Bryan Cross has posted a dozen trick questions for Protestants. The form of a question tends to dictate the form of the answer. Bryan’s questions are laden with certain assumptions. Therefore, it’s not a matter of simply answering his questions. We really need to question his questions. To challenge the way he has chosen to cast the question. Here are his questions:
1. Whose determination of the canon of Scripture is authoritative? (If your answer is "the Scriptures testify to their own canonicity", then, since persons disagree about the content of this testimony, whose determination of the content of this testimony is authoritative?)
2. Whose interpretation of Scripture is authoritative? (Again, if your answer is "Scripture interprets Scripture", then, since persons disagree about the content of Scripture's interpretation of Scripture, whose determination of the Scripture's interpretation of Scripture is authoritative?)
3. Whose determination of the identity and extension of the Body of Christ is authoritative? (If you deny that Christ founded a visible Church, then skip this question.)
4. Whose determination of which councils are authoritative is authoritative? (If you deny that any Church councils are authoritative, then skip this question.)
5. Whose determination of the nature and existence of schism is authoritative?
6. Whose determination of the nature and extension of Holy Orders (i.e. valid ordination) is authoritative?
7. Whose determination of orthodoxy and heresy is authoritative? (If your answer is "Scripture", then go to question #2.)
8. If your answer to any of questions 1-7 is "the Holy Spirit", or "Jesus" or "the Apostles", then whose determination of what the Apostles, the Holy Spirit, or Jesus have determined is authoritative?
9. Given your answers to the above questions, how does your position avoid individualism and the perpetual fragmentation that necessarily accompanies it? (If your answer appeals to the "fundamentals of the faith" or the "essentials of the faith", then whose determination of what are "the essentials of the faith" is authoritative?)
10. Does not even nature teach you that a visible body needs a visible head? If so, then does grace therefore destroy nature, or does grace build upon nature?
11. Why do you think that your present [Protestant] pastor has more authority than the successor of St. Peter? In other words, why do you "obey" and "submit" (Hebrew 13:17) to your Protestant pastor rather than the successor of St. Peter?
12. Whose determination of the nature of "sola scriptura" is authoritative?
Notice a pattern? Every question is framed in terms of authority. That’s not explicit in #10, but you could argue that headship is also a question of authority. So that’s the recurring motif.
Indeed, Bryan said at the outset that “I'm drawing attention here to what I believe to be the fundamental, meta-level source of all the divisions between Christians: the issue of authority.”
You can’t answer his questions as he phrases them without buying into the assumptions which he has built into his questions.
Now, just because he thinks that authority is the “fundamental,” meta-level” issue doesn’t mean a Protestant would share his authoritarian paradigm. Of course, there is a generic sense in which the conflict with Rome comes down to an issue of authority: the authority of scripture over against the authority of the church. But this doesn’t mean that every specific question related to the conflict with Rome should be framed in terms of authority.
To see the problem, let’s rephrase a number of his questions:
1. Whose determination of the canon of Scripture is correct? Whose canon (e.g. Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Ethiopian) enjoys the best evidentiary support? E.g. internal and external attestation.
2. Whose interpretation of Scripture is correct? What’s the best method to arrive at the correct interpretation of Scripture? E.g. Allegorical method. Grammatico-historical method.
3. How does Scripture define the identity and extension of the church?
4. To what extent are councils true or false in light of Scripture?
5. How does the Bible distinguish between licit and illicit schism?
6. What does the Bible say about the qualifications for church office?
7. How does the Bible draw the lines between orthodoxy and heresy?
8. See #2.
9. Should we stipulate in advance of the fact what consequences ought to be avoided, and then construct a just-so story to avoid those consequences, or should we take our cue from how God has governed his people in the past?
10. Does not even nature teach you that a normal body has one head (e.g. Christ) rather than two heads (e.g. Christ and the Pope)? If so, then doesn’t Catholicism destroy nature by turning the church into a two-headed freak mutant?
11. How does the Bible describe and circumscribe the authority of a pastor?
12. Whose determination of the nature of "sola scriptura" is correct? How do we determine sola scriptura?
You only have to start rephrasing his questions to see how prejudicial his questions really are. He built the answer into the question. He’s trying to steer the Protestant towards a Catholic answer. But as soon as we recast his questions to eliminate the tendentious assumptions, then they no longer point in that direction. The original questionnaire was an exercise in rhetorical sleight-of-hand.
Why is he so fixated on the issue of authority? In responding to a commenter, he says: “Your position leaves us with no authoritative determination of what is orthodoxy and what is heresy. One man's orthodoxy is another man's heresy, and there is no one to provide the authoritative adjudication. If no one can provide the authoritative determination of orthodoxy and heresy, then we are left with theological relativism.”
I guess the point he’s getting at is that unless you have sufficient authority for what you believe, you can’t be sure of what you believe. But if that’s his concern, and if he converted to Catholicism because it supposedly offers a level of certainly unavailable to the Protestant, then he’s guilty of the very thing for which he faults the Protestant: "painting one's target around one's arrow."
He’s taking aim at theological relativism, then painting a target around his arrow. The Magisterium is the solution to theological relativism.
But there are several problems with that move:
i) You don’t achieve certainty by setting an artificial goal for yourself, then concocting an etiological fable which will conduct you to your goal. Just because he wants to avoid “individualism” or “fragmentation” doesn’t mean those consequences are, in fact, avoidable.
On the face of it, we live in a messy world. God could have made things far more neat and tidy, but he hasn’t chosen to do so. It’s futile to turn the church into a movie set where every street is clearly marked. We need to conform our doctrine of the church to the reality of the church.
ii) As a practical matter, Bryan’s alternative doesn’t achieve certainty. His appeal to apostolic succession is fraught with uncertainties every step of the way. For you would have to verify every link in the chain.
iii) There’s nothing wrong with probabilities as long as God is in control of the variables. I don’t have to be sure of everything as long as God is sure of everything, and I’m sure of God.
God didn’t give Abraham a roadmap when God called him out of Ur and set him on his journey. God guided Abraham every step of the way without posting road signs every step of the way.
Bryan is like a man who consults a psychic because he feels the need to see where he’s going before he takes the next step. But that is not how God leads his people. God sees the future, we don’t. But God takes us by the hand. We don’t need to see where we’re going as long as our divine guide will be our eyes and ears. That’s the walk of faith.