Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Debate Challenge by Dave Armstrong

Dave Armstrong, a well-known Roman Catholic apologist has challenged the present author to debate the topic of "Is Catholicism Christian?" and/or "What is Christianity?" (link to challenge)
I wonder what my readers (Catholic or non-Catholic) think about whether I should accept.
Frankly, I'm not sure that the discussion would really qualify as a debate, because questions are not resolutions. But that's just a formal matter, that perhaps Dave could accomodate by providing a resolution such as: "Resolved: Catholicism today is at least part of the Christian religion."
Assuming that some mutually acceptable resolution could be found (either for me or Dave to affirm), what do my readers think of the idea?
In a multitude of counsellors there is wisdom.

Dave, thanks for the invitation, I'm mulling it over.


UPDATE (25 October 2007):

Dave has suggested:

"Resolved: the Catholic Church (led by the pope) is Not Properly Classifiable as Christian."


"Resolved: Only (Some Species of) Protestantism Can Be Properly Regarded as 'Christian'".

(with, one would think, the latter resolution being interpreted to mean that the only thing that can properly be regarded as Christian is some particular species of Protestantism, to the exclusion both of other species of Protestantism and all non-Protestantism)

Obviously, those would be resolutions for the present author to affirm, and Dave would take the negative position.

Thanks to Dave for these suggestions, which should make the issue much more concrete.

Neither of the resolutions appears to require my asserting that all Roman Catholics are necessarily unsaved, or that Roman Catholicism is not classifiable as Christian in some sense (after all, the RCC claims to be a (and perhaps "the") Christian church). Instead, the resolutions appear to relate to the proper (i.e. technical) definition of "Christian."

Obviously, as well, one would assume that the question is phrased from the standpoint of things the way they are now, not 100 years ago, or 200 years ago, or 500 years ago, or 1000 year ago, or even 1950 years ago.


Second UPDATE (same day):

Dave has provided some further clarification (his words, not mine, and not adopted by my quoting them):

"If one can't be saved by adhering to what the Catholic Church teaches (about Jesus, faith, the way of salvation, the sacraments, etc.), then obviously it isn't Christian."


TheoJunkie said...

Well it looks like you have no choice but to engage or forever be called a poopoo head... on the Record, no less.

1) it doesn't seem possible to have a meaningful debate composed entirely of "cross examination"... without some sort of initial outlay of each side's position. But perhaps that is negotiable when the reasoning behind it is made clear.

2) The "rule" that there are no rules except the time limits and ban on ad hominems is disturbing. It appears that whoever types longest and/or slowest is able to eat up the opponent's alloted time very easily.

3) The a priori time limit seems interesting, and seems to lend assistance to the fastest typer. Perhaps a better structure might be to have a set number of questions and followup questions and allow X minutes to compose an answer to each participant.

4) "No rules" except for subjective determination of what constitutes a "side issue" is also interesting. Conceivably everything might be a deemed a side issue except for "Do you affirm Christ, yes or no".

I wonder on these "rules". My daddy said never bet against the guy behind the table...

It might be interesting to see if any adjustment of these "non rules" would be allowed, or if it will be fodder for the next six blog posts. But, who cares? It would be amusing.

Saint and Sinner said...

Frankly, I'm kind of tired of debating over the rule of faith. By letting the debate stay on that topic, we Protestants have been letting the RC's and EO's be on the offensive the whole time.

I'd rather see a debate in which Rome and/or Constantinople are forced to defend their particular soteriologies from the Scriptures (since most of their modern defenders both affirm material sufficiency).

As to DA, he'll definitely write more than you can, and so, he might claim victory just because it will *look* like he refuted you. He is the master of obfuscation.

Anonymous said...

Go for it.

Carrie said...

I didn't check out his challenge, but in general I would vote for "no".

I think DA has been trolling around for awhile looking to debate someone on this particular topic and I think he chose you simply b/c you seem willing to debate (due to your debate blog). In other words, I don't think DA is actually interested in debating you, but just looking for online publicity and something to do.

Save yourself the headache.

Anonymous said...

Dear Turretinfan,

If your looking for a debate, to steal theojunkie's line, I will be your huckleberry. How about the correct interpretation of Romans 9?

God bless,

Turretinfan said...

Dear Dan,

I'll gladly look forward to that.
I'll point out that I have two on-going debates ("Sola Scriptura vs. Eastern Orthodoxy" with "Orthodox" and "Monergism vs. Synergism" with Matt). I also have a tentative debate with "T.J. Pennock" potentially on the topic of whether Zanchius' teaching regarding absolute predestination was heresy.

And then I have this debate challenge from Dave, the details of which have yet to be worked out, and regarding which there has been mixed advice from my readership.

So, while I eagerly look forward to our debate on Romans 9, it may take a while to get it flowing. Recall my exegesis challenge from a while back. How about that format (but limit the number of passages to one, namely just the "Romans 9" passage)?


GeneMBridges said...


This is Ar-min-i-bot 3000 Model 6 6 6,

I think you should ex-er-cise your free will to de-ny this chal-lenge un-til you have com-plet-ed your cur-rent de-bates. There should al-so be a sti-ppppu-lattt-ed word lim-it to keep D-A on toooo-pic.

This com-pletes my pro-grammed re-sponse.


Magnus said...

Where can one follow the "Monergism vs. Synergism" with Matt debate?


Turretinfan said...

Magnus: Monergism vs. Synergism

Unfortunately, Matt has been on break from the blog for about the last four weeks or so.


Anonymous said...

I don't think you should accept. The whole debate would be a strawman in my opinion, since neither Catholicism nor Calvinism are Christian.

Turretinfan said...


That conclusively proves that you don't know what the term "straw man" means.

Who exactly is a Christian in your book?


Godismyjudge said...

Dear TF,

Yep, I am interested in just Romans 9. If your card’s full, I can get in line. I won’t be able to go at a blazing pace anyway. As for format, hum… I suggest:

5 rounds including 1 intro round in which alternative interpretations are articulated, 3 defense/critique rounds and a conclusion round.

Affirmative goes first and then negative (no negative block).

Each round should have a “main body” and a formal Q&A session. Only questions in the formal Q&A session have to be answered.

Cumulative 5K word count limit per blogger.

Would these rules work or do you have any to add/change?

Now we need a resolution. Care to take a shot at one or should I do the honors?


Kyl said...


What about a person that holds the view that Catholicism isn’t Christian? How does one come to that conclusion? If Catholicism isn’t Christian, I want to know. Maybe you can show me (in the debate) why Catholicism isn’t Christian. People will learn a lot from the debate. I will study your arguments and Dave’s arguments. I will ask an important question frequently. Who is correct?

orthodox said...

You weren't willing to say that Orthodoxy was apostate. Does that you are considering taking up this debate indicate that you do not extend the benefit of the doubt to Catholicism?

Turretinfan said...

It seems different people are interpreting Dave's challenge differently.

It would be inappropriate to read anything into my mulling this matter over, except that I try not to make hasty decisions.


TheoJunkie said...

I note that DA made the statement in his combox that there is "lots at stake here", with reference to the reputations of men... and curiously I find no mention of God in his comments.

Let the reputation of God be first and only.

Dave Armstrong said...

God isn't mentioned in the book of Esther, either, so we must toss it out of the Bible, as obviously a work that doesn't give due notice to the reputation of God . . .

Turretinfan said...


You must be reading Esther from a Protestant Bible (!).

Check out Esther 10:4 in your Clementine Vulgate.

And, of course, I doubt TJ would grant your analogy.


Dave Armstrong said...

Neither of the resolutions appears to require my asserting that all Roman Catholics are necessarily unsaved

That's not the point. That is standard boilerplate anti-Catholic rhetoric, but of little concern to us, because this particular issue to be debated is creedal and confessional (i.e., theological), not personal, in terms of who is saved in the end (which is more of a "spiritual" matter).

or that Roman Catholicism is not classifiable as Christian in some sense

The debate must cover your reasoning as to why catholicism as a system of belief and doctrine cannot be classified as Christian, which is what all anti-catholic positions assert. That's obviously my challenge. The definition of the broader category of "Christian" is necessarily included in that discussion, but the discussion is not reduced to simply that, without directly addressing Catholicism.

Turretinfan said...


Thanks for the clarifications.


Dave Armstrong said...

Of course TJ won't grant my analogy because he appears to be quite unreasonable on that point. But if he doesn't like a biblical example, how about your own posts? Will he grant THAT analogy, if the Bible itself isn't good enough for him?

The following posts (two in direct response to me) do not contain the word "God" either:

Traditionalist Caveat

Pretext Illustrated

Aheist Opposes Sola Scriptura

Misuse of "Anti-Catholicism" Documented

Dave Armstrong said...

Interesting that Protestants chose to edit God out of their versions of Esther (talk about "the reputation of God"! :-). The early Church, of course, used the Septuagint, and "the Greek versions of Esther contain 107 extra verses, which include references to God by name" (New Bible Dictionary, 393)

So the Vulgate and Catholics today continue the practice of the early Church. Y'all depart from it. This is nothing new. I'm finishing up a book on that very topic in the next few days.

Dave Armstrong said...

F.F. Bruce, in his book on the canon, says that the Song of Solomon doesn't contain God's name, either. I don't recall hearing that before. Looks like TheoJunkie will have to take scissors to his Bible . . .

Turretinfan said...


Thanks for your thoughts.


sam shamoun said...

I thnk it is only fair and right for someone to take Dave on his offer. I recall that for the longest his detractors complained about his unwillingness to engage in a live oral debate since he was afraid. Now that he has accepted the invite to a live debate his detractors seem unwilling to engage him. That is rather unfortunate.

BTW, lest people think otherwise, for the record I am not a Catholic. I am a Protestant who embraces the doctrines of grace.

TheoJunkie said...

Yes, Dave. Thanks also for your thoughts. They demonstrate much.

Turretinfan said...

To be clear, Sam, this live chat debate would be written, not oral.

I don't think that changes your position, but I provide it just for clarification.


sam shamoun said...

Sorry for my misunderstanding. I assumed that this was going to be a live oral exchange. Be that as it may, I still think it is worth doing a written chat style debate since this would be a golden opportunity for people to see whether Dave is as inept as his detractors claim. I for one would love to see it.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Sam! Hope you are well these days, and thanks for your fair-minded remarks. You're a class act.

IMO, the chat room debate format combines aspects of both written and live oral debates. I think in important ways it is closer to the oral debate format, because it is in real time, with people observing, and requires one to be quite prepared to answer "on the spot." The direct cross-examination format that I suggest is only what James white has touted so highly as crucial in Protestant-Catholic interaction.

I not only grant that, but I have offered my opponents 90 minutes of time to examine me, to my 60 for asking them questions. White and Swan turned that down. S&S and Bridges and Cory T. appear to have also. TF is still pondering.

Whatever one thinks of the format, it is a chance for my critics to prove to the world what an ignoramus and incompetent stooge I am, as they habitually claim in writing. So why the hesitation?

GeneMBridges said...

God isn't mentioned in the book of Esther, either, so we must toss it out of the Bible, as obviously a work that doesn't give due notice to the reputation of God . . .

If Dave knew the languages and acrostyics he would know this isn't the case. God's name is, in fact, embedded in the text. You just have to know a thing or two about the structure of the text.

"If one can't be saved by adhering to what the Catholic Church teaches (about Jesus, faith, the way of salvation, the sacraments, etc.), then obviously it isn't Christian.

This is problematic for a number of reasons.

1. If true, the converse would mean that Christology, justification by faith alone, sacramentologial issues,etc.) are all doctrines that are also objects of saving faith among Protestants, but this is obviously untrue, since we affirm that Christ alone is the proper object of saving faith. What Dave has done is beg the question in favor of the Roman Catholic view of saving faith - which is convertible with dogmatic faith.

2. He's also overlooking the difference, the Reformed tradition itself draws between a saving profession of faith and credible profession of faith. We wholeheartedly admit that Roman Catholics can make a saving profession of faith, that men can be saved and not believe in justification by faith alone, etc. God is free to save whomever He wishes.

We make a judgment, however, about Roman Catholics based on a credible, not a saving profession of faith. We affirm that certain things, including the affirmation of Sola Fide are necessary for a credible profession of faith. This would be a very easy debate then:

DA would have to show that something like Sola Fide, given the Roman Catholic predilection with doctrinal development is both (a) unbiblical and (b) an illegitimate "doctrinal development."

Turretin fan would have to demonstrate the converse.

Dave's most likely objection would be the "if Sola Fide was not articulated correctly before Luther, how can Protestants say who was saved before then was saved." The answer, however should be quite obvious, even according to Rome's own rule of faith.

If DA wants to talk properly about a saving profession of faith, then I suggest the resolution deal with the treasury of merit, for a saving profession of faith in Christ would come by investment of one's faith in Christ, your merit, and the congruent merits of others.

Turretin fan would take the contrary position, that the only faith required to be saved is that which is in Christ Himself and alone.

Turretinfan said...

Dave wrote: "it is a chance for my critics to prove to the world what an ignoramus and incompetent stooge I am, as they habitually claim in writing"

To be clear:

I have not yet decided whether to accept. I don't, however, particularly care whether the debate enhances or detracts from Dave's reputation for knowledge, honesty, competence, or what-have-you. As far as I am concerned, if the debate happens, the debate should be about the resolution, not the advocates.


Dave Armstrong said...

I will resist all attempts to pigeonhole this into yet another Reformed preaching crusade, whether it be focused on TULIP or sola fide or anything else.

This is about why y'all claim that Catholicism as a system theology does not deserve to be classified as Christian.

I couldn't care less about all the formal nonsense of how to set up a debate. It's just an informal discussion (I think, between Christians who have an honest disgareement; you think, between a Christian and an infidel / apostate). My opponent gets to grill me for 90 minutes. I grill him for 60.

There are many sub-topics within the larger question, "Is Catholicism Christian?" The trick is to deal with them briefly and consecutively, and not to get bogged down. I can do that, because I am always thinking about the larger subject and goal of the discussion. Whether my opponent (who looks to be TF or no one at all) can is up to them. My questions will force them to focus, because I will be controlling the agenda when I cross-examine, just as they will be when they do it.

I don't really care what I am asked. I will answer to the best of my ability and if I can't answer some particular on the spot I will say so. There's no shame in that. I'm a writer, and writers don't answer things "on the spot"; they deliberate and edit and improve their arguments.

But I can hold my own in THIS discussion. I'll guarantee that.

Dave Armstrong said...

Anyone can, by the way, see what happened in my lone encounter of this sort before, with James White:

Too bad he had computer problems. It was just starting to get very interesting indeed.

This was actually an impromptu discussion after Tim Enloe had thrown in the towel in our planned debate just prior to our exchange. You can see an archived version of what happened during that portion, here:

As you can see, not much content can be packed into an hour. To really make the case I would want to make would probably require several such discussions (depending on how much my opponent tries to evade the thrust and topical direction of my questions, which I fully expect, because that is what has always happened in the few written encounters on this subject).

GeneMBridges said...

Dave, I don't keep up with your blog or comments that you hide in the comments of other blogs. I come by you when I stumble across you.

I have not received a proper request from you for a debate, so don't go running about telling people I have "refused" to debate you about anything. Notice that this is, what, all of one or two days, and already, according to you I've "refused."

In fact, let's put this in context, the only reason I am aware of your request now is that I saw it here.
It's announcement was not in an email to me (that would be too easy and logical, since my mail is public) but in a link to your blog that you posted one or two days ago, near the end of a comment thread on a prayer request for rain! Since it is presently raining here, I wasn't aware I needed to check it for debate challenges on Catholicism. Sorry,but that tactic earns you an automatic "No," since you lacked the integrity to simply email. You had your chance, and you blew it.
This reply is also here, and not on my blog to make that point. I've placed it where I found the challenge, and it's not in my email box.

Further, you are a chronic liar who says that we want monologues with you. As I recall, you are not banned from posting commentary in any article I have written on Catholicism on Tblog, and, since I've written on you recently, as I look around, I've seen my name show up once on your blog. Again, you had your chance then,and you blew it.

Oh - and since the infallibility of the Pope had not yet been made a de fide object of faith in Rome until the 19th century, what Steve and I have said stands, and, as usual, what you say doesn't begin to touch what we have stated. It suffers from anachronistic reading of texts.

If you would write something less than the long, incoherent, and rambling posts you write - posts that an English professor would grade "C" at best, I might be willing to do a blog debate. I prefer to respond to other articles or, in your case, to you shoddy, incompetent,and anachronistic exegetical work.

I don't use a chat function on my computer-not even for AOL - all chatrooms are blocked-, and I'm not a member of Paltalk, and don't intend to be. I don't even use a soundcard. I also have a real life in the real world, and that includes working as a freelance writer who will be chronically several conferences beginning in November. I also live with terminal illness. I'd rather not waste an over an hour of my already brief life on talking to you. It would be poor stewardship of my time.

I follow the same policy with you that Steve Hays follows, and since the greater luminaries of the debate world aren't debating you, why should I? You're the one that refuses to debate them in public, and then you have all the courage to issue a debate challenge to me near the end of a comment stream on praying for rain. I learned about it here, and then I had to Google that by first Googling for a debate challenge from you to me, going to your blog, which I don't read already, and then finding the thread on my blog, not in a thread on the topic of Catholicism, but on a prayer request for rain. Why should I honor that, Dave?

And here's another reason Dave: Titus 3 says to reject the factious man. You are the epitome of that man. You've demonstrated that several times. Further, this isn't about the truth for you Dave, however defined, it's about stroking your own overbloated ego. Frankly, after observing your past behavior as well, such as particular artwork that gets posted from time to time, I'm not willing to debate with a person of such obviously low character either. You've also taken an oath to stop interacting with "anti-Catholics", and yet here you are wanting us to interact with you. I, for one, take the Law on making vows seriously, and I am not going to contribute to you sin before God in violating your word.

But here is something you can do Dave. You can renounce Rome and all her merits. You can cast yourself on Christ and Christ alone, and you can trust in Him and Him onlyfor your eternal salvation.

Kyl said...

Dave wrote, “…but of little concern to us, because this particular issue to be debated is creedal and confessional (i.e., theological), not personal…”

If you don’t debate the topic with Dave, people will know less about the topic. Every word in the debate should be studied intensely by the people that read it, etc. Various aspects of your response to Dave have exhibited maturity, Turretinfan. I’m glad that we are able to discuss these things in this way (I’m Catholic). Your words have exhibited far more wisdom than the above words by GeneMBridges.

Anonymous said...

Dave Armstrong, I challenge you to a debate on original sin.

Anonymous said...

Look at that! He already refuses to debate me!

Turretinfan said...

Dear Dan,

I'll work out the resolution and format issues with you backchannel.


Godismyjudge said...

Dear TF,

That will work... Looking foreward to it.