Saturday, August 25, 2007

Two Hypotheses

I read with interest this revealing response (link) to James White's ten questions to a Roman Catholic convert (link).

Let me begin by pointing out that this Roman Catholic poster (purifyyourbride) has taken a more head-on approach than many others. He has actually read and attempted some kind of response to each of Dr. White's ten questisons.

Perhaps, at a later time, I could critique each answer. Allow me, however, to focus on a particular point that this poster made, in response to Dr. White's number one question:

"It just seems like you have no clue what the heart of Catholicism is."

I don't point this out so much to pick on PYB, as because I have seen this comment or comments like it consistently from lay RC apologists over the years. This type of comment is subject two at least two competing hypthotheses:

1) Purifyyourbride is correct, and Dr. White is clueless about Catholicism; or
2) Dr. White knows more about Catholicism than purifyyourbride.

Now, reading over the other responses that PYB included, I can say with a very high degree of confidence that Dr. White has studied Catholicism in much greater depth than PYB. In fact, I think that PYB would admit as much. Furthermore, I doubt that PYB would be willing to assert that Dr. White is objectively stupid, or even relatively lacking in intelligence compared with PYB. In other words, Dr. White has at least a normal degree of intelligence and has studied the issues in greater depth.

So, given those facts, when I see the comment making a claim like: "It just seems like you have no clue what the heart of Catholicism is," I'm inclined to believe that the claim is false. The apolgist using the argument is reacting emotionally to the depiction of Catholicism that Dr. White is presenting.

Undoubtedly that is why PYB does not say "Dr. White is clueless about Catholicism" (he does not use those words, any way) but that he is clueless about "the heart of Catholicism." You see, it is much easier to make a claim about a heart, a gist, a "main point," etc. than it is to make a particular claim, such as a claim about the "unanimous consent of the fathers" or the alleged regency of Mary.

There is an expression "He missed the forest for the trees," but does it really seem probable that Dr. White has missed the forest for the trees? It seems unlikely - particularly since people are constantly willing to point out what they believe the forest is (PYB is no exception). So, if Dr. White hasn't missed the forest for the trees, then there is really no reason to accept the first hypothesis.

What's the bottom line? The bottom line is that we can reject the "Dr. White is clueless" hypothesis in favor of the "Dr. White actually has a better understanding of Catholicism than most Roman Catholics" hypothesis. That conclusion should give a lot of folks who have placed their trust in Rome based on a less thorough analysis of Rome's claims a lot of pause.

Let me provide one notable example: The Donation of Constantine. Do you know what it is? Do you know why it is important to the discussion?



TheoJunkie said...


My first response was going to be along the lines of "perhaps there is hope that some, if not many, in the RCC actually believe the doctrines of grace-- and this cluelessness among them regarding the teachings of the RCC is a good sign."

However, reading the responses by that wayward soul gave me pause... such as:

So we are not constantly relearning the same truths they did centuries ago with no hope of new discovery.


The immaculate conception cannot be understood apart from some knowledge of genetics. So the apostles could not have taught it. They would never have guessed how much of a person’s nature is defined at conception.

There are others... which I'll reserve comment on.

But the first quote speaks to a certain dissatisfaction with God's revelation-- as though God either didn't, or couldn't, get it right the first time. Or perhaps a dissatisfaction (or fear?) of absolute truth.

The second is like it (the thought that struck me is, "just what scientific knowledge is required to be able to talk about substitutionary atonement for sin-- which the apostles clearly were able to discuss well-- and if God gave them that knowledge, then what was keeping Him from talking to them about genetics?")... but this second quote probably stems more from a cluelessness regarding the old testament.

But concerning the quote at hand:

It just seems like you have no clue what the heart of Catholicism is. It is grace from first to last. Yes grace through the sacraments. They are part of grace not an alternative to grace. Yes, grace by faith expressing itself through love. My Catholic faith is greatly enriched by my days as a protestant. Very little of what I learned there has been repudiated.

I know my comments sometimes make me sound like a Catholic apologist... but...

I still maintain that the CORE... the "heart"... of Catholic dogma/doctrine is in fact grace. This is NOT to say that the Catholic congregant gets this message... NOR even to say that the average priest gets this message... or even that the "infallible Pope" understands (or remembers) this message. But in their own crazy way, grace does seem to be at the center (causal center, even) of the official teaching on salvation.

I think I've said this before-- probably on your blog-- but RC Sproul commented that the RCC attempted to walk a razor's edge between pelagianism and fatalistic determinism-- denying both (just as Reformed Theology does)... and fell off on the wrong side. Indeed they fell off... and indeed on the wrong side... but the effort to walk that edge shows that they were TRYING to do what we all try to do, and that is, maintain grace as causative while not denying human responsibility.

Anyway, because of this "razor edge" phenomenon, I can see this commenter's point (and can see the ease by which a person convinced of grace can be blinded to the seriousness of the other teachings).

The other thing (of greater importance) is not the theological fine points of the "heart" of the RCC-- whatever the truth may be on that-- but rather, as usual, the biggest issue is where the rubber meets the road. And at the RCC, the tracks are those of works-- grace becomes like a flower crushed in the mud.

I hate hogging your blog with my soapboxing... I don't condone the RCC, I just hope for them and see a glimmer that might (God willing) be something more than just fools gold in the stream.

Turretinfan said...

Dear TJ,

I have hope that there are some in the modern RCC who do actually trust in Christ alone for salvation, despite the official teachings of the RCC.

Nevertheless, what is the "core" of Romanist doctrine/dogma? Epistemoligically it is sola ecclesia.

In what sense is the "core" of RCC doctrine grace?

And, if the core of RCC doctrine is grace, why was Trent necessary?


Anonymous said...

No assurance. Protestants sometimes lack assurance, but RCs cannot attain it (according to their doctrine). If salvation is by grace, why is assurance unattainable? So I conclude RC salvation is by works. Of course they use the word grace ("in a state of grace"), etc.

Turretinfan said...

Yes, both RCs and consistent Arminians cannot have assurance of eternal life, but only a state of temporary favor.

In contrast, Calvinists and OSAS Arminians both cling to the Biblical doctrine that God is able to save to the uttermost.

Calvinists, of course, are the fully consistent in the group: affirming that God is able to save those whom He wants to save. They are the ones who truly affirm God's omnipotence.


Randy said...

I didn't catch this earlier so forgive my slow response. When I said James White did not understand the heart of Catholicism it was simply because the statement he made was false. I am always inclined to assume false statements are made unintentionally so I gave him the most charitable interpretation and assumed he just didn't understand Catholicism. I think he knows the statement he is making is a caricature. It is something virtually all Catholics would say is false and he knows it. He is just trying to assert something as the heart that the church does not call the heart. In that sense it is not unintentional and really is more of a lie than an error. It is cleverly calculated to be close enough to the truth that he can get away with it. A twisting of the truth for rhetorical effect.

As for a guy like James White knowing the heart of Catholicism. I don't think he is close. It has nothing to do with intelligence. It is about tradition. White is so totally bound up in antiCatholic tradition that he cannot understand it no matter how much he studies. He cannot understand scripture either. There is such a powerful bias to how he reads things. We all have a bias but his involves a much stonger antiCatholic streak than most.

So salvation by grace is at the heart of Catholicism. There is much more agreement than most protestants realize. Certainly much more than James White realizes. Charity can go a long way. Start by assuming that Catholics love Jesus and truly believe all their doctrines consistent with scripture. That is the truth about serious Catholics.

Turretinfan said...


You missed the point in several regards.

1) the choice is not between intentional and unintentional misrepresentation: surely anyone who knows Dr. White's work knows that Dr. White is scrupulously honest. Instead, the option is between correct or unintentionally incorrect;

2) likewise for you, though: either you are correct or unintentionally incorrect.

3) as for the alleged inscrutability of Catholicism for outsiders, see this post (link);

4) as for assuming all Roman Catholics (or even the "serious" ones) "love Jesus and truly believe all their doctrines consistent with scripture" - come on - that's not a reasonable request. I'm willing to start from the assumption that RCCers are not consciously lying about their views - but sometimes we discover those who have. I'm even willing to start from the assumption that RCCers think their doctrine is not inconsistent with Scripture.

But to assume that "serious" Roman Catholics love Jesus while they show so much hatred for Jesus' preachers like James White, that's unreasonable.


Turretinfan said...


Please provide any example of a "factual error" that you believe that Dr. White has made. Since you have claimed in your latest comment (which crossed the line) that is the rule, rather than the exception, it should be easy for you to identify an example.

Surely, he does make mistakes, we all do - so if you can find something major, pick that over something trivial.


Randy said...

I don't intend to get in an argument with you about James White. There is way to much talk about him already among internet apologists. You apparently respect him. I don't. We can just leave it at that.

Turretinfan said...


- Your response to Dr. White was what started this exchange.

- I'm disappointed you would accuse Dr. White as you did, and not be ready with something to substantiate your accusation.

- I appreciate that you took the time to respond in the first place. Thanks for stopping by.