So Many Straw Men, It’s Flammable

Madrid commits so many distortions of the Protestant position on pp. 11ff, that it should be embarrassing. Let’s examine a few of these:

Distortion 1: “The Protestant mistakenly assumes that every time the phrase ‘Word of God’ appears in scripture, it refer to the Bible” (p. 11). Really? And which Protestants does he have in mind? It’s news to me that every Protestant believes this. The Word of God is a broader category than the Bible. There are things God has said to His people that are not recorded in the pages of Scripture. John 1:1 proves this, as well. There we learn that the Word of God existed long before anything started being written down. And, of course, there is the whole Christology question that comes into play here as well. Ultimately, the Word of God as encapsulated in the Second Person of the Trinity is eternal. Of course, there is a distinction between the Word of God as Person, and the Word of God as inscripturated, and we must not confuse the two. But this distinction only proves the point: Madrid erected quite the straw man here. In fact, I know of NO Protestant who makes this simplistic assumption. Madrid should apologize for getting Protestants this badly wrong.

Distortion 2: “There exists among Protestants a pervasive suspicion of and hostility to the Catholic belief that ‘The Church’ is far more than a mere ‘collection of like-minded believers from each denomination,’ but is, in fact, a unified supernatural organism-a unity directed by Christ, created and sustained by Christ, and operating with Christ’s own authority” (p. 12). Now, this is not as bad a distortion as number 1 above. However, there are a number of problems with this assessment of Protestantism. Firstly, even if Protestants believe that the church is a “collection of like-minded believers from each denomination,” that would hardly constitute a good description of the Protestant position on the church. The Church is the body of Christ. She is the bride of Christ. She is created by the Word of God. In this aspect, she is of supernatural origin. She is directed by Christ, created and sustained by Christ (note the language of Madrid himself here!). In fact, the only thing I might quibble with in Madrid’s own description of the Church here is the phrase “operating with Christ’s own authority.” That is a bit ambiguous. Christ has given the Holy Spirit to the church. So the church does have the authority of the Holy Spirit underlying everything. But I suspect that Madrid also wants to include the infallible authority of the Pope in this definition, and obviously, we would have to part company there. Now, it is true that many mainline Evangelicals have a much lower view of the church, but most Reformed folk I know have a much higher view of the Church than Madrid would credit.

Distortion 3: “The ‘All Tradition Is Bad’ Fallacy” (p. 13). The heading of this section itself shows how badly Madrid has distorted the Protestant tradition. All Madrid would have to do would be to read how many times confessional guys like me get accused of treating the Westminster Standards the same way that Catholics treat tradition, and he could have avoided this ridiculousness. Protestants don’t reject tradition. Calvin quoted the ECF incessantly, for instance, and had vast swaths of the ECF completely memorized. Just because Protestants don’t put tradition on the same level as Scripture doesn’t mean that we believe “all tradition is bad,” or that we reject tradition. Now, there are sectors of evangelicalism for which this description would not be a distortion. But these are not the sectors of evangelicalism which would even engage Romanists. The real problem here is that Madrid seems to be assuming that if Protestants don’t put tradition on the same level as Scripture, then by that very fact they are rejecting tradition. Protestants put tradition above individual interpretation, but below Scripture. Tradition, thus has a middle position (but not a priestly position!) Romanists define the middle position out of existence. For Romanists, there is no room for something that has more authority than an individual’s interpretation, but simultaneously has less authority than the Scripture. Hence Madrid’s distortion.

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7 Comments

  1. June 22, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Back in June 1996 I had a day here in Melbourne Australia, debating Madrid, with a large mainly RC audience, on Scripture and on Justification.

    He knows perfectly well the true Protestant position, but he has his RC blinkers on and refuses face it.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    June 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Interesting. One’s paradigm is so often responsible for blinding one to one’s opponent’s position.

  3. June 27, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    I’ve been thoroughly disappointed by popular Roman Catholic apologetics and have found it difficult to interact with my Roman Catholic friends because of its influence. I loved it when Robert Sungenis tried to get away with this kind of flippant and arrogant rhetoric on the White Horse Inn. He said something about Reformation Christians believing in legal fiction. After Dr. Horton handed it to him, he didn’t quite know what to say. That’s a classic example of how these guys fight. Guys like Madrid and Sungenis seem unable to intelligently interact with the critical issues. What’s said is that because a lot of it is popular and directed towards a lay-audience, it’s being swallowed without question. That’s been my experience with some of my more serious Roman Catholic friends anyway.

    A popular and thoughtful Roman Catholic apologetic front is sorely needed. That being said, Reformed and evangelical Christians also need to engage these issues in a more intelligent and thoughtful way. We often argue as if Boettner’s work was the final word on the subject and that the Roman church is the same today as it was when he wrote it.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    June 28, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Good points, Jordan, especially considering that there are some significant errors in Boettner’s work, errors that Karl Keating has pointed out. I checked some of Keating’s claims, and found more that more than one of them stuck. Probably the most difficult thing about Catholicism is that, on the one hand, it hasn’t retracted anything old (such as Trent). On the other hand, some Catholics want to redefine Trent, and interpret it in a different way than it has been interpreted in the past. So which Trent is the Trent we have to engage?

  5. John Bugay said,

    June 28, 2011 at 11:12 am

    I’ve been working through transcribing a lecture that was given by Nick Needham some time ago. Links to the lecture are given in the first couple of segments. My hope, when I’m done, is to put it somewhere that everyone can get to it easily. It’s an excellent introduction to post Vatican II Roman Catholicism.

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/search?q=nick+needham

  6. bsuden said,

    June 30, 2011 at 12:18 am

    Since Needham is guilty of a little nouvelle theologie himself when it comes to the WCF, the RPW and psalmody, it certainly would behoove him to have some insights on the Roman version ala Vatican II.

  7. Devin Rose said,

    June 30, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    On the first one, Madrid should have qualified his statement with something like “Many Protestants believe” as I’ve run into the conflation of Word of God with the Bible from lots of Protestants, though those more learned don’t make this mistake.

    Regarding all tradition being bad, I would say most Protestants believe this, if for the simple fact that most Protestants, number-wise, are either Evangelicals or Pentecostals (and not, say, Reformed Protestants like you guys are). The problem of whether (and how) tradition should be regarded by Protestants has been a divisive question since the beginning of the Reformation. And what tradition, exactly, are we talking about? The Methodists and Anglicans will tell you one thing, the Reformed and Lutherans something a bit different.

    Maybe Madrid should have directed this work specifically toward Evangelical Protestants.


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