Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Christian Apologetics Journal Book Review: A Response (III)
09/18/2005 - James WhiteWith this installment I conclude my response to the "review" of The Roman Catholic Controversy published in the Christian Apologetics Journal.
Catholics, however, use the term "justification" to cover the entire salvific process. But they do distinguish between "initial" and "progressive" justification, the former resembling justification "proper" for evangelicals, while the latter sanctification. I believe the Catholic position to be an error not a heresy. Their view is similar to the error of "Galatianism." "Paul's warning to them clearly related to their sanctification. His fear was not that they would lose their initial (forensic) justification, but that they would fall back into bondage to the law (Galatians 2:4)." (Geisler and MacKenzie, p. 236). It is interesting that while White doesn't address this distinction, Akin does.
Yes, please forgive me: my presentation was not marked by running it by a Catholic apologist to be "tweaked." I relied upon official dogmatic definitions from Rome itself, and biblical exegesis. My apologies.
It is hard to read this without concluding that 1) biblical terminology and categories are not to be taken as normative (i.e., we should not allow the Bible to define justification, and it is just one position versus another as to how one does so); 2) the anathema is used in Scripture of mere "errors" that are not "heresies"; 3) "initial justification" though based not upon the imputed righteousness of Christ, substitutionary atonement, etc., is still "close enough" (though accomplished ex opere operato by baptism) to sorta count. Geisler and MacKenzie are simply wrong in their reading of Galatians, and stand opposed to the historical reading of the Reformers and the wide swath of their children down to the point where most lost any belief in the inspiration and consistency of Scripture so as to not really count anymore. The position they take makes mince-meat of Paul's argument (esp. in 2:16ff, 5:1-4, etc.). One is sadly reminded of Geisler's statement that John 6:44 includes an assertion of "free choice." At times, the over-riding external authorities are seen with tremendous clarity, and here is such an example in reference to Rome and her "gospel" in light of Paul's epistle to the Galatians.
MacKenzie quotes my conclusion, which reads, "I conclude that the official teachings of Rome have compromised the Gospel through both addition and subtraction" as well as this line, "Does the Roman Catholic gospel save? I do not believe it can." This is the point that ecumenically minded evangelicals like MacKenzie simply cannot accept. It is an unwillingness to "go there" that leads to the misreading of Galatians noted above, and to the ever-present argument, "Well, if that is true, then there were no Christians before Luther!" If you think such an argument below a publication from a theological seminary:
As difficult as it is for some evangelicals to grasp, if one was a Christian prior to the Reformation, one was Roman Catholic (or in the East, Orthodox). The crucial question arises: Is Roman Catholicism a false church with significant truth in it? Or is it a true church holding significant error? I believe the latter. It cannot be denied that Trent held that meritorious works are a necessary condition for glorification (entering heaven). Thus, in the eyes of the Reformers, Catholicism is a false gospel. "Whether this assessment is correct depends on whether the classical or Reformation standard is employed as the minimal test for orthodoxy. The authors [Geisler and MacKenzie] favor the former --- it is not anachronistic or exclusivistic, and is more in accord with the broad sweep of church history."
The final quotation is footnoted as coming from the Geisler/MacKenzie work, p. 502. I have checked the citation, and evidently, though I have the same 1995 edition cited, there must be a major difference in printings or editions, for the quoted portion does not appear in my edition. Instead, a rather different statement appears that reads,
The bottom line, then, is whether there is anything in what Roman Catholicism has infallibly proclaimed that denies an essential element of the true gospel. According to the Reformers, the answer was affirmative, since Catholicism denies salvation is "by grace alone through faith alone, based on Christ alone." For Trent demanded that meritorious works are a necessary condition for receiving the gift of eternal life (= entering heaven). Thus, while affirming the necessity of grace, Catholicism denies the exclusivity of grace as a condition for receiving the gift of eternal life. This, in the eyes of historic Protestantism, is a false gospel. (502)
The difference is actually rather striking, for in the citation given by MacKenzie presently there is a clear repudiation of the position of the Reformers. Further, the point raised, but not touched, by MacKenzie in my book is directly relevant here: what is our standard to be? If it is Scripture, rather than, "Oh, well, that can't be, because we don't want to believe this about church history," then you will answer the question as I have answered it. If Scripture is not your final authority, you will answer otherwise.
Now, I reject the simplistic view of the church presented by this argument prior to Trent. Not only was there a much wider variety of viewpoints presented prior to such dogmatic definitions as the Fourth Lateran on transubstantiation and Trent on justification (seen clearly, for example, in Wyclif's comments on the Fourth Lateran Council), but if there were only two "options" out there, just who was it the Inquisition was so busily persecuting and murdering in the Piedmont Valley? There surely seemed sufficient dissension to create quite the mechanism for quashing it. But this won't due for the ecumenically minded. Simplistic, monolithic views of the beliefs of all of those living in Europe prior to the Reformation allow for the acceptance of the likewise erroneous claim that the Rome of today is the genetically valid continuation of that of the "two-thousand year old church" (a claim we heard repeated, without challenge, incessantly when John Paul II died) when this is simply not the case at all. Indeed, the Rome of today has gone even farther astray than the Rome of the Reformation in the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception, Bodily Assumption, and Papal Infallibility. All of this is vital to a meaningful answer to the question at hand.
MacKenzie closes by saying I am a dedicated Christian, but, "I believe he would be more effective if he would avoid having 'food fights' with triumphalistic, Tridentine Catholic apologists. He might profit from interact [sic] with Orthodox and Reformed scholars who are taking a fresh look at opportunities for discussion between Catholics and evangelicals." I wonder what "food fights" MacKenzie refers to? Debates, perhaps, with men like Mitch Pacwa or Patrick Madrid? I would personally appreciate it if someone is going to make this kind of public statement against my work if they would at least have the temerity to provide a reference to which I could respond. But beyond this, I wonder, has MacKenzie ever had to defend the sheep of the flock against these "triumphalistic, Tridentine Catholic apologists"? His position seems to be one that would cause them no difficulties at all. Ignoring them while looking only to the left of Rome as indicative of "real Catholicism" may be quite convenient but it is no more effective than sticking one's head in the sand. Trent exists. Does it not say something that those to whom he looks do not debate, simply because they don't really have anything to debate about? Which mindset is representational of the Apostles? Do you read Paul in Galatians, or John in 1 John, or 2 Peter, or Jude, and hear them saying, "Yes, let's dialog with those who deny Christ's uniqueness or deny the heart of the gospel, and let's make sure we never say anything is actually wrong and heretical, because that is not loving and besides, scholars never do that"? I think a lot more regular exposure to the Scriptures and a lot less to the "academy" would result in a major shift in the attitudes of those who find it more important to look for "opportunities for discussion" than to make clear, honest, forceful proclamation of truth.