Tuesday, May 20, 2008

School for Scandal

[Dave Armstrong] “I must admit that discovering this information today almost literally took my breath away.”

I hope there was someone around to administer CPR.

“It's a rare Protestant who will so brazenly defend denominationalism, since they are well aware that it is absent from Scripture.”

Absent from Scripture in what sense? The Pharisees and Sadducees represent the Jewish equivalent of denominations. Not to mention many other Jewish sects in 2nd Temple Judaism.

Of course, there’s a sense in which you only had one church in the 1C, and when doctrinal or ethical questions arose, a local church could write one of the apostles for guidance. But they’re long gone, so we can no longer dash a letter off to Peter, Paul, or John, and get a letter back, resolving the dispute over, let us say, infant baptism or millennialism. So that’s one reason we have different denominations. Our circumstances are different from theirs.

Mind you, I think we have far more denominations than we need. And one of the denominations we could definitely do without is Roman Catholicism. Pointing to the proliferation of sects and denominations is hardly an argument for Roman Catholicism.

“Almost all Protestants I have encountered are deeply uncomfortable and uneasy with regard to denominationalism and sectarianism. That is because they know full well that it is scandalous.”

i) Assuming, for the same of argument, that denominationalism is scandalous, why should I be scandalized by someone else’s scandalous conduct? What’s that to me? Should I be scandalized by Paris Hilton’s scandalous conduct? No.

Armstrong talks like one of those Hollywood gossip-columnists who wallows in vicarious hanky-panky. Does he read the National Inquiry from cover-to-cover for his daily dose of scandal?

ii) For that matter, if Armstrong is so scandalized by denominationalism, then he should remove himself and his family from the apostate denomination he belongs to and join some Bible-believing Protestant church. That would be a step in the right direction.

“Hence, they will often argue that Luther, Calvin et al never intended for this state of affairs to come about.”

Maybe they didn’t. Men are shortsighted. We frequently fail to foresee the consequences of our actions. Did Leo X foresee the consequences of excommunicating Luther?

“Luther himself complained bitterly about rampant sectarianism in his own time, that he thoroughly disapproved of.”

Since I’m not a Lutheran, so what? Luther was also an anti-Semite. Does that mean I should be an anti-Semite too?

“Calvin was quite embarrassed over it, as I have documented from his own letters.”

i) So Armstrong is faulting me because I’m not a company man. I’m not enough of a Reformed loyalist. If only I were a blind partisan for my cause, then he’d be more approving!

ii) Calvin was a 16C Frenchman, I’m a 20C American. His socioreligious experience is completely different from mine. So, yes, I have a very different take on “schism” than Calvin. And that’s because my experience is different than his.

It’s like those back-to-Africa movements. You sometimes have Black Americans who book a flight back to the “mother country” to rediscover their “roots.” But after spending a few days in a godforsaken village, they discover that they have next to nothing in common with the people they “left behind” hundreds of years ago. Immigrants make a new life for themselves in the new world. Create a new culture. A new social network. There’s no going back.

Although my forebears hail from Normandy, I’m not a 16C Frenchman. I can’t identify with Calvin’s anguish as an ex-Catholic. That doesn’t define me.

Oh, and it’s not just little old me. Dave Armstrong’s brand of Catholicism has been tremendously conditioned by the American experience. Does Armstrong have the same view of religious dissent as Torquemada? Seems to be that Armstrong is a wee bit more magnanimous than his 15C Iberian counterpart. Indeed, if Armstrong were living in 15C Spain, Armstrong, with his Vatican II theology, would be prosecuted as a heretic.

Armstrong then quotes a couple of statements by Niebuhr and Bloesch. Once again, who cares? Why should I care what they say just because they say it? I’m always game for a good argument, but the mere fact that Armstrong can dig up a quote by some liberal Protestant or palpitating ecumenist is not, of itself, an argument against denominationalism—much less an argument for Catholicism.

This is just a phony argument from authority, as if a Protestant author functions as an ipso facto authority figure when you’re debating with a Protestant like me. But that’s fallacious. I don’t regard a Protestant author as an authority figure. Even a writer like Calvin is not an authority figure. If you want to quote me an authority figure, quote Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Moses, Paul, Isaiah, &c.

You’re welcome to quote a Reformed theologian, but it’s the argument that counts, not the label. What’s inside the box, not the brand-name.

jan said...

“This argument is the equivilent of saying ‘Mormons exist, therefore it is God's will for there to be Mormons, therefore I will become a Mormon’.”

I’ve already responded to that fallacious analogy in my reply to Dmitry. Try again.

Actually, it is God’s will that some people be Mormons. It’s God’s will that some people be reprobates. That some people go to hell. If you wish to be damned, then, by all means, become a Mormon.

The fact, however, that it’s God’s will for some people to be Mormons doesn’t tell us anything about who, in particular, God decrees to be Mormons. That’s not a directive for you or me to become Mormons.

“Last time I checked, every Church denied this.”

Which reinforces my point. Armstrong is claiming that Catholicism is a source of religious certainty, whereas Protestantism is a source of religious uncertainty. You’re defending my point rather than his.

“Including Calvinists who say that everyone can be deceived about their own state.”

If you checked this, then you didn’t bother to check any Reformed theologians. The reprobate can be spiritually self-deluded. And I can be mistaken about someone else’s state of grace. But the elect cannot be deceived about their own election.

“But here you're comparing apples to oranges in what is certain.”

That’s an assertion, not an argument.

If you’re claiming that Roman Catholicism offers institutional certainty, so what? Even if that were true, unless objective, institutional certainty translates into individual, subjective certainty, wherein lies the value of institutional certainty? Who’s the beneficiary?

“You miss the point. This is like saying by adhering to the bible as an authority you lack the confidence in the power of rational persuasion to argue God is Trinity from other sources.”

That’s not what Armstrong said.

And from what other sources, besides divine revelation, would we argue for the Trinity?

“Of course many if not most Protestants would not make a definitive statement that a non-Christian cannot possibly be saved.”

Once again, how do you think that’s relevant to *Armstrong’s* argument? His contention is that Protestants ought to agree on sacramental theology since the sacraments are means of saving grace. If most Protestants think that communion and baptism are inessential to salvation, then how does that observation bolster Armstrong’s argument?

“So by this criteria, the Westminster's category of ‘those things essential for salvation’ is an empty category.”

How is it germane to judge Westminster’s category by non-Westminster criteria? Why not judge non-Westminster categories by Westminster criteria? Maybe we should judge Tridentine categories by Westminster criteria. Or judge Vatican II categories by Westminster criteria.

“Except that there are protestant denominations who hold to baptismal regeneration. I've certainly run into Church of Christ denominations who held to it. I guess Westminster got it wrong on that one then.”

How did Westminster get it wrong? Did Westminster deny that the some Protestant denominations affirm baptismal regeneration?

Or do you mean that if Westminster affirms one thing, and the Church of Christ affirms the contrary, then Westminster “got it wrong.” By what logic does that follow? What not say that, in that event, the Church of Christ got it wrong?


“Instead of celebrating denominationalism.”

I never said anything to “celebrate” denominationalism. At the same time, I don’t get all worked up over it, the way a breast-beating ecumenist does.

To some extent, denominationalism is a harmless, inevitable development. It reflects differences in taste, ethnicities, and nationalities. To some extent, denominationalism is a necessary evil. A certain amount of sectarianism and denominationalism is due to sin. And if you want to see a really sinful denomination, few denominations can stack up to the Church of Rome for its knee-deep history of corruption.

“How can it be God's will that so many should be in error?”

Notice how Catholics stipulate that God wouldn’t do this or that rather than consulting the Bible to hear God speak for himself. They begin with their preconceptions about what is unacceptable. Then reason back from the unacceptable consequences. Compare Harold’s denial to God’s stated modus operandi:

“Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thes 2:11-12).


“This logic is unacceptable. That same logic destroys the very concept of Love, Justice, etc., because if God really valued those things the world would be full of Love and Justice.”

i) To begin with, a scale of values doesn’t imply that lower values are unreal.

ii) More to the point, God couldn’t will justice unless he willed evil. Apart from evil, there’s no occasion to exact justice.

And while love is possible in an unfallen world, there’s a type of love—redemptive love—which presupposes the fall.

“Doctrinal disunity is the biggest scandal in Christendom today, and it puts a dagger in the prayer of Jesus: That they might be one so that the world may know Jesus is really Lord. I dont consider the prayer of Jesus to be hypothetical, I believe that the greater the unity the better testimony of the truth of the Gospel there is to the world.”

Except that Nick does, indeed, regard the prayer of Jesus as hypothetical. Not merely hypothetical, but counterfactual. For, on his interpretation, it remains unanswered—two thousand years later.

Reginald de Piperno:

“Hays is far from consistent on this. He sounds more like a Deist than anything. He sounds like Alexander Pope: ‘Whatever is, is right.’ Abortion? God must want it. Legal Homosexuality? God must want it. Oneness Pentecostals? God must want their errors. Mormons? God must want their errors.”

I already addressed that facile objection in my reply to Dmitry.

“I seriously doubt that Hays would apply the same ridiculous ‘logic’ to these issues.”

It’s only ridiculous because Reginald applies it in such a simpleminded fashion. In my reply to Dmitry, I drew some elementary distinctions.

“And he would be right, of course: God does not endorse sin or error.”

True, but there’s a sense in which God wills sin.

“But that is exactly what Hays is saying in his argument: God wants error.”

That’s not synonymous with divine endorsement.

“But that's a lie, and I hope that Hays will reconsider the terrible thing that he is saying about God.”

I’m not ashamed of God’s government of the world. God doesn’t need us to make excuses for him. It’s not as if someone hijacked the world. No one is holding God hostage.

Paul Hoffer:

“Can any one explain to me how Mr.. Hays' view doesn't portray God as an existentialist?”

Since Hoffer doesn’t bother to explain his own remark, why should anyone else?

Ben M:

“Darndest defense of dis-unity I ever heard! Not surprisingly however, the Fathers (not to mention Scripture!) offer a slightly different take on such things.”

Of course, repairing to the church fathers begs the question in favor of Catholicism.

John Henry Hughes:

“Reading Hayes Just Makes me Laugh. Of course the only argument the So-called reformed can make is to appeal to pre-destination and the idea that man has no free will to reject God's purpose (and even that is a weak arguement).”

Does reading Thomas Aquinas also make Hughes laugh? Did Aquinas deny predestination? Is funny how many Catholics are abysmally ignorant of Catholic tradition.

“And as for criticizing our man Dave on being a layment and not having a theology degree, should Justin Martyr have got a theology degree and been ordained before he defended Christianity to the Roman Emperor?”

If Justin Martyr were attacking the right of private judgment, then he would lay himself open to that charge.


“Reginald, I think you're wrong. For Steve it is not a lie that God wants error. God definitely does want error.”

Sounds familiar. Where have I heard that before? Oh yes:

“Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thes 2:11-12).

Continuing with Jon:

“Sin glorifies God.”

Wherever did I get that twisted idea? Oh yes:

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20).

“For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Rom 11:32).

Continuing with Jon:

“Otherwise, why would (the Clavinist) God have caused sin? Rape, genocide, theft, etc. These things are all great, because everything glorifies God. Scary, but that's his view.”

Aside from the fact that this is grossly simplistic, how would Jon distinguish the Reformed version of predestination and providence from the Thomistic version of predestination of predestination and providence as both bear on the problem of evil?

“And sadly I believe these opinions of his have probably affected his personality. He is becoming like this God he worships. This would explain why he's probably one of the most caustic e-pologist out there.”

Wow! That’s very insightful! Jon should become a full-time psychologist. And, while he’s at it, I wonder if he’d apply his inexorable logic to Art Sippo.


  1. “[Dave Armstrong] I'm not the one who deems denominationalism ‘unacceptable’. The Bible does that. Doctrinal contradiction entails error in one or both of the parties involved. Falsehood is not of God. So this ain't an ‘Armstrong subjective preference’ issue; it is a ‘command of Scripture’ issue. We KNOW what God's will is in this because He has TOLD us in His revelation. I don't, therefore, have to ‘reason back’ from anything. I simply accept what Scripture plainly (perspicuously) teaches me.”

    1.Notice how Armstrong blows past passages like 2 Thes 2:11-12.

    2.But even apart from Scripture, Armstrong is a Molinist. That commits him to the proposition that God wills sectarianism and denominationalism. After all, there are possible worlds without sects and denominations. Indeed, Armstrong’s opposition to sectarianism and denominationalism is predicated on the assumption that these are avoidable evils.

    Yet God chose to instantiate a world with sects and denominations. So he wills that state of affairs. He wills “error,” “falsehood,” “doctrinal contradiction,” and “doctrinal disunity.” That follows from Armstrong’s own theological commitments—the poor sop.

  2. “[Dave Armstrong] Nonsense. We observe the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. This is how disputes are settled. It is stated that it was protected from error by the Holy Spirit. There is no reason whatsoever to think that such councils were only intended to operate during the apostolic age.”

    Since Apostles like Peter and Paul were leading spokesmen at the Council of Jerusalem, there’s actually every reason to think that such councils were only intended to operate during the apostolic age.

    “Sadducees are never called Christians in Scripture.”

    I never said otherwise. Poor little Armstrong suffers from reading incomprehension. What I explicitly said was that “The Pharisees and Sadducees represent the Jewish equivalent of denominations.”

    And I pointed out that you had many other religious factions in 2nd Temple Judaism. No Pope to adjudicate disputes.

  3. James Morris:

    “Whatever happened to the Eternal Vereties [sic]? Are they DEPENDENT on socio-religious experience?”

    Armstrong didn’t appeal to the “eternal verities.” Rather, he appealed to culturally-conditioned phenomena like: “Calvin was quite embarrassed over it, as I have documented from his own letters.”

    So, yes, my experience is on a par with his. The argument from experience doesn’t play favorites.

  4. "[Dave Armstrong] The difference, however, is that most I know (including myself when I was Protestant) readily admit that it is an undesirable and scandalous state of affairs."

    Which is why Armstrong was ripe for conversion to Rome. His commitment to Evangelicalism was always rotten to the core.

  5. “And as for criticizing our man Dave on being a layment and not having a theology degree, should Justin Martyr have got a theology degree and been ordained before he defended Christianity to the Roman Emperor?”

    Well, it sure would have saved Christian theology from being burdened with Greek philosophy for one and half millenia!