Back in 1987, at the Bayview Baptist Church, Karl Keating engaged in a debate against Peter Ruckman. Although Dr. White has had an open challenge to Keating since October of 1990 (see the discussion here), we have yet to see a debate between Karl Keating and James White. Perhaps this critique will prompt Keating to step up to the debating podium again, this time with a serious Reformed opponent. Even if it does not, it may be worthwhile critiquing his points, since Keating’s points get repeated (in some form) by many folks who listen to “Catholic Answers.”
After some pleasantries, Keating begins his presentation with an argument regarding inspiration. He asks the question: “How do you know that the Bible is inspired?” He then offers several options and tries to knock them down. He identifies the following as inadequate reasons:
1. Cultural Reasons
2. Family Tradition
3. Inspirational – It Moves Me
4. The Bible’s Own Claim to Inspiration
5. The Holy Spirit Tells Me So
Before we get to Keating’s proposed alternative to these allegedly inadequate reasons, let’s consider his five “inadequate reasons.” The first three reasons look a lot like straw men. Maybe someone somewhere thinks that the Bible is inspired because it is inspirational, or because their family told them so, or because society deems the Bible to be important. These, however, are hardly very serious arguments.
Exactly the opposite is the case for numbers 4 and 5. The ideas that the Bible proclaims its own inspiration (and indeed it does) and that the Holy Spirit confirms that inspiration to us (and He does) are actually the historic Reformed and “Protestant” position on the subject.
Keating claims that these are “inadequate.” Consider the implication, though. The implication is that even if God himself tells you that the Bible is inspired, that’s not a sufficient basis upon which to believe that the Bible is inspired. That implication borders on blasphemous. What could be more sufficient as a basis than that the Bible claims inspiration and that the Holy Spirit confirms it? Of course, there cannot be – but before we proclaim that dogmatically, let’s see if Keating has located something better.
Keating’s alternative is to provide his “spiral argument” (which I’ve previously critiqued here).
The steps he proposes are as follows:
1. Look at the Bible as though it were a non-inspired book.
2. Discover the Bible’s historical reliability.
3. Discover that Jesus said he would found a church.
4. Conclude that the church must have the gift of infallibility.
5. Conclude that the church must have the look of the Roman church.
6. When Rome tells us that the Bible is inspired, we can know that it is inspired, because the church is infallible.
Keating calls this his spiral argument, but that may just be a distraction. In addition to the question of circularity, there are at least two other problems.
First, we can adopt his (1) and (2) and then discover that Paul was a true Apostle of Christ and explicitly taught the inspiration of Scripture. There’s no need to go to (3), much less to the rest of the series.
Second, even if we go to (3), there’s no teaching in the Scriptures that the church is or will be infallible, or even that “the church” will be in a position to speak as “the church.” There’s nothing about the church (as described by Jesus during his earthly ministry, or otherwise throughout Scripture) that requires the church to be infallible. Therefore, there is nothing to get us from (3) to (4).
To those two strong points, we could also add a weak third point, namely that (5) is likewise easily rejected. The Roman church doesn’t look like the Apostolic church as described in the New Testament. It doesn’t have a plurality of elders in every city. It has a limited priesthood where the New Testament church had a universal priesthood. Most significantly, it has a papacy, whereas the only head of the Apostolic church is Christ.
I call this point weak, because if you have already concluded that “the church” must be infallible, you’ve conceded a point that you should not. Indeed, on that hypothesis you would have nowhere to go – because there are no churches that look like the Apostolic church and also claim to be infallible (to my knowledge – at least).