Monday, January 15, 2018

Catholic tropes

I was reading a critic of a recent book on Roman Catholicism. He recycled standard Catholic tropes. 

I think the problem mostly exists and subsists in the more individualist...forms of Protestantism to be frank.

i) Individualism is neutral. Individualism isn't inherently good or bad. Depends on the example. For instance, I remember reading an anecdote by David Marshall, a Christian apologist. He was teaching Chinese students English when the issue of a potential war between China and some other country came up. The students automatically sided with China. Marshall then asked, "What if China is wrong?"

It never occurred to his students to question the wisdom of their government officials. If China went to war, then China must be right. 

Yet that kind of unquestioning groupthink is dangerous. It gets you killed. Sometimes individualism is a good thing. Sometimes it's important to question orders.

Take someone born into a Protestant denomination. Catholic apologists think they should convert to Rome. But it takes an individualistic mindset to question your religious upbringing. 

It is not proper for Christians to be able to say mutually conflicting concepts (i.e. whether or not infants should be baptised and whether or not baptism is salvific or not) be allowed to "agree to disagree". Christians cannot say X is Christian and also Y is Christian when Y is contradictory, not supplementary, to X.

Even if that's improper, Catholicism is just one more opinion. You still have two sides on these issues. Catholicism lines up behind one side. Catholicism doesn't eliminate conflicting opinions. Rather, it represents one side of the conflict. 

A Catholic apologist will say that's different! Catholicism is on the right side!

But everyone says their side is the right side to be on. 

A Catholic apologist will say that if we just agreed with Rome, we wouldn't have these conflicts. Of course, that's true in the circular, tautological sense that if everyone takes the same side, then there won't be any conflict. But that doesn't tell you which side you should take.

And if you side with Rome, you're still part of the same competitive dynamic. You just picked the Catholic team to root for.  

But is it true that the Church is infallible? Yes. One cannot state that the Church purports to tell the Truth when the authenticity of the Church is in question. This is why a staunchly "inclusivist" ecumenism is outright utter heresy to be repudiated, not celebrated. For this strongly contends the image that there is a divided body of Christians. So in as much as the Church purports to tell the Truth, I do not see any way someone can be claiming the name of Christ while coming up short of the glorious image that the Church is his Body on Earth which he has instituted to speak the Truth to the nations. Does it do it imperfectly? Yes. Jesus is one body, he is not a severed body nor a body with two heads, two arms, and two legs which contradict each other.

i) This illustrates the blinding power of a selective metaphor. But one question we have to ask is what the metaphor is intended to illustrate. 

In addition, Scripture uses multiple metaphors for the church. Take the metaphor of the vine (Jn 10). But in that metaphor, branches can be severed from the vine. It's a pruning process. That's what the metaphor is all about.

Or take the metaphor of the flock (Jn 10; 21:15-17; Acts 2:28-29). But in that metaphor, individual sheep are separable from the flock or the shepherd. Some sheep stray. Some sheep are picked off by wolves. 

Moreover, sheep are notoriously wayward. So two or more sheep might go in opposite directions. 

Or take the image of Jesus removing lamps from churches (Rev 1-3). 

ii) But suppose we stay with the body metaphor. Even if that's a "glorious image" of the church, that doesn't mean Rome matches the image. You can't just take a theological metaphor for the church, then assume that it must correspond to Rome. 

Catholics don't begin with theological metaphors as their standard of comparison, then ask if Rome matches up. Rather, they begin with Rome as their standard of comparison, then adjust the metaphors to apply to Rome. They trim the metaphor as necessary to make it fit over their own denomination.  


  1. Steve, do you care to mention the name of the book? I'm curious!

    1. Kenneth Collins & Jerry Walls, Roman but Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years after the Reformation.

      I was responding to a "high Anglican" commenter on Ben Witherington's blog.

  2. Ah yes. Thanks Steve. I just noticed a YouTube vid between WLC and Catholic Robert Barron. Any plans to talk about that one?