I just saw that C. Michael Patton has replied to my comments on the Dividing Line yesterday. I will go through the response more thoroughly on the DL tomorrow (7pm EDT), but a few items briefly:
James said at one point that we were parting ways with historic conservative Protestant Evangelicalism. I disagree. Look at our theology. Go through the courses in The Theology Program. You will see that this is far from the truth. I, myself, and Dan as well, are both Evangelical Calvinistic Protestants. I am not ashamed of this title and I don’t think Dan is either. Simply because we are not as anti-Catholic as James is and don’t interpret Catholicism in the way he does, does not mean that we are leaving our Evangelical heritage in any way.
Of course, I reject the label “anti-Catholic,” and would invite Mr. Patton to reconsider his use of pejoratives in this fashion. I am a Reformed Baptist apologist, and my response to Rome, whatever else he may think of it, is perfectly and completely consistent not only with the historical position of Reformed Baptists and our confession of faith, but it is consistent with the Reformed Baptist position on preaching and the church as well. I understand why Roman Catholics seek to label those who oppose their over-arching claims to authority in the terms of their own faith. It is the same reason Mormons label others “anti-Mormon,” JW’s refer to “active opposers,” and why the term “Islamophobia” has become popular as well. But I am no more anti-Catholic than Benedict XVI is anti-Baptist: what the Pope said in this recent document is perfectly consistent with Roman Catholic ecclesiology, and hence, to define his position in terms such as “anti-Baptist” is absurd, just as it is absurd to call me an anti-Catholic.
I have yet to have documented where I have misrepresented or misinterpreted Rome in my published writings and debates. It is not up to us to decide how to “interpret” Rome. As the Pope demonstrated yesterday, she is perfectly capable of doing that. One side quotes from official documents, one side quotes from anonymous individual Catholics. I think again this is a major problem. It is very much like what we see going on with the Mouw/Owen/Mosser group and the Mormon Church: one side quotes LDS scholars, one side quotes the consistent teachings of the LDS leadership, prophets, apostles, and general authorities. As I have been posting the series on Mormonism 101 we have even had secular reporters calling our offices asking questions about what we are saying. One individual even said, “I just am not seeing anyone else saying what you are saying out there.” Given that I have simply been quoting the consistent testimony of the LDS leaders themselves, that says a lot. I see a direct parallel to what is going on here.
It seems obvious to me that you start with the official teachings, interpreting the dogmatic documents and decrees of the Roman magisterium in the context in which they were originally written, and only then do you have a firm foundation from which you can meaningfully interpret variant opinions of individual Catholic scholars or writers. If Mr. Patton wishes to disagree, I would very much like to see a coherent defense of that viewpoint. I have honestly yet to see that.
But most importantly in response to this statement is that it misses my point: when I spoke of moving away from the historic position, I was referring to the historic position of evangelicals concerning Rome. And that is really not disputable, is it? Mr. Patton might say that this is only because those of former generations were just not humble enough to allow for his “irenic” view (he later wrote, “Postmodernism may have brought in many terrible things, but it has opened the door for humility.” Evidently, then, previous generations, untouched by post-modernism, would not have been as humble?), but the fact remains that it would be very, very easy for me to document that previous generations saw the issues of the gospel I have raised (not just sola fide but the entire Roman sacramental system, Mass and priesthood included) to be far more central than Mr. Patton is suggesting. Were they just ignorant, not as well read, as we moderns? I think not. I think they had a very different view of what is important, what is definitional, than some today. And I think I stand firmly in that line, and Mr. Patton simply does not. I don’t think this should be a matter of dispute, it is simply a matter of historical identification. But my point was that they are moving away from the conclusions that previous generations came to regarding how the emphasis upon the purity and proclamation of the gospel, that marked what was once called evangelicalism, interacts with Rome’s dogmatic teachings on the same subjects. Past generations, and those who stand in my line, see Rome’s gospel as not just defective in “important areas” but still a true gospel, but as a false gospel, compromised at its very foundations. Saying the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice is not an ancillary issue, separate from sola fide. Saying a priest has sacerdotal powers of absolution is not just a matter of indifference. Teaching that there is a treasury of merit and that the elect can die impure and need to undergo satispassio in purgatory before being able to enter into the presence of God is not just an odd viewpoint that can be dismissed as now irrelevant. Rome has taught these things, and continues to teach these things, under the guise of Christ’s one true church, infallible in her authority as Christ’s voice on earth.
Tomorrow I especially wish to focus upon his three reasons why he believes we cannot do what Paul did in response to the Galatian heresy. The irony is, I already responded to his position in the commentary on Galatians I began posting a few days ago, and as I mentioned, I wrote what I am posting 18 years ago. But I think this is vital, for if he is right, we have no foundation upon which to proclaim the gospel with power and authority today. We simply have no grounds upon which to say “this is the gospel, and that is not.” And in a day of pluralism and anti-Christian attacks on all sides, if that is the case, we are indeed of all men most to be pitied. And so I will wish to focus the majority of my time upon the three points he made, specifically, that Paul was an Apostle, we are not; Paul did not always handle things “polemically” (as if I have ever suggested we are!), and finally that Paul was being polemical in a pastoral manner (and as those who have followed my ministry in this area know, given that I am a churchman with a higher view of the church than the vast majority of post-evangelicals today, I surely agree, just not with the application made here). So tune in, and remember, we do take phone calls, toll-free!