Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Reply to a Protestant Who Claims That I Have Not Demonstrated That Protestant Authority Structures Are Ultimately Self-Defeating (vs. Kevin Davis)

[KevinDavis.jpg]

Kevin Davis at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. We visited there in 1997 and 1998 and saw this very lighthouse. The tallest one in the country is nearby, as is Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane. I went hang gliding not far from there!


Kevin Davis writes from the After Existentialism, Light blog. He is a postgraduate student in theology at the University of Aberdeen, with M.Th. dissertation research on Cardinal Newman’s moral epistemology in the assent of faith (pretty cool stuff!). His post is entitled Scripture and Authority in Protestant Theology. I shall reproduce every word of it here in blue and reply point-by-point, according to my usual socratic custom.

Kevin and I had a brief exchange in the combox of my first critique of Michael Patton's defense of sola Scriptura (Kevin / Dave / Kevin / Kevin / Kevin / Dave / Kevin). In my last reply, I listed a full dozen of my papers that touched upon my claim of severe Protestant self-contradiction: none of which has ever been expressly refuted in direct interaction by any Protestant (unless I have forgotten something). As always, I issue a friendly open invitation for any of my Protestant brethren to attempt to do so. Kevin, unfortunately, doesn't even try in his reply, as we shall see.

* * * * *

Is the Protestant principle of sola scriptura illogical?

When properly scrutinized and not merely accepted on faith, or someone else's (Luther's, Calvin's et al) authority, yes.

Does it violate any formal rules of logic, namely committing the fallacy of circular argumentation (e.g., “The reason I believe in the authority of scripture is because scripture claims authority from God”) which, of course, entails begging the question?

Yes. And it is self-defeating, too, which means it is not only circular, but contains within it radically contradictory things that cannot be resolved within the system.

Dave Armstrong believes it does, and I think it’s fair to say that this is the general consensus of the Catholic apologetics world

Indeed.

(which should be distinguished from academic Catholic scholarship).

Of course. But the Catholic academic world is divided into liberal / modernist and orthodox sections. The former might very well argue as Kevin does, while the latter would tend to argue as I do (since I, too, am an orthodox Catholic). Many contributors, for example, to the major (629 pages) critique book Not By Scripture Alone, were scholars: Philip Blosser, Ph.D. (professor of philosophy), Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D. (theologian and professor at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, and a personal friend), Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., Ph.D. (doctorate in Old Testament), and Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.L.

So let's be clear that this is not merely a "pop apologetics" thing. It's the orthodox Catholic reply to the flawed Protestant rule of faith: made by scholars and non-clergy, non-academic laypeople alike. It would have been made by the Church fathers, who argued in the same fashion. In fact, many of the early heretics reasoned in the same way and tried to go by the Bible Alone, since they couldn't point to historic pedigree for their heresies: most notably the Arians.

Apart from considerations of other doctrines, even soteriology, Protestant Christianity must be rejected for at least violating inscrutible laws of ratiocination in its authority principle.

I wouldn't say that it follows that Protestantism per se has to be rejected because of this. A Catholic can't say that absolutely because we think much of what is present in traditional Protestantism is true and good. What we say is that sola Scriptura is impossible to cogently, fruitfully follow as a principle of authority or rule of faith, and that its bad fruit is historically evident.

Lots
of people accept illogical things and refuse to ever seriously examine their first principles. Protestants are by no means unique in that regard among various schools of thought.
We all have to be constantly vigilant in watching out for illogical thinking. That's why I love dialogue: because it helps us do this necessary self-analysis.

This post [link] by Armstrong is a good example of this belief, where “inexorable, unarguable reasoning” requires us to reject sola scriptura. The insurmountable problem facing the Protestant position, according to Armstrong, is the fact that scripture itself does not testify to its own exclusive authority.

That's one of several, yes. To put it very starkly, here is this particular self-contradiction:
1) Sola Scriptura holds that the Bible is the only infallible authority.

2) The Bible itself, however, never makes such a claim.

3) Therefore, sola Scriptura is an extrabiblical notion (or, "tradition of men") that is
imposed upon Scripture from preconceived notions.

4) Sola Scriptura, in other words, is an "unbiblical" doctrine.

5) But how can a doctrine about the Bible itself, appealing to it in a way that it doesn't claim for itself, not be in the Bible?

6) How can one make a claim about a supposed sole infallible source of authority, that the source itself doesn't make?

7) If everything needed fopr the Christian life is supposed to be in the Bible, and this is not, then why is it still adhered to despite its "biblical vacancy"?
That is the first aspect of the incoherence of this view. Another related one is the following:
1) Sola Scriptura holds that the Bible is the only infallible authority.

2) But the Bible itself refers to the infallible authority of tradition and the Church.

3) Therefore, the source being appealed to rejects the very notions imposed upon it, by asserting notions contradictory to these superimposed ideas.

4) The sola Scriptura advocate, then, contradicts himself by believing things, supposedly based on the sole infallible authority of Scripture, that are expressly contradicted. In other words, if one simply used Scripture Alone, abstracted from the overall authority questions, one would be led to the "three-legged stool" approach of the Catholic Church, not the sola Scriptura position.
Several insuperable self-contradictions are evident. And it only get worse when it comes to deciding which doctrines are true and biblical, deciding where true ecclesiastical authority resides, and when applying the ancillary notion of perspicuity ("clearness") of Scripture.

Combine that with scripture’s own lack of a table of contents (canon) and you have an inability for the Protestant to extra ecclesiam know what is scripture, in precise limits.

That's another serious problem that has never adequately been resolved in Protestant circles, but not in our immediate purview.

And, thirdly, once the Protestant claims a certain set of texts as scripture, he still knows of his fallibility; thus, how can the fallible individual claim to know his canon of scripture is indeed scripture?

The argument from fallibility, infallibility, with all its epistemological intricacies, is also distinct from my claims to internal self-contradiction. This is not about the utmost depths of philosophical abstraction and speculation, but about the simple, practical, everyday task of a Christian to know where authority resides, and to possess a reasonable, self-consistent basis for it, within a paradigm of a reasonable faith.

The solution to these problems is the Church, according to Armstrong et al.

It's true that the Church cannot be erased from the equation, when it comes to both binding authority and infallibility, as Protestants have tried to do, with ill results.

The Church defines what is scripture,

Strictly speaking, no, as I have pointed out: Does the Catholic Church Think it is Superior to the Bible, and its Creator?. It did set the parameters, though, so maybe you mean the same thing I mean.

the Church tells us that this scripture is not solely authoritative for doctrine (at least not formally sufficient),

But the Bible tells us this, too.

and since the Church is infallible in this regard, the individual Christian can know both what is scripture and matters of faith not defined therein.

The individual can know whether strict infallibility (in the epistemological sense) is involved or not, but in point of fact, the Church is infallible.

The locus of the assent of faith is, then, the Church and, by extension, everything the Church binds de fide.

That was how the early Church and subsequent Catholicism and Orthodoxy viewed it, yes. The fathers routinely appealed to Church authority, tradition, apostolic succession, conciliar infallibility, and yes, also the pope. The Protestant task, then, is to explain:
1) Why all that passed-down tradition was suddenly rejected?,

and

2) On what grounds they felt they could reverse this principle of authority that had been in place for 1500 years?,

and

3) Explain how their reversals are somehow, inexplicably, consistent developments of what came before, in light of the documented history of doctrine, including with regard to authority?,

or

4) If they don't wish to make that claim, to explain on what principle a true reversal, as opposed to a consistent development, or an ahistoricism can be justified; on what basis?

and

5) By what authority did Luther, Calvin et al do what they did, over against the Church?
So, for sake of clarity at the cost of redundancy, here is what this Catholic principle accomplishes:

1. Defining all that the Christian must believe as revelation from God.

Revelation is distinct from infallibility in Catholic thinking. We believe that the public revelation was completed in the apostolic era, and developed since then. Not all aspects of our understanding or application of this deposit of faith is properly classified as "revelation."

2. Defining what is scripture — what texts are inspired witness to God’s revelation.

The canon is obviously a crucial path to even get to sola Scriptura. One can't have a sola who knows what it is? position.

3. Defining with infallibility number 1 (and, thus, number 2).

The question for all Christians is to know with the certitude of faith (Newman) what is true and part of Christianity.

This is, of course, a perfectly defensible and sensible position. The problem is believing that the Protestant principle is illogical and believing that the Catholic principle escapes the circularity which, supposedly, voids the Protestant position.

There is no problem.

A second problem is believing that either or both are (strictly) circular arguments.

Indeed. Perhaps one day someone will show where my reasoning supposedly went astray.

But, we cannot get to these problems without first understanding how both the Protestant and the Catholic determine what is revelation and, thus, infallible in its witness to God’s own self-revelation and a continuing part in this revealing of God to his elect until the parousia.

Okay. This is highfalutin' "theology-speak" and is a bit unclear, so I'll let it sit for now.

A real question for the Protestant is determining what is revelation from God, but this is equally a real question for the Catholic. The Catholic has determined that the Church is the vehicle of God’s revelation and, as such, requires the assent of faith.

Our view requires more faith, in one sense, because the Catholic believes that God has the power not only to preserve an inspired Scripture, but also an infallible Church. Most Protestants don't have enough faith to believe that God can do the latter, because it involves too many fallen creatures. We reply that God has always used fallen, sinful man to do His will. He did with Scripture, and He can do so with the Church. No problem.

If murderers (David, Paul, Moses) can write inspired Scripture, which is a higher level of authority than infallibility, then popes can make infallible statements. That requires less faith, in another sense, than believing the first thing. But because Scripture is "way back then" and not now, somehow the Protestant believes it to require less faith. This same inspired Scripture bears witness to infallible and hierarchical Church authority.

The Protestant has not determined any Church to have such authority, but he has determined that certain texts (scripture) proclaim God’s revelation and, as such, requires the assent of faith — but the Church does not therein play an inessential role.

That's right. It can make its creeds and proclamations, but in the final analysis, since (for the Protestant) it lacks infallibility, individuals can dissent from it and go their own way. And this is the history of Protestantism: one series of events after another of splitting and re-forming. Yet within itself, various forms of Protestant Christianities assume a high authority.

Tell the Arminians after the Synod of Dort, for example, that they had the authority to believe according to their consciences whatever they felt was true with regard to TULIP and related issues. They could not. So Protestants often exhibit a de facto, ersatz, bogus "infallibility" (as I have often contended was the case with Luther himself) without the authority or internal coherence to do so. It's a futile process that has no resolution.

The use of the term, “determination,” should perhaps be replaced with “recognition,” since the Christian, in union with the Church, does not ascribe authority to scripture but, rather, acquieces to it, as he comes to faith by the Holy Spirit — a Spirit at movement with his fellow believers in the Church. The Protestant does not come to a collection of writings and then set about determining which are to be held as sacred. The Protestant becomes a Protestant, which is to say, becomes a Christian, in the Church, and it is with the Church that the Protestant joins in recognizing scripture. He would not even know the gospel if it were not for the Church, but the Church herself would not know the gospel if it were not for God’s election of Israel and Jesus Christ, which is also the election of the Church (the new Isreal). This covenantal revelation is recorded by the body of believers, Israel-Church, in writings which are then held as authoritative as they are the bearers of this revelation directly from God.

Exactly. This is the Catholic view, as I have argued in the past. Your problem is to explain why you accept this authority of the Church to proclaim the canon, but not in other areas. Why make an exception in the case of the canon? On what basis? We don't have that problem, because we already believe in an infallible Church.

We do not turn to Augustine, Thomas, or Barth in order to determine what God has revealed of Himself; rather, we turn (with Augustine, Thomas, and Barth) to the scriptures and confess accordingly.

And then we start getting into a host of doctrines where Protestants can't agree amongst themselves what is true or false, leading to doctrinal relativism and sectarian chaos. This gets into the incoherence of perspicuity: as defined by the classic Protestant position.

In the first centuries of the Church, it was her task to confess scripture, which includes confessing what should be included as scripture. The Christian joins with the Church in this confession, not with the understanding that the Church is infallible in its declarations here or elsewhere but with the understanding that this Church is the elect of God, given God himself in the Holy Spirit with a redeemed vision of His Word.

I fail to see any practical difference. Its a distinction without a difference. You haven't resolved any of the practical difficulties.

Thus, the Church can err,

Okay, sure. Where has the Church erred, then? You tell us. We're all ears. And after you tell us that, tell us also what gives you the right to make that determination? And why should I take your word when the next Protestant I run across will disagree with you as to where the error has occurred? It's a truly absurd scenario. It has no end of absurdity.

but it is the Church which is given the commission to proclaim the gospel. The Church varied in multiple ways in what she considered scripture during the early centuries, and even in the Church of Rome of the 16th century there were disputes over the OT deuterocanon, with faithful cardinals taking the Jewish-Protestant position.

So what? Discussions among bishops in a council are not infallible like the ultimate decisions are. There are always people who have what turn out to be erroneous positions. But the council's results are what are protected by the Holy Spirit. Since Protestants don't have faith enough to believe that God can guide councils, just as He did in the Jerusalem Council as recorded in Scripture itself, they're always talking about the deliberations before the votes are taken, to try to show that Catholics are as divided as anyone else (which makes them feel better about their own doctrinal chaos). But this is wrongheaded reasoning because it misunderstands the nature of a council and what God is in fact guiding and protecting from error.

But this did not put the Church of the 16th century in any more of an “illogical” position than the Church of the 4th century. The Protestant does not see the variations here and obvious indeterminancy as a threat to the holy mission of the Church, which nonetheless must include a confession of scripture.

So we'll accept sola Scriptura without knowing exactly what is Scripture and what is not? And if we don't know, it doesn't matter?

All of this, of course, leaves open the possibility that a Protestant may reject a certain writing as non-scriptural, just as the Church has collectively and variously, but not without due and weighty reference to the collective wisdom (under the Spirit’s tutelage) of the Church. It’s not to be taken lightly, to say the least; which is why a healthy pragmatism and understanding of God’s providence over all things makes the revision of the canon an unnecessary consideration for most Protestants.

I see, so it is possible, but we need not worry about it. Ho hum . . .

Now, the question of circularity seems rather an odd charge. The Catholic believes in the divine authority of the Church, not because the Catholic Church simply “says so,” but because a comprehensive consideration of God’s revelation, in scripture and Church, reveals this charism of the Church.

It does do so. If you agree, then where is the beef? You should become Catholic or Orthodox. If you claim it doesn't, on the other hand, then you have to make your argument from Scripture, accordingly, and show us where we went astray in our arguments.

The Catholic can be wrong here just as much as the Protestant can in his determination of authoritative revelation.

Individuals can always be wrong, which is precisely why we need the unbroken, consistent witness of the Church as Guardian of the deposit of faith, passed down through apostolic succession. That is the Mind of the Church, which gives us a certitude of faith as to the content of the fullness of Christianity. The Catholic yields to this collective, Spirit-guided wisdom. The Protestant yields (ultimately) to . . . well, no one, since no one is infallible, and hence, can always possibly be disagreed with.

Hopefully these observations will lead to both sides moderating their claims, especially the charges of logical fallacy.

Why should I moderate any claim, since none of my arguments have been directly dealt with at all? For what reason would I change my mind? You've given me no reason whatever to do so.
Protestantism hasn't figured out how to achieve doctrinal harmony, and thus positively sanctions error (which is present somewhere, wherever contradiction is). That is unbiblical, illogical, and completely unacceptable. It is no solution to anything; it is a severe problem. One might even plausibly contend that it is a deal-breaker. Many of us who were formerly Protestants saw this problem among many others, and they were major reasons why we became Catholics.

* * *

And now, since I (quite disappointingly) received no interaction with my claims in Kevin's post, I'll reply to a few comments in the discussion thread (though not point-by-point, as above):

Mark (Catholic: from the blog Reason in the Light of Faith):

Your post is a good one and hopefully will help moderate the inane views of Armstrong and company. Honestly, I doubt it will, but maybe it will help their readers to better understand the Protestant view of authority and Scripture.

Right. I fully understand it. I used to hold it myself. I've interacted with many of the leading defenders of it (such as Keith Mathison and James White). I've written more about it than any other topic, among my 2100+ papers on my blog. I now reject it, for the many reasons that I have given, that no one thus far is willing to engage.

The Protestant is not required to show that scripture “says so” of its divine authority in order for it to be recognized as divine authority.

Why wouldn't it say so, for heaven's sake? This is what is so implausible. And why do you feel compelled to make this claim? Where does it come from? The very thing that the Protestant rests his entire rule of faith on, never itself makes the claim that is applied to it. But you don't find that odd? I think it's far preferable for Protestants to at least argue that Scripture makes the claim. I think they fail when they do, but at least that position is more plausible than yours.

In other words, I was trying to get beyond the charges of logical circularity.

You don't get beyond it by ignoring it and wishing it away, but by logically overcoming it with the force of argument.

Recognizing what comes from God is fundamental to accepting x as worthy of de fide assent — and this undercuts any strict circularity in the claims. “I believe x because x claims to be from God” is a circular argument; “I believe x because x is from God” is not circular but would require filling-out why, in your belief, x is from God.

The Catholic view is not circular because we believe it to be the direct result of the teaching of historical figures: Jesus and the apostles, as recorded in Holy Scripture. Jesus gave authority to the Church (e.g., Matthew 16), so we accept it. That is based on the authority of our Lord Jesus, Who established He was Whom He claimed to be, by His Resurrection, which is, in turn, established on the grounds of eyewitness evidence and "legal-type" evidence: none of which is circular in the least. One may dispute the factual claims, but it is not circular.

. . . from the Protestant position, nothing the Church does is necessarily and absolutely valid . . .

From whence does this derive? Can you give me any Scripture that teaches such an absurd thing?

Rather, the Reformers positioned themselves with the early fathers in consulting the apostolic witness and determining what is to be said of the Triune God of our salvation.

Then why, pray tell, did they dissent from the witness of the fathers in a host of other areas? Why trust their authority in one thing and massively dissent from it in many others?

Which is also why I don’t think we can seriously say that there is a clear, coherent understanding of “real presence” in the early fathers — one problem being what the heck “real presence” means.

Many Protestant historians would strongly disagree with this characterization: History of the Doctrine of the Eucharist: Nine Protestant Scholarly Sources.

For someone like Hans Kung it certainly does seem that doctrine collapses into historical research. I don’t think I can offer much more than say that we have to achieve a balance between two extremes — Kung on one end and ahistorical neoscholasticism (”ecclesial positivism”?) on the other end.

No heretic who does as incompetent a job at historical research as Hans Kung should be on any end of any sensible spectrum, to help achieve a supposed "balance" or to find truth. This is one of the things that is awry in your overall worldview.

For what it’s worth, I think de Lubac, von B, and Barth do this well.

Good. Stick to them, then, and ignore a foolish heretic like Kung.

* * * * *

Further interactions:

I can't imagine anyone being able to take the time to piece by piece engage with all of your lengthy posts and dialogues.

That's a very convenient excuse and straw man for you, isn't it? I never required anyone to deal with all of my papers; I simply said that I had a lot of them (in the face of the charge that I have not demonstrated circularity) and that none of them had been properly dealt with from an opposing position. That's a factual matter. I can't change it. I didn't make it what it is.

I'd be ecstatic if any intelligent Protestant would pick just one to deal with. You asked for a succinct statement in another combox. I said that this would be my two-page fictional dialogue on SS. But apparently that was too much for you as well. You're a grad student in theology but a two-page paper is too much for you to handle? You probably read 50 to 100 times that much material every night, studying. That's nonsense, so the only sensible opinion left to have is that you don't want to deal with the argument: period. You recognize that, at bottom, you have no answer. And so you keep talking about the topic without actually grappling with it.

I could pretend to be a Protestant again and argue as I would have 20 years ago, and I'd do a much better defense than you have put up. Some days I truly wish I could go back, since there are so few Protestants who want to defend Protestantism in its depth anymore.

I can understand that a close analysis of your bedrock principles would be threatening and scary. Of course it would be. The stakes are very high. In my opinion, this is why Protestants have shown themselves extremely reluctant to follow through this discussion to its logical end. It's tough to feel that one is required to change his position. I went through it. I understand the trepidation involved.

That's why I've been exhorting you to succinctly restate it.

And I have already done so in that two-page paper and in selected sections of many of my papers, where I did the logical flow chart thing (just as I did again in this post).

I'll take your first syllogism as your argument:
1) Sola Scriptura holds that the Bible is the only infallible authority.

2) The Bible itself, however, never makes such a claim.
No. That misses what the Protestant is doing.

It doesn't at all. This is the Protestant definition, and it is completely relevant whether or not Scripture would verify the claim, since it is a claim about Scripture. This is getting downright surreal, that you don't see this. But I suppose the fish doesn't know it is in water, does it?

SS holds that the Bible is a record of God's revelation to his elect. The Protestant only recognizes the Bible to be such a product of God's self-revelation.

That's neither here nor there in the debate because no one disagrees with it. Thus, it would reasonably be the beginning point of a debate (opposing positions seek common ground and then proceed to argue about the things concerning which they differ), but not what is in dispute, or part of the debate proper.

There's absolutely no reason why the Bible would "say" it alone is authoritative.

I'd flip that around and contend that it is completely implausible that the Bible would never state (either explicitly or implicitly) that it alone is authoritative and infallible, if indeed this is the case. To believe that it never does (not even a hint) is, to me, a remarkable and astonishing concession. Why in the world would God fail to communicate that and make it crystal clear (assuming for a moment that it is true), in the midst of 100,000 other propositions found in the Bible (and a completely perspicuous Bible at that)?

Secondly, as I noted in my post, the Bible also expressly contradicts SS by giving binding authority to tradition and councils and the Church.

That's not the question. The question is what is from God and therefore authoritative.

The Bible is authoritative; the question is whether it is solely so, in a binding or infallible sense, and whether it requires authoritative interpreters and an authoritative orthodox tradition and Church within which it can be properly received and respected.

The Protestant recognizes these certain Jewish and Apostolic writings as authoritative because they are a witness to the salvation in which they are included by the Holy Spirit, not because they claim some "principle" of sola scripture. If the Protestant believed that Christ (as revealed in the NT) gave the Church conciliar or papal authority, then the Protestant would include this in her confession -- but the Protestant doesn't believe this (which is, by the way, why half of your comments above are meaningless for the issue at hand).

Thus you have to alternately explain / dismiss the positive biblical evidences that suggest otherwise. I've given many of those elsewhere in my writing (needless to say). Every biblical claim I make for the Catholic Church, or for lesser claims that are consistent with Catholicism and antithetical to Protestantism, I can abundantly back up, rest assured. I couldn't digress and prove every one of them in my reply.

Thus, the circularity/self-defeating charge is off track.

You can't wish it away. You have yet to directly deal with the reasoning and argumentation.

The Protestant claims these testaments of God's covenantal purposes to be sacred and authoritative, once again, not because they "say so" but because they "are." What they are is this revelation, just as for the Catholic what scripture and the de fide definitions of the Church are is revelation.

More of the same . . .

I don't know if I can make it any clearer.

You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

If we can't get this straight, then we're not going to get any further.

Do as you wish. I'll continue to seek a confident Protestant who is able and willing to take a few hours of his time to shoot down my supposedly weak, flimsy (or, in your buddy Mark's words, "inane") arguments against SS (i.e., the ones where I assert the self-defeating nature of Protestant arguments).

The fact that none thus far has done so, or has even been willing to try (before we even judge whether he has succeeded) speaks volumes as to the biblical and logical bankruptcy and falsehood of SS.

Since that is one of my main tasks as a Catholic apologist: to illustrate that non-Catholic paradigms and doctrines are false and lacking support (and further, that the defenders of same are unwilling to even try to defend these false notions, let alone successfully doing so), I have succeeded again in my purpose, by the grace of God.

* * *

You continue to say "but the Bible itself says the Church is infallible."

The Bible indicates that there is such a thing as binding authority in the Church and tradition (the most obvious biblical, historical instance of which is the Jerusalem Council). This is precisely what Protestants deny. Thus in one fell swoop they are being unbiblical and self-contradictory (one of many such instances). Infallibility is a more philosophical, particular notion that is epistemologically distinct from "authority" or "binding authority."

Seriously, this is not the debate.

What debate? You have decided to ignore the basics of my contentions and to dance all around the issue and to play games with words rather than straightforwardly deal with doctrines and concepts. So to call this a "debate" is stretching it quite a bit.

Everyone knows that that is the Catholic exegesis of Mt. 16, 18, etc.

I can make my argument without even discussing the papacy. I only brought up the pope a few times, in passing. The papacy certainly adds to the question of authority from the historic Catholic perspective, but is not necessary at all to show the self-defeating nature of sola Scriptura. Biblical teaching on tradition and the authority of the Church is quite sufficient for that purpose.

I guess diverting the issue to this is a popular move for your readers,

This issue involves many things considered together. But as I said, the papacy was only tangentially relevant to this particular critique. Every argument I've presented in this exchange could have been made by an Orthodox Christian. Just take out the two passing references to the pope and switch any mention of papal infallibility to conciliar infallibility, and it is still opposed to your position (and, I contend, superior to it).

but let's be a little more responsible and respectful by sticking to whether the Protestant position is self-defeating.

We never got to it because, as I keep reiterating, you have not yet begun to deal with my initial arguments that this whole discussion is supposedly about. It's the "Reformed dance" that I have often observed in the past: dancing around presuppositions or changing the initial thrust of a dialogue, so that the original discussion can't even get off the ground. You in effect believe that a two-page paper of mine (which is only one argument of many I have made in this vein) is too much for you to handle, time-wise. Yet you want to tell me to stick to the subject you have not yet even approached? I must say I find that uproariously ironic and funny.

If you can't seriously understand and explicate my argument, then you're not giving me much incentive to read "just one" of your dialogues and engage with every point.

Right. I suppose this could possibly be the beginning of your "exit strategy": insult the opponent as an clueless ignoramus. Dream on.

I'm simply wanting to engage this one fundamental point, and you have failed to seriously consider it.

I see. I'm content to let readers judge what has happened here.
it is completely relevant whether or not Scripture would verify the claim, since it is a claim about Scripture.
No. It's not.

Sola Scriptura is not a claim about Scripture? Okay. That's the first I've ever heard that.

I can believe in the Christ as confessed by the apostolic witness without said witness saying anything about scripture or sola scriptura.

Of course, but that is not your burden at present, which is sola Scriptura and whether Protestantism is self-defeating in asserting it.

Randy does ask a good question about how the Protestant knows this witness to be true, and the answer must include a soteriological point. This is why I have couched all of my statements with "elect," "covenantal," "divine purposes," "Holy Spirit," etc., which you think is theological verbiage. The Protestant, with the Church, confesses a gospel of our salvation which is recorded by the original inheritors/receivers of this salvation, to the Jews first and then to the apostles. Without this record, there would be no salvation, because there would be nothing to confess. The preaching of the gospel is a confessing of scripture, and the receiving of the gospel ("born again") is the receiving of scripture. Ultimately how a Protestant can "trust" this has the same ultimately inscrutable foundations as faith itself.

Great; fine and good, but this has little to do with my arguments that are supposedly under "scrutiny" . . .

Of course, there are statements in scripture relating its authority (e.g., "Thus saith the Lord," or 2 Tim. 3:16-17), but we don't assent because something simply claims to be from God. Does the Catholic assent to the Catholic Church because it claims to be from God, endowed with such-and-such authority? Do Catholics go around and say, "Believe what the Catholic Church binds you to believe because the Catholic Church says she has this authority"? I hope not.

We don't, because our view is not circular and self-defeating, as yours ultimately is.

Rather, the Catholic should turn to scripture and argue that the apostolic witness grants her such authority. This is what the See of Rome did when asserting her Petrine authority -- she had to -- and the East dissented toward Rome's claim to universal jurisdiction, on exegetical grounds. These exegetical issues are indeed important -- obviously -- but if the Church is denied conciliar or papal infallibility, is this Protestant position then self-defeating when confessing scripture? That's the issue at hand.

No it isn't, because I'm not arguing about the authority of Scripture. All sides accept that, and validly so, and it is a separate argument, not under dispute between us. What is disagreed upon (I'll repeat yet again) is how the authority of said Scripture is RELATED to the Church and tradition. We say it is a "three-legged stool." You place Scripture above the other two: infallible and binding where they are not.

* * *

Lacking any more rational replies, Kevin gets downright insulting in his latest combox comment:

Your whole circularity charge depends on the need for scripture to claim the principle of sola scriptura.

Not at all. That is only one argument among many similar ones, as I keep saying, but you don't grasp that for some reason beyond me.

I have challenged this repeatedly, and you divert to other (albeit related) issues.

Right.

Your first syllogism is false...simply and utterly false.

Great. Congratulations.

The fact that all you can do is come back and assert that I'm dancing around the issue is truly amazing. How many years have you been doing this?

18 as a Catholic; 27 including my Protestant years. How many years since you pulled yourself up from your self-proclaimed sophomoric fascination with postmodernism?

Pretty long time, right.

Yep (maybe longer than you've been alive). And it remains as joyful and intellectually stimulating now as much as ever.

Well, you're about to lose another interlocutor...another testament to your bogus "ecumenical" spirit.

You can question the sincerity of my ecumenism if you wish. It doesn't change the facts. Go in peace and may God guide you and bless all your endeavors.

4 comments:

The Space Bishop said...

you say that

"the bible indicates that there is such a thing as binding authority in the church and tradition"

but then you say
"I'd flip that around and contend that it is completely implausible that the Bible would never state (either explicitly or implicitly) that it alone is authoritative and infallible, if indeed this is the case. To believe that it never does (not even a hint) is, to me, a remarkable and astonishing concession. Why in the world would God fail to communicate that and make it crystal clear (assuming for a moment that it is true), in the midst of 100,000 other propositions found in the Bible (and a completely perspicuous Bible at that)?"

you are amazed at protestant claiming for something that is in your own words not made crytsal clear by God yet you yourself say that the bible only indicates your view of authority.

Reading you over the last year it seem to me that the biggest difference between us is that you assume that God must make things crystal clear to us before we can follow him. Methinks you are thinking him to be something he is not.
you

Dave Armstrong said...

God certainly makes the most important truths of the faith clear in Scripture.

The Space Bishop said...

My point is that you say on one hand that the bible "INDICATES" the catholic version of authorithy yet on the other hand you want God to make the Protestant position crytsal clear.

It would seem that you are willing to accept catholicism with less evidence than Protestantism. This points to you (at the very least) turning to rome for reasons other than authorithy.

Dave Armstrong said...

Everything has to be read in context. My arguments are not simplistic.