What’s So Great About Catholicism? A Brief Response to James White, et alJun 3rd, 2012 | By Andrew Preslar | Category: Blog Posts
James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries has responded to Joshua Lim’s story as featured on Called to Communion. One thing that immediately impressed me is how much ground White covers in this one podcast: He moves from CTC, to same-sex marriage, to exegesis of the Koran, in the space of ninety minutes. Being an apologist-at-large is not easy, and you have to admire a man who can cover so much diverse ground.
Another thing that stood out was White’s claim that we (the authors of CTC) do not make a positive case for Catholicism. More generally, he claims that, “Rome’s biggest sell is not a positive presentation of her actual theology.” In particular, he mentioned Purgatory, Mass attendance, and the Bodily Assumption of Mary as examples of Catholic theology that are avoided by advocates of Rome, who prefer instead to persuade people by inculcating “a lack of trust in the Scriptures.” Before considering some of White’s other comments, it bears mentioning, even at the risk of seeming defensive, that one can find a positive case on this website for each of the particular teachings that White specifically mentions: Going to Mass is discussed in various posts collected in the Index under “Liturgy and the Church Year,” the Bodily Assumption of Mary is discussed in Sean’s post on Marian typology and Bryan’s post on the Solemnity of the Assumption, and Purgatory is discussed in Bryan’s post on Indulgences, the Treasury of Merit and the Communion of Saints, as well as being the subject of a paper by CTC’s Neal Judisch published in Faith and Philosophy.
In each of these cases, we have to do with a wonderful and mysterious dimension of the Catholic Faith: Eucharistic, Marian, Communal, and Participatory. For the rest, as regards this website, I must simply refer readers to the Index, particularly the section on “Catholic Life and Devotion.” And as for what Rome is selling, this includes the monuments of Tradition such as the writings of the Church Fathers, and many of the devotional and theological works of the Middle Ages. There are no negative references to Protestantism in those sources. A Protestant could begin there, and stop on October 30, 1517, if he wants to explore the Catholic Church and at the same time avoid (explicit) critique of his own position. 
Judging by his comments in the podcast, it appears that White is persuaded that Catholicism is basically a Counter-Reformation oddly coupled with a post-Vatican 2 ecumenical eddy. Of course, the Church must reckon with heresies, schisms, and other evils, whenever and wherever they occur, but she has her own life, which comes from Christ in the Holy Spirit. Naturally, inviting others to participate fully in the life of the Church sometimes involves answering questions, clearing up misconceptions, and responding to objections, but those who eventually make the purchase know that Rome’s biggest sell is Catholicism itself.
White goes on to pose a few problems to Catholic converts: he calls into question the real world usefulness of the Catholic Magisterium, given the number of heretics that remain in the Church; he claims that asserting the parity (re authority) of non-infallible interpretations of Sacred Scripture has the untoward implication of an insult to the Holy Spirit, who guides some people, but not others, in their interpretation of Scripture; and he claims that making a fallible decision to submit to a supposedly infallible authority still leaves one standing upon fallible ground.
Each of these points is problematic, not for Catholics, but for White. First, the usefulness of the Magisterium can be objectively measured by noting the instances in history when it exercised its charism of teaching, in an extraordinary way, primarily in the ecumenical councils, normally in response to doctrinal disputes in the Church. Undoubtedly the Magisterium’s definitions of doctrine are not useful to those who reject the definitions and leave the visible communion of the Church or else become dissenters; but for those who receive these teachings, they are quite helpful. Secondly, White’s remarks on biblical hermeneutics vacillate between reducing the interpretation of Sacred Scripture to a purely intellectual exercise and the question-begging suggestion that understanding Sacred Scripture involves going to teachers who have the Holy Spirit of God. Thirdly, White’s assertion that the authority of the Catholic Church can never be greater than one’s fallible decision to submit to the Church is based upon a confusion of the order of being with the order of knowing. If the fallible decision to submit to an infallible authority rendered that authority as fallible as one’s decision, then this would prove far too much for Protestants, who claim both to be fallible and to submit to the authority of God as inscribed in written revelation.
White also touched on the question of certainty, in relation to biblical interpretation and Church doctrine, by way of claiming that Rome cannot deliver anything of the sort. This issue has also been raised in the comments following Joshua’s post and elsewhere, to the effect that dissatisfaction with fallible doctrines is psychologically curious, or even suspect, as indicative of being intellectually unrealistic, or childish, or insecure, or perhaps just a bit quirky. In general, the contention is that what Rome has to offer, by way of ecclesial infallilbility (or at least the claim to infallibility), is something that faith does not need. At best, the Church’s claim to infallibility is pastiche; at worst, it undermines the authority and effectively precludes the right use of Sacred Scripture, such that the doctrinal errors of men can be (and have been) rendered irreformable. In consideration of this objection, I have reworked the following post into a more focused assessment of the relationship between ecclesial infallibility and the assent of faith: Desperately Seeking Certainty, or the Obedience of Faith?
White put forward several other objections to Catholicism, but my purpose here, and in the revised post, has been to focus specifically on the hermeneutical and epistemological issues raised in White’s podcast and in the comment thread following Joshua’s article.
 Of course the Church’s life includes the great work of the 16th century Catholic Reformation, including her response to the Protestant Reformation (most notably the Council of Trent), as well as other developments in the Modern Age, including the great missionary work of the religious orders, and the First and Second Vatican Councils. Since the Church during these periods is substantially the same as the Church in earlier times, each period, with its distinctive teaching, devotion, and discipline, must be understood in relation to the others by means of a “hermeneutic of continuity.” See the post, “A Response to Scott Clark and Robert Godfrey on ‘The Lure of Rome’” for an argument to the effect that development in the Church, in doctrine, devotion, and discipline, is a natural and inevitable facet of her life.