Sometimes I blush when I read the writing of fellow evangelicals. This week has been particularly difficult as C. Michael Patton has decided to develop a critique of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters that leaves evangelicalism indefensible. First, he wrote “Embracing Doubt or Why ‘Roman Catholic Scholarship’ is an Oxymoron” wherein he attempted (and failed) to show that evangelicals have substantially more intellectual wiggle room that Roman Catholics. I wrote a response titled “Roman Catholics cannot be scholars?! Then neither can evangelicals.” I don’t want to retread where we’ve already traveled, so I will let you read those post if you have not done so already. Also, I recommend posts from Jeremy Thompson, Rodney Thomas, Josh McManaway, Kevin Greenlee, and any other clear headed blogger who has pointed out the obvious flaws and contradictions located at the core of Patton’s argument.
A couple of weeks ago I heard an evangelical friend of mine criticizing Roman Catholics for the official process of sainthood. While I don’t affirm the doctrine that particular Christians are saints (e.g. Augustine of Hippo; Thomas Aquinas) while other Christians are not (e.g. Mark Stevens, Josh Smith), it was the methodology of his argument that caused me to frown. He asked what right the church had to determine who could be a saint and who could not be a saint. This seemed silly to me. It reminded me of the criticisms leveled against Christians by Liberal/Progressive Christians and non-Christians regarding our “choosing” of the canon. While we evangelicals like to use the language of “discovering” not “choosing” the canon, this seems to me to be semantics at best. For an evangelical to criticize Roman Catholicism’s process of sainthood we must begin somewhere other than where this person began for the same argument can be leveled against us regarding the canon of Scripture or some of our prized creedal affirmations.
Similarly, Patton argues that evangelicals can make better scholars than Roman Catholics because evangelicals can be intellectually honest while Roman Catholics cannot. In his most recent post titled “Why I Hate Roman Catholicism, Part 2” he begins by acknowledging the critique of some of those who have responded to him. He tells of his own dabbling with Roman Catholicism. He lists several doctrines that he cannot affirm (i.e. prayer to Mary and the Saints; purgatory; and so forth). Then he makes arguments that basically derail evangelicalism in the process.
He criticizes Roman Catholics for saying they have remained loyal to the Apostolic Doctrine while pointing out that there has been change in their doctrine. Uh, well, this is problematic for evangelicals as well. Does Patton realize that the doctrine of the Trinity both (A) claims to be consistent with the teaching of the Apostles while (B) greatly evolving and morphing their teaching. What about our clear statements on the relationship between the humanity and deity of Christ? We infer this from Scripture, but we argue that the church got it right in our further development of Christology! Let’s be clear, the Apostle Paul may be called a “proto-Trinitarian” but he was not a Trinitarian as we describe it now. He wouldn’t have used our categories and terminology to describe how Jesus relates to the Father and Spirit (the Fourth Gospel comes the closest).
While we may not go as far as our Catholic and Orthodox siblings, if we affirm the Trinity, or the dual nature of Christ, or even the canon, then we agree with them that doctrine can unfold.
Patton attempts to display how Roman Catholics cannot disagree with Rome by pointing out several doctrines essential to Roman Catholicism. He uses Hans Kung as an example of someone who fell the wrong side of Rome and who therefore is no longer allowed to be an official teacher in the church. Apparently, he ignores the careers of Peter Enns, Bruce Waltke, and dozens of others who have been on the wrong side of evangelical institutions over doctrines such as inerrancy, or the historicity of Adam and Eve, or defining “hell”, or whether or not the Spirit through Christ can save someone even if someone is not a professed “Christian”.
Listen! These things will get you on the wrong side of evangelical hierarchies everywhere! You can loose your job. You can be removed from a pastorate or a teaching post. Again, I am not saying this is wrong, but I am saying Patton is blinding himself to what evangelicalism shares with Roman Catholicism.
Patton suggests that the important difference is this:
“Finally, a word about Roman Catholicism compared to Evangelicalism. Many have objected to me using Rome as a punching bag, believing that if Catholicism lacks freedom, then the same must be said of Evangelicalism. In a way, I see where people are coming from. However, this does not really work. Evangelicalism is not an institution. It has no creeds, documents of incorporation, headquarters, president, or pope. In theory, Evangelicalism is descriptive of a movement with which like-minded believers network or identify. One cannot be “kicked out” of Evangelicalism. One does not become an Evangelical by vowing to submit to the authority or even the idea of Evangelicalism. Therefore, the comparison does not work.”
This is a red herring. Yes, it is theoretically correct that one cannot be “kicked out of Evangelicalism” but ask a professor who affirmed evolution resulting in their departure from an evangelical institution if that really matters. Ask a pastor who is released from his position for not teaching hell as eternal conscience torment whether or not it matters that he is an “evangelical” who can never be removed from this oblong thing called “evangelicalism”. We still fire people from evangelical churches and institutions. For goodness sake, doesn’t Dallas Theological Seminary have a dozen and a half reasons to unemploy a professor? We still have churches who “excommunicate”. Patton’s point is a throw away.
Yes, evangelicalism allows for Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, and others, but doesn’t Roman Catholicism boast the likes of Raymond Brown, Hans Kung, and personalities like Gustavo Gutierrez? And again, I will repeat what I said last time: Wouldn’t the University of Notre Dame hire a qualified evangelical? Yes! Would Wheaton College hire a Roman Catholic? No!
Roman Catholics and E/evangelicals share a lot. We must continue the dialog between the two groups to better clarify and qualify our differences. I am so very thankful for my Roman Catholic friends who give me push back on my various presuppositions. They challenge me to think clearly about why I affirm what I affirm. Often I am convinced that some segments of Roman Catholicism is more open and intellectually honest than many evangelicals. What Patton has written is misleading and lacks the critical self-reflection needed by evangelicals.
Also: See a further response from Jeremy Thompson.
Great plea, man. But some leading evangelicals would consider too close an alliance with Rome too grievous. Remember the ECT fall out?
@TC : True, but whatever differences exists between Roman Catholics and evangelicals must be real differences. We can begin the dialog there. Even if Patton has had his fill of interaction with Rome, it doesn’t help to make these types of misguided, inaccurate claims.
Hey, are you trying to say that my husband is not a saint?! 😉
@Morgan: No, I think he is a saint, just not an “official” saint. 🙂
@Brian – Okay, I’ll let it slide. 😉
Your take on C Michael Patton’s claims should serve as a caution to stone-throwers everyehere – both those “with sins” and dwellers in glasshouses. ;^).
Although I appreciated Michael’s bursts of painful honesty, I stopped reading his blog when his anti-evolution posts betrayed an understanding of evolution on the level of a Jack Chick pamphlet. I wanted insights backed by an honest dialogue with the facts.
Patton’s attempt to “develop a critique”?
A critique is something well thought out, considerate, and while critical, is not founded on polemics.
Patton admits to using polemics, therefore, it’s not really a critique as it is more of an ill-informed soap-box.
@Scott: Very true.
An excellent book of historical theology on the relationship between Protestants and the Roman Catholics is Stephen Strehle’s The Catholic Roots of the Protestant Gospel: Encounter Between the Middle Ages and the Reformation (of course its spendy, and so folks will need access to large amounts of cash or a theo library 😉 ).
Patton’s posts are really unfortunate, and maddening. It reflects a modern day Fundamentalism, in the sense that despite, I think, some basic critiques offered to him; it’s as if he puts his fingers in his ears, and at the same time types another post of denial without any kind of positive affirmation of the critiques made towards his first post. Wow! This actually really upsets me; it is this kind of thinking that calls the troops to double-down in ignorance and arrogance. Frustrating!!
That final Patton quotation isn’t really a red herring; it’s actually quite germane to the topic and it’s a simple enough truth. “Evangelicalism” isn’t an official denomination or institution like the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a big tent movement and there’s no official leaders or hierarchy or anything even remotely close to what the RCC has. Enns or Waltke or whoever can find employment in other evangelical institutions while affirming the very things that caused the splits with their former institutions. This is because there’s room for these kinds of disagreement in the big tent of evangelicalism. Hans Küng on the other hand cannot teach Catholic theology in any official setting. The Megisterium wields authority over every Catholic institution everywhere and at all times. Individual Catholic teachers may be free to believe whatever they’d like in private but they certainly can’t teach contrary to the Magesterium in any public setting or in any official capacity. And all this is to say nothing about his point regarding the ability of Catholics to be scholars–he’s wrong on that one–but that’s another issue.
@Bobby : I am confused by the motivation to attack Roman Catholics from this angle. It seems to ignore the culture of evangelicalism. Maybe he wants to show Liberal Protestants and non-Christian scholars that we are as “objective” as they?
@Nick : On a theoretical level, sure, Patton is correct to note the institutional differences, but pragmatically I maintain he makes a leap that widens the chasm more than reality allows. As an evangelical I can think and teach many things that allow me to remain under the “big tent” but disqualify me from many churches and academic institutions. There are only so many Fuller Theological Seminaries out there who allow and can manage to hire broadly thinking evangelicals. Everyone else is trying to fit into the other institutions with their various pet-peeve doctrines. I think the practical impact for Kung is no worse than the practical impact for Enns.
I was just thinking the same thing; I am confused as to why Patton posted what he did in the first place.
Paul Molnar is a Roman Catholic, teaches at St. John’s University (in NY), a Roman Catholic University; and is Barthian in his doctrine of God (really more Torrancean). It is simply not the case that the RC magesterium has the strangle-hold that Patton asserts that they do.
Brian, I think you’re kidding yourself if you believe that any school (really, any institution) is “open” like you seem to think Fuller is. Granted, you can deny inerrancy and still teach at Fuller, but try denying egalitarianism and see how well that goes over. Or, any of another issues that are important to Fuller. The reality is that every institution has an identity grounded in its beliefs, values, and history, and anyone who rejects that identity is going to have a hard time remaining a part of the institution. So, it’s not really that one school is necessarily more “restrictive” than another. It’s more about whether you think the issues forming the boundaries are legit or not (i.e. whether you like and agree with them).
One of the (many) problems with Patton’s argument is that he’s not comparing apples to apples. If we can say that Enns didn’t get kicked out of evangelicalism, just out of a particular institution, then we should also be able to say the same about Kung. After all, he didn’t get kicked out of Catholicism.
Exactly, Marc … pace your point on Patton’s post.
@Marc: I’m not saying FTS is “open” as if there are no rules or regulations. Rather, I am highlighting that some institutions have rules and regulations that tend to be a tad broader in their overall scope. Of course, whether this is positive or negative depends on the given person being asked. Also, as far as I know many evangelical institutions pride themselves on not having a tent the size of FTS. I doubt most DTS profs or admin would be ashamed to call themselves more “conservative” (i.e. smaller tent) than FTS.
I agree that his comparison starts at the wrong place. What I’ve been arguing is that it is silly to think that evangelicals do not have some sort of confessional stance; some sort of presupposed paradigm while Catholics do not.
I completely agree on the confessionalism piece. I was reacting to your comment: “There are only so many Fuller Theological Seminaries out there who allow and can manage to hire broadly thinking evangelicals. Everyone else is trying to fit into the other institutions with their various pet-peeve doctrines.” It sure sounded like you were saying that schools like DTS have pet-peeve doctrines and schools like Fuller don’t.
You also start to sound a lot like Patton in this comment by implying that having confessional boundaries means that you can’t have “broadly thinking” faculty. Does this mean that you agree with Patton’s basic argument but just disagree with the distinction he draws between evangelicals and Catholics?
@Marc: I can see where my comment could be misunderstood as saying one group has set doctrines and another does not. It may be better terminology to say “Big Tent” and “Small Tent”. FTS is “Big Tent” while DTS is “Small Tent”. Now for some people there is a desire for more Big Tent because most Small Tent institutions have one or more items that disqualify a person who could be a good fit if it were not for a strict list . Big Tent organizations surely have their bias, but one is less likely to find that one nagging doctrine that is a deal breaker than with Small Tent institutions where that one doctrine can quickly become a deal breaker. I don’t think anyone would deny that FTS will likely employ a wider array of people next year than DTS (can you imagine Cecil Robeck or Daniel Kirk at DTS? Probably not. I can see Dan Wallace at FTS though as people like Seyoon Kim have found a home there).
I do not see myself in agreement with Patton because Patton is (1) not arguing the difference between broad thinking and narrow thinking or Big Tent v. Small Tent. Patton is defining scholarship based on whether or not one comes to the table with presuppositions. I don’t think it is even possible to come to the table “objectively” like Patton said in his first post. (2) Now do I prefer a wider arrange of possible beliefs/teachings in a given institution? Yes, of course. I could not image studying at RTS or Masters. I am sure there are many Catholic educational institutions where I wouldn’t feel free to express my opinion. I share with Patton a desire to affirm and deny more or less without immediate consequences. That is not to say I am more “open minded” than someone who is comfortable in a variety on confessional institutions, but rather that I need the room to change my mind without worrying about immediate termination.
EXCUSE ME! “While I don’t affirm the doctrine that particular Christians are saints (e.g. Augustine of Hippo; Thomas Aquinas) while other Christians are not (e.g. Mark Stevens, Josh Smith)” I resemble that comment! 🙂 Also, I think we replace Joshua’s name with Morgan’s as she appears here more often…. 😉
Catholics are Christians. We may disagree on certain topics but we are all one in Christ!
@Mark: Sorry, I don’t think you can be a saint since you are almost a pagan. 🙂
To the Josh comment…Ha! I think since April Josh and Morgan are tied with one post a piece. 😉
I am offended you would suggest Mark Stevens is not a saint!! 😉
@Brian F: He’s a saint, just not a Catholic saint. 🙂
I’m very late to this party, but I’ll toss in my $0.02 based on my experience. I earned my masters degree at what could be called a moderate evangelical seminary and then did my Ph.D. at Marquette University, a Roman Catholic Jesuit school. I’ve also taught in both those contexts, in addition to teaching at a conservative evangelical university.
Frankly, I find it laughable to claim that there is less academic freedom at Roman Catholic institutions than at evangelical ones. My experience has been precisely the opposite. The range of views among the Marquette faculty is vastly greater than among the faculty at any evangelical college or seminary with which I’ve been acquainted. It’s not even close. Without getting into any specifics, there are many Marquette faculty who would reject various aspects of Roman Catholic teaching. Faculty do not sign a “statement of faith,” as they are required to do at most evangelical schools. Many (most?) faculty members are not Roman Catholic. Try finding an evangelical school where many faculty members are not evangelicals.
Marquette’s mission statement is too lengthy to quote in full here, but this is a relevant excerpt:
“Precisely because Catholicism at its best seeks to be inclusive, we are open to all who share our mission and seek the truth about God and the world, and we are firmly committed to academic freedom as the necessary precondition for that search. We welcome and benefit enormously from the diversity of seekers within our ranks, even as we freely choose and celebrate our own Catholic identity.” (Full statement here: http://www.mu.edu/about/mission.shtml).
Not many (none?) evangelical schools would share a similar sentiment.
@Tim: That is one of the great ironies. As I’ve said a couple times, I can see evangelicals teaching at the University of Notre Dame but not Catholics in Wheaton College.
And yet, Catholics are not really at liberty to dissent from the teaching of the Church (the Magisterium has made this clear), however difficult they find a doctrine to believe. Depending on WHY this is, I either have a major problem with it or can understand it.
IF, on one hand, this means no more than the evangelical position that we are not at liberty to dissent from Divine Revelation, I do not see how there could be a real problem with it. That is, if you follow God, you are committed to His truth above your own finite ability to understand it. In short, you trust it because you have seen it for what it is: trustworthy.
If, on the other hand, this means that a Catholic cannot come to a crisis where he honestly is unsure of the Catholic Church’s authority; if he must always reach a conclusion that agrees with the Church regardless of his misgivings; and if he cannot be at a point where he simply “doesn’t know”….I have trouble with that. Because that is precisely what I am allowed to to as a Protestant (despite some Protestants’ [non-authoritative] claims otherwise). That is, in fact, what I have done: I have taken a position of “I don’t know” regarding Catholic teaching and content myself to focus on what I know we all believe (which is a lot, even at a Catholic college). It is easy for me, because this does not involve rejecting or calling into question an authority I was raised with; whereas if a Catholic were to do the same thing (not out of rebellion), they would be seen as wayward at the very least. Does the C. Church make the same allowances for Catholics that “don’t know” as it does from Protestants that “don’t know” (or even outright disagree)? It seems it should….
Any insights or thoughts about this?
It seems like this may be somewhat relative to the institution, but I speak from the outside as an evangelical. What I do know is that critical scholars like Raymond Brown were invited to the Vatican by the Pope and never chastised. Other Catholics like Hans Kung that did speak against the Pope seem to have faced the consequences.
That being said, I recommend reading Jeremy Thompson’s posts (which I linked to above) since he is a Catholic and he can speak first hand.
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