Friday, October 22, 2010

Lyin' Bryan

I'm posting some comments I left over at Green Baggins:

steve hays said,
October 19, 2010 at 11:44 am

Bryan Cross said,

“The solution to sin is grace, by which the law is written upon our hearts, and through the Holy Spirit we receive agape poured into our hearts, by which the law is fulfilled in us, as St. Paul says repeatedly. (Rom 5:5, 13:8, 13:10, Gal 5:14) That is what was promised in the prophets Jer 31:31ff. The solution to sin is not destroying or abolishing the law, but, by the infused grace of Christ won for us upon the cross, fulfilling the royal law. This is the power of the gospel, for all who believe. The person who says that he knows Christ, but disobeys Christ’s laws, is a liar. (1 John 2:4) Anyone who abides in Him, does not sin. (1 John 3:6) Anyone born of God “does not commit sin”. (1 John 3:9) He who does not love, does not know God. (1 John 4:8) How do we love? ‘For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world.’ (1 John 5:4) But anyone who is born of God does not sin. (1 John 5:18) That’s the good news, that we are not left in our sins, but by the grace won for us by Christ, made alive in Christ, and raised up with Him, empowered by His divine life to live in newness of life, not in the darkness, but in the light.”

Notice that Bryan isn’t quoting from any infallible magisterial interpretations of his prooftexts. He treats Scripture as perspicuous. And he relies on his private interpretation from start to finish.

“When you say that the way to get the right answer is ‘by asking the right people,’ what you mean by ‘right people’ is those who agree with your general interpretation of Scripture concerning what you think is essential.”

Actually, it means we agree with whoever has the best exegetical argument for his interpretation.

“In addition, if you think the Scripture is sufficiently clear to answer the Catholic-Protestant question, then you would have no reason to direct Rebecca to seek the counsel of ‘the right people.’ You would point her only to Scripture. Only if you think the Scripture is not sufficiently clear to answer the Catholic-Protestant question, would you have some reason to direct her to the guidance and counsel of ‘the right people’ [i.e. those holding your general interpretation of Scripture, concerning what you think is essential]. But if you think Scripture is not sufficiently clear to answer the Catholic-Protestant question, then it is epistemically unjustified to set up your own general interpretation of Scripture as the standard for who gets to count as one of the ‘right people’ to consult to answer the question.”

i) Bryan is confounding perspicuity and sufficiency. Moreover, he’s caricaturing what these positions claim. For instance, the Westminster Confession gives carefully nuanced formulations, viz. “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”

ii) This is not “setting up our interpretation as the standard of comparison,” as if that was an appeal to authority. Rather, it’s a matter of going with the best exegetical argument.

If Bryan doesn’t think it’s possible to evaluate arguments, then why is he arguing for Roman Catholicism?

“The reason that what you call the ‘real criterion’ cannot be the ‘real criterion’ is that you choose such persons based on their general agreement with your own interpretation of Scripture regarding what are the essentials. That is why, if such a person happened to be Catholic, you would not direct them to their local priest or bishop to answer the Catholic-Protestant question.”

To the contrary, this isn’t a Catholic/Protestant issue, per se. Catholic scholars like Joseph Fitzmyer and Luke Timothy Johnson can do good exegesis as well.

Of course, a Roman bishop has a vested interest in his denomination, so, by definition, his answers will direct the questioner to Roman Catholicism. But that’s not the same thing as hermeneutics.

“It is also why, if you come to think differently about how Scripture is to be intepreted, you are free to move to a different ‘church,’ and find different ‘subordinate authorities.’ If these ‘subordinate authorities’ were subordinate only to something other than you, they could be genuine authorities over you.

Like a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness who, as a result of his personal Bible study, rejects the cult he was raised in and converts to Christianity.

On Bryan’s totalitarian ecclesiology, how would a cult-member ever be justified in leaving the cult?

“And this shows where the authority really lies, in the individual.”

Bryan has often been corrected on this equivocation, but he repeats the same equivocation since Bryan is a demagogue, not a truth-seeker.

His equivocation fails to draw an elementary distinction between the individual as the ultimate source of value-judgments and the individual as the ultimate standard of value judgments.

“Of course from the Catholic point of view, the Catholic Church does and has always taught the Apostles’ doctrine, and it is the Protestant positions that deviate from the true Apostolic doctrine. But, mere question-begging assertions won’t get us any closer to agreement concerning the truth.”

Then why did Bryan just beg the question?

“If a subordinate authority teaches something that contradicts what God says, we cannot follow that subordinate authority (at least in that teaching). But that’s very different from placing one’s own interpretation of what God said above that of those persons God divinely authorized to teach and interpret what God said.”

Which boils down to Bryan’s personal assessment.

“The Sanhedrin had religious authority under the Old Covenant, but under the New Covenant the Apostles had greater authority than did the Sanhedrin.”

By the line of reasoning, the OT prophets were insubordinate whenever they challenged the corrupt religious establishment.

“So the actions of the Apostles are not a green light to place our own interpretation of Scripture above that of the Apostles or their successors. (That would be rebellion.)”

Then the church of Rome is rebellious whenever she places her interpretation of Scripture above that of the Apostles.

“But the gospel that St. Paul and the others had preached was not defined as ‘my personal interpretation of Scripture.’”

There is nothing wrong with “my personal interpretation of Scripture” as long as my interpretation corresponds to the meaning of Scripture. The only salient distinction is between right and wrong interpretations, and not whether it’s “my personal interpretation.”

“To see whether someone was teaching a novel teaching, one would compare the message in question to the teaching universally received from the Apostles throughout the whole universal Church.”

The church of Rome is just a local church with delusions of grandeur. Just one denomination among many.

“The claim you make here is based on your misinterpretation of Gal 1:8….St. Paul is not advocating the authoritative supremacy of private interpretation of Scripture…The duty to submit to present interpretive authority…”

Notice how dogmatic Bryan becomes when he presumes to impose his private interpretation of Gal 1:8 on his interlocutors. And also notice that Bryan doesn’t cite any “interpretive authority” for his interpretation of Gal 1:8.

Bryan doesn’t argue in good faith. He makes no effort to be intellectually consistent.

“Of course human beings cannot but make judgments using our own cognitive faculties. That’s not the issue, nor has anyone ever denied that we cannot but use our own cognitive faculties to make judgments. The issue is interpretive authority.”

And why is interpretive authority the issue? Because Bryan *says* that’s the issue? Why should we acquiesce to the way he wishes to frame the issue?

“If Christ established in His Church an organ to provide authoritative teaching and interpretation of the Apostolic deposit, then we ought to submit to that authoritative teaching and interpretation on account of the divine authority of that organ.”

Of course, that’s all hypothetical. And a Mormon would make the same claim about the LDS church.

“If we do not acknowledge an interpretive authority higher than ourselves, then we are not only the judge of what Scripture means, we are also then treating ourselves and our own reason and judgment as the standard for what is the right interpretation of Scripture and the Apostolic deposit. The Catholic stance, by contrast, is not to treat our own interpretation of Scripture as the standard for what is the right interpretation of Scripture, but to submit to the interpretation of those having divinely established interpretive authority.”

Which only pushes the question back a step. By what prior authority or standard does Bryan judge the Roman church to be his “interpretive authority” or standard?

“We test the spirits not against our own personal interpretation of Scripture, but against what the whole Church received and believed from the Apostles, and handed down faithfully throughout the whole Church throughout the generations.”

Of course, that’s circular and deceptive. Bryan’s theology selects for what he considers to be the “whole Church.” Bryan’s theology selects for what he considers to be “handed down faithfully.” Bryan constantly camouflages his private judgment under these circumlocutions.

“No, because there is a principled way of distinguishing popes from anti-popes…”

And what way would that be? Not by consulting the pope.

“So long as the Church knew that each ordained bishop was being ordained by validly ordained bishops, there is no break in the succession, even if for some persons at the time, there was doubt concerning who was the actual pope.”

How does Bryan verify valid ordination? Isn’t one of the necessary conditions for valid ordination a right intention on the part of the officiate and the ordinand? How does Bryan verify what the officiate and the ordinand intended? Is he telepathic?

“The Church is one, because Christ is one. Is Christ divided? No. Is the Church divided? No, because it is His Body, and He is not divided.”

That gets carried away with one Biblical metaphor for the church. But the “body” is not the only metaphor for the church. A flock of sheep is another metaphor for the church. Clearly, though, a flock is a looser aggregate than a body.

“And the fact that schism is not always bilateral, applies in the visible Church Christ founded, because the one to whom He entrusted the keys of the Kingdom (Mt 16), represents Him. Those who separate from the successor of St. Peter, separate from Christ.”

Mt 16 says nothing about Peter’s “successors.”

“That’s why St. Peter (and his successors) can never be in a schism or faction…”

What about the possibility of a heretical pope?

“But the Docetic notion is that the Church is invisible, not a real visible Body, and therefore all hold the keys, and every [visible] schism is a schism within the Church, with each person still remaining a member of the [invisible] Body. But the Catholic doctrine, by contrast, is that the Church is visible, and therefore the unity that is a mark of the Church — one of the four marks mentioned in the Creed — is necessarily a visible unity, just as my physical body must have visible unity in order to remain one living body.”

i) By that logic, a visible church must also have visible keys. What do the keys look like, Bryan? Are they made of brass? Silver?

ii) According to the Catholic dogma of the Real Presence, the communion elements transubstantiate into the true body and blood of Christ. Yet that’s invisible to the communicant.

Bryan’s wooden handling of metaphors isn’t even consistent with Catholic dogma.

“A little proof-texting is a dangerous thing. A person could use that same verse to claim that baptism is unnecessary, or that the Church is unnecessary. If you want to understand more fully what all is involved in receiving Jesus [besides praying a sinner's prayer], then recall that Jesus also said, ‘He who listens to you listens to Me, and he who rejects you, rejects Me’ (Luke 10:16).”

And isn’t Bryan’s citation of Lk 10:16 “a little prooftexting”? Why does Bryan indulge in dangerous prooftexting?

“You may then find yourself to be fighting against God, trying to destroy the visible Catholic Church that men much greater than yourself have been unable to destroy for 2,000 years.”

Imagine a cult leader using that type of threatening language to intimidate cult members.

steve hays said,
October 21, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Jeff Cagle said,

“The ECFs argued fearlessly from the Scripture directly, and argued for the unity of the Church around its adherence to the basics of the faith as expressed in what we now call the Apostle’s Creed. Modern Rome claims that direct arguments from the Scripture are meaningless, and that the unity of the Church is loyalty to a man, not loyalty to a creed.”

Bryan Cross said,

“No, the Catholic Church has never claimed that any argument from Scripture is meaningless.”

i) First of all, notice Bryan’s bait-and-switch. Cagle didn’t say “any” argument from Scripture, but “direct” arguments from Scripture.

ii) In support of Cagle’s contention, take this recent admission by Michael Liccione:

“As a Catholic, I’d say that of course the Catholic doctrine of the papacy cannot be ‘demonstrated and sustained’ just by ‘Scripture itself,’ even though it is supported by Scripture when Scripture is interpreted in a certain way. Indeed, from what Vatican II said, we may infer that no article of faith can simply be ‘demonstrated’ by Scripture; for ‘Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church are so linked…that none can stand without the others’ (Dei Verbum §10).”

steve hays said,
October 21, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Bryan Cross said,

“When you make claims like, ‘Modern Rome claims that direct arguments from the Scripture are meaningless,’ and that for Catholics ‘the unity of the Church is loyalty to a man, not loyalty to a creed’ you are criticizing a straw man of Catholic doctrine, and thus show yourself not to understand Catholic doctrine; otherwise you would avoid such strawmen. (The only alternative explanation is that you know they are false statements, and yet you say them anyway — but I assume, based on what I know of your character from our prior discussions, that you would never do such a thing.)”

i) Actually, there’s third alternative explanation: Cagle was evaluating Catholic claims by his own standard rather than Catholic standards. Cagle’s characterization would only be a straw man if he were attempting to reproduce Catholicism’s self-understanding.

But there’s nothing inherently out of line about judging a belief-system by standards outside the belief-system. It’s not as if Bryan limits himself to evaluating Calvinism or Evangelicalism on its own terms. And Christians are certainly entitled to evaluate Mormonism or Islam by Christian standards rather than Mormon or Muslim standards (to take two handy examples).

ii) BTW, Bryan is hardly an expert on Catholic teaching. He’s not a Catholic theologian, or priest, or bishop, or pontiff. He’s just a vain, loudmouthed convert.

TurretinFan said,
October 21, 2010 at 2:50 pm

There’s a fourth possibility. Bryan is not accurately representing the Roman position, while Jeff is. I think that’s probably implicit in Steve’s (ii), but I just want to point it out. Bryan’s false dichotomy has missed at least two other options.

steve hays said,
October 21, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Yes, Cagle is simply drawing out the logical implications of Rome’s position.

There are many situations where you have fault-lines within a belief-system, especially a false belief-system. Although a theological tradition may not explicitly affirm or deny something, it may implicitly affirm or deny something even if it sometimes says otherwise.

I’d also add, at the risk of stating the obvious (which one must always do when dealing with individuals like Bryan who argue in bad faith), that it really does matter in Roman Catholicism what your credentials are. That’s why Hans Küng and Uta Ranke-Heinemann both lost their ecclesiastical license to teach Catholic theology.

Bryan is a Roman Catholic on paper, but in practice he’s a functional Plymouth Brethren. He keeps elevating himself as a spokesman for Catholic theology when he has no institutional standing to do so.

steve hays said,
October 21, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Bryan Cross said,

“I don’t expect you to assume the truth of Catholic teaching when you evaluate it. But, it seems to me that there is no point in criticizing Catholic teaching from a standpoint in which it is already assumed to be false. In such a case, the prior assumptions are doing all the work, and you should just let your criticism lie there. Otherwise it seems to me to be a question-begging endeavor.”

i) How does Bryan evaluate atheism or Mormonism or Islam? Does he suspend his Christian faith when he evaluates atheism? Does he become an honorary atheist when he evaluates atheism?

ii) It would only be question begging to assume Romanism is false if the critic were unable and unwilling to justify his prior assumptions.

“So, it evaluates Catholic doctrine from a starting point that presupposes the falsity of the Catholic Church. Well, then what’s the point? I mean, what’s the point of evaluating Catholic doctrine, if you’ve already decided that it is false.”

Isn’t that obvious? The point is to give the supporting arguments for one’s negative evaluation.

“That’s not a fair evaluation, and, I would add, not a truth-seeking evaluation, because it begs the question.”

Does Bryan take that approach to, let us say, Scientology? Should we be open to the truth of Scientology? What about Satanism?

“The problem is not with the “direct argument from Scripture” but with the historically naïve (from our point of view) idea that no one has been reading and studying this book night and day for the last two thousand years…”

As a matter of fact, no one has been reading the Bible for the last 2000 years. This is where Bryan lapses into his customary, fallacious personification of the church.

BTW, why make the 1C AD the starting point? What about Jewish readers of the Scriptures?

“…doesn’t understand the historical and communal dimension of Sacred Scripture as a text that has always been embedded in a community and understood from within that community.”

The “community” for the OT text was the OT community, while the community for the NT text was the NT community–not the community of the church fathers.

“It is a community’s book, and that community is two-thousand years old.”

Here’s the fairy tale that Bryan is fond of telling himself and others. But it’s not something you’d get from reading what the OT has to say about the OT community, or the NT has to say about the NT community.

It disregards the degree to which Scripture can stand in opposition to the community. For instance, various letters of the NT are written to Christian communities to confront them, to challenge them, to restore them. Same thing with the OT prophets.

Such Scriptures are not under lock-and-key of the communities to which they are addressed. If that were the case, the errant communities would simply domesticate the message. But the Scriptures stand over and above the communities to which they minister. They stand in potential judgment of said communities.

“For us, the Creed was taught infallibly, by the protection of the Holy Spirit. So, the pope ain’t ever going against the Creed, never. Can’t happen. If he were (though he cannot) to do so, he would ipso facto become a heretic.”

Can Bryan cite any official statement of Catholic theology which precludes the possibility of a heretical pope?

“No pope (or council) has the authority to negate or deny any article of the Creed, as it has always been understood. The Creed doesn’t just have a ‘present interpretation.’ From the fourth century the Church has always carried an understanding of her own Creed, and it is that understanding to which the pope must always be faithful. A pope or council could give further elucidation to the Creed, but that further elucidation could never contradict or negate how it has always been understood.”

The obvious problem with that statement is that Bryan can’t go behind the pope to compare and contrast the present pope’s understanding with tradition, much less the Nicene Fathers. So Bryan’s statement is a disguised tautology which is consistent with any papal understanding or contrary understanding of the Creed. As Pius IX said, “I am tradition” (“La tradizione son’ io!").

Bryan’s sidekick, Michael Liccione is far more forthcoming than Bryan about the ramifications of this position. As he recently said:

“First, even if one just follows whoever is pope, it does not follow that what the pope teaches is the only ‘rational interpretation of tradition.’ Often, in fact, it isn’t—and I say that as an orthodox Catholic faithful to Rome. The debate among Catholic theologians about the birth-control pill in the 1960s is a very good illustration of what I mean. It was not being settled by argument alone; indeed, I believe it could not have been; in the end, the dispute had to be settled by an exercise of papal authority. One of the major reasons why the Magisterium in general is necessary is that reason alone often doesn’t suffice to determine how “tradition” must be interpreted.”

steve hays said,
October 21, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Tom Riello said,

“Are we to think that God would leave such a matter up for grabs?”

i) From a Reformed standpoint, nothing is up for grabs. Sola scriptura doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It operates in tandem with the providence of God.

ii) But to play along with your usage, even though I don’t think that’s the best way of framing the issue, wasn’t 1C Judaism ‘up for grabs?” Wasn’t 1C Judaism factionalized into a diversity of splinter-groups? And didn’t most 1C Jews make the wrong call regarding their promised Messiah?

This is the problem I have with Catholic apriorism. You begin with your preconception of what God would or would not allow, which doesn’t bear much resemblance to the kinds of things that actually happen in God’s world.


  1. Thanks for this post. I realized the other day, the reason I am no longer Catholic is in large part due to your writings on this blog. That Matthew 16 verse (and other verses) was keeping me within the RC Church, but your blog was one of the few sources that explained the text well. Anyway, just letting you know.

  2. Hi, "hi" -- I was in your shoes, sort of. It took me a long process of answering virtually every objection, one at a time, before I could leave the RCC.

    Steve, I'm just amazed at the clarity of your analysis, but more, I'm just amazed at the "Lyin" that Bryan must do to justify his little Roman holiday.

    Truth -- thanks for posting that over at Green Baggins.

  3. Steve said: "This is the problem I have with Catholic apriorism. You begin with your preconception of what God would or would not allow, which doesn’t bear much resemblance to the kinds of things that actually happen in God’s world."

    Bingo! Even Tertullian recognized the specious nature of this kind of reasoning...

    Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220): But if we choose to apply this principle so extravagantly and harshly in our capricious imaginations, we may then make out God to have done anything we please, on the ground that it was not impossible for Him to do it. We must not, however, because He is able to do all things suppose that He has actually done what He has not done. But we must inquire whether He has really done it. God could, if He had liked, have furnished man with wings to fly with, just as He gave wings to kites. We must not, however, run to the conclusion that He did this because He was able to do it. He might also have extinguished Praxeas and all other heretics at once; it does not follow, however, that He did, simply because He was able. For it was necessary that there should be both kites and heretics; it was necessary also that the Father should be crucified. In one sense there will be something difficult even for God—namely, that which He has not done—not because He could not, but because He would not, do it. For with God, to be willing is to be able, and to be unwilling is to be unable; all that He has willed, however, He has both been able to accomplish, and has displayed His ability. Since, therefore, if God had wished to make Himself a Son to Himself, He had it in His power to do so; and since, if He had it in His power, He effected His purpose, you will then make good your proof of His power and His will (to do even this) when you shall have proved to us that He actually did it.
    It will be your duty, however, to adduce your proofs out of the Scriptures as plainly as we do, when we prove that He made His Word a Son to Himself. ANF: Vol. III, Against Praxeas, Chapters 10-11. This quote is not in our books.

  4. "Lyin' Bryan"

    Hi Nick,

    Would it have been okay with you if Steve Hays had closed off his post with:

    "In the peace of Christ,

    Steve Hays"

  5. Truth Unites,

    It seems like my post got caught in the spam filter, so it's not appearing. I'm not sure how you saw it, unless it was by the email update.

  6. "In the peace of Christ" is a very appropriate closing/signature for Steve.


    "It seems like my post got caught in the spam filter, so it's not appearing."

    Sometimes the spam filter exhibits impeccable judgment.

  8. Steve said: "Sometimes the spam filter exhibits impeccable judgment."

    The spam filter exercises no judgment. In all likelihood it is merely a bayesian filter.