I have often spoken of Dave Hunt’s utter entrapment in the hold of tradition. “Blinded By Tradition” is a phrase that has appeared numerous times over the past couple of years. For Dave, his tradition = the Word of God, and hence it cannot be questioned. And the lenses are so thick that Hunt honestly sees on a page of text only what he wants to see, hears only what he wants to hear.
Hunt’s recent crusade against Reformed theology bears this out repeatedly. A new example has been provided by Hunt in reference to his attempt to give the most distorted, unfair, evil presentation of John Calvin he can. In Debating Calvinism Hunt had attempted to mis-identify Augustine as a “Roman Catholic” (a term that would have made no sense to him at all) by giving a grossly shallow, inaccurate representation of his view of authority. Those who encounter Roman Catholic apologists and engage them with regularity are very accustomed to seeing Augustine’s words against the Manichaens ripped from their context and forced to say something that, in light of Augustine’s full orbed teaching, they should never be forced to say. So it is truly sad to see Hunt giving “aid and comfort to the enemy” in his crusade to turn Augustine into a Roman Catholic. On page 244 I wrote,
- What is worse is the use of a citation from Augustine that even Calvin refuted, but that is constantly used in Roman Catholic apologetic works to this day. Hunt writes:
Augustine was one of the first to place the authority of tradition on a level with the Bible. Embracing apostolic succession from Peter as one of the marks of the true church, he declared, “I should not believe the gospel unless I were moved to do so by the authority of the Catholic Church…”
Calvin refuted just this very passage in the Institutes [footnote: Institutes I:VII:3] and any fair reading of Augustine’s own writings refutes this misrepresentation by Hunt. [Footnote: For a scholarly discussion of how Calvin refuted this misue of Augustine, see David T. King, Holy Scripture, I:80-81, and Heiko Oberman, “Quo Vadis? Tradition from Irenaeus to Humani Generis,” Scottish Journal of Theology, 16 (1963): 234-35)] Anyone familiar with the real Augustine realizes Hunt has created a caricature that has little resemblance to the historical reality.
Notice I provided two scholarly sources and a direct reference to Calvin’s own discussion of the passage. For those who do not have quick access to Calvin, here are his words:
- Indeed, I know that statement of Augustine is commonly referred to, that he would not believe the gospel if the authority of the church did not move him to do so. But it is easy to grasp from the context how wrongly and deceptively they interpret this passage. Augustine was there concerned with the Manichees, who wished to be believed without controversy when they claimed, but did not demonstrate, that they themselves possessed the truth. Because in fact they used the gospel as a cloak to promote faith in their Mani, Augustine asks: “What would they do if they were to light upon a man who does not even believe in the gospel? By what kind of persuasion would they bring him around to their opinion?” Then he adds, “Indeed, I would not believe the gospel,” etc., meaning that if he were alien to the faith, he could not be led to embrace the gospel as the certain truth of God unless constrained by the authority of the church. And what wonder if someone, not yet having known Christ, should have respect for men! Augustine is not, therefore, teaching that the faith of godly men is founded on the authority of the church; nor does he hold the view that the certainty of the gospel depends upon it. He is simply teaching that there would be no certainty of the gospel for unbelievers to win them to Christ if the consensus of the church did not impel them. And this he clearly confirms a little later, saying: “When I praise what I believe, and laugh at what you believe, how do you think we are to judge, or what are we to do? Should we not forsake those who invite us to a knowledge of things certain and then bid us believe things uncertain? Must we follow those who invite us first to believe what we are not yet strong enough to see, that, strengthened by this very faith, we may become worthy to comprehend what we believe [Colossians 1:4-11, 23] — with God himself, not men, now inwardly strengthening and illumining our mind?”
These are Augustine’s very words. From them it is easy for anyone to infer that the holy man’s intention was not to make the faith that we hold in the Scriptures depend upon the assent or judgment of the church. He only meant to indicate what we also confess as true: those who have not yet been illumined by the Spirit of God are rendered teachable by reverence for the church, so that they may persevere in learning faith in Christ from the gospel. Thus, he avers, the authority of the church is an introduction through which we are prepared for faith in the gospel. For, as we see, he wants the certainty of the godly to rest upon a far different foundation. I do not deny that elsewhere, when he wishes to defend Scripture, which they repudiate, he often presses the Manichees with the consensus of the whole church. Hence, he reproaches Faustus for not submitting to the gospel truth-so firm, so stable, celebrated with such glory, and handed down from the time of the apostles through a sure succession. But it never occurs to him to teach that the authority which we ascribe to Scripture depends upon the definition or decree of men. He puts forward only the universal judgment of the church, in which he was superior to his adversaries, because of its very great value in this case. If anyone desires a fuller proof of this, let him read Augustine’s little book The Usefulness of Belief. There he will find that the author recommends no other inducement to believe except what may provide us with an approach and be a suitable beginning for inquiry, as he himself says; yet we should not acquiesce in mere opinion, but should rely on sure and firm truth.
I likewise provided a reference to the fine work of David King and William Webster, which reads:
- Appeal is frequently made by Roman Catholic apologists to the oft-repeated testimony of Augustine: They allege that he made the Church the grounds of authority and certainty for believing the Gospel. Writing to Manichaeus, he asked:
But should you meet with a person not yet believing the gospel, how would you reply to him were he to say, I do not believe? For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.
When used against the Reformers, Calvin appealed to the context of Augustine’s statement and answered:
Augustine is not, therefore, teaching that the faith of godly men is founded on the authority of the church; nor does he hold the view that the certainty of the gospel depends upon it. He is simply teaching that there would be no certainty of the gospel for unbelievers to win them to Christ if the consensus of the church did not impel them. And this he clearly confirms a little later, saying: ‘When I praise what I believe, and laugh at what you believe, how do you think we are to judge, or what are we to do? Should we not forsake those who invite us to a knowledge of things certain and then bid us believe things uncertain? Must we follow those who invite us first to believe what we are not yet strong enough to see, that, strengthened by this very faith, we may become worthy to comprehend what we believe [Colossians 1:4-11, 23] – with God himself, not men, now inwardly strengthening and illumining our mind?’ (Italics ours)
Augustine spoke often of the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit in revealing truth directly to hearts independent of human aid. The words of Augustine cited by Calvin are given elsewhere as:
…we may come into a position to know what we believe by the inward illumination and confirmation of our minds, due no longer to men, but to God Himself.
So, then, it is the Reformed, and not the Roman position, that expresses the Augustinian perspective. Augustine’s epistemology regarding spiritual truth is rooted in the immediate and eternal influence of light that only God can give. Yet, it is the practice of today’s Roman apologists to dismiss the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in confirming the hearts of believers, or pretend that it was a novel concept initiated by the Reformers.
So how does Hunt respond? In this new edition of WLIT? Hunt writes on pp. 55-56:
- In my debate with him, James White claims that “Calvin refuted this very passage in [the,
- ] Institutes, and any fair reading of Augustine ’s own writings disproves this misrepresentation by Hunt.” In fact, Calvin acknowledged the authenticity of the statement and attempted to defend it as legitimate reasoning for those who had not the assurance of faith by the Holy Spirit.
Evidently Mr. Hunt did not take the time to read the references provided to him, nor does he seem to understand the issue at hand. Hunt asserted that Augustine taught reliance on church councils for the true interpretation of all of Scripture (p. 230 of DC). He cited these words of Augustine as evidence. Given the citations I provided, the meaning of “refuted” is clear. It is unreasonable to think I meant that Calvin disputed the authenticity of the passage, and any reading of the citations I gave (or of Calvin himself) would substantiate this. So it is a non-answer to say “Calvin acknowledged the authenticity of the statement.” But the use of “in fact,” however, makes it sound as if Hunt is responding to my claim and refuting it, and that I am in error, when in reality, such is not the case. But we also note the less-than-subtle twisting of the argument when Hunt note that Calvin interpreted Augustine to be referring to “those who had not the assurance of faith by the Holy Spirit.” What was Hunt’s original claim? That Augustine subjugated all of Scripture to church councils. I provided counter citations (ignored by Hunt). I referred to many other sources (ignored by Hunt). And Hunt’s best means to trying to score a cheap debating point is to address a completely different topic? What Logic Is This?