Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Rock-paper-scissors of Apologetics

So I tried another round of Catholic apologetics and yet again I'm discovering that the Catholic apologetic falls completely apart in the face of typical Baptist counter arguments. On the other hand I can't help but notice how quickly your more traditional Protestants, with a poorly thought out position on sola scriptura get tied in knots by the Catholic apologetic.

So I've come up with this theory based that apologetics have a big circle similar to rock-paper-scissors.
  • Catholic apologetics tie Calvinism in knots.
  • Calvinism biblically refutes Arminian credobaptists.
  • Arminian credobaptists doesn't let Catholic apologetics get off the ground.  
Most modern Catholic apologetics came from the continent, they aren't American and don't deal with the sorts of claims that a Baptist would make. I've tried again and again to see if Catholics have refutations to basic Baptist theology and so far it appears they don't.

There really are about 5 principle arguments in Catholic apologetic.
  1. Sola scriptura is not taught in the bible, in fact the bible teaches a historic church.
  2. Protestants have to accept tradition on the question of canon and quite often on creed.  
  3. The Reformation failed to produce a robust orthodoxy.  That is sola scriptura doesn't produce a unified belief and any basis for a true church i.e. the "there are hundreds of Protestant denominations..."  
  4. The key arguments some reformers had with the Catholic church: physical presence,  Marian rites, infant baptism, special authority of bishops/pope go back very early.  So the apostasy could not have been near the time of the reformation.   
  5. Church authority is non-severable, the church cannot fall into apostasy.  The  gates of hell shall not prevail....    
To see how these arguments work consider them against, say a  Presbyterian.  The Presbyterian wants to tie himself tightly to historic Christianity.  He doesn't want to put himself in the same boat as fundamentalists, Mormons and Adventists.  So he ends up having to argue all sorts of subtle and disprovable theories. He wants there to be some absolute sense in which he is Christian and a Jehovah's Witnesses is not even though the Jehovah's Witnesses is at least as committed to an accurate read of scripture.  Which means he has to grant historic creeds authority, but the creeds are far later than many other doctrines he would reject and he's off to the races of slitting his own throat.  

The Baptist response to those arguments is easy.  In order:
  1. References to the church in the bible only apply to a local church.  There is no further entity, thus no broad ecclesiology.   The only church Jesus founded was the Jerusalem church, the one church he destroyed, to prevent the idolatry of tying a material church to God.  
  2. Baptists reject the idea that canon comes from tradition.  Rather they believe God raises up a bible for his faithful in their languages.  So for example, the Wulfila, the Gothic bible, doesn't have the book of Acts yet most Baptists believe the Wulfila to have been the legitimate scriptures for that community.  
  3. Baptists believe in a regenerate church.  There will never be a broadly believed orthodoxy. 
  4. They grant that the errant theology was early, but because they aren't tied to any churches beyond the 1st century they are able to clearly look at the history and see the origins accurately.  Baptists, believe that the apostasy started early, almost always by the 2nd century.     The Reformation didn't reconstruct the church, the Protestant churches are just as bad, rather it created the room for further reform.   
  5. Many Baptists do believe that the Catholic church fell into a deep apostasy.  They often believe in a faithful remnant existing inside or outside the church and quite often a restoration in the last 500 years.  
The big difference is that the Baptist makes no claim to be in a qualitatively different situation than the Adventist or Jehovah's Witnesses; they believe themselves to be in a quantitatively different situation.   Salvation comes from asking for Jesus's intercession.  What exact level of understanding is needed, is unclear.  

I suspect ultimately this is a short term phenomena, mostly having to do with English speakers and the internet.  Most of the internet Catholics spend their time debating the internet Protestant apologists that are reformed, James White types.  So this analysis may already be dead in the Spanish speaking community.  In Latin America the real battle is between Pentecostalism and Western Rite Catholicism, the traditional apologetic won't work for the reasons above.  Pentecostals also believe in "Landmarism-lite".  

So... my question to the internet is... does anyone know what's happening in the Latin American apologetics community?  What's happening in Spanish?  


See also:
  • A direct Baptist / Catholic debate: Campbell / Purcell debate.
  • In terms of addressing the argument of government, which is the core of the Neumann apologetic: Mell's book on church government and  Savage's book on church government. More books of this type can be found on the Baptist History Homepage.
  • Remember Lot's Wife, an example of the Baptist apologetic in response to an article lementing the disunity of the reformation.  
  • For a Baptist understanding of church history an easy to read and famous presentation to familiarize yourself with the Baptist mindset is Ellen White's Conflict of the Ages Volume 5 The Great Controversy. For material about the early church, Acts of the apostles (Vol 4) which discusses the early church. Especially her last few chapters of this volume address Catholic claims.  As an aside these books are well written and a good read so, this would be where I'd start. 
  • A short introduction which contrast baptist theology with liturgical churches: Why be Baptist.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sects to the Reformation

This image is large and may not be laying out clearly on your browser.  Try clicking on the image to see it better, and magnify if you need to.  Or click on this link to download or view isolated.    I had originally put this image together up to about the year 1000 for a debate on Christian origins.  I got inspired to expand when I had to discuss origins of the Reformation and ideas from it.  I think this is a useful reference post, and also might lead to some good discussion.

Because the reformation is so huge, I had to limit scope.  At this point the chart covers the origins of the those sects that came to America from England, the English reformation and development.  It doesn't include the minor dissenting sects that don't appear to have had influence on America.

Arrows are for strong influence or descent, these sects are interacting with one another and passing ideas between them just as religions today do.  Coloring of the arrows is to help reduce visual complexity, and it doesn't mean anything beyond that.  Where possible I've tried to include a sample work in parenthesis for each sect making it clear how I'm using the term and also demonstrating at a glance the evolution in thought.  It is also for the early part, letting the chart do double duty explicating the origins of the bible.

In terms of the colors of the circles:

Salmon is for groups that are Jewish sects.  They may have Christian aspects but they are not yet meaningfully Christian and are in some sense fundamentally Jewish or Samaritan.
Light Blue are proto-Christianities.
Yellow are full blown alternate Christianities, from ancient times.  "Gnosticism" used in the religious sense.
Purple is for groups that I can meaningfully call Catholic, western or eastern rite.
Pink  groups that broke away Catholicism. Sects that I would agree are "schismatic".
Dark Olive Green non-Christian religions.
Yellow-Green is for non-Christian groups with strong Christian influence.
Muddy Pink I'm using for Hermetic Christianity.
Dark-Brown for proto-Protestantism
Red-Brown for Protestantism
Magenta for the non-creedal sects of the Radical Reformation and their descendants 

A few things worth noting.

  1. Christianity originated from a variety Jewish and Samaritan cults, which were not part of the mainstream nor the branch that survived.  
  2. Catholicism represents a coming together of various groups.  An early partial consensus, not some sort of original revelation.
  3. Christianity has always been highly diverse.  
  4. The elements of the Protestant Reformation are very old.  In a way, the Cathari and the Beguines are the father and mother of the reformation, with Christian Humanism playing an important role.  Everything develops from the 13th century combination of:
    • primitivism
    • a desire for a lay church
    • a theological neo-gnosticism lite
    trying to fight their way to the surface for the next 300 years. While the specifics in classical Landmarkism are a bit off, the general idea of Christian primitivism are quite correct.   
In terms of remaining issues there are two that bother me.  The first is that the Catholic section is terrible.   Originally the chart just covered Catholic development up to the ancient world, so I only needed a 1/2 dozen Catholic sects.   This one covers Catholicism in the middle ages, so to do it justice I'd probably need over a 100 sects and the diagram would be a sea of purple with a border in the other colors.  I think top priority for the next round, is a full treatment of the origins of the Eastern Sects.

The other is I'm not sure about the Ebionites and the Elkasaites.  If anyone has any suggestions there about the relationship please jump in.  I think I'm going to need to jump into some Dead Sea Scrolls material to work this out.


See also: