Archive for October 2011

Robert Sungenis vs. Peter Dimond on NA and Islam

October 10, 2011

I can’t help but to comment on the recent debate between Robert Sungenis and Peter Dimond on whether Nostra Aetate 3’s teaching on islam is heretical. The comment won’t be long though, for the general impression of the debate was simply that of a “foolish controversy” (Tit. 3:9).

The debate can be listened to here. The debate was not a formal, public, well-organized debate like most of the ones Sungenis has done with James White. It was rather a privately organized, rather poor-quality (probably via Skype or something) debate, where both parties kept repeating more or less the same arguments for about an hour, changing turns every 2 minutes.

Robert Sungenis

Sungenis’ arguments can be summed up in his post-debate summary here. He did a good job in showing how esteeming other religions is in line with Paul’s approach in Acts 17 (as well as Romans 1-2, perhaps). Sungenis also pointed out that NA 3’s “esteem” is linked with monotheism (as well as other elements common between us, perhaps), not all of islam.

Sungenis did a poorer job in answering Dimond’s quotes from earlier Popes as well as St. Thomas. Sometimes he didn’t answer at all, he didn’t seem to be familiar with the particular texts or prepared to deal with them in this context. Sungenis also lost a lot of credibility in trying to explain away consistent papal teaching on Vatican II (labeling them mere “private opinions”).

Sungenis’ intention to keep all Church doctrine together is laudable, but he ends up not “thinking with the Church”. In my view his problem is in the hierarchy of truths: for him, infallibility, authority and inerrancy are in the center (if there’s one error, there can be all kinds of errors and the whole thing goes), rather than at the periphery where they should be (the Gospel, Christ and the Church communion are in the center, inerrancy and infallibility were late developments from, not the foundation of the faith).

Peter Dimond

Peter Dimond did a good job in showing the contrast between the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar approaches to Islam. They truly are very different, although some aspects might be explained by different emphases. Dimond did a good debating job as well, sometimes making the debate a bit awkward for Sungenis (eg. the Thomas Aquinas quote as well as the post-conciliar papal teaching argument).

Dimond’s problem is his obsession with heresy. He sees heresy everywhere, when he is in no position to judge. Dimond is also obsessed with ex cathedra dogmas and infallibilities. The fact that a Pope has stated in an encyclical that something is a dogma does not make it a dogma, for encyclicals are not dogmatic definitions. He should point to the dogmatic definition rather than non-infallible papal documents to prove his point.

Dimond suffers from the same problem as Sungenis: a failure to recognize the development of dogma and a fixation in the, say, 13th-19th centuries. The fact is that 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th century Christianity looked very different than medieval Catholicism should make a Catholic open to further developments as well.

Jesus Christ does not change, but he lives and works miracles in His Church, one of which is Her new attitude toward Islam, which can facilitate world peace, fruitful religious dialogue and hopefully true and informed conversions.

White’s inconsistent anti-ecumenism

October 9, 2011

James White often talks about the importance of “consistency”. I’d like to point out what I think is the greatest inconsistency in his apologetics, that is, his selective anti-ecumenism.

I remember White saying in one of his Youtube videos that he would be much more popular if he got into the ecumenical movement and recognized Catholics as brothers in the Lord, as many Evangelicals do. But White refuses because of the Letter to the Galatians.

In Galatians Paul presents the Gospel and condemns any attempt to replace it with “another Gospel”. White is a Calvinist and believes his Gospel is Biblical. He knows the Tridentine Catholic Gospel is different, so he quotes Gal. 2:5: “We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”

I believe White is stuck in the 16th century. A lot has happened since the 16th century. Most significantly, the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed a Joint Declaration on justification in 1999, stating justification is “by faith” (and even “faith alone” in the appendix) and that Christ in his person is our righteousness.

Now, White might still disagree with some Catholic teachings as he does with other denominations, but there is no good reason to say the Catholic Church does not have the Gospel. If the Joint Declaration represents a false Gospel, too, then White’s apologetics should be trying to save un-Christian Lutherans as well.

In fact, this is where White’s inconsistency is most evident. In his book on justification White allows no mistake in this doctrine on the basis of Galatians. Yet he recognizes some Arminians as his brothers in Christ, although they differ in some central soteriological issues. What about Lutherans, then?

So if White is going to be consistently anti-ecumenical, let him regard only 5-point Calvinists as Christians. But this he is not going to do, for he knows that the Gospel in Gal 2 was not the TULIP but Christ, and all of us, Catholics, Lutherans, and Arminians, confess and have Him.

James White seems to treat the Catholic Church as a false Church with some true believers inside, those that trust in Christ despite the Church’s official teachings. The rule is negative, with some positive exceptions (although I’ve never heard him name any or talk of any that he knows).

I would suggest to him a more evangelical, a more apostolic and a more 21st century approach: treat the Catholic Church as you do the other Churches and denominations. Recognize they need evangelization, but also recognize they are in the service of evangelization. Feel free to critique, but be slow to condemn.