Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Polemics and False Dichotomies

Over the last few days, I have been reading the ongoing discussion (and occasionally participating) that was initiated with a post titled: “Cooperation In Salvation” (http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2007/09/cooperation-in-salvation.html ).

So much of the thread can be summed up by an insightful comment written by ‘Pontificator’, who earlier today said:

The problem is that "justification by faith" also serves as a polemical slogan around which opponents to the Catholic Church can unite. When the slogan is used this way, its theological meaning is lost. (See above thread.)

IMHO, one can state the “problem” in even simpler terms: FALSE DICHOTOMY.

A false dichotomy (also known as a false dilemma) occurs when two alternative statements are held to be the only possible options; but in reality, there exist one or more other options which have not been taken into account.

A classic example of the polemical use of false dichtomies is found in the writings of those who seek to “prove” that the Bible is full of “errors”. Such persons juxtipose dozens of Bibical texts claiming that such texts contradict each other, maintaining that each respective outcome is determined by but two alternative statements/verses. But, as all who engage in the defense of the Bible know, such “errors” can only be maintained by embracing false dichotomies.

Now, what I find interesting is that numerous anti-Catholics quite often employ the same methodology as the anti-Biblicists; many of their arguments are based on false dichotomies. Attempts by Catholic apologists to introduce other options into into their simple either/or conclusion/s are usually brushed aside, and ignored.

But there is hope. For instance, when certain Evangelical and Catholic scholars sat down together with the understanding that past polemics between the two sides may have involved false dichotomies, the end result was stunning, as attested to by the following documents:



[See also: Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and Your Word Is Truth, both edited by Charles Colson & Richard John Neuhaus.]

The same holds true when Lutheran and Catholic scholars convined together over many years, addressing several import issues, producing numerous important documents which include (some sites are mirrored):






One should also note the 10 volume Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue series, which includes the important volume on justification, Justification by Faith (vol. VII).

So there is hope my brothers and sisters in Christ. In ending, I shall ask that all of us should pray for the continuing work of the Holy Spirit on the hearts and minds of ALL believers in combating the numerous false dichotomies that have plagued, and continue to plague Christ’s Church.

Grace and peace,



Anonymous said...

David, I appreciate your post. I find much of what you say applicable not only to Evangelical and Catholic dialogue, but also to Evangelical and Mormon dialogue. It seems to me that at the heart of false dichotomies is an unwillingness to allow others to speak for themselves and describe their faith on their own terms. The notion is that if you don’t believe as I do, then I will tell you how you must believe. The reason other options are not taken into account is because the parties have not engaged in dialogue for the purpose of understanding one another. Polemical argumentation or Apologetics too often fail us as a method for understanding others. I agree that hope comes in and talking to one another over an extended period of time in a civil and respectful manner, not for the purpose of trying to defeat the other side in debate, but rather in an attempt to come to greater understanding of each other’s views.

David Waltz said...

Hello Aquinas,

I am so pleased that you chose to comment on my blog. It is not only refreshing, but also affirming to find one who is as informed as you are on current ecumenical issues.

I would like to thank you for the link to your blog, for I had no prior knowledge of it. I can assure you that I will be a frequent visitor henceforth.

I still ponder at length the hostile criticism/s that Greg Johnson, Craig Blomberg, Richard Mouw, and others have received from their Evangelicals “brothers”. A very recent example is provided by Bill McKeever during a radio program in which he sure seems to have ignored virtually any, and all, progress that has been made in Evangelical and Mormon dialogue; the broadcast can be accessed via the two links provided here:


Grace and peace,


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response David. I’m always interested in connecting with others who are seeking better approaches to these issues. I hope you find the content on my blog interesting and useful.

I feel much of the hostility comes down to different paradigms for how Evangelicals should interact or engage with the members of the LDS faith. You might be interested in John Morehead's thoughtful critique and response to McKeever’s CRJ article. I think Morehead accurately and helpfully articulates the kinds of dynamics at play in this issue.

CrimsonCatholic said...

I agree entirely with encouraging the reasonable and thoughtful dialogue with Protestants, but I recently came upon a passage of Scripture that consoled me regarding the troubling lapses in rational thinking among the rest.

Jonah 4
[5] Then Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.
[6] And the LORD God appointed a plant, and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.
[7] But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm which attacked the plant, so that it withered.
[8] When the sun rose, God appointed a sultry east wind, and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah so that he was faint; and he asked that he might die, and said, "It is better for me to die than to live."
[9] But God said to Jonah, "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" And he said, "I do well to be angry, angry enough to die."
[10] And the LORD said, "You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night, and perished in a night.
[11] And should not I pity Nin'eveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?"

I think there is certainly a temptation to an anger like Jonah's at Nineveh being spared when one is confronted with such bald and ridiculous denials of the Christian faith. But God showed pity on those who did not "know their right hand from their left," and I think we know from experience that this is an accurate description of the anti-Catholic contingent. I believe there is hope even among those who are intransigently foolish, as they are a symbol of the long-suffering quality of God's mercy and a reminder to us of our own dependence on God's mercy. There are always fools, because every saved man was once a fool himself, and this is a perpetual reminder that God was merciful in tolerating us even in our ignorance. In that, we might echo the prayer of the First Epistle to Timothy
1 Tim. 1
[12] I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service,
[13] though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,
[14] and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
[15] The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners;
[16] but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
[17] To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Anonymous said...

Are you only dismissing/belittling anti-catholic protestants (those who view the RCC dogmas/gospel as non-christian and heretical) as "foolish" and "ridiculous"? Because it seems most of your points here and at your blog relating to sola scriptura and authority would affect ALL protestants, not just anti-catholic ones. For instance, who are some past/present protestants whose arguments you would respect or are all protestants simply fools despite the vast treasure of devotional and theological work that has been produced throughout the centuries within the movement.

CrimsonCatholic said...

Because it seems most of your points here and at your blog relating to sola scriptura and authority would affect ALL protestants, not just anti-catholic ones.

There's a tendency to confuse being wrong with being foolishly wrong, but I don't wish to conflate the two. I consider soal scriptura irrational on a Thomist metaphysical account as uncaused knowledge. I think that it is an error no matter who holds it. But there have clearly been some brilliant idealists, and I don't wish to dismiss the intelligence of a Kant (or conversely, to give his ideas more credit on account of that intelligence). Likewise, I would not dismiss all Protestants; they are wrong in my view, but they may be sincerely so. Moreover, I would never dismiss the enormous amount of practical good and wisdom that is accomplished every day by Protestants, no matter whether they can cross every theological "t" or not.

Where I find trouble are people who cannot even understand our view well enough to answer it, nor even expend the effort to do so, yet who condemn us ignorantly. I recently came across a paraphrase of G.K. Chesterton saying that a bigot is not someone who sees himself as right but one who cannot see why the other person is wrong. That is the brand of anti-Catholic that I would say did not know his left hand from his right, the one who redefines truth itself to attack Catholics. I don't think it's right to call such a person a liar; it's more proper to say that his thought process is so distorted that he can't tell truth from a lie anymore. Objectively, it's insane (there's no other word for it), but subjectively, I imagine that such a person thinks he is perfectly reasonable, even more reasonable than his opponents. I found it troubling that there were so many people like this, but the story of Nineveh reminded me that there always have been and that God endures them with patience as He always has.

Rhology said...

Hey David,

Those documents between RCC and Lutherans, are they not missing the phrase "faith alone"? I remember the initial doc back in 1999, it was just "faith saves" or sthg like that, not "faith alone". So to me it was a stepping stone, but in itself a waste of breath.

But maybe I'm wrong - do you know of one of those that interacted strongly with "faith *ALONE*"?

Otherwise, ISTM it's not a false dichotomy at all, but rather a biblical one. Paul's msg is unmistakable, that justification is by faith alone. He identifies that as the Gospel. Gal 1:8-10 confers the anathema upon any changer of the Gospel, and then goes on in the same book to expound on faith alone. So it's biblical, not a rallying cry for the troops for the sake of being a rallying cry.


David Waltz said...

Hello Rhology,

You posted:

Rhology:>>Those documents between RCC and Lutherans, are they not missing the phrase "faith alone"? I remember the initial doc back in 1999, it was just "faith saves" or sthg like that, not "faith alone". So to me it was a stepping stone, but in itself a waste of breath.>>

Me: I do not wish to ‘beat-a-dead-horse’, but Holy Scripture only mentions, “the phrase ‘faith alone’” ONCE—James 2:24. I in all sincerity believe that you need to reflect on this fact.

Rhology:>>But maybe I'm wrong - do you know of one of those that interacted strongly with "faith *ALONE*"?>>

Me: I suppose it depends on what ones means by “strongly”. Section 26 mentions “faith alone”, while the following section presents some important nuances concerning faith:

>>26.According to Lutheran understanding, God justifies sinners in faith alone (sola fide). In faith they place their trust wholly in their Creator and Redeemer and thus live in communion with him. God himself effects faith as he brings forth such trust by his creative word. Because God's act is a new creation, it affects all dimensions of the person and leads to a life in hope and love. In the doctrine of "justification by faith alone," a distinction but not a separation is made between justification itself and the renewal of one's way of life that necessarily follows from justification and without which faith does not exist. Thereby the basis is indicated from which the renewal of life proceeds, for it comes forth from the love of God imparted to the person in justification. Justification and renewal are joined in Christ, who is present in faith.
27.The Catholic understanding also sees faith as fundamental in justification. For without faith, no justification can take place. Persons are justified through baptism as hearers of the word and believers in it. The justification of sinners is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous by justifying grace, which makes us children of God. In justification the righteous receive from Christ faith, hope, and love and are thereby taken into communion with him.[14] This new personal relation to God is grounded totally on God's graciousness and remains constantly dependent on the salvific and creative working of this gracious God, who remains true to himself, so that one can rely upon him. Thus justifying grace never becomes a human possession to which one could appeal over against God. While Catholic teaching emphasizes the renewal of life by justifying grace, this renewal in faith, hope, and love is always dependent on God's unfathomable grace and contributes nothing to justification about which one could boast before God (Rom 3:27). [See Sources for section 4.3]. (Joint Declaration – Vatican website.)>>

Rhology:>>Otherwise, ISTM it's not a false dichotomy at all, but rather a biblical one. Paul's msg is unmistakable, that justification is by faith alone.>>

Me: Once again, Paul never uses the phrase “faith alone”: second, as I have pointed out many times, if the Reformation doctrine of “justification by faith alone” is “unmistakable” (i.e. clear) it creates a serious conundrum, for no Christian writer understood “the Gospel” this way prior to the 16th century—what this says to me is that in a very real sense the Gospel remain undiscovered for centuries; the “gates of hell” prevailed for nearly 1500 years.

Rhology:>>He identifies that as the Gospel. Gal 1:8-10 confers the anathema upon any changer of the Gospel, and then goes on in the same book to expound on faith alone. So it's biblical, not a rallying cry for the troops for the sake of being a rallying cry.>>

Me: I take St. Peter’s word to heart (and mind) when dealing with the Apostle Paul’s writings, for he penned:

“And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” (2 Peter 2:15, 16)

Here, IMHO, is “where-the-rubber-meets-the road”: when Paul wrote in his letters about “salvation”, there “are some things in them hard to understand”. The issue of justification is one of those “things”. Many Protestant scholars are beginning to understand that “justification” is not merely declarative/juridical, but also causal (i.e. it actual transforms as well as declares). For an introduction to this theme see:

The Meaning of dikaioo


The early Church and justification

Anyway, I do not expect you to agree with me, but it is my hope that you come to understand so many of the issues involved are a bit more complex than you once thought them to be.

God bless,