Thursday, January 14, 2010

Proof That Anti-Catholic Apologist Jason Engwer Ignores an Average of 80% of Catholic Opponents' Arguments (Four Exchanges With Bryan Cross & Myself)

[One-Fifth.gif]

If I start listing out the things you have “made no attempt” to do, the list could be endless.


(Catholic apologist Bryan Cross, replying on 12-22-09 to Jason Engwer's charge that he "made no attempt to explain the large number of Biblical examples of justification apart from baptism" that he had produced)

* * *

Catholic apologist Bryan Cross wrote the following post on his blog, on 19 December 2009 in reply to anti-Catholic Protestant apologist Jason Engwer (citations from the latter indented). Total words for Bryan Cross only: 1,652.

Jason, in his follow-up post in the same thread the next day, cited 618 of Bryan's words to respond to, for a whopping 37% total (compared to 12% and 13% when replying to me recently). I'm impressed. Bryan has shown himself to be three times less stupid than I am! I respect my superiors, and this is no exception. He got Jason to respond to more than one-third of his arguments! Great job, Bryan! That's the good news. But he's still 63% dumb, whereas I am an imbecile 88% of the time, with that proportion of my words being vacant enough for Jason to safely ignore (hoping that no one notices), as allegedly of no relevance to the discussion.

Moreover, Bryan cited 65% of Jason's words from his post that he replied to, in order to make a direct response (779 out of 1,193), whereas I cited 100% of Jason's words in all six of my recent lengthy replies to him. Thus, Jason cited only 57% as many of Bryan's words, compared to the percentage Bryan cited of his words. Bryan cited 1.76 times as many of Jason's words, compared to Jason's citation of his words. I cited an average of eight times as many of Jason's words in our last two exchanges, compared to his citations of mine (100% compared to 12% and 13%).

This again demonstrates the huge difference in Catholic apologetic method and anti-Catholic Protestant method (that I have observed firsthand in multiple hundreds of cases over fifteen years). We respond to far more arguments, and ignore far fewer.

To make it even more fun, I have highlighted the 37% of Bryan's words that Jason chose to reply to in red, so readers can see the entire context, and what Jason decided to deliberately pass over (I think it's very instructive):

* * * * *

Thanks for your comments. My purpose in writing this post wasn’t primarily to establish or substantiate the Catholic doctrine of the relation of baptism to justification, but only to show that the doctrine of the “agitators” in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is not that of the Catholic Church, and hence that St. Paul’s condemnation of their doctrine is not a condemnation of Catholic doctrine. In short, I wanted to show that the Catholic Church fully embraces and teaches what St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, and thus that the notion that the Catholic Church teaches a false gospel is not supported by St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

You wrote:

All he [Abraham] does is believe. And saying that the faith has love and other elements in it that would result in works doesn’t lead us to the conclusion that works are present. A faith that will later result in works isn’t equivalent to a combination between faith and works.

If in Gen 15 Abraham was already justified, then the justification referred to in Gen 15 either is a “maintaining of or increase in” justification, based on the act of faith Abraham makes in Gen 15, or is referring back to Gen 12 (or whenever was the first time Abraham believed).

Genesis 15:6 tells us what the Biblical authors meant by faith, and what they meant wasn’t belief accompanied by baptism or belief accompanied by any other work.

Of course it wasn’t accompanied by baptism under the Old Covenant, since Christ established Christian baptism only in the New Covenant. But the absence of baptism in the Old Covenant doesn’t tell us anything about how it is to be received in the New Covenant. And it seems clear that Abraham’s faith was accompanied by works, as James points out.

Paul applies the passage to the gospel in general, not a later increase in justification. In Romans 4, Paul is addressing the reconciliation of man to God after the universal fall he describes in chapter 3. Romans 4:3, which cites Genesis 15:6, comes in the context of a discussion of the reconciliation of sinners to God, not a discussion of increasing a justification already possessed. That’s why Paul goes on to refer to how “the ungodly” are justified “apart from works” (Romans 4:5-6). He’s addressing the “introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:2).

Sure. A Catholic can agree with that.

There’s a series of major problems with placing justification at the time of baptism. I mentioned some of those problems in the thread at Justin Taylor’s blog, linked above.

I didn’t place justification at the time of baptism. In my post I specifically said, “This does not mean that [sanctifying grace and the supernatural virtues] cannot be received prior to the actual reception of the sacrament of baptism.” A person can be justified even prior to baptism, but the grace by which he is justified nevertheless has come to his through that sacrament.

Paul and James suggest a high degree of continuity between the means of justification in the Old and New Testament eras. They cite Abraham and other Old Testament figures to illustrate how people are justified in this New Testament era. Bringing in baptism as a new means of receiving justification diminishes that continuity.

A mere suggestion is not sufficient to warrant schism from the Church, or the public charge that the Catholic Church teaches a false gospel. There is continuity between the Old and New Covenants, but the New Covenant exceeds the Old Covenant, and for this reason baptism exceeds circumcision.

Similarly, John’s gospel emphasizes Jesus’ statements about salvation during His earthly ministry (John 3:16, 5:24, 11:25-26, etc.), and John tells us that he wrote his gospel to lead people to salvation (John 20:31), using language similar to Jesus’ language earlier in the gospel. Yet, advocates of baptismal justification often argue that baptism wasn’t added as a means of justification until after Jesus’ earthly ministry. Again, adding baptism diminishes the continuity suggested by the Biblical authors.

It is St. John who tells us at the beginning of his gospel (written later in his life, according to tradition) that Jesus said to Nicodemus, “unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) Jesus is the one who “added” baptism, just as He did in Mark 16:16, and just as Peter did on Pentecost: “repent, and let each of you be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) It is baptism that now [in the New Covenant] saves us. (1 Pet 3:21)

But that pattern continues after Jesus’ ministry. Cornelius and those with him are justified when they believe as they hear the gospel being preached (Acts 10:44-46). Peter cites what occurred with them as if it’s representative of the normative means of justification (Acts 15:7-11).

Faith comes by hearing, of course. But if it comes to a person in its fullness (as a virtue), it has come to them through the sacrament of baptism, even if they have not yet been baptized. The Spirit ordinarily works through the sacrament, but the Spirit is capable of outrunning the sacrament, as John outran Peter at the tomb. This ability of the Spirit to act prior to the sacrament, should not be interpreted as nullifying the sacrament or implying that the Spirit has not come through the sacrament.

Similarly, Paul expects people to receive the Holy Spirit, the seal of adoption and justification, “when they believe” (Acts 19:2). Though the people Paul is addressing were unusual in that they received the Spirit with the laying on of hands (Acts 19:6), verse 2 suggests that Paul considered it normative to receive the Spirit at the time of faith.

When Paul says “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”, he is asking them if they were confirmed when they were baptized. Their reply shows that they had not even been baptized with a Christian baptism. So St. Paul baptizes them with a Christian baptism, and then lays his hands on them, and they are confirmed (and receive the Holy Spirit). St. Paul’s question shows that when the Apostles speak about believing the gospel, they are not speaking of this believing as something merely mental; ‘believing the gospel is a phrase that implicitly (when not explicitly) includes baptism. This is what St. Paul is referring to in 1 Tim 6:12 when he says, “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” This was (and still is) the practice of the Church, that the catechumen makes a profession of faith immediately prior to his baptism. Faith is not merely an internal epistemic change; it is also a public profession and identification. We are inserted into the Faith through baptism.

The Galatians (Galatians 3:2) and the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:13-14) are referred to as having been justified through believing the preached gospel.

Correct, but this believing includes baptism; it is not a merely private, internal epistemic change. It is sacramentally effected in the presence of many witnesses, by Christ.

In Galatians 3:2, the context in which Paul places the faith (”hearing”) suggests that he’s referring to people being justified when they believe as they hear the gospel being preached. It’s a situation like that of Cornelius in Acts 10:44-46, in which justification is attained through believing the preached gospel, apart from baptism and all other works.

In neither the Cornelius situation nor the Acts 19 situation is faith truly separated from baptism. Faith precedes it, but the Apostles do not take this as nullifying the need for baptism. The reception of the grace of a sacrament never nullifies the need for the reception of that sacrament. Rather, it testifies to its need, which is precisely why Peter urges water to be brought for the baptism of Cornelius, and why the disciples in Acts 19 were immediately baptized when they learned about its necessity. Likewise, when St. Paul says “hearing with faith” (in Gal 3:2) he is not saying that faith does not come through baptism. The belief in Christ that comes from hearing leads directly to the sacrament of faith, i.e. baptism. If a person believes, he will, like the Ethiopian eunuch, respond by seeking baptism, in which he is united to Christ, what St. Paul refers to as coming to “belong to Christ” (Gal 5:24)

If it was a faith that occurred as the Galatians heard the preaching of the gospel, then it probably wasn’t a faith that was accompanied by baptism or other works. It could be argued that the Galatians were working in some way as they heard the gospel being preached, but that’s a less natural way of reading the passage.

You’re thinking of the faith in an entirely subjective, inward and individualistic way. But faith is public. It involves a public ‘yes’ to the gospel, and that public yes means the reception of baptism and incorporation into His Body, the Church. You’re also treating this passage as though St. Paul is spelling out all the details of what it means to come to faith in Christ. Since he doesn’t explicitly mention baptism here, therefore, you conclude that their faith didn’t include baptism. But that’s not a justified assumption. St. Paul isn’t intending here to lay out all the details of what it means to come to faith in Christ. They already knew that, and have been through it. His point here is to admonish them to remember how they received the Spirit: not through the Old Covenant, but through the New Covenant.

We don’t normally assume that people are getting baptized or doing other works as they hear the gospel being preached.

St. Paul isn’t talking about faith in this subjective, internally self-evident change-of-epistemic state manner. You’re reading the Bible as a child of the Enlightenment and the inward turn. The Galatian believers most likely received the Spirit the same way the believers did in Samaria in Acts 8, and the disciples at Ephesus did in Acts 19, through the sacrament of confirmation, by the laying on of hands by an Apostle, after having been baptized. St. Paul is essentially saying in Gal 3:2: Did you receive the Spirit through the sacraments of the Old Covenant (e.g. circumcision) or through the sacraments of the New Covenant (i.e. baptism and confirmation)?

And to use a handful of references to baptism to justify its inclusion in the large number of passages on justification in which it’s not mentioned is dubious.

Catholics aren’t limited to trying to determine the faith from Scripture. We have the living Tradition from the Apostles, the ‘view from the inside’ handed down to us faithfully within the community of faith, by which we understand what the Apostles were saying. We don’t read Scripture in an ecclesial or historical vacuum; we read it with the living memory of the community to whom it was entrusted.

I’ve argued elsewhere (see here) that baptism should be considered a work. It’s not faith, and there’s no reason to think that people normally don’t have faith until the time of baptism.

You don’t seem to realize Who is doing the baptizing. Does the believer exercise his free will in stepping into the font? Of course. But that’s not baptism. Who does the baptizing? Christ. Christ is the Baptizer. He administers all the sacraments He has instituted in His Church.

your distinction between initial justification and the later maintaining and increasing of justification is problematic. Scripture often refers to eternal life as a free gift (Romans 6:23, Revelation 21:6, etc.), and your view is akin to saying that a car is free if the bills don’t arrive until after you drive it off the lot.

The gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord is free in this sense — it comes to us from God without any merit on our part. But, we should not therefore think that working out our salvation (Phil 2:12) will require no sacrifice on our part. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, cf. Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34) We are fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him. (Rom 8:17) So the freedom of the gift of eternal life should not be conceived in an unqualified (or antinomian) way, but with respect to the utter graciousness of God’s offer of eternal life to us. On our part, it requires giving up everything. “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (Lk 14:26)

That’s far from the most natural way to take the Biblical references to the freeness of justification and eternal life.

Assuming that simply going by “the most natural way” of reading the Bible correctly guides you to the proper understanding of the Apostolic deposit of faith is your underlying hermeneutical mistake. To understand the Bible, we need to read it in and with the persons to whom it was entrusted. In the history of the Church, we see that in many cases, the heretic’s most natural way of interpreting Scripture is to see his own heresy in it. That’s the danger of simply going by “the most natural way” of reading Scripture.

Saying that we maintain and increase justification through works is just another way of saying that we work for justification.

Such a claim presupposes the falsity of the distinction between justification and its increase, and thus begs the question. We work not for justification, but only for its increase. We can never merit justification. But once justified, we can, by the grace of God, merit eternal life, because in a state of grace (initiated by God), even one act done in agape for the God who is infinite Love merits an infinite reward, and this infinite reward is the eternal vision of God Himself.

In reality, though, a past justification attained through faith gives peace in the present (Romans 5:1)

Of course. That’s what the Catholic Church teaches.

and assurance of the future (Romans 5:9). The initial justification determines our present and future justification.

Only if we persevere. All the Scriptural warnings about persevering would be heretical if past justification guaranteed future justification.

* * * * *

This is so much fun, I'd like to examine the next round of this discussion as well. Jason replied on 12-20-09, as we noted, citing 37% of Bryan's words to examine with his counter-arguments. In so doing Jason produced 2,433 additional words of his own counter-argumentation. Bryan's follow-up post of 12-22-09 cited 1,394 of these words (57%). Then he produced a total of 4,592 new words for Jason to attempt to refute (minus his own citations of his past words and Jason's words).

Jason replied on 12-24-09, citing a mere 817 (18%) of them to argue against. Now we're getting down to more familiar territory: with Jason ignoring 82% of Bryan's words, too. I feel much better. Poor Bryan writes vacuous, empty rhetoric 82% of the time: so bad that it could be ignored in debate as of no significant import: this approaches my gold medal figure of 88%. I'm only 6% more dumb than Bryan! I can handle that . . .

So in summary, this is what happened in two rounds of debate between Catholic apologist Bryan Cross and anti-Catholic apologist Jason Engwer:

1) Bryan responds to 65% of Jason's words.

2) Jason responds to 37% of Bryan's words.

3) Bryan responds to 57% of Jason's words.

4) Jason responds to 18% of Bryan's words.

Attrition and fatigue set in on both sides, but we observe that it is far greater on Jason's side. He responded to 19% less words the second time, compared to his first response: from a little more than a third of Bryan's total argument / numbers of words, to less than one-fifth, whereas Bryan's percentage slipped by only 8%. He consistently answered a solid majority of Jason's words and arguments (and I replied to 100% of his words six straight times, as I noted above).

Moral of the story: this is objective supporting evidence for something I've known beyond a doubt for a long, long time: Catholic apologists (at least Dave Armstrong and Bryan Cross as typical examples, at any rate) reply to anti-Catholic Protestant arguments, refute them, and offer superior alternatives. Anti-Catholic apologists, on the other hand (at least in Jason Engwer's case) largely ignore Catholic arguments; thus do not offer a counter-reply to many of them, let alone a superior alternative.

In all four instances where Jason responded to Bryan and myself and cited our words to rebut, they constituted only a minority of the whole (37%, 18%, 12%, and 13%, in chronological order). The average response rate, then, for his four "replies" is a lousy 20%, or just one-fifth of the opposing arguments dealt with, with an "ignoring" rate of an astounding 80%.

I rest my case.

No comments: