Thursday, February 26, 2004

Lowly Apologists and "Parachurch" Groups

The following is a brief reply to comments by Reformed Protestant Kevin Johnson on his blog (see the sidebar): 2-6-04. He is off the computer for Lent, but I couldn't resist this. His words will be in blue.

In Protestantism, particularly in conservative evangelical circles, we're quite used to parachurch organizations that are apologetic in nature. But, over the last few decades more than one Roman Catholic lay apologist

I'm proud to be of that tribe . . .

(often with little or no formal theological training)

That's me too. But TONS of informal training and experience. But I don't see the twelve disciples having much "formal theological training" either (some of 'em could fish pretty well, though). And I don't see St. Pater's injunction to "stand ready to make a defense" (1 Peter 3:15) confined to the educated types or the scholars, either. It's not as if every person who defends Christianity or Catholic Christianity has to have taken courses in theology. That quickly becomes to a reductio ad absurdum.

has entered the arena among Christian churches to defend (as well as proselytize among Protestants) what they view as the "one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church". This defense, from what I've read and experienced, is often bound to emotional appeals, unsophisticated treatments of Catholic doctrine,

Is it "often"? I guess that depends on how Kevin defines "lay apologist." If it is anyone who writes anything at all in defense of Catholicism anywhere on the Internet (or off it), then I'm sure one can find many shortcomings (just as in Protestant circles).
If he is referring, however, more to the well-known and established apologists and apologetic groups like Catholic Answers, Envoy, Mark Shea, Steve Ray, etc., then I don't see this tendency at all. It's more than a bit broad-brushed . . .

and a heavy and dogmatic emphasis on the antiquity of the Roman Church and her head, the papacy.

One would expect that; these people being Catholics (so that is no surprise or scandal).

In general, they very much resemble mainline evangelicals (except for all that Catholic stuff).

In other words, we don't resemble Reformed. :-)

Kinda makes you wonder how far apart we think we are from those on the other side of the Tiber.

Well, these are asusmptions built upon unproven assumptions.

Of course, responses from the apologetic evangelical community are found in force and typically counter with classic restatements of sixteenth century formulations of evangelical and Reformed doctrine on issues such as justification by faith alone, the inadequate claims of the papacy, purgatory, the Roman mass, and the atonement. Debates are scheduled, performed, and executed with all the pomp and ceremony that doubtless attended such events some 500 years ago (maybe even more). But, is there any lasting value attached to such debates here in our own century?

Not if anti-Catholics are involved. But I think there is great value in two ecumenical Christians (like Kevin) who regard each other as Christians, amiably discussing differences.

And, among both Protestant and Roman Catholic laymen, does the apologetic work in this regard tend to isolate and keep people in their respective communions or do we see a tremendous amount of in-one-door-out-the-other activity?

I don't know. I see a lot of conversions to Catholicism. And these are largely people who knew their faith well as Protestants, whereas I don't see a lot of people like that converting to Protestantism. I see many Catholics who knew very little about their faith and saw stuff in Protestantism that appealed to them. Just my impression, and a generalization, of course. I'd like to hear from Kevin or other Protestants what their perception is.

Aside from practical concerns, perhaps it is time for Protestants to question the legitimacy of parachurch organizations designed to function in the place of the Church herself.

Insofar as they do that, yes. Of course, defining the "Church," let alone functioning practically in it, is a huge problem itself. I think parachurch (either Protestant or Catholic) can supplement the Church and not compete with or replace it. Speaking for myself; I am just an individua. I don't have an organization. I just write and do apologetics and evangelism for a living.

Perhaps we need to sit back and learn from some in the Roman Catholic world who are questioning both the legitimacy and the effectiveness of such self-appointed laymen and others who have felt that they are to take the place of the teaching office of the Church in defending the faith.

I agree. A Presbyterian apologist would, I imagine, submit himself to the creeds and confessions of that faith tradition, just as I submit myself to Catholic dogmatic teaching and always try to express myself in complete harmony with it.

Does the defense and existence of parachurch apologetic organizations call for an extremely low view of the teaching office in our churches?

No. I wouldn't abolish either Inter-Varsity or Catholic Answers. They are both wonderful organizations. My niece is involved in the former (as I was, in college) and she is a lovely young Christian lady (Protestant).

Are we content to allow the Lord to work through the ministers in our churches

I hope so, but sometimes they are lax in their teaching duties and could use a little help.

or are we more satisfied with creating artificial organizational constructs to provide what the Lord has presumably failed to give us?

I think this is more of a problem in Protestantism because it has difficulty defining "Church" in the first place, let alone "parachurch."

Would such parachurch organizations have survived during the Reformation--would they even have been thought of?

I dunno. Good question. Back then most folks believed that their group was the best and truest one in Protestantism, and tended to anathematize others. Now Protestants are one big happy family, and "isn't diversity" great?, etc. A big change has occurred.

What is different between the monasticism of Roman Catholicism so harshly rebuked during the Reformation and a group of men committed to live their whole lives separate from the ecclesiastical accountability of the Church in order to adequately defend the faith in this day and age?

A big difference, because Catholic monks were entirely accountable to the Church. I don't see much of a comparison here.

How is the personality cult of a Christian apologist any different from the creation of monastic orders that almost always wind up centering on the personality of certain individuals such as Ignatius Loyola.

If there is any such "cult" around me, I haven't seen any particular benefits from it (esp. financial ones). I thihnk this depends on how the individual approaches things. There are proud apologists with an arrogant streak and desire for fame, etc., I'm sure. But I don't thnk they are nearly as prevalent as critics of apologetics claim.

Are we to believe that Loyola somehow had more influence among his followers than men like Hank Hanegraaf?

I don't see anything wrong with starting a new order, in submission to the Church. That's not "parachurch," and it is a lot better than starting an entirely new denomination.

Last, where is the biblical justification for parachurch apologetic organizations?

Where is it forbidden? If it doesn't contradict doctrinal standards according to legitimate ecclesiastical authority, I see nothing wrong with it, any more than the organizational structure of a local Methodist women's group clashes with the governmental structure of Methodism. I think Kevin is assuming that they must inevitably clash. This is not the case at all.

Are we really to believe that they should exist, as Deborah did for the Israelites, because there was no suitable or qualified male leadership among the people of God to do His bidding?

Individuals can do lots of stuff. I agree that they should be in submission to their church. No argument there. I am to mine.

Thanks for the stimulation!

In Him,


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