Dave Armstrong is a convert to Catholicism and lay apologist for the cause. He's written a piece, widely circulated on the Web, entitled "150 Reasons Why I am a Catholic."
His hit-piece could just as well be reentitled 150 reasons he's not a Protestant, since it is a direct attack on the Protestant faith. If Armstrong can give his reasons, so can I.
Before I examine any of the particulars of his case, a few general observations are in order.
I. Judging by the title, the reader would expect Armstrong to offer us 150 independent reasons for being or becoming Catholic. But what becomes rapidly apparent is that Armstrong has simply set up the RCC as the standard of comparison, and then measures Protestant theology against his presumptive frame of reference. So the entire exercise assumes the very point at issue. Case in point: Armstrong takes for granted that the RCC holds the copyright to Mt 16:18 and 1 Tim 3:15.
II. Armstrong spends a lot of time attributing various social ills to the evil influence of Protestant theology. To begin with, it is logically invalid to raise a consequentialist objection to a truth-claim, viz., "If cigarette-smoking causes cancer, then cigarette-smoking doesn’t exist!" But beyond that underlying fallacy, it should go without saying that we could as easily parallel the same social vices in Catholic countries.
III. The appeal to tradition cuts both ways. Heresy and schism are just as traditional as orthodoxy and catholicism. Take Monophysite denominations like the Armenian and Coptic churches. These are very ancient bodies with every bit as much claim to tradition as the RCC. Docetism dates to NT times. (John had to combat it in his first epistle.) Can’t get much more traditional than that! A principle of historical continuity doesn’t discriminate between opposing historical positions.
So, yes, Protestants are selective about their appropriation of tradition. So are the Roman Catholics and the Greek Orthodox. Are we inconsistently selective? No. Our selection-criterion is this: we are open to forms of tradition that enjoy Scriptural warrant and opposed to forms of tradition that lack Scriptural warrant or defy Scripture. Nothing arbitrary here.
IV. Armstrong says at one and the same time that Protestantism is a radical "innovation" that "borrows" its theology wholesale from RC "tradition." Doesn’t this allegation induce any sense of cognitive dissonance? How can it be radically innovative, on the one hand, while being radically derivative, on the other?
V. He identifies the RCC with the Latin Church, and then sets this over against the "innovation" of the Protestant Reformation. But we could just as well argue that the RCC begins with Trent. Trent is no less "selective" and "parasitic" than Augsburg, Geneva or Canterbury.
VI. I’m relieved that Armstrong was able to come up with a nice round number like 150. I was still sitting on the fence right up through #149, but 150 nudged me over the edge J
VII. I won't bother to rebut every one of his 150 reasons. I'll hang him enough times to make sure he's good and dead, but when a hangman does his job right, even one hanging is quite sufficient—and I like to avoid wonton violence whenever possible.
The excerpts from Armstrong will be in quotation marks to set it off from my replies.
7. "Catholicism avoids an unbiblical individualism which undermines Christian community (e.g., 1 Cor 12:25-26)."
Individualism? What about the case of a Catholic layman like Armstrong (among others) who assumes the role of a self-appointed spokesman for RC dogma? Shouldn’t he shut up and let his bishop do all the talking?
8. "Catholicism avoids theological relativism, by means of dogmatic certainty and the centrality of the papacy."
Dogmatic certainty? The problem here is that the RC claim, even if valid, only applies at the institutional and not the individual level. This is made plain by Armstrong’s attack on sola fide (#126) and perseverance (#129). So the individual Catholic is still left in a state of personal doubt. What’s the value of institutional indefectibility if it doesn’t trickle down to the laity?
11. "Catholicism rejects the 'State Church,"' which has led to governments dominating Christianity rather than vice-versa."
Doesn’t the RCC subordinate the church to the state? What about the role of the emperor in summoning and stage-managing church councils?
13. "Unified Catholic Christendom (before the 16th century) had not been plagued by the tragic religious wars which in turn led to the 'Enlightenment,' in which men rejected the hypocrisy of inter-Christian warfare and decided to become indifferent to religion rather than letting it guide their lives."
Weren’t the wars of religion instigated by the papacy and RC monarchs bent on stamping out the Protestant movement? Maybe Armstrong needs to brush up on Julius II, Bloody Mary, Catherine de Medici, and Philip II—to name a few. And what about the Fourth Crusade?
19. "Protestantism, due to lack of real authority and dogmatic structure, is tragically prone to accommodation to the spirit of the age, and moral faddism."
The spirit of the age? Let’s see. The Magisterium originally opposed heliocentrism, but then came around to it. The Magisterium originally opposed evolution, but then came around to it. The Magisterium originally opposed higher criticism, but then came around to it. Although it might take a while to play catch-up, sooner or later the Magisterium seems to go with the polls.
20. "Catholicism retains apostolic succession, necessary to know what is true Christian apostolic Tradition. It was the criterion of Christian truth used by the early Christians."
Apostolic succession? What about the Great Schism?
22. "Protestantism from its inception was anti-Catholic, and remains so to this day (esp. evangelicalism). This is obviously wrong and unbiblical if Catholicism is indeed Christian (if it isn't, then - logically - neither is Protestantism, which inherited the bulk of its theology from Catholicism). The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is not anti-Protestant."
The RCC isn’t anti-Protestant? What about the litany of Tridentine anathemas? Are these little love-pecks on the Protestant cheek? I dare say that Hus, Tyndale, Latimer, Vermigli and other Protestant martyrs would not chime in with Armstrong’s assessment.
24. "Most Protestants do not have bishops, a Christian office which is biblical (1 Tim 3:1-2) and which has existed from the earliest Christian history and Tradition."
24. His appeal to a NT episcopate is equivocal and anachronistic. Even modern-day RC scholars admit as much. (Cf. R. Brown, Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections [Paulist, 1970].)
25. "Protestantism has no way of settling doctrinal issues definitively. At best, the individual Protestant can only take a head count of how many Protestant scholars, commentators, etc. take such-and-such a view on Doctrine X, Y, or Z. There is no unified Protestant Tradition."
There is no unified Protestant tradition? True enough. There was also no unified Jewish tradition (e.g. Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Hillel, Shamai, &c.). Why is a magisterium necessary for NT saints, but not for OT saints?
27. "The Protestant notion of the "invisible church" is also novel in the history of Christianity and foreign to the Bible (Mt 5:14; 16:18), therefore untrue."
The visible church is a mixed company of true believers (the elect) and nominal believers (the reprobate). Likewise, you may have converts to the faith who, because they reside in countries where Christianity is banned, do not have an opportunity to unite with the visible church. It is this distinction that generates a correlative distinction between the visible and invisible church. To affirm the invisible church is not to disaffirm the visible church.
29. "The Protestant principle of private judgment has created a milieu (esp. in Protestant America) in which (invariably) man-centered "cults" such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, and Christian Science arise. The very notion that one can "start" a new, or "the true" Church is Protestant to the core."
Man-centered cults? Hmmm—you mean like the papacy?
32. "The gospel preached by many evangelical Protestant evangelists and pastors is a truncated and abridged, individualistic and ear-tickling gospel, in effect merely "fire insurance" rather than the biblical gospel as proclaimed by the Apostles."
What passes for the gospel in Catholic preaching nowadays? Pacifism, the social gospel, and liberation theology. Ratzinger and John-Paul II believe that most everyone will be saved whether or not they believe in Jesus. Is a Christless gospel the gospel? Is universalism the gospel?
35. "Catholicism retains the sense of the sacred, the sublime, the holy, and the beautiful in spirituality. The ideas of altar, and "sacred space" are preserved. Many Protestant churches are no more than "meeting halls" or "gymnasiums" or "barn"-type structures. Most Protestants' homes are more esthetically striking than their churches. Likewise, Protestants are often "addicted to mediocrity" in their appreciation of art, music, architecture, drama, the imagination, etc."
35. There’s plenty of kitchy art and mediocre music in Catholicism. Need we give examples? Conversely, what about Bach and Rembrandt, or the Gothic revival?—just for starters.
39. "Protestantism greatly limits or disbelieves in sacramentalism, which is simply the extension of the incarnational principle and the belief that matter can convey grace. Some sects (e.g., Baptists, many pentecostals) reject all sacraments."
Matter can convey grace? How does that work? Like a spiritual vending machine? Does grace come in little pills?
40. "Protestants' excessive mistrust of the flesh ("carnality") often leads to (in evangelicalism or fundamentalism) an absurd legalism (no dancing, drinking, card-playing, rock music, etc.)."
Legalism? You mean like Penance? Meatless Fridays? Vows of obedience, poverty, chastity, and silence, &c. Mistrust of the flesh? You mean like the ban on artificial contraception?
43. "Most Protestants regard the Eucharist symbolically, which is contrary to universal Christian Tradition up to 1517, and the Bible (Mt 26:26-8; Jn 6:47-63; 1 Cor 10:14-22; 11:23-30), which hold to the Real Presence (another instance of the antipathy to matter)."
The basic problem with this appeal (as well as #49) is that it fails to get a grasp on what the opposing position entails. It is in the very nature of symbolic discourse that whatever you can say of the type you can say of the token. Take David Armstrong. Suppose I say that Armstrong is an RC apologist, father, and layman who is older than 10 yrs., but younger than 100 yrs.; taller than 1 ft., but shorter than 10 ft.; heavier than 10 lbs., but lighter than 1000 lbs. Isn’t all this literally true? No, it’s all symbolically true. For the name "Armstrong" is just a token term that stands for the individual so designated.
As to our alleged antipathy to matter, Anderson later accuses us of crass commercialism and materialism (#92), a la the Protestant work ethic. But, as we'll come to see, Anderson is a past master of Buddhist logic.
45. "Protestantism has abolished the priesthood (Mt 18:18) and the sacrament of ordination, contrary to Christian Tradition and the Bible (Acts 6:6; 14:22; 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6)."
Yes, indeed, there is absolutely no place for a literal priesthood in NT theology—save the priesthood of Christ alone. Begin by reading The Book of Hebrews.
46. "Catholicism retains the Pauline notion of the spiritual practicality of a celibate clergy (e.g., Mt 19:12, 1 Cor 7:8,27,32-3)."
The spiritual practicality of a celibate clergy? You must mean such exalted expressions of spirituality as sodomy, the seduction of minors, and concubinage.
49. "The great majority of Protestants deny baptismal regeneration, contrary to Christian Tradition and the Bible (Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom 6:3-4; 1 Cor 6:11; Titus 3:5)."
Armstrong’s appeal to the long ending of Mark betrays his ignorance of textual criticism.
51. "Protestantism denies the indissolubility of sacramental marriage and allows divorce, contrary to Christian Tradition and the Bible (Gen 2:24; Mal 2:14-16; Mt 5:32; 19:6,9; Mk 10:11-12; Lk 16:18; Rom 7:2-3; 1 Cor 7:10-14,39)."
Aside from the fact that Protestant theologians offer Scriptural grounds for divorce (Mt 5:32; 19:9; 1 Cor 7:15), the RC annulment scam has the same cash-value as a very liberal divorce policy: "In America alone there are over 60,000 annulments per year. 90% of those who apply for them receive them," G. Wills, Papal Sin (Doubleday, 2000), 171.
I would add that, according to traditional RC theology, a sacrament is a dominical institution. How is it, then, that Armstrong resorts to OT prooftexts? Is marriage a Christian sacrament or not?
53. "Protestantism sanctions contraception, in defiance of universal Christian Tradition (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) up until 1930 - when the Anglicans first allowed it - and the Bible (Gen 38:8-10; 41:52; Ex 23:25-6; Lev 26:9; Deut 7:14; Ruth 4:13; Lk 1:24-5). Now, only Catholicism retains the ancient Tradition, over against the "anti-child" mentality."
In consistency, Armstrong can only generalize about Onanism if he’s going to generalize about Levirate marriage. In that case, his opposition to contraception commits him to polygamy or concubinage. Does that square with RC moral theology?
56. "Protestantism is, more and more, formally and officially compromising with currently fashionable radical feminism, which denies the roles of men and women, as taught in the Bible (Gen 2:18-23; 1 Cor 11:3-10) and maintained by Christian Tradition (differentiation of roles, but not of equality)."
Radical feminism? Hmmm—you mean like the cult of Mary?
This simple truth of the matter is that liberals support feminism while conservatives oppose it. There is no trend in play, but an old-fashioned liberal/conservative divide.
58. Liberal Protestantism (most notably Anglicanism) has even ordained practicing homosexuals as pastors and blessed their "marriages," or taught that homosexuality is merely an involuntary, "alternate" lifestyle, contrary to formerly universal Christian Tradition, as the Bible clearly teaches (Gen 19:4-25; Rom 1:18-27; 1 Cor 6:9). Catholicism stands firm on traditional morality.
Ordaining homosexuals? Doesn’t a celibate clergy promote that very vice? No denomination has ordained more homosexuals than RCC. Anderson often talks as though he just got off the boat.
59. "Liberal Protestantism, and evangelicalism increasingly, have accepted "higher critical" methods of biblical interpretation which lead to the destruction of the traditional Christian reverence for the Bible, and demote it to the status of largely a human, fallible document, to the detriment of its divine, infallible essence."
Higher criticism? When was the last time Armstrong opened a book by Rahner, Ratzinger, Raymond Brown or Fitzmyer? Cf. K. Rahner, Inspiration in the Bible (Herder & Herder, 1961); J. Ratzinger, In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (Eerdmans, 1995). Note where Ratzinger adopts the Documentary Hypothesis and demotes Gen 1 to the level of an expurgated version of a heathen creation myth (10-13); J. Fitzmyer, A Christological Catechism: New Testament Answers (Paulist, 1991). To take just one example, note where Fitzmyer accuses our Lord of "protological thinking…being a child of his time," (59).
And these are men with official standing in the church. Rahner was a Peritus to Vatican II, Fitzmyer is a member of the Biblical Pontifical Commission, while Ratzinger is Prefect for the Faith.
60. "Many liberal Protestants have thrown out many cardinal doctrines of Christianity, such as the Incarnation, Virgin Birth, the Bodily Resurrection of Christ, the Trinity, Original Sin, hell, the existence of the devil, miracles, etc."
Original sin? What about RC theologians, in good standing with their Church, who espouse theistic evolution (e.g. Rahner)? He should read Fitzmyer on Rom 5. I also wonder how many RC clergy still believe in a personal devil. Fitzmyer, for one, would brand that as "protological" thinking.
"61. The founders of Protestantism denied, and Calvinists today deny, the reality of human free will (Luther's favorite book was his Bondage of the Will). This is both contrary to the constant premise of the Bible, Christian Tradition, and common sense.
62. Classical Protestantism had a deficient view of the Fall of Man, thinking that the result was "total depravity." According to Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Calvinists, man could only do evil of his own volition, and had no free will to do good. He now has a "sin nature." Catholicism believes that, in a mysterious way, man cooperates with the grace which always precedes all good actions. In Catholicism, man's nature still retains some good, although he has a propensity to sin ("concupiscence").
63. Classical Protestantism, and Calvinism today, make God the author of evil. He supposedly wills that men do evil and violate His precepts without having any free will to do so. This is blasphemous, and turns God into a demon.
64. Accordingly (man having no free will), God, in classical Protestant and Calvinist thought, predestines men to hell, although they had no choice or say in the matter all along!
65. Classical Protestantism and Calvinism, teach falsely that Jesus died only for the elect (i.e., those who will make it to heaven).
66. Classical Protestantism (esp. Luther), and Calvinism, due to their false view of the Fall, deny the efficacy and capacity of human reason to know God to some extent (both sides agree that revelation and grace are also necessary), and oppose it to God and faith, contrary to Christian Tradition and the Bible (Mk 12:28; Lk 10:27; Jn 20:24-9; Acts 1:3; 17:2,17,22-34; 19:8). The best Protestant apologists today simply hearken back to the Catholic heritage of St. Aquinas, St. Augustine, and many other great thinkers."
Armstrong’s attack on Calvinism, here and elsewhere, consists of lonely assertions bereft of supporting arguments. It is not as if Reformed theologians had never made an exegetical case for their position. For that matter, Augustine and Aquinas were plenty predestinarian in their own right.
62. "Classical Protestantism had a deficient view of the Fall of Man, thinking that the result was 'total depravity.' According to Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Calvinists, man could only do evil of his own volition, and had no free will to do good. He now has a 'sin nature.' Catholicism believes that, in a mysterious way, man cooperates with the grace which always precedes all good actions. In Catholicism, man's nature still retains some good, although he has a propensity to sin ("concupiscence")."
Armstrong misconceives the opposing position. God preserves a residual of common sense and common decency in the reprobate and unregenerate. So the unbeliever is capable of selective morality. We call this common grace. But common grace is not meritorious. And common grace does not confer a disposition to believe the Gospel.
63. "Classical Protestantism, and Calvinism today, make God the author of evil. He supposedly wills that men do evil and violate His precepts without having any free will to do so. This is blasphemous, and turns God into a demon."
How is it blasphemous of a Calvinist to confess what God has said about himself in his own Word?
66. "Classical Protestantism (esp. Luther), and Calvinism, due to their false view of the Fall, deny the efficacy and capacity of human reason to know God to some extent (both sides agree that revelation and grace are also necessary), and oppose it to God and faith, contrary to Christian Tradition and the Bible (Mk 12:28; Lk 10:27; Jn 20:24-9; Acts 1:3; 17:2,17,22-34; 19:8). The best Protestant apologists today simply hearken back to the Catholic heritage of St. Aquinas, St. Augustine, and many other great thinkers."
Both B.B. Warfield and Cornelius Van Til would deny this characterization of Calvinism.
67. "Pentecostal or charismatic Protestantism places much too high an emphasis on spiritual experience, not balancing it properly with reason, the Bible, and Tradition (including the authority of the Church to pronounce on the validity of "private revelations").
68. Other Protestants (e.g., many Baptists) deny that spiritual gifts such as healing are present in the current age (supposedly they ceased with the apostles).
69. Protestantism has contradictory views of church government, or ecclesiology (episcopal, presbyterian, congregational, or no collective authority at all), thus making discipline, unity and order impossible. Some sects even claim to have "apostles" or "prophets" among them, with all the accompanying abuses of authority resulting therefrom."
As Armstrong would have it, a Baptist is wrong to deny the spiritual gifts while a charismatic is equally wrong to affirm the spiritual gifts. Apparently, the RCC employs Buddhist logic.
69. "Protestantism has contradictory views of church government, or ecclesiology (episcopal, presbyterian, congregational, or no collective authority at all), thus making discipline, unity and order impossible. Some sects even claim to have 'apostles' or 'prophets' among them, with all the accompanying abuses of authority resulting therefrom."
Protestants can’t agree on church polity. True enough. Maybe that’s because the form of church gov’t is underdetermined in Scripture. And maybe that’s because it’s a matter of comparative indifference. Why should we make a big deal out of this if God doesn’t?
And what church discipline was being exercised in the RCC when thousands of its priests were committing child rape and sodomizing altar-boys in the confessional?—and doing so with the full knowledge and assistance of the bishops? Let Anderson name one Evangelical denomination in which this scale of systematic immorality is tolerated and facilitated.
72. "Protestant thought has the defining characteristic of being "dichotomous," i.e., it separates ideas into more or less exclusive and mutually-hostile camps, when in fact many of the dichotomies are simply complementary rather than contradictory. Protestantism is "either-or," whereas Catholicism takes a "both-and" approach. Examples follow:
73. Protestantism pits the Word (the Bible, preaching) against sacraments.
74. Protestantism sets up inner devotion and piety against the Liturgy.
75. Protestantism opposes spontaneous worship to form prayers.
76. Protestantism separates the Bible from the Church.
77. Protestantism creates the false dichotomy of Bible vs. Tradition.
78. Protetantism pits Tradition against the Holy Spirit.
79. Protestantism considers Church authority and individual liberty and conscience contradictory.
80. Protestantism (esp. Luther) sets up the Old Testament against the New Testament, even though Jesus did not do so (Mt 5:17-19; Mk 7:8-11; Lk 24:27,44; Jn 5:45-47).
81. On equally unbiblical grounds, Protestantism opposes law to grace.
82. Protestantism creates a false dichotomy between symbolism and sacramental reality (e.g., baptism, Eucharist).
83. Protestantism separates the Individual from Christian community (1 Cor 12:14-27).
84. Protestantism pits the veneration of saints against the worship of God. Catholic theology doesn't permit worship of saints in the same fashion as that directed towards God. Saints are revered and honored, not adored, as only God the Creator can be."
We must admit that there’s more than a grain of truth to Armstrong’s charge that Protestants operate with an either/or mentality—whereas RCs operate with a Buddhist, both/and mindset. On the one hand, Protestants dichotomize God and Satan, Christ and Antichrist, heaven and hell, sin and righteousness; on the other hand, RCs rename patron gods as patron saints, and relabel magic charms, potions and incantations as so many means of grace. So we ought to commend Armstrong for clarifying the deep difference in outlook.
86. "Flaws in original Protestant thought have led to even worse errors in reaction. E.g., extrinsic justification, devised to assure the predominance of grace, came to prohibit any outward sign of its presence ("faith vs. works," "sola fide"). Calvinism, with its cruel God, turned men off to such an extent that they became Unitarians (as in New England). Many founders of cults of recent origin started out Calvinist (Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, The Way International, etc.)."
If Calvinism is to blame for Unitarianism, then is Catholicism to blame for Freemasonry or French and Spanish Anticlericalism or Continental humanism?
Cruel God? Isn't that what Marcion said about Yahweh? Isn't that what liberals say today?
87. "Evangelicalism is unbiblically obsessed (in typically American fashion) with celebrities (TV Evangelists)."
The personality cult of celebrity Televangelists? Hmmm. What about Bishop Sheen? Isn’t there a very popular Mother Superior on the air these days? And as far as all that goes, what about the cult of Mary and the saints?
In addition, most of the Televangelists are not Evangelicals, but charismatics.
91. "Evangelicalism has a truncated and insufficient view of the place of suffering in the Christian life. Instead, "health-and-wealth" and "name-it-and-claim-it" movements within pentecostal Protestantism are flourishing, which have a view of possessions not in harmony with the Bible and Christian Tradition."
Suffering v. materialism? When is the last time Armstrong visited the Vatican or Bavarian Baroque churches (e.g. Asamkirche) or the Archepiscopal residence at Salzburg or Vienna?
Again, the prosperity preachers come out of the charismatic movement, not the Evangelical movement. Is Armstrong ignorant, or just dishonest?
92. "Evangelicalism has, by and large, adopted a worldview which is, in many ways, more capitalist than Christian. Wealth and personal gain is sought more than godliness, and is seen as a proof of God's favor, as in Puritan, and secularized American thought, over against the Bible and Christian teaching."
Name me one Puritan writer who ever grounded the assurance of salvation in the so-called Protestant work ethic? This is a contrivance of Max Weber.