For those of you on dial-up, may I extend once again my sympathies. Being stuck on dial-up while traveling is enough to make me count my blessings for my office computer’s high-speed internet access, believe me.
Life these days involves the constant juxtaposition of the greatly encouraging next to the greatly discouraging. On the one hand I see the faithfulness of the Lord as I minister in small churches in the New York area (so far this week in Bayside Queens and in South Bronx), where God’s people still hunger for His truth and the fellowship is sweet. On the other you have the insatiable desire of so many who once professed the same faith to establish a “Christian unity” that is devoid of the only thing that makes unity real: the gospel itself. On the one hand faithful saints, on the other, those seeking to compromise with error. The contrast is striking.
You may notice I haven’t mentioned here the current hyper-activity of the Roman Catholic “spin machine” in the wake of the IXth Great Debate. That is because I expect those who do not profess to hold the same faith to respond in particular ways. Such is hardly surprising. It has been fascinating to read the comments on the Catholic Answers forum and the Envoy message boards. Some reviewers have honestly evaluated the encounter and posted their comments. But others, who were not even there, have been quick to throw dirt so as to “spin” the results in Rome’s favor. “Gerard” of the Envoy forums is a good example. When ignorant of what the debate was about and how it went, just insult James White with sufficient ferocity so as to add as much emotional “cover” as possible.
I am a bit disappointed with the fact that Gary Michuta has chosen to do the “after debate” thing. He has put out a number of documents already, including one titled “Fifty Things You Must Believe In Order For James White To Win The Debate” I sorta figure if you have to start firing off clarifications and expansions and the like the week after you do a debate, that might just indicate that you don’t feel you did overly well in the actual encounter. Why not just let those who watch and listen judge for themselves? It reminds me a bit of Madrid’s “The White Man’s Burden” over a decade ago now. I do not have the time or inclination to get into an extended “he said/he said” after-debate debate, but there are two statements I would like to highlight in Michuta’s responses. First, I had noted that I failed to press the fact that the Glossa Ordinaria, the medieval commentary on Scripture used across the medieval world, denied the canonicity of the Apocryphal books. Michuta writes, “Should I address the recycled Weber argument concerning the Glossa Ordinaria? But what does a medieval gloss have to do with whether or not the deuterocanon is inspired Scripture?” It only has to do with the issue if you do not begin with sola ecclesia, of course. For the person asking, “Is there a good reason to believe these books are canonical?” the fact that the medieval church could produce such a document speaks volumes. But you see, Michuta does not seem to see the central epistemological role the authority of Rome plays in his thinking. That is why he can state, “I did manage to get one important point across in my closing, although according to Jamesâ€™ blog and his closing statement, it fell on deaf ears. My entire presentation that night was done as a Protestant. Not once, in my opening statement or in any subsequent remarks, did I ever appeal to the authority of the Church, papal decrees or Church Councils.” As I pointed out in the debate, Michuta failed to provide us with positive evidence of the canonicity of the Apocryphal books: he evidently does not recognize that he accepts them as canonical because Rome says to do so, and hence does not himself see that he handles all the information in that light. Thankfully, the audience got it, and will get it when they view the debate. And I can let the debate speak for itself, personally.
Meanwhile, I sat in utter amazement as I read an article by Kevin Johnson on the “Reformed Catholicism” blog. It was another complete fulfillment of the citation I posted here a few days ago: â€œâ€¦such men that are for middle ways in points of doctrine have a greater kindness for that extreme they go half way to than for that which they go halfway from.” Johnson once believed as I. Now he doesn’t. But though he cannot seem to see it himself, there is almost nothing on “the other side” that he can truly criticize with any passion, while there almost nothing on this side he can keep himself from criticizing. Case in point is his entry on Mary. He’s been reading a lot on Roman Marian beliefs of late, so it is easy to talk about how “bad” your former compatriots are on that issue. We are told that “generations of Reformed Christians have ignored her,” and that “Reformed churches today can’t even refer to the Blessed Mother as the Godbearer, the theotokos.” Of course, as I noted a number of years ago in my book on the subject, theotokos is a perfectly valid Christological term. It accurately reflects the fact that Jesus’ deity is not a later addition. But it is just as true that 99.99% of all usage of the term in the Roman communion today, and most particularly in the piety of the Roman Catholic faithful, has absolutely positively nothing to do with the original Christological significance of the term. What was historically a statement about Christ has been changed into an exalted title of a redeemed creature, Mary, with connotations utterly unbiblical and, yes, idolatrous. How many millions of times today has someone bowed and prayed, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death”? Somehow that part, however, being in the realm of the “half way to” of Johnson’s journey, does not receive mention.
But most amazing was this line, “Her role in guarding Christian orthodoxy concerning the nature of Christ as the theotokos is well known by students of Church history, but her role in the lives of every day Reformed folks is simply non-existent.” Mary had a role in guarding Christian orthodoxy? I would very, very much like to think that Johnson here has simply mis-stated himself, and that what he means is that the use of ‘theotokos’ was relevant to the definition of Christian orthodoxy regarding Christ at a point in time, but that is not the sense of his language. It almost sounds as if Johnson has gone a bit farther than half way and is granting to Mary activities and roles in divinely guiding events on earth. Just how is Mary supposed to have a role in my life that is substantially different from that of, say, Paul, or Jude, or Isaiah? Johnson goes on to talk about the “testimony” of the ancient church, yet, if he was serious here, would he not have to train his rhetorical guns on Rome itself for creating dogma out of whole cloth, and ignoring history itself in defining her Marian dogmas? But once again, we get only silence, for you do not train your guns on those you are seeking to befriend and with whom you are seeking to build unity based upon the “objectivity of the covenant.” Things like the gospel, the ultimate authority of Scripture, and even idolatry itself, cannot be allowed to undo that objective unity.