The Bible Made Impossible: Reviewed by Brent Stubbs

Aug 18th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Brent Stubbs

This is a guest post by Brent Stubbs, in which he reviews Christian Smith’s recent book The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture. Brent is a convert to the Catholic Church from the Pentecostal tradition. However, his theology became Reformed while he was pursuing a BA in Theological Historical Studies at Oral Roberts University (’03). He has studied graduate philosophy at the University of Dallas, has an MBA and writes about his reasons for conversion at www.almostnotcatholic.com. Brent started blogging after participating in the comboxes at Called To Communion. He and his wife and four children live in central Florida. On August 22 at 8pm EST, he will be sharing his story with Marcus Grodi on EWTN’s “The Journey Home.” You can also hear Brent discuss the “The Scriptures He Never Saw” on Marcus Grodi’s radio show “Deep in Scripture” — which will air August 24 at 2 pm EST.

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The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not A Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, by Christian Smith, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame, is his effort to understand why the Bible, in his view, does not seem to work as the “sole rule of faith” within his evangelical tradition — hence the term “impossible.” The book is divided into two parts: the first part a diagnosis of the problem of biblicism and the second part Smith’s proposed solution.

What is Biblicism?

According to Smith, Biblicism is a belief that assumes at least one of the following to be true about the Bible:

1. The Bible is identical to God’s very words
2. The Bible is the total representation of God’s will for humanity
3. The Bible covers every topic you need to know about anything
3. Democratic perspicuity- “almost anybody can read the Bible and get it”
4. “Common sense” hermeneutic- just take it literal
5. Solo Scriptura
6. Internal harmony- everything in the Bible fits together
7. Universal applicability of all direct teachings of the Apostles
8. Inductive method as the preferable method for understanding the Bible

As to #5, Bryan and Neal have demonstrated how sola reduces to solo here. Smith points to the way Westminster Theological Seminary refers to the Westminster Confession Faith (WCF) as fallible on the one hand, yet treats it as though “the likelihood…of detecting or admitting error or revisions is effectively nil” (p.14). He goes on to point out the way the WCF affirms many of his biblicist criteria. In the end, Smith’s criticism virtually includes almost all of Protestantism by implying that both confessional and evangelical Protestant denominations treat the Bible in a biblicist way.

What to think of all of this?

Having defined biblicism, Smith next considers how the belief in the Bible as the rule of faith has fared in history. As evidence of the hermeneutical confusion, he quotes from the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith:

“In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinion, I often said to myself, What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right? Or, are they all wrong together? If one of them is right, which is it, and how shall I know? The teachers of religion of the different sects destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible. At length I came to the conclusion that I must…ask of God.”

The fact that Joseph Smith’s sentiments reflect the average Christian’s should be startling. Of course, the average Christian doesn’t run out and start a completely new church. The broader question, and the one Smith is asking in the use of this quotation and others he deploys, is how do Christians of good faith sort through all the thousands and thousands (probably millions) of pages of competing interpretations?

Christian Smith’s greater point, and the one he makes well in the first half of the book is that the notion of the “Bible alone” as understood in the biblicist tradition has simply failed as a method for resolving theological conflict of almost any kind. For example, he argues that even on the “essentials” — a concept that is an undefined ‘moving target’ as well — there is a plethora of resources espousing three to four plausible views (pp. 22-23). Whether on the atonement, church governance, communion or moral teachings, Christians of good will, trained in Scripture, simply cannot agree on what the Bible actually teaches. Even more alarming, biblicists seem to believe that on very important teachings three to four incompatible views can be accepted as “plausible,” yet their own view of the Bible would seem to require something more like dogma than plausibility. In other words, no biblicist would admit that the Bible “teaches” only plausible ideas but is rather “profitable for doctrine”: positive, perspicuous dogmas clearly articulated in the Bible.

Smith goes on to explain why none of the possible solutions to the problems of biblicism work, because all of them undermine an essential biblicist belief about the Bible as detailed in the aforementioned list (pp. 37-41). For example, Peter Leithart recently responded to Smith’s book by arguing that the problem is not in the Bible but rather in our failure to grasp its “essential” teaching regarding unity. Leithart also claimed that evangelicals just need “more time,” and that in charity Smith should give more consideration to the length of time it took Catholics to promulgate dogmas such as transubstantiation or the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.

Regarding Leithart’s first claim, his point merely proves that what is “essential” is both difficult to grasp and plainly not obvious to all — both of which undermine the basic assumptions biblicists have about the Bible. Leithart’s second claim, that evangelicals “need more time,” is an unfalsifiable assumption that, given enough time, someone will get to the “right” theological conclusion. The claim also assumes that given some present-yet-unknown hermeneutical method, all true followers of Christ will come to see the truth of a particular solution and all previous exegetical chaos will simply vanish. The fact that we have no historical precedent or principled reason to believe that this is possible points to the difference between the Church promulgating and a theologian opining — a distinction simply not available in the Protestant paradigm.

The Bible as a Jig-Saw Puzzle

Subsequently, Smith introduces what I think is a perfect analogy for the problem of biblicism. In the Bible-only paradigm, Scripture acts like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. He explains:

The only difficulty is that this is a very unusual puzzle. For, as far as anyone working on it can figure out, different puzzle pieces can fit together in different ways to make distinctly different pictures. Nearly all of them are portraits of people… the puzzlers discover that many of the pieces that make one portrait can be rearranged differently, with some pieces removed and others added, to make other portraits…. Every picture, no matter how well it is put together, still has some missing puzzle pieces…. Nevertheless, despite, or perhaps precisely because of, the unusual nature of this complicated puzzle, it is very popular…. Some are proud of being “scowling-man puzzlers,” claiming that his is the real portrait that the puzzle makes when rightly put together…. Partiality to different puzzle portraits tends to run in families… puzzlers like to sweep the unused pieces that do not fit their portraits into Ziploc bags and put them into their closets. (pp. 45-46)

At this point, Smith is ready to make the claim that the Bible is “exponentially multivocal, polysemic, and multivalent, [and] semantically indeterminate” (p. 48). In other words, the Bible does not speak with one voice, intrinsically has the possibility of having multiple meanings, can cohere in various ways that seem incompatible with other possible combinations, and does not produce an effect of meaning in the reader that is exact. The result is a “pervasive interpretive pluralism” among most Protestants that somehow goes ignored.

The question still remains, “why is pervasive interpretive pluralism a problem?” Pervasive interpretive pluralism isn’t a problem if Christians who come to different conclusions are using different methods. However, if ten Christians are using the same method, using the same rules, and reach different conclusions, then the method/rule must not be able to produce a homogeneous result. Aristotle might say that what we find in an effect, we should also find in the cause. However, since the biblicist method of using Scripture consistently produces a plurality of results, we have good reason to believe that the Scripture — when used under the paradigm of biblicism — cannot effectively operate as a singular, definitive “rule” of anything.

Who Cares? Why Not?


Christian Smith

Why is this not a problem to most biblicists? In chapter three, Smith is at his best because above all, Smith is a professional sociologist. In chapter three, Smith demonstrates how and why biblicists tend to associate in groups that believe like themselves, and how this behavior significantly diminishes the impact of the real problems caused by their theory of the Bible. When Christians always live among like-minded believers, “camps” emerge that create an “us” vs. “them” effect. In turn, differences are magnified in such a way that the entire existence of one camp is predicated on the falsity of the other camp (while all the other camps get left out of the picture, thereby diminishing the problem). Conversely, the “tribalism” of biblicists tends to diminish the real differences of the “other” simply because, according to the data, evangelical Christians tend to live more isolated from other belief systems than do persons of other faiths. So on the one hand, biblicists, like Leithart, propose various theological or philosophical reasons why interpretative pluralism–which undermines the very assumptions of biblicism — is not problematic for biblicists, and on the other hand their social behaviors tend to further diminish the effects of biblicism by alienating them from the real effects of pervasive interpretive pluralism.

To close out his critique of biblicism, Smith in chapter four points out “Blatantly Ignored Teachings” (p.68), and the interpretive decisions that are made about those passages of Scripture that seem to be direct commands but are often directly ignored. The examples he uses are: (1) “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” (2) “Women should remain silent in the churches,” and (3) our Lord’s instructions to wash feet (Jn. 13:14-15). Smith also points out other strange passages and extra-Biblical terminology that are essential to make the Bible “work” in the biblicist paradigm. At first glance, any student formally trained in theology can imagine a number of ways to massage away Smith’s problems with any one of the passages he cites. However, Smith’s larger argument is that to employ any one of those interpretive strategies is to exert on the text what is in fact not there. If Scripture is perspicuous and able to work-by-itself, then it should not require extensive exegesis, extra-biblical language, etc. to work out problems in texts that are direct commands. For Smith, this shows the absolute necessity for some type of agency external to the text, but Smith does not address what that implies.

The Barthian Way Out

When reading the second part (in chapter five), I couldn’t help but wonder why it sounded all too familiar. Smith’s solution to biblicism was the Chistocentric hermeneutic common to Protestant seminaries for decades, but was being presented by Smith as a possible theological break-through. In the second half of the book Smith introduces a solution to a problem, but surprisingly, he gives credit to its source only at the end of the chapter. Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics was hiding at the end of chapter five (p.121). The deja vu feeling I had was from a Systematic Theology II class, where my professor, Dr. Daniel Thimell — a Calvin and Barth scholar (University of Aberdeen) — trained in the ways of the Christocentric hermeneutic against the “10 ways to improve your marriage” biblicist themes, fed us the bread of Barth. Smith sups at Barth’s table, and at the end of the book imagines that such communion can truly lead evangelicals to a new theological vision for the Bible that overcomes biblicism’s problems.

When I originally sat down to write the review, I thought I would have to point out where, in the end, Smith begs the reader to employ the same problem he laments, namely another version of biblicism. One could say that in a way, the entire book is a project that fails if ‘success’ is defined as a solution to the problem. However, to be fair, Smith doesn’t posit that as his purpose but rather that the book should serve as a kind of “first shot” that will get biblicists discussing their inherently flawed assumptions about the Bible. Kevin DeYoung’s review here misses that purpose altogether, and therefore over-emphasizes the way Smith’s Barthian solution begs the question or is unoriginal. I have tried to resist that temptation. In the combox at DeYoung’s review, Smith has responded, pointing out the glaring fact that DeYoung’s critique fails to consider any of his germane criticisms of biblicism.

Taking It Personal

One commonality I notice about the gentlemen who write at CTC that is common to my journey as well is that we all “got out of the tribe.” Generally, Protestant converts to Catholicism who knew Protestant theology did not remain all their days in one camp within Protestantism. Instead, they ventured out, and it was precisely in that venturing out that they came into contact with “irreconcilable problems.” It is only when you finally work face-to-face with theologians and live in community with believers who pray, study and commit their lives to Scripture and are as convinced as yourself that they are interpreting the Bible correctly — yet you disagree — that you begin to wonder if “the Bible alone” is a workable theory. Even more unsettling is a case where the “church” that one associates with loses its authoritative hold on you because you realize that in fact, it has no authority (see A Reflection… and Why Protestantism has no visible…) and therefore no right to bind its members’ consciences.

How did we resolve this? At one time (before Catholicism), we may have arrived at a new way of doing theology, the method that would eliminate all the problems and bring order to Protestantism again. “If only they would listen or see,” we might have yelled in the quietness of our studies, and like Smith, struggled to come up with the “better way” only to figure out later on that we had just joined the crowd or worse yet created a new one. On page 117, we get evidence that Smith has begun to read the Church Fathers seriously, with an ear inclined to their wisdom. Like us, as Smith has recently converted to Catholicism, he apparently figured out that there is no way to solve the problems from within the Protestant paradigm.

Smith’s book does not necessitate becoming Catholic, but it does necessitate dealing with the divergent theologies that are accepted as orthodoxy among Bible-only Christians. For that reason, I believe Smith’s book is important because it asks biblicists to look not just in their mirror, but in a larger mirror that can capture all of the problems within the larger community that claims the Bible as their rule of faith. It is in that encounter, with the broader Christian community, that the force of Smith’s argument can gain the illocutionary force he intended.

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  1. Your review has wetted my appetite for reading this book (in additions to our discussion previously about it). I hope I will have time to read it (or at least the first four chapters).

  2. Bradley,

    Mission accomplished. It is definitely worth the purchase. In addition, Smith’s endnotes make the book an invaluable resource.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  3. FWIW: Citing the author as Smith is somewhat equivocal immediately after citing the founder of Mormonism. Best, I think, to emphasize his first name again after the Mormon attribution.

  4. “Like us, as Smith has recently converted to Catholicism, he apparently figured out that there is no way to solve the problems from within the Protestant paradigm.”

    Sadly, most Protestants I know/knew would say “what problem?” Some will go so far as to say the divisions are a blessing… more “parts” to the Body of Christ or something… and that all the false doctrines will be burned away in the end with the wood, hay, and stubble. What I got tired of as a Protestant was trying to make sure my doctrine was not the wood, hay, and stubble. How tiring and depressing that is.

    Do you know if the author converted while writing the book? That would be very interesting.

    The jigsaw puzzle imagery is great. I will be stealing that. It is fun to think of the different groups of Christians and what kind of puzzle picture they would make, with how many peices used, and what they would do with the leftover bits.
    Some more systematic theologies (Reformed) might make the grumpy old man picture, may have very few leftover pieces, with a mostly completed picture, and even then they would claim the empty spots are supposed to be there to keep you guessing about God’s holiness or something.
    Liberals would just pour milk into the box and eat the puzzle pieces or some nonsense.
    See it’s fun, try it.

  5. Re David Meyers note 4 above.

    A few decades ago I was playing basketball at a local court, this after I became a Catholic, and one of the other team’s players was a Protestant pastor (no idea of what denomination). When he asked what religion I was (not being a very good basketball player it would not hamper my game very much to respond,) I noted that I was Catholic. We did some verbal gymnastics, and when he realized that I wasn’t going to be turned (back), he suggested that the plethora of denominations was a sign of God’s brilliance, bringing out different facets of His wonder. I thought that was ridiculous given the contentious disparity of beliefs I was aware of even then. My response was to suggest that they were a sign of man’s intransigence, which elicited a scowl and a departure.

    I am sorry to say that man never spoke to me again. We obviously did not have any common ground for discussion of the Truth, although his position would seem to have left him without any ground at all.

    I have personally never run into that particular expression of justification for a myriad of disparate beliefs again, and in reality hope never ever to hear such a response again. Someone starting out from a fixed position would have a place to argue from and argue to, but “everything looks good from here” seems like a hopeless effort barring a miracle. Someone who believes in everything, believes in nothing (to borrow or twist a phrase from Chesterton).

    Cordially,
    dt

  6. David,

    Smith’s point, especially in chapter 3, is that there are sociological factors that incline an individual to diminish the impact of the theological cornucopia, and make silly statements like the one you alluded to (as if, “baptism doesn’t save” and “baptism does save” are compatible, laudable phrases that bring honor to Christ). It would be like a doctor claiming that cancer cells provide for us an understanding of “the vast diversity among natural phenomena”, ergo they are a natural good and one should not seek a remedy upon finding them in his or her body. I think considering just 3-5 of the major denomination’s views on Baptism, the Eucharist, Justification, and church government is enough to come to Smith’s conclusion; or at least enough to drive a man insane.

  7. Brent,

    Since you brought up Peter Leithart’s response to Smith’s book, I thought I might add a comment here about Leithart’s most recent post on the subject, in which he writes:

    I think Smith is somewhat misleading in his characterization of Biblicist views of perspicuity. Many evangelical Biblicist accept the Westminster Confession’s acknowledgement that “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all,” so that the things “necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation” are “clearly propounded.” Smith himself seems to hold to some version of limited perspicuity. Scripture “does not leave us in the dark about its purpose, center, and key: Jesus Christ,” he says, and he notes elsewhere that Scripture clearly and insistently demands generosity.

    Absent these hermeneutical assumptions, the threat of interpretive pluralism is greatly reduced. An inerrantist might think that a book inspired by the Creator would reflect something of His infinite depth. One might even think that, as it is God’s glory to conceal a matter, we should expect obscurities and challenges in the text, God treating us as kings whose glory is to search out a matter.

    On the one hand, Leithart claims interpretive pluralism is not a “threat,” because it is God’s glory to conceal things, and so we should expect obscurities in the text. On the other hand, Leithart [being a Protestant] believes that we don’t need a magisterium, because of the perspicuity of the Bible. The problem, however, is that Leithart has not specified the with-respect-to-whatness of this “threat.” Of course God’s concealing things is not a threat to His glory. The problem with rampant, chronic, irremediable interpretive pluralism is that it is a threat (i.e. a defeater) to the claim that the Bible is sufficiently clear to govern the Church without a magisterium and its divinely established interpretive authority. Such widespread chronic interpretive pluralism and its resulting fragmentation upon fragmentation into sects upon sects does one thing: it falsifies the perspicuity thesis to all except those who by self-isolation through associating only with like-minded interpreters are essentially unaware of the magnitude and extension of the existing interpretive pluralism — who have been taught that their own interpretive paradigm is the obvious one, and that only people who don’t read the Bible, or who impose their own views on the Bible come to conclusions different from their own concerning what it says. Sure, whatever falsifies a hypothesis is not accurately described as a threat to that hypothesis; that’s because only hypotheses that haven’t already been falsified can be threatened. Once an hypothesis has been falsified, it is no longer subject to a threat, not because it is on solid defensible ground, but because it is already dead and buried.

    He continues:

    But what about relevance? If an inerrant Bible produces plural interpretations, does it matter that it is inerrant? Smith’s is a challenging question, but I don’t believe that he has demonstrated the irrelevance of inerrancy. Belief that the Bible is God’s word written encourages diligence and perseverance in the always unfinished task of interpretation, and it gives confidence that the Spirit will lead the church to truth as we stick to the Word He inspired.

    If it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, then just because the Bible is God-breathed, it does not follow that those who study it will come to the truth. The great unjustified leap, in Leithart’s logic here is this: If the Bible is divinely inspired, then the Spirit will eventually [maybe 500 more years of the Protestant experiment?] lead us all to agreement concerning its interpretation. In other words, Leithart moves from the premise that Scripture is divinely inspired to the conclusion that Scripture is perspicuous, at least given enough time. But, that’s just a bad argument, because the conclusion does not follow from the premise. That can be shown by noting that if Christ set it up such that Scripture is rightly understood only in light of the Tradition as explicated by the magisterial authority Christ Himself established, then even though Scripture is divinely inspired, those who approach it apart from the Tradition and apart from the magisterial authority Christ Himself established, will arrive at all different incompatible conclusions concerning its interpretation, no matter how many centuries they continue to study it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  8. Bryan,

    It also assumes that the Protestant “church” is identifiable, whereby once “it” comes to the conclusion(s) that work(s) out particular points of theology, any Christian would be able to figure out which “it” got it right. I don’t think Leithart believes (at least I assume) that every possible Christian denomination will agree with the hermeneutic system that he thinks could develop given enough time in the Protestant tradition. In the end, Leithart’s only option would be to say that the “solution” that would develop would be believed by all “true Christians who have the Spirit”. So, it appears, we are back to square one.

    Also, as I said in my review, Smith points out where the Bible is rather straightforward and obvious, and where even those passages receive a lot of exegetical gymnastics to make them work within Protestant communities. Unless of course one wants to argue that “Women be silent in the Church” is vague, ambiguous and brings God glory by concealing to us its true meaning. If that verse doesn’t mean “x” should do “y”, then what are we to think of versus that clearly speak in analogy or mystery?

  9. Brent,

    I agree. If the proposed solution to the problem of interpretive pluralism is that all those who have the Spirit have the right interpretation, then the proposed solution is going to come down to bosom-burning. And that just pushes the problem back to bosom-burning pluralism.

    (For those who haven’t seen it, I’ve included below the video of Brent’s appearance on The Journey Home from Monday evening.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  10. Brent,

    I think that most Protestants implicitly see the Church and salvation as a swarm (google Swarm Theory/Swarm Intelligence). Let’s use a swarm of bees as an example. Different bees have different (doctrinal ;-]) positions but still remain part of the swarm. Protestants posit that if you’re in the swarm, you’re declared to be in the Church even if any two people in the swarm might disagree on many things and if you’re out of the swarm, you’re not. Swarms can have higher density lumps, called Protestant’s call denominations, but that doesn’t change the nature of the the previous classification. The lumpy swarm is visible, even if hard to define, and as long as you’re not on the edges of the swarm, you’re sure you’re in the swarm.

    Unless this intuitive understanding of Protestantism is addressed, I don’t Protestants will remain Protestants.

    It’ll take a quick stab at it.

    Swarm theory/intelligence is a complex field, especially if you include the time dimension (i.e. swarm drift and dispersion and breaking apart and coalescing), but even in the simple case, it’s not possible to determine by any non-arbitrary measure (such as 99% of the bees are within these bounds) whether a particular bee is in the swarm or outside it. You might say, that you can play it safe by by going to the center of the swarm (i.e. Mere Christianity), but given that this swarm is lumpy (e.g. many denominations), it’s not even possible to determine a “center” of the swarm since no particular higher density lump can claim to be the center. You might try doing a weighed average of all lumps and assuming that’s the center, but since you don’t know who is in and who is out of the swarm, such weighted average will necessarily include lumps outside the swarm (i.e. heretics) and give too much weight to popular (i.e. no commitment) Christianity.

  11. Anil
    That is just simply scary… If the Church of Christ was like that we would really be in trouble.

    NHU.

  12. What I would like to know is if its ok to have different doctrines in the Protestant world, why are they so bothered by Catholic doctrines?? Every Protestant group that disagrees with another Protestant group does so on the grounds that it is not in the Bible or its not Biblical.

  13. Jerry,

    Because in the Protestant world, particularly the one’s Smith is addressing, they all believe they are getting their doctrines from the Bible–alone. A Catholic is not getting their doctrines from the Bible alone, therefore they are not on the “same team” so to speak. The other Protestant group gets a free pass because “at least they are trying their best from Scripture”, whereas the Catholic, in the Protestant view, believes in doctrines regardless of their biblical grounding. In one sense, Protestants argue about the Bible whereas Catholicism reminds them that it also matters who is arguing.

    Imagine two children arguing over who gets to go next in a game. They go back and forth, never able to resolve the conflict. A third child walks up and joins in the debate. After about 15 minutes, the kids are almost in a full scrap, and it is clear that none of them will concede to the other’s opinion. At just that moment, their father walks up and tells them whose turn it is, and–with a slight bit of prodding–the game resumes in a semblance of order. The problem wasn’t the rules of the game, it was who gets to interpret the rules and who has the authority to resolve a conflict. The kids forgot the “who” and therefore devolved into a chaos of competitive opinions. So too, the Protestant communities bicker, without the authority of the Church, and are like children without a Father (and Mother).

  14. Protestant church authority could never hold a council to define a dogma to make it binding on the the mind of the believer. For example the doctrine of infant Baptism — in the Protestant world that teaching would never get resolved and it would be always up in the air. Well in the Catholic Church the teaching has been resolved and it is **Binding** on the Catholic Christian mind. In the Catholic Christian world this decision can be trusted even to the point of death.

  15. Hey Brent I like your conversion story. Welcome home!

  16. Great stuff on EWTN and in the book review.

  17. [...] section. Also discussing the book are Chaplain Mike at the Internet Monk, Brent Stubbs at Called to Communion, and my Patheos colleague Scott McKnight over at Jesus Creed. (In fact, Scott has an 8-part series [...]

  18. To those who might be interested, Smith talks about his book in a five-part video interview on YouTube. In video #2, he defends his book as not an attempt to come up with the right “theory or hermeneutic” but rather to show “how the Bible really works”, “a description of the actual usage of scripture” or kind of a field guide for what biblicism looks like on the ground (my words).

    ht: Frank Beckwith

  19. Brent, Thanks for the review. To be clear, and some may have said this above, I do not propose the second half of the book as the solution to biblicism. For those determined to stay Protestant, they are the best constructive responses I could imagine. I know some who believe them to be enough. But they are not enough for me. Hence my becoming Catholic 2 years ago. If you’re interested, that I tell about in my other book, How to Go From Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in 95 Difficult Steps (Cascade, 20110). Best, Chris Smith

  20. Dr. Smith,

    I appreciate the clarification, and thank you for making a comment on my review. The second half of the book probably “feels like” a solution because of your robust effort in diagnosing the problem in the first half. We have a tendency to “see” what we are “looking for”, and after the first half, it would be natural to look for relief. Is it possible that one might do that with the Bible? : )

    In this forum, one might argue that “the best constructive response(s) I could imagine” would constitute the best Protestant theological response to any of the questions you raised in the first half. Maybe that’s why the book has received the back-lash that it has from certain Protestant circles since they could clearly “see’ in Scripture that your “best constructive response” was wrong, and their “best constructive response” was right. Which proves your major premise.

    I’m looking forward to reading your other book as soon as I get a chance.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  21. For starters, Smith quoting Joseph Smith is absurd. See what Jos. Smith thought of Catholics–he got them all wring as well. Next, Bryan writes, “Such widespread chronic interpretive pluralism and its resulting fragmentation upon fragmentation into sects upon sects does one thing: it falsifies the perspicuity thesis …” I disagree. Protestants would tell you that the fact countless diverse Protestant churches remain, all vital, all being used of God to bring salvation, points to the workability of the thesis. John Paul II told Billy Graham, “We are brothers!” In what matters most, the Spirit does bring clarity. Look at Evangelical and Catholics Together for proof of that. As for God “wanting” diversity, maybe not, but He draws straight with crooked lines. Did he “want” thee gross confusion wrought by Vatican II?

    Also, as I have written elsewhere, I’d argue that the clarity of Rome is just as frittered away and lost in its application as any Protestant confusion so Smith’s point is just as moot as any Protestant insistence on inerrancy. When a Catholic can effectively answer the contentions of the SSPX about John Paul and universalism, or can reconcile Ray Brown and the new PBC with the old popes’ clarion and clear defenses on inerrancy, or demonstrate if ROme things missing Mass is a mortal sin, maybe THEN they will be convincing. Until then, the sound every bit as dubious in their claims to acute certainty as all the Evangelicals. Catholicism is awash in competing doctrinal claims. Go to any parish and try to find anywhere near the uniformity of belief you’d find much more easily in Evangelical churches. You won’t be able to do it. In terms of a paper Church, Smith may be able to make a case. Applied to the reality of post-Vatican II Catholicism, all I can ask is, What on earth makes you guys think you have a leg to stand on in a spitting contest with orthodox Evangelicals. I am a convert myself, but I think their case has every bit as much integrity as that of Roman Catholicism as we are currently living it. The fact you will likely disagree just proves to me you are just as much an example of Smith’s thesis of people plugging in to like minded groups as the Protestants. After all, does anyone think a NCReporter subscriber would get along here?

  22. On how Catholicism experiences the same splintering in application:

    http://areluctantsinner.blogspot.com/2011/09/fragmented-liturgy-there-are-far-too.html

  23. Joe: Protestants would tell you that the fact countless diverse Protestant churches remain, all vital, all being used of God to bring salvation, points to the workability of the thesis.

    One can go church shopping among the tens of thousands of Protestant sects and hear anything one desires to hear. But it is an incontrovertible fact that tens of thousands of Protestant sects teach contradictory doctrine, and that means that someone has to be teaching heresy. Teaching heresy is not a sign of vitality, it is a sign of decay.

    Joe: John Paul II told Billy Graham, “We are brothers!”

    Of course. Billy Graham is validly baptized, and who would doubt that he Billy Graham desires to lead men and women to Christ?

    Joe: In what matters most, the Spirit does bring clarity.

    I don’t know why you would say that, especially using Billy Graham as your example. When Billy Graham was a young man he openly preached the antinomian flavor of OSAS – that is, if you get “saved”, there is absolutely no possible sin that you could ever commit that would keep you from going to heaven. Oh really, Mr. Graham? How about committing the sin of unrepentant Satan worshiping, and dying as an unrepentant Satan worshiper? Wouldn’t that keep you out of heaven?

    Billy Graham no longer openly preaches antinomianism, and the last time I looked at his website, I could not find any evidence that Billy Graham still preaches antinomianism. But as far as I know, Billy Graham has never renouced antinomianism either.

    From a Catholic point of view, it is not possible to corrupt the Gospel message any more than to assert that a Christian could become an unrepentant Satan worshiper and still have “eternal security”. Practicing Catholics believe that Christians that become unrepentant Satan worshipers have no reason to think that their everlasting destiny will be anything other than the second death in the lake of fire. There are holiness evangelical sects that agree with what Catholics believe, and there are evangelical sects that openly embrace the antinomian flavor of OSAS. The Spirit does bring unity, but there is no unity among Protestant evangelicals on essential doctrines. The the ongoing Lordship Salvation controversy raging among evangelicals is not a sign of unity, and there can hardly be a more fundamental question than the final destiny of unrepentant “carnal Christians”.

    But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.
    Revelation 21:8

    Joe: Catholicism is awash in competing doctrinal claims.

    Please define what you mean by “Catholicism”. If I am a Catholic in name only, am I really a Catholic? The existence of multitudes of heretics that are Catholic in name only does not mean that the Catholic Church has no official doctrine. Cafeteria Catholics are just Protestants that refuse to join Protestant churches. Some cafeteria Catholics are that way out of ignorance, and some are that way out of obstinate refusal to accept what the living magisterium infallibly teaches. Obstinate doubt of some truth which is to believed by divine and Catholic faith is the the definition of heresy, and heretics incur a penalty of automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication from the Catholic Church.

    Code of Canon Law

    Canon 751: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

    Canon 1364 §1: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

    Since excommunication entails the loss of membership in the Catholic Church, it is actually impossible to be a Catholic and also be someone that knowingly dissents with doctrine that has been infallibly taught.

    Joe: Go to any parish and try to find anywhere near the uniformity of belief you’d find much more easily in Evangelical churches. You won’t be able to do it.

    The local parish does not have any authority to teach anything other than what the magisterium teaches. If one finds a parish that teaches bunk, that does mean anything more than that parish teaches bunk.

    Can I find a uniformity of belief in one of the Evangelical churches in my town? Sure I can, but what of it? When a Protestant disagrees with what his sect is teaching, he can go church shopping until he finds a different church that agrees with his personal interpretations of scriptures. And that is my experience with adult evangelical Protestants – they will church shop until they find a church that agrees with what they believe. So of course it is not unusual to find a uniformity of belief in a particular Evangelical church, because those that disagree with the pastor of that church are either encouraged to leave the church, or if they have enough allies within the church, they can have a they have a coup d’etat and replace the pastor with someone that preaches what they want to hear. Either way, the result is uniformity, but it is only a uniformity of like minded individuals, which is not a criterion that establishes that what is believed by the like minded individuals is, in fact, the truth. Uniformity of belief could mean nothing more than a bunch of like minded individuals confess what is heretical.

  24. Joe, do you really not see any differences between the way evangelicals disagree with each other and the way Catholics disagree with each other?

    Also statements that begin with the words, “The fact you will likely disagree just proves to me…” don’t bode well for any serious discussion.

  25. Joe,

    You wrote:

    Protestants would tell you that the fact countless diverse Protestant churches remain, all vital, all being used of God to bring salvation, points to the workability of the thesis.

    God is able to (and does) work through (in the sense of bring good from) evil, even from falsehood, deception, heresy, murder, rape, genocide, etc. — God is able to bring good from all of those. But that does not mean that any of those things are good or acceptable or something to which we should turn a blind eye, or rest content in, and not strive with all our effort to prevent, let alone participate in. So likewise, the fact that God is able to work through groups in schism from the Church in order to bring persons to faith in Christ does not mean that schism from the Church is good or acceptable or something to rest content with, let alone participate in or perpetuate. And we know not only from Scripture but from the Church Fathers something about the severe gravity of the evil of schism (see “St. Optatus on Schism and the Bishop of Rome“).

    The perspicuity thesis is not that by Scripture alone, and without a Magisterium, God can work to bring about good or bring persons to faith in Christ. That’s why the fact that God can work through heretical and schismatic sects is fully compatible with what I claimed in the quotation of mine you cited. The perspicuity thesis is a much stronger claim than that God can work to bring salvation in people through schismatic and heretical sects. The perspicuity thesis is that by Scripture alone, without a Magisterium, the visible unity of the Church can be preserved. And that’s why widespread chronic interpretive pluralism and its resulting fragmentation upon fragmentation into sects upon sects does in fact falsify the perspicuity thesis, because it shows that Scripture is not sufficiently perspicuous to preserve the visible unity of the Church. If the Church were to lose visible unity, she would cease to be a city set on a hill, for then the world would not know where she is. Without visible unity, the Church is no longer visible. (See “Christ Founded a Visible Church.”) If you aren’t convinced that the perspicuity thesis has been falsified, consider this: If the perspicuity thesis were false, the situation within Protestantism wouldn’t look any different than it does now, at least not in any principled way. It is meaningless to claim that x is true, if were x to be false, everything would be exactly the same.

    In what matters most, the Spirit does bring clarity.

    There is no way for a Protestant to give an exhaustive list of “what matters most,” because among Protestants there is no agreed upon criterion by which to distinguish “what matters most” from “what does not matter most,” and no person among Protestants with the authority to speak for all Protestants or determine for all Protestants what that criterion is. But the Catholic Church has such a way, because she has a unified Magisterium with a unified visible authority.

    Did he “want” thee gross confusion wrought by Vatican II?

    No, God is not the author of confusion or dissension. God’s antecedent will and consequent will are not the same. The confusion that followed the council was brought about by men who by negligence or pride misled others.

    I’d argue that the clarity of Rome is just as frittered away and lost in its application as any Protestant confusion

    You didn’t actually provide the argument. But no Protestant (as such) has in front of him a Catechism he can know to have been compiled by the Church Christ founded, authorized by the teaching authority Christ established while on earth. There is no comparison whatsoever. In Protestantism not a single doctrine has been definitively established, and no Protestant can know that his sect is the Church Christ founded — his choice of denomination represents his best guess (for now) at what the Bible teaches. So no book or confession or catechism put out by his denomination is any more certain than his own present opinion regarding the proper interpretation of Scripture.

    When a Catholic can effectively answer the contentions of the SSPX about John Paul and universalism, or can reconcile Ray Brown and the new PBC with the old popes’ clarion and clear defenses on inerrancy, or demonstrate if ROme things missing Mass is a mortal sin, maybe THEN they will be convincing.

    If “effectively answer” is defined as persuading everyone who hears the answer, then it is trivially true, because it is tautologous. But in that case, even Jesus couldn’t “effectively answer” contentions, because He didn’t persuade everyone who heard Him. Catechized Catholics, however, can give good, clear answers to each of those three issues; if you want to know them just ask.

    Catholicism is awash in competing doctrinal claims. Go to any parish and try to find anywhere near the uniformity of belief you’d find much more easily in Evangelical churches.

    You’re conflating the existence of uncatechized Catholics (or Catholics in material heresy) with there being no fact of the matter regarding questions of doctrine. The existence of uncatechized Catholics (in material heresy) does not show or imply or entail that the Catholic Church does not have a set of defined dogmas. Moreover, in addition to the defined dogmas, there are open theological questions in Catholic theology. And that’s fine. But Protestantism is not in that same boat because for Protestantism every theological question is still an open question, since without Magisterial authority and without ecclesial infallibility no doctrine can be definitively established or definitively determined, no interpretation can be established definitively; ultimately therefore, every theological claim remains an open question in Protestantism, including even the canon of Scripture. That’s why it was (is) so vulnerable to liberalism.

    And the Catholic Church does not have the convenience of forming thousands of little schismatic sects in which persons who share the same opinions can be placed together. Neal has described this difference between the Catholic and Protestant paradigms (where the Protestant paradigm tends to separate itself from fields containing tares, and where the Catholic Church is a “here comes everybody” approach); I recommend reading his comment #13 in The Authority of Divine Love thread, and his comment #53 in the Doug Wilson on Apostolic Succession thread.

    You appeal to the NCReporter as though that proves your point. But, that undermines your case. The NCReporter was condemned by the bishop in whose diocese it exists, already back in the 1960s. (See here.) If you’re not sure about what the Catholic Church teaches, follow the bishops in communion with the successor of St. Peter. It is no surprise that if persons who dissent from the bishops are allowed to count as authentic authoritative voices in the Church, then there will be confusion and lack of clarity. But that’s just not to understand who has the authority in the Catholic Church — namely, the bishops in communion with the successor of St. Peter. It is like counting the Donatists as Catholics, and then claiming that the Catholic Church doesn’t provide certainty or clarity regarding doctrine. The problem, in such a case, is counting the Donatists as Catholics, or as persons authorized to speak for the Catholic Church. Likewise, appealing to people or organizations that dissent from the bishops in communion with the Pope, as evidence that there is no doctrinal clarity in the Catholic Church, is loading an anti-Catholic assumption into the picture, namely, the assumption that the bishops in communion with the Pope have no more authority than do those who dissent from them.

    The differences in the different authorized forms of the liturgy are fully compatible with the unity of the Church, because the unity of the Church is based on the three bonds of unity: unity of faith, unity of sacraments, and unity of hierarchy. Otherwise, if it required absolute liturgical uniformity, there would be no place in the Catholic Church for all the other Eastern Catholic rites. The degrees and types of liturgical diversity permitted are prudential judgments by the Magisterium (for better or worse), but they are compatible with, and do not destroy the three bonds of unity.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  26. Joe,

    You said in the combox of the post you linked:

    I think there is reason for us to hope. Knowing that God is ultimately guiding the Church and that Our Lord has promised that she will never be conquered, I have a feeling that – in about 200 years’ time – Catholics will look back on our ecclesiastical period and wonder

    So, on the other hand you seem to reply to a part of your contention. I’m sure you have no congruent hope for the evangelical sects. Further, Smith’s quote of Joseph Smith is apropos given that you could simply add Catholicism to his list of choices and still prove his point: outside of an authoritative teacher there is no principled way at arriving at a theological conclusion that is binding on anyone’s conscience other than your own. We don’t arrive at Catholic dogma by per se agreeing with it through our own private judgment, but rather we submit to Her as teacher and ground our belief in that which is the ground: The Church.

    Since I was a part of a rigorist sect before becoming Catholic, I’m very concerned with sentiments that seem to equate theological and liturgical perfection with only that which is acceptable in the kingdom. The Catholic Church is the Ark, and as such, full of “animals” of all kinds. In His Church, we enjoy the beauty of God working with human frailty, yet despite our failings, we all know we are in the same ship–not because we have told ourselves so–but because when we look around we can see we are in Peter’s barque. As you said, we always have hope that His Ark will grow in holiness and perfection and not decay into apostasy as is the history of the sects because Christ promised so and 2,000 years has confirmed that He watches over his word to perform it.

    Through the Immaculate Conception,

    Brent

  27. Bryan RE#25
    You said:

    If the Church were to lose visible unity, she would cease to be a city set on a hill, for then the world would not know where she is. Without visible unity, the Church is no longer visible.

    And this is exactly why I stand by my statement in the comments on “Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven” in comment #144 where I wrote:

    what I am not saying is that the Catholic interpretation of some biblical passages is perspicuous. What I am saying is that the location of the body that is authorized to truthfully make sense of those passages is perspicuous.

    For me this is the bottom line issue and why my wife and I are beginning RCIA in two weeks. I do not believe Christ left us a Church where I had to stake my eternal salvation on my best guess as to what the Gospel message even is.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  28. Aaron-

    I’ve been following your comments here, especially your dialogue with Andrew McCallum. I’ve been inspired by your thoughtfulness and sincerity. As an “adult convert” myself (Easter 2008), I am so happy to hear of your plans to begin RCIA. I would like to take a moment to commend you and your wife and encourage both of you on your journey. Peace be with you! Herbert VanderLugt

  29. Dear Brent,

    Thank you for this ‘guest post,’ and I hope that we hear more from you soon.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  30. Tom,

    Thank you and glad you are back safely from your overseas duties.

    God bless you and yours,

    Brent

  31. Aaron G. #27,

    First, you are in my prayers on your journey. Second, I wanted to comment on something you said:

    I do not believe Christ left us a Church where I had to stake my eternal salvation on my best guess as to what the Gospel message even is.

    I was recently in a discussion with someone about just this point. Identifying “the Church” based upon one’s view of orthodoxy would have almost instantly guaranteed the failure of the Church. The locus of responsibility would have fallen upon the individual family and their ability to accurately hand-off the “true teaching” to their children so that they, too, could identify the “true Church”. It implies both ability and access to the corpus of the deposit of faith in such a way as to equip one to thwart all heresy. However, this is impossible and would obviously lead to wide spread confusion–especially amongst the uneducated and proud. Such a scenario could be described as “sheep without a shepherd”: men and women aimlessly roaming around looking for greener pastures. With this in mind, Pope St. Clement penned to the schismatics in Corinth:

    “[lay] aside the proud and arrogant self-confidence of your tongue. For it is better for you that ye should occupy a humble but honorable place in the flock of Christ, than that, being highly exalted, ye should be cast out from the hope of His people”

    I think you are right to say, in other places, that Christ’s Church can be found and that She is perspicuous. St. Ignatius’ famous line, “”Wheresoever the bishop appears, there let the people be, even as wheresoever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church,” is rather straightforward and obvious and brings us great consolation that we can be with Christ and stay en-grafted into the vine by abiding with his Apostles and their successors. Chapter 11 of the Didache makes the distinction between “teacher” and “Apostle” in this vein. One (the teacher) is to be received according to the orthodoxy of their teaching, the other (apostle) “as the Lord”.

    May we all see that when we receive “them” we receive Him (Matt 10:40).

  32. Brent RE#31 and Herbert RE#28,

    Brent,
    Thanks for the comments. I am a subscriber to your blog and have been for the past several months. My wife and I were just last night discussing this idea of the location of the Church being perspicuous. We were noting how at out current PCA church (which we helped plant about 2 years ago) so much effort has had to go into pushing our little city up the hill so people can see it. It seems that this has been the sole preoccupation of our pastor at times. Gotta be out having coffee with people and making connections; gotta have a location on a busy street; gotta put signs up all over town; gotta run an add on Facebook; gotta have full nursery and several Sunday School classes or people will go somewhere that does; gotta have social events we can invite people to, etc.. The main thrust of our conversation was that after all this time and effort spent on trying to push the city up the hill it seems like there is so little time left over for actually shepherding the sheep that are already a part of the flock.

    The irony is that the Latin Mass parish we have begun to attend (when we can get away from our current church without being noticed) is a beautiful chapel in the back of a neighborhood without so much as one street sign on the way. You wouldn’t even know it was there unless you went looking for it. And yet at the High Mass yesterday at 10:30am it was absolutely packed; no nursery, no Sunday School, no street signs, no advertisements. Just one heck of a line of people waiting to go to confession and then encounter the risen Lord in the Eucharist. It really was a beautiful thing, and to think this has been going on for so long and I have been completely oblivious to it.

    Keep up the great work on your blog, I have enjoyed it immensely!

    Herbert,
    Thanks for your kind comments and encouragement. Please pray for my wife and I as we have some difficult conversations ahead of us, particularly with my family (who go to our current church) as well as all of our church friends, some of whom we hope to remain close with.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  33. “I do not believe Christ left us a Church where I had to stake my eternal salvation on my best guess as to what the Gospel message even is.”

    That pretty much sums it up: the need for an external authority is only necessary if salvation is up to man and his choice. But it’s not. If you believe that salvation is the work of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost – if you believe in the doctrines of grace – there is no issue regarding “how will we know?” The plethora of heresies among the unregenerate which exist alongside the correct belief is irrelevant to the elect, who are not faced with the task of choosing among the varieties because they WILL know the truth, and WILL be set free.

    It’s always comes down to the same thing: you either accept that salvation is solely the work of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, or you make man’s choice, left to his own means, in some manner necessary – which requires external safeguards like an authoritative Church with a pope, etc.

    If you see the need for a magisterium, you’re reasoning with the flesh, not the Spirit, and losing the picture of how salvation works; something’s off in your doctrine.

  34. William: It’s always comes down to the same thing: you either accept that salvation is solely the work of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost …

    William, is saving grace given as a gift from God to an infant through the Sacrament of Baptism?

  35. William,

    What would you say to a Calvinist who would make the same argument about the bible? That is that we don’t need to believe scripture is inerrant because the elect will know the truth, and WILL be set free. So if we are elect we need not worry and if we not we have no chance. So it seems to argue for moral relativism. Follow your own truth and if God is going to save you then that will line up with absolute Truth. If not, too bad for you.

    But Calvinists don’t think that way when it comes to scripture. They defend inerrancy and they work hard to arrive at what they think is the right interpretation of the bible. In fact one of the things they point out when addressing whether or not we can trust scripture is that Christianity becomes unworkable if the bible cannot be trusted. So why is that irrelevant when it comes to the church and not irrelevant when it comes to scripture?

  36. The plethora of heresies among the unregenerate which exist alongside the correct belief is irrelevant to the elect, who are not faced with the task of choosing among the varieties because they WILL know the truth, and WILL be set free.

    I guess I was not one of the elect as a Reformed guy then. Because I was constantly “choosing among the varieties” and trying to discern the correct belief. You seem to be saying here that for the elect, that will not happen, so that would show I was never elect I guess.

    The problem is William, I have a hard time believing you don’t also find yourself about the task of choosing what to believe from within the Protestant church. But as long as you just define all differing views as those of “the unregenerate” I suppose it makes it easier to identify the ever shrinking, elite group of the “elect”.

    -OR- Christ left His Church a teaching authority to objectively determine what heresy is.

    I think a visible teaching office makes a bit more sense.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  37. William RE#33
    Thanks for your response. A few things:
    You said:

    the need for an external authority is only necessary if salvation is up to man and his choice

    Except that even Protestants don’t believe this. The Bible is an external authority so it follows in your logic that salvation is man’s choice.

    You said:

    …the elect, who are not faced with the task of choosing among the varieties because they WILL know the truth…

    Do you believe that one has to believe in the Gospel to be saved? If so, if two people come to me claiming they both have the true Gospel, and yet they contradict each other, in what principled way am I to distinguish between the two such that I am sure I am one of the elect?

    You said:

    you’re reasoning with the flesh, not the Spirit

    Again…in what principled way am I to determine that you are “reasoning with the Spirit” yet I am not.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  38. William:

    “If you see the need for a magisterium, you’re reasoning with the flesh, not the Spirit, and losing the picture of how salvation works; something’s off in your doctrine.”

    God did give us a brain, did he not? Furthermore, I’ve read a lot of Aaron G’s posts and he does not strike me as somebody who isn’t approaching these decisions very, very prayerfully. He is discerning with his mind (flesh) AND his Spirit.

  39. William,

    You’ve set up an unfalsifiable claim since, I am sure, since you speak as one in “the elect”, and thus “know”. Therefore, you would never admit to being in heresy since you have the “doctrines of grace”. You are your own teacher and student. The Holy Spirit, I’m assuming, has revealed these directly to you and therefore you need no Church to teach you since you can get to the truth directly via the Holy Spirit and your Bible. The problem is that I “know” and have been “set free”, yet we disagree on the “doctrines of grace” (see mateo’s question in #34), and I know through an instrument of the Holy Spirit: The Church Christ founded. Even more, I am concerned as to how you can know you are in the elect, given that at one time I “knew” I was in the elect like you and believed like you.

    you either accept that salvation is solely the work of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, or you make man’s choice, left to his own means, in some manner necessary – which requires external safeguards like an authoritative Church with a pope, etc.

    I agree with the former, thus the later is a non sequitur unless you would like to demonstrate how the two are incompatible. I can see that you think they are incompatible but I don’t know why you think they are. If Christ established the later, there is a reason they are not incompatible. (See Bryan’s “Christ Founded a Visible Church”)

    If you see the need for a magisterium, you’re reasoning with the flesh, not the Spirit, and losing the picture of how salvation works; something’s off in your doctrine.

    On the one hand we are not to have a magisterium, on the other you have set yourself up as a magisterium to judge that “something is off in (my) doctrine”. Or are you acting as something else? In other words, why should I care what you think versus someone else who disagrees with me but who also disagrees with you?

  40. Mateo,

    Not as far as I can tell from Scripture.

  41. @William (#33)

    [T]he need for an external authority is only necessary if salvation is up to man and his choice.

    I don’t believe that and honestly I suspect you don’t either. Here’s why: Looking around our world, it should be relatively obvious that there are all kinds of instances where external authority are needed (police officers and the military are great examples). These are not necessary, as you state, only if salvation is up to man and his choice.
    But perhaps you meant only in an ecclesiastical context? Again, I don’t believe this and I doubt you do too. Our OPC elder preached a sermon just this last Sunday on the duties of a pastor – part of those duties is to ensure that his congregation does not fall into heretical beliefs. And this kind of external authority is quite necessary even if, as you say, salvation is not up to man and his choice.
    I’ll quote you, William, in what follows but I want to say at the outset that I’m not frustrated with you. Far from it – you’re not saying anything myself (or any other Protestant trying to take Catholicism as the intellectually serious position that it is) hasn’t likely heard already. That said, I’m writing in the context of one who has been Protestant his whole life. Existentially and socially, I have all kinds of reasons to want to remain Protestant. And, honestly, there’s not much more that I’d like than for the best Protestant and the best Catholic arguments to be weighed off, and for Catholicism’s positions to be found wanting. In other words, Protestantism shouldn’t be a hard sell to me (or anyone else raised in a Protestant church and having spent considerable amount of time dealing with Reformed argumentation). Yet it is, and here’s why.
    William, you express a very common belief:

    If you believe that salvation is the work of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost – if you believe in the doctrines of grace – [then] there is no issue regarding “how will we know?”

    Brother, I’ve had I don’t know how many Protestants tell me this, and I must confess it utterly mystifies me. I (and every Catholic here) agrees that salvation is the work of the Trinity, and does believe in the doctrines of grace – to the best of my knowledge, these are necessary conditions for being a Christian in the first place! Yet please don’t try to sell me a song that’s plainly off key – there are substantial epistemic issues remaining nonetheless. Moreover, these substantial epistemic issues extend as significantly and as deeply as sacramentology (How many sacraments are there? What is Communion? Whom do you baptize?) and ecclesiology (Congregationalism vs. Presbyterianism, Is the Bishop an ecclesial office, etc). Worse yet, these are disagreements among Protestants – that is to say, among those sharing roughly the same hermeneutic, of roughly equal intelligence, and of roughly equal Godliness (insofar as one can externally evaluate the last, of course).
    Far from what you indicate, then, I don’t see how you believe that the elect “WILL know the truth, and WILL be set free” (emphasis yours). Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli were of 3 different minds of just these questions I identified above – on the kind of argument you’re giving, I’m forced to conclude that any 2 of these (if not all 3) were outside of the elect. Such is, for my money, plainly not the case. Epistemic problems don’t disappear just because we’re among the elect, and our need for external authority exists beyond one’s beliefs the role of mankind in salvation.
    So call me a frustrated Protestant if you will – heck, just say I’m not among the elect if y’like (it’s not as if I haven’t heard it before). If there’s anything that’s both philosophically and theologically obvious, it’s that men need theological oversight to keep from slipping into error. Pastors and elders are among those appointed by God to keep such a thing from happening. But, as many have said here before, the choice of which pastor and church is to keep watch over you is neither random nor arbitrary. Christ started a church, one church, and that’s the one I want keeping watch over my beliefs. One can either trace that church out through apostolic succession or through one’s own subjective evaluation of “which church got it right” (Lutherans, Presbyterians, 7th Day Advs, et al). Both of these require a measure of subjective judgment – but the former, I submit, requires much less in the way of subjective judgment than the latter. And (apparently not by coincidence), there’s a substantial body of Patristic literature from the ancient churches suggesting that apostolic succession is the way to trace out which “church” actually is the Church – that is, the earthly and visible representation of Christ which has been given care for my soul.
    I’m getting long-winded and overlong, so I’d best close off. If I’ve given you offense, William, I sincerely apologize – it was not at all intended. I think I’ve just grown weary of Protestants implying that the quest for “certainty” (really “Truth”) is somehow undesirable, or that the desire to have Christ’s Church (as opposed to any old “church”) watching over my soul is somehow illegitimate. I’m a Protestant looking for something Christ told me he left on earth – namely, the Church and the Truth. And if finding the Church and the Truth necessitates leaving my lifelong Protestantism behind, I don’t think that that’s a wrong thing to do – do you?

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin

  42. @ William,

    I just saw that there have been approximately ten billion responses to your note (within a hefty margin of error, of course). ;-) Apologies for piling on, and feel free to ignore the additional cacophony generated by my #41.

    Sincerely,
    Benjamin

  43. Ben,

    No problem . . . well, there is a problem: I don’t see how I’ll ever find the time to address all of the comments.

    I’ll do my best when I have some time – which I don’t now.

  44. @Benjamin:

    …feel free to ignore the additional cacophony generated by my #41.

    @William:

    …well, there is a problem: I don’t see how I’ll ever find the time to address all of the comments.

    I wonder if Benjamin’s advice isn’t a bit of a misunderstanding – and William’s response. Both seem to assume that the barrage of responses are all over the map. I don’t think they are. William has put forth a position of an inner light – one that means he can never need the Bible, for instance, as an authority, only, possibly, as a source for the Spirit to shed light on. I think, William, that your position proves too much. It is basically the Quaker position and I really doubt there can be any room for any discussion. Either one has the same inner light as you or one has not. If one disagrees, one must not be of the elect and there is no point in talking more about it.

    I don’t think you would need to respond separately to each person who has commented. All you need to do is to show how your view makes for any principled basis for discussion at all.

    jj

  45. Bryan,

    Helpful comments. Will digest and get back with you. Thanks.

    Joe

  46. mateo: William, is saving grace bestowed given to an infant through the Sacrament of Baptism?

    William: Not as far as I can tell from Scripture.

    I am not intending to sidetrack this thread into a discussion about infant baptism, but I would like to examine your reply and how it relates to the question of teaching authority within the church that Christ founded, and your claim that “If you see the need for a magisterium, you’re reasoning with the flesh, not the Spirit, and losing the picture of how salvation works; something’s off in your doctrine.”

    Since the question of infant baptism is germane to the question of how babies are saved, how is that I am to know that you are not merely “reasoning with the flesh” when you reject baptizing infants because, as far you can tell, that practice isn’t “scriptural”. From my point of view, what you are telling me in your reply is something about yourself, and not about what Christians should believe because it has been taught with an authority that comes from God. (Unless, of course, you are claiming the authority to teach all Christians what is conscience binding doctrine concerning infant baptism based on your personal interpretations of the scriptures.)

    First, why should I even accept the idea that unless a practice such as baptizing infants is explicitly spelled out in your Protestant bible, that this practice cannot normative for Christians? Where, exactly, are the verses in your Protestant bible that would back up such a claim about your Protestant bible? You don’t have to answer that question, because I know that there are no scriptures to be found within your Protestant bible that make such a claim about your Protestant bible. In fact, there are verses within your Protestant bible that explicitly contradict such a claim. For example, in Matthew 18:17 we see Christ commanding Christians to listen to his church or be excommunicated. So if the church that Christ founded teaches that we should baptize infants, then to have scriptures actually be authoritative, I must listen to what the church that Christ founded teaches.

    So how do I know with certainty what the church that Christ founded actually teaches about a practice such as infant baptism, unless I listen to those who are authorized by the church that Christ founded to teach about this matter? There is nothing whatsoever to be found within your Protestant bible that teaches that I should listen to men or women that found their own personal churches that teach their own private interpretations of the Protestant bible. And I am thankful for that, because there are thousands upon thousands of Protestant sects that were founded by men and women that teach contradictory doctrine – utterly novel doctrines that are based on their private interpretations of a Protestant bible that Protestants allege to be so perspicuous that there is no need of any living teaching authority.

    The best argument that I can give against the Protestant claim that Christians can do without a living Magisterium that is authorized to teach in the name of Christ is this: the dismal reality of Protestantism itself – the reality of thousands upon thousands of contentious Protestant sects that cannot all agree on one single point of doctrine!

  47. Randy,

    I’m having trouble following your argument. You have to remember the context. I was commenting on a statement by someone that they couldn’t believe Christ would leave him in a situation where he “had to stake my eternal salvation on my best guess as to what the Gospel message even is.” Now, neither that individual nor I believe that, but I don’t believe that because I have the assurance of Scripture that the elect will hear Christ’s voice and be provided by the Holy Spirit directly with everything they need to know: the sheep will hear His voice, etc. He apparently doesn’t believe the sheep will be abandoned because of the provision of the Catholic Church, a unified human body with a central authority. I see no warrant in Scripture for placing our security on the Church rather than directly on the Holy Ghost and the Word of God. I do see plenty of support in Scripture guaranteeing the guidance of the latter.

    Faith is the gift of God. Scripture does not indicate that the mediation of a Church is necessary for the receipt of that gift, though Scripture does indicate that God utilizes the means of preaching and a hearing of His Word as a vehicle through which that faith is imparted.

    To put it in a nutshell: I do not believe unconditional election, irresistible grace and the preservation of the saints or any of the doctrines of grace depend upon a centralized human institution (Church) to provide answers to dilemmas regarding the meaning of Scripture that are necessary to be resolved or answered for salvation and which would otherwise be irresolvable without that institution.

    I believe in an anointing by the Spirit that will ensure that all the elect hear the voice of Christ and come to the Father – the Father, not the Church. I believe that because it is what Scripture says, and I don’t need a bishop or pope to tell me that in order for me to know that is what it says.

    Perhaps this response may go to responding to some of the other “plethora” of responses that have welled up against me. :)

  48. Brent,

    I’ve read my post over (#33) after reading your comment (#39), and, I’m sorry, but nowhere in my post do I take the position that I am one of the elect, and I do not assume that for purposes of my argument.

    I take Scripture as the word of God, and it says that the elect will know, that they will hear Christ’s voice, that none of them will be lost, etc. I could be one of the damned and, since I can read, still know that.

  49. William,

    Then, how do you know the “doctrines of grace”?

  50. In reading 46 fm Mateo in his response to William which refers to a post on infant baptism and salvation, I am reminded that the Jews circumcised on the eighth day. The tiny boy was surely much to young to recognize much of anything, but the purpose was to bring that boy into the people of God.

    That same argument appears to have been used for baptism, and – if I remember correctly – the Church made an early decision about whether one had to wait for the eighth day before permitting baptism for a newborn. (One did not have to wait for the eighth day was the decision.)

    In the Acts, Cornelius and his entire household were received and baptized into the Church by Peter. We don’t know the ages of the people in Cornelius’ household – there is no record of that of which I am aware – so we cannot know whether newborns or little children were involved, but we do know that Peter was responding to our Lord’s direction that even the pagans can be saved. Being a large and generous Lord, I have no problem believing that even young pagans can be baptized and saved; and find that consistent with the idea of infant circumcision – noting that salvation is of the Jews.

    In 47 William in his response to Randy notes the statement the Jesus’ sheep will hear His voice. I believe that this is the same Jesus Who told Peter to “feed My sheep.” Might one construe that Jesus intended for His sheep to hear His voice as carried by Peter and His successors who were given this charge? I would not limit this to hearing the oral word of God only, but suspect that it also includes confecting the sacraments, in particular the Eucharist, the Passover of the New Covenant.

    Cordially,

    dt

  51. Brent,

    “Then, how do you know the “doctrines of grace”?”

    So you’re taking the discussion away from the issue of whether the elect have an assurance other than the Church that they will know the necessary truths and not adopt a heretical position on such to the issue of whether someone who is not among the elect can understand what Scripture says? If what you are implying is the case (such that only the elect could understand the truths of Scripture), everyone with correct belief or understanding of Scripture would be saved. We know that is not true: intellectual assent to the truths of the faith is not the criteria. However, embracing a doctrine that is contrary to what must be held to be saved does prevent salvation – and we know from Scripture that the elect will not be prevented by a false belief – or anything else – from being united eternally with their Lord. We don’t need a Church to ensure that – the Holy Spirit ensures that.

    Or do you really believe that, without the Church and the teachings of the magisterium, one of the elect can embrace a heresy and go wrong as to the doctrine of the Lord that infallibly calls them?If you really believe that, I don’t see how you could think that a Protestant or anyone who does not look to that “necessary” magisterium could be saved. Think about it.

    In any event, I hope you can see that the questions are distinct. Or do you really believe that, without the Church and the teachings of the magisterium, one of the elect can embrace a heresy and go wrong as to the doctrine of the Lord that infallibly calls them? And that the only people who understand what Scripture says will be elect? Didn’t James tell us that the devils, for example, believe Christ is the Son of God?

    You are trying to mold the distinct questions into one to convince yourself (and others) that I fit into a certain caricature you have of a Protestant – you are trying to force me into a mold. No thank you.

    But you can take solace in the fact that you’re not the only one here doing that.

  52. jj,

    “one that means he can never need the Bible, for instance, as an authority, only, possibly, as a source for the Spirit to shed light on.”

    I don’t want to beat the same drum here, but where on earth do you get that from my belief that the Holy Ghost infallibly ensures that the elect will know the truths necessary for their salvation? You can easily fit a belief of the necessity of Scripture into my framework by simply incorporating a belief that the Holy Ghost will lead all of the elect to the written word of God into that framework.

    And one could also fit Brent’s position into such a framework by believing the Holy Ghost will ensure that all of the elect are incorporated into the Catholic Church, for example, by baptism, and all of them will be subject to the magisterium of the same.

    Let’s try to be precise about the arguments, and not start seeing straw men that cause the vision to blur.

    I am simply saying that it is clear from Scripture that the elect are protected by the unction of the Holy Spirit from wandering into any doctrinal error that will prevent their salvation. I do not see Scripture as indicating that it is the Church that does that. A person could be saved without access to the Church or Scripture. Do you agree?

    I do know that the Scriptures cannot be broken, and that they provide all that is necessary to believe for salvation. Like the noble Bereans, any man can – and should – look to the Scriptures to see if this or that is so. If they are among the elect, they will see what is so, and what is not. BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT SCRIPTURE INDICATES. That’s all.

  53. William,
    You said:

    I am simply saying that it is clear from Scripture that the elect are protected by the unction of the Holy Spirit from wandering into any doctrinal error that will prevent their salvation.

    Except that this is not what you said in post #33. But putting that aside, all this means is that each individual needs some principled way to determine what constitutes “doctrinal error.” The Catholic argues that Christ founded a visible Church which he granted the authority, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to define what constitutes “doctrinal error.” See Acts 15 for an example. So in this respect the Catholic Church is in full agreement with your statement above and invites you to submit to the Church founded by Christ so that you can be sure that you do not “wander” into “doctrinal error.”

    Also, when you say it is “clear from Scripture,” all you are saying is that it is clear to you. When someone takes the opposite opinion and believes that it too is “clear from Scripture,” how do you tell which one of you is elect such that that person is “protected by the unction of the Holy Spirit” so that you can resolve your dispute?

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  54. Also, when you say it is “clear from Scripture,” all you are saying is that it is clear to you.

    Alright, here we go. I’ll cite some relevant Scripture for you:

    Jeremiah 31:33

    But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

    1 John 2:20

    But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.

    1 John 2:27>/strong>

    But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

    James 1:5

    If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

    These passages are straightforward, and not because I say they are straightforward. Someone saying these passages mean something other than that the elect will receive an anointing from God such that they know His truth does not require the establishment of a Church to sift it out.

    If you want to claim these passages aren’t clear as to the point at issue, there’s nothing I can do about that. An opposite position would simply not be true, and that’s as plain as day. Someone denying the light doesn’t make the light go away.

    The evil one always wants to create confusion; it’s his modus operandi. He creates false needs and false claims, and justifications for them.

  55. William –

    Do not feel the need to respond to this comment. It is just to get you thinking, and a lot of people have engaged you in discussion. But how about this for a clear teaching from scripture, right out of the mouth of Our Lord:

    “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

    Have you eaten the flesh of the Son of man? How can you be sure that what you thought was the flesh of the Son of man was actually the flesh of the Son of man and not something else.

    Also, Paul calls himself a teacher of the Gospel repeatedly. Was he a heretic because he felt the need to teach others the Gospel rather than just letting the Holy Spirit teach directly? Furthermore, all throughout Paul’s letters he is concerned with whether or not people are teaching true doctrine. Look at 1Timothy. Paul is extremely concerned with who is teaching and what they are teaching. He even explains why we need to appoint episkopoi to make sure that truth is being taught.

    Again, what you are saying is that they are clear to you. They aren’t clear to me.

  56. William, I submit that your entire argument commits the No True Scotsman fallacy.

    William: No Christian holds to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church
    C2C: We are Christians and we hold to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church
    William: No true Christian holds to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church

    I’ll leave it up to the readers to weigh in…

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  57. You guys are too much.

    We have one of you claiming that I “reject baptizing infants” (mateo #46) because I simply said I see nothing in Scripture that says saving grace is bestowed on an infant through baptism (see #46 again) and another who says that my argument entails the claim “no Christian holds to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church”(Aaron #56).

    I must be made of straw for you guys to see so clearly between my lines. :) I had no idea that in entering this site I’d be playing the Strawman in the Wizard of Oz.

    Seems you guys have a lot of anxiety about your past.

  58. Fr. Bryan,

    I would like to comment on your comments in due time. Thanks.

    William

  59. William said:

    If you want to claim these passages aren’t clear as to the point at issue, there’s nothing I can do about that. An opposite position would simply not be true, and that’s as plain as day. Someone denying the light doesn’t make the light go away.
    The evil one always wants to create confusion; it’s his modus operandi. He creates false needs and false claims, and justifications for them.

    Recently I was conversing with some relatives of mine who are ultradispensationalists. They used the exact same logic, and quoted the exact same scriptures that you just did to justify their views. (they do not baptize, they believe Jesus is an Old Testament prophet, they reject all scripture but Pauls writings as being for Christians, they are King James onlyists, non-lordship salvationists, etc…) They told me when I was Reformed, and they tell me now as a Catholic I am just “simply” wrong. The scripture is just so clear, and if I can’t see the simple truth of what they find there, then tough cookies, I must not have the Holy Spirit. Then they (as you just did) imply a diabolic origin for any ignorance of their view.
    The passages you cite are absolutely not clear. You cant resort to table pounding to make them clear, just as my fundamentalist brother-in-law cant. If they were clear, there would not be multiple views of them. Many learned, godly men have read them and come to different interpretations.

    Saying the ones that disagree with you have sucumbed to a devilish plot and/or are not elect and/or do not have the Holy Spirit is what is simply ridiculous. You would not put up with that from a Mormon or a dispensationalist, so why use that logic yourself?

    The simple fact is, godly, Spirit filled Christian men disagree about what the bible says concerning some very major doctrines. (Benjamin’s #41 explained that well) Brushing them aside as bedeviled is just a cop-out.

    Peace,

    David Meyer

  60. William: I am simply saying that it is clear from Scripture that the elect are protected by the unction of the Holy Spirit from wandering into any doctrinal error that will prevent their salvation.

    There are no scriptures that teach that Christians are incapable of losing their salvation by committing the sin of apostasy, or that it is impossible for Christians to listen to dissenters that teach a heresy that will lead to their destruction! Dissenters that teach the heresy of “Once Saved, Always Saved” are heretics to be avoided, since that heresy has the potential to lead one’s destruction.

    For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.
    Hebrews 6:4-6

    I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them.
    Romans 16:17

    Note that the author of Hebrews is explicitly speaking about those who “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit”, but then have chosen to treat Christ with contempt by committing the the sin of apostasy. Only a Christian can be a “partaker of the Holy Spirit”, and that is why non-Christians cannot even commit the sin of apostasy.

    William: I’ll cite some relevant Scripture for you …

    The scriptures you cite only show that Christians will know the truth that sets them free; they don’t prove that Christians are incapable of becoming apostates or heretics.

    As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
    Matthew 13:20-21

    But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. … They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog turns back to his own vomit, and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire.
    2Peter 2:1-2 & 19-24

    The dog that returns to the vomit is the Christian that had previously “escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”. But these Christians did not choose to persevere in the Christian faith after they had been set free from the bondage of sin. Instead, they either became heretics or they chose to follow heretics, and they became once again entangled in the defilements from which they had been set free. Their new state of being as heretics and/or apostates is spelled out explicitly by Peter, “the last state has become worse for them than the first” – that is, they are worse off as heretical and apostate Christians than they were as non-Christians that never had received “the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

  61. Hello William,

    I’m the moderator of this discussion, and I know this is your first time here, so I’ve been cutting you some slack, but you need to go to the ‘About’ tab at the top of the page, and then click on the “Posting Guidelines” tab, and read that. Among the rules for commenting here, one of them is no personal attacks / ad hominems. That means, among other things, that you may not attack the character or motives or intelligence or education of anyone else here. So, comments like “Seems you guys have a lot of anxiety about your past” are not allowed, because they are criticisms of other persons here. If you include such remarks in your comments, they won’t make it through moderation. So, please make sure that you do not include any personal attacks in your comments; your criticisms should be criticisms of claims, positions, arguments, etc., not of persons. That way, we can have a civil and fruitful discussion of what still divides us. Thanks.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  62. Mateo,

    There are no scriptures that teach that Christians are incapable of losing their salvation by committing the sin of apostasy, or that it is impossible for Christians to listen to dissenters that teach a heresy that will lead to their destruction!

    I see this is going to be my refrain here: I didn’t say that (i.e., that “Christians” will never fall into apostasy or heresy).

    After all, “they are not all Israel, that are of Israel.” Romans 9:6.

    The ones the Father gave Christ will never be plucked out of his hand. The elect will are not apostates or heretics and do not need the Catholic Church to avoid apostasy or heresy. You have offered no exegesis of the passages I offered to indicate that they do not mean what I say they mean. In fact, you say “The scriptures you cite only show that Christians will know the truth that sets them free.” You’re not far off: it’s the elect, the “but ye” of 1 John 2:20, who will know the truth that sets them free.

    Do you consider some “apostates” or “heretics” among the elect? If not, the Hebrews passage cannot be talking about them, can it?

  63. Bryan,

    Hello. I have you.

    William

  64. William,

    You said:

    So you’re taking the discussion away from the issue of whether the elect have an assurance other than the Church that they will know the necessary truths and not adopt a heretical position on such to the issue of whether someone who is not among the elect can understand what Scripture says?

    No, I’m responding to your claim where you said:

    If you see the need for a magisterium, you’re reasoning with the flesh, not the Spirit, and losing the picture of how salvation works; something’s off in your doctrine.

    First, reasoning with the flesh has to do with sin not with the physical world. The flesh is not the physical world (i.e., visible); thus, claiming that I am carnal because I think the Holy Spirit uses the Church to lead His sheep into all truth does not mean that I am un-spiritual or fleshly. Yet you continue to assert that Christ establishing an authoritative Church and the work of the Holy Spirit are incompatible when you say:

    We don’t need a Church to ensure that – the Holy Spirit ensures that.

    Please demonstrate how the two are incompatible. As you continue in your last comment to me, you confuse the ordinary means of salvation from the extraordinary means of salvation. If Christ established an authoritative guide, gave her prince Apostle the keys of the kingdom, and empowered her with the Holy Spirit, then under ordinary circumstances rejecting that guide would be tantamount to rejecting Christ. Jesus didn’t say, “If they receive you–because the inner witness of the Holy Spirit guarantees in their hearts that you are my Apostles because I have infallibly called them as the elect of God–they receive me.” No. He said, “If they receive you, they receive me.” I’ll safely assume that there are many that “do not know what they are doing”, and accordingly I pray, “Father, forgive them”.

    You are trying to mold the distinct questions into one to convince yourself (and others) that I fit into a certain caricature you have of a Protestant – you are trying to force me into a mold. No thank you.

    I have no use for caricatures of Protestants any more than I have of Catholics. Again, I am simply asking you to explain:

    1. How an authoritative Church and the work of the Holy Spirit are necessarily incompatible?

    and

    2. Why should I think that simply because you “can read” (#48), you believe accurately regarding the doctrines of grace? What am I, Joe Christian, suppose to do when Sally disagrees with me regarding that which I believe, yet also disagrees with you? (by the way, that’s the point of Christian Smith’s book)

  65. @William:

    I don’t want to beat the same drum here, but where on earth do you get that from my belief that the Holy Ghost infallibly ensures that the elect will know the truths necessary for their salvation? You can easily fit a belief of the necessity of Scripture into my framework by simply incorporating a belief that the Holy Ghost will lead all of the elect to the written word of God into that framework.

    Yes, certainly you can. But that was my point, William. On the doctrine of the inner light, the Scriptures are not the authority for your faith. It is the inner light that tell you that the Scriptures are what will guide you to Christ. The inner light is the authority.

    jj

  66. William: I see this is going to be my refrain here: I didn’t say that (i.e., that “Christians” will never fall into apostasy or heresy).

    I didn’t put the quotes around the word Christians, you did. I made the point that the author of Hebrews is explicitly saying that one can be a “partaker of the Holy Spirit” and still become an apostate by treating Christ with contempt. Those who partake of the Holy Spirit are not so-called “Christians”, they are Christians, and Christians can commit the sin of apostasy.

    William: Do you consider some “apostates” or “heretics” among the elect?

    Some of the elect can become unrepentant apostates. An unrepentant apostate is a faithless Christian, and anyone who becomes faithless has no hope for salvation.

    But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.
    Revelation 21:8

    St. John is making the same point as the author of Hebrews, that unfaithful Christians will not be saved. That is what Christians have always believed until the novelty of Protestant OSAS doctrine was unleashed upon the world by men such as Johannes Agricola. Luther accused Agricola of misunderstanding him, and Luther claimed that Agricola was spouting the heresy of antinomianism. Lutherans to this day do not preach OSAS doctrine, and neither do many other sects within Protestantism.

    I don’t want to sidetrack this thread into a discussion about how scriptures allegedly teach that the elect are a special class of Christians that also partake of the divine life of the Holy Spirit just like the the “Christians”. Nor do I want this thread to devolve into a discussion about the Protestant doctrine of Once Saved, Always Saved in either of its forms, the antinomian form of OSAS that is preached by Evangelical Protestants such as Billy Graham, or the Calvinist form of OSAS that preaches that the-elect-are-incapable-of-commting-the-sin-of-apostasy-because-irresitible-grace-has-taken-away-the-freewill-of-the-elect. I am only intending to make the point that it is crystal clear to me that the scriptures do not support Protestant doctrine of OSAS in either of its forms.

    William, it seems to me that you claim that the scriptures teach the Calvinist flavor of Protestant OSAS doctrine. You won’t ever convince me that what you see in scriptures is actually there, because you can’t give me any explicit scriptures that state that Christians cannot commit the sin of apostasy. Instead, I apparently have accept your exegesis of scriptures to “prove” that the elect are a special class of Christians – Christians that are incapable of committing the sin of apostasy.

    I have quoted some scriptures that I believe explicitly contradicts Protestant OSAS doctrine in either of its two forms. Obliviously the scriptures I have quoted do not convince you that your exegesis is faulty. The problem that I am having is with your exegesis, not with the scriptures. And, of course, you would say the same thing right back to me, and to all the other Protestants that agree with me that Calvinst OSAS doctrine is nowhere taught in the scriptures. You would say that our exegesis is faulty.

    The bible alone is never going to resolve this dispute, and that is proof enough for me that an authoritative living Magisterium is necessary if Christians are going to know with certainty what constitutes orthodox doctrine. But I don’t have to settle for that argument in favor of an authoritative living Magisterium within the Church that Christ founded. I don’t need to settle for that argument, because I see in the scriptures a command from Christ that we are to bring these kinds of disputes to the church that he founded. Christians are obligated by Christ to listen to the church that Christ founded, or be excommunicated. There is nothing in the scriptures that instructs me to listen to John Calvin’s personal church, or to any other personal church founded by some man or woman. So ultimately our disagreements will either be resolved in the scriptural way, by listening to the Church that Christ founded, or they won’t be resolved.

    So William, where do I find the church that Christ founded so that I may listen to what she has to say? I will never listen to some church founded by a man or a woman, because that would be acting against the authority of scriptures.

    Christian Smith’s greater point, and the one he makes well in the first half of the book is that the notion of the “Bible alone” as understood in the biblicist tradition has simply failed as a method for resolving theological conflict of almost any kind.

    Not only cannot the “Bible alone” paradigm ever resolve theological disputes, the paradigm itself is unscriptural.

  67. David,

    Saying the ones that disagree with you have sucumbed to a devilish plot and/or are not elect and/or do not have the Holy Spirit is what is simply ridiculous.

    What I said was that the evil one sows confusion as his mode of operation, and he does so particularly with regard to the word of God. You disagree with that? Read Genesis 3 a few more times.

    The passages you cite are absolutely not clear.

    Ipse dixit. Where is your exegesis of the texts to show that my reading is wrong?

  68. Brent,

    I didn’t say the Holy Spirit and the Church were “necessarily incompatible.” Gosh, I don’t know where these things come from. My position is that the elect receive an anointing from the Holy Spirit such that they – the “many,” the ones whom it is written that Christ will infallibly save – it is impossible that they depart from the true faith, and that that impossibility does not depend upon their listening to, or subjecting themselves to, a corporate Church magisterium. We have not discussed whether such a magisterium is “necessarily incompatible” with the guarantee: as I pointed out elsewhere, my position could be fit into a framework where the magisterium is a necessary part of the guarantee: for example, the Holy Spirit could move all of the elect to be incorporated into the Catholic Church and subject to the pope. I do not take that position because I do not read Scripture as indicating that the Church is a necessary part of the guarantee: it is the anointing and unction of the Holy Spirit that is the guarantee, period.

    So, as to your first question, the question of “necessary incompatibility” is not germane to the point on the table, and has not been mentioned by me.

    2. Why should I think that simply because you “can read” (#48), you believe accurately regarding the doctrines of grace? What am I, Joe Christian, suppose to do when Sally disagrees with me regarding that which I believe, yet also disagrees with you? (by the way, that’s the point of Christian Smith’s book)

    As to this question, we look at the texts at issue. We discuss them. We consider them not only in context, but in light of the rest of Scripture. The texts I put on the table are not ambiguous as to the point they are making – I have heard nothing to indicate my reading is wrong. I have been accused of a “cop out” by others. Well, the “cop out” is a claim of ambiguity that merely points to a difference of opinion and says, “see, we need a central authority to resolve it. ” Any authority could use the claim of disagreement to justify the need for it. What is the issue? What are the texts involved? If they are unclear, is it an area where there is liberty? If so, no authority is needed to settle it.

    Finally, I repeat my main point: none of the elect will be lost, or fall into heresy or apostasy, and the reason they will not is not because there is a Catholic Church that can solve disputes about the meaning of the word of God.

  69. Willaim,
    I appreciate your dedication to understanding the Word of God.

    However, where in the Word of God does it unambiguously list all of the writings which are to be considered the Word of God? This list is needed so that when “we look at the texts at issue” we can then have the same frame of reference with which to see that issue “not only in context, but in light of the rest of Scripture.”

    Or does the unction of the Holy Spirit reveal to each member of the elect which texts are to be considered God’s Word from those which are not?

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  70. William,

    Finally, I repeat my main point: none of the elect will be lost, or fall into heresy or apostasy, and the reason they will not is not because there is a Catholic Church that can solve disputes about the meaning of the word of God.

    The big question here is so what? As a Calvinist you believe none of the elect can be lost and none of the reprobate can be saved. So nothing matters. But Calvinists do say things matter. Holiness matters. Truth matters. Scripture matters. It does not matter in terms of our salvation according to Calvin. Not many agree with him but suppose we could make ourselves sure his ideas on salvation were right. Would there be no need to solve disputes about the word of God? Calvin didn’t think so. Our motivations for doing God’s will might not include the salvation of our souls but we should still be motivated. That means we should still desire to be the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church that Jesus founded. We should still look at whether God gave us the grace of the offices of bishop and pope to help us do that. Not because it is a “necessary part of the guarantee.” Just because if God gave us such a grace we should live by it.

    You dismiss other interpretations of your scriptures too easy. Others have mentioned groups that have well known and different interpretations of said texts. Do they really need to make long exegetical arguments just to show there is an argument? If they do so then you might ignore the larger question and simply say why you disagree with said argument. The point is not that you can’t assert the other guy is wrong. You can. The point is that is not productive. It does not get us to the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic church Jesus calls us to be.

  71. Aaron,

    You make a valid point. If it comes down to a passage from, for example, the Apocrypha indicating something that is not answered by the texts from the Protestant canon . . . that would an interesting issue to deal with.

    However, both the Catholic and Protestant accept the Protestant books. It is on the basis of those books – accepted by both – that the Calvinist forms his beliefs. It is the books accepted by both sides that I have quoted for my statement that the elect receive and unction or anointing from the Holy Ghost such that they will embrace the truth of Christ, and be set free thereby.

    If you want to make it an issue that the Catholic Church determined the NT canon – ok. But God has used even evil men and organizations for His purposes – such as the Assyrians (see Isaiah 10, for example), etc. And please, those who are apt to take a relevant analogy for purposes of an argument and expand its scope – don’t. I am not comparing the Catholic Church to the Assyrians.

    Thank you.

  72. Randy,

    So nothing matters.

    A gross simplification of a Calvinist position that Calvinists, and myself, are exposed to without any basis from what they said. As in this instance.

    Others have mentioned groups that have well known and different interpretations of said texts.

    They have not. They have said, essentially, even if those texts mean what you say, so and so – who, for example, doesn’t believe in baptism – also agrees with you that those texts mean what you say. Ergo . . . they can’t mean what you say. That doesn’t work:

    A – X and Y agree that text Z means (a)
    B – Y takes the absurd position that text D means (b)
    C – Therefore, text Z cannot mean (a)

    Show me how Jeremiah 31:33 or 1 John 2:20 does not support my interpretation that the elect will receive an unction from the Holy Ghost such that they will know the truth necessary to make them “free.”

    That doesn’t follow. I hope you agree.

  73. William: Finally, I repeat my main point: none of the elect will be lost, or fall into heresy or apostasy …

    You are preaching that you believe in John Calvin’s doctrine of OSAS. This is not the place to debate this topic, and my point is that it is not only the Catholic Church that sees Calvinist OSAS doctrine as a corruption of the Gospel, but so do the Eastern Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox, the Lutherans, the Episcopalians and numerous other Protestant sects. In fact, the vast majority of Christians that are alive today, or ever have lived, have never embraced this novelty of the Calvinst religion.

    It seems to me to be irrational to claim that the majority of Christians that reject Calvinist OSAS doctrine do so because they are illiterate fools that cannot comprehend the “plain meaning of scriptures”. And I would be a mean spirited idiot if I asserted that those that believe in Calvinist OSAS doctrine do so because they are knowing deceivers that secretly wish to corrupt the Gospel.

    I think that it wholly reasonable to think that the disagreement among Christians about the doctrine of Calvinist OSAS is not a question of about whether or not the disputants are knaves or fools. Let us grant that people of intelligence and goodwill have a dispute about an important point of doctrine. What do the scriptures teach us we should do in this case? The scriptures do not teach that Christians that are on one side of the debate should bunker down into little sects that hold to some man’s private interpretation of the Gospel. Schism is seen as a sin in scriptures just like heresy and apostasy. The scriptures are clear, Christ started one church, not thousands upon thousands of divided little communities that preach contradictory doctrine.

    … there shall be one flock, one shepherd.
    John 10:16

    If you think that I am teaching heresy because I reject brother Calvin’s OSAS doctrine, what do the scriptures teach should be your response ot my rejection of what you sincerely believe? The answer to that question is found in Matthew’s Gospel where Christ gives these instructions to his followers:

    “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
    If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
    Matthew 18:15-17

    So what is the scriptural way of resolving a dispute about a brother Calvin’s OSAS doctrine among Christians of intelligence and goodwill? If we accept the scriptures as being authoritative, the scenario would go something like this: If I disagree with you about brother Calvin’s interpretation of scriptures, you would come to me and try to correct me – brother mateo, you should not reject Calvin’s doctrine of OSAS because you are upsetting me and causing dissension within the church that Christ founded. I would respond to you that brother Calvin is the one that is teaching heresy, not me. Then you would bring forth two other Christian brothers and try again to correct me again. I would tell you, and your two witnesses, that it is brother Calvin who is wrong, not me, and that you should conform your understanding of the scriptures to what Christ’s church teaches. Your final attempt to correct me would be to bring the dispute before the church for her to rule upon. The church that has the authority to declare what constitutes orthodox doctrine for Christians is the the church that Christ founded, not the church that Calvin founded, or Luther founded, or Aimee Semple McPherson founded. The scripture verses of Matthew 18:15-17 are the foundational verses that support the practice of holding Ecumenical Councils for settling once and for all disputes about doctrine within Christ’s church.

    The church that Christ founded has already ruled on brother Calvin’s private interpretation of the scriptures, and her ruling is that brother Calvin’s OSAS doctrine is heresy.

  74. William said:

    They have said, essentially, even if those texts mean what you say, so and so – who, for example, doesn’t believe in baptism – also agrees with you that those texts mean what you say. Ergo . . . they can’t mean what you say. That doesn’t work:

    I can’t do sylogysms very well. And your interpretation of the verses could be correct. My point before was that there are half a dozen others that might be right too. Saying the elect will get it right does not mean that you will get it right.

    Lets bring it down to earth: does it make you nervous just a little that everyone from dispensationalists to JWs to Mormons to emergents to Pentecostals to the guy in the pew next to you interprets those verses just like you do? And that they are all just as convinced as you that the Holy Spirit is leading them?

    Who had the Spirit on their side in the Reformation communion debate? Zwingli, Calvin or Luther? Which two was the devil misleading?

    Was it perhaps all three? ;-)

    Peace to you brother,

    David Meyer

  75. William RE#71,
    You have not answered my question, you have only pointed out that the Scriptures you quoted above are agreed upon as divinely inspired by both Catholics and Protestants. That is a red-herring and was never an issue here.

    My question was on what basis do you make the claim that the Scriptures you cited above, as well as any others with which we are to compare them to as to get their true meaning, are divinely inspired? Where in the Scriptures does it say unambiguously that Jeremiah 31:33, 1 John 2:20, 1 John 2:27, and James 1:5 are divinely inspired?

    If it does not, then was this revealed to you by unction of the Holy Spirit?

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  76. William:

    I didn’t say the Holy Spirit and the Church were “necessarily incompatible.” Gosh, I don’t know where these things come from.

    I thought you were implying that. I guess not. Thanks for clearing it up.

    for example, the Holy Spirit could move all of the elect to be incorporated into the Catholic Church and subject to the pope. I do not take that position because I do not read Scripture as indicating

    1. The elect will be incorporated into the Catholic Church–the Bride of Christ–outside of which there is no salvation. They will also be united to the pope who holds the keys of the kingdom given to him by Christ himself. To not be united to them, would to be outside of the Body of Christ and thus outside of salvation.

    2. Your last sentence indicates that your interpretation of scripture is your guide, not the Holy Spirit. You cannot assume the later, because as you said you don’t know if you are in the elect.

    As to this question, we look at the texts at issue. We discuss them…

    I find this process for resolving conflict taught nowhere in the Scriptures. You can make references to the importance of studying the Scriptures, but there is no place in Scriptures that teaches your process of resolving theological conflict.

    none of the elect will be lost, or fall into heresy or apostasy,

    That is the same unfalsifiable claim as, “All those in heaven will be saved”. Its a tautology with no import for a discussion between two individuals who, as you say, cannot know if they are in the elect or not.

    A – X and Y agree that text Z means (a)
    B – Y takes the absurd position that text D means (b)
    C – Therefore, text Z cannot mean (a)

    That is not what I am saying. Further, your middle term is an ad hominem. What I am saying is:

    1. A holds that Z means (c)
    2. B holds that D means (b)
    3. A holds that D means (f)

    If I agree with #1 and #2, then A is not an infallible teacher but only got something right by accident of his or her nature or has used some method that is ad hoc There is no principled way to believe that A got #1 right, for when by admitting #2, A cannot be right regarding #3. Further, this point is just another way of illustrating Smith’s jig-saw puzzle analogy.

    Show me how Jeremiah 31:33 or 1 John 2:20 does not support my interpretation

    1. You can find some relevant passages to wrestle with here. There is no way in a combox we could work through all of them nor could we work through the books and secondary literature associated with them.

    2. Your interpretation is correct if all that existed in Scripture were those passages. Of course they are not, thus your interpretations suffer from the error of isogesis–not just from the texts themselves but isolated from the Church and the Sacred Tradition. One of the most difficult tasks of Biblical exegesis is fitting the data into the larger, and sometimes apparently contradictory data. For example, 1 John 4:12 says, “No man hath seen God at any time”. Yet we know from John 1 that we beheld God when we beheld Christ. The passage itself doesn’t make the distinction of the Father, but the Scriptures do as a whole. Just few versus before, John says:

    “We are of God. He that knoweth God, heareth us. He that is not of God, heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error”

    This “us” is the Apostles and subsequently those whom they sent. Further, the passage regarding the law being written in their hearts can be just as easily understood as a reference to anyone who follows God’s law. This makes sense in relationship to the rest of John’s discourse regarding works animated by agape, and particularly fits well with St. Paul admonition in Romans 12:12-16.

    3. If we don’t need any teaching, then the entire New Testament is irrelevant. However, if we, unlike the children of Israel, have been given a teacher (The Church) by which we no longer are in need of a “teacher” because Christ has provided one (The Church), then the passage is compatible with the Church being a Teacher and the passages you cite. To use an analogy, not needing food, doesn’t only mean that I don’t need food anymore, but that the need has been met. Truly the Lord has given us a gift (unction), he gave it to us through the Apostles and their successors. He has guided that Church led by his apostles and their successors for 2,000 years.

    Praise be Jesus Christ!

  77. So nothing matters.

    A gross simplification of a Calvinist position that Calvinists, and myself, are exposed to without any basis from what they said. As in this instance.

    Exactly my point. You are the one reasoning from the gross simplification . If you get rid of the simplification your argument falls apart. The church matters for the same reason everything else does. That reason is different for Calvinists and Catholics but it does not really matter. All that matters is that there is some reason we care about the church. We want to get it right.

    A – X and Y agree that text Z means (a)
    B – Y takes the absurd position that text D means (b)
    C – Therefore, text Z cannot mean (a)

    The trouble is you are the one declaring Y’s position to be absurd. If it was objectively absurd then you would have a point. Also, the conclusion is not that Z cannot mean (a). Just that Z does not CLEARLY mean (a). That there is some controversy about whether (a) or (b) is true. That is different from your C.

    Show me how Jeremiah 31:33 or 1 John 2:20 does not support my interpretation that the elect will receive an unction from the Holy Ghost such that they will know the truth necessary to make them “free.”

    That doesn’t follow. I hope you agree.

    There is private revelation people receive from the Holy Spirit. But there is also public revelation. Why does Paul want to resolve the controversy over the Judiazers? Actually the epistles are full of authoritative resolutions of controversies. 1 John 2 saying “you know the truth” is simply giving their position in the given controversy apostolic support. Yes your private discernment, aided by the Holy Spirit, is right. Don’t follow those other guys who have gone out from us. There were people leading the faithful astray. They needed to be identified and the apostles did that job. So what should happen today? Throw out the role of the apostles and just keep private judgement? No. We still need an apostolic office but it has to be one we can trust. Some way to tell true teachers from false teachers. Of course the Holy Spirit is still involved.

    These verses don’t say knowing the truth will happen by magic. That it won’t involve teachers and scripture reading and prayer and struggle. It does not say to assume any idea that pops into your head has been written on your heart by God. That it must trump the idea that has popped into the next person’s head.

  78. Brent,

    “We are of God. He that knoweth God, heareth us. He that is not of God, heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error”

    This “us” is the Apostles and subsequently those whom they sent.

    That’s sloppy exegesis. I ask you to look particularly at I John 3, which immediately precedes, and the context in Chapter 4. Throughout, John uses the collective pronouns to be inclusive of himself, the apostles and those with them (the “little children” who “are of God”, 1 John 4:4), those not of the world, but of God. The opposition, throughout, is between those of the world and those of God. For example, look at 1 John 3:24, which reads:

    [blockquote]And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.[/blockquote]

    And in the very next verse after the one you cite, 1 John 4:7, the collective pronoun is clearly all of those who are of God, not an exclusive group of apostles within that larger group. The “us” is the larger group of all who are not “of the world”:

    Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

    But more importantly it doesn’t matter for our current purposes, because the construction, even if the “us” in the verse you cite suddenly becomes exclusive to the apostles only, is: he that is of God heareth us, not he that heareth us is thereby of God:

    We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

    Those who know God will know and hear those who bring the truth of God. That hardly weighs against my point, but confirms it.

    Let us reason together.

    God bless.

  79. Friends, let’s keep this discussion on the subject of Brent’s post.

  80. William,
    In light of Bryan’s request above, I would still be very interested in hearing your response to my post #75.

    Shalom,

    Aaron G.

  81. William,

    Thank you for the discussion. So that we stay on topic, let’s agree to disagree. You have evidenced a number of reasons that you believe your interpretation is right and I explained some of the reasons why I hold that your interpretation is wrong. Your reply has not, in the least, convinced me of your position. Obviously you are convinced; and may feel frustation at this point because you can “see” what I apparently– in your view–“cannot see”. Thus, we are at a stand still.

    We have only confirmed Smith’s claim that the Bible is “exponentially multivocal, polysemic, and multivalent, [and] semantically indeterminate” (p. 48)? The existence of the thousands of Protestant sects evidences the fact that the Bible under the unbiblical schema of sola scriptura produces a jigsaw puzzle effect whereby everyone has their own picture and their own left-over pieces. Yet your position, from its method, seems to imply that the “true” or “right” interpretation of Scripture are those rationally unassailable inferences from Scripture of which any that don’t “get it” are either spiritually-inept or dim-witted.

    Lastly, I had said:

    1. A holds that Z means (c)
    2. B holds that D means (b)
    3. A holds that D means (f)

    If I agree with #1 and #2, then A is not an infallible teacher but only got something right by accident of his or her nature or has used some method that is ad hoc. There is no principled way to believe that A got #1 right, for when by admitting #2, A cannot be right regarding #3. Further, this point is just another way of illustrating Smith’s jig-saw puzzle analogy.

    Let’s say you get 1 John right in relationship to the plural pronoun. Let’s say the N.T. Wright gets justification right. Let’s say Lutherans get baptism right. What does that mean?

  82. Hey Brent

    It seems to me that there is a certain presupposition (I haven’t read the book… just working from your review here) endemic in the book and your seeming affirmation of it. That is this: It is important to God that we all agree upon every specific theological tenet. While there are few who take their faith seriously who do not also take their theology seriously, I sometimes wonder if we don’t make a bigger deal out of theology than God wants. It seems to me that if God loves us and desires unity for the believers, He would hate theology as we practice it, precisely because it divides us.

    When Jesus got fed up with all the legalistic theology questions from the Sadducees and Pharisees, He said… “Look, you bozos, it all boils down to this: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (paraphrase mine) ;-)

    Not trying to minimize the importance of “rightly dividing the Word of Truth”… just cruising up to 10,000 feet and thinking out loud.

    In Him
    Curt

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