Protestant Angelina, Catholic Angelina

Jun 5th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Among the intensely interesting dynamics of the Christian life as envisioned by Reformed theology is that it can easily, and with perfect theological consistency, tip towards either presumption or despair. On the one hand, salvation according to the Reformed is supposed to be a graceful, no-danger of being disinherited, sort of thing. On the other hand, if one is “really saved,” in the graceful, no-danger of being disinherited sense, then one will inevitably experience progressive sanctification, which includes good works.

With this in mind, I am intrigued by JJS’s suggestion that the Gospel according to Geneva is more gracious than the Gospel according to Rome:

The reason why the Reformed believe their gospel is better than Rome’s (other than our belief that it is biblical and therefore wins automatically), is that our understanding of the relation between works and faith (as well as our understanding of faith itself) preserves the graciousness of grace better than other formulations do. If, for example, faith is something I can exercise from my own fallen nature, then faith is no different from a work, and I’m at best a semi-Pelagian. Or, if I can be adopted into God’s family but then disinherited, I am being treated worse than Angelina Jolie treats the twenty-three kids she’s adopted….

Do we have all the answers? Of course not. But we feel that our soteriology answers more questions than not, and it preserves the graciousness of salvation (which we believe Catholicism undermines).

There is much to consider here. What I want to do is to test the relative graciousness of Geneva and Rome by way of extending the Angelina Jolie illustration.

First, let us imagine a scenario in the family of Protestant Angelina, in which one of her adopted children, who has become enmeshed in transgressions, is trying to work out how her sinful behavior affects her relationship to her mother:

Child: I feel really bad about it, but I am strongly attracted to many of things that you say are bad for me, and in fact I have disobeyed you on many occasions. Am I still your child?

Angelina: Every child of mine is a forever child of mine. I adopt my children unconditionally, and I will never throw them out of my home. However, all of my real children are good children. So I expect you to be a good child–I will have no other.

Child: But, Mother, I have not been a good child.

Angelina: Well, if that is true, then you may not really be my child, after all.

Child: Oh no! What can I do?

Angelina: There is nothing you can do. Being my child is a gracious gift. This gift includes your inevitable progress in doing good.

At this point, the distressed and transgressing child might conclude one of two things:

(1) I am really a child of Angelina, and the transgressions for which I am so sorry, into which I have fallen so often, are simply part of the experience of my childhood. I don’t like it, and I will try to do better, but as Mother says, its all a matter of her gift. I might simply have to learn to live with things as they are.

(2) I am not really a child of Angelina. Although I currently live in her house, I am not among those whom she will not cast out, precisely because I do not behave as she says her (true) children inevitably will behave. And there is nothing I can do about it. If I start trying to “do something,” Mother will say that I have fallen from grace.

It should be obvious what are the deficiencies of Reformed Angelina. Reformed Angelina will not cast out her true children, but neither will she let them off from obedience. If they disobey, they run up against the possibility that they may not be true Jolies. And if they are not true Jolies, as indicated by their disobedience, well, tough luck. Protestant Angelina does not promise (for sure) any genuine, family life by way of sacraments (baths and meals and so forth), and she certainly does not countenance sacramental confession. No tit-for-tat wrangling in this family, “children”! Protestant Angelina will not be placated by your penance, and though she might give you all baths and food, you will not all be washed and fed. But rest assured, she will never cast you out–if you are really hers, and behave like it.

Catholic Angelina, on the other hand, is quite different. Her household is not like that of the Reformed Angelina. If one of Catholic Angelina’s children goes astray, neither Angelina nor her child are bound by rules of inevitable obedience and unconditional salvation, or precepts about how those who are really in will always stay in, and really be good, and so forth. No. Catholic Angelina will have none of that. Rather, she says: “as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” and, “If you confess your sins, I will forgive you your sins, and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” No lectures about all her children inevitably being good children. No questions about whether I pass the test of being good enough to consider myself a true Jolie. Just a Mother, to lovingly restore her penitent children to righteousness.

Protestant Angelina makes some swell promises. The way she describes her household sounds pretty good, on paper. But in real life, which is where we all live, the house of Catholic Angelina is far more gracious. At least, so it seems to this sinner.

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  1. As once-Reformed, now-Catholic, I think I might extend the picture by saying that, if I have born into Angelina’s household (by baptism), then, indeed, I can never stop being Angelina’s child – and if I run away from home, Angelina tries every way she can to help me come home – but she will not drag me, kicking and screaming, and lock me in my bedroom.

    That said, I am still not that keen on Angelina :-)

    jj

  2. Well said. Baptism leaves an indelible mark, objectively configures the soul in a new way, with new capacities. One can never stop being baptized, and the new nature is forever bestowed, even if there is little or no growth, even if the child, in the end, forsakes his home. This, the objective new birth of baptism, is why Catholic Angelina can make a direct and unconditional promise of reconciliation to the wayward child who turns to her for comfort and forgiveness, receiving the sinful child as unequivocally her child, in the bliss of reconciliation.

  3. Hey, Andrew.

    Here’s another (complementary) way of thinking about this matter, returning to Jason S’s remarks about the amount of grace on display within reformed as opposed to Catholic theology. As you know, if the Catholic is so inclined, he’s perfectly well allowed to believe that there is such a thing as the grace of final perseverance and that this grace is bestowed upon the elect. It’s true that the class of elect persons is a smaller set than (a proper subset of) the class of persons who have at any time received the grace of justification. Hence the concern about “being kicked out of the house.” Reformed thinkers can avoid such instances of out-kicking since they identify the class of elect persons with the class of persons who have at any time been justified. But notice that this does not make the class of elect persons any larger or smaller, nor does it entail that they’re treated any differently, or what have you. Rather, the difference is that for Catholics (Lutherans, many Anglicans, …) God “lets more people into the family” than the number of people who “stay there.” This in mind, what makes it proper to infer that God is more gracious according to reformed thought than He is according to the Catholic Church? (or Lutherans, or…)

    To be sure, there remains the reformed idea that Christians can have some sort of certainty in the present concerning their elect status. This is an epistemic claim, not a metaphysical point about the impossibility of losing justification. Still, it’s seen by many as an important “selling point” of reformed thought. I myself think it is fraught with insurmountable problems, and that on closer scrutiny we find once more that this alleged pro of reformed theology dissapates. Fr Kimel touched upon that in a recent comment, recommending an article by P. Carey (well worth the read), and your own most recent comment is fully in line with what he said. (See also my “Persevering Most Assuredly” post from way back, for fuller discussion.) I think it is very important and quite useful to get past the advertising and think through these issues a bit more soberly, and (especially in this connection) to keep one eye on the practical outworkings of these systems in the lives of believers through history, and I thank you for contributing to that project.

    Neal

  4. Baptism leaves an indelible mark, objectively configures the soul in a new way, with new capacities. One can never stop being baptized, and the new nature is forever bestowed, even if there is little or no growth, even if the child, in the end, forsakes his home.

    Of course the image could get a little gruesome, if you considered all those in mortal sin to be dead bodies lying around the place … :-)

    jj

  5. Neal,

    The question of final perseverance is a deep one. For me, swimming in different waters, the most compelling facet of soteriology is the nature of eternal life. What is this most precious gift? This goes to Fr. Kimel’s point about participation, in the thread on faith and charity. Maybe this accounts for why I am more keen on the subject of *being in the family* than *what happens at the end,* which could be read as having a very realized eschatology. I tend to think of assurance more in terms of right now, not down the line.

    Hastily written, but with the best of intentions,

    Andrew

  6. John (#4), Or moving about like inferi. (1 John 2:11 and 3:14b-15) More realistically, a Christian in a state of mortal sin is not a corpse, or a zombie, although he “abides in death.” He is more like something else, which I don’t have the imagination to describe right now. Okay, he is maybe like a fish out of water–on purpose. That’s bound to end badly, but he still has gills and stuff, is still designed to live underwater.

  7. Neal,

    This time with less haste, but still the good intentions: Just perused your Assurance post. Well worth while, throughout. The bit at the end particularly caught my eye. One thing that is easy for Catholics is to become so centered upon Confession and Eucharist, as is natural given the regular recourse we have (or ought to have) to these, that the fact and meaning of our Baptism slips away from view, whenever we think about assurance, as in where it is we meet God in his objective grace for today. That should not be. Thanks for alluding to your post, and the Cary article. Although I made more explicit mention of Confession in this post, Baptism is really what was driving things along. Baptism is what makes it even possible to confess our sins and receive absolution, and to partake of the Body and Blood unto our souls’ health and salvation.

    I have also been thinking about this, this bed-rock in the family, child of God, sacramental principle, in relation to 1 John Chapter 3. There, it almost seems as if Christians, by definition, cannot commit sin. Thus the famously challenging (especially in light of 1:8-10) 3:9-10:

    No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God. By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.

    At first blush, this might seem to undermine the “really in the family” thesis I was pursuing re the wayward children of Catholic Angelina. Notice, however, that John appears to be contrasting not only two kinds of behavior, but two different positions on what kind of behavior flows from the divine nature. I don’t have a commentary handy, but it is conceivable that John’s language in Chapter 3 is so strikingly different from, and apparently contrary to, his language in Chapter 1 because in the latter chapter he is concerned to contradict the perverse teaching of his enemies concerning the divine nature (and how this is manifested in the children of God), while in the former chapter John is concerned to speak to the actual experience of his Christian readers. Sin does not pertain to the divine nature, nor to the divine seed, nor to those who are born of God, insofar as they are abiding in God (notice the parallelism between “God’s nature abides in him” and “he is born of God” in 3:9). This does not mean, however, that Christians cannot sin (1:8-10), only that their sins do not manifest God’s nature. Thus, although Christians can and do sin, the one who sins, insofar as he sins, is not of God, since his sin does not manifest the divine nature.

    Well, I am starting repeat myself, and have followed this rabbit-trail long enough for tonight. Peace, on this Feast of Corpus Christi.

  8. If you believe that you are one of the elect, then clearly Reformed Angelina is far more gracious.

    If you suspect that you are not one of the elect, then Catholic Angelina is far more gracious.

    The interesting thing is that I’ve never heard someone who adheres to Reformed Theology ever make the argument that (a) Reformed theology is right and (b) they are not one of the elect. There is just this odd synchronicity that adherents to Reformed theology all just happen to be elect, which I guess they would argue is one of the signs of being the elect.

  9. Dear Peter,

    If you believe that you are one of the elect, then clearly Reformed Angelina is far more gracious. If you suspect that you are not one of the elect, then Catholic Angelina is far more gracious.

    Why? I don’t see it.

    If you believe, incorrectly, that you’re one of the elect, it follows from Reformed principles that you’ve never at any time been justified, and it’s far from clear why Reformed Angelina has been more gracious toward you than she has toward elect or nonelect Catholic persons. If you believe, correctly, that you’re one of the elect, then you’re in the same position as the Catholic guy who’s also one of the elect, having received quite as much Angelinish grace.

    Is the idea that if you accept Reformed theology, this theoretical endorsement allows you to achieve certainty concerning your own elect status, and that this itself entails that Reformed Angelina has given you more grace than she has to the guy whose endorsement of Catholic theology debars him from affirming that he has achieved such certainty (prescinding from the possibility of special, private revelation to him)? But that can’t be right. Merely endorsing Reformed theology, merely accepting the thesis of the perseverance of the saints, has no tendency to suggest that one is oneself to be numbered among the persevering saints/elect. That is a separate question; a person can’t infer from “I believe in ‘Once Saved Always Saved” to “I myself am and will always remain saved.” A good number of Reformed and Puritan thinkers have really struggled with precisely this — what are the marks by which I can assure myself, or know with certainty, as my theology tells me I’m supposed to, that I myself am numbered among the elect?” People like this can reasonably be described as suspecting that they may not actually be elect; yet few of them would see (I suppose) Catholic Angelina as more gracious for all that.

    One way to think of it is this. A Catholic person (or a Lutheran) may trust in God for their salvation and take comfort in the nonconditional “I Baptize You” and so forth, but may not think that there are any introspective signs, or evidences based on their behavior, that would allow them to conclude that they couldn’t ever fall away, etc. A Reformed person may trust in God and take comfort in the fact that they really do, as it seems to them, believe in the Gospel and act accordingly (for the most part) and so forth, but they may worry that they could be among those who (appear to?) receive the Word gladly and begin to bear fruit, only later to dry up. This “going out from” the fold would just go to prove that such a person was “never really” one of the fold in the first place, according to this position. But stuff like this has been known to happen, right? So in the first case we have the possibility of falling away on the back end, and in the second case we have the possibility of someone never really having gotten on at the front, never really having been justified, but only fooling himself and others (by means of internal and external evidences, perhaps) into thinking that he really is justified. Endorsement of particular theologies aside, this latter possibility helps to disentangle the theoretical acceptance of the perseverance of the saints from the assurance-of-election of the person who may happen to believe in it. My suggestion is that Reformed theology has very little to offer with respect to this individual assurance-of-election question, and certainly nothing more than Catholicism has to say about it.

    Best,

    Neal

  10. Peter,

    My Aunt, who is one of the main catechists at her PCA community used to become agitated when, as a Protestant, I would conclude that I, in no way, felt comfortable stating that I was 100% positive that I was a lock in heaven, i.e. “elect”. Though the brand of fundamental theology I was taught essentially forced me to believe this (lest it prove that I had no faith in Our Lord’s forgiveness through His redemptive act), I could never bring myself to actually say it. She made it clear to me that failure to do so threatened my eternal salvation because only a person who is not one of the elect cannot affirm that they are.

    I realized that, only if I openly announced that I was definitely “saved” (i.e. “going to heaven”; “elect”), that her angst would be relieved and I would once again be brought back into the family “circle of trust”, that is, the true Christians in the family.

    Though I felt dirty affirming something that seemed pure vanity and/or presumption to me, I nevertheless did it to please my family and eliminate the “concern for Joe’s soul” family Congresses that were taking place behind my back.

    Which brings me to another facet of Calvinistic teaching that seemed to be exposed in all of that mess. When brought back into the “circle of trust”, I got the skinny on all of the family members, politicians, and other people who were destine for hell or were probably already there. Like it or not, the system of the presumably elect naturally creates a culture of “final judgment”, where those who consider themselves to be elect fall to the natural temptation (inevitable) to presume to have insight into the eternal fate of others. And why not? If one is assured of their place in Heaven even in their current sinful state (sins have been forgiven past, present, and future for them, the presumably elect), then they, even considering themselves the worst of the elect, have to logically accept themselves as setting a “salvation” bar, so to speak. It is completely natural, under this system, to question the salvation (ticket to Heaven) of anyone who doesn’t quite appear as faithful as themselves.

    Now, I’ll be accused of misrepresentation and oversimplification, but these were my honest experiences and observations.

    Of course I was truly bound for hell when it was discovered that I was committing the gravest act of apostacy by seeking communion with the Church, but after much charitable discussion with my family, they have come to believe that even some Catholics may make it to Heaven. Though it still grates on their nerves when they ask me if I think I’m “saved” (i.e. bearer of the golden ticket) and I answer “I believe in every promise Christ God has made… and I sincerely hope that by His grace I may persevere until the end, loving as He commands me to love”.

  11. I remember, in 1984 – 10 and more years before I became a Catholic – discussing assurance of salvation with my pastor and some others and concluding that it was impossible (short of a private revelation, which I knew nothing about at the time).

    The Reformed view is that I am saved by faith. But it was also clear that – in practice – we knew of some who said they believed, but who, either then by their lives, or later by their falling away, we concluded had not had real faith.

    But then how, I asked, could I be certain that I was not self-deceived – that, in fact, what I thought was my faith was not, in fact, my own wishful thinking? “The heart,” I said, “is desperately wicked; who can know it?”

    So I concluded then that certainty of salvation was impossible.

    jj

  12. Joe and John,

    Yes, I’ve had similar experiences. One of my and my wife’s closest friends decided that they could no longer have fellowship with me and have ceased speaking with me since we annouced our intention to enter into the Church. From what I can tell, they (our erstwhile very close friends) have refrained from judging us to be non-Christians — who knows? we may later come to our senses and return to Reformed theology — but the idea is that if we continue on in the path we have chosen, this is enough to show that we fooled ourselves and our closest friends for more than a decade: we never really were Christians at all.

    This causes zero problems for Reformed Christians, since any such case can be interpreted along these lines: despite appearances, we never really were Christians; it’s not the case that we were really Christians at some point and then later fell away from the faith. Okay, that’s what their theology tells them to say. The epistemological/assurance cash-value difference between such an analysis and the view that we just lost our faith and became apostate is however pretty hard to specify, since we evidently ended up fooling ourselves quite as well as we fooled them.

    Neal

  13. The epistemological error of trying to derive a relational truth (“I am decretally elect”) either from general truths (i.e. Scripture) or from underdetermining pieces of internal evidence (“I presently believe”) helps explain why the Council of Trent teaches that, without some special private revelation, claiming to be predestined is presumptuous:

    No one, moreover, so long as he lives this mortal life, ought in regard to the sacred mystery of divine predestination, so far presume as to state with absolute certainty that he is among the number of the predestined, as if it were true that the one justified either cannot sin any more, or, if he does sin, that he ought to promise himself an assured repentance. For except by special revelation, it cannot be known whom God has chosen to Himself. (Council of Trent, Session VI, Chapter 12)

    Of course Reformed Christians think that by this teaching the Catholic Church is attempting to take something away (i.e. assurance) from believers that Christ wants us all to have. But as you’ve been pointing out, Reformed believers do not have and cannot have the type of [decretally elect] assurance they think they have. So the Catholic teaching on presumption isn’t taking anything away; it is protecting us from going beyond what we can know in this life, and thus from the foolish choices we might make (and their eternal consequences) under the presumption that we are predestined.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  14. Nicely put, Bryan. And much more compactly than my previous ramblings.

    It is easy to slide back and forth between related but distinct topics, especially when you’re not accustomed to carefully distinguishing between closely allied things. This happens frequently in many connections, as you know (just think of the remarks one sometimes hears while teaching lower level philosophy classes), but I’ve seen it occur in this connection more than once. One very nice person I know, a lady who was born into a ‘nominally Catholic’ home and became a Baptist in her late teens or early 20s, explained her choice by saying that the Baptist thesis of eternal security (or “once saved, always saved”) was what really clinched it for, because it “gave her an assurance of her own salvation” which she didn’t possess as a Catholic. Similarly, to say, “According to view X, a person can have more assurance of their salvation than they can have according to view Y,” does not allow us to conclude that people who accept view X automatically get the (superior) assurance of salvation X promises them they can have.

    It’s a pretty obvious blunder when it’s thought through for a second, and I think my friend would be able to see this on inspection; but, like Buttercup said to Wesley about the “I Dos” in her wedding to Humperdink, she sort of skipped that part.

  15. Neal (et al),

    One danger is evaluating the truth of competing conceptions of the gospel [“good news”] by how ‘good’ each appears to us. By this method, the more ‘freeing’ and antinomian and assuring a particular version of the gospel (or its sales-pitch), the more it must be true (all other things being equal), because then it is ‘better’ news, and the gospel [εὐαγγέλιον] is by definition “good news.” That’s another form of ecclesial consumerism, which is a kind of rationalism, picking the doctrine that seems better to us, rather than accepting what has been divinely given and divinely defined. Namaan has to dip in the muddy Jordan by divine prescription, whereas he would rather have washed in a cleaner river in his homeland.

    Regarding this assurance issue, about a week and half ago, Wes White (PCA) had a [recorded] phone conversation with Steve Wilkins (CREC), in which they discuss (among other things) whether we can know we are [decretally] elect. Steve argues that this term ‘elect’ in Scripture doesn’t necessarily mean decretally elect. It is a rather fascinating discussion. You can listen to it here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. Bryan,

    Thanks, I’ll listen to it when I get the chance. I’m aware that ‘elect’ can simply designate those who are (objectively) covenant members by virtue of their baptism, and that this doesn’t entail their being decretally elect (according to some FV proponents). I hadn’t heard any of them deploy this distinction to suggest that our knowledge of our own ‘election’ might be confined to ‘election’ in the first sense (which it sounds like Wilkins might be suggesting from your blurb). It would be interesting to hear his remarks on this.

    Neal

  17. Greetings,

    I haven’t had time to read all the comments, so apologies if I’m missing something.

    Just in reference to the post: as a Reformed Christian, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard what you present as the counsel given in the Reformed church. Stating it another way, I think you have to draw a distinction between what one says in formulating theology in a systematic, bird’s-eye-view way and what you might say pastorally, on the ground. “Be good since that’s what my REAL children do,” is not exactly the Reformed model of pastoral care, as I understand it doctrinally and practically. Calvin’s dictum that has become a near cliche, “Faith alone justifies, but faith is never alone,” is encouraging in many ways (and, note also, NOT what was represented in the post), but there are also other ways to say it to a faltering Christian. “If you confess your sins, I will forgive you your sins, and cleanse you from all unrighteousness,” is a good one for us since, you may remember, we Reformed do still believe the Bible. Giving a lecture on the metaphysics of the regenerate and non-regenerate is not always appropriate. What’s more, if someone doubts his standing with regard to God, a Reformed minister would be in contradiction of the basic principles of the Reformation if he didn’t say, “Repent and believe and thereby know that you are his. You have every promise from the Lord that this is what he calls you to and that upon that believing you are justified.” Additionally, he can tell the doubting person that John and Paul tell us to examine ourselves for fruit of that change, fruit which they then outline: love to God and brother, obedience to the Law in terms of love, etc.

    What I’m getting at is that this implied duality you’re seeing between presumption and despair is actually the result of a very misshapen notion of what the Reformation theology and practice are (and I do know of the authors’ extensive acquaintance with the Reformed tradition). If you take us in our worst examples, say, an overly speculative New England Puritan or a chest beating London Calvinistic Baptist too sorrowful over sin and his unknown election to simply look up to his savior and cry for mercy, you’re taking our black eyes and not our internally consistent best examples. Charitable argument demands that you take the latter. Charity binds me not to critique Roman soteriology based on its worst examples, too. That’s one of the laudable things about what I read as a basic intention of this website.

  18. Bryan (re #15),

    No doubt. I think that any Reformed Christian would say as much when confronted with some of the more (seemingly) unpleasant aspects of their theological system. However, when the “Good News” according to x seems, somehow, to fall short of the extraordinary goods promised, and in various ways described, in Sacred Scripture (Psalm 23 comes to mind), then there is a problem, somewhere, for someone.

    When addressing this problem, it is important to correctly understand the terms involved, so to discover instances in which someone is looking for something that is not good, or looking for one kind of good, while God is actually promising another kind of good. But if the good which God actually promises in Christ Jesus is greater than any other good, this good will, in reality, satisfy our desire for good more deeply than anything else. In this case, we should not demure from showing how it is that the actual Good News is more desirable than some false or inadequate presentation thereof.

  19. Josh,

    Thanks for the comment. These sorts of objections to my presentation of Protestant Angelina occurred to me as I was writing the post. Here is why I wrote it anyway, and why I framed things the way I did:

    (1) Concerning the distinction between pastoral practice and confessional belief: I acknowledge the fact that no good pastor, in any faith community, is going to counsel a distressed parishioner by simply quoting their confessional standards. However, the pastor presumably believes what those standards teach. Therefore, in response to the question, “Am I still your child?” (i.e., a born-again Christian), a Reformed pastor should answer in conformity with the Reformed standards, even if he does not simply quote them.

    (2) Concerning the encouraging aspects of the Calvinist construal of faith and works: I agree that there are some. If I have genuine faith, then I can expect that I will find myself being sanctified. And that can be encouraging, for one who is sure that he has genuine faith. But you can’t escape the logic of this sort of thing, which works both ways. If I find, or suspect, that I am not growing in sanctification, then, on Reformed grounds, I must also suspect that I never “really” believed, and, therefore, that I might not be a true child of God. This goes for anyone who holds that works inevitably follow from faith, including, but by no means limited to, London Baptists or Plymouth Puritans.

    (3) I do remember that you guys believe (most of) the Bible. But I don’t think that you understand the bit about “confessing sins” in a way that circumvents my criticisms of Protestant Angelina.

    (4) Regarding the invitation to repent, believe, and be justified: This just moves things in a circle, since, according to Reformed theology, someone who truly does all that will inevitably experience progressive sanctification.

    (5) Concerning self-examination: All Christians are called to do this. Absolutely. The question is, if upon such examination one finds what the child in the post found, does she confess her sins in the complete conviction that she really is a child of God, and in full expectation of parental forgiveness and restoration, or does she also suspect that, after all, she is really not a child, having, therefore, no sure and effectual recourse to the family graces?

    (6) Regarding the (inveterate) charge of misunderstanding Reformed theology, and picking out bad examples: Although my illustration involved individuals, these did not stand for particular examples of Reformed Christians, who may or may not be acting consistently with their theology. Rather, the actions of both the putative child of Angelina and Reformed Angelina are supposed to be perfectly consistent with the tenants of Reformed theology.

    (7) As for the “implied duality” of presumption and despair, notice what I wrote:

    Among the intensely interesting dynamics of the Christian life as envisioned by Reformed theology, is the fact that it can easily, and with perfect theological consistency, tip towards presumption or despair.

    Again, I did not write this on the basis of specific examples of people living in presumption or despair. You can find such folks anywhere. Rather, I intended to illustrate how Reformed theology can, on its own terms, lead to such, for someone who is struggling with sin. (I choose a person in this condition as my example since the question I was pursuing was the relative graciousness of Reformed theology and the Catholic Faith. One of the ways to measure graciousness is to see how someone relates to another person in cases involving deep offense.) Undoubtedly, any decent pastor will try to help such a person in all sorts of appropriate and practical ways. What I am interested in, however, is how the theological interpretation of the situation affects how the sinful child is given to understand her familial identity, and all that is subsequent upon that identity, such as recourse to the things that belong to those who have been truly adopted, reborn, into the family.

    The long and short of it is, because of their Baptism, Catholics who fall into sin, and fail to progress in sanctification, need not question whether or not they were ever really made a child of God. They can confidently approach God, as Father, and ask for his fatherly forgiveness, knowing that he will not treat them like a stranger. The parable of the Prodigal Son is a perfect example of this sort of thing. Furthermore, the Catholic knows whether or not God has received him back into the good graces of the family, precisely because he receives those very graces objectively, when he hears the words “I absolve you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and when, cleansed of his sins, he receives the Eucharist.

  20. Andrew Preslar,

    (Apologies for the frequent all caps. I’m not computer literate enough to do italics here.)

    Thanks for your very thoughtful and detailed response. I think we may just being seeing things completely differently–not too surprising for an RC and a Reformed person–and therefore will miss each other in each objection.

    You said of an RC who sins, “They can confidently approach God, as Father, and ask for his fatherly forgiveness, knowing that he will not treat them like a stranger. The parable of the Prodigal Son is a perfect example of this sort of thing. Furthermore, the Catholic knows whether or not God has received him back into the good graces of the family, precisely because he receives those very graces objectively, when he hears the words “I absolve you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and when, cleansed of his sins, he receives the Eucharist.”

    Maybe this is just part of missing each other, but I was trying to express that a Reformed person can do exactly that in the same situation, and much more consistently with Reformed theology than the model used in the post. My point in the last paragraph of the previous comment was about choosing the best examples, ie, those examples of a belief-system which attempt to do greatest justice to it and find the most approval from its brightest adherents. Of course you CAN find a tendency to this or that: I hinted that I could do so with RC, for instance, a tendency toward total lack of assurance, seeing God as a far-off man in the sky who won’t tell you whether you’re his true child until you’re dead, a constant morass of behavioral atoning–these are things Protestants bring up, but I was saying I probably shouldn’t for a few reasons. I’ve known plenty of RCs who don’t suffer from these problems. I’ve read your theology enough to know the problems aren’t inherent to it, though I do see a tendency sometimes. Nevertheless, I can see a tendency toward something which has no real basis besides my own desire to unmask something I doubt as true, for instance, RC’s lack of a definitive justification a la Rom. 5. THAT’S what I want to criticize, so I’m not going to cherry-pick some supposed tendency toward the EFFECTS of that doctrinal deficiency except maybe heavily qualified and toward the back of a discussion.

    You think the Reformed person caught in sin can say the things you mention in a way ‘completely consistent’ with Reformed theology. Does the tenuousness of that not strike you? I could say that a full materialist Darwinian has a consistent tendency toward immorality, for the obvious reasons. Guess what. 1) That says nothing about the truth claim, since our clung-to morality could be as bogus as our cosmology, according to this person, 2) I’ve just know too many really consistent Darwinians who found a social explanation for morality such that their behavior and on-the-ground ethical systems looked pretty close to mine. My point is only that criticizing a position based on this perceived effect is a little like saying “I don’t like it ’cause I don’t like it.” You’re divining an effect that may or may not be there, one that is, if you ask Calvin or the average Reformed pastor, straight up inconsistent since, 1) there should be a profundity of HARD evidence that one is not progressing in sanctification since depression and introspection clouds judgment, and 2) the first answer to a doubting person anyway should be about the confident crying out for mercy which you outlined. We have confidence to approach the throne of grace, too (I’d say even more). The first response is not to run to the nervous bench, or hide in a closet and seek out my inner tingle of elected soul-matter. Hog wash. “Fly to the savior and trust him for mercy. Call on your Father for forgiveness.” We can say that more consistently than the emotional excesses of despair and presumption.

    And finally, your first point. Clearly the pastor should answer the distressed person with his confessional standards completely in the backdrop. And I’m arguing that leads to a pastoral encounter quite similar to the RC version and not at all like the caricature of the Reformed you posted. Just as a bad Augustinian monk in past times might respond the way that your Reformed person did, I would only deduce from that that he has taken his theology in a rather bad direction, filtering it through other concerns, and that, in fact, the Augustinian order more generally wouldn’t countenance this as a faithful representation of their theology. Likewise here. That “he can do so consistently,” is subject to a thousand quirks of what it means to be consistent, and then, my main objection, degrees of consistency. I’m saying the more and fuller consistency lies in the sketch I made in the first comment, an emphasis on trusting in the Savior for mercy, calling on him in the promises of the gospel and thereby having immediate joy and confidence that you are his, for his sake, based on his promises and faithfulness, not mine or yours.

    Beyond that, as I’ve had to counsel people many times, one might point the person to recognize the genuine work of God in them. Depressed people can’t see their growth in grace, and I’d expect that’s true for RCs and the Reformed. I try to push them to see the sanctification that I see in them, not to deny the work of God because of their vanity and selfishness. This is another thing the Reformed position, in my estimation, is very comfortable with. You may say your side’s more comfortable with it than my side. In whose judgment and on which day? These are incredibly subjective things. I’m trying to push us toward critiquing substance and what’s really at the heart of this, not a perceived flirtation with, or a possible lead-up to, or a sometime association with. Those are definitionally contingent elements, not essential elements, and therefore can be discarded without any harm to the system. What’s more, as I’ve probably said too much, I don’t think those tendencies are consistent with Reformed theology like you say they are. They may be consistent in a manner of the poor application on the part of some, but, again, our best theologians would want a different approach and they wouldn’t see unconditional election (which we share with Thomas, by the way), or good works flowing necessarily from true faith (which we get from James) as leading inherently to any difficulties. Remember, it was the gospel of the Apostle Paul that so often in some way LED TO antinomianism (Rom. 6), which he had to fight. I doubt that perceived tendency pricked his conscience. It only evinces the sinful twisting of the mind of man; it says nothing about the system itself.

  21. Josh,

    One of the reasons that we seem to see things completely differently is that we seem to be seeing different things. You constantly refer to what Reformed pastors generally say and do when confronted with someone, enmeshed in sins, who questions her identity in Christ. I, on the other hand, am talking about the logical implications of Reformed theology for the question of Christian identity in such a case. Of course, I couched this analysis in a dialogue involving “Reformed Angelina,” whom several people have taken to represent a Protestant pastor. I intended no such strict correlation. This well-intentioned lady is more like the incarnation of Reformed soteriology.

    Thus, you point to the actual moral behavior of materialists, and the grounds they give for their efforts to live moral lives, and I indicate that, yes, many materialists do live moral lives, but morality simply cannot be grounded by their world view. If materialism is true, then there are no actual grounds for moral laws, even though many materialists find it expedient, and satisfying, to behave as if there were such laws.

    I cannot see the difference between “cherry-picking some tendency,” and illustrating the logical implications of a position, in cases where the position really has such implications. And, yes, my desire is to “unmask,” as in provide a striking illustration of, the falsity of the idea that good works inevitably follow from faith. I am under no illusions that this post demonstrates the falsehood of Calvinism, any more than illustrating how materialism provides no basis for morality demonstrates the falsity of materialism. In comment #18, I try to address how the approach I take in this post is supposed to fit into the larger picture, the more fundamental goal, of articulating the truth about the Gospel of God’s grace towards sinners.

    When you go on to talk about your pastoral practice of pushing people to see the sanctification that you see in them, you reveal some incredibly important things relevant to our subject. Concerning the process of discerning marks of sanctification, you write that “These are incredibly subjective things.” However, you earlier indicate that, when evaluating the growth in sanctification of a distressed and doubting Christian, “there should be a profundity of HARD evidence that one is not progressing in sanctification.”

    But surely this “profundity of hard evidence” is not an incredibly subjective thing? The case I adduced in my post is certainly envisaged as one in which such hard evidence exists. Furthermore, as to the question of Christian identity, whether one is in the family or not, which is the focal point of the whole investigation, the Catholic has no need to push anyone to find traces of sanctification in their lives. Everyone who has been baptized has become a child of God, by the grace of the sacrament. We do, of course, need to know that we are “of the truth” and to “assure our hearts before [God]” (I John 3:18-19), and this involves self-evaluation. (The tension between, say, 1 John 3:9-10 and 1 John 1:8-10 is something that I briefly discussed earlier in this comment thread. My interpretation is that 1 John 3 is about what kind of actions manifest the divine nature; hence, knowing that one is “of God,” in this sense, is not about fundamental Christian identity, being a member of the family, but about what kinds of actions manifest that identity, and which do not. Among other things, this interpretation helps to resolves the tension between chapters 1 and 3.)

    I have already addressed, in response to your remarks about cherry-picking, your further remarks about pushing towards substantial critique, as opposed to highlighting tendencies associated with a position. You go on to refer to the Reformed doctrines of (1) unconditional election (which you do not unequivocally share with St. Thomas, since he was a sacramentalist), and (2) good works necessarily following true faith (which is not taught by St. James, as I pointed out recently, beginning with this comment). I take it that these matters fall under the rubric of “substantial critique.”

    But these allusions to what Reformed Christians actually believe and confess about Christian identity are incredibly pertinent to what I am doing in this post, which is to show, by an extended illustration, why the Reformed Gospel is not more gracious than the Catholic Gospel. You see, I am convinced that the doctrine that good works inevitably follow from faith actually leads to, as in entails, the propositions that those who do not perform good works do not have true faith, and that an essential element of discerning, after a profession of faith, whether that profession is credible, hence, whether the professor counts as a child of God, is discerning whether or not he is, after all, by some standards, a pretty decent sort of fellow.

    The difference between this relation (Reformed doctrine and assurance of family status by introspection) and the relation between St. Paul’s gospel and antinomianism, is that there is an actual, logical relation of entailment in the former, but not in the latter. The phenomenon described in my post (assurance of family identity by means of introspection), therefore, says a lot about the (Reformed) system itself. Just ask any Reformed apologist whether sola fide entails antinomianism, and listen to them go on about “true” faith and what it is to “really” be a Christian. This is not isolated, 17th Century Puritan stuff. Its Calvinist bread-and-butter.

  22. Well it’s your house so after this you should probably have the last word. All I can say is that we’re missing each other again (the criticisms below will probably only bear that out). It seems as though this does all come down to exegesis (I do take James and John as teaching that works follow from true faith, and I do read Thomas as holding unconditional election in the relevant way. There are better commentaries defending this interpretation than I can provide.).

    But as soon as I say that the presuppositions pop up and stop me from being so exclusive. First, presuppositions about the nature of necessity and, specifically, the modal character of these propositions. I don’t see anything like logical entailment in the relationship between Reformed doctrine and assurance by introspection to the effect that one is convinced that he is a decent sort of fellow. I have to say I just don’t think that’s true. Entailment? Tall order. I’d say historical blemish, fleshly, small-minded tendency from some of the Reformed, but not entailment. I think the Apostle John points us toward introspection for ONE mode of introspection (here’s exegesis rearing its head again), but I don’t think this is the only one. Moreover, the issue is of one’s getting holier, not being holy or decent, not attainment but progression over a long period such that harbored lusts become less sweet and fall away as the day of beatific vision draws closer. If you read some Reformed theology less in the fray of throwing off RC doctrine–which I’m sure you have, perhaps more than me: it’s our perspectives at war here not our learning, thankfully–you can even find statements that talk about baptism making one a child of God since it’s done in the Triune name. (Of course, both sides here would want to say that doesn’t necessarily say anything about where you go when you die; they’d also want to qualify the extent of the meaning of child there, all a very long discussion that you know well already.)

    The hard evidence should be required to count against what a person and his elders counted a credible profession of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Hard evidence is needed there. A humble person detecting greater holiness in himself, especially in the short-term, is often subjective in need of objective guidance from the Scriptures so as to be more hard. They seem like two different instances to me. Things like entailment and tendencies, when their attributions are as hotly contested as they are between RCs and the Reformed should be ranked under the subjective. Entailment usually has that calm yet fiery deductive glow, doesn’t it?

    Materialists and their warrant. It was only an occasional example for something else but, okay, here are those presuppositions. I won’t clog up the point, only to say that, while there may not be grounds we would like, being theists and all, saying that, since society is better for me than no society, and society has agreed to do X and Y because we can all live longer and happier (murder and stealing and lying get in the way of that), I should be moral, is a consistently grounded morality BEYOND the fact that the materialist just does sometimes live morally. I don’t know how you’ve gotten very far in an apologetic with an intelligent materialist without this coming up. It’s not just THAT they are moral sometimes, it’s that Christians don’t own the farm on that set of truth. It’s a created category that natural law can discourse on. But I realize this is a contentious issue. (Dawkin’s ‘Selfish Gene’ comes to mind here as a defense for an evolutionary grounding for many things thought to be under the purview of Revealed Religion. This is definitely one area where the Reformed, oddly, have it all over RCs. We’re generally more comfortable saying an unbeliever has room for this or that, as long as those things are created categories. This puts a high value on revelation, natural and special, and says that what nature is definitely not sufficient for is our redemption. But it is workable for discovering other truths. Didn’t we get this in part from Thomas?)

    It’s relevant in the way it lays bear how the two of us approach grounding, logic, entailment, etc. You really think materialism entails a big goose egg as regards grounds for anything other than lascivious animal behavior. Likewise you see the Reformed position lacking anything like a coherent ground for a positive, covenant-based, promise and sacrament-centered view of one’s own assurance of his place in the Church of God. Respectfully, given this other example of how you connect logical dots, I don’t see why I should be compelled. It sounds like since you see holes in the Reformed position doctrinally, which you’re obviously free to do, you connect those holes into a meta-narrative explaining all the practical ills that you can locate in our system and then point to yours to fix them. This would be a good strategy if you could show the connection. That’s why I said, “You don’t like it ’cause you don’t like it.”

    Why can’t there be many possible ways to ground a given claim? Of course not all of them will be able to hold the weight the same, some will be stronger or weaker, some insane, but just saying something like materialism is devoid of a real rational claim for being good is pretty weak to me, as is saying that the Reformed CAN consistently be covenant-less, self-centered, overly-introspective duds because of their theology. So, I can be a consistently feckless, geographically ignorant person because I’m an American? Huh. Even if that was an overwhelming tendency (I’ll spare you my judgments), it’s nearly incoherent as it stands. You might say I have a likelihood to be such over against those of other nationalities because I’m an American. I’d grant that. You could say that, in a line-up, the one that can’t point to India on a map is probably an American. Likewise you could say that if someone is doubting his salvation because he doesn’t think he’s grown in grace enough, he’s likely the Calvinist in the group–Free Will Baptists rarely think of such things, right?–but you’d be badly mistaken to say that his tradition made him do it, as ‘entailment’ indicates. ‘Tendency’ has another problem as I think the above illustration shows. It’s just not a relevant term, as I see it. Strictly speaking, I don’t have the tendency to be feckless and geographically ignorant BECAUSE I’m an American. I am likely American if I am feckless and geographically ignorant in a room of other nationalities. I don’t think the relationship works both ways.

    You might discount the example because, one could say, there’s nothing suitably clear and binding about being American that’s relevant here. Well there you go. A tendency among the population, not something inherent in the foundations. In my mind the example fits for that reason. I doubt it will for you. If, after a peripatetic and labor-intensive discussion like this one, you still have a desire to understand our differences like I do, thinking through the relationship of the subject and the American example, and why we will likely disagree about it, will really set clear our differences, I think.

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your answers and your keen insight and experience–I’ve disagreed with you in spite of your rigor and honesty. Rarely is that found on the Internet. Thanks a lot. I pray God blesses us both in these strivings after the knowledge of his power toward his people.

    Josh

  23. My original comment was meant to be facetious, albeit with a serious subtext.

    When I speak to some Protestants, their view of the graciousness of God seems to be that they have an assurance of salvation as one of the elect which is iron-clad. That strikes me as a really good thing to have, although it seems to imply that there are those were are just as definitely not elect. On the other hand, I’ve never met anyone who (a) believes in predestination and election and (b) also believes that they are definitely not one of the elect and are predestined to Hell. There seems to be an amazing overlap between the belief in election and the belief that one is part of the elect.

    Now, I am certainly overstating that point as a historical matter, as compared to the idea in theory. As Professor Cary in his excellent lecture series on the History of Christian Theology points out, all belief systems have their own anxieties. Catholics, by and large, are anxious about mortal sin. Protestants who can’t imagine Catholics accepting not being sure of their own salvation are anxious about knowing whether they are one of the elect. That Protestant anxiety has led to all kinds of develoopments, including revivals, Pentecostalism, Jonathon Edwards “Hellfire and Damnation” sermons, etc. (See Cary, “From Puritans to Revivalists.”)

    Anyone who reads about the anxiety of Puritans who hadn’t quite had that conversion experience and wondered if they were elect, or about the different psychological techniques developed by Calvinist preachers, such as Edwards, to induce the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – which itself seems to contradict the Calvinist view that only God is working in the conversion experience – will realize that even the Calvinist approach to grace is, in practice, not very “gracious.”

    Neal writes:

    My suggestion is that Reformed theology has very little to offer with respect to this individual assurance-of-election question, and certainly nothing more than Catholicism has to say about it.

    I agree. As a lifelong Catholic, three things impress me:

    First, I can’t see that there is a nickel’s worth of difference between the worry of losing salvation and the worry of being outside of salvation from all eternity.

    Two, when someone tells me that they have the assurance of salvation, I tend to think, “well, how very nice for you, but you won’t know that until later.”

    Three, I am amazingly non-anxious about the assurance of salvation. I tend to think that a teenage girl had the wisest attitude on the subject when she was asked if she thought that she was in a state of grace. She said, “If I am, I pray that God will leave me there. If I’m not, I pray that God will put me there.”

  24. Wait! Wait! before you get the last word, I left out the hinge in the argument.

    With the materialist’s warrant: As theists we want a really transcendent ‘ought,’ one which goes all the way to the bottom and clearly binds the person in various situations. What’s relevant for a real grounded morality, as I see it, is not necessarily this high order, though I do think it’s right and should be there, but, rather, an ought that transcends the person. For the materialist, he can hold that the ought stands over him since his need for society does and society’s moral demands bind the individuals in it. So while he probably can’t reason to an unconditional morality, which is what we’re after, he can reason to a morality that stands over HIM, which is the basic thing a moral structure must do to bear the name. More than a preference, it places obligations on him from outside. This is both a consistent position and one that I’m thankful for. Common grace is gracious, we can agree on that. If only theirs contained a source and a goal that was moral, namely the glory of God and the benefit of others. The content within the morality, though, is cause for thanksgiving.

    Someone on JJS’s blog noted something important for us here: we’re often more sensitive to the logical ‘implications’ of another person’s views than of our own. I suppose this summarizes my position the illumination of which would, I had hoped, make your comments more restrained and descriptive and less logical and prescriptive. This has been my purpose. Thanks again.

  25. P.S.B.,

    Thanks for the comment. That last sentence: Exactly. Also, as I never grow tired of saying, and as Neal and others have pointed out in various places, Catholicism absolutely has place for certainty of salvation, just check out Thomas Aquinas on the virtue of hope.

  26. Josh,

    We’ll probably have to leave the exegesis of James and John to others. As for St. Thomas, it depends on what the relevant way is. So long as that way includes Thomas’ doctrine of the sacraments, and his teaching on the theological virtues, then I am all for it.

    As to this bit,

    You really think materialism entails a big goose egg as regards grounds for anything other than lascivious animal behavior. Likewise you see the Reformed position lacking anything like a coherent ground for a positive, covenant-based, promise and sacrament-centered view of one’s own assurance of his place in the Church of God.

    I am glad that you caught yourself, thus:

    As theists we want a really transcendent ‘ought,’ one which goes all the way to the bottom and clearly binds the person in various situations.

    This is why I spoke of “grounds for moral laws,” in my previous comment. Likewise, it is not the case that I “really think” that about Reformed theology, that it cannot (or has not) come up with covenant-based grounds for assurance, predicated upon sacramental observance and resting in the divine promises. Rather, I think that the covenant-based, objectively-oriented (word and sacrament) Calvinist is in a similar position as the materialist with “a real grounded morality,” i.e., a set of principles which render certain moral actions warranted, but who lacks grounds for “a really transcendent ‘ought,’ one which goes all the way to the bottom and clearly binds the person in various situations.”

    As to entailment, where, as a necessary consequence, (a) if it is the case that works necessarily follow faith, (b) then discovering the bottom-line ground of one’s family identity involves introspective analysis, i.e., evaluating oneself in order to discover some trace of the relevant works: entailment might not be what we have here, at least, in the modal sense, since one might be able to imagine a possible world in which (a) is true but (b) is not true.

    However, since we are concerned with some knowable, “bottom line” grounding of a particular person’s family identity, and granted that Reformed theology has no such objective, knowable, bottom-line ground of this identity (see below), then, if there be any knowable, bottom-line ground, it must be subjective, and knowledge thereof will involve either introspection or direct, special revelation to the individual. Through self-examination, I might simply be concerned to discover whether I assent to certain propositions. Or I could be concerned to discover traces of fiduciary faith. Or I could be concerned to discover traces of those good works that inevitably follow faith. So far as I can tell, it is basic Reformed practice to look for all of these, often gathered under the rubric, “saving faith.” This is what, in Reformed theology, is held to be the ultimate ground of the individual’s family identity.

    This bit

    It sounds like since you see holes in the Reformed position doctrinally, which you’re obviously free to do, you connect those holes into a meta-narrative explaining all the practical ills that you can locate in our system and then point to yours to fix them. This would be a good strategy if you could show the connection. That’s why I said, “You don’t like it ’cause you don’t like it.”

    does not reflect my strategy in the post. I was not concerned to explain all of the “practical ills” of Reformed theology. I was concerned to indicate that Reformed theology cannot ground, in the “all the way to the bottom” sense, the family identity of a particular person in anything objective. This is why Protestant Angelina, answers the question, “Am I really your child?” with a universal, rather than a particular, proposition. She is giving a (Reformed) “all the way to the bottom” answer. Since an individual’s faith, unlike her baptism, cannot itself be seen, Angelina cannot say, with certainty, that the troubled child has faith, and has therefore become a true child.

    Of course, the examples I gave of what the child “might” conclude from the inward turn do not run the gamut. This bit of my post was partly rhetorical, on purpose, in response to a frequently rhetorical individual. A Calvinist might discover all sorts of wonderful things while rummaging around inside. I hope so. But I know what a Catholic finds in his baptism: a bottom-line ground of family identity.

    In your remarks about Americans and all that, you seem to be laboring under the assumption that I am suggesting that typical Calvinists are over-introspective, in some sad and pitiable sense. Nope. I am not even suggesting that you guys tend to be introspective. I am suggesting that you guys have no ultimate, objective grounds for assurance of family identity, and that if you want to find the ultimate grounds of that identity, you will have to turn inwards. (By the way, your analysis of the correlation between Americans and lack of geographical knowledge raises the question of why this positive statistical correlation exists. If I notice a positive statistical correlation between, say, cigarette smoking and lung cancer, I would not necessarily be amiss in suspecting a causal connection. So I am not sure what point you are trying to make.) Of course, many Calvinists will also turn to the objective propositions contained in Scripture, and to their baptism. However, among those objective propositions, there is not one that says “Johnny Johnson has saving faith.” Nor does baptism (in Reformed thinking) objectively contain and convey grace, such that it always results in the soul of the baptized being configured to Christ.

    Your concluding exhortation,

    Someone on JJS’s blog noted something important for us here: we’re often more sensitive to the logical ‘implications’ of another person’s views than of our own. I suppose this summarizes my position the illumination of which would, I had hoped, make your comments more restrained and descriptive and less logical and prescriptive.

    is generally good advice, at least, the bit about being restrained and descriptive. No good positing what one’s interlocutor “really thinks,” or making wild assertions about what he sees or does not see. Best just to state what he says, and work with that. I hope, however, that this sort of thing does not come with less logic. After all, whether the position being described is one’s own, or another’s, the logical implications of the position are what they are; i.e., they are objective.

    Finally, there is this bit:

    This is definitely one area where the Reformed, oddly, have it all over RCs. We’re generally more comfortable saying an unbeliever has room for this or that, as long as those things are created categories. This puts a high value on revelation, natural and special, and says that what nature is definitely not sufficient for is our redemption. But it is workable for discovering other truths. Didn’t we get this in part from Thomas?

    Are you saying that Calvinists generally assign a higher value to natural theology than do Catholics?

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