Sunday, November 21, 2010

Waste Not, Want Not

I wrote the following in reply to Ken, in a thread over at David Waltz’s. But Blogger decided that it was too long and would not allow me even to preview it. Fine. So I split it into two smaller pieces, intending to post a single comment across two physical comments. But when I tried that it complained—during the process of posting—that the URI was too large, even though the parts were several hundred characters under Blogger’s limit. Whatever. Blogger people, fix this junk. It is ridiculous for limits like this to exist on a discussion forum.

So I gave up on the thread.

But since I don’t want the time I spent writing this to go to waste, here it is in its entirety. I wonder if Blogger will allow that?

Ken wrote:

Just asserting that doesn't prove your point.

You wrote that in response to this remark of mine: “As we’ve said repeatedly, the problem is with the Reformed doctrine of perspicuity,” something that I said by way of excusing you from fault with regard to the difficulties you have had in providing a complete list of things that you say are necessary to believe in order to be saved. Are you saying that the problem really is with you, and not with what you believe? I seriously doubt it.

Works pretty good for all conservative and Reformed, doctrinal Protestants. (about things essential for salvation; not secondary issues, which are the things churches disagree over)

And yet in this thread you have been demonstrably unsure about providing The List of things which a man must believe in order to be saved. You began with “a stab” at some of those essentials; when the rather obvious weakness of this was pointed out, you reversed course and said that your first list was actually complete. But uncertainty returned before you even got the latter comment posted, and you reserved the right to change your mind again later.

Meanwhile, as was shown, TF is absolutely panic-stricken at the thought of providing The List at all. He just refuses to do it, pretending (I suppose) that this is a course of moderation. But it isn’t. It isn’t because he knows as well as you do yourself that not even Reformed people agree about those essentials.

Furthermore, it is a question-begging qualification to suggest that the Reformed doctrine of perspicuity “works pretty good” for Reformed folks. You may recall that the doctrine doesn’t claim to be relevant only for Reformed folks; rather, the WCF’s language unambiguously asserts that anyone (Reformed or not, educated or not) can readily discover the things that must be believed in order to be saved. So the fact not only that the Reformed can’t and won’t agree about The List but that Protestants in their entirety cannot do so categorically demolishes the value of the doctrine. It is worthless.

Actually, Protestants are quite unified on the essential doctrines for salvation; which I pretty much think I covered.

With all due respect, this remark seems to me to be absurd, given the fact that you yourself aren’t even sure that you provided The List. “Pretty much” is pretty inadequate, in my opinion, when one is discussing things that must be believed in order to be saved. A single deviation would land someone in hell. And you’re not 100% sure about The List—a List of things which are just absolutely clear in the Bible (if the doctrine in question is true)???

I gave you a list of the clear things, for salvation. Most all Protestants would agree with that list.

So much for “quite unified.” :-)

You say, "it doesn't work". What do you mean by that? Work to produce what?

Here is what the WCF says: “those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”

If that was actually true, it ought to be child’s play to provide a list of all and only “those things.” But the falsity of it is clear in that Protestants absolutely disagree about such things. So, to answer your question, the doctrine does not work in the sense that no one can tell us what “those things” actually are: all of them, with no omissions and no extras whatsoever.

And the effect of this is that Christians are left to decide for themselves what “those things” are. And that is just plain wrong (besides being divisive, as the history of Protestantism shows).

Does the RCC list of de fide dogmas for salvation actually work? How do you know they work?

First off, attempting a tu quoque here does not get you off the hook for the problems in what you believe yourself. :-)

Secondly, the Church does not pretend that literally every Catholic must be able to explicitly profess adherence to literally every dogma, because She understands that not everyone is gifted with the time, talents, and treasure necessary to know and understand them all. Intellectual ability is not a prerequisite of saving faith; it is sufficient that a man sincerely intend to believe all that the Church professes. Consequently your tu quoque fails, in that the Church neither claims that all dogmas are readily accessible to all men nor that they are required to explicitly believe all of them. Explicit faith is definitely to be preferred, and laziness in pursuit of it is certainly culpable, but men are not called to things that are beyond their gifts.

[Catholic dogmas] certainly did not produce unity, for Luther and Calvin and all the Protestants after them did not fall in line, so it didn't work.

I wonder whether you think (mistakenly, as it turns out, though I do not blame you for it) that the primary fault of the Reformed doctrine of perspicuity is its effects upon unity? No. That is a serious effect, certainly. But what I had in mind is more the fact that Protestant disunity about those essentials that are allegedly guaranteed by this “perspicuity” demonstrates the epistemological weakness of the doctrine.

Getting back to what you said in the last quotation: Catholic dogma does not possess the intrinsic power to compel submission. If men (like Luther and Calvin) sin by refusing to exercise the divine virtue of faith, that is a fault on their part, not a defect on the part of the Truth.

Reformed Protestants may have even more real spiritual unity on the essentials than Roman Catholics do.

Paraphrase: “All the people in this tiny room—who happen to agree with [most] of what I believe—have more unity than a billion Catholics.”

Heh. Well, any sufficiently-small group of self-selecting individuals would indeed have a high degree of unity. Yes. But that is a poor measuring stick for truth, in my opinion.