Internal Correctives in Catholic Apologetics…finally!

The blessed souls at Pugio Fidei, a Catholic apologetics website, have posted a thoughtful and extensive list of bad arguments used by Catholic apologists (HT: James White).

I have the utmost respect for Catholic theology. But, there is a world of difference between, on the one hand, Möhler, Rahner, and Ratzinger, and, on the other hand, the staff of Catholic Answers and all the e-pologists, who shall remain nameless. Many of us would like to extend the list at Pugio Fidei, but this is a good start. I don’t have a lot of confidence in the moral acumen of most current Catholic apologists, but maybe the next generation will start caring more about truth and basic facts, instead of just winning as many converts as possible and keeping financially afloat.



  1. Actually, I couldn’t think of much for an evangelical list. If we exclude the fringe (e.g. Chick tracts), the mainstream evangelical apologists dealing with Catholics are pretty decent. The problem with Catholic apologetics is not the fringe, it’s the mainstream apologists.

    On the evangelical side, no one is more prominent and influential than James White, and no one has been more unjustly demeaned in the whole apologetics world. White certainly is selective in what arguments he likes to come back to (e.g., historicity of the Assumption), but a lack in breadth doesn’t mean that his arguments are unsound. Norman Geisler would be another example. He can be a bit shallow, but his critiques are fair.

    In general, I would exhort evangelicals to get away from labels, as in, e.g., the “semi-Pelagianism” of Catholic sacramentology or the “gnosticism” of the marian dogmas. Regardless of whether these labels are accurate or helpful, it would be better to simply describe what is going on and why you believe it undermines other doctrines. The doctrine of penance may very well be “back door Pelagianism,” but it would be better to just describe what the sacrament is doing, how it relates to (undermines?) baptism, and how this is relevant to Paul’s understanding of the Law and union with Christ. If you want to bring-in the labels, do it after the discursive project is complete.

  2. Oh there are lots of things we could list for the protestant sie, like the accusation that Rome is Pelagian or semi-pelagian. That they don’t believe in predestination apart fromforeseen merits. The finding the term “faith alone” amounts to the idea of faith as a valueless instrument in pre-reformation writers. Or how there are viable interpretations of Roman 4 that do not teach sola fide, like say Augustine’s. r that John 6 isn’t the be all and end all of personalistic predestinarianism. That private judgment is more than just dicerning the meaning of the text but a normative claim.

  3. Well, Perry, that’s just straight-up theology/exegesis and should be debated. My problem isn’t arguments per se; it’s how they are presented and what evidence is brought to the fore. Witness, for example, the Catholic use of kecharitomene as a proof text for the Immaculate Conception, or all the blanket statements about the early fathers and [fill-in-the-blank]. That’s what I’m concerned about, not the debates about the formal ground of justification in Paul, etc., keeping in mind the points I made above about labels.

  4. Kevin,

    I am not sure that those are debateable points. Trent fully excludes Pelagianism. Any reading of Aquinas for example will bear this out. Protestants tend to blanket Rome with the accusations of semi-pelagianism for thinking that we participate under the influence of condign grace in our justification, which would convict Augustine of semi-pelagianism. Co-operation in justistificaiton isn’t per se semi-pelagianism.

    Nor is the emphasis on freedom in Thomism, Molinism or Scotism anything more than different glosses all well within an Augustinian conception of freedom and divine providence. This is evidenced inthe fact that all of them deny the alternative possibilities condition on free will. So in the main, they aren’t any less strong on divine sovereignty than the Reformed or Lutherans, despite being represented fairly consistly as Arminians whether its by Van til or James White.

    And the word-concept fallacy committed by generations of Protestants combing through patristic texts finding “faith alone” is not really up for grabs. Just look at James Buchanan’s classic work for example. It seems well established that faith alone as the idea of a valueless virtue serving as an instrument for the transfer of moral credit is a later developmental gloss of Paul’s theology. This isn’t any less so than your point about the IC and full of grace.

    I can’t see how these are any less factual claims than the ones listed. I am not Catholic or Protestant so I don’t have a dog in this fight. It just seems to me that the gloating about this list in the blogsphere is unwarranted since Protestants have plenty of apologetic foibles to own up to. Can you say “Lorraine Boettner?”

  5. Faith is not a valueless virtue. All virtues of Christians have value or merit and are rewarded accordingly. What the Reformers stressed is that no reward comes by the Christian, so enabled by Christ’s grace, himself satisfying the divine law as a condition of justification. Any reward rather presupposes the decisive change in status brought about by incorporation into Christ and adoption as a son of God. Faith (or baptism, as the sacrament of faith) is the means by which the Spirit unites us to Christ and makes us sharers in what Christ wrought, in the inheritance he obtained for us. Christ is the second and last Adam, who by his condescension and obedience unto death not only undid what Adam did, but did what Adam failed to do. His triumph definitively redeemed us from the law and raised us to the heavenlies in him. We, being united to Christ, are therefore carried with him past the law as a condition of justification, and instead are entered into being God’s sons. As adopted sons in Christ God already loves us perfectly, even in spite of our failings. Our failings in this life are real and prevent our obedience from availing to justification coram Deo. But they are also passing away, as we are conformed more and more to the image of God in Christ. God, now our gracious father instead of our strict judge, bears with us on our pilgrimage. He corrects us for our sins and also promises that our work is not in vain. What good we do in this life (or equally, what he does in us) will be remembered in the world to come. Indeed, it will be to our honor as chosen vessels fitted for glory by the Lord. But our works will never enter into the ground of our justification before God. For antecedent to any works by the Christian and to their reward is the fact of adoption and union with Christ. And if united to Christ we died with him and were raised with him, and so are justified in him. Our justification is already and forever sure; the law is no longer there to condemn us; and all obedience on our part is secondary as flowing from Christ’s work of recapitulation as the last Adam.

  6. John,

    I was really happy to read #17 as well.


    I can’t remember which blog it was, but I did an extensive defense of Thomism as both anti-Pelagian and anti-Semi-Pelagian. You’re preaching to the choir. That’s mainly why I encouraged the disuse of these labels. They can be partly helpful in getting people to think about the implications of such-and-such (and perhaps you can argue for a material, if not formal, semi-Pelagianism), but I would rather we just drop these labels.

    I don’t see any major evangelical apologist today arguing for “faith alone” in the fathers. The general idea among apologists is that the early fathers were largely not-as-bad-as-the-medievals but not-as-good-as-Paul. Hell, I grew-up in Baptist circles that believed things went terribly wrong in the 2nd century! Emil Brunner, not to be outdone, locates these problems in the pastoral epistles!!

    Maybe it’s just the apologists I read, but I don’t see as much anachronism going on as you do.

    Boettner’s Roman Catholicism is, to this day, the worst book I have ever read. Even then, I don’t see a lot of his arguments perpetuated outside of the fringe. Do you see James White saying that Papal Infallibility was “invented” in the 19th century? No.

    I can “gloat” because people like James White and his cronies (Swan, Svendsen, etc.) are far, far superior than Tim Staples, Patrick Madrid, Steve Ray, or Dave Armstrong. I have broken my “shall remain nameless” rule, but I need to specify who I am talking about.

    I have spent far too many hours reading/listening to these men, on both sides, not because I found it very stimulating, but because I think it is important to understand how theology and history is mediated to the average inquirer. The evangelical side is imperfect, to be sure, but the Catholic side is simply awful.

  7. Kevin Davis makes some statements I wish to clarify.

    1. That he does not see any “major” evangelical apologist touting the old and
    worn out (G. Buchanan) argument that the patristic Fathers held to the
    Sola Fidei doctrine.

    I refer the readers to my review of Nick Needham’s attempt in 2006 in the publication spearheaded by Bruce McCormack which is a veritable disastrous mishandling of Patrology, –

    The internet is full of such theological malformations which have “popular” Protestant apologists using these same types of arguments.

    2. Geisler was called a bit shallow but fair. I refer the reader to my short
    expose of his exegetical and philosophical errors in his latest diatribe
    against Catholicism, –

    3. “The Catholic side is simply awful.” Surely you are aware of “popular”
    Catholic apologists such as William Marshner, Peter Kreeft, Rob Sungenis,
    Scott Hahh to name a few, on strictly a popular level. On the examples
    you cite, I grant you all except Steve Ray. I think he convincingly
    argues his thesis in “Upon This Rock,” showing a wide understanding of
    the secondary literature as well as utterly exposing the selective-citing
    of the Fathers by the likes of Protestant apologists like William Webster
    and James White.

    But yes I agree with you that there is way too much shoddy apologetics going on from both sides.

    R. E. Aguirre
    Paradoseis Journal

  8. Thanks, Mr. Aguirre. I’ll check-out the Needham piece. I should say that I haven’t read Geisler’s new work on Catholicism. I was thinking of his past stuff. I’m fine with Kreeft’s philosophy, but I haven’t read any apologetics from him. Scott Hahn is a genuinely honest and humble man, which is more than I can say for a lot of the others. I’ve read his works with appreciation. I’ve witnessed Steve Ray, on far too many occasions, make blatantly unsubstantiated claims, and when myself or others have tried to dialogue with him, he shuts down the conversation. Needless to say, I’m not a fan.

  9. Particularly I find it fascinating that R.E. Aguirre (above) appears to agree with you that I am an example of a Catholic apologist who does altogether shoddy, dishonest work, etc., given the fact that he has personally invited me to participate in his online journal (also referenced above), which is pretty much a scholarly enterprise, and the fact that he has written a glowing (at times, positively fawning) review of my book, “A Biblical Defense of Catholicism”:

    Perhaps Mr. Aguirre can explain this puzzling inconsistency?

  10. “I was really happy to read #17 as well.”

    Here it is:


    17. Never ask, if a Protestant believes his salvation is eternally secure, what motivation he has to do good and avoid evil. The answer is obvious (and embarrassing to the Catholic who asked the question): the love of God. The love of God is sufficient motivation to pursue holiness with all vigor, absent any considerations of self interest. The most that a Catholic can argue in this respect is that Catholic theology, which furnishes men with both the baser motive of self interest and the loftier motive of the love of God, is superior in the practical order. For, in many cases, the baser motive will effectually turn a man from evil to good whereas the loftier motive, even though it should have, did not.


    Great to hear it, Kevin. I felt the same way, having now written about it in public:

    “Yep; a thoroughly dumb and stupid argument that is to be utterly avoided . . .

    Conclusion for #17: complete agreement.”

  11. Let’s clear up some issues here.

    1. My review which is cited above by Armstrong is not exactly, “fawning.” What it is – is an honest and critical evaluation in which I state, not all points are convincing. This is far from “fawning.” Yet, Armstrong’s book remains a good popular, conservative and Catholic introduction to the issues.

    2. When I granted Davis’ point on questionable apologists I had in mind only Patrick Madrid, whose exegesis I have found seriously questionable at times. In hindsight I should have been clearer on this point.

    R. E. Aguirre
    Paradoseis Journal

  12. I don’t care to dialogue with Dave on this. I know his methods, and neither myself nor any readers would gain anything from it. The last back-and-forth I had with Dave was the last I will ever have. Dave has lost most of his Protestant interlocutors…for a reason.

    Now he will probably cut-and-paste the above and slam it with faux-witicisms.

  13. Thanks to Mr. Aguirre for the clarification. That was classy. I disagree as to the merits of the arguments of my friend Pat Madrid, but it’s fine to differ with someone’s exegesis in good faith.

    It takes it quite a bit further, however, to question folks’ basic integrity and honesty and competence, as Kevin does. Some of us (heaven knows how few anymore online) have no particular need to treat entire classes of people in such a fashion simply because we have an honest disagreement with them.

  14. Right, Kevin. I guess that is why Michael Spencer, aka “The Internet Monk” (no Catholic he and a very well-known online Protestant) wrote about me:

    “Dave Armstrong writes me really nice letters when I ask questions. . . . Really, his notes to me are always first class and very respectful and helpful. . . . Dave Armstrong has continued to answer my questions in respectful and helpful ways. I thank the Lord for him.”

    (on Boars’ Head Tavern site: Sep. 27,29, 2007)

    I recently completed a six-part reply to Protestant pastor and prominent webmaster C. Michael Patton, on sola Scriptura (the same topic you and I “dialogued” about). It can be seen near the top of this web page:

    Now did HE get all on his ear and huffy and angry, as you did? Hardly. A mere four days ago we did some correspondence, and he wrote about my series critiquing his:

    “I posted a link to your series at the end of my comments in the last post on sola Scriptura. I hope people go there”

    Near the end of the letter he referred to “your excellent rebuttal.”

    That’s class. That is a person who doesn’t have to trash the person who disagrees with him in good faith. He has enough confidence in his position to not have to fall into that trap. I have unbounded admiration for that approach.

    Don’t be so foolish as to generalize your experience with me (where you and your personality and opinions and prior dispositions are directly involved) to all Protestants. Anyone who is actually familiar with my site and my history will see through that in two seconds.

    For those who merely go by gossip and smear tactics; who don’t read on their own and see both sides, why would anyone care what they think, or seek their approval, anyway?

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