It has to be one of the longest discussions in blog history (following an unbelievably long post — doesn’t Bryan Cross know the difference between a blog and a theological quarterly). The comments totaled over 1,100 though the word count has to be in the millions. Meanwhile, comments kept going for almost 18 months. The target was sola scriptura and the arrows were the standard CTC assertions about the magisterium, papal infallibility, tradition, and THE church. But inside those comments were several poignant remarks made by none other than Jason Stellman. Here is one exchange on the Protestant’s decision to join a communion and the Roman Catholic convert’s decision to cross the Tiber and whether both are examples of private judgment:
Stellman: Thanks for the interaction, it is helpful.
We necessarily make use of private judgment in the discovery of divine authority. But once we discover that divine authority, we subordinate our own judgments to it. That’s true for Protestants and Catholics alike. The fundamental point of difference between Catholics and Protestants is that the Catholic believes he has found living divine authority in those having the succession from the Apostles, and a Sacred Tradition from the Apostles and a written form of the Word of God as the Bible, while the Protestant would not claim to have found the first two, but only the latter.
But all that says is that the fundamental difference between a Catholic and a Protestant is that the former believes Catholic theology, while the latter doesn’t. I mean, if we’re both using our deliberative faculties, but you come to believe in the Magisterium and I do not, then I still fail to see why you get to slap yourself on the back.
If we both went to Baskin Robbins and surveyed their 31 flavors, and I chose vanilla (hey, I’m Presbyterian, remember?) and you chose Rocky Road (no hidden meaning there), we can debate the merits (ahem) of our respective choices, but I don’t see how either of us is more a company man while the latter is maverick.
Now of course, if you vow from that moment on to eat Rocky Road forever, even if they tinker with the recipe in a way that makes you a bit uncomfortable, and I make no such vow, THEN you can say that you’re a more submissive guy and I’m more of a rogue.
Now swinging back to the point under discussion, I completely agree with you that you are more submitted to your church than I am to mine. But it’s not like we both “discovered the Church’s divine authority” but I alone rejected it. No, you believe you discovered it by means of your own personal study, while my own personal study yielded a different conclusion. So the difference between you (a Catholic) and me (a Protestant) is that you adhere to Catholic theology, while I do not. And likewise, the difference between me (a Presbyterian) and James White (a Baptist) is that I adhere to Presbyterian theology while he does not.
Yes, James White and I each reached our conclusions through private judgment, but so did you.
Bryan Cross: No, that’s not all it says. Your redescription of what I said reductively eliminates some of the relevant content of what I said. I’m not simply saying that the Protestant believes Protestant theology, and the Catholic believes Catholic theology. The person becoming Catholic does not just come to believe a theology; he discovers a living divinely-appointed authority, and that discovery then shapes his theology. The person becoming Protestant does not discover such a thing, and so remains his own ultimate interpretive authority in shaping his theology. This difference has nothing to do with back-slapping; it is simply the reason why the Catholic is not subject to the tu quoque objection, in response to our argument that there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura with respect to the holder of ultimate interpretive authority.
In the peace of Christ,
Stellman’s frustration is rising.
Stellman (in response to another Roman Catholic): I think I need to just give up, because we’ve been talking about this for over a year and I still can’t see your point.
You say that “The Catholic is Catholic [not because he believes Catholic theology, but] because he believes it is the visible Church vested with the authority of Christ and graced with divine revelation and preserved from error.” But isn’t the belief that “the visible Church is vested with the authority of Christ and graced with divine revelation and preserved from error” itself Catholic theology? Isn’t that the WHOLE ISSUE that we disagree on?
So when you say that “the Catholic believes Catholic theology because he is a Catholic,” I scratch my head in bewilderment. As Bryan has repeatedly said, the convert to Rome doesn’t surrender private interpretive judgment until he has joined the church, but uses it in order to “discover a living divinely-appointed authority, and that discovery then shapes his theology.” So at the most crucial stage in the game, namely, when you are reading the Scriptures and the fathers about apostolic succession and weighing all the evidence against the Protestantism that you are now beginning to doubt, you are admittedly not yet submitted to Rome, but are still in the deliberative, investigative stage. Now regardless of which road you take (to Rome or Geneva), the decision you make is NOT made out of deference to a Magisterium, since you’re not yet convinced of its authority. Sure, once you are, you bow to it. But first you must make that determination, that “discovery.” So my question is, what constitutes it a “discovery” (which is good) rather than a something you reject? It can’t be the case that you come to believe that the Magisterium is the Magisterium because it says it is (else I’ve got a bridge to sell you). And it has already been stated that it’s not a leap into the dark. So the only other option that I can see is that you came to believe that the Magisterium demands your submission because you weighed the evidence and found it satisfactory and in accord with your private interpretation of the facts as you understand them.
So putting aside the differences between us once we’ve chosen our road (since I’ve admitted that you’re way more submitted to your church than I am to mine), I see no difference between the way we each come to make our respective decisions.
Please tell me what I’m missing, because it seems that you are every bit as subject to the tu quoque objection as we are.
I could add a few more, but I think these exchanges show that the disbelief expressed here at Old Life with CTC was once the possession of Jason Stellman. He even introduced the phrase “bragging rights” to suggest how CTC came across with their all right, all Rome, all the time arguments:
My only point in all of this has been that you guys lose all bragging rights (for lack of a better term) when you concede that at the most crucial moment—deciding that Rome’s Magisterial authority is in fact Christ’s authority—you are relying on private judgment every bit as much as I was when I finally embraced TULIP.
And it did not end there. Jason much later, over a year, brought up a few reservations about the bodily assumption of Mary and Rome’s claim to add nothing to the “deposit of faith”:
Can you see how we Protestants hear this claim that the CC adds nothing to the original deposit, then look at beliefs you hold (such as the Assumption of Mary), and then scratch our heads in utter bemusement?
In the case if the Assumption, it’s not like you’re just connecting some doctrinal dots and reaching a theological conclusion that took a while for the Church to recognize, but rather, you are making a claim about an absolutely incredible event that is purported to have actually happened in history, one that no one seemed to have noticed at the time, or for the several centuries that followed.
My point here is not to debate the Assumption, but simply to ask how utterly bizarre Rome’s most important claim is when compared with her teachings on so many extra-biblical subjects.
The commbox is inactive, but Jason Stellman’s questions still need answers.