Monday, April 11, 2011

Communicating in America: Advice for Carl Trueman

Recently, I’ve been reading some of Carl Trueman’s work, and I’ve listened to the Medieval church history lectures that Matthew has linked here.

One of the more entertaining elements is that he brings his English culture to America, and one of the funniest lines to come out of that is the statement that “Being born an Englishman is like winning first prize in the lottery of life.” Now, that’s a very quaint thing to say, and I joked about that one for weeks with my wife. (A 12-lecture series takes me about two weeks to listen to, given my commute). Trueman also made jokes about trips out west in which he made some [for him] memorable purchases of cowboy boots and cowboy hats. I really like him a lot.


Back when I was leaving Roman Catholicism, I looked for all the help I could find when it came to “leaving,” and on a consistent basis, I found that help in works I read from the Reformation era. Another thing I found was that these works were consistently grouped with works from the great Princeton lights, Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, and B.B. Warfield. So I followed that lineage, and once liberalism infiltrated Princeton, then J. Gresham Machen carried the Reformation torch across the river from Princeton into Philadelphia, where he organized the OPC as a response to liberalism within Presbyterianism. I attended an OPC for several years before a fire shut them down. (And today I am a member of a PCA church that is probably just a few miles up the road).

I know that the Westminster seminaries have come under fire for one reason or another in the past. I think that this may be because they’ve adopted some positions that are less than popular, and in some cases, they’ve been criticized with good reason. The net effect is one of disappointment because, from my perspective, looking at the tradition of the Reformation, Westminster was the thought leader in America, and when a leader in whom you have some hope fails to lead properly, it is disappointing.

So I, for one, want them to succeed. And now, Trueman is taking some steps toward leading a Reformed effort to understand the Roman Catholic Church in our day, and I, for one, find that to be a very hopeful development. He is noticing that we, in our day, “need a thoughtful, learned, respectful, confessional Protestant book on Roman Catholicism.”

But, if Dr. Trueman believes he is the person to write the book, I hope he would take a cue as to how to approach this topic in a way that will be meaningful to Americans, and not confusing in any way.

For example, my hope is that he does not invent an unpleasant word, like “Refortholics” or something like that. There are clear differences between the Protestant Reformers and the Roman Catholics. And such differences are hugely meaningful, even today.

And here is another caution for him. Speak and write in American. Don’t say things like “Roman Catholicism is the default position,” and “we need good solid reasons for not being Catholic.” I heard him say that in those lectures, and I understand why he’s saying it. It’s rhetorical hyperbole, and he admitted as much. But such use of the language confuses some people and even prompts them to dishonesty.

In this vein, I’d recommend that Trueman consider emulating someone who truly understood what it meant to wear a cowboy hat and be an American.

Before becoming President, Ronald Reagan, among other things, was a prolific writer, and one of his regular contributions was to write, and deliver, daily radio commentary. As it turned out, Reagan wrote his own commentaries, and in the process, he crafted his own policies that, with some historical hindsight, have turned out to have been remarkably successful, not only for himself politically, but for the US and the world.
We the people need more common sense economics and a lot less demagoguery if we are to make or support decisions affecting our welfare. I’ll be right back.
Now, Economics is a difficult topic, but Reagan knew how to boil it down in ways that Americans could understand it. This radio address, entitled Economics I, was delivered July 31, 1978. Reagan was commenting on a California tax-cutting initiative that was known as “Proposition 13”. (I am old enough to remember the news stories on this issue). Labor unions officially opposed the measure, which nevertheless passed. Reagan used the issue to provide a simple lesson in Economics, and this is the style that I think Trueman could adopt.

Reagan perfected a combination of sound policy with straightforward rhetoric that Americans could understand. Cue Ronald Reagan:
Early in July the leadership of the California AFL-CIO met in convention and made a few decisions that will affect the livelihood of the workers they represent. These leaders of organized labor were more than a little upset about the passage of Proposition 13. Meaning no disrespect, I feel compelled to say, the remedies they proposed reveal that they believe too many of the economic fairy tales widespread in our land today.

In the first place they must be out of step with their own rank and file members because those members voted for Prop 13 in large and enthusiastic numbers.

But where the fairy tale shows up is in the conventions decision to battle for reimposing the property tax that Prop 13 cancelled back on business and industry. They said it was a $3½ billion break for business and therefore by their reasoning bad for the individual citizen. If they have their way, that $3½ billion will end up being paid by the very individual citizens they claim they want to help.

Let’s take the case of a corner grocer in a nice middle class neighborhood. The store keeper rents the building. Everyone who shops there can understand that he must charge enough to cover the wholesale cost of the things he sells, wages to helpers and his rent, plus a fair return for himself so he can make a living. But now supposing he buys the building? There is no more rent but there is interest on the mortgage and property tax instead of rent. Obviously he can’t stay in business if those costs can’t be recovered in the price of the things he sells. And just like his wage earning customers (many of them union members), he has to make enough gross income to pay his living costs—after he has paid his income tax.

What this all adds up to is that government can’t tax things like businesses or corporations, it can only tax people. When it says it’s going to “make business pay,” it is really saying it is going to make business help it collect taxes. Into our corner store comes a regular customer to pick up a loaf of bread on his way home. We’ve already covered the fact that the grocers mark up includes a share of the property tax on the store. But the truth is that the wholesale price the store keeper paid to the bakery includes [the bakery’s] taxes, and more than 150 others going all the way back to the farmer who raised the wheat. If he can’t get a price for his wheat that will cover the real estate tax on his farm, he can’t stay in business either. If the trucker who hauled the wheat can’t charge enough to cover his license fee and gasoline tax, he can’t stay in business.

Union leaders will serve the men and women they represent a lot better if they’ll drop the demagoguery and take a simple course in economics. This is Ronald Reagan. Thanks for listening.
So Dr. Trueman, I hope you will continue to write about Roman Catholicism. In our day, it truly is a needful thing. But what’s most needful in this respect is to call an Evil Empire an Evil Empire. That kind of honesty, unpopular though it may be, is the kind of thing that helps to accomplish genuinely meaningful things.

24 comments:

Pilgrimsarbour said...

You're in America now, Bub! Speak American!

LOL

But seriously, I think what you're saying is that Trueman seems to be equivocating, or at least using language which gives the appearance of equivocation when it comes to dealing with Roman Catholicism. You wish he were "harder" on the RCC than he seems to be, I suspect.

What I take from what he's said is that we Protestants have to deal with Catholics based upon what they believe officially, and not merely how what they believe and practice appears to us.

John Bugay said...

Hey Pilgrim. I guess there are a couple of things going on.

I don't think he's equivocating at all. In a way, this post is a concession that Americans don't readily understand Trueman's British understatement,(and maybe he doesn't understand that Americans think much more directly).

I'll point to someone like Taylor Marshall, who may perhaps have heard that statement about "the default position" and certainly not quite understood that there are very, very good reasons for remaining Protestant.

As far as what Roman Catholics believe officially, this is a very hard one.

Ron DiGiacomo has a bit of a point in saying that everything in Roman doctrine has already been refuted.

"It is said" by some that Vatican II didn't really change any teachings, it just offered different kinds of pastoral emphases upon those teachings, that just happened to have made everything look completely different from what it had been.

Vatican II really was a process of "reformulating positively" a lot of those mean old dogmas like "no salvation outside of the church".

That one turns because someone, long ago, in some formulation of that dogma posited that there was such a thing as "invincible ignorance," and if it could be proved that someone were invincibly ignorant, they might have a chance at salvation. That loophole, then was "reformulated" in such a way that, golly, almost everybody is "invincibly ignorant." (And in the original intention, "invincible ignorance was really only intended to have an ultra-super-limited scope).

The point that was made is "We're in charge, and we're the only ones in charge. And what we say is what it is."

The problem with that is that nobody really has catalogued all those changes.

I, personally, don't have the resources to go back and document all these changes ... why the Mass had to be in Latin, until it could be said in the vernacular; why you used to have to abstain from meat on Fridays, (and why people thought they were going to hell for having done so), and why, now, it's not so important; why it was forbidden to Roman Catholics to read the Bible; now it's ok.

All of those are long research projects, that would take someone lots of cataloguing in a library.

In some sense, I do think that Trueman doesn't really understand what he is asking for. I don't think he's interacted enough with modern Roman thought to really understand just how far removed it is ("reformulated positively") from all of those medieval doctrines that he is familiar with. And yet with what special pleading it will be said that "no dogma has changed".

(I've cited the difficulties that Vatican II caused for Vatican II over the papacy, and also, see Kilmartin's statement about Vatican II conflicting with Trent on Holy Orders.)

It really is a mess, and someone has to do it.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Hi John,

I'm pretty sure Carl doesn't want to write the book, but he may anyway. It wouldn't be the first time that happened!

But don't you want him to call Rome the "Evil Empire?" I thought that was one of your points--that Carl isn't strident enough in his denunciations of Roman theology and practice. I mean, that was the point of bringing up Reagan's quote, wasn't it? Don't you want him to be a more plain-speakin' man like Reagan? BTW, don't compare him to Reagan FYI :-)

At least you and I agree that further interaction with Rome is necessary and appropriate. I think Ron's completely wrong about that and has failed to more fully take into account the ramifications of the Great Commission.

Blessings in Christ,

Pilgrimsarbour

John Bugay said...

Well, the Reformers didn't hesitate to call Rome "the Evil Empire". If CT doesn't want to call Rome an "Evil Empire," then I'd be very disappointed. (And yes, that was one of the reasons why I brought up Reagan as a communicator).

Ron D. has 1 Peter 3:15 in the header of his website. I do wonder how he'd reconcile his stated objections with that verse.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Yeah, I can't speak for Carl in the sense of calling Rome the Evil Empire. He may actually feel that way--I don't know for sure.

Ron DiGiacomo said...

"At least you and I agree that further interaction with Rome is necessary and appropriate. I think Ron's completely wrong about that and has failed to more fully take into account the ramifications of the Great Commission."

Tim Roof,

How does one interact with "Rome"? Certainly any interaction with Rome cannot be two-way. So, either you're talking about (a) interacting with Roman doctrine without getting a response from the magisterium, or else (b) you're talking about interacting with individual Romanists.

As for the former, you have yet to show which doctrines have not been dealt with adequately in the existing Reformed polemics. As John seems willing to concede: “Ron DiGiacomo has a bit of a point in saying that everything in Roman doctrine has already been refuted.” Now then, if you are referring to the latter, then you're simply being dishonest about my position and not taking into account that I have said that there is a place for interacting with individual Romanists. I can’t believe that the session of Cornerstone would appreciate the lack of care you have taken in representing my views as they pertain to Romanists and the Great Commission.

Ron D. has 1 Peter 3:15 in the header of his website. I do wonder how he'd reconcile his stated objections with that verse.

John, it’s this sort of lack of precision that has gained you a reputation of being a loose canon. Please draw James Swan’s attention to my post on my Blog as well as your reckless comment here.

Ron DiGiacomo said...

John, I'll make it easy on you and James. This is from my post (not from comment box but from the actual post on my site). "This doesn't, of course, mean that we need not declare the gospel to those in the Roman communion or that we ought not to come along side Romanists and explain to them in love the teachings of their communion for what they are, heretical. Notwithstanding, there is simply no need to find new innovative ways to repudiate Rome because Rome is, well, always the same."

So you see John, I'm all for polemics and evangelism, and you already concede with me that essential Roman teaching has already been refuted.

John Bugay said...

Ron, I very much appreciate the things you continue to say and do, and I am actually trying not to create too much of a stir. I genuinely don’t understand why you think “there is [no] need whatsoever to engage Romanism further (at least not in any fresh way), or has something changed within their system of doctrine that I haven't heard about?”

One of the points of what I’ve been writing all these months is that “official Rome” is re-calibrating its “official” statements. They’re not making them “not heretical,” but they are at the very least attempting to bring what they can into alignment with what historians (and even historical-critical biblical scholars) are understanding about the New Testament and early church. And in this way, they are creating a new and deceitful way to misunderstand what it is that God has been doing in the world. These things do need to be catalogued and understood and engaged.

How does one interact with “Rome”? Certainly any interaction with Rome cannot be two-way. So, either you're talking about (a) interacting with Roman doctrine without getting a response from the magisterium, or else (b) you're talking about interacting with individual Romanists.

Actually, a number of Roman theologians in the 1950’s and 60’s interacted with Barth, thinking that Barth represented “the Reformed” position. I can’t cite chapter and verse, but Ratzinger has even cited him on occasion, and I got the impression that Ratzinger thought he spoke for the Reformed position.

Two things: Rome actually does interact, on an official level, with Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran groups. And that was one of Trueman’s complaints: They don’t interact with “Evangelicals” (much less “Reformed evangelicals”) on an official basis, because they can find no one “official” to interact with.

And Roman theologians did interact with Barth, not because he had any authority, but because he wrote something significant and substantial. And so that is one of the things that Trueman is advocating: Providing something significant and substantial to which someone from Rome ought officially to respond to.

And this need not be an exercise in beating against a never-changing, “Semper Eadem” edifice. No one actually goes around saying that any more.

The system is in flux, albeit, in a way that’s imperceptible to the human eye. But if the Reformed aren’t addressing those types of ‘recalibrations,’ then opportunities are being lost.

John Bugay said...

Ron, you said (in your initial post and also here): “This doesn't, of course, mean that we need not declare the gospel to those in the Roman communion or that we ought not to come along side Romanists and explain to them in love the teachings of their communion for what they are, heretical.

How do you envision this playing out on a day to day basis? How does Trueman’s recommendation not align with that?

What’s wrong with a scholarly work saying, “Here is our fairly well-informed understanding of how Rome became what it is”? A work that begins with these “recalibrations” and traces both the “original heretical doctrines” and the “recalibrations” in such a way that what Reformed folks are actually dealing with “the teachings of their communion” in language that those folks are actually apt to understand?


One of the things that we try to stress, in our “blueprint for anarchy” category, is that “Rome” is not the monolith it was in the 1950's. The “monolith” from 1950 is still there, but Roman Catholics have taken off like a box of cats with the lid off.

It’s one of the reasons why my first comment to Matthew was that we needed not only a book, but a library.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Ron DiGiacomo,

I offered my opinion of concern based on your statements regarding doctrine:

I don't think there is any need whatsoever to engage Romanism further (at least not in any fresh way), or has something changed within their system of doctrine that I haven't heard about?

and:

Given no change in doctrine, I find no reason for new polemics.

I said previously:

I don't think a change in doctrine is the driving force behind the need for new polemics, that is, new works (books). As I said, each generation needs to re-address the old arguments with a contemporary approach, especially given the need to address the evolution of language in general, and the English language in particular, in our case.

My take on what you're saying is that the old books are "good enough." I'm not certain of that at all. As much as I appreciate the hard work and diligence of the brethren in days gone by, the same questions resurface over and over again and should be dealt with afresh by contemporaries, in my view.


We apparently disagree about this matter which isn’t, in itself, cause for concern.

You said…

Now then, if you are referring to the latter, [meaning engagement with individual Catholics] then you're simply being dishonest about my position and not taking into account that I have said that there is a place for interacting with individual Romanists.

Dr. Trueman’s original article dealt with what former Protestants had stated to him were their reasons for moving Romeward, so I have been thinking along those lines as I’ve read the other recent articles presented. And to be frank, there has been enough written about Trueman lately on these blogs to run the risk of confusing and conflating them while responding in the various comboxes. Perhaps I have done this. Yes, I have been all along thinking in terms of polemics as it bears on the lay Catholic. Since I missed the statement in your article which you had posted to John, I can see that my concern may well be misplaced, and I’m at least hopeful that you yourself expect to not shy away from sharing the gospel with Roman Catholics, which seems suggested by that statement:

(This doesn't, of course, mean that we need not declare the gospel to those in the Roman communion or that we ought not to come along side Romanists and explain to them in love the teachings of their communion for what they are, heretical. Notwithstanding, there is simply no need to find new innovative ways to repudiate Rome because Rome is, well, always the same.)

Finally, you said this:

I can’t believe that the session of Cornerstone would appreciate the lack of care you have taken in representing my views as they pertain to Romanists and the Great Commission.

If you feel that this error on my part was deliberate dishonesty and is actionable in a church discipline sense, you may contact my session via e-mail to lodge your complaint. I would have hoped, however, that your point could have been made more easily by pointing me to the passage you showed John which I have since read and italicized above, rather than through what is clearly meant to be a threat. It seems so unnecessary given the fact that we are just now becoming acquainted.

Be well,

Tim

Ron DiGiacomo said...

One of the points of what I’ve been writing all these months is that “official Rome” is re-calibrating its “official” statements. They’re not making them “not heretical,” but they are at the very least attempting to bring what they can into alignment with what historians (and even historical-critical biblical scholars) are understanding about the New Testament and early church.

John, this would be funny if it wasn’t so pitiful. The only polemic Protestants need is a polemic against thinking such as that I’m afraid. That Romanists are adding historical claims to theological error is no reason to say we need a new polemic against their error, which is theological in nature. Accordingly, you’re left to debate non essentials, which is never a problem for those in ivory towers. As I said already, and this is just a “for instance”, whether we’re dealing with Rome’s accent on baptism of desire or her incendiary claim, extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, the polemic against such contradictory positions is not sophisticated. Again, we may defeat either horn or both horns, and also show how neurotic these mutually exclusive claims are, but please don’t tell me that the Protestant church is lacking in its polemic against the chameleon communion. At the very least, strategically not only have Romanists with their “sophisticated” claims sidelined certain Protestant scholars, they’ve succeeded in turning some into sideline cheerleaders for the wrong team.

And in this way, they are creating a new and deceitful way to misunderstand what it is that God has been doing in the world. These things do need to be catalogued and understood and engaged.

How so, John? What is it you find so tricky that requires a new polemic? When will you shake the dust off your feat when it comes to Roman dogma? Is that what we need, more sophisticated arguments against ancient heresies? Again, I am not denying that we ought not to take Romanists to task, but when they come to us with “Good teacher….” in an effort to show us their latest scholarly wears, we need to stop them in their tracks, like the Master showed us, and get to the heart of the matter. Yes indeed, engage, but do so as if you were talking to the woman at Sicar or Nicodemus – take control of the conversation but don’t put out a clarion call for a think tank in order to address their latest sophist smoke screens.

Actually, a number of Roman theologians in the 1950’s and 60’s interacted with Barth, thinking that Barth represented “the Reformed” position. I can’t cite chapter and verse, but Ratzinger has even cited him on occasion, and I got the impression that Ratzinger thought he spoke for the Reformed position.

And your point is? Far be it from me to instruct you on your hobbies John, but please don’t pass them off as ecclesiastically needful.

Cont.

Ron DiGiacomo said...

Tim,

I appreciate your words. Please know there was no intent on my part to make a threat.

Blessings,

Ron

John Bugay said...

Well, Ron, what's the right way to spend my time? How best should I engage people who are sitting on the fence, and thinking about moving in one direction or another? How can I best present the Gospel to those folks who have questions about Roman Catholicism?

You've told me all the things that are wrong with what I'm doing. What's a positive statement of your recommendation?

How can I best make a defense to any Roman Catholic who asks me for a reason for the hope that is in me?

Ron DiGiacomo said...

John,

My approach to that answer will be the same as the approach I am suggesting you take with Romanists. First demonstrate that you've internalized what has been said about what is wrong, and then we can talk about how to proceed. Application: First Rome must admit they're wrong about the essentials, then we can discuss angels on heads of pins, but we'll probably see no need for that if we exhaust the former. Application: First you must admit that you're all to quick to discuss angels on heads of pins with Romanists, then we can discuss how we might get back to discusssing essentials with Romansts who would prefer to steer the discussion toward angels on heads of pins.

Grace and peace,

Ron

John Bugay said...

So basically, they've got to be already repenting before you'll talk with them, and I've got to be conceding, right here, right now, that I really spend too much time talking about "angels on the heads of pins" before you'll begin to tell me how you'd proceed to talk with a Roman Catholic about the Gospel?

You sound like Nancy Pelosi saying, "come on, let's pass this legislation, so we can see what's going to be in it".

Ron DiGiacomo said...

John,

Go right ahead and dodge bullets the rest of your life. I prefer to take the gun away and move on. Now let me demonstrate what it is to do just that.

So long.

Ron

John Bugay said...

Ron, so far as I can tell, I've not dodged any "bullets". I do prepare to "give a response" to any Roman Catholic who might have a question.

I'm genuinely sorry that we can't even talk about this.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

John and Ron,

I really wish you both wouldn't quarrel. I've read many things that both of you have written which have greatly edified me.

Both of you have written a lot, A Lot!, rebutting Catholicism and advancing Biblical Christianity. So it's a bit disconcerting to see the both of you so heated in your quarreling with each other.

Now with regards to this:

"Accordingly, CT is unwittingly promoting the wrong side while hurting the side he’s to be on."

I've always thought the same thing regarding Darryl Hart and his advocacy of R2K doctrine.

John Bugay said...

FWIW Truth, I don't consider this to be a quarrel. We're disagreeing, to be sure, but I won't carry this outside of this combox.

Ron DiGiacomo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron DiGiacomo said...

Ditto, John.

TUAD, John and I know who the "enemy" is, as does CT. We just might have a different approach as to how to deal with her, it, the thing. That I'm a bit more Pauline in my approach is not the end of the world. *duck*

Hey, I even sent Darryl Hart a fantastic bow tie from 21 Club in NYC, how much more would I do for a non-R2r? :)

James Swan said...

Please draw James Swan’s attention to my post on my Blog as well as your reckless comment here.

Gentlemen,

I have not kept up with the Carl Trueman / Romanism debate. I don't mind at all that you're debating the worth of his comments.

I've gone on record both here on the blog and also privately to John that I'm not exactly smitten by Dr. Trueman's comments. I realize he's probably an insightful scholar, but I'm not impressed with WTS East and their work in apologetics (or lack thereof) dismantling Romanism. My suggestion for Dr. Trueman is that he first compile a list of WTS graduates who have either embraced Romanism or Eastern Orthodoxy, and work on molding the WTS curriculum to address the issues. I suggest he clean up WTS before trying to help the Church in general. I know for a fact that WTS East is weak on Romanism.

What Dr. Trueman will discover is that a lot of people (some without his academic credentials) have done much of the work addressing Romanism already. Perhaps he could take some of the materials that have been most useful, and develop a WTS class to address Romanism. In fact, perhaps Dr. Trueman could start by challenging WTS grads gone Romanist to public debate. If he wants to be useful, that would be a start.

Again, I haven't followed the debate between John and Ron. I haven't even read all of the recent Beggars All posts. I will say that I did read Ron's post a few days ago and found it insightful, which is why I linked to it. There's probably a good chance that both John and Matthew disagree with me. That's fine. We can disagree and still have a useful blog. I've appreciated their contributions, particularly since my schedule is quite intense.

My apologies again for not joining in the brouhaha over Dr. Trueman, but I've had to set my priorities much differently for April - May.

John Bugay said...

My suggestion for Dr. Trueman is that he first compile a list of WTS graduates who have either embraced Romanism or Eastern Orthodoxy, and work on molding the WTS curriculum to address the issues.

This seems like very good advice.

James Swan said...

This seems like very good advice.

If I had time, I'd put together a little post with the Romanist converts listed who all went to WTS. I'd name the post something like, "Homework for Carl Trueman."

I'd then formulate a bunch of questions pertaining to these men. But, time doesn't allow this.

Anyone interested can put such a post together.