“Called To Communion” Proves Our Point For Us

The website Called to Communion, which I have addressed before, is at it again. Apparently, a student from Westminster Escondido has converted to Traditionalist Roman Catholicism. Again, it is the same old, worn out, postmodern arguments that have been refuted again and again.

This time, Dr. James White has gotten involved, and has actually challenged these folks to debate the Bodily Assumption. I doubt that will happen, but, what concerns me is the fact that there are Reformed and Presbyterian ministers who are buying into these arguments. In fact, Dr. White noted that a fairly well known Presbyterian minister and scholar whom he has met with is thinking of converting to Traditionalist Catholicism largely through the influence of the Called to Communion folks.

Now, Dr. White is right; these folks don’t have anything but attacks on Sola Scriptura. Their main argument is, without the “infallible” Roman Catholic magisterium, one is left in relativism. The reason is that scripture cannot be the norm, because there are many different interpretations, and we are fallible. How do we know which interpretation is correct, given that all we will be left with is our fallible decision? What Dr. White pointed out is that you also have to make a decision as to which church is going to be your infallible authority. The problem is, because you are fallible, how do you know which church is the infallible authority? There are many that claim it, and therefore, all you are left with is your own fallible decision as to which church is infallible.

Bryan Cross, who is a philosophy student at St. Louis University, the same school that a philosopher friend of mine from Trinity now goes to, tried to answer it, but only proved our point for us:

I agree with what Andrew said above, and would like to add to it. White’s claim (i.e. that the authority of the Catholic Church can never be greater than one’s fallible decision to submit to the Church) would entail that the authority of God could never be greater than one’s fallible decision to submit to God, which would mean that God’s authority could never be greater than one’s own authority. But that conclusion is obviously false. We choose to submit to God, and yet we are under God’s authority. Therefore it is not true that the authority of the Catholic Church can never be greater than one’s fallible decision to submit to the Church. The external authority which one discovers can be greater than the internal authority by which one judges. That was explained in more detail in “The Tu Quoque.”

The notion that the authority one discovers can never be greater than oneself or greater than one’s own authority is a form of atheism, because it rules out a priori, even if only methodologically, the possibility that a being having greater authority than oneself exists. This is the error of rationalism, i.e. the notion that one’s own reason is the highest authority.

Of course, what Bryan Cross forgets is that it was the CTC folks who brought this argument up in the first place! How ironic that he is now arguing against his own argument that we cannot know what scripture says because of our own fallibility. If we can choose to follow the right church, in spite of our own fallibility, then why can we not choose to follow the correct interpretation in spite of our own fallibility? More to the point of what Bryan has said, if fallibly choosing the right church does not make the authority of the church subject to our own fallibility, why does fallibly choosing the correct meaning of the text make the authority of the meaning of the text subject to our own fallibility? The problem is that Bryan Cross confuses a tu quoque fallacy with a reductio ad absurdum. Dr. White was performing a reductio on Bryan’s argument. What he is saying is, if fallibility means we cannot know which interpretation is correct, and therefore, the ultimate authority is our own fallible interpretations, then, you might as well say that you cannot know which church is correct, because you must fallibly interpret the history of the church to come to that conclusion. As Dr. White said, Rome is not the only game in town.

It is amazing to see a man trained in philosophy making this basic mistake. Every word he said in this post is a word against his own argument. When Bryan Cross says, “That would prove something absurd,” he is admitting the validity of Dr. White’s reductio without even seemingly being aware of it! Yes, these arguments are atheistic. That’s where the “amen”s go up from the Protestant apologists. The problem is Bryan Cross and CTC are willing to use atheistic arguments when it comes to the meaning of scripture, but they refuse to use the same argument when it comes to the Catholic Church, or even, as Bryan Cross has pointed out, to the authority of God himself. Yes, it is the kind of thinking in the arguments of CTC that lead, eventually, to the rationalism of the enlightenment. If there is no objective word from God, and if it is all a matter of your own fallibility, that does lead to rationalistic thought, and eventually, as I have pointed out, it leads to postmodernism. Given that each person is fallible and finite, that must mean that their background and community [such as the Roman Catholic communion] shape what truth is, and thus, there is no objective truth. On such a base, there is no way to prove that the Roman Catholic Church is an ultimate authority rather than a mere local authority. It is all a matter of one’s own interpretation as to which church is right, and thus, it leads to utter relativism.

In fact, history has shown us this very thing. Not only did these very kinds of arguments from Roman Catholics at the time of the Reformation lead to the enlightenment, but such thinking has lead to the utter and complete postmodernism that exists in the Roman Catholic Church today. Most Roman Catholic priests worldwide are universalists, a direct result of the very arguments that CTC uses today. That is why you have people like Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmayer who are very liberal, humanistic, and rationalistic in their theology, and yet are still in communion with Rome.

This is why I have said many times that CTC’s argument that you must submit to the authority of Rome or be left in a sea of relativism is totally bunk. Just the opposite is true. History shows that, when you submit to the alleged “ultimate” authority of a limited finite, limited church, it cannot provide the foundation and base for meaning and truth, and ultimately, will reduce down to relativism and liberalism. That is why it concerns me that all of these Presbyterian ministers think they are avoiding postmodernism by converting to Rome. Traditionalist Roman Catholicism is the Benedict Arnold that will hand them over to the very thing they are trying to avoid.

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10 Responses to ““Called To Communion” Proves Our Point For Us”

  1. Bryan Cross Says:

    Adam,

    “Of course, what Bryan Cross forgets is that it was the CTC folks who brought this argument up in the first place!”

    I didn’t forget anything. That’s not the argument anyone at CTC brought up.

    “How ironic that he is now arguing against his own argument that we cannot know what scripture says because of our own fallibility.”

    I never claimed that we cannot know what Scripture says because of our own fallibility. If you want to know what I said, see my article titled “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”

    “If we can choose to follow the right church, in spite of our own fallibility, then why can we not choose to follow the correct interpretation in spite of our own fallibility?”

    I have addressed that in my Dialogue with Michael Horton. You can find it in the CTC archives.

    “More to the point of what Bryan has said, if fallibly choosing the right church does not make the authority of the church subject to our own fallibility, why does fallibly choosing the correct meaning of the text make the authority of the meaning of the text subject to our own fallibility?”

    See “The Tu Quoque” article (again in the CTC archives).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  2. otrmin Says:

    Bryan,

    I didn’t forget anything. That’s not the argument anyone at CTC brought up.

    Really???????????? No one at CTC has ever brought up the notion that we are lost in a sea of relativism without the Catholic magisterium because of our own fallibility? That is all I see in the comment boxes over there when a Protestant brings up an interpretation of a text. “It’s just your fallible interpretation.” However, if you want a few examples, here is one simply from Joshua Lim’s conversion story post:

    2) Seeing theological nihilism/liberalism/agnosticism or a historical (EO or RC) Church as the only consistent answers [http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/05/joshua-lims-story-a-westminary-seminary-california-student-becomes-catholic/#comment-31006]

    A Roman Catholic has submitted to an external authority (i.e., the Church) as established by Christ. A Protestant, on the other hand, has submitted to his/her own interpretation of Scripture. The moment a Catholic disagrees with the Church, he goes against Christ’s own authority. Is he free to do this? Of course, but he will be going against his own identity as a Christian. The moment a Protestant decides that he doesn’t want to submit to a given church, he simply goes to a different church that agrees with his own interpretation of Scripture. He does not cease being a Protestant, because Protestantism is founded upon private judgment. [http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/05/joshua-lims-story-a-westminary-seminary-california-student-becomes-catholic/#comment-31030]

    The question is not what one perceives to be the case. Of course, from a Protestant’s perspective submission to one’s own interpretation of Scripture is submission to the Word of God. [http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/05/joshua-lims-story-a-westminary-seminary-california-student-becomes-catholic/#comment-31045]

    As you survey the landscape of Protestantism, I’m sure you see countless denominations distinguishable from each other partly or wholly in terms of how differently they interpret Scripture. And in Protestantism, there is no overarching authority to determine which among those divergent interpretations is correct. So if you want to be a Protestant of some sort, you have to say either that your favored interpretation of Scripture is the most rational on scholarly grounds, or that the Holy Spirit has enlightened your and your church’s hearts more than others about the interpretation of Scripture. Either way, you will find plenty of Protestants, not just Catholics, who will disagree with you. Are you prepared to say that you and your set are smarter and/or holier than everybody who disagrees with you? I sure hope not. [http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/05/joshua-lims-story-a-westminary-seminary-california-student-becomes-catholic/#comment-31046]

    Care to take back the claim that no one ever made that argument?

    I never claimed that we cannot know what Scripture says because of our own fallibility. If you want to know what I said, see my article titled “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.

    Bryan, please quote me in context. What I meant by that statement is that one cannot know the correct interpretation of scripture because of our own fallibility without submitting to the authority of Rome. Are you seriously suggesting that no one over at CTC has ever suggested that? The problem is, the authority of Rome is not available to you when you are discussing the claim of Rome vs. the claim of Eastern Orthodoxy or Syrian Orthodoxy, because they claim the very same thing Rome does. Thus, you have to fallibly decide which church to follow by looking at your own fallible interpretation of history. To go to the authority of Rome is to beg the question. Yet, you are still left with your own fallible interpretation as to which church is right.

    Also, I have already addressed the arguments you present in the two writings you linked to before:

    https://otrmin.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/response-to-an-argument-trying-to-save-the-catholic-position-on-scripture/

    http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2012/05/post-modern-roman-catholicism-guest.html

    Suffice it to say that such arguments as these lead to total relativism in language. The problem is, as I said, you have to prove that Rome is an absolute authority, and not a mere local authority. If Rome is a mere local authority, then you are still caught in postmodernism. Of course, Rome *could* only be a local authority because the church is limited and finite, and thus, can never be a base for meaning in language. That was my main argument, and the articles you linked to simply never touch it. The finitude of Rome will always be the achillies heel of any argument for Rome as an infallible interpreter.

    God Bless,
    Adam

  3. Bryan Cross Says:

    Adam,

    The argument White presented is not the argument we have raised in our articles. I can’t take the time to present our argument, but our argument is laid out in the articles I mentioned, and it is not the argument White raised. Our claim has never been that the authority of what is found can never be greater than the authority of the finder. Our claim has been that without interpretive authority, no interpretation has greater authority than another interpretation. There is a principled difference between finding an external authority, and coming to an interpretation. And the implications of that difference are explained in “The Tu Quoque.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  4. otrmin Says:

    Bryan,

    Our claim has been that without interpretive authority, no interpretation has greater authority than another interpretation.

    Bryan, you are not understanding White’s argument. His argument is that, using the same argument, because lots of churches claim this “infallible authority,” all claims to authority must likewise be equal if you are going to just accept their ipse dixit. Thus, it doesn’t solve anything. Anyone can claim to be an infallible interpreter. You have closed your eyes, and grabbed hold of Rome rather than Eastern Orthodoxy or Syrian Orthodoxy, and we would like to know how you have done that outside of your own fallible interpretation of history. If you are going to distinguish between churches, you are going to have to use your own fallible interpretation of history, and your interpretation has no greater authority than the interpretation of the Eastern Orthodox or the Syrian Orthodox.

    Also, as I addressed on the post on TF’s blog, all of this presupposes that we are not created in the image of a triune, relational God who is perfect in his communication and with whom we relate on a daily basis. If these things are true, then it is that relationship we can use as reference point when authors write texts or when we interpret texts. The argument only works if you agree with the postmodernists that the author’s intention was not preserved in the text, and that only the interpreter is involved in interpretation. If the author is resurrected, then the authority of the interpretation is found in whether or not it matches the author’s intent. Those that do are authoritative; those that don’t are not. However, even when we are wrong, the intent of the author is preserved in writing to correct us when we are wrong. Of course, whether we will listen to the author is another issue, but, still, there is a way to tell which interpretations are authoritative if the intent of the author and his world have been preserved in the text.

    Also, this argument destroys knowledge of all ancient texts. Are all interpretations of Aristotle equal? Are all interpretations of Marx equal? If we are all fallible, it would seem so. Hence, I don’t even know how you can make sense out of studying philosophy, given this argument, since the works of all of the philosophers all have different interpretations. Therefore, everyone’s interpretation must be just as authoritative anyone else’s, right? If you were consistent with this argument, you would drop out of your Philosophy program, and never pick up another book of an ancient philosopher again. However, I realize that this is not the case, so, whenever it comes up, I will keep pointing out the inconsistency.

  5. Scott Says:

    Hello Adam,

    I’ve not read all the articles referred to in this post. However, it seems to me that the position of Bryan Cross does not entail that all knowledge of texts is destroyed. What do you think of this interpretation?

    Some truth contained in Scripture is available to (fallible) reason and other truth is not. The latter is not available when Scripture allows for multiple plausible interpretations and reason cannot decide. Sometimes a text admits of multiple possibilities that the text itself does not settle. Some of this unavailable truth is really important. Knowledge of it will only be available if there is an authoritative interpreter to adjudicate. Fortunately, reason can identify which of the claimants to be authoritative interpreters of Scripture (RCC, Eastern Orthodox, or Syrian Orthodox) is legitimate.

    This interpretation would not succumb to your worries of postmodernism and preserve what he said. This interpretation would fail if Cross said that reason could not adjudicate between the claimants to be authoritative interpreters of Scripture. But, I don’t see why he wouldn’t think reason capable of adjudicating.

    Best,
    Scott

  6. otrmin Says:

    Scott,

    Sorry it has taken me so long to reply to your post, but I want to do so because I think it is illustrative of the problems inherent in this system.

    Some truth contained in Scripture is available to (fallible) reason and other truth is not. The latter is not available when Scripture allows for multiple plausible interpretations and reason cannot decide. Sometimes a text admits of multiple possibilities that the text itself does not settle. Some of this unavailable truth is really important. Knowledge of it will only be available if there is an authoritative interpreter to adjudicate. Fortunately, reason can identify which of the claimants to be authoritative interpreters of Scripture (RCC, Eastern Orthodox, or Syrian Orthodox) is legitimate.

    First of all, you have to deal with the problem of how you know that reason *cannot* determine the interpretation of certain passages? The issue is not so much whether one *does* know what the correct interpretation of a text is right now, but whether one *can* know, by using the proper methods of hermeneutics, no one could ever come up with the correct interpretation. Such would require you to look at every single possible suggestion that could ever come up, and say that they are all wrong with the limited knowledge you have right now. Obviously, such is impossible.

    Take for example Titus 2:13. There were all kinds of debates about whether that passage identifies Jesus as God. Then, Granville Sharp comes along, and publishes a monograph showing, very clearly, that the text does identify Jesus as God. How do you know that such discoveries will not come about in the future with regard to these passages of scripture that we currently have disagreement on?

    Worse than that, how do you know that fallible human reason *can* decide which church is the one true church, but *cannot* decide which of these interpretations are correct, when people disagree about which church is the one true church as well? Why arbitrarily say that the one question could be answered by “fallible human reason,” but the other cannot?

    The problem is that your suggestion is arbitrary. It artificially divides the scriptures, and then artificially says that one question can be answered even though there is disagreement, but others cannot.

    Worse than that, it falls into the exact same position as the Gnostics. The Gnostics believed that, although you could find some truths in scripture [Jesus came to earth, the world was created], you needed their secret knowledge to really understand the rest of what scripture was saying. Such notions of “secret knowledge” certainly have no part in Protestantism or Catholicism.

    And finally, you missed the whole point of my post. The whole point of my post is to argue that, unless you base your position on God and his word, you have no *ability* to escape postmodernism. When you try to build it on a church which has the ability to define what scripture is and what it means, you will always end up failing, because any church can *claim* such power. It will be impossible to prove, however, because the church is limited and finite. Other churches will likewise make the claim, and there is no way to adjudicate between them, given that all of them are finite, limited, local authorities. I believe we *can* know what scripture says because we are created in God’s image, and we live, move, and have our being in him. Thus we can understand him when he speaks, and we can understand each other when we speak. Hence, there is an infinite base for meaning in language, because it has an ultimate, infinite reference point. However, once you replace that with the limited, finite church, how can you provide a base for meaning in language?

    God Bless,
    Adam

  7. Scott Says:

    Thanks for your response, Adam. Let me make sure I understand you. Is this your view? Given that we (created imago dei) have the capability to understand language, and that Scripture is God’s word to us, we have the capability to understand Scripture. This capability to understand Scripture entails that we are capable of understanding it perfectly without any help from outside of Scripture. Anyone who denies this entailment undermines the meaningfulness of language (and so is unable to escape postmodernism). Those who claim that we need help from something outside of Scripture (an authoritative Church for example) to perfectly understand Scripture deny this entailment and so cannot escape postmodernism.

    If this is your view, what is your defense of these two premises?
    1. This capability to understand Scripture entails that we are capable of understanding it perfectly without any help from outside of Scripture.
    2. Anyone who denies this entailment undermines the meaningfulness of language (and so is unable to escape postmodernism).

    If I’ve misunderstood you, could you clarify your view?

  8. otrmin Says:

    Scott,

    You are somewhat right. First, it is difficult to understand what you mean by “understanding scripture perfectly.” I assume that what you mean by that is that our exegesis is truthful and valid. Yes, I believe that we can come to a point, after doing the hard work of testing and proving our exegesis, that we can say that our exegesis is truthful and valid.

    Still, I don’t think this really settles the question because language is much more complicated than just whether you have errors in how you interpret a certain passage. The reason is that the comprehension of a text is not like a math problem where you are either right or wrong. There are various levels of reading comprehension. For example, in the nineteenth century, we understood the story of Elijah and his confrontation with the prophets of Baal at mount Carmel to be a discourse against idolatry. However, the discovery of the Baal cycle tablets in the excavation of Ugarit shed light on what was going on here. The Baal cycle seems to correspond to various seasons that take place in the Levant, and, when Baal as the God of rain is killed by Mot the god of death, the gods cut themselves to mourn the loss of Baal. Hence, it is easy to understand why the prophets of Baal would cut themselves because there is no rain, since they are mourning the “death” of Baal. Now, does all of this change the truthfulness of the statement that the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal is a discourse against idolatry? Of course not. What increased was our level of comprehension, not the truthfulness or validity of our exegesis. Present these things to a scholar living in the nineteenth century, and he will reject them as mere speculation. The fact that he would disagree doesn’t mean that he is wrong about the text being a discourse about idolatry; it simply means that he does not have the same level of comprehension that we have today, given the discovery of the Baal cycle.

    As another example, compare the reading comprehension of Karl Marx from the perspective of an average, run of the mill Marxist, and philosophers who specialize in the philosophy of Marx. Again, there are going to be different levels of comprehension of Marx, and that may even produce disagreements as to how we should interpret Marx. However, does that mean we don’t know what Marxism is?

    Thus, I think we need to distinguish between the system of thought that is found in the scriptures [i.e., its basic theology], and our *reading comprehension* of the individual *texts* which collectively together *present* that system of thought. What I am saying is that the basic theology of the Bible can be known simply by being able to understand and comprehend human language, because such is a function of being created in the image of God, and the fact that we live, move, and have our being in him. However, our *comprehension* of the text of scripture is something that *can* increase over time, because it involves us learning more and more about the history, backgrounds, and linguistic context of the Bible. Granville Sharp’s monograph, for example, did not prove anything that the Athenasian Creed did not already affirm several centuries earlier. However, it did allow us to better comprehend passages such as Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 as teaching the very truth found in the Athenasian creed.

    This also allows me to recognize that there are going to be some things that man cannot know because man is finite. We cannot *fully comprehend* the great truths such as the Trinity, since we are not God, and there are some things that we therefore cannot know. However, we can know about the Trinity simply by following the normal rules of human language. We can also increase in our understanding of the Trinity by developing a greater reading comprehension of the texts that relate to the Trinity.

    Hence, the phrase “understanding scripture perfectly” is difficult to interpret. If you mean that we have perfect comprehension, then no, and I don’t believe *anyone* can have that, because such would require crossing the line between the creature and the creator, and would thus require a Deification of the person or organization who allegedly has perfect reading comprehension. However, we can indeed weed out the errors in our exegesis so as to be able to know that our exegesis is error free, and thus, we can say that we understand the basic theology of the Bible. *This* is based upon the fact that man is created in the image of God, and the fact that we live, move, and have our being in him. It is denying *this* that leads to postmodernism.

    God Bless,
    Adam

  9. Scott Says:

    Adam,

    Thanks again. I didn’t want to provide much content for what “perfect” meant because I was hoping you would define it or give some other term to fit. Your example of Elijah is very helpful. It seems that we could rephrase what I called 1 above as follows:

    1*. This capability to understand Scripture entails that we are capable of adequately understanding it without any help from outside of Scripture.

    “Adequately” refers to attaining the level of comprehension required for understanding the basic theology of the Bible, where the basic theology of the Bible is all that is essential for faith and godliness. By the tools such as training, scholarship or tradition we can attain greater levels of comprehension, but without such we can still “adequate” understanding.

    What do you think of this reformulation? If it is accurate, I’d like to know why you think its denial leads to postmodernism. A person might think that some of what is essential to faith and godliness is able to be comprehended without any help from outside of Scripture but not all. This position wouldn’t be arbitrary if she found herself in this position because it was not plain to her that, say, Nicene or Athanasian orthodoxy was apparent from the plain meaning of Scripture. But she believes because of tradition that the Nicene and Athanasian Creed summarizes her faith. So, she tries to read Scripture in light of it and this illuminates Scripture to her. How has she succumbed to postmodernism?

    Blessings,
    Scott

  10. otrmin Says:

    Scott,

    Again, the problem is arbitrariness. How do you know which things can be comprehended, and which things cannot? And if you point back to the church, which church-The Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church? And if you point back to church history, remember that these groups all have different interpretations of church history. Also, if you say that the correct interpretation of church history can be known, but these differences amongst protestants as to what the Bible means cannot be settled, then why can we know the meaning of Church history, but not the Bible? If we can come to the meaning church historical documents using the normal rules of human language, why can we not do so when it comes to differences amongst protestants? The point is, the position becomes totally arbitrary, and it has to define, without any reason, certain disputes as able to be settled, and others as not able to be settled.

    The foundational reason why this position leads to postmodernism is because the church is limited and finite. Because the church is limited and finite, it cannot set up standards such as “this is knowable” or “this is unknowable” without resorting to an ipse dixit in the face of tons of others making that claim. Thus, it results in an arbitrary decision on the part of each church about what can be known, and what the interpretation is.

    The other problem with what you presented is ethical. The scriptures create a system of thought, as any discourse does. Thus, when we interpret the scriptures, they must be interpreted in the light of the world *they* create, not some world imposed from the outside, either from church history or from some external authority. This would be common sense if we were interpreting any other document. We would obviously recognize that interpretations of Marx that came up after him, although helpful in getting back to Marx’s intended meaning, are, nonetheless later, and thus, can never be determinative of what Marx intended to say.

    However, imagine if one of those later Marxist groups said that they were the infallible interpreter of Marx, and that they had traditions that helped you understand Marx that had nothing to do with what Marx said, and clearly was not part of the world of the text. In such a case, this group would be immorally altering the intent of Marx, and bearing false witness against him. The author and his world are infinitely important in interpreting the text, and when a foreign world is added in the name of “tradition,” it is breaking the ninth commandment [in the case of scripture] against God himself.

    God Bless,
    Adam

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