September 21, 2020

Riffs: 05:11:09: Comrade on Cross, McKnight on the Kingdom Gospel, 9Marks on Rebaptisms in the SBC

UPDATE: Bryan Cross responds to Comrade here. Thanks Bryan.

Three great posts today. I’m too drained to riff much on either one, but both are very much worth your time and discussion.

First, Fearsome Comrade at The Boar’s Head Tavern, a Lutheran blogger of some note who has written for this site in the past, has taken up my challenge to engage the apologetic method of Catholic apologist Bryan Cross. I’ve been urging the Comrade to do this for some time and he’s been too busy with political blogging to take the challenge, but he finally did so. Cross is an RC apologist with a different voice than the usual ex-Protestant ranting. But his apologetic method is the kind of Catholic presuppositionalism that takes in so many Protestants wandering in the evangelical wilderness.

Cross blogs here at Principium Unitatis.

Read: An Analysis of the Catholic Apologetics of Bryan Cross.

Then Scot Mcknight says what more and more of us need to say: the Gospel that dominates evangelicalism is right. It’s just not right enough. It’s not the Bible’s story.

Provocative and on target, as Scot increasingly is these days. We have a Gospel that overlooks, even deconstructs community and leaves many of us who care about the Gospel looking for anyplace that seems concerned to embody it.

Read: The KingdomGospel 1.

Finally, the 9Marks blog discusses the statistic that spells “Coming Collapse” for many SBC churches: 60% of adult baptisms are rebaptisms. We had a major discussion on that subject here at IM. Southern Baptists and their numbers are a big joke to me. I’m completely cynical on anything any church claims regarding baptism numbers.

Thanks to those who helped me restore the post.


  1. So, why the picture of Tony Rice? Just a tribute to a great flatpicker and a nod to the “riff” phrase?

  2. Yep. Riffs will be featuring riffers.

  3. And here I thought you were going to write about Tony Rice…I’m dissapointed

  4. I haven’t read either Comrade or Cross before, and frankly, this doesn’t exactly whet my appetite for more. Comrade’s critique was chock full of ad hominem and Cross’s response seemed to suggest that one needs to understand the complete socio-cultural-historic context of the history of Christianity to be an intellectually honest Protestant.

    Mr. Cross seems to hold that all Christians start out as Roman by default, and that they must go through some kind of personal Reformation to justify their Protestantism. Further, the content of this Reformation must align substantially with the content of the original, historical Reformation.

    This is a bit like me walking up to a random married woman on the street and saying, “You don’t know it, but you were actually meant to marry me. Let me tell you the reasons why, and then I’ll give you an opportunity to refute me.”

    Like Mr. Cross, I believe that the Catholic Church is the One True Church. Unlike Mr. Cross, however, I believe that the burden of proof is on me to show that to others…the burden of proof is not on them to disprove it.

  5. Jenny Bluett says

    “He’s been a Catholic for all of three years, guys. He’s a neophyte” -JS

    Seems I recall a number of years back a young Lutheran convert having much to say about his new found denomination in public dialog.

  6. Jenny Bluett says

    please forgive my spelling, blech!

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    We have a Gospel that overlooks, even deconstructs community and leaves many of us who care about the Gospel looking for anyplace that seems concerned to embody it.

    Even Furry Fandom. (Guess what was the #1 attraction of new Furries into the fandom was — besides interest in upright talking animals in general…)

    Finally, the 9Marks blog discusses the statistic that spells “Coming Collapse” for many SBC churches: 60% of adult baptisms are rebaptisms.

    As in the same guy becoming several notches on several Bibles and being counted several times?

    (I wound up a notch on half a dozen Bibles, thanks to Wretched Urgency Witnessing — “Are You Certain You’re REALLY Saved? Are You Sure? Are You Sure You’re Certain?” until the mark caves and you get to Lead Him To Christ — Again. If I was SBC back then, I’d count as six to twelve Baptists.)

    We had a major discussion on that subject here at IM. Southern Baptists and their numbers are a big joke to me.

    Just like the sales figures that put L Ron Hubbard potboilers on the NY Times Bestseller List, and for much the same reason.

  8. MuleChewingBriars says

    Hunh –

    I’m glad the Catholics are using presuppositionalism these days as well, but the exchange between Josh vs Cross looked like it was in danger of recapitulating the old James White vs Dave Armstrong donnybrooks of yore, except that they were nowhere near as gassy and bloated.

    By now, any Catholic/Protestant exchange must be allowed to refer to a standard notation like that of chess, cross-referencing Armstrong’s and White’s thrusts and parries.

    Catholic: DA147.6.9!
    Protestant: Oh yeah? Well JW438.26a.7!!
    Catholic: Oh yes, I have you now! DA436.77 et passim
    Protestant: That’s what you think! JW12.1!

    …ad aeternitatem per nauseam

  9. Hello Ben,

    Mr. Cross seems to hold that all Christians start out as Roman by default, and that they must go through some kind of personal Reformation to justify their Protestantism.

    That’s not my position. I’m talking about a Protestant who genuinely wants to understand why he is a Protestant rather than a Catholic. He doesn’t just assume that providence already decided this question by having him be born Protestant (since he recognizes that many more are born and raised Catholic, and many are born and raised Muslim, Mormon, etc.). He reads Scripture, reads Trent and sees that Trent denies sola fide, and concludes that the Catholic Church abandoned the gospel at Trent. If he hasn’t understood the theological and philosophical framework underlying Trent, and he is just going by a comparison of the Apostle Paul and a prima facie understanding of the theology underlying Trent, then (so I argue) he has made up his mind too soon, because the issue is much more complicated than that. Not everyone does that, of course, but in my experience, not many people understand the theological framework used by the Tridentine fathers. That fact is understandable, of course; not everyone can be a theologian. But it does imply that we probably need to be more deeply committed to listening and understanding each other, before dismissing each other’s positions.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  10. Louisiana Catholic says

    Bryan and Others:

    As a Catholic [lifelong one], perhaps it would be helpful to contextualize Bryan’s comments. And if I am historically inaccurate in some of my following points, I will appreciate any clarifications from Catholics or Protestants.

    If one looks at Protestantism that is out of Luther’s theology, then I think what Bryan is saying is dead on. I state this because Luther looked at the abuses in the early 16th century Catholic Church and one of the problems [from Luther’s perspective], was scholastic theology, of which St. Thomas Aquinas would be among the primary theologians. Thus, Luther, if I am not mistaken, had a disdain for Thomistic Theology and found refuge more in the Patristic Fathers {St. Augustine in particular}, but even the Fathers were questioned by Luther because of their use of “allegory” and “typology” in interpreting Sacred Scripture. Thus, a Lutheran, not familiar with Aquinas, might fall into the group Bryan is talking about.

    Reformed-Calvinist, at least the scholars and theologians, who have became Catholic, I think are perhaps more open to Aquinas since he was a Dominican and had a positive view towards Predestination [within the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy] and wrote much on Sola Deo Gloria, Grace, etc. Remember ,the Dominicans and the Jesuits each accused each other of heresy, the Jesults accusing the Domenicans of being semi-Calvinist and the Domenicans accusing the Jesuits of being semi-pelegians. Thus, the appreciation of Aquinas by many Reformed scholars is why many of leading Reformed-Calvinist intellectuals and scholars have become Catholic. Thus, in my view, Catholics who came into full communion from the Reformed-Protestant Traditions that derive from Calvin are suggesting the proper way to look at Trent to understand it within the Catholic framework, regardless if one comes to agree with the decrees of the Council of Trent.


  11. Mr. Cross,

    If the aim of your blog is to explain the theology underlying the historical split between Catholics and Protestants, fine. If your aim is to actually bring Protestants into the Catholic Church, however, I think you’re probably on the wrong track. It’s not your theology I disagree with, it’s your psychology.

    It’s obvious that you think a lot about why you are a Catholic. That’s natural given your life experience and philosophical bent. I don’t think that average Protestant “genuinely wants to understand why he is a Protestant rather than a Catholic,” because I doubt he thinks about his religious identity in those terms. (Not knocking Protestants; I would say the same about Catholics.)

    If I were a British person trying to encourage immigration from America, I would not go about telling Americans that they don’t have the historical competency to comprehend the real reasons for the American Revolution and that they need to examine why they are American instead of British.

    You do a good job of explaining your point of view, but you’re coming at it from where you’re at right now. When you’re trying to be persuasive, however, you have to understand where the other person is at right now.

    I think that the kind of people who blog and engage in apologetics are far more intellectually-inclined than the average Christian. I could be wrong, though.


  12. Ben,

    I’m not unaware that most Christians (Protestant and Catholic) don’t think much about why they are one and not the other. I’m trying to provide helpful answers to those that do. I’m also trying to provoke thought about the following two questions: Why exactly are we divided? And how do we go about reconciling? We are living in a time, in my opinion, when those questions should be in the forefront of our minds, questions that Protestants and Catholics should be discussing on a continual basis. A small group of Protestants and Catholics has been getting together here in St. Louis, since last year, to try to work out our differences, and figure out how to be reunited. These face-to-face discussions are better, in my opinion, than the blog/internet format, because it is so much more personal. I would hope that such an activity would be taking place in cities all over the country.

    Anyway, if you think I’m doing it wrong, and you would like to contribute guest posts at Principium Unitatis, please send me a note. I’d be glad for the help. I mean that.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  13. Mr. Cross,

    I stand corrected. If you’re talking to people in small groups who are addressing these questions, then you’re further down the road than I thought. I was skeptical that such a niche existed, but obviously it does and you’ve found it. I doubt very much that I could add anything to your blog, but I will pray for your efforts.


  14. A protestant (and surely we all know there is no real such thing) doesn’t have to understand
    ‘why he’s not a ROMAN Catholic.’


    Brilliant. I hope we’re not going back there. Good Lord.

  15. Bryan Cross gets this right: “He reads Scripture, reads Trent and sees that Trent denies sola fide, and concludes that the Catholic Church abandoned the gospel at Trent.”

    Ding ding!

    If Trent doesn’t mean what it says, and you need to understand Aquinas to decode Trent, then the church should erase it and start over. I’ve studied Aquinas for years from the best teachers and it is impossible to understand without also studying Aristotle in depth. To understand Aristotle, you need to study Plato.

    I could go on. But instead of taking Bryan Cross’s word for it, I’ll take the Catholic church at it’s word. Even if Cross’s interpretation of Trent & Aquinas is correct, which isn’t certain, it’s teaching on justification is unnecessarily complicated compared to the beautiful assurance of “we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works!”

    As far as Josh’s blogging as a neophyte Lutheran, Josh had an advantage. Lutheran theology is neatly and completely set out in the Book of Concord. It doesn’t take years of philosophical training to get.

  16. Further, as to why the church is divided, the Roman church cast out the Lutherans, refused to let them vote at Trent, and placed anathemas on them. If reconciliation is sought, the Roman church should revoke those anathemas and admit error, not continue to muddy the meanings of the Roman Church’s clear words in attempt to deceive.

  17. Boaz,

    I’m not claiming that Trent doesn’t mean what it says. I’m saying that Trent made use of an underlying theological and philosophical framework, that isn’t spelled out in the document. I can remember reading some of the canons of Trent, before studying Aquinas. And when I compare my impression then with my experience reading them after a number of years studying Aquinas, it is like night and day. I didn’t understand the theological rationale for them before, apart from the theological anthropology and soteriology laid out in Aquinas, both in his Summa and in his commentaries on the letters of St. Paul.

    I understand the desire to keep everything simple. But there is a danger of over-simplifying. If simplicity were a necessary condition for orthodox theology, we’d have to abandon the Athanasian Creed and the Council of Chalcedon. Peter even tells us that some of what Paul writes is “hard to understand”, and that the “untaught” “distort” it. Even in the verse you quote, there are at least four questions that must be answered. Is this justification merely forensic or is it a rectification of the sinner’s will through inhering grace? Is this initial justification or growth in justification? Is this faith without charity, or faith with charity? And by ‘works’ does he mean all works or is he referring to the ceremonial precepts of the Mosaic Law, or works under the Mosaic Covenant? The danger in always picking the simplest reading is that sometimes the truth is more complicated than we realize.

    As for the claim that the Catholic Church refused to let the Lutherans vote at Trent, almost all of the Lutherans were not bishops, and therefore would not have been able to vote at Trent anyway. There were a few bishops at Trent who were sympathetic to some of Luther’s claims (e.g. Seripando, Pole). The Church didn’t ‘stack the deck’; all the bishops were invited to attend. If an ecumenical council has authority, then its authority cannot be based on whether we agree with its decisions. Otherwise, there is no point to ecumenical councils. That’s why I have argued that either the teachings of all the ecumenical councils are authoritative, or the teachings of none of them are authoritative. We can’t just pick and choose which ecumenical councils we agree with and which we reject, or take a red pen to the sentences with which we disagree within a particular ecumenical council, and then say that the ecumenical councils are authoritative. The well known line is apt here: When I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  18. I’d recommend checking out the Lutheran-Catholic-Methodist Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

    I realize it doesn’t settle the issue for everyone, but it’s worth reading. It was quite a remarkable achievement, I think, and I find it odd that it’s almost never mentioned in these kinds of discussions.

  19. Amen, Ben. That should be the starting point for any such discussion in this century.

  20. There’s a very good reason why I don’t engage anti-Catholics whatsoever anymore, and Mule has hit upon it. Lately, I am systematically replying to Calvin’s Institutes. That works, because he can’t get personal and insulting and say stupid irrelevant things when he has no rational answer (i.e., apart from when he does that in the text itself). 🙂