Is William Lane Craig a Heretic?



On August 4th, 2010 an article appeared at Ancient Christian Defense accusing Dr. William Lane Craig of heresy for his adoption of monothelitism (the view that Jesus has only one will). I found this intriguing on many levels. First because Craig is, by many accounts, the premiere defender of the evangelical faith today. He is one of the true scholars in the apologetics game – a real philosopher. Second, Craig is a genuinely nice guy. In fact, his stellar character and reputation makes him an excellent test case for this issue of orthodoxy vs. heresy (Please note that I say nothing below to impugn his character or call into question his faith.). Which leads to my next point: more than evaluating the particulars of Craig’s views, my interest in the question has more to do with how one should go about answering it. Is a judgment of heresy an objective one? Is there a standard by which all doctrines can be judged? And if so, what is it?

Orthodoxy in Principle

Before looking at the question of Craig’s orthodoxy in particular, we must first look at orthodoxy in principle. That is, we must ask what constitutes orthodoxy to know what makes for heresy (the denial of orthodoxy). There are two ways of  departing from Christianity: a simple denial of the gospel and the other to deny whichever parts of revealed faith to which one does not wish to submit. The heretic is in the second class, and therefore is always a “Christian” in the sense that they do not simply deny the gospel (note: a Christian who moves from belief into a position of disbelief in the gospel is an apostate. These terms are often confused.)

Further, one may be a heretic out of mere ignorance / misjudgment or by an act of the will. The former have been called material heretics, the second class formal heretics. The first type is not truly an act of the will and may not be considered sin. However, once one is cognizant of the fact that they have departed from orthodoxy and yet refuses to repent, these become formal heretics.

Now, the minimal standard for orthodox Christianity from the beginning has been creeds. Some are found in Scripture. Later, the Apostle’s Creed was required for baptism (entry into the Church), and the Nicene Creed which was required to maintain orthodoxy. As approved by the ecumenical Council of Constantinople (AD 381), the Creed is the profession of the Christian Faith common to the Western Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox (in slightly different forms), as well as most Protestant denominations (who typically follow the Western-Roman Catholic version).

Orthodoxy in Particular

As stated above, Craig drew fire for his adoption of monothelitism, but this is not the only accusation of heresy that might be leveled against him. He also denies the present eternality of God as well as the procession of the Son from the Father (see Is God the Father Causally Prior to the Son? much of which is taken from his chapter [29] on the Trinity in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview). Each of these positions contradicts some ecumenical creed (in the understanding of the Church if not the exact wording – e.g., “eternally begotten of the Father”).

Craig is clearly aware of his position’s conflict with the Church’s beliefs in these areas. Further, he is concerned over the charge of heresy. This is clear in articles where he makes statements such as this from Monothelitism:

“No earnest Christian wants to be considered a heretic.”

“I don’t like contradicting the decrees of an ecumenical Council.”

Craig affirms the Church’s creeds as the determiners of orthodoxy in Could Christ have Sinned? :

“The doctrine of Christ’s impeccability (or inability to sin) is not some peculiar doctrine but part and parcel of an orthodox doctrine of Christ. It is affirmed by all the great confessions of Christendom.”

Craig also recognizes that the Church has defined heresy in Does the Problem of Material Constitution Illuminate the Doctrine of the Trinity? when he notes that, “The Father knows, for example, that the Son dies on the cross, but He does not and cannot know that He Himself dies on the cross—indeed, the view that He so knows even has the status of heresy: patripassianism” (emphasis mine).

Yet, despite his positive use of (and discomfort with departure from) the ancient Church and the creeds, Craig judges both when he writes in his article Monothelitism:

“In condemning Monotheletism as incompatible with Christian belief the Church did overstep its bounds.”

Why does Craig deem this to be the case and think he has the authority to judge the Church? By invoking the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura. In the same articles above Craig makes statements such as these:

“Protestants bring all doctrinal statements, even Conciliar creeds, before the bar of Scripture.”

“No earnest Christian wants to be considered a heretic. But we Protestants recognize Scripture alone as our ultimate rule of faith (the Reformation principle of sola scriptura). Therefore, we bring even the statements of Ecumenical Councils before the bar of Scripture.”

Thus, Craig stands by his views whether or not they contradict the beliefs of the ecumenical Church and / or the creeds it produced. In fact, Craig named this Christological view “neo-Apollinarian” (after the heretic Apollinaris) when he mentioned it with regard to his book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.

Heresy in Particular

Now, whether or not William Lane Craig’s theological arguments are sound and whether or not his heart is in the right place, he has denied Christian orthodoxy as stated in the ecumenical creeds.  Does this mean he is a heretic? Well, if the Church’s historical understanding of heresy is correct then yes, he is (and a formal heretic at that).

This is an objective conclusion that has nothing to do with anyone’s opinion or preferred theological position – a Muslim or an Atheist could compare the Creed to Craig and derive this conclusion. In fact, it technically also has nothing to do with the truth. Speaking from a  strictly logical standpoint, if the Church made an error in the Creed, then one could be correct and still be a heretic!

Now, some might say, “Hey, no big deal, Craig isn’t denying any essentials of the faith.” Perhaps – but who decides what count as “the essentials” of the faith? Again, the standard has historically been the ecumenical creeds plus various councils and confessions. But if the Protestant is free to bring “all doctrinal statements, even Conciliar creeds, before the bar of Scripture,” then we’re right back where we started.

Further, Craig’s arguments are nearly always reliant upon his philosophical interpretations of Scripture rather than biblical proof-texting. This is not necessarily inappropriate (everyone brings presuppositions to the text of the Bible) – it’s just that the “bar of philosophy” is not the same thing as the “bar of Scripture” (note that in the article, Craig does not cite a single Bible verse defending his view). Interestingly, Roman Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong wrote a response to Craig’s monothelitism using something akin to a sola Scriptura strategy.

Perhaps one will posit another escape route for Craig by saying that his denial of filial procession is not a major issue even though it is mentioned in the Creed. But, what if such thinking leads to other problems? Craig’s philosophical position could run him into biblical problems since the Holy Spirit is said to “proceed from the Father” (John 15:26). If procession is a problem for the second person of the Trinity, why not the Third? or what if Craig one day decides the Trinity itself is “an unfortunate vestige of the Greek apologists” as many people have? Well, now, one might say Craig is in real trouble because he is messing with God’s very nature! But one’s view of filial procession or Christ’s will (or God’s foreknowledge!) could be seen as messing with God’s nature too. So, third verse same as the first: who decides which doctrines of God count as essentials?

Heresy in Principle

This particular question of heresy is a prime example of the basic problem facing Evangelicals today. The Protestant ideal was that they were restoring the Church to orthodoxy via proper application of sola Scriptura. The problem was that Scripture still had to be interpreted, and so the major denominations quickly produced their own binding confessions. But these could not be universally binding, and without a universally authoritative means of determining doctrine, the Protestant project quickly degenerated into doctrinal disagreements with each denomination/convention/non-denomination making its own competing creeds (i.e., “doctrinal statements”).

Evangelicalism has taken this even further – often adopting the more radical principle of “no creed but the Bible.” Among all the differing opinions there is no way to authoritatively judge between them, because each person was, at least in practice, their own interpretive authority. The best one can hope for is to win a exegetical argument, but when differing philosophies, backgrounds, and education are brought into play, no consensus ever seems to be reached.

For Evangelicals, the title question cannot be answered until they can explain why anyone is a heretic.


In the end, for those who believe in the authoritative autonomy of the individual, it is not a problem if 99% of the Church is thought to be in error, because one’s own view of biblical teachings is all he is accountable to believe. It seems to me that there is, therefore, no authoritative means – in principle – of calling out a heretic within Evangelicalism today. If Evangelicalism is to claim the authority to objectively determine heresy, then a non-question-begging, principled explanation and defense of its ability to distinguish between orthodoxy and heresy needs to be made.

That, or just give up on the notion of orthodoxy altogether.


42 thoughts on “Is William Lane Craig a Heretic?

  1. Doug,

    Interesting thoughts. Not sure I completely agree though. I am wondering if you have not created a black and white fallacy. Does adherence to sola scriptura automatically open the gates for any interpretation that one wishes? (I have never believed that this is what sola scriptura means – though I admit that many if not most in the church feel this way.) Moreover, does the necessarily solve the problem? Are not the creeds subject to scripture and did not the church labor over them so that they would accurately convey the true revelation of God. If this is the case, then the ultimate authority is still scripture and the church is the community that seeks to accurately interpret it (and has done so). This is what I see when I look at the creeds – a group of wise men, led by the spirit who accurately expressed the truth of scripture. In as much as this is the case, the creeds are authoritative. But they are authoritative because of the scripture they accurately express. Otherwise the scriptures would be subject to the creeds. I have no problem with the collective wisdom of the church guarding the truth of scripture and this is the value of the creeds. Where I do have problems is when these things become institutionalized and not long after that “weaponized.” The “control” of truth is a delicate thing and history seems to indicate that Christians are stuck between a rock and hard place. It seems that either we go with the free-for-all sola scriptura view and the chaos which naturally ensues from that or we institutionalize truth and it becomes a weapon which abuses people who are barred from the information (see the abuses of the Roman Church 1300 -1517). I would also point out that the church has gotten it wrong in terms of heresy – keep in mind you and I are heretics (the formal kind -anathema even and not the mara variety) according the to Decrees of the Council of Trent.

    I think that there is a way of sanity in which we see the principle of sola scriptura as something we are subject to (both individually and collectively) and not lord over. This takes into account the views of the ancient and medieval church and the tremendous fount of wisdom they present; as well as the wisdom of the reformers who did have some legit arguments; but it does not elevate them to the point of unquestioned obedience either -even if they are correct (and I believe that in the Creeds they are) it is still healthy to question and beneficial for growth. The problem is that there will always be wackos on both sides that will want to use either sola scriptura or church authority as a means of control, self-aggrandizment, and power. Basically people suck – and Christian people can excel at sucking.

    I think I deviated from the topic of heresy but I was more interested in your thoughts on sola scriptura and hermenutics. I also admit that I have been out of the game a long time academically so perhaps these thoughts are pedestrian and puerile. If so, no worries, it was good to flex some atrophied muscle a little.

  2. “For the Protestant it is not a problem if 99.999999999% of the Church is thought to be in error, because one’s own view of biblical teachings is all he is accountable to believe. ”

    This is certainly a strawman. “Not a problem”? In what sense? The sense you suggest/imply is that of total flippancy and arrogance in the face of a (t)radition. The only sense in which it really is “not a problem” is that it is not a metaphysical impossibility of an inspired church teaching something that is false–but even that is not an issue of majority, it is an issue of %0.00000004 percent of the “church” which is the magisterium.

    “In the end, to remain Protestant is to necessarily affirm the authoritative autonomy of the individual.”

    After very much reflection on this claim over the past year I disagree. I would agree if you changed it to “interpretive authority”, but then you would also have to change it from “to remain Protestant” to “to remain a rational human being”. To be rational is to understand. This is an immanent activity, no one can do it for you. Any model you have of authority has some infallible text (or other form of communication–“material” communication, not telepathy) that in order to have any human relevance must enter subjectively into the understanding of a given individual. The only thing dividing Protestants and RC is the numerical identity/extent of that infallible text. There is no structural difference. The individual RC must “interpret” the infallible deliverance of a council in the process of coming to understand it (as opposed to merely robotically memorizing the words). If two RC’s disagreed over the meaning of a council, could one say to the other “you are assuming your own authoritative authority”!!

    To repeat “In the end, to be a rational human being is to necessarily affirm the interpretive autonomy of the individual.” There seems to be no other option. The bridging of the gap from infallible text to subjective understanding breaks the chain of infallibility ON ANY VIEW. This is part and parcel of human existence. We can only do our best to understand, making use of all the resources we have available to us. An infallible teacher does not seem to help the problem.

    How then do we know that we know anything at all? It seems this brings us right back to the certainty debate in epistemology, which is all about “infallible knowledge”. And I still don’t understand Gilson’s response to this, but I think Jesus would slap us upside the head if we sit debating this silliness to the neglect of loving our neighbor.

  3. Fascinating exploration. I am a bit perplexed by a Christian today taking the position of monothelitism because, in my reading of history books on the Faith, it was a doctrine that was put forth to try to find some way to placate the monophysites and bring them back into orthodoxy. In other words, more of a politically-motivated doctrine. I recall some of the secular powers, perhaps even Byzantine leaders at the time, persecuted the Church over its opposition to this belief, especially one or two popes, who were tortured (and martyred?).

  4. Yep, you nailed it again! (I like where your mind seems to be headed. Strikes me as similar ground that I’ve trod before.)

    It is a pickle. No doubt about it. I would say that in your concluding thoughts above, there just is no such thing as a “Protestantism” that is capable of denouncing anything. No unified structure, no formal leadership, no ability therefore, to formally denounce anyone. By now, “Protestantism” seems more a loose theological concept, rather than anything particular. It seems quite inevitable then that if one stays within this loose Christian association, he would have to abandon a notion of orthodoxy/heresy since, although I know this sounds incredibly unfair, all that those two concepts can really mean is agrees-with-me (or my group)/disagrees-with-me (or my group).

    But, we feel the tension of this weak position, as our understanding of biblical history and Church history was something much stronger. Those histories seemed to support a strong position in these regards-one which had the undergirding to support the affirmation of orthodoxy and denunciation of heresy.

  5. Ironically, the paper Craig will give at EPS is a refutation of Peter Van Inwagen’s attempt to render the Nicene Creed consistent with Platonism. One wonders at the point, if the creed isn’t authoritative for Craig anyway.

  6. Mike,

    I think sola Scriptura does open those doors – at least to any interpretation that can possibly be born by whatever language one’s translation uses. Look at the range of interpretations present today. We can always blame it on a bad hermeneutic, but that gets us out of what can be known via sola Scriptura (which does not give us our hermeneutic).

    This becomes more evident with regard to the creeds. The heretics cut off by the creeds weren’t nut-job cultists. They were often bishops! These guys knew their Bibles and used them in defense of their beliefs too. Therefore Scripture could not, in practice, simply take precedence. When the Church had to explain what it taught it had to go outside the Scriptures in a sense because it was the understanding of the Scriptures that was at issue. This does not make the creeds over Scripture – it makes them over one’s interpretation of Scripture.

    Also – and this will come up again I am sure – Roman Catholicism does not have the final word here. Trent was many centuries after the universal Church was no longer ecumenical. I am less concerned with what Rome thinks of us than what the undivided Church would have thought when there was nowhere else to go.

    Also I do not think the abuse of orthodoxy is an argument against its necessity. The argument against right belief that has been “weaponized” should be against the weaponization itself.

    And don’t worry – you’re never moderate to me. 🙂

  7. PS,

    Thanks for your comments. As to the Strawman claim, it might be the case right now that this is not so but it is not due to any principle of sola Scriptura or any other Protestant principle. It is ultimately accidental to Protestant faith that it adheres to orthodoxy as defined by the creeds. You said yourself that the Church can teach error. If so, then the creeds could be in error. It is also, therefore, not a logical impossibility that a given Protestant’s understanding of Scripture could lead them to reject everything the Church teaches. I have seen websites of guys who literally claim this, BTW. I do not think they have a leg to stand on – but the claim is made on the same principles that Luther wanted to do his thing.

    As I said to Mike, this is not a Roman Cathjolic issue so all this invective against the Magesterium etc. has nothing to say to the problem. There are other historical churches that do not claim to base their beliefs “solely on the Bible” that are not in league with Rome.

    Now, I agree that rationality forces us into a sort of individualism. It is true that we are each ultimately responsible for what we believe or the tradition we choose. But this is where Protestantism goes a-historical. Protestants typically think (or act as though they think) that all faith decisions are based on the individual’s reading of Scripture. One reads the Bible, decides what they believe, and then goes and finds others who agree. Another way, however, would be to identify the Church and submit to its teachings. This would have been easy in the centuries prior to the Schism, not so much now, but the principle is the same. If one decided against the Church’s teachings they were a heretic. Period. And that’s the issue I wished to raise here: how can a Protestant say who is in and who is out of orthodoxy?

    I have come to realize that tradition in the historic Church sense is not just an infallible commentary on the Bible. It is how the Church has understood the teachings of the apostles whether they were written down in a gospel or occasional letter or not. Sure, when the Bible says, “the grass withers,” we don’t need the Church to tell us what grass is. But what about polygamy (try proving that is wrong using sola Scriptura!), or birth control, or the real presence in the eucharist, or the distinction between elders and bishops, or the procession of the Son, or monothelitism, or head coverings, or divorce? These are all things (and there are MANY more) that simply cannot be known for sure by Scripture alone because there simply isn’t enough data. There is a reason that Zondervan can print an evangelical multi-view book on just about every subject under the sun!

    So it’s not that meaning cannot be transferred through language or that it gets hopelessly lost in an epistemic jumble that only the Church can sort out. It’s that there is simply a lot more to know than what we are told in Scripture. Now, maybe God did not tell us. Perhaps in the years Paul spent in Ephesus he only repeated 6 chapters worth of material over and over again. But if not then the only place to look would be early teachings (many of which look suspiciously non-Protestant!).

    In any case, the issue is whether or not Protestants even have, in principle, any legitimate and consistent means of distinguishing orthodoxy from heresy. I still think there is a huge problem there. But like I said, maybe the idea just needs to be abandoned.

  8. Doug,

    “That, or just give up on concern for orthodoxy altogether.”

    My brother, that is a false dilemma. The Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. You can return to the home of your Christian ancestral family, the Catholic Church. Come home to the household of Peter and the apostles – your trajectory of thought, if you continue to pursue it, leads across the Tiber. Besides, you know some folks who have already made that swim :>

    In all seriousness, you, yourself, have made statements – crucial statements – that actually point to the real issue that undergirds the question of your post. You say:

    “Now, the minimal standard for orthodox Christianity from the beginning has been creeds”

    and again:

    “Craig affirms the Church’s creeds as the determiners of orthodoxy ”

    and again:

    “Craig recognizes that the Church has defined heresy”

    and again:

    “How could one man think he has the authority to judge the ecumenical Church”

    and again:

    “If the Church’s historical understanding of heresy is correct”

    Who says “the Church” is “ecumenical”? What IS “the Church”? You cannot proceed to meaningfully discuss your topic without facing squarely the problem of ecclesiology. In all of these statements, you speak of something called “the Church” which has done things (like define heresy) as if your readers know what your are speaking of. But it is ambiguity with regard to just WHAT something called “the Church” IS, exactly, that makes the orthodox/heterodox distinction impossible. Which creeds and why? Says who? The Church? The “Church” as defined by who? Who has the authority to define the “historical” or “ecumenical” of “Great” Church?

    I pray that you see that the real substrata problem is one of ecclesiology. If “the Church” is not visible, there never can be a meaningful orthodox/heterodox distinction. That is why the older, “mainline”, Reformed communions work so very hard to convey in their writing something like historical /creedal teeth to their notion of “the Church”. But again, who are THEY to define “historic” or “creedal”; or for that matter, to assert that such adjectives OUGHT be applied to one’s notion of “the Church”? After all, as Craig and ALL the historic Reformed confessions agree, “councils and popes can and do err”.

    If the Church is visible, one immediately faces the problem of establishing THAT WHICH identifies – visibly – “the Church”. What possible solution can there be – given a Protestant epistemic paradigm – other than to say that those visible groups or persons are the “visible” “Church” whose teachings conform to the teaching of sacred scripture. But “who” determines when a teaching is in conformity with sacred scripture? One cannot simply answer “the Church”, for that is the visible community whose identity one is attempting to locate in the first place. Yet adding the stipulation that the visible “Church” are those groups or persons whose teachings conform to scripture as interpreted by the creeds puts one in the position of promulgating WHICH creeds count.

    Nicea I yes, Nicea II no. But why? Well, Nicea I comports with scripture; whereas Nicea II does not. Says who? If “ecumenical” councils and popes can and DO err, how much more those who try and foist a standard set of creedal requirements upon the rest of Protestantism as the touchstone of “orthodoxy”. Your dilemma runs much deeper than the problem of determining what doctrines are “essential”. Protestantism has no way of determining which creeds or councils are “essential” for meaningfully distinguishing biblical orthodoxy from heterodoxy. The mist of Protestant ecclesiology leads, inexorably, to doctrinal relativism.

    That this occurs slower among “traditional” Reformed communions as opposed to general “Evangelicalism” is an accident of historical convention, NOT a result of a working epistemic principle. That such is the case cannot be illustrated better than by William Lane Craig; a Reformed Christian, who, when faced with the historical CONVENTION of submission to the dictates of a loosely defined “creedal” Christianity; willingly IGNORES such conventions based on the far more fundamental epistemic PRINCIPLE common to ALL Protestant Christianity; namely, that “councils and popes can and do err” such that their deliverances MUST be rejected if one believes them to conflict with an honest individual grasp of the “clear” teaching of scripture.

    No, I am afraid that within Protestantism – even Reformed Protestantism – IF the notion of a visible Church is maintained at all – whatever the “Church” IS, turns out to be that group of persons which happen to agree with the individual “Church-definer” who is promulgating the criteria for the identity of the “Church” at any given moment – whether that be a person or group of persons. Is the Church just all Christians who agree with the first 2-3-4 ecumenical councils (besides, what makes a council “ecumenical” – again this assumes a visible ecclesiology of some form)? Who has the authority to define “the Church” that way?

    Given the Protestant dictum that “councils and popes can and do err”, what possible basis can be marshaled for objecting to Craig’s assertion that the councils got it wrong with regard to any particular doctrine which his philosophical or exegetical prowess has led him to champion? I love Craig too, but he remains the ultimate authority for himself in all matters of doctrine. He will claim he is being faithful to scripture, but to quote the Reformed theologian Keith Matthison “all appeals to scripture are appeals to interpretations of scripture”. Craig is ultimately submitting to himself and his own interpretation – he is his own pope.

    Finally PS is wrong concerning his epistemic criticism of Catholic ecclesiology. He has not thought deeply enough about the relevant ontological distinctions between texts and persons. Roman Catholics are not simply left with additional textual magisterial clarifications of the deposit of faith – written or otherwise. The Catholic Church has present with her, through every century, the living voice of Peter and the apostles through their successors – the very voice of Christ. The Magisterium travels historically along side the people of God, so that with each clarification, with each response to a threat to the faith, the living Magisterium of the Church can speak with authority to the crisis.

    It is precisely because the Church is constituted with a visible, identifiable, trans-historical and trans-geographical ecclesia – itself unified by the Petrine ministry derived from Christ -that enables her to make meaningful orthodox / heterodox distinctions. Because the structure and extent of her ecclesia is clear, she alone can speak meaningfully to what, exactly, makes an “ecumenical council”, well, “ecumenical”. If the correct understanding of some Magisterial pronouncement (documents of an EC or encyclical, etc) becomes a point of contention within the Church, the living persons of the successors of Peter and the apostles provide a means for clarifying the point at issue – in any given historical moment – and resolving conflict so as to retain unity. Such has happened repeatedly and continues to this day.

    This goes on decade after decade, century after century, because the Magisterium is a living dynamic CONSTITUANT element of “The Church”. A text – symbols codified to paper – has no such ongoing dynamic capacity or potency. This is what it means to be “in communion with Rome”; namely, to divest oneself of ultimate interpretive authority and refer (as St. Thomas did) all one’s theological speculations, present or future, to the authority of Christ, residing within the successors of Peter and the Apostles. Thus, being “in communion with Rome” establishes the essential means of unity for both the episcopate and the laity.

    I will be offering prayers for you daily!

    Pax et Bonum,


  9. “As to the Strawman claim, it might be the case right now that this is not so but it is not due to any principle of sola Scriptura or any other Protestant principle.”

    What about the proverb “He who answers before listening, that is his folly and his shame”?

    What about the “Prostestant principle” of humility?

    Why do we need some formal “principle” to pay attention to the best minds’ thoughts throughout the ages and not ignore them?

    ” It is ultimately accidental to Protestant faith that it adheres to orthodoxy as defined by the creeds.”

    I am interpreting this claim as saying “It is ultimately accidental to Protestant faith that it adheres to he teachings and claims of the creeds.” So if that is not what you mean the following may be irrelevant.

    I don’t think “addidental” here is accurate. Is it “accidental” that all calculus books teach the same formulas and mathematical proofs? Is it “accidental” that two inidividuals or two groups have the same understanding of a given text? Depends on how you want to use the term, but just because a protestant doesn’t adhere to creedal teaching because of the mere fact of being a creed, doesn’t mean is “just happens” or “randomly” happens to still beleive the same things, because they both rely on a common source.

    “It is also, therefore, not a logical impossibility that a given Protestant’s understanding of Scripture could lead them to reject everything the Church teaches.”

    What the heck is “the Church”? What are its teaching? Your question excludes protestants from being part of it. But assuming you mean something like “It is also, therefore, not a logical impossibility that a given Protestant’s understanding of Scripture could lead them to reject everything every previous Christian ever thought.” This is just a corralary of no human being being infallible. This shouldn’t ruffle any feathers. Yet the way you phrase it, it sounds like a crazy claim.

    I hope to hear your thoughts on my “interpretive authority” thought at some point, because I haven’t yet had anyone seriously engage me on it so I don’t know how it stands up under fire.

  10. Oops, sorry I didn’t notice that you did touch on it above.

    “Another way, however, would be to identify the Church and submit to its teachings.”

    Do you consider this an adequate response to the problem I try to bring up? I try to show how this does not move one inch closer to solving the root problem of individual interpretation required on any view.

    ” This would have been easy in the centuries prior to the Schism, not so much now, but the principle is the same.”

    The whole point of further councils is that is was NOT EASY, since various schools of interpretation of the most recent council came in conflict over how to rightly interpret that council’s teaching, so another council was needed to adjudicate. This was true from the birth of the church, up to the schism, and onwards (in RC at least). The only way the East has been content without further creeds is they are able to be content without perfect clarity on everything, while RCs keep trying to define define define which leads to different definitions which leads to the need for a further council to annoint the right definition, and on it goes.

    Why are creeds supposedly so much easier to interpret than scripture? Why are we to think that easy of interpretation is a goal in the Christian life, such that creeds are needed to supplement scripture and make that Christian life possible?

  11. Doug,

    I’m with you on a lot of this stuff as you know. I struggle to see how post-reformation Christianity falls in line with the early Church. Like you said, “But if not then the only place to look would be early teachings (many of which look suspiciously non-Protestant!).”

    That said, whether I choose to place ultimate authority in Scripture, the Church, Tradition, or a mixture of the three… isn’t the reasoning process behind any of those decisions the same? I’m still making a fallible judgment somewhere. One could just as easily ask, “How do you know Rome is the ultimate authority?”. Because Tradition says so? Who interprets Tradition? Rome does, of course. So, circular reasoning abounds on both sides of the fence from many different angles. Ultimately, you’re making a leap of faith whichever way you go.

    Personally, I love tradition. I love reading the early church fathers, particularly the ante-Nicene period. The Fathers spoke with one voice (for the most part) whether they were from East or West, Greek or Latin, etc. Whether a truly faithful expression of classical Christianity still exists today is debatable. Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants all claim to be “it” and I don’t know that any of those claims are fully justified. It’s worth noting that Catholics and Orthodox both appeal to the same “infallible” Tradition, yet arrive at different conclusions…so doesn’t that somewhat negate the infallibility claim right there?

    I dunno…still hashing all of this out!

  12. Nathan,

    I hear you! I would say, though, that the decision process was really only difficult after the Schism. For over 1000 years there was not much real choice involved. It wasn’t about one’s evaluation of the Scriptures, a given pastor, etc. You either became a Christian and joined the Church or you did not. I do not think, therefore, that the present choice struggle can be resolved by a claim to early tradition (hence, all sides claiming it!). This is, however, an important methodological consideration: if it was not by individual choice then, should it be now? One’s response does not necessarily make the issue go away because there are still competing traditions making similar claims. But it does narrow the field considerably.

  13. Ray,

    Thanks for your response. Perhaps you can enlighten us Protestants as to the next step in the decision-making process. Let’s say that one is on agreement that church choice should not be based on individual interpretation or theological preference, and is ready to submit to the historic Church. How does one deal with the fact of a post-schism choice? Even if we ignore oriental orthodoxy, there are at least two major groups that can both make legitimate claims to apostolicity. The choice between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy cannot be decided on the basis of pre-Schism ecumenical tradition, and it seems difficult to avoid question-begging in the post-Schism traditions.

  14. Devin,

    Yeah, that was the one that answered it for me. CTC is great. I still think that there remains the question of making the post-schism choice though. Maybe they’ll do that some time in the future!

  15. Devin,

    Thanks for the article. I skimmed through it, but I intend to read it closely when I have a bit more time.

    I have a question that perhaps you can answer or point me to somewhere that answers it: How do we know that Apostolic Succession actually exists or was even intended? I don’t mean in the sense of genealogy, but in the authoritative manner…that the power/authority that Christ gave to the Apostles was meant to be passed on to the next in line.

    Forgive my ignorance (I am no scholar), but isn’t it just as possible that Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom to Peter, he opened up the Kingdom of God to the rest of the world (particularly the Gentiles), and that “keys” are no longer necessary? I mean, it’s not like the Kingdom of God is being continually open and shut – it was opened and the Apostles left us with their traditions.

    I realize that’s just another subjective “interpretation”; I guess I just don’t understand why it necessarily follows that the Apostles have successors to this day.

  16. Ray,

    Please forgive me. I am not trying to be disrespectful with what I am about to write, but I could not disagree with you more.

    “A text – symbols codified to paper – has no such ongoing dynamic capacity or potency”

    Does this apply to the Bible as well? Is the written Word of God just symbols codified to paper? Furthermore do not those symbols have meaning – after all they symbolize, or rather, signify something. Does this mean that scripture has no meaning until the Church gives it one?

    “the living voice of Peter and the apostles through their successors – the very voice of Christ.”

    Which pope met this criteria from 1378 to 1415?

    Was Alexander VI the living voice of Peter when he was fathering children like an NBA player?

    Was Leo X “the very voice of Christ” when naked boys were jumping out of his birthday cake?

    These are but a few examples. I do not mean to be crude in my examples but I think that this claim is just too much. Granted the Roman Catholic Church can more easily deal with issues of orthodoxy but it is only because they have given themselves a monopoly in hermeneutics. It was Rome after all that decided it was infallible – at least ex cathedra.

    I can understand Doug’s call to the standards of the universal or ecumenical church but I think the Roman Church has gone far too far in the audacity of their claims (its just bread). Yes that is my individualist perspective but the same is true of anyone who accepts the claims of the church. Whatever claim to authority the church has, its validity must be determined outside of the church. Perhaps the church really does possess real apostolic succession, but if it does it is not because the church says that it possesses it – the source of temporal authority cannot be the authority and to claim that the church or more specifically the pontif is the voice of Christ is to beg the question.

    I am sorry if I was too caustic here I am not trying to be offensive – and please forgive me I I have. I just strongly disagree.

    This also is not a defense of evangelicalism over Roman Catholicism because I think that is seriously flawed as well. Not sure where I fit I just know that I won’t be swimming the Tiber any time soon (already swam it once – away from Rome).

    On a light note, if Doug were to swim the Tiber would he not also be crossing the Rubicon?


  17. Doug,

    I am a convert to the Catholic Church (of course), and it was just this problem which was the most difficult for me as well. Let me use something Nathan’s wrote by way of response. Nathan wrote:

    “I’m still making a fallible judgment somewhere. One could just as easily ask, “How do you know Rome is the ultimate authority?”. Because Tradition says so? Who interprets Tradition? Rome does, of course. So, circular reasoning abounds on both sides of the fence from many different angles. Ultimately, you’re making a leap of faith whichever way you go.”

    By focusing on the subjective fallibility of the inquirer, he has set up a false dilemma. He seems to posit that since the subject must always be fallible, the only choice is a “leap” of faith. This is a false dilemma. The choices are not rationalism on the one hand and fideism on the other. Between these two, faith (traditionally – “the assent of faith”) occupies a middle ground.

    I take it you are an Evangelical Thomist – or at least sympathetic. This means that along with Aristotle and Aquinas, you are not a through going epistemic skeptic (Kantian idealist, etc.). Geisler, by the way was instrumental in pulling me out of a deep philosophical agnosticism many years ago, so I am very fond of him and Thomism of any stripe! Our fallibility is not total. The intellect, in fact, engages reality via con-ception. Nonetheless, though our initial grasp of a thing’s essence is often functionally adequate; repeated interaction with a thing is needed to gain a clearer and more complete picture of WHAT a thing is in all (and sometime crucial) respects. We immediately distinguish a tree from other things because the mind maps the essence of trees as distinct from rocks. Nonetheless, we can re-approach trees from many different angles to get an increasingly clear picture of the thing – to better adequate our mind to reality. This is why we can get along quite well in common sense, everyday living, yet there can be development – say in the natural sciences, which accumulates over centuries. Men have known the utility of trees for building and warmth for millennia; yet the biological and chemical knowledge of the same has developed over centuries of accumulated knowledge. The bottom line is that we do know – with practical certainty – many mundane things and scientific things. Aquinas, sans Aristotle, therefore yields a wide playing field to the competency of natural reason. (I really am going somewhere with this background – which you may already embrace).
    The problem arises when men attempt to move beyond mundane things and begin to seek answers to the questions we most wish to know – question concerning human destiny, mankind’s End, and means of arrival at that End. Our rational competency fails us just where we most wish to have answers. Look around; the Western philosophical and religious past (and the Eastern for that matter) is a veritable wasteland of competing, and contradictory human accounts of the meaning and destiny of human beings.

    Let me now cast Nathan’s question in the broadest light. How does one transcend the nascent limitations of human reason, whose capacities falter (fallibility) when seeking answers concerning the meaning and destiny of human life. How does one reach answers to “ultimate questions” which have a reasonable claim to entail more than just mere human opinion? THAT is the macro impasse which daunts all those whose approach to the philosophy of religion is born of anxiety over the most fundamental human questions.
    Accordingly, this impasse is exactly where St. Thomas begins the Summa (ST Q1A1). He points out the overarching limitations of human reason in this respect. First, since human reason moves from effects back to causes, the closest man can come to “knowing” his final End would be arrival at a first cause (Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, or Aquinas Actus Purus). Yet, this only establishes man’s origin and conservation, not his destiny or End. Secondly, even if intellectual effort could discover man’s final End; the effort is fraught with difficulties and prone to error, and more practically, most people who have ever lived have not the time, talent or money to engage in such rigorous effort.

    Hence, Aquinas affirms that on the objective level, the only way to bridge the gap between human fallibility and epistemic certainty, is for God to offer mankind a Divine Revelation, a communicative Self-Disclosure about God and man. Yet, for man to receive Divine communication, God must employ some communicative means consonant with human knowing. For instance, God could instill direct communication within each human intellect concerning ultimate matters of human destiny. I don’t know any Christian who is willing to dissolve Divine Revelation to private revelation so I will not belabor this theory. Closely related to this radical idea, however, would be the notion that God has chosen a text as the sole mechanism for Divine Revelation. This would be something close to the idea of the early Calvin, where God directly illuminates, via the Holy Spirit, both the identity and extent of the canon, as well as the correct interpretation thereof.

    Yet, this entails a subversion of natural reason and is both fideistic and a-historical (which is why Calvin equivocated on this point). In addition, the divisions among “bible-only” Christians who take such an approach constitutes a lived contradiction of this theory. On such a view, the orthodox / heterodox distinction becomes impossible as I said in my earlier post. Attempting to arbitrarily overlay a set of creeds or councils as a means of normalizing the interpretive problem just pushes the difficulty back a step, as I also discussed in my earlier post. The macro problem which re-asserts itself here, is that the Protestant epistemic approach to Divine Revelation, far from solving the initial problem of bridging the gap between human fallibility and epistemic certainty concerning human destiny, simply exacerbates the matter within a more narrow theological context. It leaves the inquirer with a battery of conflicting THEOLOGICAL opinions about the content of Divine Revelation – NONE of which make a claim to speaking with Divine authority – which is the very thing one is seeking from the outset. Your article, and your response to my first post, indicate that you already see this point.

    I have taken the time to establish the above in order to secure the context for what follows. My primary goal is to establish that the wide-angle concern which we all have is to gain an answer to ultimate human questions which claims to be given on something better than mere fallible human opinion. This where the issue of ecclesiology comes in; but keeping the context in mind becomes crucial to reaching a solution. In a Christian context the “wide-angle” question can be restated as “how can the “de fide” (God intended) content of Divine Revelation be distinguished from mere human opinion. This is just s precise way of asking how orthodoxy can be distinguished from human opinion or heterodoxy. The unexplored option which remains is that God established some person or persons as the instrument by which the “de fide” content of revelation would be both communicated, as well as distinguished from human opinion. Here is the relevant point, given the context, I just laid out. Since what we want are answers to human destiny – theological answers – which are given on something BETTER THAN human opinion, the theoretical persons in question must speak with something better than mere human fallibility to such issues. This is the very basis for both the notions of “inspiration” and “infallibility”. The first is a gift enabling the original communication of Divine Revelation, that later is a gift enabling the Divinely authorized interpretation of the same.

    Protestantism denies the existence of or the need for the later. But as you have discovered; lacking any claim to infallible interpretation, Protestantism has explicitly renounced the very ontological quality which might meaningfully resolve the heterodox/orthodox distinction. Point number one then is simply this: since what we need is access to a Divinely authorized differentiation between the “de fide” content of Divine Revelation and mere human opinion in the here and now (not in the textual past where the theoretical infallible text must be extracted and communicated by fallible interpreters); we need AT THE VERY LEAST someone known set of persons actually making such a staggering claim!. Protestantism explicitly disavows such a claim, erg, Protestantism cannot, even in principle, resolve the overall epistemic dilemma. Again, you seem to have reached the same conclusion through other routes. What that leaves, as you suggest, is both Rome and the various autocephalus and autonomous Eastern Orthodoxy communities, since these are the only communions actually making the claim to speak with Divine authority regarding the content of Divine revelation in the here and now.

    So to return again to Nathan’s original quote:

    “How do you know Rome is the ultimate authority?”. Because Tradition says so? Who interprets Tradition? Rome does, of course. So, circular reasoning abounds on both sides of the fence from many different angles. Ultimately, you’re making a leap of faith whichever way you go.”

    I said earlier that on the objective level, the only way in which the gap between human fallibility (limits of natural reason) and epistemic certainty could be bridged was (sans Aquinas) via an act of Divine Revelation. However, the real problem is figuring out how the individual “knows” the content of Divine revelation on the subjective level – which is what most of the above discussion was aimed at honing in on. Both Rome and the Eastern Orthodox communions make a claim to speak with Divine Authority; but how are we to assess that claim. As I said earlier the choices are not simply rationalism or fideism. The “assent of faith” lay between these two poles. The claim that Rome or EO possesses an ontological potency to speak with Christ’s authority can never be rationally demonstrated, because such a quality is not empirically verifiable. Neither was the Divine nature of Christ empirically verifiable. On the other hand, such a claim does NOT require a blind leap of faith, since there are a myriad of biblical and historical “motives of credibility” attached to the claim which lend rational credence (though not demonstration) to the claim itself. Likewise, belief that Jesus is Divine is supported by many motives of credibility (“If you do not believe My words, believe because of the works I do”) – especially the resurrection – which lend rational credence to Jesus’ Divine claims. Note that even a resurrection of a man from the dead does not ipso facto imply that such a man is Divine (not demonstrably), though it lends a great deal of rational credence to the claim which the event is purported to verify. So then, according to Aquinas and many others, “faith”, or the “assent of faith” entails an elevation of and concordance with natural reason, NOT a denial or subversion of reason via an existential “leap of faith”. The claims of both Rome and the EO communities both call for a rational “assent of faith”. Given the gap I have been discussing between the limits of natural reason and the desire for epistemic certainty regarding questions of human destiny, it seems apparent that an “act of faith” (as opposed to a leap of faith) MUST be directed at some ecclesial object IF we want to bridge the gap – IF we want to obtain a meaningful distinction between heterodoxy and orthodoxy.

    Extraordinarily bright men have approached the biblical, patristic and historical evidence and found very good motives, indeed, for making an act of faith in the claims of the Catholic Magisterium. Bright men, within Eastern orthodoxy, have approached the same data set and come to almost the same conclusion for the same reasons, excepting – in particular – the role of Peter and his successors. Of course, I think the Catholic hermeneutic accounts for a much wider swath of the data. Still, the main point here is that accepting the claims of either Rome or the EO communities is neither rationalism, nor fideism, but real, living faith.
    The trouble with Orthodoxy is primarily self-identity. So far as I can discover, the only instrument generally recognized by the various EO communions by which the “de fide” content of divine revelation can be differentiated from human theological opinion in an infallible/normative way, is an ecumenical council – not general synods of bishops, and certainly not any individual bishop, patriarch, etc. Some within the various EO communities maintain, in theory, that an ecumenical council MIGHT be convened and recognized at any time. However, it seems to me that EO communities, in practice, do NOT possess a means by which to actualize such an instrument, precisely because EO communities possess no means by which any potential council of bishops might be recognized as “ecumenical”. The primary reason EO communities no longer hold “ecumenical” councils is because no person or group can “authoritatively” say what makes an ecumenical council “ecumenical”; and this, in turn, is because no person or group can authoritatively say who exactly is “Orthodox”, or what is “Orthodoxy”, or most precisely, what is “the Orthodox Church” for purposes of convening and recognizing a council as “ecumenical”.

    This situation entails that, despite the theoretical claim to the contrary; there is currently no instrumental authority, in practice, which can differentiate between “orthodox” and “heterodox” doctrine among modern day EO communities. The functional result of this situation is that access to the normative “de fide” explication of the content of divine revelation is restricted to a fallible interpretive grasp of textual reference points such as the canons and decrees of ecumenical councils or other specific synodal or patristic documents originating 800 or more years in the past. The historical gap between these last normative interpretation(s) of the “de fide” content of revelation and the present historical moment; has created a temporal space in which variant theological interpretations have grown up within EO communities, and even among various EO bishops and hierarchs – none of which claim the ability to speak with “divine” authority to such theological disputes. Barring a practical means by which to actualize, now or in the future, an ecumenical council capable of authoritatively/normatively clarifying interpretations which are “orthodox” over against those which are “heterodox”; the person inquiring into the claims of “divine revelation” on an EO construal is once again faced with a perpetual fog of undifferentiated variant interpretations which undermine the very purpose of engaging in any revelatory inquiry to begin with.

    The Catholic proposal, by contrast, DOES posit a clear means by which the heterodox / orthodox distinction might be made, and in point of fact, the Catholic Church alone continues to go on making such a distinction right up into the 20th century. The Catholic Magisterium composed of bishops in communion with the pope is an identifiable authority which, if its claims are true, entails the capability to differentiate between the “de fide” content of the “deposit of faith” and mere human theological opinion. This IN PRINCIPLE capability to distinguish between the “de fide” content of revelation and human theological opinion serves as a focal point for all Catholics including bishops. It is true that Catholics, including bishops, subjectively retain their current understanding of the content of divine revelation with greater or lesser degrees of comprehension. Catholics also admit variations in individual interpretation of the relevant sources (ecumenical councils, ex cathedra definitions, encyclicals, etc) due to both the subjective nature of interpretation itself, as well as the variant levels of authority understood to be attached to such sources.

    All such subjectivity with respect to an individual understanding of the content of divine revelation is grounded in the fact that human knowledge and clarity, even theological knowledge and clarity, is gained progressively, over time, by both individuals and the Church as a whole (as I discussed above with reference to Aristotelian epistemology). What is different, however, within the Catholic paradigm, is that these individual’s subjective grasp of the content of divine revelation is held AS REVISABLE BY or with reference to a recognized, identifiable, infallible teaching authority – the Catholic Magisterium. This disposition or orientation to such an infallible instrument is crucial, as it amounts to an “assent of faith” in a dynamic God-authorized ongoing Divine authority. The very act of such an “assent” tends toward the unity of the Church because persons direct their “assent” (or should, barring poor catechesis) at the same identifiable locus of final authority in the Church. Likewise, such orientation explicitly acknowledges that same authority’s ability to resolve disputes and divisions within the Church should they rise to a level requiring pastoral intervention.

    Hence, it seems to me that the Catholic construal proposes just the sort of divinely authorized instrumental authority that someone investigating the claims of divine revelation would be looking for as a theoretical, in principle, mechanism by which the “de fide” content of such a revelation might be distinguished from mere human opinion. An instrumentality which, if its claims are true, might resolve the overall existential problem, which was to gain access to an answer to the question of human destiny on an authority basis superior to mere human opinion – even theological opinion. The existence of the Catholic Magisterium as a necessary constituent aspect of the Catholic Church supplies the ongoing “object of faith” which, when “assented to”, entails a submission of mind and will that establishes a communal RELATIONSHIP between the individual and the Church. A relationship that establishes a dynamic context or communion with definite parameters in terms of both visible fellowship and common doctrine.

    This is what is embodied by the notion of one’s being “in communion with Rome”. By “faith”, one remains “oriented toward” an identifiable, authoritative center in terms of both praxis and doctrine, since all of one’s external religious activities, as well as internal theological notions, are carried out or embraced “as subject to” the Church. The term “Church”, in turn, has a very definite and identifiable locus of authority – namely, the Magisterium. That Catholic “orientation” of faith, by remaining in place existentially during the years between specific acts of the Magisterium itself; enables a substantial trans-historical cohesion of the Catholic Church in both doctrine and praxis until circumstances arise which call for explicit Magisterial acts to address external or internal threats to said cohesion. When such “acts” do occur, they benefit the People of God by clarifying theological confusions and/or eliminating specific notions as being compatible with a Catholic understanding of the content of divine revelation.

    Thus, the “deposit of faith” may take on an increasingly clearer aspect with each successive historical act of the Magisterium (development of doctrine). In this way, the so-called “Petrine ministry” serves as a substantial, working, center of gravity for both the college of bishops and the lay faithful. Thus, the Catholic construal, in virtue of the continual co-existence of the Magisterium traveling alongside the faithful down the path of history, presents the revelatory inquirer with an appropriate object at which to direct an “assent of faith” in his or her historical moment and simultaneously brings him or her into a dynamic relationship, via that assent, with the Magisterium and, hence, the Church itself.

    Hence, given at least equal, if not superior, motives of credibility for the Catholic claim, AND ESPECIALLY in light of the overall need to arrive at a real-time, here and now resolution to the orthodox / heterodox problem, the Catholic claim alone provides the adequate object for a subjective “assent of faith” (a faith that is, in fact a gift of the Holy Spirit) which puts the individual Christian in possession of the “de fide” content of Divine revelation which answers to the deepest questions of human destiny and purpose.

    I would be happy to discus the “motives of credibility” in detail if you wish; however, it seems fruitless to do so without first coming to a common understanding of the role such “motives” play in resolving the overall epistemic difficulty. This is why I have taken to what might be called an “over-arching context” approach to begin with.

    Sorry for the long post, but as Newman said: “The Catholic faith is not the sort of thing one takes up in a teacup”

    Pax et Bonum,


  18. Hi Nathan,

    How do we know that Apostolic Succession actually exists or was even intended? I don’t mean in the sense of genealogy, but in the authoritative manner…that the power/authority that Christ gave to the Apostles was meant to be passed on to the next in line.

    That is a good question. The short answer is that we cannot know it through reason alone; it does take faith to believe that Christ would entrust authority to the Apostles and then to their successors. However, early Christian writings provide evidence that, not only was their a “genealogical” connection from the Apostles to their descendants (which we even see glimpses of between Paul and Timothy & Titus), but that these apostolic successors had authority in the early Church. Now then, the question then becomes what the nature of this authority was and also whether it was what God intended. Perhaps it was a corruption from the very 1st century that men like St. Clement of Rome claimed to have authority.

    Forgive my ignorance (I am no scholar), but isn’t it just as possible that Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom to Peter, he opened up the Kingdom of God to the rest of the world (particularly the Gentiles), and that “keys” are no longer necessary? I mean, it’s not like the Kingdom of God is being continually open and shut – it was opened and the Apostles left us with their traditions.

    Yes that is completely possible. God could have let the authority which He gave to the Apostles expire with their deaths, leaving the Church with no rightful human authorities but instead only with the Spirit dwelling in the hearts of Christians. It is possible that in addition to this He inspired X number of books to be written (66, 73, 75, 78?) and that those books were the sole thing that He protected from error, such that only those particular books (whichever ones they are) are what Christians should look to for divine revelation.

    From another perspective, just as the foundation upon which Christ built His Church would never go away, neither would the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, they would be entrusted to worthy men in every generation, to stand guard over, to wield with mercy and justice, and so on. They represent the divine authority which Catholics believe Christ gave to the Apostles (in particular Peter of course) and then they to their successors.

    Regarding the “traditions” that the Apostles left us with, the question is, what traditions are those and how do we know which ones are of divine origin vs. those of merely human origin?

    Ultimately the question is: how can we know divine revelation? Surely God, who loves us, must have provided a sure means of knowing it, and knowing it without error. It is hard enough to follow the truth when you know what is true and good, let alone if you don’t know or have error in your beliefs. The Catholic Church claims that God revealed Himself to us through Christ and then ensured we would know the truth via inerrant Scriptures + divine Tradition as understood by the Spirit-led teaching authority of Christ’s Church, which is led by the successors of the Apostles. Protestantism claims that He left us with 66 inerrant books and our own hopefully Spirit-led interpretation.

    I think Called to Communion plans an article on Apostolic Succession soon. God bless!

  19. Nathan asks a good question, and a lot of the answer has to do with the Church’s own self-understanding from the get-go. As in, it was the early Church’s own understanding of itself that led everyone to a more generalized view of apostolic succession. You ask the question as if a Protestant alternative were a logical option. And it is. It’s logically possible, just not historically so. And an ongoing, authoritative teaching tradition makes sense, given two things: (1) the importance of the revelation being transmitted thru the ensuing generations and (2) our propensity towards error and divisiveness. A living perpetual safeguard seems the best way to preserve and transmit the all-important revelation of God in Christ throughout the centuries. 

    There’s also a sense in which your question is asked from an already-present Protestant mindset. As in, it has a Protestant presumption underlying it–only a Protestant would ask such a question.. Know what I’m getting at? 

  20. Doug,

    As regards the decision between the ancient Christian communions, here are a few thoughts to share, based on my own experience. I only speak to the distinction between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, as I honestly never considered much else.

    I firmly believe that any attempt to argue that either communion does not presently possess the charism of apostolicity will be unsuccessful. It seems evident to me, given the enormous amount of doctrinal, liturgical and moral sameness that exists between the two communions (and comparably little dissimilarity), that these are as two lungs of the one ancient and undivided Church. It is incredible to realize that, after having been divided for a millennium, these two communions would still agree on almost everything: the ancient creeds, the “essentials of the faith,” etc.

    Second, there is a certain universality and ecumenicity that I saw (and still see) within the Catholic Church of today. I did not find the same to be the case with Orthodoxy. I’m sure there is an element of ecumenical thought within the Orthodox tradition, but I have run into too much of the brick wall erected by Orth. “We over here are right (ie, orthodox). All others are welcome to come back at any time.” That’s the attitude that I encountered and still run into with Orthodoxy. Such an attitude violates what I’ve come to believe as obviously true (which I describe in the paragraph above). To try to claim that either ancient communion lost its apostolicity somewhere along the way gets into all sorts of implausibilities. Where did it go, if it left a certain group? How could that even happen? Also, whence the overwhelming similarity between the two, if they don’t both have something supernatural helping to ensure the continuity? It’s an historical accident that Cath and Orth have remained on the same page in so many ways?! That just stretches credulity, I find. And inasmuch as Orthodoxy makes these implausible claims against Catholicism, it makes me think there is something a little better about the Cath approach here. 

    And then I would argue that the East cannot hold a candle to the intellectual tradition of the West. To this former Evangelical, the big-brains of Catholicism were certainly a draw.

    I also see a stronger display of acts of mercy and charity within the Cath tradition (monks, nuns, hospitals, Mother Teresa’s). However, it may be that my knowledge of Eastern Orthodoxy in these respects is just too limited.

    BUT, I do have to say that if one is aesthetically oriented and if liturgy factors strongly into your expression of your own Christian faith, there’s a strong argument that Orthodoxy outdoes Catholicism here. 

    Ultimately, I imagine that Cath/Orth reunification is inevitable and to be striven for. In which case, the choice between the two may not seem as serious as it otherwise might (or might incline one towards the more ecumenical of the two).

    Anyway, these are just a few of the thoughts I have, borne largely out of my own journey. Maybe some of it you’ll find helpful. 

  21. Thanks Jeremiah. Your thoughts are always appreciated. I think that if both sides thought this way there would be a lot less hassle. I’ve heard the same bit of attitude AND the same bit of ecumenism on both sides oddly enough.

  22. Yeah Doug, same here. But, the point I’m making is that it goes well beyond personal encounters with Cath and Orth. The Catholic Church has formalized its belief that the apostolic charism exists and never left the Eastern Orthodox (see Vat 2’s decreed on ecumenism-essential reading). However, no such recognition has come from the Orthodox. In one way, I can understand why (perhaps) as the Orth have not recognized ecumenical conciliar statements since the split. On the other hand, it’s a bit odd that this formal recognition is a one way street.

    And this leads to another important distinction between the two camps. If conciliar, ecumenical councils had been normative for the first millennium, what happened to them? Where did they go? Is it plausible to believe they would have stopped in the true church that remained (assuming that’s the Orthodox church)? Again, I get overwhelmed with this sense of stretching credulity. I’ve read some Orth responses, but I didn’t find them satisfactory. Maybe you will though. Glad you’re continuing this path of being “deep in history.” 🙂

  23. This conservation is giving me a freakin’ headache. I guess I really need to read more on this subject before commenting. Every time I sit down to write my thoughts, I get my thoughts all mixed up. My arguments start to look too simplistic. They look like they might be caricatures of real arguments and I certainly don’t want to do that.

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  29. You have a learned genius, who sometimes probes too deeply with logic and philosophy as digging tools, rather than faith. I admire the man, his intellect and abilities, but he can get tangled in his own logic.
    Like every great teacher, learn from him and discard that which is flawed. I try to listen to every podcast i can, every debate, he brings perspectives that i never considered due to my own ignorance. I discard that which i think is error. James White often critiques Craig, sometimes it is nitpicking, other times very informative. No teacher living is free from error, be a Berean.

  30. Keith,

    Thanks for the comments. I like and respect Dr. Craig, but I think it is important to hold him accountable to the faith once for all delivered to the saints – just as I am sure he would agree (even if he disagrees with what that is).

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