Monday, February 02, 2015

These Nonsensical Objections from Bryan Cross are Not to be Trusted

In addition to Bryan’s “begging the question” objection, he placed several other predictable objections to Gregg Allison’s work,“Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment”.

Bryan’s objections begin here.

At one point, discussing an interview in conjunction with the release of the book, Bryan is kind enough to note, “In the next part of the interview, as Allison lays out the Catholic system, he does so quite fairly and accurately.” A few lines down, however, we see this:

So Allison starts his interview affirming the importance of approaching the question systematically and evaluating the Catholic paradigm on its own terms, but already here he is (a) making use of a consumerism approach as a way of critiquing the Catholic paradigm, which rejects the consumerism paradigm, and (b) making use of his biblicist assumption (“not biblical”) to critique the Catholic paradigm. So instead of evaluating the Catholic paradigm on its own terms, he is evaluating it on Evangelical terms, and thus begging the question.

In the book, which Bryan appears not to have read so far, there is clearly an effort to present both sides in an objective way; that is, the Catholic viewpoint “fairly and honestly”, and also, the “Evangelical” assessment, “fairly and honestly”. That is a hallmark of the book.

But in his critique, Bryan makes some assumptions of his own here. I’ve extended these from two to three (breaking the “consumerism” objection into two parts):

A. Allison makes use of a “consumerism approach”
B. The “Catholic paradigm” rejects the “consumerism paradigm”
C. Allison works with “Biblicist” assumptions (not “biblical” assumptions)

Let’s look at Bryan’s objections here one at a time:

A. Allison makes use of a “consumerism approach”

In another comment in that thread, Bryan makes the claim that “ecclesial consumerism is contrary to the very nature of divine revelation, which is from above, and is therefore that to which we must conform”, and he links to this article for further confirmation. He suggests that “Ecclesial consumerism is in this way another form of the liberalism that denies God has spoken”. But is that really the case? Looking at Bryan’s article:

In our contemporary culture, church-shopping has become entirely normal and even expected. Not only when moving to a new location, but if a person has some falling out with a pastor or other individual or family in his church, or even if his church-experience starts seeming dull or dry, he visits and tries out other churches, determining which one best suits his preferences. He might consider the kind of community they offer — how welcomed and wanted they make him feel. He might consider the kind of child care and/or Sunday school they offer, the quality of the preaching and music, the driving distance, the ethnicity or degree of ethnic diversity, the average age and culture or tastes of their members, the opportunities available to contribute with his own talents and gifts, whether they have home groups that he could join, and what sort of moral and theological doctrines they hold, etc. He weighs all the various factors and tries to decide which church best matches what he (and his family) are looking for in a church. He might even make lists of all he is looking for in a church, and see which church comes closest to meeting all the criteria. This phenomenon is called “ecclesial consumerism.”

First of all, it’s not true that “this phenomenon is called ecclesial consumerism”. It IS true that Bryan calls this phenomenon “ecclesial consumerism”. Nobody else calls it that. In fact, both Rome and EOs support and promote “ecclesial consumerism” in different ways.

Bryan Cross is on an island all his own.

Bryan's criteria include:
• New location
• Falling out with a pastor
• Falling out with other individual or family in church
• Kinds of community
• How welcomed you feel
• Kind of child care offered
• Kind of Sunday school offered
• Quality of preaching and music
• Driving distance
• Ethnicity or ethnic diversity
• Age or culture
• Opportunities to contribute
• Home groups to join
• What sort of moral and theological doctrines they hold

All superficial stuff. He continues:

Ultimately there is no principled difference between selecting a worship experience on the basis of what it does for me, and selecting a theology or interpretation of Scripture based on what it [promises to give] to me, or selecting a denomination based on how closely it matches my own interpretation of Scripture. In each case the ultimate criterion remains conformity to my tastes, desires, opinions and interpretations. There is no principled difference between choosing where to worship based on conformity to my own interpretation of Scripture, and choosing where to worship based on its conformity to my own musical preferences, whether the dress is formal or informal, whether there are plenty of people there my age, or whether the preaching ‘feeds me.’ In each case, I remain the consumer, customizing my ecclesial selection at the drive-thru that is the religious scene of contemporary American life.

What Bryan calls “consumerism”, however, happens in many times and places, and under many guises. For example, until the Eastern Orthodox (just recently) formed the OCA (the “autocephalous” “Orthodox Church in America”), an Eastern Orthodox might have to choose between “church experiences” offered by the various “autocephalous” Orthodox churches from the various different nations, such as the Russian Orthodox, or the Greek Orthodox, or the Serbian Orthodox, or the Antiochian Orthodox. So for a time, among the Eastern Orthodox in the US, “ecclesial consumerism” was the rule, not the exception!

Further, this phenomenon extends to a large degree within Roman Catholicism, that is, as Bryan says, “church-shopping has become entirely normal and even expected” – as it offers “various different rites” – CCC 814 suggests:

From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God's gifts and the diversity of those who receive them. Within the unity of the People of God, a multiplicity of peoples and cultures is gathered together. Among the Church's members, there are different gifts, offices, conditions, and ways of life. "Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions." The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church's unity. Yet sin and the burden of its consequences constantly threaten the gift of unity. And so the Apostle has to exhort Christians to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

CCC 835 suggests:

"Let us be very careful not to conceive of the universal Church as the simple sum, or . . . the more or less anomalous federation of essentially different particular churches. In the mind of the Lord the Church is universal by vocation and mission, but when she put down her roots in a variety of cultural, social, and human terrains, she takes on different external expressions and appearances in each part of the world." The rich variety of ecclesiastical disciplines, liturgical rites, and theological and spiritual heritages proper to the local churches "unified in a common effort, shows all the more resplendently the catholicity of the undivided Church."

So Rome permits and even encourages “ecclesial consumerism”.

Here is how that plays out in real life: In a given community, there may be several Roman Catholic parishes from which to choose. And many do make this choice. As well, within a single parish, Roman Catholics may select from among which of the different masses one might go to – ranging from Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening to a number of morning masses (and in the old days, when there was often more than one priest at a parish), based on the personal style of the priest (who has the shortest homilies, or who hasn’t abused me sexually – remember the number of priests “not implausibly” or “credibly” accused is in the thousands!). Some people even choose their churches based on who has the best fish fry during lent!

So Rome does contribute to and encourage “consumerism”, and we see that Bryan’s first two charges, that A. Allison makes use of a “consumerism approach”, and B. The “Catholic paradigm” rejects the “consumerism paradigm”, are pretty much nonsensical, and his charge, in fact, his whole article on “ecclesial consumerism”, isn’t credible.

What he seems to mean is that – the real charge that Bryan is making – is that “this ‘consumerism’ isn’t done within the Roman Catholic fold” – that is, “not in communion with the successor of Peter”.

Whether one ought to care a whit about the Roman Catholic “successor of Peter” – its late development, its non-“universal” character when it did develop, is the very thing in question. So, in fact, it is Bryan who is “begging the question” with his very objections.


Let’s look at this question from the “successor of Peter” position:

At one level, this is most certainly true. The “Catholic paradigm” rejects that you can exercise your own discernment not to be Roman Catholic. It rejects that “you have no need that anyone should teach you”. It will tell you that “the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone” (CCC 85). Sola Ecclesia!

In this respect, what Bryan calls “consumerism” may be re-categorized as “exercising discernment”. In the biblical category of “exercising discernment”, John writes to Christians (1 John 2:18 ff):

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us … you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

I.H. Marshall says of this verse, “it is the privilege of every true Christian to have knowledge from the Spirit” (“The Epistles of John”, NICNT, pg 156).

At this point in John’s letter, one might ask, “who is the liar?

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father.

John was speaking specifically against the docetist party, who “went out from us”. Marshall here says “The statement permits recognition of the distinction between the empirical and the true congregation: false members are therefore to be found in the empirical congregation. The sentence is thus also an admonition to critical examination and certainly to self-examination as well” (152).

We are to discern. And further, true believers are guided in this discernment by the Holy Spirit.

…I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

Who, in this passage, is “antichrist”? Clearly it is “those who are trying to deceive you”. So John is warning his readers to be discerning, to avoid “those who are trying to deceive you”. There is one further test:

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father (1 John 2:24).

The test is, “you have the anointing that you received”, and if “what you have heard from the beginning remains in you”, you are exercising proper discernment.

What is it that was “from the beginning”? Who really “went out from us”?

Marshall notes that “this thought is common in other Christian documents of the same period (1 Tim 6:3; 2 Tim 1:13; 4:3f; Titus 1:9; 2 Peter 3:2; Jude 17, 20). Written toward the end of the apostolic period, they all counsel holding fast to the teaching given in the past which constitutes “sound doctrine,” the “faith that God has once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).

Rome considers that what has “once for all entrusted” includes all of the accretions that Rome has added over the years, as having been found “implicitly”. “Development” is the battle cry of every Roman Catholic today – with almost no end to what “development” has led to.

While Marshall allows that “what has been handed down as “truth unchanged, unchanging” may need to be re-expressed in fresh ways if it is to make the same impact on modern readers as it made on its first reader, however, he qualifies it:

… so important is this stress on the need to hold fast to the original Christian message that John repeats it for emphasis: “if what you have heard from the beginning remains in you” … The form of expression, using “remain,” is deliberate; and the thought repeats that of verse 23 where confession of the Son (Jesus as Messiah) was the condition for “having” the Father also. Now it becomes clear that acceptance of the original Christian message involves confession of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, and that such confession leads to fellowship with him and with the Father”.

There is no hint that all of the Roman Catholic accretions over the centuries (those found to be “implicit” within the original message) are a part of this condition. Could it not rather be said that Rome really “went out from us”?

Those whom Bryan charges with “consumerism” are actually making an effort to be discerning, as mandated by the Apostle, to understand “you all have knowledge”, to “let what you heard from the beginning abide (remain) in you”, and “if what you heard from the beginning abides in you”, then “you have no need that anyone should teach you”.

The one who is deceiving, is in fact, those who say “you have a need for an infallible magisterium to teach you, because what you think is not authentic”.

In that case, which point of view should you adopt? Should you adopt the notion that “you all have knowledge” and to “let what you heard from the beginning abide in you” such that “if what you heard from the beginning abides in you”, then “you have no need that anyone should teach you”?

Or should you adopt the notion that “the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone”?

Well, to choose the first over the second is to fall prey to, what Bryan’s third objection, what he calls “working with “Biblicist” assumptions (not “biblical” assumptions).” Let’s take a look at this:

C. Working with “Biblicist” (not “Biblical”) Assumptions

Of course, this distinction finds its roots in the “Solo Scriptura vs Sola Scriptura” debates that are found on the Called to Communion website (and other places) – which in turn has its roots in the Medieval discussion of “Tradition I vs Tradition II” as discussed by Heiko Oberman in his “The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism”.

In this case, As Steve has said:

i) "Biblicist" is typically a term of abuse. Likewise, those who use "biblicist" as a term of abuse frequently distinguish between (bad) solo Scriptural and (good) sola Scriptura. Keith Mathison popularized this distinction. Unfortunately, it's an unstable distinction which Catholic apologists can and do exploit. I think it would be better to distinguish between, say, naive biblicism and critical biblicism.

ii) By "naive biblicism" I mean the illusion of presuppositionless exegesis. That we come to the Bible as a blank slate, and Scripture pencils its theology directly onto our blank slate.

It's become a popular cliche to point out that this is self-delusive. We all bring certain preconceptions to our reading of Scripture. This may involve general cultural conditioning or specific theological conditioning. This is called the hermeneutical circle.

iii) Some Christians, such as "confessional Calvinists," think the solution to "biblicism" is confessionalism. A document like the Westminster Confession supplies the presuppositions. That's our hermeneutical grid. But there are a couple of basic problems with that solution:

a) It simply relocates the problem. It substitutes naive confessionalism for naive biblicism. Solo confessionalism for solo scripturalism. For just as there's no such thing as the presuppositionless exegesis of Scripture, there's no such thing as the presuppositionless exegesis of the Westminster Confession. We're not 17C Puritans. We don't naturally inhabit their intellectual universe. The deceptively simple language of the Confession conceals centuries of theological debate. Modern readers coming to the text bring their own presuppositions. Unsuspecting readers don't catch the historical connotations of period usage.

b) A deeper problem is this: the Confession itself needs to derive its theology from Scripture. If you begin with the Confessional as your interpretive grid, then that prejudges the meaning of Scripture. That takes the truth of the Confession for granted. The Confession needs to be used as a summary of some key Biblical doctrines, rather than the interpretive key.

iv) Some people never get beyond the hermeneutical circle. They think that's an inescapable recipe for hermeneutical relativism. Since we all bring presuppositions to Scripture, we never break out of that viciously circular exercise.

But that fails to distinguish between naive biblicism and critical biblicism. You can cultivate an awareness of your hitherto unquestioned presuppositions. Once you become self-conscious of your operating presuppositions, you can compare and contrast your operating presuppositions with the teaching of Scripture. Scripture can correct your presuppositions. Give you new presuppositions. It's a dialectical process in which some of your governing assumptions are confirmed by the study of Scripture while others are challenged and overturned.

So there is hope for you Bryan – you can challenge your existing presuppositions with new information, and in the process, correct the faulty “interpretations” that you now possess.

Finishing up, I’ve brought in a selection from Everett Ferguson’s Article Review of Dan Williams’s “Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants” [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1999. Review originally printed in Scottish Journal of Theology 55 (2002): 100– 104].

Ferguson discusses “unity” in the church, during the early centuries, as a condition for being a part of the “one” church:

Division among Christians is an old objection. Clement of Alexandria replied to those who said they ought not to believe because of the different sects among Christians (Miscellanies 7.15). He points to the sects among the Jews and among Greek philosophers. One does not reject, he argues, philosophy because of the different philosophical schools, nor medicine because there are different schools of thought on the practice of medicine. He quotes Paul that indeed it is necessary for heresies to exist (1 Cor. 11: 19), and so “we are bound in no way to transgress the canon of the church.” Believers have failed miserably in making spiritual unity a visible unity, but those who work from other platforms than “Bible only” have few notable achievements toward the goal of unity.

Ferguson, Everett (2013-06-10). The Early Church & Today, Vol 1: A Collection of Writings by Everett Ferguson (Kindle Locations 1888-1893). Abilene Christian University Press. Kindle Edition, pg. 117.

Just as Calvin noted, and as Reformed writers through the centuries have noted, the true criterion is “the word of God as you have heard it from the beginning” and “you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge”.

Aside from that, if one is interested in “unity” there is a remarkable strand of unity among Protestants: Not all unity looks alike.

Bryan’s objections about “consumerism” and “Biblicism” are nonsensical and not to be trusted.

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