Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Last Waltz

David Waltz, who is to religion what Solomon was to women, is charging John Bugay and James White with hypocrisy because they cite liberal scholars in opposition to Islam or Roman Catholicism, but reject liberal scholars in opposition to Scripture. Yet there are several basic problems with his analogy:

i) The comparison would only work if, in fact, the arguments and counterarguments regarding Scripture were comparable to the arguments and counterarguments regarding the Koran or the Roman Magisterium.

If that is David’s position, then he needs to mount an actual argument from analogy, rather than asserting an analogy.

ii) To take a comparison, in sifting testimonial evidence, we don’t treat every ostensible witness the same, for some ostensible (or even real) witnesses are less credible than others.

iii) David would also have to show that Lampe’s argument regarding early Roman church polity is crucially contingent on his argument regarding the composition of certain NT documents.

iv) Liberal scholarship can sometimes be right for the wrong reasons. For instance, it’s wrong to apply methodological naturalism to religious claims. It’s wrong to presume that supernatural dynamics can’t be a factor in religious claims.

But if, in fact, religious dynamics are not a factor in some religious claim or another, then it’s appropriate to interpret the claim on mundane terms. For instance, if the angel Gabriel did not appear to Muhammad, then there’s nothing wrong with a liberal scholar explaining the Koran by reference to natural causes. While it’s wrong for him to assume, as a matter of principle, that supernatural factors can’t figure in the origin of Islam, yet if Islam is a natural phenomenon masquerading as a supernatural phenomenon, then naturalistic methods and assumptions will coincidentally dovetail with the true nature of the phenomenon. And the same holds true for the Roman Magisterium.

v) Incidentally, there’s nothing inherently liberal about redaction criticism. For instance, conservative scholars like Craig Blomberg and Darrell Block use redaction criticism to defend the inerrancy of Scripture.

vi) But even if these methods were suspect, there’s nothing inherently wrong with their application to Roman Catholicism. After all, the modern Magisterium sanctions the historical-critical method. So a Protestant apologist could rightfully apply that methodology to Catholicism as a tu quoque argument. Measuring Catholicism by its own yardstick.

Of course, the basic problem for Waltz is that he has no fixed frame of reference. He’s a boat adrift, anchored to another boat adrift, anchored to another boat adrift. For Waltz, everything is in a state of relative motion.


  1. Hey Steve, thanks for bringing this up. I would (and probably will) elaborate on a couple of the things you've said here.

    iii) David would also have to show that Lampe’s argument regarding early Roman church polity is crucially contingent on his argument regarding the composition of certain NT documents.

    The one point of substance that Waltz has brought up so far involves the fact that Lampe gives it away that he is not an inerrantist. (He suggests that Paul is not the writer of the Pastoral Epistles, and that this writer may have gotten wrong the travels of Priscilla and Aquila.)

    In the first place, other commentators have worked through that issue and have provided scenarios in which that's not a problem.

    Second, inerrancy isn't the divisive kind of issue in Europe that it is here. For example, one may subscribe to the "Three Forms of Unity" without necessarily being an inerrantist. Sure, Lampe is a Lutheran who would not subscribe to those confessions, but he seems at least to have aligned himself with conservative LCMS theologians in having signed their 1998 resolution, To Express Deep Regret and Profound Disagreement with ELCA (in anticipated response to the 1999 "Joint Declaration on Justification.")

    Third, Lampe's own thoughts about the inerrancy of Scripture are practically irrelevant -- this is one small sub-point (it is subpoint 6D in an analysis that goes on for some 30 pages), in his argument that Romans 16 is an integral portion of Paul's letter to the Romans -- an argument which is (a) conservative in nature, and (b) used on a widespread basis as one of the leading analyses in this particular issue. And so, whether Lampe gets right or wrong the point about Priscilla and Aquila has almost no bearing upon the Romans 16 question, either way, much less his larger analysis of the early church in Rome.

    And finally, Lampe's argument on Romans 16 is not a part of the main thrust of his book. It is "a discursus". It is the only portion of Scripture that he treats at all. Virtually all the rest of his work is taken from secular history and the writings of early fathers.

    So if it's true that Valentinus (and his following) was given a lot of sway, and even treated charitably (to a point) by the church at Rome, this may or may not be supportive of "the Bauer thesis," but it certainly doesn't conflict with what Kostenberger and Kruger are saying about a far-earlier, more well-established orthodoxy in New Testament Christianity.

    I'll likely have much more to say about this, but I appreciate you bringing up the point Steve.

  2. Thanks Steve,
    You nailed it in much more concise language than I am able to.

  3. "Measuring Catholicism by its own yardstick."

    I'm sure Waltz believes he is measuring Bugay and White by their own standard, but by doing so must admit the possibility that that was what they were doing. It appears that such incoherence as afforded by dishonest motive is the measure of Waltz' standard.