Dave Hunt: Repeater of Fully Refuted Fables

I suppose it is possible the folks at the Berean Call are just recycling articles these days. But I was directed this afternoon to an article in the July 2012 newsletter from TBC titled “Calvinism’s Surprising Catholic Connection.” There is nothing new here, it’s the same tired and refuted material we encountered in Debating Calvinism. Dave’s willingness to use the most egregiously shallow historical argumentation on this topic, sadly, gives reason for anyone to question anything else he has done on many other important topics. Many of us tried to warn him, but he refused counsel. In any case, Hunt opines in his current newsletter:

In my debate with him [see resource pages], James White claims that “Calvin refuted this very passage in 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.

Of course, Dave has refused, consistently, to debate me. In fact, he refused to even appear on radio with me after the book came out, knowing full well he cannot defend his position in my presence. He was very angry the one time we ended up on the air together, as he protested he had not been told I was going to be on! We did the KPXQ program together, which led to his writing of What Love is This?, and then we did the book, and since then, he has refused numerous invitations to do a formal debate. Obviously, that, now, will never happen.

In any case, in July’s newsletter Dave is trotting out the old canard that Augustine was a Roman Catholic, therefore, since Calvin quoted Augustine, Calvinists are crypto-Catholics. I refuted this argument, fully, in the book, but Dave does not listen well to those who offer him correction. He just repeats the same errors over and over again. A dogged traditionalist is he. The quotation under discussion is the famous, “I should not believe the gospel unless I were moved to do so by the authority of the [Catholic ] Church.” I had replied to his use of this text in our book:

But truly troubling is the misrepresentation of men of the past that is part and parcel of Hunt’s polemic. His comments on Augustine’s beliefs are obviously meant to paint him as a heretical false teacher of the past whose beliefs continue on in “Calvinism” today (why else even discuss it in a debate on this topic?). But in the process he not only fails to demonstrate that any of these beliefs have, in fact, influenced “Calvinism,” but he likewise presents simple errors regarding Augustine’s beliefs. The most troubling to me as one who engages in refutation of Rome’s authority claims was his assertion that Augustine taught “reliance upon the decisions of Church councils for the true interpretation of all of Scripture.” Such a statement flies directly in the face of mountains of citations from Augustine. William Webster and David King have produced a three-volume defense of sola scriptura that contains extensive direct citations of Augustine based upon primary research of his writings, but just one such quotation that illustrates the fallacy of handing Augustine over to the Roman system comes from Augustine’s response to Maximin the Arian. We read:

I should not press the authority of (the Council of) Nicea against you, nor should you press the authority of (the Council of) Ariminum against me. I do not acknowledge the one just as you do not acknowledge the other. Instead, let us both come to common ground, the testimony of the Holy Scriptures (ii, 14).

These are hardly the words of the “founder” of Roman Catholicism! It is truly a shame to see the bright testimony Augustine offered of the perspicuity and authority of Scripture sacrificed in an effort to poison the well in reference to Reformed theology! 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 and any fair reading of Augustine’s own writings refutes this misrepresentation by Hunt. Anyone familiar with the real Augustine realizes Hunt has created a caricature that has little resemblance to the historical reality.

I provided two footnotes. The first was to the reference in the Institutes, I:7:3, which reads as follows:

3. I am aware it is usual to quote a sentence of Augustine in which he says that he would not believe the gospel, were he not moved by the authority of the Church (Aug. Cont. Epist. Fundament. c. 5). But it is easy to discover from the context, how inaccurate and unfair it is to give it such a meaning. He was reasoning against the Manichees, who insisted on being implicitly believed, alleging that they had the truth, though they did not show they had. But as they pretended to appeal to the gospel in support of Manes, he asks what they would do if they fell in with a man who did not even believe the gospel—what kind of argument they would use to bring him over to their opinion. He afterwards adds, “But I would not believe the gospel,” &c.; meaning, that were he a stranger to the faith, the only thing which could induce him to embrace the gospel would be the authority of the Church. And is it any thing wonderful, that one who does not know Christ should pay respect to men?
Augustine, therefore, does not here say that the faith of the godly is founded on the authority of the Church; nor does he mean that the certainty of the gospel depends upon it; he merely says that unbelievers would have no certainty of the gospel, so as thereby to win Christ, were they not influenced by the consent of the Church. And he clearly shows this to be his meaning, by thus expressing himself a little before: “When I have praised my own creed, and ridiculed yours, who do you suppose is to judge between us; or what more is to be done than to quit those who, inviting us to certainty, afterwards command us to believe uncertainty, and follow those who invite us, in the first instance, to believe what we are not yet able to comprehend, that waxing stronger through faith itself, we may become able to understand what eve believe—no longer men, but God himself internally strengthening and illuminating our minds?” These unquestionably are the words of Augustine (August. Cont. Epist. Fundament. cap. 4); and the obvious inference from them is, that this holy man had no intention to suspend our faith in Scripture on the nod or decision of the Church, but only to intimate (what we too admit to be true) that those who are not yet enlightened by the Spirit of God, become teachable by reverence for the Church, and thus submit to learn the faith of Christ from the gospel. In this way, though the authority of the Church leads us on, and prepares us to believe in the gospel, it is plain that Augustine would have the certainty of the godly to rest on a very different foundation.74
At the same time, I deny not that he often presses the Manichees with the consent of the whole Church, while arguing in support of the Scriptures, which they rejected. Hence he upbraids Faustus (lib. 32) for not submitting to evangelical truth—truth so well founded, so firmly established, so gloriously renowned, and handed down by sure succession from the days of the apostles. But he nowhere insinuates that the authority which we give to the Scriptures depends on the definitions or devices of men. He only brings forward the universal Judgment of the Church, as a point most pertinent to the cause, and one, moreover, in which he had the advantage of his opponents. Any one who desires to see this more fully proved may read his short treatises, De Utilitate Credendi (The Advantages of Believing), where it will be found that the only facility of believing which he recommends is that which affords an introduction, and forms a fit commencement to inquiry; while he declares that we ought not to be satisfied with opinion, but to strive after substantial truth.

The second provided further discussion of this text in these words: “For a scholarly discussion of how Calvin refuted this misuse of Augustine, see David T. King, Holy Scripture pp. I:80–81 and Heiko Oberman, “Quo Vadis? Tradition from Irenaeus to Humani Generis” in the Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 16, 1963, pp. 234–235.”