Friday, September 14, 2007

Critique of the ReformedCatholicism.com Blog and Theological Worldview



My words are in regular black; DelRayVA's in purple; Mike Burgess's in green; Jonathan Prejean's in blue, and Peter's in orange.

* * * * *

Dave, can you help us understand what is going on at "ReformedCatholicism"? [link] I go to their page, and I just can't figure out their world-view. They seem to have some fundamental presuppositions, and assume that all of their readers share them. However, I just can't figure out what those presuppositions are. I can't even make enough sense of their perspective to know what questions to ask them. Can you help?

Please don't make any assumptions about RefCath. They are magisterial. They are Catholic. They are Reformed. But not "Truly Reformed," which is a pejorative. They are Federal Vision, and NPP, except when they're not. They're Gordon-Conwell, they're Westminster West Coast, they're Mercersburg, they're Lutheran, sometimes, they are what they are at the moment. They are "quod semper, quod ubique, et quod ab omnibus," just look at their header. They'll tell you what was held always, everywhere and by everyone, though. Just ask them.

Best I can ascertain, DelRay, I think they want to combine what they feel to be the best and most defensible aspects of both classic, "magisterial reformation" Protestantism (read: Calvinist, but a sort of "moderate" version) and Catholicism.

They're trying to set forth the view that Protestantism is a lot more sophisticated and respectable than a lot of "popular" variations of it, and that it can incorporate within itself a large portion of Catholicism, minus more radical distinctives such as the Marian dogmas, papal infallibility, penance, purgatory, the sacrifice of the Mass, and the like.

They want to maintain historic Catholicism, and regard themselves as the legatees of all that was best in patristic, medieval Catholicism (in that respect they are very much like traditional-minded Lutherans).

Broadly speaking (pun intended) it is a lot like certain sectors of historic Anglicanism (which is why some of its participants are actually Anglican, such as Michael Pahls and Paul Owen). On the other hand, the site often bashes Cardinal Newman, so it can't really be seen as analogous to the Oxford Movement.

It tries to do all this, yet there are many inconsistencies, that I have been pointing out (particularly their need to defend their views, while bashing apologists for other views, and their hypocritical animosity towards Catholic converts).

My critiques are systematically ignored, though
ironically, the main critic that they seem to want to respond to is James White. I think that is because they have a complex about being perceived as "sub-Protestant". This concerns them very much, and so they'll respond to White.

They dismiss me because they make out that I am an intolerant triumphalist, whereas they are open-minded and tolerant (COUGH, choke).

So there is a lot going on there, a lot of it respectable and praiseworthy (as I have always said) but at bottom, it is incoherent. These people need to decide which historic Christian tradition they want to be part of, instead of attempting to synthesize and to begin a new movement or denomination. Those efforts always fail in the long run and lead to either liberalism, or further schism and sectarianism.

* * *

Mike expressed tongue-in-cheek, pretty much what I tried to do, seriously. Great job, Mike! I think there is a fundamental sillyhubris on that site (that I have vigorously critiqued). Some will grow out of it upon serious reflection, but others will become hardened and make themselves increasingly more incoherent and inconsistent as time goes on.

It's sort of like the Republican Party: disparate elements with differing self-perceptions and visions as to what the party is supposed to be "about." All such coalitions have fractures and fault lines that cause friction.

But all of this is indeed quintessentially Protestant, insofar as they seek to reinvent the wheel or come up with some amazing new reform, yet apart from the Church that alone can carry off such reform and make it sensible, consistent with previous received Tradition, and therefore long-lasting. It's doomed to fail. Like all these sorts of movements, it has enough truth to draw people in, but enough falsehood to eventually lead them astray in one way or another.

* * *

The irony of their continual reactions to James White is that he despises them and hardly regards them as Christians at all. For example:
I truly have no desire for this conversation at all (Mr. Bonomo's ability to embrace contradictory gospels so as to see both Baptists and Roman Catholics as his brothers is far more important, and telling, than anything that comes below), . . .

[ Link ]

While I will never stop decrying the soul-crushing slavery of Roman religion, I have no interest at all in wasting any more time with those who think it enjoyable to sit in their comfy personal libraries while lobbing off literary artillery shells at those on the front lines.

[ Link ]
But they keep kow-towing to White. It's an odd phenomenon. On the other hand, they systematically ignore my critiques, which (though vigorous and at times harsh) are ultimately done brother to brother. I regard them as my brothers in Christ, have respect for many of their motifs; indeed, they used to cite my somewhat-qualified approval on their front page), and would like to engage in actual dialogue (whereas White makes it clear that he has no such interest).

But they gravitate to Bishop White. Like I said, I think it is because they feel a great need to "prove" that they are still good Protestants, even though they are ecumenical and not anti-Catholic. That is a desperate battle with White, destined to fail. Why bother, then?

White thinks they are enemies and dupes of the devil; I think they are sincere but inconsistent and flawed, and in need of substantive dialogue with Christian traditions that actually have the historical pedigree and internal consistency that they so yearn for.

But "not being Catholic" remains the one constant theme that unites all Protestants, even when they are trying to assimilate what they think are "good things" in Catholicism and co-opt them for their own.

Thanks, Dave and Mike.

I can see why I find their site confusing.

I can say with confidence that such an effort is doomed, since if you do not have Mary, you do not understand the true nature of the Body of Christ.

I appreciate the help.

Hey DelRay,

Interestingly enough, I have found the same confusion within myself regarding these people at RefCath. Thanks Dave and Mike for helping DelRay and I with where these guys are coming from or where they aren't coming from, or, er,... whatever.



How to address folks like Kevin Johnson, though? Well, he once engaged me on a now defunct forum. He took issue with several points I made and tried a scatter-shot tactic that did not serve him well. I wish the archive was still available so I could refresh my memory, but we were discussing some of these very points, specifically the visible Church as the Body, defections alleged by the Reformers, etc.. I admit I may at times be uncharitable, but Kevin occasionally inflames or makes gross generalizations and/or mischaracterizations even when he throws in accurate criticisms.


Jonathan Bonomo considers some Catholics brothers even though they have " a serious deviation from the Gospel of the grace of God." Kevin has indicated elsewhere much the same thing. How we are brothers when we have deviated from the Gospel is beyond me. The "faithful" Catholic, as Bonomo put it, even as he practices and believes what Bonomo calls deviations from the Gospel, must apparently have something happen along the lines of what the Catechism says happens in the case of Jews and Muslims whom God wishes to save, and yet I am sure both Johnson and Bonomo would reject this characterization. How they would articulate it is beyond me. But they do.

Personally, I've found the worst offender by far on that site to be Peter Escalante. The others may say foolish things from time to time, but they don't claim competence that they don't have. Escalante speaks as if he actually knows something about Thomism and is "careful" in his theological analysis, but he screws up basic concepts of Thomism and Catholic theology as often as the worst anti-Catholics do. Escalante spoke well of Zubiri, but he clearly never learned anything from him regarding care in metaphysical reasoning.

Dr. Owen acknowledged a similar degree of unfairness in Escalante's charge of Catholics believing in a "quasi-hypostatic union" in the Church, and when I answered that charge entirely accurately, Escalante falsely accused me of misunderstanding basic theological categories (other commenters admitted that I had not given my own explanation). Escalante demonstrated the same level of incompetence with his false charge that the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist calls for the element to be "literally fused" with Christ's natural body, the absurdity of which should be obvious to anyone who actually understands Thomist metaphysics (or, for that matter, St. Cyril's Eucharistic soteriology) [ link ]. His interaction with Michael Pahls demonstrates similar incompetence on Mariology [ link ], and I find it telling that Steve Hays described him as "a former Catholic with a formidable command of historical theology" [ link ]. An endorsement from Triablogue in historical theology is like an endorsement from Jack Chick in Jesuit history.

That site always had its problems (e.g., I was excoriated for having the temerity to suggest that Berengar of Tours really was heretical in his Eucharistic theology). But the fact that they take Escalante seriously pretty much ended any hope for me that anything good could come of it. His misrepresentations of Catholicism should have been answered, and if he persisted in them, he should have been banned. Instead, they've decided to allow him to make all sorts of false accusations about Catholicism unimpeded, and you can see where the quality of discussion ends up. The fact that Pahls and Owen have both left pretty much removes any positives that remained. At this point, personally, I don't think it's any better than any other anti-Catholic website.

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