Archive for June 2012

White vs. Sungenis on Predestination

June 23, 2012

Finally the (almost) full video of the White vs. Sungenis Predestination/Free Will debate is available on Youtube. Again, I will be content with a couple of comments on the debate.

White

Dr. White did a good job in giving a clear presentation and defense of his Reformed position. His rhetorics and conviction were enjoyable to watch, and at times his presentation of the Pauline Gospel was very powerful and authentic. White was strong on some Pauline texts such as Ephesians 1-2 and Romans 8-9, which Sungenis could not match with a very credible exegesis. I would say the same goes for John 6.

White’s weak points, biblically, were in connection with classic passages such as 1 Tim. 2 as well as the warning passages. His exegesis is simply not credible here. “Kings and rulers” doesn’t “define” the passage to mean “groups of people”, a more natural reading would be “especially/including kings and rulers”. And I don’t find it credible that Matthew is simply describing the persevering faith of the elect in “who perseveres to the end will be saved” or that Paul really meant that no regenerate person would ever deny God when he said “if we deny him”.

Sungenis

Dr. Sungenis did a good job in putting the whole debate into perspective in terms of Church history. For most of the debate, it seemed to me that both debaters were stuck in the 16th or 17th century, claiming that “the Bible teaches/does not teach” this or that and trying to harmonize difficult passages with little credibility. But in his closing statement Sungenis in my opinion got the better of White by admitting some sort of a plurality of theologies in the Bible (which is now widely recognized by both Catholic and Protestant Scripture scholars) and pointing to the need of a unified Church.

Sungenis was weak, however, in over-idealizing the Catholic position – as if the Catholic Church really took all Scripture at face value (this White successfully countered) and as if “making distinctions” was not a plague (if not a blessing) of Catholic as well as Protestant theology (just have a look into the Thomist TULIP suggested by James Akin to get an idea). Sungenis also lost credibility by not understanding basic Reformed concepts and terminology (or not being able to repeat a word like theocentric [not theopocentric]).

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would say that both won in a sense. White won, because the resolution is correct: the Bible does not teach, explicitly, that man has free will to accept or reject the Christian faith, and White was able to show that the Bible teaches that God effectively saves through Christ in the Spirit.

On the other hand, Sungenis won because he could show that the Bible in other places assumes that man does have the freedom to accept or reject the salvific Gospel, and that White’s one-sided theology taken to its logical conclusions leads to absurdities (denominationalism, a very questionable view of God).

To me, the best solution is to keep what is good from both sides. First, stay Catholic – there is no reason to jump into the ocean of denominations and interpretations over these issues. Second, take seriously the sovereignty of God in salvation, give all the glory to him, while working out with fear and trembling what he has given and promised us.

Sungenis vs. White on Purgatory

June 11, 2012

Just a couple of words on the Sungenis vs. White debate on Purgatory (beginning missing, but see parts 1 and 2 here and here). In my judgment the debate was rather even on 1 Cor 3, but it focused on it too much, precisely its openness to interpretations requires that it be put in a larger context of Scripture and Tradition. Here I must say that White did a better job, he problematized the doctrine in the light of the development of dogma, which Sungenis didn’t really address (eg. by discussing the patristic evidence in depth).

White’s biggest problems seemed to be his terminological distinctions, first of all the idea of legal punishment as opposed to disciplinary punishment. To me he seemed to have a double standard using this criterion – it only works against Catholicism (there “punishment” immediately means “legal punishment”) but for his own position (there punishment can be fatherly discipline). The Calvinistic distinctions between different sorts of judgments also seem a bit contrived sometimes.

On the other hand, I couldn’t believe that Sungenis would attack White on the basis of distinctions and different judgments. As White pointed out, Catholic theology is full of all kinds of distinctions unknown to early Christian theology. And the claim that for the Catholic Church there is only one judgment, the final one, is simply false, and in fact completely destructive to a defense of Purgatory, to which (according to standard Catholic theology) people are consigned at the particular judgment at their death rather than the final judgment, after which there is only eternal life or eternal death.

The most interesting part of the debate was Sungenis’ rather liberal comment that he believes White will go to heaven. White interpreted that, giving Sungenis the benefit of the doubt, in preconciliar terms as conversion to Catholicism. That, however, doesn’t seem to be what Sungenis meant. It sounded much more like a postconciliar statement to the effect that the Holy Spirit works salvifically in non-Catholic Christians as well.

This raises interesting questions. If one can be saved even though one consciously and publicly opposed Catholic dogmas, then dogmas are not necessary for salvation, in which case they are no longer dogmas in the traditional sense. In other words, Purgatory might exist, and we might even have good reasons to think it exists, but if we follow the logic of Vatican II, its dogmatic status has been relativized if not done away with.