Sunday, August 13, 2023

Stop Giving So Much Deference To Where People Are

It's often suggested that we shouldn't expect much more from people than what they're already doing. Don't expect people to think in much depth about certain issues, don't expect them to read much, don't expect them to improve their moral standards much, etc. I do a lot of work in apologetics. We're often told that we shouldn't expect much from the average person or the average Christian in that context. Supposedly, if people aren't doing more, then that proves that they can't do more, that it would be too difficult to get them to do more, or some such thing.

Where would the world be today if that kind of mindset had been adopted by the people who changed the world for the better in previous generations? Why did Jesus deliver the Sermon on the Mount? His standards were too high. He shouldn't have expected so much from people. "I am aware that your precepts in the so-called Gospel are so wonderful and so great, that I suspect no one can keep them", said Trypho, but that didn't keep Jesus and the early Christians from putting forward those precepts and transforming the world by them (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, 10). What about the major improvement in literacy that we've seen over the centuries? Too unrealistic. Nobody should have ever tried to accomplish it. We should have just been satisfied with lower literacy rates. After all, most people aren't cut out, wired, gifted, or whatever other language you want to use to handle something like literacy. So, we shouldn't even try. Or how about the recent major decline in poverty across the world? Don't even attempt it. It obviously won't ever happen. Don't even try. And while you're being so apathetic and lazy, add things like the advances we've seen in political freedom, technology, and medicine to the list. Those things won't ever happen either. Don't even attempt it.

Really, though, people are often capable of not just more than they're currently doing, but even much more. That's true in apologetics and in a lot of other contexts in life. There are many contexts in which we don't need to keep the bar where it is or lower it. We need to raise it, and we need to raise it a lot. The fact that people initially resist that raising of the bar doesn't prove that they're incapable of meeting the higher standard. Often, what it proves is that they're sinful and that we need to be vigilant and diligent in keeping the standard high.


  1. Jason, I like your website, although as a Catholic I of course don't agree with a good portion of it. Nevertheless, it's informative.

    There are some issues that I have read in the archives that don't seem to have been fleshed out, and they leave me with questions as to the positions taken. I'm trying to get an understanding of some of these things though. Up front, I'm not an apologist.

    I don't know if this is the proper place to post this; if not, just delete it. But one of the questions has to do with the interplay between the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and the concept of infant baptism.

    Here are my thoughts:

    Does the Holy Ghost guide the church of Jesus Christ? If so, in what manner?

    If the "church of Jesus Christ" is invisibly spread out over various denominations, that means the church of Jesus Christ contains members that believe in, and practice, infant baptism, at the same time as it contains members who do not believe in, and do not practice, infant baptism.

    But if there are Baptists who are members of the church of Jesus Christ at the same time as Lutherans who are members of the church of Jesus Christ, wouldn't that mean that the Holy Ghost guides one part of the church of Jesus Christ to believe in, and practice, infant baptism, at the same time He guides another portion of the church to believe and do the exact opposite?

    How is that possible?

    There are only a few options.

    1. The Holy Ghost guides the church of Jesus Christ.
    2. The Holy Ghost does not guide the church of Jesus Christ.

    Only one of those can be true.

    3. The Holy Ghost guides one part of the church of Jesus Christ to believe one thing and guides another part of the church to believe the exact opposite.
    4. The Holy Ghost does not do #3.

    Only one of those can be true.

    5. The church of Jesus Christ includes people who believe/practice infant baptism and people who do not believe/practice infant baptism.
    6. The church of Jesus Christ does not include both groups.

    Only one of those can be true.

    If 1 and 5 are true, then 3 is also true, isn't it?

    It is a demonstrable fact that Baptists and Lutherans do not agree on infant baptism. Therefore, if the Holy Ghost guides the church, and the church includes both Baptists and Lutherans, that means He guides one part of the church to believe one thing and guides another part to believe the exact opposite.

    Or I guess another option is that the Holy Ghost guides only part of the church, and whichever part is wrong regarding infant baptism is the portion He does not guide. But no one is able to authoritatively say which side is being guided and which side is in error, and the Bible is not sufficient to address the disagreement.

    Both groups use the same document (the Bible), and both groups believe in the same doctrine under discussion (Sola Scriptura), yet the two groups have opposite beliefs and practices regarding infant baptism.

    If the Holy Ghost guides the church of Jesus Christ, how can that possibly be?

    And how does one square the idea that the church of Jesus Christ internally contradicts itself regarding infant baptism with Sacred Scripture's statement that that very same church is the "pillar and ground of the truth"? 1 Timothy 3:15, KJV.

    If a Buddhist wants to convert to Christianity, and he is in a room with members of the church of Jesus Christ, and some of those members are Baptists and some of them are Lutherans, and the Buddhist says, "I have an infant; do I baptize him when I convert to Christianity," what is the Holy-Ghost-guided answer from the church?

    Personally, I don't understand how that is plausible to people, but I'm assuming there is some kind of answer somewhere. Can you address?

    God bless you. Slava Isusu Christu.

    1. Just a brief (due to personal time constraints) and friendly pushback:

      Why assume the Holy Spirit guides the church in the way you mean?

      Typically, Jn 16:13 is the biblical locus classicus for Catholics regarding the Holy Spirit's guidance of the church into truth. Yet why assume this promise is to the universal church rather than (say) the apostles present at the time?

      Further, why assume apostolic succession is what Jesus had in view here?

      And even if the promise is to the universal church via apostolic succession, why assume this is referring to the Catholic church as it is today?

    2. DJR,

      Thanks for the encouragement regarding the site.

      We generally don't allow posts that change the topic, since bringing up another topic is disorderly, makes it more difficult for people to find on-topic material when they're looking for it, etc. For example, if you're looking for information on a topic, and a thread about that topic has 15 responses, but only 3 of those are on topic, it's a waste of people's time to have to sift through 15 posts to find the 3 that are relevant. If you want to comment on something that's off topic, you can look for an on-topic thread to post in (even if your post has to go into moderation because of how old the thread is) or look for contact information for the person you want to contact (an email address, a Facebook account, etc.).

      Regarding the topic you brought up, one of the recommendations I make to people considering issues related to the disputes between Catholics and Protestants is to begin by applying their objections to their own belief system. If you're a Catholic who has objection X to Protestantism, what happens if objection X is raised against Catholicism? Just as Protestants disagree on some issues, like infant baptism, so do Catholics (how to interpret various passages of scripture, how often papal infallibility has been exercised, which sins are mortal, the death penalty, whether Mary died, etc.). If you think it's acceptable for the Holy Spirit to guide Catholics on some issues without guiding them on everything, you shouldn't be objecting to a Protestant belief that the Holy Spirit guides them on some issues, but not everything. If you think it's acceptable for the Catholic rule of faith to address a subject (e.g., the existence of mortal sin and its general parameters) without clarifying every related subject involved (e.g., further details about which sins are mortal), you should consider it acceptable for the Protestant rule of faith to do the same. There are other issues involved here as well, like what it means to be guided by the Spirit and how different forms of guidance can occur in different contexts. If you're assuming that guidance of the Holy Spirit would have to be manifested in a form like an ecclesiastical statement of faith or creed, so that the Spirit's guidance of the church in Protestantism would have to take that form, you would need to justify that assumption.

      We've said a lot over the years about passages like John 16:13 and 1 Timothy 3:15. If you're interested, you can search our archives for those posts. I've collected some of our posts on Reformation issues here, where they're listed in alphabetical order according to topic, but there are a lot of other relevant posts not linked there.

  2. Jason, thank you for the reply. I will look through the old topics and ask in the relevant threads. Slava Na Viki!