Thursday, December 20, 2018

Licking Jesus

Here's a sequel to my prior post: 

In addition to his written response to Ben Shapiro's interview with JMac, Trent Horn also did a podcast, which covers more ground:

Trent Horn is a Catholic apologist and convert to Catholicism. I don't normally listen to his podcast. But in this podcast, the way he frames the differences between Catholicism and evangelicalism, and draws some points of contrast between them, makes it a useful foil. 

1. In contrast to sola fide, Horn says grace is infused like a spiritual hypodermic needle. God's very life is injected into our souls.

i) The comparison is misleading. In Protestant theology, grace has a transformative aspect. God renews Christians. But that's sanctification and glorification rather than justification, which is categorically different.

ii) Moreover, God doesn't renew us by injecting his own life into our souls. Divine nature and human nature are different. God restores human nature. It's not a transfusion of extraterrestrial DNA, making us hybrids. 

2. Horn takes a swipe at limited atonement. But what's the value of unlimited atonement? If Jesus died for everyone, but some of the redeemed wind up in hell, then what difference does it make?

3. Horn takes issue with JMac's characterization of Catholic sacramentalism as cold, impersonal, transactional, mechanical, impersonal. Horn says "I believe the most personal relationship I have with God is when I receive him on my tongue in the sacrament of the eucharist."

For Horn, Jesus is a popsicle. Licking Jesus is how we get close to God. 

Isn't there something downright kinky about that? If a grown man told you that licking another grown man is how he forms a friendship with another man, isn't that homoerotic? Wouldn't you keep your distance from a guy like that? 

I'm sure Horn is a regular guy. But bad theology makes some men say and do things no self-respecting man would normally be caught dead saying and doing. 

4. Horn cites a statement of Cyprian about the salutary medicine of confessing to priests. Of course, Cyprian was a bishop, so it's not surprising that a bishop promotes priestcraft. 

5. Because JMac rejects infant baptism, Horn defends Catholic baptism. Here's one argument he deploys: the new covenant is superior to old covenant. If Jews asked how bring their kids into new covenant, and you tell them they can't be baptized until they reach the age of reason, the new covenant is not superior anymore. Now you've left out children who were a part of God's covenant before. 

But his argument is fallacious on multiple grounds:

i) Among Presbyterians, baptism doesn't induct a child into the covenant. Rather, unbaptized children are deemed to be members of the covenant by virtue of God's promise to their Christian parents. Hence, they are entitled to the sign of the covenant.

ii) Jewish kids were members of a lesser covenant. Membership in the Mosaic covenant didn't automatically confer salvation. Membership in a lesser covenant doesn't imply that nonmembership in a greater covenant makes that covenant inferior. What makes it superior or inferior is what it confers. Membership in the Mosaic covenant confers a lesser benefit. 

To take a comparison, suppose citizenship in Iran or North Korean is a birthright. By contrast, an immigrant to the USA must apply for citizenship. Does that make US citizenship inferior? Even if US citizenship wasn't a birthright, it would still confer a greater benefit than Iranian or N. Korean citizenship. 

iii) There's also the question of what membership in the new covenant means. Does that refer to membership in the new covenant community? Or does that refer to salvation in the new covenant? 

6. Here's another argument he deploys: Given baptismal regeneration/justification, Baptists deny a child God's grace in baptism. That's sets him up for the possibility that he'll reject God's offer of salvation later on, since he never had the benefit of baptismal grace from the get-go. If you want to get lax believers or nonbelievers, don't baptize them. 

But that argument is only as good as the case for baptismal regeneration/justification. If you reject that premise, then unbaptized kids don't miss out. So there's nothing to lose by waiting.

7. Apropos (6), Horn says he's unhappy that as Baptist kid, he missed out on 17 years of grace in his life that could have helped him make a lot better decisions in his teenage years. 

But is there any statistical evidence that Catholic teenagers are wiser in their decision-making than their evangelical counterparts? And even if (ex hypothesi) they were, is there any evidence that that's attributable to infant baptism rather than other factors (e.g. catechesis, church attendance)? 

8. Horn says that if infant baptism leads to lax believers, that applies to Lutherans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians as well as Catholics. He seems to use that as a wedge tactic, but I doubt JMac would object to that comparison. Surely JMac is critical of infant baptism whether in Catholicism or Protestantism.

In addition, are there any comparative statics on the retention/defection rate among young people who grow up in Catholic or paedobaptist churches compared to young people who grow up in credo-baptist churches? Is there an appreciable difference? 

9. Horn says Protestants can also be guilty of reducing salvation to an impersonal transaction, viz. the altar call, sinner's prayer. 

That's a valid comparison, but it's not as if the Protestant movement is a package deal. Catholic apologists are the first to stress Protestant diversity. So the fact that some Protestant traditions have functionally equivalent customs that parallel defective Catholic theology is not a knock against Protestant theology in general. 

10. Horn objects to what he takes to be JMac's claim that infant baptism is a Constantinian innovation. I don't know if JMac intended to claim that.

i) I myself incline to infant baptism for sociological reasons. However, let's consider a credo-baptist argument. Infant baptism developed when a doctrine of original sin combined with a doctrine of baptismal regeneration. On this view, humans are born in sin. As such, humans are born hellbound. Baptism removes the guilt of original sin. Unbaptized babies who die are damned. Therefore, infant baptism arose as a precautionary measure. For instance:

That historical reconstruction may or may not be correct, but it's quite plausible. Certainly that's the motivation for infant baptism in traditional Catholic theology. So either infant baptism follows theology or theology follows infant baptism. Either infant baptism came first, then a theological backstory evolved to justify the status quo, or else the theological evolution of original sin and baptismal regeneration combined to produce infant baptism. It's possible that infant baptism represents the practice of the NT church, but at a later date, Catholicism reframed the rationale.  

ii) I'd add that there's an asymmetry between Catholicism and Protestantism in this regard. If infant baptism is false, then Catholicism is false. But whichever position (credobaptism/paedobaptism) is true or false won't falsify the Protestant faith in general. At best, it would only falsify the practice of paedobaptist denominations.

Since, moreover, Protestant theology rejects the infallibility of the church, the fact that some Protestant denominations may be wrong about baptism doesn't even falsify their theology in general. They could be right about everything else, or most other things.

Since, by contrast, Rome affirms the infallibility of the church, and reserves that for itself, it can't afford to be wrong about infant baptism, inasmuch as that's a Catholic essential. It has no give. The fact that the Protestant faith is more flexible makes it much less susceptible to falsification. 

11. Horn said that if Cyprian, Ignatius, and the Didache are wrong, then we have a real problem here. Was this early apostolic church corrupted too? Did we ever have an authentic Christian church?

i) But that's a false dichotomy. If the church is fallible, then pockets of theological corruption are inevitable. A degree of theological corruption is only incompatible with an authentic church if the true church is supposed to be infallible. 

ii) However, seminal errors can expand and evolve to a point of no return, where a denomination becomes terminally corrupt. There was a time, early on, when correction was possible, but there comes a turning-point where the death spiral is irreversible. 


  1. "Horn takes a swipe at limited atonement. But what's the value of unlimited atonement? If Jesus died for everyone, but some of the redeemed wind up in hell, then what difference does it make?"

    Here is a significant difference that informs your objection Steve: to put it in formal philosophical terms, non-Calvinist conceptions of the Atonement typically construe it as a necessary, but not sufficient condition for a person's salvation, whereas Calvinists construe it as necessary and sufficient. Thus the non-Calvinist might simply reply "What difference does it make? It's a necessary condition to anybody being saved."

    1. It makes a difference for those who are saved but no difference for those who are damned.