Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
A Quick Trip Down Apostasy Lane
12/09/2006 - James WhiteRight before I left for St. Charles a friend of mine sent me a URL to the Envoy Magazine web-board where medical doctor Art Sippo, one of the more famous folks on this blog (do a search if you really must), had begun a series on Calvinism. Now, remember, Art Sippo is the same non-exegete about whom I wrote in a multi-part series (starting here), documenting his many errors on the subject of Romans 9. His response? He's above even looking at the documentation, of course. So when I saw a thread beginning with Sippo setting his over-the-top, "ad-hominem is my middle name" style of rhetorical apologetics on Calvinism, I knew the result would be...typical Sippoism. But what made the thread more interesting was the soon arrival of one TGE, Timothy Enloe. Now, on September 18th of 2006 I had a brief "private message" conversation with Mr. Enloe in IRC. I challenged him to join me in not mentioning the other in public writings and conversations for an entire year. He agreed. That lasted less than three months, as I pretty much expected it would. The conversation very quickly deteriorated from any semi-serious criticism of Calvinism to a back and forth between Sippo and TGE, with Sippo doing his normal abrasive, in-your-face style of posting while, of course, complaining that everyone else is mean and nasty. Along the way our ol' friend Jerry-Jet would throw in a few bombs which most everyone else just sort of ignores (I include a few below just to add color to the citations).
Instead of you having to plow through the six current pages of posts, I did that work for you. Here are some of the real gems---mainly those with reference to the thought process of a formerly conservative apologist who has charted his own course...right over a theological cliff, and who cannot even engage in dialogue with someone as nasty as Art Sippo without lobbing grenades at Reformed folks who actually engage in biblical exegesis (gasp!).
For clarity's sake for others reading this thread, let me say that I don't really give two figs for defending Calvinism, and haven't for over 3 years now. I am a "de facto" Calvinist because my whole life situation right now is wrapped up in Calvinist circles. But, not only is the Calvinism in which I'm wrapped up nothing like the Calvinism you Catholics encounter all over the Internet (particularly in the apologetics "ministries"), but it's also not something I sit around obsessing over. I couldn't care less about the mechanics of predestination; I affirm it because Scripture talks about it, but how it works is of exactly zero interest to me. Ditto for fighting Arminians and using "the doctrines of grace" to separate myself from all who think differently about grace.
Why believe in Calvin when you can believe in Jesus?
All Calvinism is REALLY is just a worship of self. People who believe it are really just patting themselves on the back and are saying "I AM the predestined elect". why? Because they judge such to be true! why can they judge it? Because they said so!
Art Sippo 11/25:
Any one who denies the Mass is a sacrifice and sets himself up as more Catholic as the Doctors, Church Fathers, and the Popes has nothing to say to me that is worth hearing. As a Catholic I find nothing good in the "magisterial reformation."
Jerry Jet 11/26:
Mere talk about the truth is CHEAP! Jesus said "I came not to bring peace but a sword". The sword of truth necessitates a fight.
Mere talk is disingenuous. Satan only talked to Eve--Eve didn't fight!
When someone disagrees with the Catholic Church either they are liars or the Catholic Church are liars
There is no CARICATURE in that!
For the record, I am the sort of Protestant who believes that Protestantism can't survive without significantly reshaping its view of and relations with Catholicism. We need Catholicism, because in many ways we've lost our way. I am likewise the kind of Calvinist who, if I ever come to believe that Prejean is right that Calvinism is a kind of Monothelitism, I will chuck Calvinism so fast it will make everyone's heads spin. I am the kind of Reformed person who doesn't think there's much virtue in imagining that there is a stark dividing line in Church history called "pre-Reformation" and "Reformation" times. I think it's deeply spiritually unhealthy to live always looking back at some mythically perfect time of "purity" and trying to recapitulate it world without end. It's wrong to take one's whole approach to the Christian life from what once was not but has now become a pretty much entirely negative stance towards others, with the corresponding absurd assumption that we ourselves are so right and good that we don't need anyone else and are, as it were, God's Appointed Messengers to call everyone else to repentance.
Further for the record, I don't subscribe to the "Faith by scholarship" view that you impute to me. No doubt I don't have to lecture a Catholic in the fact that the best of the Christian tradition from earliest times has sought to harmonize Faith and Reason, not set them in opposition to each other. Just because much of Protestantism has surrendered to Enlightenment standards of rationality and vainly imagines such absurdities as that learning to parse all your Greek participles correctly leads to a Platonic Paradise of "pure biblical truth," and tries to collapse faith into "evidence" doesn't mean Protestants without exception are and must be this way.
Please note the "parse all your Greek participles" statement that TGE cannot write three paragraphs without repeating. This is reflective of his inability to interact on an exegetical level in defense of his position (a fact documented over the past number of years repeatedly in numerous contexts). So, instead of just admitting he cannot defend his views in that arena, he has chosen to throw the entirety of the text under the bus o' tradition, and pretend that for folks like myself or Eric Svendsen or David King, we can do nothing more than parse our participles correctly and that we do not engage any other aspect of theology or history. Let the reader judge.
Above Jonathan Prejean made an argument that Calvinism, because of its voluntarist orientation, is a form of the Monothelite heresy. This is an interesting argument to me, and one which Art no doubt understands given his readings on Nominalism in the later Middle Ages and how it affected the Protestant reformers. I have never encountered any Reformed theologians who deal in any substantive way with Christological concerns. Most of the time it's all about being "biblical," where "biblical" is presented as a mere function of parsing the Greek grammar of texts so as to arrive at their "plain" meaning. I don't know any Reformed theologians who bother to look in any substantial way at the hermeneutical assumptions of such an approach, or at the very interesting notion that since the Scriptures are the Word of God, it would be pretty important not to hold a view of them that fundamentally contradicts established truths about the person and nature of Christ, the incarnate Word--such as that Christ has two wills, not one.
Though I am Reformed, I will be the first to say that I don't believe a Monothelite doctrine of predestination could be truly biblical, because Monothelitism is not truly biblical. Thus, if Calvinism is a form of Monothelitism, it would qualify as a heresy and ought to be rejected. Likewise, a doctrine of Scriptural inspiration that tacitly relied upon Monothelite (or even Monophysite) assumptions ought to be rejected, regardless of who in our Protestant litany of saints held it.
I'm not saying Prejean is right; I'm saying I think he's onto something and it bugs me to no end that I don't know of any professional Reformed treatments of this type of argument. Certainly none of the Big Name apologists talk about such things. They're too busy with slogans and slurs and slick rhetoric to actually demonstrate some competence in applying historical theology to contemporary questions. I would ask some questions based on Prejean's post, and if Art has some helpful contributions to a discussion based on Prejean's post, great. Maybe he can teach me something.
Let me comment briefly, please, on this argument. You might wish to listen to the archived Dividing Line where Prejean called in (found here) for some context. There you will hear much of the same kind and form of argumentation. It does not take a lot of reflection to see where it goes wrong. For example, let me make this argument. Roman theology is Arian. Why? Because its man-centered sacramental system denies the Lordship of Christ, hence his deity, in providing perfect salvation for the elect. While the Scriptures emphasize Christ's ability, man-centered religious systems like Rome emphasize man's ability and reduce Christ to a mere helper, one who tries, but often fails, to accomplish His intentions. Since God cannot fail, and Rome presents a Savior who tries, but fails, to save, then Rome is Arian.
Now, this is not serious argumentation. It takes an extended conclusion in one area of theology, transports it into a different context, and makes applications that are not in any way necessary. The same is true with Prejean's philosophical arguments: as we saw on the DL, the man is incapable of serious exegetical argumentation--his is a theological/philosophical argument that does not even pretend biblical origination. Only by accepting particular unfounded and unnecessary presuppositions can one even begin to make sense of Prejean's argument, but even then, there is no reason why any person who holds to a semi-meaningful doctrine of biblical inspiration and authority would give Prejean's presuppositions a second thought anyway. But the fact is Prejean has not done anything more than say "I believe the necessary result of rejecting monothelitism demands that I hold this view over here..." when there is no reason to even begin to make the associations he does. Listen to the encounter we had when he called into the DL and listen to the weak argumentation that flows from his inability to recognize the uniqueness of the Incarnation and the foolishness to extending the incarnation to all other categories of theology.
Of course, to watch TGE pander to Prejean's arguments as if they can be taken even semi-seriously is far sadder, given the light TGE once had.
Crimson Catholic (Jonathan Prejean), 11/27:
As evidence that my position is accurate with respect to some people, note White's monstrous statement implying that the proposition that "abortion is the best heaven-filling device ever devised by man" can be equated with an unequivocal belief in infant salvation. What kind of a seared conscience, what manner of total oblivion to natural law, does it require to denigrate the created order in this manner?
Of course, I need to respond to this one as well. Those who have listened to the program know my point: in responding to those who will not even address the issue, talk about the ramifications of forcing universal salvation of infants upon the soteriology of Scripture, the question is perfectly valid. How it is "monstrous" to point this out, only Prejean evidently knows. How he puts an equal sign between a question about the result of holding a belief and the belief itself, well, again, I guess you have to be really brilliant--or exceptionally self-absorbed--to figure it out. How any of this amounts to denigration of the natural order, again, one is left wondering just how disconnected from reality and common sense Prejean has become.
I myself am in a place where I don't believe much of typical Calvinist rhetoric anymore, but I can't shake the feeling that much of the rhetoric may be separable from the theology in the sense that when the theology is understood in a less rigid manner, a manner much better informed about its own origins and development, it may not be right to maintain old polemical slogans and slurs on other views. And certainly I have come to believe that if, as is often said by Reformed theologians Reformed theology desires to be consistent with the ancient creeds, then the concerns of Reformed theology MUST be demonstrated to be (or else made to be) harmonizable with those creeds. Thus, if Jonathan is correct in his argument about Monothelite trajectories, Calvinism is going to have to convincingly demonstrate that it isn't a species of Monothelitism. If it can't do this, it needs to be considered a heresy on the classical, Christian definition of the term and rejected by anyone who cares about the historic witness of the Church.
Look it really is simple--you either believe the successors to Peter that Jesus gave authority to or you don't!
If you don't you aren't invincibly ignorant--you have made a choice against the Holy Spirit.
Resistance against the Holy Spirit results in Hell.
You can't argue here for ever and claim you do not know the truth.
ANYONE who rejects the Catholic Church REJECTS Jesus.
Did He not say "Whoever rejects you rejects me."?
I've already stated that I would abandon Calvinism as a heresy in a microsecond if I came to believe it was a form of Monothelitism, a heresy condemned by the Universal Church. This would seem to indicate, to anyone who is LISTENING anyway, that I'm not your typical Calvinist.
Jerry-Jet, I have no problem with the Bible. I definitely have a problem with the way Art uses the Bible, which is pretty much exactly like his nemesis James White uses it. That is, like a source of Utterly Clear prooftexts whose meaning can only be disputed by irrational weirdos who don't like authority and want to set their own standards. No passage that Art cited clearly states Art's personal conclusions about the Catholic Magisterium. What is the point in such prooftexting? It's really what my friend Perry Robinson (Orthodox) calls "spooftexting." There's no value to it. But notice that Art treats Catholic Magisterial documents the same way: just throw out "plain" texts and claim the person who disagrees with you is a "Pelagian" or "knows" that he's been beat or doesn't like the Truth, or whatever.
Just to be totally open with you, you should know that the notion of becoming Catholic is not one I dread. It is certainly a possibility (though not at this precise moment), but I do have to say that given my past as an apologist I am completely innoculated against all the standard apologetics arguments. So, if I ever did become Catholic it would not be because of any of that, nor would it be because I came to believe anything as radical as the type of rhetoric Art regularly puts forth about Protestants and their Manifold Heresies. I would hope that if I ever did become Catholic, I would be like those Catholics whom I know in real life: decent, well-adjusted individuals who love Christ and others and live quiet, peaceable lives, not lives of bitterness and anger and destructive impulses at THE ENEMY.
There is little hope for the honesty of someone who can write, "I definitely have a problem with the way Art uses the Bible, which is pretty much exactly like his nemesis James White uses it. That is, like a source of Utterly Clear prooftexts whose meaning can only be disputed by irrational weirdos who don't like authority and want to set their own standards."
Art Sippo, 12/8:
The real issue that condemns Calvinism is the condescending pride of those who espouse it. They lack humility before the mystery of Redemption and want to reduce it to an arbitrary exercise of raw power by a deity who is the biggest bully on the block and who has no moral restraints because no one is strong enough to resist him.
Calvinists want to believe that unopposable power justifies God in what ever He chooses to do. In other words "might makes right."
Yes, I know...does Art know he sounds just like the objector in Romans 9, the opponent of God's truth? I doubt he does, for if I've learned anything over the decade and a half of his constant condescending mockery and hail of insults, Art doesn't listen to anyone who responds to him unless they bow the knee to Rome.
Where will the thread on Envoy go from here? Who knows? But one thing is for certain, the Calvinist who is one by conviction of the Word of God will find nothing to disturb that conviction in the context of a forum like that one.