Friday, July 01, 2005

Answering bluff and bluster

I loathe mind-reading of one's opponent's state of mind in place of arguments, and what irritated me about James White's recent post against Patty Bonds was that he said some stupid things about the state of her knowledge, which I guess was supposed to make his side look more convincing. For example [emphasis mine]:

Now, it is very possible--in fact, highly likely--that the author of this statement on Patrick Madrid's blog, Patty Bonds, is reacting to "once saved, always saved" as found in the likes of a Bob Wilkin. I would be shocked if she had read anything in the Lordship Controversy area or regarding the nature of saving faith (the list of verses at the end of the post indicate no familiarity with the issues involved).

Now it's ridiculous to make assertions like that without proof, and the simple fact of disagreement with the distinctions that between things that White "clearly differentiated in his writings" doesn't remotely prove that she is reacting to someone else's position, that she has not read anything on the subject, or that she has no familiarity with the issues involved. This is the sort of dumb ad hominem that we have come to expect, and it is ad hominem, not substantive in the least. I suppose White is simply asserting the truth of his claims by his powerful second sight into the mind of his sister; this couldn't possibly be an unwarranted assumption. Similarly, White's "Psychic Friends Network" approach emerges here:

And I cannot help but contrast such a statement with Jesus' own words, which again so strongly illustrate the contrast between the anthropocentric mind-set of Roman Catholicism (God wants to save, tries to save, but fails to save so often because He is dependent upon the cooperation of man's will--and yes, I know, that's Arminianism as well) and the theocentric mindset of inspired Scripture taken as a whole.

First, it's substantively wrong to say that Catholic soteriology make salvation dependent upon the cooperation of man's will, unlike Arminianism, which does. That kind of fundamental gaffe on Catholic theology is why White persists in looking like an unschooled amateur in the eyes of Catholics, even after 15 years of supposedly "interacting" with Catholicism. Second, comments on the "mind-set" of one's opponent are simply ridiculous; there's no way you could possibly know what an opponent's "mind-set" is, so it doesn't make sense even to discuss it. I have little enough respect for presuppositional apologetics generally without it devolving into this kind of pop psychology. So this amounts to sheer blustering, not argument, and most reasonable opponents get irritated when someone is wasting this much time blowing hot air.

So needless to say, I was a bit surprised to hear that I was the one being ridiculous for calling White on this situation. But so says White in his response to me:

"Crimson Catholic" is Jonathan Prejean, who called the Dividing Line a while back and apologized for his own part in the use of ad hominem argumentation. He has engaged Eric Svendsen in discussions, and is currently going back and forth with Steve Hays as well. Unfortunately, the repentance in reference to me did not last long, as the recent week has demonstrated.

I'm quite happy to admit when I'm wrong, and I was entirely wrong about you using your blog as a tactic to avoid interaction. That didn't mean I was going to give you a license to be ridiculous. If anything, the fact that I am willing to admit when I am wrong and that I am willing to concede reasonable disagreement should have caused you to think twice about your suggestions here.

In any case, he has commented on my brief response to the assertion that one of the greatest truths of God's self-glorification in salvation, that being the perfection of the work of the Son in the salvation of the elect, is "the single most dangerous teaching being spread in the name of Christianity." Now, in light of all of the heresies that exist today--inclusivism, open theism, the denial of the deity of Christ or the resurrection, etc.,--the statement is highly suspect on its face, of course. But I did not even address that aspect. I wanted to provide a brief comparison, a fair comparison, knowing that folks like Mr. Prejean, if they followed the line of non-reasoning that has swept over the Envoy web forum of late, would leap upon it with glee, and I was not disappointed.

Leaving aside the dubious motives involved in deliberately trolling, you would have been better off if you had addressed that aspect. Instead, you led in with attacking your sister's alleged ignorance and finished with an exercise in mind-reading of the Catholic "mind-set." The next time you're tempted to actually present a substantive argument, by all means do so. I can't think of what motive led you to resort to this garbage instead.

Let's start there. Let's extend as much courtesy as possible (something unknown on the Envoy boards) and say Prejean is using "rant" in the modern sense of "blog article" and not in the negative connotation that would seem to fit the context better. Passing by that, why is pointing out the lack of clarity and the inherent confusion in the blog article (which appeared on Madrid's blog) equivalent to "berating" someone? Prejean demands perfection in anything I write--but no one else? Is Prejean "berating" me as well? One truly has to wonder. In any case, I truly wonder: if Mr. Prejean's sister joined a false religion and began teaching false doctrine, is he stating he would put family above gospel, blood above worship? I wonder if he has considered Jesus' words about this very subject so as to understand my position? But that would require a bit of fairness to appear in the context of what is going on over there, and that isn't going to happen.

If you had extended as much courtesy as possible to Ms. Bonds, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. You said it was "highly likely" that she didn't know what she was talking about, you accused her of not having read anything about the Lordship Salvation controversy without knowing a thing about whether she had or hadn't, and you concluded that she had "no familiarity" with the issues based on insufficient evidence. And you're lecturing me about courtesy? Maybe if you would remove the reflexive references to your opponent's ignorance, stupidity, and "confusion," these other people would treat you more fairly.

Wrong? Well, let's see. Did she differentiate between a Reformed understanding of the perseverance of the saints and "eternal security"? No, she did not. Must one do so to be even semi-fair in one's comments? Of course.

Why must one to do so to be "semi-fair?" Because of your ipse dixit? My entire point (and Patty's) is that we don't consider that distinction to be worth a hill of beans when it comes to actually preventing people from error. Even well-taught people can fail to accept that distinction.

That's like saying Papal Infallibility means the Pope never sins: such shows ignorance of the dogma itself.

But you haven't provided any evidence of error in Patty's understanding of the dogma; you just don't like her conclusion that it is dangerous.

Did Mrs. Bonds understand and read on the issue of the perseverance of the saints from a Reformed perspective prior to her conversion, say, reading Calvin's Institutes on the subject? One would have to ask her. I have no evidence that she did. The church she attended, while having some Reformed members, is not, itself, Reformed, so the chances of a meaningful discussion of this very issue taking place there so as to inform her of the issues would be rather small.

So rather than making the charitable assumption that she is familiar with such things, you jump to the conclusion that she doesn't know anything, despite having no evidence either way. Wonderful.

I recently debated a leading proponent of the non-Reformed, "once-saved, always saved" viewpoint, and stood firmly in the camp of those who recognize the biblical reality that saving faith that perseveres is the gift of God given to His elect, and that those whom God regenerates He likewise sanctifies. I spoke clearly against presumption, against embracing and promoting empty faith, etc. So, since Mrs. Bonds began her article by naming me directly, fairness would require her to accurately represent me, yes? Or is that reserved only for those who defend Mother Church, whereas all forms of argumentation, including straw-man arguments, are "fair game" for those "outside the church"?

What, exactly, is so difficult in understanding that there are people who honestly believe that the doctrine of eternal security, as taught by you, Calvin, and any of a thousand other people, honestly provides insufficient protection against antinomianism? Whether you teach antinomianism or not, the risk of error from teaching eternal security is high.

What? Is this supposed to contain a compelling argument? Or do I detect an admission on Prejean's part that Mrs. Bonds was, in fact, incorrect, in that he admits that "they both stem from a fundamentally defective Christology..."? Both what, Mr. Prejean? Perhaps both refers to the anti-Lordship viewpoint of Arminianism and of the "free grace" folks that I have been consistent in repudiating and rejecting, as well as the position I myself hold? Is that the "both"? Then why did Mrs. Bonds conflate the two, Mr. Prejean? Is it to be assumed that a valid argument against the one is a valid argument against the other? You may assume all the arguments you wish, but the fact remains that in the material I was commenting on the two positions were conflated. That is not "nonsense," that is a simple fact. All the smoke produced by other issues will not cover over that reality.

Who said anything about a compelling argument? The point is that it doesn't display ignorance of the distinction to think that they all pose the same risk. You were the one accusing Ms. Bonds of not knowing anything, not me. I don't need a compelling argument to make the case that she wasn't ignorant.

Next, it seems that over at Envoy, the phrase ipse dixit has become law. To what do I refer? There is an epidemic of unsubstantiated authoritarian statements appearing with regularity, where "it is because I say it is" is enough to not only prove the point but convict yours truly of every form of error and sin. I am sure there are many who are quite impressed with charges of defective Christologies and Nestorianism, but in serious dialogue you cannot just throw terms around at your opponent without demonstrating the connection you allege to exist. In reality, Prejean is assuming his position and, as a result of that assumption, making highly contestable arguments regarding the alleged reasons why I, or others, believe what we believe regarding soteriology. I reject the assertion that I have a defective Christology, and challenge Prejean to do something more than just make the allegation. I further challenge him to demonstrate the connection, not just in his theology, but from biblical truth, of how this alleged Christology is relevant to the confusion, in Roman Catholicism, of justification and sanctification.

Oh, trust me, I would revel in the opportunity to do so, but I don't even know what your reasons are for thinking that you are orthodox according to creedal Christology, other than sheer verbal affirmation. Please provide me with all of the historical sources that you think demonstrate the compatibility of your Christology with the historical orthodoxy of the patristic age, and I will be quite happy to address their arguments. I'm on record all over the place in support of Byzantine Triadology and Christology; Meyendorff's Christ in Eastern Christian Thought or Philip Sherrard's The Greek East and the Latin West are good places to start. In particular, I would be interested in scholarly rebuttals of the positions taken in those works. I'm currently finishing Harold O.J. Brown's Heresies, but it's relatively dated and not all that useful. And no autotheos or other explanations of why Nicene orthodoxy is Scripturally defective, Scriptural justifications of Nestorianism, etc., please; that wouldn't be relevant.

I would like to hear Mr. Prejean comment on Romans 5:1 and dikaiwqentej and its syntactical relationship to ecomen. I would challenge him to not just assert, but prove, how the recognition of the need of a divine righteousness imputed to us (Christ's righteousness) amounts to Nestorianism (as if the recognition that there is no good thing in sinners means we cannot consistently believe in the hypostatic union, for example).

Um, actually, the recognition that there is no good thing in sinners does mean that one can't consistently believe in the hypostatic union or (more generally) salvation per St. Athanasius and the Cappadocians. That whole theosis thing doesn't really hold up if the human nature can't be divinized. This isn't really helping your case much. Anyway, like I said, just pony up your scholarly sources of history reconciling your understanding of Christology and salvation with the conciliar understanding, and I'll be happy to get to work. I'm not particularly interested in the syntactical relationship between dikaioo and ecomen; it's irrelevant to my argument (which is historical). If you want to argue that historical Christianity is not Scriptural, that's a separate discussion, but let's get this one out of the way first.

Prejean simply assumes some kind of completely consistent, monolithic "Trinitarian Theology of the Church Fathers." And just what is that? Given the wide divergences of opinion in patristic writings, how can Prejean even pretend to judge on the basis of such a concept?

I don't "assume" it; there's plenty of work out there supporting my position, and I gave you two examples. The notion that a consistent Triadology and Christology emerges from the councils is hardly controversial; you yourself cited monotheletism as an error for "orthodox Christians." Again, you're trying to read my mind about what I'm assuming and taking the least charitable interpretation of what I know.

If by "commonality of man" Prejean is referring to the broad area of incarnational theology, surely he must be aware that Reformed theologians are more than ready to meet any such challenge head-on with a full and firm affirmation of the Incarnation, but that unlike many Roman Catholic theologians, the Reformed theologian should refuse to compromise his foundational belief, that being the sufficiency, perspicuity and clarity of Scripture, so that the divine Word becomes the "hedge" defining the boundaries outside of which one only has speculation, not divine truth. Hence, Calvin's wisely repeated statement that "here the Scripture makes an end of speaking, and so shall we."

No, I'm referring to the soteriological understanding ratified in the councils. I couldn't care less what Calvin thinks of it. They can take the councils "head-on" all day and night about whether they represent the true Scriptural understanding; all I care about at the moment is whether they are condemned by them. I have serious doubts about the coherence of any Incarnational account that contradicts the ecumenical councils, of course, but for the moment, I just want to determine whether they are condemned by them. And by the way, I find it disingenuous that you defer to Reformed theologians on this point, since many of those Reformed theologians do so by affirming truths that you explicitly deny (and I judge several of them to have failed in that attempt, contrary to your assertion that they are capable of meeting the challenge). Show me a Reformed Baptist (or free church) theologian that has demonstrated his orthodoxy by historical standards, and that might actually be helpful.