Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category

K. Scott Oliphint on Covenantal Apologetics

July 9, 2013

My friends monty and taco (not his real name), recently directed me to a post by Scott Oliphint regarding covenantal apologetics (link to post). Among Oliphint’s important observations:

So, to the extent that a Covenantal Apologetic conforms to its theological roots, it is consistent, and that consistency is measured by Holy Scripture.

Which brings me to my second point. Consistency, rationality, and all such concepts have to be measured by the standard of Scripture, and not, in the first place, by what man’s mind can grasp or calculate.


Compare and Contrast

April 27, 2010

Dr. Ergun Caner (actual quotation): “All Christian ministers have critics. Some mean well; Others are just corrosive. U can’t shut them up, but U CAN SHUT THEM OUT.” (source)

Paul the Apostle (actual quotation): “I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:” (Source: Acts 26:2)

Same Apostle: “Mine answer to them that do examine me is this …” (I Corinthians 9:3)

Same Apostle: “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Colossians 4:6)

I’ll conclude by quoting from the inspired writings of another apostle:

1 Peter 3:8-17
Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.

– TurretinFan

Ergun Caner, Rick and Bubba, and Daisy Duke: How LBTS Does Apologetics

April 20, 2010

Ergun Caner was on the nationally broadcast “Rick and Bubba Show.” The name may sound a little backwoods to my urban readers, but Ergun Caner’s own web page makes a big deal about this show (link to discussion). This is touted on that link as being an example of how LU does apologetics: “As you can see at LBTS, we don’t just talk apologetics, we do apologetics.”

You can imagine our disappointment then at listening to the show, particularly the linked five and a half minute segment (the entire show apparently stretched to 90 minutes, this appears to be the first segment of the show) and finding the following comments (link to clip from start of show):

1) “I was raised in – I’m Turkish – 21 generations”

This may be technically true, because he changed his sentence halfway through, but he is giving the false impression he came from Turkey. Instead, he came from Sweden.

2) “Came to America when I was 13 years old.”

As far as we can tell he was 4 years old, or so, when he came to America from Sweden.

3) “My father wasn’t the imam but he was the ‘ulema’ one of the scholars in the mosque.”

Elsewhere in Caner’s discussion of his father, his father takes on various roles in the mosque. As best we can gather from the conflicting evidence, his father occasionally served as a “مؤذن mu’aḏḏin” which is not a kind of scholar, but rather someone who leads the prayers (something like a worship leader).

4) “This was the 70’s, ’78.”

Caner was born in 1966, so Caner wasn’t 13 until 1979. Moreover, Caner came to America around 1970. (UPDATE: I say “around 1970” because all we know for sure is that it was between 1968 when Ergun’s brother Erdem was born and 1970 when Ergun’s brother Emir was born.)

5) “Lost my family, lost everything”

He was disowned by his non-custodial father. It is a sad loss to be disowned by one’s father, but it is not quite the same as being disowned by one’s entire family and losing everything.

6) “That’s the only television I saw – the only American television, the only American television in Turkey, was whatever got approved, and so we got the Dukes of Hazzard … “

a) Ergun didn’t live in Turkey.

b) We’re supposed to believe that Islamic Turkish censors approved the Dukes of Hazzard?

c) The Dukes of Hazzard didn’t start until January 26, 1979

You might think that “Dukes of Hazzard” was just a slip of the tongue. But on another occasion, Ergun Caner made the same claim and further embellished it: “The second television we received was a thing called, ‘The Dukes of Hazzard.’ Man- whew – I know we in church and everything, but I wanted to marry Daisy. I wanted to go to the Boar’s Nest – I wanted to drive a car like this …” (link to clip).

7) “… every two weeks we would get out of Georgia, from TBS, Gordon Solie Georgia Championship Wrestling.”

TBS was launched December 17, 1976, which is also when the show (with TBS as a station) hit satellite. As noted above, Caner came to America with his family from Sweden in 1970. (UPDATE: as noted above, 1970 is the latest date, based on the fact that Emir was born in the U.S.)

Was the remainder of the 90 minutes better than the first five? I hope so. I’m sure Dr. Caner has a lot of good things to say. I’ve heard him say some pretty intelligent things. Nevertheless, may I suggest that this is not what LBTS wants to list as being an example of how LBTS does apologetics.


Eastern Orthodoxy and Reformed Radar

April 18, 2010

Mr. Mark Shea is determined to make sure that Eastern Orthodoxy is on our radar (link to Shea’s post). While we appreciate Mr. Shea’s attempt to bring clarity to the table, we are well aware of the Eastern Orthodox.

In fact, we’re well aware of attempts like those those of Mr. Shea to overplay the similarities between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. I responded to one such attempt in article called “If You Look Only at the Similarities, They’re Exactly the Same!

That article is actually an example of me discussing Eastern Orthodoxy with a Roman Catholic, but I’ve also defended Augustine against false charges brought by the Eastern Orthodox crowd in an article called “Eastern Orthodox Confusing Augustine with Gnostics

I’ve discussed the difference between the Western and North African canon of Scripture and the canon of more “eastern” fathers, such as John of Damascus in an article called “Did Hippo, Carthage, or Rome’s Bishop Settle the Canon?

I’ve responded to an Eastern Orthodox blogger on the topic of Ecclesial Infallibility (link).

Other posts related to the topic of Eastern Orthodox may be found under the “Orthodox” label on my blog (link to list of posts with that label).

I’ve even done a debate on Sola Scriptura with an Eastern Orthodox opponent (link to debate, in reverse chronological order).

Does some of the Internet apologetics world have a blind eye for Eastern Orthodoxy? Undoubtedly. Does Eastern Orthodoxy occupy as much of our energy as Roman Catholicism? Certainly not. Yet it is on the radar screen.

Shea quotes himself as thinking:

Dude. Have you ever heard of the Orthodox? They don’t exactly get their marching orders from the Pope, but they will laugh you out of dodge if you tell them these things are not apostolic or try to get them to sign off on some cockamamie theory of sola scriptura as though that’s what Athanasius believed.

If the Sufficiency and Perspicuity of Scripture a “cockamanie theory” so be it, but we’ve already seen that Athanasius held them (link to discussion of one of Athanasius’ letters).

It’s interesting that Shea said “laugh you out of dodge” rather than “refute your arguments.” It is, of course, one thing to laugh as Shea himself does, and as some Eastern Orthodox folks do. It is quite another to investigate Scripture to find out what is apostolic. It takes more than a jelly-bowl-imitating belly to digest history and investigate the truth of both Rome’s and Moscow’s claims.

This requirement for some amount of cerebral activity may explain the general paucity of apologists of all stripes (on both sides of the Tiber and the Bosporus). And while there may not be many Roman Catholic apologists of note in the English-speaking blogosphere, there are even fewer Eastern Orthodox, for a variety of reasons.

Even if the Eastern Orthodox were more numerous, however, there is at least a perception (among Reformed apologists) that Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t have a Trent: it does not have a dogmatic definition that declares the gospel of Christ to be anathema. It does not have a Vatican I: it does not claim that any of its bishops are infallible, nor does it claim that even the so-called Ecumenical Patriarch is the jurisdictional visible head of the church.

Eastern Orthodoxy has had men like Cyril Lucaris (1572–1638), who served as Patriarch of Alexandria and subsequently Patriarch of Constantinople. Cyril Lucaris allegedly (and various folks dispute this) wrote a Calvinistic “Confession” (link to confession). He also provided King James I with a copy of the ancient Scripture manuscript Codex Alexandrius (5th century) as a gift.

There may be many serious errors in Eastern Orthodox doctrine and practice, and we do respond to them as the opportunity presents itself. Nevertheless, Rome’s opposition to the gospel is more systemic and blatant.

This article was initially drafted in response to Mr. Shea, but in the meanwhile, I notice that a number of additional Roman Catholic bloggers have picked up on the same idea. The transmission of this argument is thus:

Dave Brown at Orthocath building on his own earlier post

via Dave Brown, Mark Shea at Catholic and Enjoying it!

via Mark Shea, Fr. Dwight Longenecker at Standing on my Head simply asserts that “Mark Shea makes a good apologetical [sic] point.”

via Mark Shea, Brian Visaggio at Saint Superman (quotes from Brown, with some comments on the beauty of the Coptic/EO liturgies)

via Dave Brown, Devon Rose at St. Joseph’s Vanguard and Our Lady’s Train (quotes from Brown, with repetition of some of Brown’s claims)

via Dave Brown, Francis Beckwith at Return to Rome (Beckwith simply provides a block quotation from Mr. Brown)

via Dave Brown, David Palm at The Reluctant Traditionalist (Mr. Palm makes a number of additional claims )

Additionally, one of Mark Shea’s readers, Alphonsus, points us to Jonathan Deane at Called to Communion with some similar thoughts.

Thus, I’d like to slightly broaden this post. First, in response to Mr. Brown, it is true that “Protestants” sometimes do sometimes think that church history goes from the book of Acts (or perhaps John on the Isle of Patmos) to Luther in 1517 (or to Billy Graham or their own parents). This is sad. There is much to learn from history, even though Scripture, not history, is our infallible rule of faith and morals.

Mr. Brown criticizes Lorraine Boettner, stating “This same list of “inventions,” popularized by Protestant theologian Loraine Boettner, puts the idea of seven sacraments as late as 1439.” In fact, in one list that Boettner provides, Boettner states: “34. The doctrine of Seven Sacraments affirmed: a.d. 1439.” The list of a list of dates of adoption, not dates of innovation, a distinction that Mr. Brown would do well to note.

In point of fact, while the Council of Florence (1439) enumerated seven sacraments, it remained to the Council of Trent (1545-63) to formally define the matter. Others may point to the idea that the Council of Lyons (1274) had the same enumeration among the documents presented to it. However, Roman Catholic sources themselves (such as the so-called “Catholic Encyclopedia”) will acknowledge that the honor or infamy for the “seven sacraments” distinctive lies with with Otto of Bamburg (around 1139) or more properly Peter Lombard (lived from about 1100 to 1160). Both of these men post-date the 1054 division between the eastern patriarchates and Rome. While the continuing interaction between East and West may well have cross-pollinated the error of seven sacraments to the East, it began as a distinctively Western error, even if folks like Otto of Bamburg and Peter Lombard were not “Roman Catholic” in the modern sense.

Mr. Brown goes on to overstate the separation of the “Coptic Orthodox” both from the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. His idea is to suggest that when Coptics, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholics agree on something, it proves it goes back to 450 A.D. This kind of idea is naive at best, for it ignores the very real interaction and cross-pollination that exists amongst those three groups, as well as between those groups and other groups, such as the Assyrian Church of the East or the Ethiopian Orthodox.

Mr. Brown concludes: “At the very least, we can say that at the time of the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), a Protestant theological approach is light years away. Did it exist before then? Were there Christians in the Early Church who looked like the Evangelicals of today? If so, they left no mark in either the Ancient Churches nor in the writings of the Church Fathers in East or West.” However, Mr. Brown should read more of the writings of the fathers, if he wants to find marks of the “Protestant theological approach” (at least as it relates to the formal principle of Sola Scriptura).

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch of Alexandria from 412-444), for example, said: “That which the divine Scripture has not spoken, how shall we receive it and reckon it among verities?” (Glaphyrorum in Genesim, Book II) He also wrote: “It is best not to love to be moved by the bold assertions others, since they carry us away to incorrect views, but to make the words of the inspired writers the correct and exact rule of faith.” (Of the Holy Trinity, Dialogue 4)

Let us grant that Cyril died in the decade prior to the Council of Chalcedon, yet it should be apparent to all but the most obstinate readers that his comments quoted above sound more “Protestant” than not. Surely, Cyril was not a “Protestant” nor would his church have looked like a typical American Evangelical church in a number of ways. Both ideas would be anachronistic. While we Reformed Christians would agree with Cyril on most things, there would doubtless be points where we would differ from him. When we would do so, we would do so because methodologically we agree with him: we make the words of the inspired writers the correct and exact rule of faith and do receive and reckon among those things to be believed those things the divine Scripture has not spoken.

And if someone will insist that we must bring forward someone who lived through the Council of Chalcedon, we will cheerfully point to Theodoret of Cyrus (lived from about 393 to 457) who wrote: “Now, I do not state this dogmatically, my view being that it is rash to speak dogmatically where holy Scripture does not make an explicit statement; rather, I have stated what I consider to be consistent with orthodox thought.” (Question 4 on Genesis) Keep in mind that Theodoret was, at times and on certain issues, a theological opponent of Cyril of Alexandria (I am understating the level of their disagreement). Yet both men agreed with each other and us on the fundamental rule of faith.

While Mr. Brown was more cautious in his claims, Mr. Palm was rather more reckless. Mr. Palm stated, among other things:

Christians have always been distinctively Catholic in their doctrine and worship. The Protestant “Reformation” was not a return to a lost “pure Christianity” but was in many areas something entirely new and revolutionary.

This sort of assertion is bold, but unfounded. Whether one looks at Newman and his development hypothesis, or the work of more recent historians such as J.N.D. Kelly or Jaroslav Pelikan, anyone who seriously studies history will find that as they get closer and closer to the time of the apostles, more and more of the “distinctively [Roman] Catholic” elements disappear. Indeed, the early church is “catholic” in the true sense, but it is not Roman Catholic.


While Eastern Orthodoxy is on our radar, it gets less attention for a variety of reasons that are discussed above. Like Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy alleges historical continuity – but a serious historical investigation shows that both Rome and (to a lesser extent) Eastern Orthodoxy have wandered from the purity of the apostolic faith and practice.


Knowledge of God by Faith in the Word of God: Fideism or Orthodoxy?

June 2, 2009


“Except ye believe ye shall not understand” – Isaiah 7:9 (LXX)

“The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.” – Psalm 14:2 (KJV)

“God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God.” – Psalm 53:2 (KJV)

“As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth.” – Daniel 9:13 (KJV)

“Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” – John 14:17 (KJV)

“My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.” – Proverbs 2:1-5

“Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” – Isaiah 43:10 (KJV)

“Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” – Hebrews 11:3 (KJV)

Church Fathers

Third Century

But the husbandry is twofold,— the one unwritten, and the other written. And in whatever way the Lord’s labourer sow the good wheat, and grow and reap the ears, he shall appear a truly divine husbandman. “Labour,” says the Lord, “not for the meat which perishes, but for that which endures to everlasting life.” [John 6:27] And nutriment is received both by bread and by words. And truly “blessed are the peace-makers,” [Matthew 5:9] who instructing those who are at war in their life and errors here, lead them back to the peace which is in the Word, and nourish for the life which is according to God, by the distribution of the bread, those “that hunger after righteousness.” For each soul has its own proper nutriment; some growing by knowledge and science, and others feeding on the Hellenic philosophy, the whole of which, like nuts, is not eatable. “And he that plants and he that waters,” “being ministers” of Him “that gives the increase, are one” in the ministry. “But every one shall receive his own reward, according to his own work. For we are God’s husbandmen, God’s husbandry. You are God’s building,” 1 Corinthians 3:8-9 according to the apostle. Wherefore the hearers are not permitted to apply the test of comparison. Nor is the word, given for investigation, to be committed to those who have been reared in the arts of all kinds of words, and in the power of inflated attempts at proof; whose minds are already pre-occupied, and have not been previously emptied. But whoever chooses to banquet on faith, is steadfast for the reception of the divine words, having acquired already faith as a power of judging, according to reason. Hence ensues to him persuasion in abundance. And this was the meaning of that saying of prophecy, “If you believe not, neither shall you understand.” [Isaiah 7:9] “As, then, we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to the household of faith.” [Galatians 6:10] And let each of these, according to the blessed David, sing, giving thanks. “You shall sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed. You shall wash me, and I shall be whiter than the snow. You shall make me to hear gladness and joy, and the bones which have been humbled shall rejoice. Turn Your face from my sins. Blot out mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in my inward parts. Cast me not away from Your face, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and establish me with Your princely spirit.”

– Clement of Alexandria (about A.D. 150 – 215), Stromata, Book I, Chapter 1

It is clear, then, that the truth has been hidden from us; and if that has been already shown by one example, we shall establish it a little after by several more. How entirely worthy of approbation are they who are both willing to learn, and able, according to Solomon, “to know wisdom and instruction, and to perceive the words of wisdom, to receive knotty words, and to perceive true righteousness,” there being another [righteousness as well], not according to the truth, taught by the Greek laws, and by the rest of the philosophers. “And to direct judgments,” it is said— not those of the bench, but he means that we must preserve sound and free of error the judicial faculty which is within us— “That I may give subtlety to the simple, to the young man sense and understanding.” “For the wise man,” who has been persuaded to obey the commandments, “having heard these things, will become wiser” by knowledge; and “the intelligent man will acquire rule, and will understand a parable and a dark word, the sayings and enigmas of the wise.” [Proverbs 1:2-6] For it is not spurious words which those inspired by God and those who are gained over by them adduce, nor is it snares in which the most of the sophists entangle the young, spending their time on nought true. But those who possess the Holy Spirit “search the deep things of God,” [1 Corinthians 2:10] — that is, grasp the secret that is in the prophecies. “To impart of holy things to the dogs” is forbidden, so long as they remain beasts. For never ought those who are envious and perturbed, and still infidel in conduct, shameless in barking at investigation, to dip in the divine and clear stream of the living water. “Let not the waters of your fountain overflow, and let your waters spread over your own streets.” [Proverbs 5:16] For it is not many who understand such things as they fall in with; or know them even after learning them, though they think they do, according to the worthy Heraclitus. Does not even he seem to you to censure those who believe not? “Now my just one shall live by faith,” [Habakkuk 2:4] the prophet said. And another prophet also says, “Unless you believe, neither shall you understand.” [Isaiah 7:9] For how ever could the soul admit the transcendental contemplation of such themes, while unbelief respecting what was to be learned struggled within? But faith, which the Greeks disparage, deeming it futile and barbarous, is a voluntary preconception, the assent of piety— “the subject of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” according to the divine apostle. “For hereby,” pre-eminently, “the elders obtained a good report. But without faith it is impossible to please God.” Others have defined faith to be a uniting assent to an unseen object, as certainly the proof of an unknown thing is an evident assent. If then it be choice, being desirous of something, the desire is in this instance intellectual. And since choice is the beginning of action, faith is discovered to be the beginning of action, being the foundation of rational choice in the case of any one who exhibits to himself the previous demonstration through faith. Voluntarily to follow what is useful, is the first principle of understanding. Unswerving choice, then, gives considerable momentum in the direction of knowledge. The exercise of faith directly becomes knowledge, reposing on a sure foundation. Knowledge, accordingly, is defined by the sons of the philosophers as a habit, which cannot be overthrown by reason. Is there any other true condition such as this, except piety, of which alone the Word is teacher? I think not. Theophrastus says that sensation is the root of faith. For from it the rudimentary principles extend to the reason that is in us, and the understanding. He who believes then the divine Scriptures with sure judgment, receives in the voice of God, who bestowed the Scripture, a demonstration that cannot be impugned. Faith, then, is not established by demonstration. “Blessed therefore those who, not having seen, yet have believed.” The Siren’s songs, exhibiting a power above human, fascinated those that came near, conciliating them, almost against their will, to the reception of what was said.

– Clement of Alexandria (about A.D. 150 – 215), Stromata, Book II, Chapter 2

5. That the Jews could understand nothing of the Scriptures unless they first believed in Christ

In Isaiah: “And if you will not believe, neither will you understand.” [Isaiah 7:9] Also the Lord in the Gospel: “For if you believe not that I am He, you shall die in your sins.” [John 8:24] Moreover, that righteousness should subsist by faith, and that in it was life, was predicted in Habakkuk: “Now the just shall live by faith of me.” [Habakkuk 2:4] Hence Abraham, the father of the nations, believed; in Genesis: “Abraham believed in God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” [Genesis 15:6] In like manner, Paul to the Galatians: “Abraham believed in God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. You know, therefore, that they which are of faith, the same are children of Abraham. But the Scripture, foreseeing that God justifies the heathens by faith, foretold to Abraham that all nations should be blessed in him. Therefore they who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”

– Cyprian of Carthage (died about A.D. 258), Treatise 12, First Book, Section 5 (heading of section is accurate but authorship may not be original)

Fourth Century

Now as for the question, how any single thing came into existence, we must banish it altogether from our discussion. Even in the case of things which are quite within the grasp of our understanding and of which we have sensible perception, it would be impossible for the speculative reason to grasp the “how” of the production of the phenomenon; so much so, that even inspired and saintly men have deemed such questions insoluble. For instance, the Apostle says, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen are not made of things which do appear [Hebrews 11:3].” He would not, I take it, have spoken like that, if he had thought that the question could be settled by any efforts of the reasoning powers. While the Apostle affirms that it is an object of his faith that it was by the will of God that the world itself and all which is therein was framed (whatever this “world” be that involves the idea of the whole visible and invisible creation), he has on the other hand left out of the investigation the “how” of this framing. Nor do I think that this point can ever be reached by any inquirers.

– Gregory of Nyssa (about A.D. 335 – 394), On the Soul and the Resurrection

Then, too, what is that immaterial and ethereal empyrean, and the intermediate air which forms a wall of partition between that element in nature which gives heat and consumes, and that which is moist and combustible? And how does earth below form the foundation of the whole, and what is it that keeps it firmly in its place? What is it that controls its downward tendency? If any one should interrogate us on these and such-like points, will any of us be found so presumptuous as to promise an explanation of them? No! the only reply that can be given by men of sense is this:— that He Who made all things in wisdom can alone furnish an account of His creation. For ourselves, “through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God,” as says the Apostle [Hebrews 1:2].

– Gregory of Nyssa (about A.D. 335 – 394), Answer to Eunomius’ Second Book

Fifth Century

Faith needs a generous and vigorous soul, and one rising above all things of sense, and passing beyond the weakness of human reasonings. For it is not possible to become a believer, otherwise than by raising one’s self above the common customs [of the world].

– Chrysostom (about A.D. 347 – 407), Homily 22 on Hebrews, at Hebrews 11:3.

I Believe, therefore, is placed in the forefront, as the Apostle Paul, writing to the Hebrews, says, “He that comes to God must first of all believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who believe in Him.” The Prophet also says, “Except ye believe, you shall not understand.” That the way to understand, therefore, may be open to you, you do rightly first of all, in professing that you believe; for no one embarks upon the sea, and trusts himself to the deep and liquid element, unless he first believes it possible that he will have a safe voyage; neither does the husbandman commit his seed to the furrows and scatter his grain on the earth, but in thebelief that the showers will come, together with the sun’s warmth, through whose fostering influence, aided by favouring winds, the earth will produce and multiply and ripen its fruits. In fine, nothing in life can be transacted if there be not first a readiness to believe. What wonder then, if, coming to God, we first of all profess that we believe, seeing that, without this, not even common life can be lived. We have premised these remarks at the outset, since the Pagans are wont to object to us that our religion, because it lacks reasons, rests solely on belief. We have shown, therefore, that nothing can possibly be done or remain stable unless belief precede. Finally, marriages are contracted in the belief that children will be born; and children are committed to the care of masters in the belief that the teaching of the masters will be transferred to the pupils; and one man assumes the ensigns of empire, believing that peoples and cities and a well-equipped army also will obey him. But if no one enters upon any one of these several undertakings except in the belief that the results spoken of will follow, must not belief be much more requisite if one would come to the knowledge of God? But let us see what this “short word” of the Creed sets forth.

– Rufinus (about A.D. 345 – 410), Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, Section 6

If we have understood this, thanks be to God; but if any has not sufficiently understood, man has done as far as he could: as for the rest, let him see whence he may hope to understand. As laborers outside, we can plant and water; but it is of God to give the increase. “My doctrine,” says He, “is not mine, but His that sent me.” Let him who says he has not yet understood hear counsel. For since it was a great and profound matter that had been spoken, the Lord Christ Himself did certainly see that all would not understand this so profound a matter, and He gave counsel in the sequel. Do you wish to understand? Believe. For God has said by the prophet: “Except ye believe, you shall not understand.” [Isaiah 7:9] To the same purpose what the Lord here also added as He went on— “If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself.” What is the meaning of this, “If any man be willing to do His will”? But I had said, if any man believe; and I gave this counsel: If you have not understood, said I, believe. For understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that you may understand; since, “except ye believe, you shall not understand.” Therefore when I would counsel the obedience of believing toward the possibility of understanding, and say that our Lord Jesus Christ has added this very thing in the following sentence, we find Him to have said, “If any man be willing to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.” What is “he shall know”? It is the same thing as “he shall understand.” But what is “If any man be willing to do His will”? It is the same thing as to believe. All men indeed perceive that “shall know” is the same thing as “shall understand:” but that the saying, “If any man be willing to do His will,” refers to believing, all do not perceive; to perceive this more accurately, we need the Lord Himself for expounder, to show us whether the doing of the Father’s will does in reality refer to believing. But who does not know that this is to do the will of God, to work the work of God; that is, to work that work which is pleasing to Him? But the Lord Himself says openly in another place: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” [John 6:29] “That ye believe in Him,” not, that you believe Him. But if you believe on Him, you believe Him; yet he that believes Him does not necessarily believe on Him. For even the devils believed Him, but they did not believe in Him. Again, moreover, of His apostles we can say, we believe Paul; but not, we believe in Paul: we believe Peter; but not, we believe in Peter. For, “to him that believes in Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted unto him for righteousness.” [Romans 4:5] What then is “to believe in Him”? By believing to love Him, by believing to esteem highly, by believing to go into Him and to be incorporated in His members. It is faith itself then that God exacts from us: and He finds not that which He exacts, unless He has bestowed what He may find. What faith, but that which the apostle has most amply defined in another place, saying, “Neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith that works by love?” Galatians 5:6 Not any faith of what kind soever, but “faith that works by love:” let this faith be in you, and you shall understand concerning the doctrine. What indeed shall you understand? That “this doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me;” that is, you shall understand that Christ the Son of God, who is the doctrine of the Father, is not from Himself, but is the Son of the Father.

– Augustine (about A.D. 354 – 430), Tractate 29 on John’s Gospel, Section 6

“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings You have made perfect praise, because of Your enemies.” By enemies to this dispensation, which has been wrought through Jesus Christ and Him crucified, we ought generally to understand all who forbid belief in things unknown, [1 Corinthians 2:6-10] and promise certain knowledge: as all heretics do, and they who in the superstition of the Gentiles are called philosophers. Not that the promise of knowledge is to be blamed; but because they deem the most healthful and necessary step of faith is to be neglected, by which we must needs ascend to something certain, which nothing but that which is eternal can be. Hence it appears that they do not possess even this knowledge, which in contempt of faith they promise; seeing that they know not so useful and necessary a step thereof. “Out of the mouth,” then “of babes and sucklings You have made perfect praise,” Thou, our Lord, declaring first by the Apostle, “Except ye believe, you shall not understand;” and saying by His own mouth, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and shall believe.” [John 20:29] “Because of the enemies:” against whom too that is said, “I confess to You, O Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hid these things from the wise, and revealed them unto babes.” [Matthew 11:25] “From the wise,” he says, not the really wise, but those who deem themselves such. “That You may destroy the enemy and the defender.” Whom but the heretic? For he is both an enemy and a defender, who when he would assault the Christian faith, seems to defend it. Although the philosophers too of this world may be well taken as the enemies and defenders: forasmuch as the Son of God is the Power and Wisdom of God by which every one is enlightened who is made wise by the truth: of which they profess themselves to be lovers, whence too their name of philosophers; and therefore they seem to defend it, while they are its enemies, since they cease not to recommend noxious superstitions, that the elements of this world should be worshipped and revered.

– Augustine (about A.D. 354 – 430), Exposition on Psalm 8, Section 6

These things you do not understand, because, as the prophet said, “Unless you believe, you shall not understand.” [Isaiah 7:9] For you are not instructed in the kingdom of heaven—that is, in the true Catholic Church of Christ. If you were, you would bring forth from the treasure of the sacred Scriptures things old as well as new. For the Lord Himself says, “Therefore every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like an householder who brings forth from his treasure things new and old.” [Matthew 13:52] And so, while you profess to receive only the new promises of God, you have retained the oldness of the flesh, adding only the novelty of error; of which novelty the apostle says, “Shun profane novelties of words, for they increase unto more ungodliness, and their speech eats like a cancer. Of whom is Hymenæus and Philetus, who concerning the faith have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and have overthrown the faith of some.” [2 Timothy 2:16-18] Here you see the source of your false doctrine, in teaching that the resurrection is only of souls by the preaching of the truth, and that there will be no resurrection of the body. But how can you understand spiritual things of the inner man, who is renewed in the knowledge of God, when in the oldness of the flesh, if you do not possess temporal things, you concoct fanciful notions about them in those images of carnal things of which the whole of your false doctrine consists? You boast of despising as worthless the land of Canaan, which was an actual thing, and actually given to the Jews; and yet you tell of a land of light cut asunder on one side, as by a narrow wedge, by the land of the race of darkness—a thing which does not exist, and which you believe from the delusion of your minds; so that your life is not supported by having it, and your mind is wasted in desiring it.

– Augustine (about A.D. 354 – 430), Contra Faustum, Book IV, Section 2

And therefore it is laid down by all the Catholic fathers who have taught perfection of heart not by empty disputes of words, but in deed and act, that the first stage in the Divine gift is for each man to be inflamed with the desire of everything that is good, but in such a way that the choice of free will is open to either side: and that the second stage in Divine grace is for the aforesaid practices of virtue to be able to be performed, but in such a way that the possibilities of the will are not destroyed: the third stage also belongs to the gifts of God, so that it may be held by the persistence of the goodness already acquired, and in such a way that the liberty may not be surrendered and experience bondage. For the God of all must be held to work in all, so as to incite, protect, and strengthen, but not to take away the freedom of the will which He Himself has once given. If however any more subtle inference of man’s argumentation and reasoning seems opposed to this interpretation, it should be avoided rather than brought forward to the destruction of the faith (for we gain not faith from understanding, but understanding from faith, as it is written: “Except ye believe, you will not understand” [Isaiah 7:9]) for how God works all things in us and yet everything can be ascribed to free will, cannot be fully grasped by the mind and reason of man.

– John Cassian (about A.D. 360 – 435), Conference 13, On the Protection of God, Chapter 18

Now, from here he proceeds, If you do not believe, neither will you understand, a statement not lacking probability; understanding would not be granted by him to people who insult the word of God with unbelief. They ought therefore immediately accept what comes from God and readily agree with what he promises and says. This, in fact, is the way for us to achieve a sound understanding and for our mind to be illuminated by the light of wisdom that comes from him.

– Cyril of Alexandria (about A.D. 378 – 444), Commentary on Isaiah, at Isaiah 7:9

Medieval Scholastics

Be it mine to look up to your light, even from afar, even from the depths. Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me, when I seek you, for I cannot seek you, except you teach me, nor find you, except you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in longing, let me long for you in seeking; let me find you in love, and love you in finding. Lord, I acknowledge and I thank you that you has created me in this your image, in order that I may be mindful of you, may conceive of you, and love you; but that image has been so consumed and wasted away by vices, and obscured by the smoke of wrong-doing, that it cannot achieve that for which it was made, except you renew it, and create it anew. I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.

– Anselm (about A.D. 1033 – 1109), Proslogium, Chapter 1

Article 8. Whether faith is more certain than science and the other intellectual virtues?

Objection 1. It would seem that faith is not more certain than science and the other intellectual virtues. For doubt is opposed to certitude, wherefore a thing would seem to be the more certain, through being less doubtful, just as a thing is the whiter, the less it has of an admixture of black. Now understanding, science and also wisdom are free of any doubt about their objects; whereas the believer may sometimes suffer a movement of doubt, and doubt about matters of faith. Therefore faith is no more certain than the intellectual virtues.

Objection 2. Further, sight is more certain than hearing. But “faith is through hearing” according to Romans 10:17; whereas understanding, science and wisdom imply some kind of intellectual sight. Therefore science and understanding are more certain than faith.

Further, in matters concerning the intellect, the more perfect is the more certain. Now understanding is more perfect than faith, since faith is the way to understanding, according to another version [the Septuagint] of Isaiah 7:9: “If you will not believe, you shall not understand [Vulgate: ‘continue’]”: and Augustine says (De Trin. xiv, 1) that “faith is strengthened by science.” Therefore it seems that science or understanding is more certain than faith.

On the contrary, The Apostle says (1 Thessalonians 2:15): “When you had received of us the word of the hearing,” i.e. by faith . . . “you received it not as the word of men, but, as it is indeed, the word of God.” Now nothing is more certain than the word of God. Therefore science is not more certain than faith; nor is anything else.

I answer that, As stated above (I-II, 57, 4, ad 2) two of the intellectual virtues are about contingent matter, viz. prudence and art; to which faith is preferable in point of certitude, by reason of its matter, since it is about eternal things, which never change, whereas the other three intellectual virtues, viz. wisdom, science [In English the corresponding ‘gift’ is called knowledge] and understanding, are about necessary things, as stated above (I-II, 57, 5, ad 3). But it must be observed that wisdom, science and understanding may be taken in two ways: first, as intellectual virtues, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. vi, 2,3); secondly, for the gifts of the Holy Ghost. If we consider them in the first way, we must note that certitude can be looked at in two ways. First, on the part of its cause, and thus a thing which has a more certain cause, is itself more certain. On this way faith is more certain than those three virtues, because it is founded on the Divine truth, whereas the aforesaid three virtues are based on human reason. Secondly, certitude may be considered on the part of the subject, and thus the more a man’s intellect lays hold of a thing, the more certain it is. On this way, faith is less certain, because matters of faith are above the human intellect, whereas the objects of the aforesaid three virtues are not. Since, however, a thing is judged simply with regard to its cause, but relatively, with respect to a disposition on the part of the subject, it follows that faith is more certain simply, while the others are more certain relatively, i.e. for us. Likewise if these three be taken as gifts received in this present life, they are related to faith as to their principle which they presuppose: so that again, in this way, faith is more certain.

Reply to Objection 1. This doubt is not on the side of the cause of faith, but on our side, in so far as we do not fully grasp matters of faith with our intellect.

Reply to Objection 2. Other things being equal sight is more certain than hearing; but if (the authority of) the person from whom we hear greatly surpasses that of the seer’s sight, hearing is more certain than sight: thus a man of little science is more certain about what he hears on the authority of an expert in science, than about what is apparent to him according to his own reason: and much more is a man certain about what he hears from God, Who cannot be deceived, than about what he sees with his own reason, which can be mistaken.

Reply to Objection 3. The gifts of understanding and knowledge are more perfect than the knowledge of faith in the point of their greater clearness, but not in regard to more certain adhesion: because the whole certitude of the gifts of understanding and knowledge, arises from the certitude of faith, even as the certitude of the knowledge of conclusions arises from the certitude of premisses. But in so far as science, wisdom and understanding are intellectual virtues, they are based upon the natural light of reason, which falls short of the certitude of God’s word, on which faith is founded.

– Aquinas (about A.D. 1225 – 1274), Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 4, Article 8

Article 5. Whether the gift of understanding is found also in those who have not sanctifying grace?

Objection 1. It would seem that the gift of understanding is found also in those who have not sanctifying grace. For Augustine, in expounding the words of Psalm 118:20: “My soul hath coveted to long for Thy justifications,” says: “Understanding flies ahead, and man’s will is weak and slow to follow.” But in all who have sanctifying grace, the will is prompt on account of charity. Therefore the gift of understanding can be in those who have not sanctifying grace.

Objection 2. Further, it is written (Daniel 10:1) that “there is need of understanding in a” prophetic “vision,” so that, seemingly, there is no prophecy without the gift of understanding. But there can be prophecy without sanctifying grace, as evidenced by Matthew 7:22, where those who say: “We have prophesied in Thy name [Vulgate: ‘Have we not prophesied in Thy name?],” are answered with the words: “I never knew you.” Therefore the gift of understanding can be without sanctifying grace.

Objection 3. Further, the gift of understanding responds to the virtue of faith, according to Isaiah 7:9, following another reading [the Septuagint]: “If you will not believe you shall not understand.” Now faith can be without sanctifying grace. Therefore the gift of understanding can be without it.

On the contrary, Our Lord said (John 6:45): “Every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to Me.” Now it is by the intellect, as Gregory observes (Moral. i, 32), that we learn or understand what we hear. Therefore whoever has the gift of understanding, cometh to Christ, which is impossible without sanctifying grace. Therefore the gift of understanding cannot be without sanctifying grace.

I answer that, As stated above (I-II, 68, 1,2) the gifts of the Holy Ghost perfect the soul, according as it is amenable to the motion of the Holy Ghost. Accordingly then, the intellectual light of grace is called the gift of understanding, in so far as man’s understanding is easily moved by the Holy Ghost, the consideration of which movement depends on a true apprehension of the end. Wherefore unless the human intellect be moved by the Holy Ghost so far as to have a right estimate of the end, it has not yet obtained the gift of understanding, however much the Holy Ghost may have enlightened it in regard to other truths that are preambles to the faith.

Now to have a right estimate about the last end one must not be in error about the end, and must adhere to it firmly as to the greatest good: and no one can do this without sanctifying grace; even as in moral matters a man has a right estimate about the end through a habit of virtue. Therefore no one has the gift of understanding without sanctifying grace.

Reply to Objection 1. By understanding Augustine means any kind of intellectual light, that, however, does not fulfil all the conditions of a gift, unless the mind of man be so far perfected as to have a right estimate about the end.

Reply to Objection 2. The understanding that is requisite for prophecy, is a kind of enlightenment of the mind with regard to the things revealed to the prophet: but it is not an enlightenment of the mind with regard to a right estimate about the last end, which belongs to the gift of understanding.

Reply to Objection 3. Faith implies merely assent to what is proposed but understanding implies a certain perception of the truth, which perception, except in one who has sanctifying grace, cannot regard the end, as stated above. Hence the comparison fails between understanding and faith.

– Aquinas (about A.D. 1225 – 1274), Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 8, Article 5


Is the idea that knowledge of God comes by faith in the Word of God fideism or orthodoxy? I think the latter is the best designation. It is well attested by Scripture and it is not a new idea. It is not that there is no reason to believe, but that some things cannot be reached by bare reason. That’s why tools like the Transcendental Argument for the existence of God (TAG) can be a useful negative tool to expose presuppositions, but it cannot be a complete defense of the faith – it cannot be a stand-alone apologetic. Human reason must be subordinated to divine truth, even though human reason is an instrument and tool by which and through which we understand.


Thus Saith the LORD – The Scriptural Apologetic of Dogmatism

May 28, 2009

The man was surprisingly spry, considering his age. Some of the locals attributed this to the fact that he had a young wife and two young sons – he has stay young to take care of them, they said. Others considered it to be due to his oddly Egyptian manner of diet and exercise. Still others simply attributed it to his constant watchfulness as a shepherd, roaming far and wide over the Sinai peninsula.

Whatever the source of his youth, the man was on his way to Egypt. “Home to Egypt,” he was no doubt thinking. It had been forty years since he was last there, and he was now twice the age he had been when he left.

Why had he been away so long? Why had he left the glories of Egypt for the backwaters, shepherd lifestyle in Midian? He was a murderer. He had killed a man and hidden the body, but the murder was not hidden and the Pharaoh had sought to bring justice upon his head.

Now that Pharaoh and all those who had sought justice were passed away. The man, Moses by name, had received news of this. He was even now traveling back to Egypt, walking along side his wife and children, whom he had placed on a donkey.

He hadn’t made much of his life over the last forty years. Yes, he had managed to obtain a wife, but he not great possessions of his own and his primary job was the management of his father-in-law’s sheep: sheep that he had perhaps given as dowry to his father-in-law for his wife, Zipporah.

Now, though he would have liked to be arriving in Egypt with a retinue of camels, Moses was arriving on foot, with his family on a single donkey. Poor Moses! When he left, he was a prince, having been raised in the royal household by Pharaoh’s daughter. All that was behind him now.

Outwardly, Moses had little going for him. He remembered the Egyptian tongue, and he was an able-bodied shepherd, but he had no wealth, and no significant ties. His natural family were slaves: they might take him in, but they could only offer him a share in the bondage of Egypt.

There was something more, however. Moses was not simply going back to Egypt because the coast was clear, but because God himself had sent him. God had sent Moses on a mission to free his people from the slavery in which they were.

How was Moses to do this? Moses was to declare: “Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: and I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.”

But was this going to work? Where is the rigorous proof that the LORD (who could not even be seen) could carry out this threat against the king of the most powerful nation around? Moses could do a few miracles that would persuade his countrymen that he was God’s spokesman, but Pharaoh had magicians who would simulate those miracles. Pharaoh was not going to refuse to obey the word of the LORD even after it cost him all the crops and cattle in the land.

No, it was not going to “work.” Pharaoh was going to reject Moses’ word and suffer the consequence. God was going to bring judgment on the Egyptians and kill their firstborn children.


But on the way to Egypt, after nearly dying because he had neglected to circumcise his own children, and after a tearful reunion withe his bother Aaron, Moses encountered a wandering man named Apatna who claimed the mula, or guardian, of knowledge. Mula Apatna listened with rapt attention to Moses’ explanation of the plan and then scoffed.

“You expect him just to believe you because you say this is God’s word?” Apatna asked, a look of disbelief patent on his weather-beaten face.

Moses was a little taken aback. “But it is the truth,” he replied, “God himself revealed it to me.” Moses had anticipated this sort of reaction from the Egyptians but not from someone like Apatna, who claimed to believe in God even before Moses had explained the situation. “Don’t you believe that it is God’s word?” he inquired.

“Oh, certainly – I believe that,” said the mula, “but these Egyptians are not simply going to take your word for it. A proper defense (apologetic) has to be more than insisting that this is the word of the LORD.” “That’s just anti-intellectual fideism,” Apatna added, when he saw that Moses was unconvinced.

Upon that, Moses quietly responded, “This is the approach God has given me, and I will follow it. I will declare the word of the LORD as boldly as I can before the Pharaoh, and I will even appeal to the miracles that I can do, but I will not be able to rigorously prove that this is the LORD’s word. I can offer the truth, and I can offer evidence of this truth, but proof of the unseen is by faith.”

With that Moses and Mula Apatna parted ways. Moses went to Egypt, and after 9 failures, eventually succeeded in securing the release of the people of Israel from the bondage of Egypt. He then led them through the desert for the next forty years of his life, leaving virtually all of those who originally believed his miracles (but not the LORD who empowered them) buried in the desert.


But Mula Apatna lived on, or perhaps it was simply a descendant by the same name, for we again find him along the banks of the river Chebar. He’s talking with these folks who are prisoners of war and in particular to a priest named Ezekiel, the son of Buzi.

There he was making the same demands of Ezekiel that he (or his grandfather) had made of Moses, but Ezekiel just shook his head. God has told me, Ezekiel explained, “God said to me: Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day. For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them.”

Ezekiel, like Moses, before him, rejected Mula Apatna’s insistence that he needed something more than to declare the word of the LORD to be the word of the most high God. “No,” insisted Ezekiel, “I will not concede to the skepticism of the Israelites. If they will not hear me, and if they will not believe, then that will be on their own head. But I will not depart from the way in which I have been told to present the word of God, simply because you label it in a pejorative way.”

With that, Ezekiel continued on the path that lead him to be tortured with briers and thorns and to dwell among scorpions. By many standards he was not a big success, but what he spoke was true, and was believed by those who are the children of God, those who are the called according to his purpose.


Mula Apatna (or his line) disappeared before Jesus’ coming, but had he been around, he would no doubt have been as disappointed with Simon Peter, a preacher who insisted that the gospel he preached was “the word of the Lord,” but did not offer rigorous proof of this. Paul as well employed the same technique.

When he convinced the Jews, it was by the Scriptures (Acts 18:28).

When he exhorted Titus, he exhorted him to hold fast “the faithful word” that he had been taught, so that he could convince the gainsayers. (Titus 1:9).

Indeed, as Jude tells, when Michael the Archangel disputed with the devil over the body of Moses, the clinching argument was: “The Lord rebuke thee.” Those skeptics who refuse to hear the word of the Lord “speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Woe unto them!”

Yes, we cannot persuade everyone, and we cannot offer proof to the satisfaction of every hard-hearted and stiff-necked person. We cannot always please the Mula Apatna’s that criticize the approach that we take when we follow those who preceded us in the faith. But there is no more sure foundation upon which to build one’s house than that Rock which is Christ and on the revelation through the prophets, evangelists, and apostles of Christ, the Son of God,

To Whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory and honor both now and ever, even for ages of ages.

Patrick Madrid Turtles

May 18, 2009

One may recall that Patrick Madrid has a web forum called Speak your Mind Apologetics Forum. He uses the URL “SurprisedByTruth” for his web site. I noted with little surprise that he had recently decided to stop my friend who uses the nick “Algo” from speaking his mind and surprising the Roman Catholics in that forum with the truth of Scripture and truths about the Early Church Fathers. However, I did have to smile a bit when I noticed that the entire forum has now been encased in a protective shell of registration, lest outsiders shine any more light on the deception routinely attempted there.

That’s right, they’ve turtled: gone into their shells so that when they speak their own mind no one will be able easily to correct them. One is truly reminded of the child who stuffs his fingers in his ears and shouts a bit louder so as to plausibly deny that he has heard what is being told him.

Is this what Romanist Apologetics (or at least Patrick Madrid’s variety thereof) has been reduced to?


Avoiding Landmines in Roman Catholic Apologetics

May 6, 2009


One branch of Apologetics deals with responses to the challenges to the faith brought by Catholicism. Since one apologist for Catholicism has recently posted a list of unsound arguments that are sometimes used by those defending Catholicism, I thought I’d post a similar list that at least identifies some areas of caution for Reformed apologists addressing Rome.

1. Eschatological Identifications

Yes, it may well be that Rome should be identified with the Whore of Babylon and that the Pope is the Antichrist. Our doctrinal standards (at least those of us that hold to the same 17th century standards as they were drafted) do identify the Pope as the Antichrist, and there are good reasons for adopting this view.

Nevertheless, these arguments don’t really deal with the central issue of the gospel itself. Any argument that the Pope is the Antichrist or that Rome is the Whore require one to address the issue of whether Pope preaches the gospel or not. If he does, then clearly he is not the Antichrist nor is Rome the Whore.

Furthermore, of course, outwardly at least John Paul II and the Benedict XVI (the two most prominent popes in the minds of folks these days) were relatively decent human beings. They were not like the late medieval popes. Therefore, people have a harder emotional time dealing with arguments that seem almost ad hominem (though, of course, the argument is about the office), when the popes are outwardly moral.

Also, people have tons of trouble with the fact that “anti” in “Antichrist” is a Greek root, not a Latin root, and means “substitute” or “vicar” not “opponent” as such. That, coupled with the general difficulty associated with divining the sense of prophecy caution against using the antichristian nature of the papacy (or similar eschatological issues) as a primary argument against Catholicism. It is something better left for situations where a belligerent Romanist insists on hashing it out.

2. Sexual Abuse Allegations

Yes, sexual abuse may be a real problem in Catholicism. It may even be the necessary and natural outworking of the celibate priesthood that Rome imposes. Nevertheless, again, it is not the central issue. There are occasionally good, Christian men who fall into sin. Recall David’s terrible sin with Bathsheba.

There may even be a place for noting the widespread nature of the sexual abuse problem when Roman Catholics place the character of their bishopric into issue. Nevertheless, in general, the fact that there is sexual abuse in Catholicism is simply a reason not to make your son an altar boy or your daughter a nun, not a reason to repent and trust in Christ alone for salvation.

It’s not a central issue, and it shouldn’t be your primary argument against Catholicism. It should be something you should bring up with reluctance, and something that you should place in perspective.

3. Dates on Doctrines

Yes, doctrines within Roman Catholicism are not static and modern Catholicism’s beliefs do not much resemble the beliefs taught in the Bible or believed in the early church. Nevertheless, be careful about trying to assign dates to particular doctrines.

For example, it is frequent to see on various websites a list of doctrines and dates. The dates are when the doctrine was supposedly invented. The idea is to press home to the Roman Catholic the fact that his church has made up a lot of stuff as it went along.

There are usually a few problems with these lists. Sometimes the lists are actually not what you think they are. For example, sometimes the lists are when the doctrines were defined not when they were innovated. That’s an important difference. For example, in the case of transubstantiation, we may have a doctrine that is innovated in perhaps the 11th century and then defined in the 12th century (don’t rely on those dates, please – they are very approximate and just intended to illustrate the general point).

A more dramatic example is the Apocrypha. The dogmatic definition that requires Roman Catholics to accept the Apocrypha comes from Trent in the 16th century, but one can find many older writers (perhaps even a millennium before) who seemingly accept the Apocrypha as inspired.

It’s important to remember that a lot of things in Catholicism were the result of a gradual development over a long period of time. As such, pinning specific dates on doctrines is liable to error and can place one in an embarrassing position.

4. “The” Roman Catholic Position

Yes, there is sometimes a single Roman Catholic position on something. For example, in theory the canons of the council of Trent are “the” Roman Catholic position on Justification (and several other topics). Very often, however, there are a myriad of positions on a particular topic within Roman Catholicism. Despite all of their myths and propaganda regarding the need for unity, Roman Catholicism has an amazing amount of diversity of views on subjects that would cause denominational splits within typical “Protestant” denominations.

So be careful. Just because you yourself were a Roman Catholic doesn’t guarantee that what you were taught is going to match what a Roman Catholic from Timbuktu was taught. Just because your friend who is a Roman Catholic said that Roman Catholics believe “x” doesn’t make that the only view.

As a result, either deal with the declarations of the specific person you’re talking to, or qualify your statements with references to sources. For example, if you want to address liberal Catholicism, identify who your source for “the Roman Catholic view” is. Likewise, if you want to go with the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (a fairly official document) cite it as your source.

Be careful, recognizing that your Roman Catholic friend or acquaintance may be more or less familiar with his religion than you are. There are many times that I encounter Roman Catholics who either were badly catechized or simply not good learners, who have no idea what the official positions of Roman Catholicism (as expressed through the various available mechanisms) are. Other times you may discover that your friend is a canon lawyer who can explain the ins and outs of very arcane matters of church law that would be beyond the ken of the typical parish priest.

And if you got “the Roman Catholic Position” from one of Jack Chick’s tracts, double-check it. Maybe he got it right, maybe he got it wrong, but quoting him as your source is not going to be very compelling for the Roman Catholic to whom you are speaking. Do a little more research and find a more detailed explanation of the issue.

5. Martyrologies

Yes, everyone that is involved in apologetics with Roman Catholicism should obtain and carefully read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (link) and there may be other similarly edifying histories. However, again, the fact that Rome has slain Christians is not the primary argument against Rome. The Reformers themselves executed folks for religious crimes (such as blasphemy) and so did those Jews who followed the Mosaic law.

The question largely is whether Rome teaches the gospel or not. If Rome does, then many of those whom she persecuted in the middle ages were not Christians. More importantly, perhaps, Rome’s inquisition did not target only Christians but also blasphemers, witches, Muslims, and Jews. The fact that Christians were persecuted by Rome is not in itself a primary argument for someone to become a Christian since Rome also persecuted witches.

6. Arguments You Don’t Understand

There are lots of good, Scriptural arguments against Roman Catholicism. If you don’t understand them, though, you have no business using them. I’ll list a few:

a) “One Mediator”

If you cannot answer the objection that Christians ask each other to pray for another, you shouldn’t be using the “One Mediator” argument. The argument itself is perfectly fine, and it is clear that Catholicism is against Scripture on this matter. You, however, need to carefully understand what it means to be a mediator as well as how the Roman Catholic appeals to Mary, Angels, and the Saints violate the Scriptures.

b) “Call No Man Father”

If you cannot answer the objection that Christians call their birth fathers “father,” you shouldn’t be using the “Call No Man Father” argument. The argument itself is a perfectly fine one against the use of the title “Father” for every priest, but only if you understand the relationship between the injunction and the Roman Catholic usage of the term “Father” as a title.

c) “Petra not Petros

If you cannot answer the objection that the Aramaic would not have any distinction between the two terms, you shouldn’t be using the “Petra not Petros” argument. The argument itself is an acceptable argument, particularly if it is reinforced with more direct grammatical arguments (for example, Petra not se). Furthermore, the objection from a speculative Aramaic source (whether from a claim that conversation was in Aramaic, or from a claim that the evangelic text was originally written in that tongue) can be easily identified as nothing more than baseless speculation. However, one has to be aware of the typical counter-arguments and why those counter-arguments miss the point.

7. Scriptures You Don’t Understand

This is perhaps a variation on (6). The point here is that you need to know the Scriptures yourself before you can instruct someone else. You need to be familiar with the Word of God if you want to lead someone else to Christ by it.

I don’t say this to discourage young or immature believers, but to encourage you to grow in faith and in the knowledge of the Lord. The Bible describes the Christian apologist as being armed for battle with the “whole armour of God.” In that armour, the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.

If you were going to go to battle these days, you’d hit the target range and make sure you could hit the target from at least point-blank range. In the days of swords, you’d want to hone your skills whether with stylized sports like fencing or with more practical and direct martial training.

The same is true of the spiritual warfare that we fight. Christian apologists against every false gospel must be prepared and thoroughly.

8. Falsehood

Be scrupulously honest. Not all our opponents are honest opponents. Still, we are called to be truthful in all our dealings. The fact that the other side is not (or we think they are not) does not justify untruthful or inaccurate claims from us.

9. Arrogance

Avoid arrogance. If you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to admit that you erred and to correct your mistake. This will, of course, damage the patina of perfection that you had going for you, but it is the better course of action.

I’m not saying you have to grovel, but simply admit your mistakes and move on. Learn from the experience, and remember that you are merely a human being who can and does err. Maybe your honesty will win over your opponent, maybe it will lead him to mock you. You cannot control that, but you can maintain your own integrity by correcting your mistakes.

10. Church History

The history of Christianity is not simple. Roman Catholicism certainly sometimes tries to portray it as simple. Sometimes apologists who deal with Roman Catholics try to portray it in simple but opposite terms. Don’t fall into that error.

I’m not suggesting we cannot argue from church history. Rather, I am suggesting that one should approach church history with caution, as well as with a mind that church history is not our rule of faith: scripture is.

There are certain general statements that can be made about church history. As with most ares of history, however, there are numerous complexities. This is illustrated by several points:

a) Diversity Amongst the Church Fathers

On a lot of topics there was immense diversity both among the early Christian writers in general and even among those that are viewed as “church fathers.” If you say, “No one ever believed ‘x'” – you may quickly find yourself facing some obscure quotation from a “saint” that you never heard of before.

b) Development of Individual Fathers

Like all Christians should, many of the church fathers grew in their knowledge of God throughout their life. Accordingly, one sees some fathers (Augustine is a notable example) retracting explicitly or implicitly positions that they had held earlier in life.

As with many of us, the battles they faced inform and alter their perspective. We are much more cautious talking about the atonement in view of the Remonstrant controversy now than the Reformers were before then. The same is true of the caution that various major controversies provoked during church history.

c) Paucity of Data

There is a scarcity of patristic data, even though the works of the Greek and Latin fathers can fill almost 400 volumes in Migne’s patrology. Many fathers have left only a few works behind. Other fathers have left many works behind, but have also been subjected to forgery by pseudonymous urchins, which have attempted to promote their own works under the name of a more famous writer.

Furthermore, even where the works are genuine there is often suspicion or even proof that the works have been subject to interpolation by later authors. Ignatius’ works are famous in this regard, but others are not immune from this problem.

Oftentimes as well, there is a gigantic gap in the textual transmission of these early Christian writers with the earliest copy of a given work sometimes being a full millennium after the death of the author. These gaps in the transmission make tracking down the original text much more difficult.

Finally, of course, there are numerous writers whose works have been lost for a variety of reasons. For example, works that spoke out against the idolatry of icons were intentionally destroyed in the 8th century. Likewise, most of Nestorius’ works have been similar lost. We also see Jerome’s opponents on a variety of topics represented only in the extant works of Jerome, with their own works being lost in time.

11. False Ecumenism

For whatever reason, some folks seem to think that they will be in a better position to witness to Roman Catholics if they tell the Roman Catholics that they accept them as Christian brethren. This is just bad thinking.

If you think Roman Catholics are your Christian brethren, why are you witnessing to them? Why are you bringing them the gospel if you think they already have it? I understand that such an ecumenical statement may help lower defenses, but it really is inconsistent with your evangelical purpose.

After all, the only folks that need a physician are those who are sick. If you go around telling people that they are well, they’re not going to be offended by you, but they’re also not going to seek a doctor.

That’s not to say that everyone who is currently affiliated with the Roman Catholic church is consequently unsaved. After all, as I’ve noted above, there is great diversity within Catholicism, and it is possible for those within Catholicism to read the Scripture and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

That gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, however, is not the message of Catholicism. It should not, therefore, be one’s default position that those within Catholicism have the gospel, and it is foolish (on our part) and dangerous (to their souls) for us to treat Roman Catholic apologists as though they were our brethren: in defending the gospel of Rome against the gospel of Christ they are giving strong contrary evidence of grace in their heart.

A friend of mine put it this way, with which I agree:

Our regard, generally speaking, of the lost condition of Romanists is (contrary to their complaints) a judgment of charity, because it exhibits a concern for their never-dying souls, and should always be kept in mind in dealing with them. This regard for their lost condition is not because we bear them animosity, but because we care for their souls.


We must be ready always to give an answer (to every man that asks us) a reason of the hope that is in us. We must do so with meekness and fear, having a good conscience. We must arm ourselves with truth, with righteousness, with the gospel of peace, with the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit: the Word of God.

We must always pray, both for the salvation of the lost and for strength in the battle for ourselves. Pray also for us, brethren, who are actively engaged in boldly proclaiming the gospel to those who need to hear it. If Paul needed prayer to boldly proclaim the gospel, we certainly need it as well.


Frank Turk on Apologetics with Romanism

March 26, 2009

Apparently Frank Turk, aka Centuri0n, thinks that engaging in apologetics with those of the Roman Catholic Church is a waste of time (link) and (thinks he) he’s got the statistical data to prove it.

With all due respect to the wise Turk, I’m not persuaded by his argument from web traffic. I’ll keep on giving an answer for the hope that is within me, trusting in God to bring the increase.


Consider Supporting Alpha and Omega Ministries

September 18, 2008

Currently Alpha and Omega Ministries is focusing on preparing presentations directed at defending the faith against Islam. The ministry has addressed many topics from Catholicism to Mormonism to KJVO-ism to Homosexuality, but the present emphasis is largely on Islam. In case that’s something you’d like to fund, Alpha and Omega Ministries has set up a web portal to receive donations (link).

Disclaimer of my interest: I am part of the “Team Apologian” blogging team, which sometimes hosts articles I have written.

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