Recently, I wrote about a book entitled “If Protestantism Is True,” by Devin Rose. Even more recently, Mr. Rose replied to my review with comments of his own. This is the exchange that followed:
In fact, most people – especially religious and spiritual people of the evangelical Christian variety – think in purely emotional terms.
Yes, and that’s a problem. Mormons feel the bosom-burning and think Mormonism must be true. People have to learn to reason, and my book encourages them to do that. So it is not that I “didn’t realize” Evangelicals are often emotion-driven but that appealing to emotions is not the right way one should go about discerning where God’s truth is found.
The book does not engage with genuine issues, but mocks straw men.
This assertion is false as I will demonstrate by responding to your criticisms.
He emphasizes over and over against a series of arguments from origin, implying or claiming that if someone accepts the teachings of one person or group (such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, or the Anabaptists), that someone must accept all other teachings of that person or group as well.
Of course Protestants pick and choose what they believe, but my point is that it is ad hoc to pick and choose one thing from an authority while rejecting another. Protestants look to the Reformers as authorities, accepting various doctrines based on their authority, yet when confronted with other teachings of the Reformers, they reject them because they are too Catholic, or seem unpleasant, etc. What I do in the book is to help Protestants realize where their particular beliefs first originated (say, for instance, purely symbolic communion championed by Zwingli), so that they can think critically about how and why they came to accept that belief.
Beyond that, he also lacks studious knowledge of Protestant theological doctrines. Some Protestant groups, for example, support prima Scriptura, the idea that Scripture is first among theological authorities, and that all other (potential) authorities must be measured by it.
It can and has been shown, deductively, prima Scriptura is really sola Scriptura and sola Scriptura reduces to solo Scriptura–that is, under Protestantism, that the individual is the ultimate interpretive authority of the Scriptures. So it is not that I “lacked studious knowledge of Protestant theological doctrines,” but rather that prima Scriptura is a semantic illusion that really reduces to sola Scriptura.
Regarding public revelation’s closure, you said:
Clearly, he hasn’t read Revelation 22:19 or the many relevant interpretations thereof.
I have read that passage, and the book of Revelation as a whole, many many times. That passage in Revelation is referencing the Book of Revelation itself. As the previous verse states: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll.” Note, “this scroll” and the plagues recounted therein. A similar thing is said in Deuteronomy 4:2 yet no one thinks that subsequent inspired books that were written violated that command. It was specific to that part of Deuteronomy.
So again, you are quite mistaken, both about what I have read and in how well I understand Protestantism.
In one place, he is quick to point out that the Scriptures did not exist as such until long after the death of the last Apostle – and yet, in another place, he acts as if John knew that his letters would become sacred Scripture, and that Apostle neglecting to include information in that letter meant that Tradition must be true.
Please cite where I “point out that the Scriptures did not exist as such until long after the death of the last Apostle.” I assume you are referring to some part of the canon of Scripture chapter. But I have never said the Scriptures didn’t exist–of course they existed the moment they were written–but it did take the Church centuries to discern the complete canon.
The Apostle Paul wrote four letters to the church in Corinth, yet Scripture preserves only the first and the fourth (which we now call 1 and 2 Corinthians). If the Church left certain apostolic writings out of the canon, might it not be that God intended for a certain sermon to be left out? So may go a Protestant counter-argument.
You don’t understand sacred Tradition. Those sermons are lost to Protestants, but they are not lost to Catholicism, because their content was absorbed as part of sacred Tradition, through the local Churches that read the letters.
Ironically, Mr. Rose concludes his book by encouraging his readers to follow the Protestant model of authority, and decide for themselves where the fullness of truth resides.
You make an error here. The difference between choosing to become Catholic or Protestant does NOT lie in the fact that a person uses his intellect to study and research the data to make a decision. We as rational beings cannot help but do that, and we should do that, because that is how God made us. So my recommendation to study and decide is not the Protestant model of authority. The Protestant model of authority is making oneself the ultimate interpretive authority of Scripture (and indeed, choosing which books to accept as inspired in the first place). The difference between becoming Catholic vs. remaining Protestant is what is discovered (or not) in the search. The person who becomes Catholic discovers the Church that Christ founded, the living Church that even today is guided by God “into all truth.” The person can submit to this Church as he submits to Christ, believing that Christ will only lead him to truth and good. The person who does not become Catholic fails to discover anything outside of his own opinion about what is the content of divine revelation. He thus remains his own ultimate interpretive authority.
Finally, note that the book was written for both Catholics and Protestants, and many have remarked to me how helpful it has been in their lives, even those who have not (yet) become Catholic.
Dear Mr. Rose,
I appreciate the time and effort you have applied in critiquing my response to your work. As a writer myself, I understand how important it is that others view one’s work accurately and do not twist it for their own purposes.
With that in mind, I intend to clarify what I have said, especially in those areas where I may have been more personal in my remarks than focused on the content. (Please bear in mind that, by now, it has been some time since I read your book, and my memory is a faulty thing.)
I completely agree with your assessment of the problem of pathos-based philosophy. It is neither the most efficient nor the most accurate means of determining truth. But given that so many are enrapt by that method, it behooves us to engage them on a level they comprehend. “Be all things to all men,” as St. Paul writes to the apologists and evangelists that follow him. We may present a profound and coherent logical argument for the Catholic Church, but if our audience speaks only in emotion, we have accomplished little. That, in essence, was my objection: I am concerned that your treatment of the subject matter is more logical than that from which the average reader may benefit.
In my experience, both as a Protestant and in conversation with Protestants, those who think about their faith enough to accept one teaching and reject another do not make that assessment on any basis of authority. That decision comes, rather, from a judgment of the theory or position as it relates to the beliefs they already hold. For those who operate in this manner, an appeal to authority is quite meaningless, since they hold to no authority but their own. I am certain that, for those who adhere to the teachings of Calvin or Luther (or their intellectual descendants) as taught and without variation, yours is an extremely effective argument. But that does not apply, as I have seen it, to the majority.
Logical reductionism may very well present prima Scriptura as sola Scriptura, and sola Scriptura as solo Scriptura. The same methods may also reduce agnosticism to atheism, and atheism to nihilism, but no agnostic will appreciate such an argument. Again, my concern is that apologetics should approach readers where they see themselves, not only where we see them. I do not disagree that prima Scriptura and sola Scriptura are functionally similar, if not identical, but there are many Protestants who disagree with that notion; it is better, I think, to acknowledge that and work with it than to dismiss it out of hand.
On the closure of public revelation, two quick points.
First, I am not arguing for the Protestant interpretation of the passage in Revelation, but pointing out that it exists. In your book, you declared (without even mentioning the passage in Revelation) that Protestants have no Scriptural basis for claiming the closure of public revelation, but a Protestant familiar with that doctrine would be quick to bring up Revelation 22 (as I did). It would have been better, I think, to address that possible interpretation (and point it out as fallacious) than to pretend it does not exist.
Second, as to whether there are any who believe Scripture ended with Deuteronomy… I am not certain that they based their belief on Deuteronomy 4:2 (although it would surprise me if they did not), but I do know that many Biblical scholars hold that the Sadducees limited their canon to the Torah (thereby eliminating certain doctrines to which the Pharisees adhered), both on the authority of Josephus and on evidence regarding their beliefs in the New Testament. I do not argue that either Protestants or Sadducees are correct in this regard, but I will not hesitate to point out that they certainly believe it.
I confess that I have misplaced the page reference for the earlier of those two assertions. I want to clarify, however, that neither your work (nor my representation of it) asserts that Scripture did not exist, but rather that it was not, in public view, the corpus of Scripture held today (which is quite accurate). The issue I took with this was that if there was no New Testament, then John could not (or should not) have presumed that every letter he wrote to one (little-C) church would be canonized. The argument that his obviation of certain teachings proves Tradition is a viable support of the doctrine, but not very convincing to those who disagree with it.
Curiously, you make my point for me here. Protestants, as a rule, do not understand the doctrine of Sacred Tradition. Their argumentation, therefore, falls along the lines I have indicated: if such-and-such written by the Apostles wasn’t good enough for Scripture (in their vision, the ultimate measure of faith), then the “lost” sermons are equally irrelevant. The Catholic position, on the other hand, is that neither the sermons nor the letters were lost, but that everything beneficial and productive was retained in Tradition.
There is a fundamental disconnect between these positions, allowing Protestants to produce counter-arguments such as the one I have postulated–a counter-argument against which you prepared no defense in your book. (That cannot, of itself, be judged, since no one can predict all possible counter-arguments to one’s position, and if you tried, your book would never end. But I thought this one particularly poignant.)
On the close of the book: the Protestant model of authority is to make oneself the ultimate authority on everything. My point, though not well-established, was that in order to become Catholic, Protestants must sacrifice that authority and submit to the authority of the Church. In order to make that judgment, however, they first must utilize the very authority which they must abandon. It is a paradox, a mystery, and exactly the sort of method I find agreeable in the God Who chose to die so that death itself may die.
I apologize for characterizing that as a judgment on you.
My only comment on the issue of audience is that the introduction of your work might have been more effective with a clear declaration of your audience; if only there had been a statement in an early chapter, explaining that you were writing to both curious Protestants and doubtful Catholics, I think many of my objections would have been softened. My frustration was that, lacking a declared audience, Protestants alone were the apparent audience, and that led to some confusion and irritation on my part, and for that, I apologize.
I apologize, too, for the personal rancor reflected in several of my remarks in my original review. I admit that I often become overzealous in my comments, which may lead to hurt.
Finally, I want to express how overjoyed I am that your work has brought others closer to Christ. There is, in my estimation, no greater praise than that your efforts have benefited an endangered soul, and I rejoice with you that you have received such praise.
And, graciously, Mr. Rose replied,
That is a gracious response, kind and charitable. I see the validity in your points and agree that the book could have been better in those regards. Specifically, you are right that many Protestants do not care a wit what Luther and Calvin say, even if many of their beliefs stem directly from those men.
God bless and thanks again!