Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Quasi-Interview with Carl Trueman on Rome as "Default"

Someone recently quoted Dr. Carl Trueman to me in this way:

“Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination… in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic.” -Dr. Carl Trueman

The ultimate source for this quotation is a Reformation21 article from Dr. Trueman (link). Rather than trying to parse the quotation myself, since Dr. Trueman is still around, I asked him for his comments, which he kindly provided by email and gave me his permission to publish. The bold questions below are the questions that I posed to Dr. Trueman, but otherwise the material below the line is Dr. Trueman's response to my inquiry.




The argument I am making is essentially rhetorical at this point, aimed at evangelicals who have given up on justification by faith and the clarity of scripture. As these the reasons why Protestants could ultimately not be accommodated within the Catholic Church so, my argument goes, those who abandon these points have no real reason for continued separation. What then is left? Nothing but institutional continuity and the creeds of the early church. So these people should be honest, do the decent thing, and return to Rome, as Frank Beckwith did. And students in my class should understand that justification and clarity are vital, not just side issues. Yes -- we need good reasons not to be Catholic; and I have them.

Of course, it should be obvious that the fact I have not returned to Rome (or, for me, gone there for the first time) means that institutional/historical continuity a la Rome are of much less significance than justification and clarity. To use my arguments, as some have done, to imply the superiority of Rome to Protestantism tout court is nonsense; my argument is simply that Rome is superior to liberal Protestantism and the kind of woolly evangelicalism of those who think that scripture and justification are areas where we can agree to differ within the evangelical camp. Not so.

Now, to your questions:

Question 1: When you say "Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination" do you mean to embrace the idea that institutional unity and historical continuity are the marks of a true church?

Not for a Protestant. The word is central. But, if you don't think the word is clear, or that justification by faith is crucial, what's left of Protestantism?

Question 2: If we consider institutional unity as a standard, given that there were multiple apostolic sees on the Eastern side of the East-West Schism of 1054, and only Rome on the Western side of that schism, doesn't that mean that Eastern Orthodoxy is the "default position"? Likewise, since the Eastern Orthodox have not formally innovated beyond the 7th ecumenical council (contrast with the additional 14 alleged ecumenical councils of the Romans), doesn't the Eastern Orthodox church have the greater claim to historical continuity on a global scale?

Sure. But 99.99% of my students are either Western, or (as with Koreans) from a church situation determined by the Western categories of Roman or Protestant.

Question 3: Is the subject matter of Question/Answer 2 the reason that you limited yourself to "at least in the West" in the comment? If so, couldn't it similarly be said that in England the Anglican church similarly has the greatest claim to historical continuity and institutional unity?

No. Because Anglicanism breaks with Rome, theologically at least on the issue of authority, word and sacraments. So I see Anglicanism as Protestant and subject to the same strictures above.

Question 4: Is institutional unity more important than orthodoxy? If yes, then were councils like Nicaea and Chalcedon a mistake, in that they led to disunity?

Not at all. Unity is a function of orthodoxy (see Rom. 16 -- the divisive have wandered from the truth). But see my preliminary comments on the nature of my argument.

Question 5: When you speak of historical continuity, what do you mean? Do you simply mean that the differences between Rome's doctrines and the once-for-all-delivered apostolic doctrines have come to be gradually, and that the Reformation was a sudden move back to the apostolic doctrines?

I am using a virtual hendiadys, where one thing -- the Roman succession and the institutional unity it represents -- is described using two phrases, institutional and historical. Not primarily a doctrinal point.

Question 6: Do you agree that in discussing any doctrinal distinctive, the advocate for the distinctive bears the burden of establishing the truth of the distinctive? In other words, would you agree that it would be wrong to say that a dogma like the Bodily Assumption of Mary is the default position unless one can give sound reasons to reject it?

Yes. Though here you get into the differences over authority which devolve from rejection or acceptance of scriptural clarity. Reject it, you get the Pope, you get the later developments with no basis for rejecting it. Look at Newman -- he writes `Development' while a Prot, converts before it is published, and then is able to pretty much swallow everything Rome teaches and changes. He is consistent -- but thinks in a way far different to a Protestant.

Question 7: Is it fair to say that your comment to your class is intentionally provocative - aiming to be didactic in the sense of spurring the students to develop their thinking, as opposed to an attempt to strictly define a theological "default" position?

Yes. See my preliminary comment. It is designed to get people to sit up and think, to catch attention (while still, I believe, being true -- for all the reasons above). The fact that I am answering your questions indicates that I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams!

Question 8: Do you have anything else that you'd like to say about this comment or its use by Roman apologists?

If I didn't have good reasons to be a Protestant, I would be a Catholic. But I am not. That gives some idea of how I rate the two systems. Having said that, I'd rather spend time talking to Catholic friends who think God knows the future than Socinians who call themselves evangelicals but reject the biblical understanding of God.

32 comments:

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Having said that, I'd rather spend time talking to Catholic friends who think God knows the future than Socinians who call themselves evangelicals but reject the biblical understanding of God."

I'd rather spend time talking to Catholic friends who oppose abortion, support Biblical marriage, and affirm religious liberty than Liberal Protestants who call themselves Christians but who reject the biblical understanding of God and the Authority of Scripture.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

TUAD,

I surely hope you're not referring to Trueman. I can tell you from first hand personal experience serving in the leadership with him at our church that Carl is no liberal Christian. In our conversations we have had our differences on political issues, but theology is no barrier to our fellowship whatsoever. The political differences, in my view, are partially a function of where he and I were born and raised and what baggage we bring with us from cultural and historical expectations.

Blessings in Christ,

Pilgrimsarbour

Pilgrimsarbour said...

BTW, thanks, TurretinFan, for the interview. Hope you can do more of the same in future.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi Pilgrimsarbour,

Oh my goodness. No way was I saying that Dr. Trueman is a LibProt. I was merely paralleling his preference for talking to Catholics as opposed to talking to Socinians (or in my case, LibProts).

Pilgrimsarbour said...

TUAD,

Oh, sorry for the misunderstanding. I've become a little defensive of Carl lately since the publication of his book Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative.

I did kind of let him have what for in the review, but we understand each other pretty well, I think. Others were not so understanding of his book and kind of went off the deep end, unnecessarily attributing all kinds of heinous beliefs to him.

Sorry if I was being overly sensitive.

Here's my review if you're at all interested:

http://the-porters-lodge.blogspot.com/2010/10/book-review-republocrat-confessions-of.html

Blessings in Christ,

Pilgrimsarbour

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi PA,

I read your review. I thought it was "fair and balanced."

;-)

Seriously, I agree with you here: "In fact, I would argue that bloviating bastions of bombasity are the sina qua non of today's leftism, moreso than on the right. "

Anyways, here's my aphorism: "Politics is simply applied theology."

My theology? Bible-believing Christian. (Ala Machen).

Hence, I usually vote against liberal Democrats.

sorevexed said...

Compelling interview; thanks, T-fan. I agree with Pilgrimsarbour that it would be great to see more like it in the future. Can we also expect to see your response to Trueman's responses? Finally, though I appreciate the interview, hasn't he been presenting this thesis to his Westminster classes since he got there? I'm just curious as to why this is being presented as "breaking news."

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

“If I didn't have good reasons to be a Protestant, I would be a Catholic.”

Why not Mormon? I’ll tell you why. It’s because CT is limiting himself to Trinitarian theology. Accordingly, his statement is as interesting as “if I didn’t have a good reason to be in my house, I’d be outside.” It’s not about Rome being the default position, but rather it’s about Rome being the only choice other than Protestant for those who want to be Trinitarian. A Romanist who has a precommitment to Trinitarian theology must also say something similar to CT’s remark: “If I didn’t have good reasons to follow the Pope, I’d be Protestant.” It’s not a matter of default positions, let alone default positions based upon impressive historicity, but rather it’s a matter of the only other game in town.

in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic.”

The “solid reasons” we need for being Protestant (i.e. not Romanist) have nothing to do with the claims – no matter how good they are, that Rome makes. Our choice of tradition doesn’t need to be more solid because of Rome’s claims anymore than it would be permissible for our choice of tradition to be less solid had Rome not made such monstrous claims! The solid reasons we need to have for our manner of faith and practice are to be based upon God’s word alone, regardless of whether Rome claimed anything or not.

In short, CT’s statement might have great shock value but when one takes a closer look with a more critical eye he finds it lacking in substance.

Turretinfan said...

"In short, CT’s statement might have great shock value but when one takes a closer look with a more critical eye he finds it lacking in substance."

Which reflects its didactic nature - a seemingly shocking remark turns out to be harmless.

I don't think I'd take Dr. Trueman's approach, but once the statement is explained, one sees what he meant by it.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

If all CT meant was that we need strong reasons to commit our lives to a person we’ve only read about, then that would be fine (and hardly worth mentioning). Yet, quite unfortunately, he said more than that. He suggested that if Justification is false, then we should return to Rome. CT wrote: “If I didn't have good reasons to be a Protestant, I would be a Catholic.” That is one of the most troubling assertions I’ve read in a long time given the credentials of the one who made it. My thought is that if Justification is false, then “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” TF, there are no default positions - for second place truth is no truth at all. Moreover, it is an affront to God to argue that if Justification is false, then we should join a communion that would try to appease God through a system of faith plus works. Finally, I don’t believe for a moment that Rome has a better claim on institutional continuity than Protestants, but that’s because I believe God reformed his church as opposed to having given it birth 500 years ago. Then there is the little matter of giving any credit whatsoever to a synagogue of Satan. No credence should ever be given to an anti-God communion such as Rome. These matters are becoming strictly academic in certain circles with little or no regard being given to the implications and ramifications of the doctrines under consideration.

Anonymous said...

Ronald demonstrates why any meaningful theological discussions break down every time with his tired "faith plus works" argument. Comments like these show no indication of presenting his opposition accurately, and shame on him for doing so. It may be that he is only parroting what he has heard, but then shame on him for doing so.

In fact, I'd love to see Ronald do his best to accurately present the Catholic position, as defined by Trent on this.

The overwhelming reality is that the Catholic position is one based on grace as thoroughly presented in Scripture, and not like the inane contradictory position of the Protestants.

Vinny

Turretinfan said...

Vinny:

I have to say, you sound pretty much clueless - zealous, but clueless.

-TurretinFan

Anonymous said...

Great response! If this is what I have to look forward to, then you pose no threat to my "clueless" faith in the least.

Have a blessed day.

Vinny

Anonymous said...

By all means don't let me stop you from hammering away at caricatures. What would all the "clueless" people do then?

Vinny

Turretinfan said...

Vinny,

There are 2,000 other articles on this blog. My brush-off of your unsupported assertions isn't remotely all I have to offer.

You haven't given anyone any reason to doubt anything that Ron (or I) said. Why should we bother giving a detailed rebuttal to such insubstantial objections?

I'm legitimately curious why you think we should do more than simply say "yeah-huh" to your "nuh-uh."

-TurretinFan

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Hi "Vinny",

1. You deny the Reformed perspective that Justification is by faith alone, apart from works.

2. You deny that Justification is by faith + works, which is what I suggest Rome teaches.

What is it you are trying to say? Are you trying to say that Justification by Rome's standards is purely by works? What's left, "Vinny"?

"The overwhelming reality is that the Catholic position is one based on grace as thoroughly presented in Scripture, and not like the inane contradictory position of the Protestants."

Yes, "Vinny", Rome throws a view of grace into the mix but that is so man can be justified by faith plus works. The grace is not operative but rather co-operative within Romanism, which is an affirmation of LFW. But in any case, maybe you would like to exegete Trent's canon 24 from the Justification canons.

herb said...

TurretinFan-
I believe it was I who pasted Dr. Trueman's quote. And if you referred to me as a Roman Apologist, I'm afraid I'm not worthy of the title! I've only been Catholic for 3 years! I realize that Dr. Trueman presents the line rhetorically. However, though he doesn't find it convincing, guys like me do! I do care about historical continuity b/c I believe that Christ cares about historical continuity b/c He's not in the business of ditching any one of His flocks of sheep, the Catholic Flock included. I was largely converted by guys like Tolkien, Chesterton and others... strangely, with CS Lewis's sacramentalism, and the fact that he changed my life with the theology of love embedded in his Narnia books (and his Space Trilogy), I attribute to him a serious shove in the direction of Rome. Thank you, TurretinFan. peace to you.

Turretinfan said...

Herb,

Have you tackled the non-rhetorical question of orthodoxy?

-TurretinFan

Anonymous said...

"Donald,"

Why do you put my name in quotes? Are you that weird?

Anyways, I'll respond to your comments later. Please check back sometime next week.

I'll simply state that to say that grace is not operative but co-operative displays a vital misunderstanding of the Catholic system which God established. Keep up the caricatures.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

"I'll simply state that to say that grace is not operative but co-operative displays a vital misunderstanding of the Catholic system which God established. Keep up the caricatures."

I said that within Romanism grace is not operative, but co-operative. It's not a grace that always works but a grace that is offered. Obviously Romanish baptism is operative, another error in Romanims, but that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about the grace that creates faith. To deny this is assert that Rome affirms irresistible grace and Reformed soteriology.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

TF,

I don't know that I'll be checking back. Romanists are famous for saying that Protestants don't understand their theology, but as you know all too well from your site and Greenbaggins' site, these claims are never substantiated. I'm sure you can deal with "Vinny".

Turretinfan said...

"Keep up the caricatures."

"by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace"

"the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one's proper disposition and co-operation"

"they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ,"

"CANON IV.-If any one saith, that man's free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema."

"CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema."

These "caricatures" write themselves. No, Mr. Di Giacomo is exactly right.

-TurretinFan

Anonymous said...

So I guess in this sense faith is cooperative too. You cooperate in faith. Well, not you of course, seeing how you have rejected the truth of God and the Church He established for a non-scriptural theological fantasy.

The larger point that I am making is not that there isn't any cooperation in any meaningful sense, but that it is not a 50-50 effort. It is all due to God's grace.

The idea that grace is irresistible as found in the heretical notion is simply ridiculous, but also illogical.


Thanks "Donald" for demonstrating this.

Vinny

Turretinfan said...

Vinny:

"The larger point that I am making is not that there isn't any cooperation in any meaningful sense, but that it is not a 50-50 effort. It is all due to God's grace."

Yes, that's why we say "faith and works" and "cooperation" is the Roman position. Because when you say "all due to God's grace," you really mean "all due to God's grace and man's cooperation."

"The idea that grace is irresistible as found in the heretical notion is simply ridiculous, but also illogical."

You have plenty of ridicule for it, but no logical critique.

-TurretinFan

Turretinfan said...

Oh - and you need to refer to Mr. Di Giacomo respectfully while you are here commenting, or your future comments will be removed.

-Turretin

Anonymous said...

So respect is a one-way street? Is that what you are telling me? Basically he can put my name in quotes but I better not?


The fundamental issue is that any cooperation man has is only done thru God's grace. Man can have neither faith nor works without God giving him the grace to do so. Simply stating "faith plus works" severely obfuscates this point, and if I am supposed to believe that you knew this already, why shouldn't I then believe that you are doing so intentionally in order to be deceitful?

I have no problem being respectful. I hope that Ronald can likewise mock my name.

Vinny

Anonymous said...

Should read (not) mock my name.

And we should avoid the pejoratives, like "Romanish."

Or is it Christlike behavior to mock your enemies?

In all honesty, most of the time I don't even realize that I'm doing it. So I am sorry for coming off as being disrespectful. My conscious has been stirred to repentance. And I know enough evangelical Protestants to know that my question of whether respect is just a one way street would be in the negative. My reformed evangelical friends are very charitable and respectful to all, enemies included.

Vinny

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Vinny,

I don't mean to unnecessarily interject myself in your conversation with TF and Ronald, but I'm puzzled about a couple of things.

First, why is the fact that Ronald put your name in quotes so offensive to you? I'm wondering if you have a history with him that the rest of us are not privy to because from my (admittedly limited) point of view, you seemed to go off the deep end on that.

And second, you seem to frame things in terms of combativeness, that is, we are your "enemies." I would suggest that there are no enemies here, only opponents, if differences of opinion necessarily make us such.

Third, the faith plus works formula seems to me consistent with the quotes TF provided. Will you be offering an alternative explanation, that is, an argument of your position? I'd like to see an answer to what TF has provided from official Catholic sources.

Blessings in Christ,

Pilgrimsarbour

herb said...

TurretinFan- You asked me if I've tackled the non-rhetorical question of orthodoxy? If you're asking whether or not I've seriously attempted to consider competing claims, the answer is yes. And as I said, I don't consider myself an apologist. I'm just a guy who's trying to figure out what Jesus wants of me and along the way I've been known to, occasionally, share some thoughts and ideas. One time I even had a brief e-mail conversation with John Bugay. I walked away admiring him quite a bit. And I hope he could say that he found me to be a nice guy (however confused)! But the short answer to your question is "yes." I remember 1st reading Dr. Trueman's quote in Frank Beckwith's "Return to Rome." All along, I've known that Dr. Trueman wasn't arguing for Catholicism. However, the "good reasons" he alluded to for NOT being Catholic were reasons that I simply didn't have. I came then, by virtue of the Catholic Church's institutional/historical continuity (and largely the undeniable holiness of so many Catholics I knew, read, and loved), to see my self as the very type of person to whom Dr. Trueman's rhetorical point was referring. Dr. Trueman unintentionally made a point that hit home with a guy in my position. I was doing, as he put it the "decent" thing and crossing the Tiber. This brief response obviously doesn't touch upon the reading that I did (as well as the discussions I had with Protestant family/friends/fellowBaptistchurchmembers) as I attempted to deal with the doctrines of Catholicism which I'd soon be accepting... But this is a brief response to your question. I'd be happy to share more of my experience just as long as you promise to understand that I'm not trying to persuade you or anyone else, but simply trying to share my story and learn a thing or two along the way... and with the Ethiopian Eunuch, I say: "Well, how could I (understand what I'm reading), unless someone guides me?"
herbert.vanderlugt(at)gmail.com

Turretinfan said...

Vinny,

My concern wasn't over the use of quotation marks, but over the fact that his name is "Ronald," not "Donald."

As long as words like "Mormon," or "Romanist," or "Papist," or "Unitarian" are used descriptively of such groups, I don't see a reason to censor such usage, even if some of the Mormons would prefer LDS, some of the Romainsts/Papists would prefer "Catholic," and some of the Unitarians would prefer "Oneness."

- TurretinFan

Turretinfan said...

Herb,

Thanks for your answer (which seems to have disappeared, I'll check the spam folder).

-TurretinFan