whether they be called sacraments, rituals, works, or good deeds, so that the final outcome of "salvation" is always in doubt. And if these systems contain any kind of belief in a punishment after life, there must be some means of holding man accountable for the sins committed during life. Without a perfect sin-bearer, the issue of unforgiven sin, rightly "imputed" to the one who committed it, must have resolution.
[Assuming this is intended to describe Catholic soteriology, it's false. Christ saves in and of Himself, and the one saved contributes nothing of himself to the process.]
That is very nice, but let's ask a simple question: can Mr. Prejean be saved if he does not attend Mass or confession for the rest of his life? Yes or no?
But it is just here that the question we are asking comes into full play. Who is the blessed man to whom the Lord will not impute sin? If a religion claims to follow the Bible and yet has no meaningful answer to this question, its error is immediately manifest.
Utterly warranted. Since no foundation of the "Unwarranted" assertion is given, I guess my reply is just as valid. :-)
Overall, an unwarranted attempt to impose an obligation that the author hasn't assumed.
Overall, a challenge to a Roman Catholic apologist to step up to the plate. I wasn't aware there was a set of rules as to what challenges you can post on your own blog. :-)
You get the "flavor," I hope. The concept of suffering is tied in with a synergistic, grace-prompted, but still free-will driven, concept of penance/merit/forgiveness.
[False. White evidently doesn't understand what temporal punishment is.]
Or, I don't think Mr. Prejean is the Pope. I do not accept him as the standard of Roman theology. I do not even believe he is a trained theologian, is he?
One other thing to remember before we move to Armstrong's comments. Armstrong is identified as a "Protestant campus missionary" on the back of his book prior to his conversion. I do not know what that involved, but one thing that it probably did not involve was a great deal of study of the Puritans, reading of Edwards, or even of someone like Spurgeon. So when we encounter his views of "suffering" in Protestantism, we need to remember that they are not coming from someone who was, in fact, much more than a layperson, and one who has given very little evidence, in fact, of having done a lot of serious reading in better non-Catholic literature to begin with. In fact, I would imagine Armstrong has done more reading in non-Catholic materials since his conversion than before. In any case, this lack of background will resound loudly in the comments he offers, to which we will turn in part 2.
[False, and poisoning the well.]
Actually, quite true, and directly relevant to his false descriptions of Protestants and their views.
Once again, in citing Phil. 3:10 and Rom. 8:17, Armstrong does not consider it necessary to actually handle the verses, establish context, meaning, anything exegetical. They are simply cited, and then the assumption is made that Protestants have no place in their theology for "suffering." And his source for this (if you happen to be widely read in meaningful Protestant writing you are probably wondering, since you have read lots about suffering and its role in conforming us to the image of Christ) is...himself! "He [Paul in Romans 8] is going along, talking like a good 'born again,' sanctified, 'filled with the Holy Ghost" Evengelical Protestant, and then suddenly (unless one ignores this part, as I did in my Protestant days) he becomes a morbid, masochistic, crucific-clutching Catholic and takes away everyone's fun and peaches and cream: '...if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.'" Evidently, Armstrong's audience does not include serious minded Protestants, for such writing immediately informs one that Mr. Armstrong's "Protestant" experience was anything but serious. Armstrong writes, "There is no need to consult commentaries at this point, for our purposes." Well, even if consulting secondary sources without providing primary exegesis would be sufficient, the point is that Armstrong has no concept of the depth of writing from non-Catholic sources on the meaning and purpose of suffering; further, the Roman Catholic use of the term, especially in reference to penance, would require his proving that in the context of writing to the churches at Rome and Philippi Paul intended to communicate, through the term "suffering," the kind of thing Armstrong has in mind as a Roman Catholic, and once again, he does not even try to make this connection. It is simply assumed. Armstrong then says that outside of certain forms of Pentecostalism, "they will not deny that a Christian needs to, and can expect to, suffer." Expect to suffer? Surely. Walk as Christ walked and one will suffer the hatred of the world. But "need to" is a completely different animal, especially in the context of Rome's beliefs regarding the subject, as noted previously.
[The claims against competence are false, and the need is what the author says Protestants deny, making the entire response, which does not deny this, irrelevant.]
I'm not sure I understand that response. The fact is that Armstrong is ignoring the strength of Protestant theology to focus upon the shallow. Would Prejean like it if I focused upon the average, once-a-year Catholic, as representational of all of Roman Catholicism? Would he find that kind of argumentation compelling? If not, why does he find Armstrong compelling?
I believe fully that God intends to conform me to the image of Christ, and a number of the experiences I will go through in that process will take the form of what can be properly identified as "suffering." But "need to" so as to expiate temporal punishment of sin? Need to so as to perfect my justification before God? Most assuredly not! This is the issue, and Armstrong leaves it untouched. He writes, "Most Evangelicals do not take it that far, yet still minimize the place of suffering, and hence, of the related notion, penance. This represents a scandalous lack of understanding of the deeper, more difficult aspects of Christianity." I think this represents a scandalous lack of understanding of the deeper, more meaningful works of Calvin, Edwards, the entire body of the Puritans, Bunyan, Spurgeon, Warfield and any number of modern writers. The fact is that the Reformed understanding of the sovereignty of God is so far beyond the crass "suffering by grace = penance for temporal punishments, say your Our Fathers and Hail Marys and fast on Fridays and consider obtaining some indulgences just in case" kind of Catholicism that afflicts millions on our planet that it is truly beyond words to express.
Yes, suffering is very clearly present in the text. No one doubts this. But what Mr. Armstrong does not seem to understand is that the mere presence of the word does not, to any serious minded reader, include within it the massive mountain of theological baggage connected to suffering/penance/merit as seen in Indulgentiarum Doctrina and other Roman Catholic magisterial documents and teachings. Presumption is not exegesis, nor does it amount to confounding the Protestant position. Armstrong assumes that the suffering to which Paul refers is identifiable with the sufferings Rome refers to. Why? He does not say. He does not even try to tell us how v. 17 is functioning in the entire citadel of Christian truth known as Romans chapter 8. It is just thrown out there, and we are to believe. Sorry, but I've spent far too much time seeking to honor the text and communicate its meaning to others to buy such an obvious ipse dixit. And Phil. 3:10 is not even touched. It is merely cited as one of the "95" verses, no exegesis offered. Just presumption.
[I think that this is true, but since White asserted that there was a difference between "need" and "expectation," I think the burden would have been on him to show why those meanings should be separated.
Still, this mostly included both sides saying mostly unsubstantiated things about the other view without adequately explaining their own. I put that one on the author in this case for not taking the opportunity to explain the Catholic dogma more fully.]
And it is not my job to write a book on suffering when 1) reviewing Armstrong's misunderstandings, and 2) others have done that job already.
The Luke 1:28 issue has been done to death, and I'm not bothering to mess with it any further. Besides, this was about the point at which Dave decided to pull out of the discussion altogether, so the real question is what had happened up to that point, and I think that White's claims that Dave was running from critiques looks absolutely ridiculous at this point.
I think it is as clear as day, and as time allows further rebuttals, it will become all the more clear. His replies avoided, assiduously, the substance of the criticisms, and opted for the "throw gas, throw match" routine. Fair-minded folks can see that.
But I do want to hit one more point that has frankly become the straw that broke the camel's back. In a blog entry on "satispassio," White quoted Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, saying "The temporal punishments for sins are atoned for in the purifying fire by the so-called suffering of atonement (satispassio), that is, by the willing bearing of the expiatory punishments imposed by God." White then said, "Would Mr. Scott like to show me where Rome has defined satispassio as the application of the grace or merits of Jesus Christ? Or will he instead seek the "easy way out" and offer the lame excuse that, "Well, anything related to salvation is ours by grace, so, even the opportunity to undergo the suffering of atonement in purgatory is, ultimately, due to Christ's grace," an absurdity that would only prove my point to the fullest?"
For the 900th time, atonement for temporal punishment has NOTHING TO DO with salvation.
Temporal punishments must be removed before one enters into the presence of God. Yes or no? If they are not atoned for, will a person ever enter into God's presence? Yes or no? I am fully aware that a person who dies in the state of grace is assured of heaven (has Prejean bothered to read The Roman Catholic Controversy?). I simply believe that anything related to the final accomplishment of the work of redemption is central to the point in dispute, and the remission of temporal punishment of sin by satispassio in purgatory is NOT accomplished by the application of the merits of Christ. How difficult is it to understand this simple point?
They are completely and entirely different. You are already SAVED immediately upon arriving in Purgatory. How someone who claims to offer competent interaction with Catholic theology can fail to take note of that after having been corrected publicly so many times is beyond me. I personally think that it had reached the point where interaction with White's supposed "critiques" isn't even helpful anymore.
I bet Prejean hasn't even read my work, and yet is quick to dismiss it without doing so. Truly amazing indeed.