Monday, May 9, 2011

Protestant Reactions

My wife worried about my last post. That maybe I would offend any protestants who might read it. I can do that. I can say things to flippantly and have protestants simply ignore me rather than engage my arguments. I try to be charitable but I have a more direct writing style that is hard to change. I don't back up and give disclaimers a lot. But I don't want to offend anybody.

When I criticize protestantism I am not criticizing protestant people so much as a system of thought. It is a system that has influenced many Christians over the past 500 years. Over time that has caused many Christians to embrace serious error. But I don't see those errors being always or even typically the result of bad intentions on the part of the protestants themselves. With few exceptions the protestants I have known have been very sincere and very serious about discerning and living the truth of Christ. Many continue to dismiss Catholicism without a good logical reason but people do that. There are just so many Christian traditions nobody can make a full and fair evaluation of all of them. I would argue that because of its history Catholicism deserves a full and fair evaluation but many feel that is a waste of time for precisely the same reason.

When criticizing protestant thought it is easy to make strong statements. One tries to distill what protestantism has become into a few words. The idea is to convince somebody that there is a serious error being embraced. So when Blessed John Newman says protestants have no faith he is not being uncharitable. He is trying to convince people that Sola Scriptura is not only an error but a fundamental error. It is hard to do that without risking offending people. But that is the truth. Catholics believe protestantism has made a very serious error that makes both unity and truth impossible.

It is similar with the Eucharist. The Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is an amazing claim. The truth or falsity of the claim cannot be a small issue. Either Catholics are in serious error or protestants are missing a huge part of what Jesus intended to give them. I don't think it is charitable to minimize an error like that. When you grasp that it is really Jesus then nothing can be more important than to make a valid Eucharist central to you spirituality.

Contraception is another issue that has huge implications. It shows a large gap between protestants and Catholics on moral thinking. Protestants are massively confident they are right. How can you explain to them that their church has caused them to embrace grave evil without offending them? That they are approving a mentality that has led to the acceptance of abortion, premarital sex and divorce. In other words they are helping the other side win the culture wars. To a politically active protestant that is hugely offensive but it is truth.

The last post was about Mary. Most protestants believe that they have erred on the side of safety with respect to Mary. That the danger of giving her to much attention is seen as much greater than the danger of giving her to little. I was suggesting the opposite. That avoiding veneration of Mary parallels to more serious misconceptions about Christianity. Maybe removing that from the faith has deeper consequences than most people think. Empirically, it seems to me, Marian devotion and liberal Catholicism don't co-exist very often. So I do think there is a positive effect of Marian devotion that I don't fully understand. The last post was an attempt to explore it.

But there are things on the other side. Certainly the view of science as a way to learn about God is something taught in the reformed faith.That was always described as a reformed distinctive meaning other protestant groups did not emphasize it as much. I don't think the reformed faith experiences the same tension between science and religions as a more fundamentalist believer would. Sex was theoretically the same way but in practice our church was much more fundamentalist about sexual ethics.

Still when they wanted to get back to basics, those basics were faith alone and bible alone. When Catholics get back to basics it is typically creation, sin, and redemption. Faith alone and bible alone only really talk about science and sex in a negative way. In the sense of rejecting things that contradict scripture. Creation, sin, and redemption are easy categories to talk about science and sex in a positive way. Sin certainly effects those areas of life but there is a good that is being distorted by sin and will be restored by grace.


  1. You are very direct Randy, but being candid is good I think for the reasons you mentioned. This was a big challenge while writing my first book: how do I constructively criticize Protestantism's errors while not attacking Protestants as people? Sometimes I did a good job of that and other times I didn't. And sometimes no matter how respectfully and irenically you say something, people are going to be offended because it strikes them very deeply (like talking about contraception for example).

    But once they get over the hurt feelings, they have an opportunity to reflect on why they got hurt and whether there is something there that they need to investigate more, by God's grace.

  2. I always pray people get over any bad feelings I generate and dialogue about it anyway. They may not want to discuss it with me but I hope they discuss it with someone.