Intelligent Design, Philosophy, Wolfgang Smith

Wolfgang Smith, Intelligent Design, & Theistic Evolution

Wolfgang Smith Painted PortraitDiscovering the work of Wolfgang Smith is an invigorating intellectual and spiritual experience. It is a remarkably brilliant synthesis of Catholic orthodoxy, perennial wisdom, and authentic scientific discovery received and chronicled by a single mind. I am indebted to Smith’s influence for several reasons, and one of these reasons is that his intellectual vision and erudition allowed me to see just how vitally important it is to courageously adhere to a biblical cosmogony and cosmology while standing against a modernistic militancy that virulently spurns the Apostolic deposit of faith.

One of the most controversial aspects of Smith’s work is his rejection and refutation of the Teilhardian heresy of theistic evolution so prevalent among the intellectual elite in the ranks of the Catholic hierarchy. In fact, it is his stance against the modernist darling Teilhard de Chardin that most likely kept Smith out of the mainstream limelight of Thomistic scholars. But having the opportunity to read Smith’s work and get to know him personally reveals the fact that Smith is his own man, an intellectual rebel with a cause who loves truth more than accolades.

Smith’s work has been my reentry into the world of the origins debates, and until reading his views I did not properly understand just how important this debate actually is. In fact, it can be argued that everything associated with Catholic orthodoxy hangs on this single battle. If the revelation of biblical origins is undermined then there is no limit to what also can be undermined due to the illusory need to adjust doctrine according to “scientific discovery.” Instead of giving in to the relentless pressure of this error, Christians must never waver from the truth that Christ is the exemplar of created reality revealed to us in the Sacred Page. We have no right to alter this revelation in order to feel comfortable among a culture that worships the idol of scientism.

The reality of Christ as the Incarnate Word of God presupposes the revelation of orthodox creation theology.

To put this bluntly, classic Darwinian and neo-Darwinian evolution is an enemy of the Church and the deposit of faith we are commanded to proclaim in the name of Christ. Moreover, theistic evolution is nothing more than a theological surrender to the materialism of neo-Darwinian hegemony in the culture. It is a compromise that no faithful Catholic can make if fidelity to our Divine Master is what shapes our lives.

With that having been said, I recently received the newly released anthology of scholarly articles critiquing the position of theistic evolution titled, Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique. To be sure, Smith has already accomplished a thorough refutation of this heterodox position in his work, Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy, but this anthology is a welcome systematic dismantling of the most fundamental pillars of an unlawful marriage between Darwin and Jerusalem.

A noticeable strength of this anthology is that it clearly identifies the key problems with the theistic evolutionary position.

These twelve differences are highlighted:


  1. Adam and Eve were not the first human beings (and perhaps they never even existed.)
  2. Adam and Eve were born from human parents.
  3. God did not act directly or specially to create Adam out of dust from the ground.
  4. God did not directly create Eve from a rib taken from Adam’s side.
  5. Adam and Eve were never sinless human beings.
  6. Adam and Eve did not commit the first human sins, for human beings were doing morally evil things long before Adam and Eve.
  7. Human death did not begin as a result of Adam’s sin, for human beings existed long before Adam and Even and they were always subject to death.
  8. Not all human beings have descended from Adam and Eve, for there were thousands of other human beings on Earth at the time that God chose two of them as Adam and Eve.
  9. God did not directly act in the natural world to create different “kinds” of fish, birds, and land animals.
  10. God did not “rest” from his work of creation or stop any special creative activity after plants, animals, and human beings appeared on the earth.
  11. God never created an originally “very good” natural work in the sense of a world that was a safe environment, free of thorns and thistles and similar harmful things.
  12. After Adam and Eve sinned, God did not place any curse on the world that changed the workings of the natural world and made it more hostile to mankind.[1]

These theistic evolutionary positions should strike any serious Christian as problematic due to their explicit denials of Genesis’s teachings.

While there are many strengths that can be taken from this anthology there are also weaknesses. A major weakness is to implicitly grant legitimacy to the neo-Darwinian schema by accepting the evolutionary timeline in the realms of cosmology and geology. The textbook attempts to take a position of neutrality regarding the “age of the earth” by stating,

“This book is not about the age of the earth. We are aware that many sincere Christians hold a ‘young earth’ position (the earth is perhaps ten thousand years old), and many others hold an ‘old earth’ position (the earth is 4.5 billion years old). This book does not take a position on that issue, nor do we discuss it at any point in the book.”[2]

However, this declaration of neutrality is immediately exposed as an impossibility in the subsequent footnote attached to the paragraph highlighted above:

“However, the science chapters that argue a Darwinian explanation of the fossil record operate within the commonly assumed chronological framework of hundreds of millions of years for the earth’s geological strata. We recognize that Christians who hold a young earth view would assume a different chronological framework.”[3]

While I am sympathetic of the desire to not focus on the “age of the earth” controversies, the chronology of natural history pertaining to origins demands that a position be taken. And if we are going to make arguments emphasizing fidelity to Sacred Scriptures then we must remain vigilant to what is taught therein; to this end it becomes clear that the Bible will not allow for any meaningful exegesis granting legitimacy to the evolutionary timescale of billions of years. Every attempt to do so is to commit an act of eisegesis, that is, forcing modern scientific categories into the pages of the Bible rather than letting the categories of divine revelation shape our thinking about cosmogony, cosmology, and natural history.

Again, what does Darwin have to do with Jerusalem?

This is where the brilliance and integrity of Wolfgang Smith’s work becomes apparent. Contrary to the trend among influential Thomists, Smith admirably allies with many of the theoretical postulations advanced by the Intelligent Design movement because they are in fact true, but he does not ignore important areas of theological and philosophical disagreement; he pushes the boundaries of these controversies into the realm of perennial wisdom and Catholic orthodoxy, therefore emphatically finalizing the burial of scientism, materialism, and methodological naturalism.

Theistic evolution is a compromise Catholics cannot afford make in order to try and make peace with the modern world. We must choose this day whom we will serve, and in so doing commit ourselves to defeating the tenets of an atheistic worldview looking to undermine the Divine Logos. Wolfgang Smith leads the way to that end, and this newly released anthology of scholarly articles is an important contribution to the project.

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] This list is taken from Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, Edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, Christopher Shaw, Ann K. Gauger, and Wayne Grudem, Pg. 72, 73

[2] Ibid, Pg. 62

[3] Ibid Pg. 62, 63

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Culture, Politics

It’s Time to Stop Compromising with Satan

Our Lady Crushing Serpent's HeadBelle Plaine, Minnesota is a town of just under 7,000 residents, yet this past year it found itself in the national spotlight due to a religious controversy that has become an all-too-common story.

This past summer, some of the town’s residents, with the city government’s permission, erected a memorial in a park dedicated to military veterans. The monument in question depicted a silhouetted soldier taking a knee before a grave marker that was in the shape of a cross. A non-religious resident of the town was apparently offended and complained to the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a radical atheist group.

After being threatened with legal action, the city removed the cross from the “offending” monument, leading to a nationwide outcry from Christians. In response, the city council created a “limited public forum” in the park to allow the cross to be restored, along with other potential monuments of a religious nature.

A short time after this, the atheistic Satanic Temple, based out of Massachusetts, announced that it would seek to place a satanic monument in the forum, alongside the kneeling soldier and cross. The announcement caused significant controversy and led to at least two large prayer rallies at the park. Facing mounting pressure, the city council decided to terminate the public forum and to allow neither the cross nor the satanic emblem to be present in the park.

While many of the town’s residents expressed relief that their little city wouldn’t have the dubious distinction of hosting the nation’s first public monument to Satan, it seemed evident that the militant atheists had won another round, forcing the removal of yet another Christian symbol from public view. Still, many were relieved that the controversy was ended. Or so they thought.

Now, at the beginning of November, the Satanic Temple has announced that it is seeking $35,000 in damages from the city of Belle Plaine over violation of its First Amendment rights and an alleged breach of contract.

Let’s be clear on what’s really going on here. The Satanic Temple and the Freedom From Religion Foundation don’t really care whether their godless monuments get put on display. Their real goal is to extirpate any public symbol of Christ. Like their dark master, they hate Our Lord and are hell-bent on removing all traces of him from society. In order to carry out this agenda, they will bully towns like Belle Plaine and make an example of them in order to send a warning to other communities that might likewise consider contradicting the growing state religion of atheism, even in the mildest of ways. The message these nihilists are sending is clear: Christ is not welcome in our society.

Our response needs to be equally clear. Too often we are willing to compromise with evil. We agree, time and again, to remove the cross, the emblem of Our Lord and King, in exchange for the absence of a monument honoring the father of lies. We hope that this will placate the enemies of Christ, but instead it only emboldens them, and this after first offending Him, our God.

It would be good for us to, when faced with these situations, to remember the following instance from the Gospel:

When Jesus was led before Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator knew that Our Lord was innocent, but he was afraid to release Him for fear of the mob. In his human wisdom, he tried to find a compromise. He had Christ scourged and then declared that he would release Him, but the mob insisted on the ultimate penalty of crucifixion, and Pilate relented. Ultimately, Pilate’s attempts at compromise caused Our Lord even more suffering than if he had simply delivered Him up for death at the first demand of the mob. Could it be that our current attempts at appeasement are likewise offending God and causing Him even more grief?

I think we ought to ask ourselves if concessions to the devil are really the best solution in our current situation. Would the apostles have compromised with pure evil? Would the early martyrs have done so? Of course they wouldn’t have. They all chose to die rather than offer incense—in some cases a single grain—to the comparatively benign gods of Rome.

It’s becoming ever more clear that we too will eventually need to put our foot down and truly stand up against the encroachments of the devil and his ilk. We will need to fight ferociously in the courts of law, and if necessary, to practice civil disobedience, regardless of the consequences. Would the apostles and martyrs have done anything less? Would Our Lord?

There can be no denying that we live in dark times, where the supreme evil is worshiped openly and with the blessing of the state. But it’s also true that out of such times arise the greatest saints, and it’s equally certain that God set us in the times and places He did in order for us to be those saints. With His grace, and with the weapons of prayer and penance, let’s rise to the occasion.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

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Apologetics, Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Thomism

The Growing Philosophical Influence of Edward Feser, Thomism, & Neo-Scholasticism

During my time in RCIA I spend many hours discussing philosophy and theology with a great priest named Fr. Joseph. At one point in the conversation we were discussing the issues surrounding modern atheism and in this context he recommended that I read a book titled, The Last Superstition, by Edward Feser. I had no idea who Edward Feser was nor was I even remotely familiar with the philosophical tradition of Thomism. As a Protestant my interaction with Christian philosophy and apologetics was basically through the dominating methods of William Lane Craig and mere evangelical defenses of theistic rationalism. Hopeful that this reading suggestion might be a fresh take on the issue of the new atheist movement, I followed Fr. Joseph’s direction and bought The Last Superstition.

I began reading the book as soon as it was delivered and I couldn’t put it down. Never had I read anything so devastating to atheism generally and to the new atheist movement specifically. Not only does Feser totally dismantle the claims of the new atheists, he clearly articulates the appropriate Thomistic metaphysical framework from which a coherent Christian philosophy makes sense. Moreover, the arguments presented introduce the reader to certain knowledge of God’s existence rather than an evidentially probabilistic argument that only results in opening the door to fideism.

The Last Superstition was written in 2008, and since then Feser has added many great works to his resume. Some of these titles are Aquinas, Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics, Scholastic Metaphysics, Neo-Scholastic EssaysBy Man Shall His Blood Be Shed, and Five Proofs of the Existence of God.

Feser’s most recent works, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed and Five Proofs, have garnered quite a lot of attention and well-earned publicity. The fact that these titles are getting so much attention is in many ways a testament to the veracity of their claims and argumentation.

If you are looking for great Thomistic literature from the Neo-Scholastic tradition that is formidable in its articulation of truth and unrelenting in its refutation of error, then Edward Feser’s work will be a necessary addition to your bookshelf.

Here is The Socratic Catholic’s book review of By Man Shall His Blood Be ShedThe Catholic Church & Capital Punishment 

Here are some of the articles recently written by Feser in reply to some of his critics on the death penalty:

The Pope’s Remarks on the Death Penalty Need to be Clarified

On Capital Punishment, Even the Pope’s Defenders are Confused

McClamrock on By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed

Pope Seems to be Contradicting Traditional Teaching on the Death Penalty

Here are some videos of Feser discussing the thesis of his book on the death penalty:

 

Here are some recent interviews of Feser discussing his work in The Last Superstition, Five Proofs:

 

Here are The Socratic Catholic’s posts highlighting the first three arguments made by Feser in Five Proofs:

The Aristotelian Argument

The NeoPlatonic Argument

The Augustinian Argument

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Apologetics, Theology

Did Saint James Teach Justification by Faith Alone?

Saint James the ApostleA Summary of Saint James’s Teaching on Justification:

1. Protestants have devised many and varied explanations to neutralize the clear and unambiguous statement in James 2:24 that ‘man is justified by works and not by faith alone.’ Each of these explanations concludes that James is not teaching that man is justified by works in the same sense that Paul says man is justified by faith. Puzzled by James’s language, Martin Luther even concluded that the epistle of James was a spurious book and should not be canonically authoritative New Testament teaching.

2. Countering the Protestant explanation of the epistle of James which states that James means that ‘men’ witness Abraham’s works, the Genesis text (Genesis 22) does not include any men as witness to Abraham’s works, but only God himself.

3. Countering the Protestant explanation of James which holds that the word ‘justified’ as James uses the term refers to a ‘vindication,’ rather than to a salvific justification, as Paul uses the term, are the following arguments:

(a) If James were teaching a concept of ‘vindication,’ he would have said, with the proper Greek work, ‘you see, a person is vindicated by works.’ Moreover, since James adds the clause ‘and not by faith alone’ we know that he is correcting a false notion concerning the solitude of faith in justification, not suggesting that Abraham was vindicated by works.

(b) If James were attempting to teach a vindication of Abraham, the specific argumentation he used would make sense only if James’s opponents had claimed that Abraham was ‘vindicated by faith alone.’ In other words, if the vindication hypothesis were true, syntactical requirements would have forced James to use the meaning of ‘vindicated’ in the first part of his argument (2:20-21) in order also to use it in the latter part (2:24). Since the grammatical structure of the verse would then require that the phrase ‘not by faith alone’ have its referent in the phrase ‘is vindicated,’ this would force the meaning of the verse to be, ‘a person is vindicated…not by faith alone’ — a meaning that has no relevance to James’s discussion.

(c) The New Testament does not use the word ‘justified’ in the sense of vindicated in contexts which are soteriological, i.e., contexts which discuss salvation or damnation. Moreover, such passages as Matthew 11:19 where one could plausibly interpret the Greek would dikaioo as referring to a vindication do so only in a metaphorical sense; therefore they do not use dikaioo in the same way that James, and even Paul, use the term, which is historical and literal.

(d) James’s discussion of the events surrounding the justification of Rahab preclude assigning the meaning of ‘vindicated’ to the word justified. Rahab’s justification, as described in James 2:25, is a salvific justification, not a vindication, yet James specifies that Rahab was justified ‘in the same way’ that Abraham was justified. Therefore, one cannot understand Abraham’s justification as a vindication.

(e) Since James and Paul use the same Greek noun dikaiosune (‘righteous’) in reference to Abraham, and interpret the word in the same way (cf., Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, James 2:23), it would be totally incongruous for one of them to use a different meaning of its verbal cognate dikaioo in reference to Abraham.

(f) The Protestant position assumes that Abraham’s justification is a once-for-all event. James’s all important question ‘Can faith save him?’ (2:14), however, includes Abraham within its purview. Hence we must conclude that if Abraham’s works were not of the quality that James prescribes in the context (2:15), then Abraham would not be justified. Abraham could not be justified in a ‘once-for-all’ event in Genesis 15:6 and at the same time have that justification put in jeopardy by disobedience to James’s requirement of works for justification. If this could happen, the question in 2:14 would have no meaning.

4. Abraham’s acts in Genesis 12, 15, and 22 were acts of faith and works. We should not misconstrue Paul’s stress on Abraham’s faith in his view of Genesis 15:6 to say that Abraham performed no works of loving obedience to God at this time or prior, nor should we misconstrue James’s view of works in Genesis 22 to say that Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac was not a supreme act of faith. Similarly, Abraham’s departure from this homeland in Genesis 12 also couples his faith and works in regard to justification. Throughout his life, in the periods recorded in Genesis 13-14, 16-21, and 23-25 which are between the times of his recorded faith and obedience in the New Testament, Abraham continued to live in faith and obedience, with only what we may call minor lapses along the way. Genesis 22’s importance is its detailing of Abraham’s quintessential act of the faith-and-works which allowed God to swear an oath of blessing to him and for all his future descendants. Abraham’s act in Genesis 22, not Genesis 15:6, was the most important act in Abraham’s life. The act in Genesis 22 was just as much a crediting of righteousness to Abraham as that in Genesis 15:6.

5. The entire context of the book of James concerns what one must do to be saved. He concentrates on obedience to the law as the means of salvation, and judgment for those who disobey the law.

6. James includes sins of commission as well as omission in his warning against disobedience to the law. The supreme law, or ‘royal law,’ that James has in view is the law of love.

7. James assumes that the audience to whom he writes already has faith in God. The main question that James poses to them is whether they have added works to their faith. James does not suggest that works will immediately or inevitably flow from one who has faith, even though he may have a greater disposition towards good works once he has faith. James teaches that one who has faith must make a daily, conscious decision to do good works, just as he must decide each day to refrain from sin. In fact, if he chooses not to do good works when the opportunity raises, he has sinned (James 4:17).

8. James does not support the Protestant concept that one can be saved as long as he has ‘saving faith.’ James is not so much attempting to qualify the faith needed for justification as he is saying that one must consciously add works to faith in order to be justified. A person, to be justified, must persevere to his last breath in this conscious decision to add works to faith.

9. One of the most heinous in the catalogue of sins that James specifies is sin of the tongue. What is ‘said’ to God and man is of the utmost importance to James and a major criterion on how the individual will be judged.

10. Both Paul and James speak of the works of love that one must add to his faith in order to be justified.

11. Like Paul, James concludes that if one chooses the system of law and desires God to evaluate him on that basis without the benefit of grace, he must then obey the whole law without fault. For one fault, the law will utterly condemn him.

– Robert Sungenis, Not by Faith Alone


 

– Lucas G. Westman

 

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Apologetics, Theology

Did Saint Paul Teach Justification by Faith Alone?

Saint Paul StatueA Summary of Saint Paul’s Teaching on Justification:

1. Paul uses the word ‘alone’ more than any other New Testament writer, many usages appearing in the very context which speak of faith and justification, but never as a qualifier or description of faith. For Paul, faith carries far too much meaning and implications to be limited by the word ‘alone.’ The only time Scripture couples the word ‘faith’ with the word ‘alone’ is in the Epistle of James (2:24) where it is specified we are not justified by faith alone.

2. When Paul says that man cannot be justified by works or through the law, he is referring to any and all works done by man, not merely certain kinds of works. These works include moral, civil and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament as well as any such laws in the present age.

3. Paul teaches that because of the principle of obligation, man cannot be justified by works. Doing works, outside the realm of grace, attempts to obligate God to pay the worker. If God is obligated to pay the worker, then the relationship is one based on strict, legal contract; not on grace. God, because he is the Creator and perfect, man, who is the creature and imperfect, cannot place God in a position of legal obligation.

4. Paul teaches that works, under the auspices of God’s grace, do indeed justify the individual. Paul teaches that through God’s grace he can accept the faith and works of the individual for the purposes of salvation. Passages in the New Testament that speak of works being judged with a view toward gaining eternal life are not hypothetical.

5. Faith is placed in opposition to works by Paul since faith is used to represent a personal, grace-based relationship with God whereas works are used to represent a contractual, non-grace relationship. Faith is the element of human volition which recognizes and acknowledges God’s grace and thus it is the first element that establishes our relationship to God.

6. Paul teaches that we fulfill the law, and are justified through obedience to the law, by loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

7. Although Paul tells us to model our behavior on the law, he has the intent of law, or the higher purpose of the law, in view. On the other hand, he is adamant against the legalistic obedience.

8. Scripture teaches that within the system of grace, the individual must please God by his faith and obedience. If he does not please God, then he cannot be saved. God is the sole judge of whether we have pleased him.

9. Scripture teaches that God gives gracious merit to individuals who have pleased him, and he will graciously reward them with eternal life for their faith and obedience – not from obligation but from his sheer benevolence to those who earnestly seek him.

10. Faith is the beginning of salvation. Each person that comes to God must first believe that he exists and is the source of all goodness and blessing.

11. All men are sinners in the eyes of God and in order to receive salvation it is necessary that all men be redeemed through the atoning work of Christ.

12. Christ did not take on himself the guilt and punishment required of man for sin, since hell itself is the ultimate punishment for sin. Rather, Christ became a propitiatory sacrifice in order to appease the wrath of God against sin. In this way, he opens the floodgates of grace and makes it possible for every man to attain salvation.

13. God’s grace, through anticipation of the atonement of Christ in the New Testament, was made available to those in the Old Testament, and thus they could be saved in the say way as we may be today. As regards their relationship to God, those in the Old Testament were to understand the ultimate purpose of the law in the same way we are to understand it today.

14. Through the measure of grace God gives each individual believer, he expects that the believer will exercise that grace by continuing to believe in God despite the circumstantial experiences of life that may cast doubt on God’s integrity. In this regard, Abraham is one of the greatest examples of faith in the Scripture and one on whom we should model our own faith in order to be justified.

15. Paul teaches that faith must express itself through love in order to effectuate justification. The qualities and requirements for genuine love are specified throughout Scripture.

– Robert Sungenis, Not by Faith Alone – 


 

– Lucas G. Westman

 

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Culture, Ethics, Philosophy

Court Jesters & the Culture of Death: Exposing the Vacuous Thought Experiment of Paul Tomlinson

Court JestersIn this recent Salon article, Paul Rosenberg advances a thought experiment introduced by writer Paul Tomlinson, that both believe to be utterly devastating to the pro-life position. According to Rosenberg, not only does Tomlinson refute the pro-life position, he also exposes the entire movement for being made up of hypocritical liars motivated by a desire to “control women like slaves.” To the contrary of his claims, however, what is really exposed are the depths of murky obfuscation pro-abortion advocates will plunge themselves in order to advance the culture of death. Even a cursory examination of the thought experiment reveals how intellectually shallow and puerile it truly is.

To make claims as strong as this, Rosenberg must wield an argument that is not only original, but also creatively ingenious, given the fact that the philosophical dispute over what constitutes a human person has been raging for several decades with no end in sight. Unfortunately for Rosenberg, the argument he’s celebrating is neither original nor creative.

Here is the scenario posed by Tomlinson to those who are pro-life:

Would you save one 5-year old from a burning building or 1,000 embryos? That is it. This simple question supposedly puts the entire debate to rest and exposes the morally defective nature of those who argue that personhood begins at conception.

According to Tomlinson’s testimony and Rosenberg’s excitement, nobody has ever said that they would save the 1,000 embryos and leave the 5-year old to a brutally painful death. In Tomlinson’s view, this thought experiment, and the answers that follow, presses the point that nobody actually believes embryos are the same as “living” children. It follows from this, so it is claimed, that the pro-life movement is basically lying about their actual beliefs in order to gain political leverage against women and treat them like cattle.

But is this thought experiment as successful as Tomlinson suggests? Is this unoriginal rehash of the trolley dilemma typically presented to freshmen in a philosophy 101 course a knock down defeater to the pro-life position that life begins at conception?

No. Not even close.

The first problem with this thought experiment is that it does not even touch the philosophical issue of when personal identity comes into existence, what constitutes personhood, or what the necessary and sufficient conditions are to track personhood over time t-1 to time t-N. It fallaciously assumes that making a choice in this situation settles the issue of personhood when it fails to even consider it. Let’s say that a person does choose the embryos over the 5-year old child. Would it follow that this choice denies the personhood of the child? Neither choice presented in the dilemma even merits a serious examination of what constitutes personhood, but yet for some reason progressives are barking and clapping like seals at what this silly depiction even offers. The thought experiment is doing nothing other than participating in the long tradition of pro-abortion advocates begging the most important question regarding personhood.

Let’s alter Tomlinson’s scenario a bit. Let’s say that instead of a fertility clinic, you’re in a nursing home. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down a hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child trapped under a fallen shelf, crying for help. At the same time, in the room across the hall, you spot ten elderly residents in wheelchairs. They’re already totally unconscious from lack of oxygen, but they could still be saved from their impending demise. The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can save the elderly or the child, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one.

The vast majority of people would likely choose to rescue the terrified, crying child in this case. It’s a pretty natural instinct. But does that mean that the unconscious, elderly people aren’t really fully human? Of course it doesn’t. It means that we have a natural inclination to come to the assistance of little children who are suffering and afraid.

If Tomlinson were honestly trying to determine whether we believed embryos are human, he’d be asking people whether they’d risk their own lives to rescue them from a fire. But he doesn’t do this, because pro-lifers would be much more likely to answer that question in the affirmative, which would make it a lot more difficult for him to accuse all of us of dishonesty and emotional manipulation.

It’s more than a bit ironic that Tomlinson can’t see that he in fact is the one who’s being dishonest. Among the numerous lies contained in his Salon interview is his statement is that “Nobody is pro-abortion. People are just pro-‘Hey maybe since I don’t have a vagina, I shouldn’t really have a whole lot of say in what people do with theirs.’”

The last time I checked, a vagina is something different than an embryo or a fetus. While it’s possible that Tomlinson simply needs a remedial biology class, I think it’s more likely that he’s engaging in pure sophistry. But what else would we expect from the pro-abortion crowd? If they were look at the issue in an honest and reasonable way, they’d be in danger of recognizing the gravity of the crimes they are committing against the unborn.

 

– Lucas G. Westman & Nicholas Kaminsky

 

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Apologetics, Saint Francis de Sales, Saints, Theology, Traditionalism

Saint Francis de Sales: See How Long Your Reformers Have Been Condemned – Part II

Saint Francis de Sales 3“Eunomius would not yield to plurality, dignity, antiquity, as S. Basil testifies. He said that faith alone was sufficient for salvation and justified. As to the first point, see Beza in his treatise on the marks of the Church; as to the second, does it not agree with that celebrated sentence of Luther’s, whom Beza holds to be most a most glorious reformer: ‘You see how rich is the Christian, that is, the baptized man, who even if he wishes is not able to lose his salvation by any sins whatever, unless he refuses to believe’?

Aerius, according to S. Augustine, denied prayer for the dead, ordinary fasts and the superiority of a bishop over a simple priest, Your masters deny all this.

Lucifer called his church alone the true Church and said that the ancient Church had become, instead of a church, a house of ill-fame: and do your ministers cry out all the day?

The Pelagians considered themselves assured and certain of their justice, promised salvation to the children of the faithful who died without Baptism and held that all sins were mortal. As to the first, this is your ordinary language and that of Calvin. The second and third points are too ordinary with you to have anything said about them.

The Manicheans rejected the sacrifices of the Church, and images, as your people also do.

The Messalians despised sacred orders, churches, altars, as says S. Damascene, and S. Ignatius says, they do not admit the Eucharist and the oblations, because they do not acknowledge the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior, Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, which the Father mercifully raised up. Against whom S. Martial has written.

Berengarius taught the same, long afterward, and was condemned by three Councils, in the two last of which he abjured his heresy.

Julian the Apostate despised the sign of the cross. Xenaias did the same, the Mahometans treat it no worse. But he who would see this at full length, let him look at Sanders, and Bellarmine in his Notes of the Church. Do you see the mould on which your ministers lay and form their reformation?

Now, aught not this agreement of opinions, or, to speak more rightly, this close parentage and consanguinity which your first masters had with the most cruel, inveterate and sworn enemies of the Church, ought not this alone to dissuade you from following them, and to bring you under the right banner? I have not cited one heresy which was not held as such by that church which Calvin and Beza confess to have been the true Church, that is, in the first five hundred years of Christianity. Ah, I pray you, is it not to trample the majesty of the Church under foot thus to produce as reformations, and necessary and holy reparations, what she has so greatly abominated when she was in her purest years, and which she had crushed down as impiety, as the ruin and corruption of true doctrine? The delicate stomach of this heavenly spouse had scarcely been able to bear the violence of these poisons and had rejected them with such energy that many veins of her martyrs had burst with the effort, and now you offer them to her again as a precious medicine! The fathers whom I have quoted would never have placed them on the list of heretics if they had not seen the body of the Church hold them as such. These fathers being in the highest rank of orthodoxy, and closely united with all the other Catholic bishops and doctors of their time, we see that what they held to be heretical was so in reality. Picture to yourselves this venerable antiquity in heaven round about the Master, who regards your reformers and their works. Those have gained their crown combatting the opinions which the ministers adore; they have held as heretics those whose steps you follow. Do you think that what they have judged to be error, heresy, blasphemy, in the Arians, the Manicheans, Judas, they now judge to be sanctity, reformation, restoration? Who sees not that this is the greatest contempt for the majesty of the Church that can be shown? If you would be in the succession of the true and holy Church of those first centuries, do not then oppose what it has so solemnly established and instituted. Nobody can be partly heir and partly not. Accept the inheritance courageously; the charges are not so great but that a little humility will give a good account of them – to say good-bye to your passions and to give up the difference which you have with the Church: the honors are infinite – the being heirs of God, coheirs of Jesus Christ in the happy society of all the Blessed!

– Saint Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy – 


 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Apologetics, Saint Francis de Sales, Saints, Theology, Traditionalism

Saint Francis de Sales: See How Long Your Reformers Have Been Condemned – Part I

Saint Francis de Sales 4“I am now concerned to show how your ministers have degraded the holiness and majesty of the spouse of Jesus Christ. They cry out loud and clear that she has remained eight hundred years adulterous and antichristians, from S. Gregory to Wycliffe – whom Beza considers the first restorer of Christianity. Calvin indeed would shield himself under a distinction, saying that the Church can err in things unnecessary for salvation, not in others. But Beza openly confesses that she has so far erred that she is no longer the Church. And is this not to err in things necessary for salvation, although he avows that outside the Church there is no salvation? It follows then from what he says – let him turn and turn about as he likes – that the Church has erred in things necessary for salvation. For if outside the Church there is no salvation, and the Church has so gravely erred that she is no more the Church, certainly in her there is no salvation. Now she can only lose salvation by giving up the things necessary for salvation; she has therefore erred in things necessary for salvation; otherwise, having what is necessary for salvation, she would be the true Church, or else men can be saved outside the true Church, which is impossible. And Beza says that he learnt this way of speaking from those who instructed him in his pretended religion, that is, from Calvin. Indeed if Calvin thought that the Church of Rome had not erred in things necessary for salvation he would have done wrong to separate himself from it, for being able to secure his salvation in it, and true Christianity residing in it, he would have been obliged to stay therein for his salvation, which could not be in two different places.

Perhaps I may be told that Beza says indeed that the Roman Church, as it is now, errs in things necessary for salvation, and that therefore he left it but that he does not say the true Church has ever erred. He cannot, however, escape in that direction, for what Church was there in the world two, three, four, five hundred years ago, save the Church Catholic and Roman, just exactly as it is at present? There was certainly no other, therefore it was the true Church – and yet it erred; or there was no Church in the world – and in that case again he is constrained to confess that this disappearance of the Church arose from intolerable error, and error in things necessary for salvation. For as to that dispersion of the faithful, and that secret Church that he fancies he can bring forward, I have already sufficiently exposed the vainness of it. Besides the fact that when they confess the visible Church can err, they dishonor the Church to which Our Lord directs us in our difficulties, and which S. Paul calls the pillar and ground of truth. For it is only of the visible Church that these testimonies are understood, unless we would say that Our Lord had sent us to speak to an invisible and unperceivable thing, a thing utterly unknown, or that S. Paul instructed his Timothy to converse in a society of which he had no knowledge.

But is it not to violate all the respect and reverence due to this Queen, this spouse of the heavenly King, to have brought back into the realm almost all the rout which with such cost of blood, of sweat and travails, she had by solemn penal sentence banished and driven from these her confines, as rebels and sworn enemies of her crown? I mean this setting up so many heresies and false opinions which the Church had condemned, infringing thereby the sovereignty of the Church, absolving those she had condemned, condemning those whom she has absolved. Examples follow.

Simon Magus said that God was the cause of sin, says Vincent of Lerins…But Calvin and Beza say no less; the former in the treatise on eternal predestination, the latter in his answer to Sebastian Castalio; though they deny the word, they follow the things and substance of this heresy, if heresy it is to be called, and not atheism. But of this so many learned men convict them by their own words that I will not stay upon it.

Judas, says S. Jerome…thought that the miracles he saw worked by the hand of Our Lord were diabolical operations and illusions. I know not whether your ministers think of what they are saying, but when we bring forward miracles, what do they say but that they are sorceries? The glorious miracles which Our Lord does, O men of this world, instead of opening your eyes, how do you speak of them?

The Pepusians, says S. Augustine…admitted women to the dignity of the priesthood. Who is ignorant that the English brethren hold their Queen Elizabeth to be head of their Church?

The Manicheans, says S. Jerome, denied free will: Luther has composed a book against free will…for Calvin I appeal to yourselves.

The Donatists believed that the Church was destroyed throughout the world and remained only with them: your ministers say the same. Again, they believe that a bad man cannot baptize; Wycliffe said just as much, whom I bring forward in mockery, because Beza holds him for a glorious reformer. As to their lives, their virtues were such as these: they gave the most precious Sacrament to the dogs, they cast the holy Chrism upon the ground, they overthrew the altars, they broke the chalices and sold them, they shaved the heads of the priests to take the sacred unction from them, and they took and tore away the veil from nuns to reform them.

Jovinian, as S. Augustine testifies, would have any kind of meat eaten at any time and against every prohibition; he said that fasting was not meritorious before God, that the saved were equal in glory, that virginity was no better than marriage and that all sins were equal. Your masters teach the same.

Vigilantius, as S. Jerome says, denied that the relics of the Saints are to be honored, that the prayers of the Saints are profitable, that priests should live in celibacy; [he rejected] voluntary poverty. And what of all those things do you not deny?

About the year 324, Eustathius despised the ordinary fasts of the Church, ecclesiastical traditions, the shrines of the holy Martyrs and places dedicated to their honor. The account is given by the Council of Gangra in which for these reasons he was anathematized and condemned. See how long your reformers have been condemned.”

– Saint Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy – 


 

– Lucas G. Westman

 

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Apologetics

In Pursuit of Christ

Christ in the DesertIt was on an Easter Sunday many years ago that God stirred my heart to seek Christ in all truth. Beginning this journey in the best way I knew how at the time, I began attending a Pentecostal “non-denominational” congregation. While attending services I continued to study as much as I could about theology and philosophy. It was during this time of attendance, study, and reflection that some of the things being said from the pulpit started to bother me quite a bit. The dangerous message of the health and wealth prosperity gospel had always been lurking underneath the surface, but it started to openly manifest itself in more obvious ways. The leaders were saying that if you love God and have “real” faith you will be rich, successful, and never get sick. If your life was lacking any of these things, if you were not healthy and wealthy, then it was your fault because you obviously did not have enough faith. In other words, the lack of health and wealth was the direct result of not “naming and claiming it” due to an inherent lack obedience to the promises of God. Moreover, charlatans such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Joyce Myer and others were being endorsed as faithful ministers of God’s word.

When I first began hearing this message it struck me as being highly problematic considering the overwhelming majority of men and women God has used throughout history (and still uses today) to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ have not been wealthy, have actually lived in poverty, and suffered various bodily afflictions. The health and wealth prosperity “gospel” seemed to be in direct conflict with the true teachings of Scripture and Church history.

I started to bring some of these issues up in discussions with the leaders of this church. Instead of taking my concerns seriously they were met with hostility. By the grace of God I left that dangerous environment and continued to pursue Christ. God had moved too powerfully in my life to give up despite this initial setback.

I want to emphasize that I did not go around the pews trying to divide the people against the “pastors” of this “church”. I brought these things up privately and I did this out of love for my friends. This was not welcome so I had to leave.

During this time I had joined the Army and began attending a Southern Baptist church in Georgia. In addition to attending a Baptist church, I had started listening to “reformed” preaching. I was attracted to both the Baptist and reformed no-nonsense style of communicating, especially when compared to the pathetically weak and flamboyantly heretical teachings of the health and wealth prosperity peddlers. In 2010 I deployed to Iraq and it was during my deployment that I discovered the systematics of Reformed Theology informing the preachers I had been listening to. It was R.C. Sproul’s book, What is Reformed Theology, that first challenged me to try and organize my commitment to Christ in a coherent way.

Following this work by Sproul and others writing in this tradition, it seemed to me that Calvinism was Christianity properly exposited.

Something else that had become quite important to me over this period was Christian apologetics. My mindset was then, and still is today, is that if I am going to tell people that Christianity is true, and Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”[1] then I need to be able to defend these claims against those in opposition to them or explain them to those seeking truth in these matters. Prior to committing myself to the Calvinist tradition of Protestant theology I was a follower of the Neo-Classical/Evidentialist school of apologetics epitomized by William Lane Craig. But during my research into school of John Calvin I was curious to find out if there was an apologetic method derived from this tradition.

Is there a distinctly “reformed” method of doing apologetics as opposed to the mere Christianity, evangelical method?

This question can be answered in the affirmative.

Cornelius Van Til and his method of presuppositional apologetics (re-branded by K. Scott Oliphint as covenantal apologetics) is a methodology that is closely united to the theological framework of Calvinism.

This too was an exciting discovery for me at the time because it allowed for a completely systematic and logically consistent view of the Christian faith. Calvinistic theology and presuppositional methodology seemed to be biblical, and therefore Apostolic Christianity.

Let’s pause for a moment to summarize the beaten path I had been traveling on my journey to pursue Christ. I began as a loner attending a Pentecostal congregation; I eventually joined the Army and started to attend a Southern Baptist church in Georgia; while deployed to Iraq I discovered the systematic theology of Calvinism; following my deployment and honorable discharge from active duty service I discovered Cornelius Van Til and presuppositional apologetics; and at this point began attending a Presbyterian church committed to these basic Calvinistic tendencies.

Now, despite the amount of studying I put into learning about the reformed theological tradition and presuppositional apologetic methodology, there were still quite a lot of things within this tradition of thought that I found to be disconcerting. I could not fully accept a lot of the claims being made because they seemed to be theologically and philosophically problematic. For example, the claim made by Van Til and his followers that presuppositionalism is the only apologetic methodology truly honoring to God struck me as obviously false. On this view, every other method is faulty because it does not begin and end with God, which from the reformed perspective means the other methods do not begin and end with Scripture. And while various criticisms of other apologetic methods might be reasonable, this sweeping claim is problematic.

There are several issues with this declaration. First, not every Calvinist even believes this to be the case. For example, R.C. Sproul is a committed Calvinist, but he adheres to the classical traditionalist view for defending the faith, which recognizes the legitimacy of reason and philosophical preambles as a foundation for revealed truth. Moreover, Sproul was a strong critic of Van Til’s methodology and wrote a scathing rebuttal in his book, Classical Apologetics. Second, presuppositional apologetics completely begs the question regarding the most important claim pertaining to revealed truth, which is the demonstration of the existence of God. To be sure, the presuppositionalist will utilize what they would call the transcendental argument for God’s existence, but this argument is deficient since it asserts God’s existence rather than demonstrating it. Third, it is a methodology that is completely ahistorical. Van Til’s methodology was not constructed until the 20th century. If the claim that presuppositional apologetics is the only method that honors God is true, this would necessarily mean that any apologetic effort before Van Til was successful only in spite of itself, which of course would be the chastisement of many of the most revered names of the Calvinist theological tradition, R.C. Sproul already being one example, and most ironically John Calvin would be another. On the presuppositional view, then, apologists had deluded themselves into thinking that they were defending the faith when in reality they were dishonoring God the entire time.

Another view I was never able to fully accept is the Calvinist (and Lutheran) denial of free will. The reformed theological tradition strongly denies freedom of the will, which in my view, is to deny human nature as being created in the image and likeness of God. At least one of the issues that arises directly from this Calvinistic pretension is blurring the line between God and man regarding the responsibility of sin. On Calvinistic theology, man can only act in accordance to what God has decreed. If it is the case that God has so made a decree that a specific state of affairs will be obtained in salvation history by way of human actors, then man cannot act in any other way than this sovereign decree. This pushes us to immediately ask who bears responsibility for the fall of man in the Garden of Eden? If every state of affairs in salvation history is obtained due to the sovereign decree of God, then it follows from this position that God had decreed that Adam and Even sin. But if God had so decreed, and Adam and Eve were not free to do otherwise, then the result of the fall ultimately rests with God and not man’s sinful action.

This, of course, is an unthinkable declaration, if not a blasphemous one.

These were just some of the misgivings I had with Calvinist theology, but I did not want to let my ‘autonomous’ reasoning influence my conclusions so I did my best to work through these issues and overcome them. To try and come to grips with these challenges I even applied and was accepted to Westminster Theological Seminary, the home of Calvinism and presuppositional methodology. Thankfully, I ended up not going to this school

My confidence in what leading Protestant thinkers’ were telling me was true began to wane even more when I started to examine their declarations regarding philosophy, the history of philosophy, and the history of Christianity. It did not take me long to find out that many of their claims were either misleading or completely false. In addition to that, when weighing their philosophical arguments with basic tools of analytic thought the opinions being presented seemed to fall apart in dramatic fashion. Upon finding gratuitous mistakes in what is supposed to be areas of their intellectual expertise I asked myself a very simple, and yet, a dangerous question, “If these individuals can be so drastically mistaken about things that they are supposed to be well versed in, what is the chance that they are also wrong about the Catholic Faith?”

I made the decision to find out for myself what exactly was so “reprehensible” about the Roman Catholic Church.

I had been a Protestant for roughly 7 years, and in that 7 years I must admit, I had never taken the time to actively examine in any serious manner Protestant theological positions such as Sola Scriptura or Sola Fide against the claims of the Roman Catholic Church. In addition to that, I had never taken the time to investigate whether Protestant assertions about Roman Catholic theology were in fact true.  I merely took it for granted that what I was being told was true and rooted in intellectual honesty. The culture of Protestantism presupposes these theological positions, which would then implicitly presuppose the suggestion that the Catholic faith is in error. When I finally took the time to examine Catholic theological claims versus what Protestants say are Catholic claims, it becomes evident that these assertions do not withstand any objective or honest scrutiny.

With that being said, I decided to be fair to the Catholic faith and assess their claims as they make them instead of starting the investigation with a dissenting bias. I did not want to be hasty in my conclusions so the method I adopted in my investigation was to read what Catholics believed with regard to certain theological positions such as Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide, and then I would go back and read Protestant objections to the Catholic claims. Throughout this process I found that the Protestant objections, which I had believed to be impenetrable, were ultimately inadequate; from their presupposed commitments to Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide, their rejection of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, their disjointed views on the sacraments, arguments against the Pope, Marian doctrine, etc. all turned out to be errors of epic proportion. The fact of the matter is that the every single argument presented by the pretended ministers of the reformation and their contemporary followers are nothing more than a rationalization to spurn the authority of the Church, rather than convincing arguments against what is claimed to be Roman Catholic error.

During this period of investigation it was important to try and find an adequate explanation for the rampant division among Protestants.  If the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is correct regarding revealed truth and the authority of that truth, then why is the normative condition pervasive disagreement? If the Bible is perspicuous and obvious in its teaching (as it is so often claimed) that any person of normal cognitive functioning should be able to study the Scriptures and come to the correct interpretative conclusions absent training in the Hebrew and Greek languages, no training in historical theology, or Church history – why are there so many disagreements on what is supposedly clear, recognizable, and self-evident?

When faced with these questions the common response is to revert back to the problem that initiated the line of questioning. One will often hear, “It doesn’t matter what I think the Bible says. It doesn’t matter what you think the Bible says. It doesn’t matter what Luther, Calvin, or Roman Catholics think the Bible says. What matters is what the Bible actually says.”

No one denies the important and primary issue of coming to the correct interpretation of Scripture. But if scripture is as crystal clear as Protestants claim it is, then why the division? The issue isn’t what the Bible says; the issue has to do with interpretation and meaning. And in the Protestant frame of thought, as I had experienced it, Roman Catholicism is a non-starter when considering who is properly handling the Bible. On this view, it is a given that no Catholic has ever properly handled the written word of God, which allegedly justifies Martin Luther and the entire Protestant revolution. The task at hand given this cultural embeddedness is to figure out which protestant denomination is the closest to true Christianity.

Which sect has it mostly right? How do we come to the correct interpretation of what is being said in Holy Scripture?

The principle proclaimed, or rather, the slogan repeated, is Sola Scriptura. According to Protestantism generally, and Calvinism most specifically, the basic claim is that if a person is one of God’s elect, and Christ’s sheep hear the Shepard’s voice, the believer or potential believer lead by the Holy Spirit will become acquainted with God’s revealed truth, and hence, the correct interpretation of Scripture.

But can this be true in the Protestant sense?

For example, has the Holy Spirit brought Protestants to the truth about baptism?  If He has, which understanding of baptism is correct?  Who decides? Can it be the individual Christian that makes such weighty decisions? The point I am making is not one of skepticism. I am not saying there is no way of discerning the truth on these matters, but rather, the truth of these matters is not found, indeed cannot be found if only by accident, within a Protestant framework.

The fact of the matter is that in the Protestant theological and philosophical framework, each individual gets to choose their authority based on whichever method utilized to make such decisions. In Protestantism a person can decide on many issues by choosing from various sectarian positions. Each individual can build a Christianity fitting to what they want it to be; if a person is not comfortable with transubstantiation and the priesthood, these doctrines can be denied for consubstantiation or even a view of communion that is only a symbol celebrated on Christmas and Easter; if a person doesn’t like baptismal regeneration it can be denied for a view of baptism as only a symbolic gesture of faith; if a person doesn’t like confessional baptism they could endorse infant baptism, but only as a symbol of dedication and not regeneration; A person can deny the sinners prayer as the beginning of one’s Christian life (Paul Washer) or adopt the sinners prayer as the official point of salvation (Billy Graham); A person can decide if they want a literal millennial reign during the end-times or a non-literal millennial reign; A person can adopt the rapture as biblical or deny it; A person can believe in imputed righteousness or infused righteousness; A person can believe that divorce is acceptable behavior in Christian marriages or deny it; A person can decide whether or not the gospel hinges on how they interpret the first three chapters of Genesis and adopt a literal creationist view of the world; if a person disagrees with literal creationism they can adopt the framework view, or the gap theory, or an “old earth” view, or a purely allegorical view; A person can accept a worldwide flood during Noah’s time or a local flood; A person can view Christianity as sacramental or deny the necessity of sacraments; A person can be a Van Tillian presuppositionalist or a classical traditionalist; A person can choose reformed theonomy as a theory of civil government or the Two – Kingdoms view; a person can argue that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is meant for all people everywhere or reduce the atonement to a very specific elect that is invisible even to those who claim to be one of them; A person can believe ‘once saved always saved’ or they might take the problem of apostasy seriously.

All of this is available as a set of viable options in the Protestant world. Individuals are free to decide which they are going to believe because the authority to claim one over the other as being objectively true simply does not exist if Sola Scriptura is going to be truly followed. This collection of competing truth claims becomes especially problematic when it is understood that these individuals, and/or denominations, presenting any one of these views claim their conclusion is based on the clear teaching of Scripture! To allow another measuring stick or source of authority into the process that could assist in interpretative efforts would be to leave Sola Scriptura.

So the question that must be pressed is – If the Bible is so clear why is there so much division among Protestants?

At least one way the Protestant will deal with this is to try and argue that these are all periphery issues existing only as an internal discussion among fellow believers.

But this is to avoid the issue rather than deal with it.

Protestants within their various factions will condemn outsiders as heretics, if for example, one chooses to adhere to a Federal Visionist view of theology instead of a reformed theonomist view; people are charged with dishonoring God and Scripture if they reject Van Tillian Presuppositionalism; people are told that if they are not a literal creationist they are denying Scripture, questioning Christ’s authority, and risking the entirety of the gospel. To sweep this under the rug as periphery issues is a maneuver to avoid the seriousness of the doctrinal confusion.

During my investigation of these issues I had a meeting with a Lutheran Pastor. He was concerned about my interest in Catholicism. We had a long discussion and it was an eye opening experience. What was so eye opening is that even when we would go directly to the Roman Catholic Catechism of Faith in order to read official Catholic dogma, the Lutheran Pastor would not let the Church have a voice in the discussion. He kept arguing that Catholics believe contrary to official Catholic teaching. For example, he would argue that Catholics believe they are saved by works, and not by Christ. This is false and is a position officially condemned at the Council of Trent. No matter how many times I showed him his criticism was incorrect he would not budge an inch.

To be clear, Catholics believe that we are redeemed by Christ through the grace of God; it is that simple.  We cannot merit anything before God without His grace. To paraphrase Saint Augustine, when God crowns our merits, He crowns His own merits in us.

Another major issue that had to be grappled with was that of tradition.

In reality, Protestants have traditions that are authoritative like everybody else. The important question is whether or not these traditions are a part of the deposit of faith or man-made inventions created to undermine the Apostolic Church. Underneath the veneer of Sola Scriptura is an authoritative tradition of interpretation believed to properly discern, and exegete the truth that is found in Scripture. For example, Calvinism isn’t so much a theology that comes out of the Bible as it is a paradigm that forces the Bible to align with eisegetical theological commitments. Simply put, Protestants, especially of the Calvinist tradition, want to have their tradition-denying cake and eat it too. They want to say they appeal to Sola Scriptura absent of a tradition of interpretative methodology, but if they are going to appeal to the truth of an interpretation one must appeal to the authority of a tradition handed down.

The question is, a tradition handed down from whom?

It appears that the farther one departs from the authority handed down by those given the original authority, the more skeptical one should become that what he believes about Scripture is true. Calvinists may be right when they appeal to Calvin as the authority of their tradition and hold everyone else to that authority, but the problem is that Calvin’s authority does not derive from those we can be sure had the truth of the matter to begin with.

When it comes to knowledge based on the testimony of others, one forms his beliefs much more reliably when he interprets that testimony in a way that is in line with those who were the first to receive that testimony and interpret it. For instance, some people argue that the Bible is too old of a document for us to have a clue what the authors could have meant. But if one has a strong historical succession of interpretations and interpreters, there is less likely to be that much of a divide between us, the mindset, and conceptual schematic of the early Christians participating in the Body of Christ. Sometimes people interpret things written long ago anachronistically. They read back onto the text current categories of thought and try to fit everything into those modern categories.

But this is dangerous and unreliable.

The authors, in this case the Apostles and those associated with the Apostles, themselves must form our categories of thought if we are to understand them aright. But that is impossible if there is a complete disconnection between them and us. We’re just guessing. But if the testimony and the understanding of that testimony has been passed down continuously from one generation to the next, and has been codified and well preserved, we have more reason to believe we are understanding the original document correctly.

In this sense, there is no one outside the Catholic Church that is not completely severed from that history, and the passing down of living tradition and testimony. Since this is the case, no one outside the Catholic tradition should be confident in their interpretation of Scripture outside of the fact that when some views happen to be correct they are borrowing from the same authoritative Church previously rejected.

When conducting my investigation the solutions given for the division amongst Protestants was either a rejection of the concern or an answer that does not take the problem serious enough.

Protestants will not give this issue its due diligence.

In my view, if they were to do so, they would have a Christian existential crisis as I did. Why was I Presbyterian rather than Lutheran? Why attend a conservative Presbyterian church versus a more liberal Presbyterian Church? Why not a Baptist denomination, or a Lutheran denomination, or a Methodist denomination, or a Pentecostal denomination? Why not Episcopalian? How do I decide where to go? The answer will always be, “which one is a ‘Bible believing’ church?” But every serious Protestant contender claims to be a ‘Bible believing’ church. The next answer usually provided might be, “choose the one you feel comfortable attending.”

This is seriously deficient.

Should my comfort be a deciding factor when following the truth? When personal comfort is allowed to be a deciding factor when seeking truth it can be utilized as an excuse to avoid doing what is right or believing what is true. This is especially the case when pursuing Christ. Picking up your cross and following Him isn’t meant to be a comfortable experience. It is often times the opposite of that and suffering is the mark of a true conversion; following Christ is uncomfortable, difficult, and sometimes frightening.

G.K. Chesterton’s book, Conversion and the Catholic Church, argues that Protestants are Catholics that have gone bad, and any step made by a Protestant back to true Christianity is one closer to Mother Church. According to Chesterton there are 3 stages a person experiences when inching back to true and historic Christianity. These 3 stages are as follows; the first is the decision to be fair to the Catholic Church; the second is recognizing the truth of the Catholic Church; and the third is running away from the Catholic Church because the last thing a person wants to be is Catholic. Although the third step involves fleeing from the truth, the person running away ultimately acquiesces to the truth of Catholicism. As he so often does, Chesterton pretty much hits the nail on the head with his analysis. The moment I decided to give Catholicism a fair trial, the truth was evident.

The official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are unified doctrinally and theologically. I am not referring to a naive unity where every single person who professes to be Catholic agrees on everything that can be discussed. What I am referring to is unity in the objective and identifiable essentials of the faith. There is no need to have heated, fruitless debates on baptism, end times, creation, the Eucharist, communion of the saints, marriage, birth control, abortion etc. Catholics are unified on these matters by their confession and communion. If a Catholic begins to waiver in their commitment to these truths they can be directed to an objectively authoritative source for correction – the Magisterium of the Church – which is a part of the living tradition of the deposit of faith given by Christ to the Apostles.

I couldn’t resist falling in love with the beauty of the Catholic Church. In her exists the means to truly live a devout life dedicated to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In her exists the shared love of her members. In her dwells the Body and Blood of Christ contained in the mystery of the Eucharistic sacrifice. In her dwells the true understanding of the Sacred Scriptures. In her dwells the power of God and the Gospel unto salvation.

Catholicism is Christianity in the fullness of truth, and this is why I submitted to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] John 14:6

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Apologetics, Philosophy, Theology

Converting to the Catholic Faith & Discerning Truth

Edith Stein QuoteBecause it is the 500th year of the Protestant revolt, I have been reflecting upon my own conversion into the one, true Catholic Church. In doing so, I have been frequenting Protestant Facebook pages, especially of the reformed Calvinist position because that is where I made my last stand as a Protestant. In addition to looking at what these Calvinists pages are saying about Catholicism, I have been re-reading arguments attempting to refute the Catholic faith and listening to debates between Catholic apologists and Protestant polemicists.

During this period of reflection and examination I have been asking myself a simple question – how was it that I was able to see the truth of the Catholic faith and escape the errors of the Protestant revolutionaries?

First, and most importantly, it is by the grace of God. It is only because of the abundant mercy of God that I have dedicated my life to truth. God moved me to follow truth no matter where it leads, and like St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross says, “My longing for truth was a single prayer.”

Second, because the journey in pursuit of truth takes a lot of time and heartache, I diligently studied and worked for several years pursuing this lofty end. I began as a practical atheist living only to fulfill my carnal desires. From there I moved toward following Christ throughout various Protestant sects, and finally found the ‘pillar and bulwark of truth’ in the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

Third, I noticed something important along the way. There is a distinctive pattern truth travels in the sea of error. Truth speaks accurately of error while error misrepresents and distorts truth.

What do I mean by this?

When you encounter a view that is true, it exposes and refutes the opposition clearly and honestly. The opposing view can be found properly and accurately articulated within the context of the refutation because the truth has nothing to hide while refuting the error. The truth, however, cannot be accurately articulated within the expression of the erroneous position otherwise error would expose itself.

This situation directly applied to my conversion into the Catholic faith. When I began to read Catholic theological and philosophical literature, especially arguments refuting Protestant positions, I could see that my Calvinist views were being accurately represented. Saint Francis de Sales’s work, The Catholic Controversy, thoroughly and systematically refutes the strongest case for Calvinistic theology, which is why he was able to bring Calvinist Geneva back to the Catholic faith. This, by the way, is a little historical note that Calvinists like to sweep under the rug in order to boast of John Calvin’s anti-Catholic demagoguery.

The same situation, however, did not take place when I would read Protestant literature attempting to refute Catholic teaching. When I read James White’s work, The Roman Catholic Controversy, I could not find the Catholic faith in this polemic. What I did find were straw men, misguided polemics, question-begging assertions, and repetitious platitudes. White’s book is for people interested in sophistry rather than truth.

If the Catholic faith is as heretical and evil as Protestants claim it to be, why can’t her teaching be defeated without fundamentally misrepresenting the tenets of Catholicism? Why does history need to be distorted in order to justify the spirit of rebellion that brought forth the downfall of Christendom? Why do Protestants sound like the new atheists when they pontificate about Church history?

Five years after my conversion I am yet to read a credible refutation of a single position officially taught by the Catholic Church. I have read many platitudes, slogans, clichés, and lies, but nothing credible, honorable, or charitable. I am reminded of this every time I browse through the memes of these Calvinist Facebook pages or listen to debates.

Truth cannot be defeated and her enemies can only lie in order to remain puffed up in their sinful autonomous pride. While Protestants celebrate their 500th year of rebellion against the true Church, Catholics should look to those great Counter-reformers that combatted the heresies of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Beza etc. The writing of Saints Robert Bellarmine and Francis de Sales, fully informed by the zeal for truth, are a great place to start. There isn’t an argument offered by the pretended ministers of their day or ours that has not been methodically defeated. It is our duty as Catholics to carry on this legacy to combat the pretended ministers of our era; men such as Paul Washer, James White, R.C. Sproul, Voddie Baucham, Sye Ten Bruggencate, K. Scott Oliphant and many others must be exposed because their heresy encourages people to reject the Body and Blood of our Lord so necessary for salvation.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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