This really is more of two posts: one in which I talk about a good post on Catholic radio, and one where I talk about a good Catholic apologist in the comments of that same post. I just thought it would be strange to have two different posts talking about the same link.
I. iMonk on EWTN and Ave Maria Radio
I like iMonk. If you’re not familiar, that’s the moniker of Protestant blogger Michael Spencer. He self-describes as “a New Covenant, Reformation-loving, post-evangelical Christian in search of a Jesus shaped spirituality,” but his openness to other expressions of Christianity (and the reaction that openness has gotten from other Evangelicals) has lead him to describe himself as “post-Evangelical.” #6 on his FAQ negates the proposition, “Are you becoming Catholic?” but the fact that it warrants being in his FAQ says just as much – he’s also married to a Catholic.
He has an almost preternatural ability to start discussions, and often, surprisingly good ones. He quite often leans towards the wrong answers, but he has an astonishing ability to ask the right questions. His recent post on how to handle couples cohabitating is short, well worth the read, and has generated 212 comments – this, by the way, is one of the times where I think he’s right on the money. The comments draw from a whole wealth of denominational and theological backgrounds, high-churchers, low-churches, doctrinial minimalists, traditionalists, etc. He hosts a feature called “Liturgical Gangsters,” with an all-star cast who answer tough questions:
Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
Rev. Joe Boysel is an Anglican (AMiA) priest and professor of Bible at Ohio Christian University in Circleville, Ohio. (Ask him about famous alumni.)
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction.
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.
Eric Landry is the editor of Modern Reformation Magazine. In addition, he is a PCA church planter in southern California.
Anyways, iMonk has done it again, this time with his thoughts on Catholic radio – he’s got a lot of good things to say (unsurprisingly) about folks like Fr. Benedict Groeschel and Scott Hahn (although he tempers his praise of the latter). It’s a thoughtful post, and it leads to a thoughtful response from Patrick Madrid, who hosts an hour a week at EWTN. The river of Madrid readers dumping into the the lake of iMonk readers has only helped the discussion. One highlight is when another EWTN radio host, Patrick Coffin, offerred some praise for the post. An Eastern Orthodox reader who’d come over via Pat Madrid, and had some interesting thoughts on the difference between Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox radio hosts. Another was a Reformed Baptist who is (as we speak) discovering that the Fathers are Catholic on things like Eucharist, Baptismal regeneration, justification, and the like: his criticisms are important to hear, because he’s exactly the kind of person who can benefit from Catholic media. Similarly, a Catholic convert described which Catholics (Ratzinger, Groeschel, etc) successfully convinced him of the Truth of Catholicism. I’m hoping that positivity can continue on, although it nearly was derailed before being saved by one Gideon Ertner.
II. An Interesting Debate in the Comments
Julie, a Catholic commenter, is edified, and offers her prayers that all will come to full communion with the historic Church. This gets her a sharp and ugly rebuke from a person who aptly describes themselves as “Not RC.” What Not RC affirms is unclear, but we know who he is railing against. Normally, at this point, ecumenical threads go off the rails. Herd mentality kicks in, Catholics rush to defend the Church, say some things which offend Protestants, Protestants defend the Reformation or their own religious bona fides, and the potstirrer can rest content that the Body of Christ will stay torn.
This time, something different happened:
- A Catholic commenter named Gideon Ertner jumps in and handles things beautifully. First, he acknowledges the simplicity of the previous Catholic’s statement that the Catholic Church is the only Church which has existed from the time of Christ. He handles the nuance beautifully (yes, there are other Apostolically founded churches; no, they don’t have doctrinal continuity the way the Catholic Church does).
- Not RC then responds by falling back on the Ecclessial Relativism which I suggested underscores much of Protestantism, and says that to the question “Who split from whom?”, “you’ll get two different answers depending on whether you’re asking a Roman Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox Christian.”
- Gideon responds again by explaining that the Eastern Orthodox position is wrong: by their own admission, Rome holds primacy of some sort, and Constantinople frequently fell into heresy. So if there’s a reliable head of the Church on Earth, (a) Constantinople ain’t it, and (b) the EO position itself suggests Rome is the best candidate.
- Not RC plays the same relativist card again: “You apparently give the Roman Catholic answer. The Eastern Orthodox would just as strongly and believably say that the Roman Catholics are wrong. What one says depends on what Kool-Aid one drinks.” It’s like saying, “If I had a response to that, here is where I’d put it.” If the Orthodox response on this point is so compelling, what is it?
- Gideon responds again with a coup de grâce:
“Sorry, I am truly not picking a fight. I am merely sharing what I
Not RC, the question is not what arguments you use but whether they’re internally consistent. The Eastern Orthodox admit that the Bishop of Rome originally held the primacy in the Church and that Constantinople was in error at various times. What they cannot explain is what changed so that all of a sudden they can disregard the authority of Rome and must instead follow the lead of Constantinople.“
- At this point, Not RC sets aside argument in favor of blasphemy against the Eucharist.
There are a few things that I think make this exchange worth mentioning. First, Gideon’s example is a great one for how to handle potstirrers. He addressed the substance of the argument, ignored the things which were meant to raise his blood pressure, and presented a loving response. Not RC was never going to admit to being wrong, but even he has to know he didn’t walk away a bigger person or an intellectual or moral giant from that exchange. Julie, the Catholic who unwittingly started this exchange by offering her support and encouragement for her separated brethren, was spared from what would have been an ugly exchange. Gideon explicitly says that the Eastern Orthodox are wrong, but he doesn’t impute bad faith to those who don’t take the Catholic position. That balance can be hard to draw – attacking the position without attacking the adherent. (I’m not sure that the place for this discussion was appropriate, but Gideon didn’t choose the forum, so I think his response was still appropriate).
Second, it’s clear from Not RC’s hatred of the Eucharist that he’s not Eastern Orthodox. Those reading the exchange might be surprised by that at first. He is, after all, denying the Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church founded upon Christ by pointing to the Eucharist-worshipping Eastern Orthodox. But he’s not actually defending the Eastern Orthodox Church: he thinks they’re wrong. He just thinks that by feigning confusion over who’s right between the two, he can justify disagreeing with both.
Principium Unitatis introduced me to the term Ecclesial Deism, and explains here what’s meant by it (Jesus births the Church, and lets it run wild, basically). A number of Protestants have defended their refusal to come home to Rome by claiming confusion over whether Jesus founded the Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church. It’s a bad argument: after all, their own views on Church, Eucharist, Mary, the Saints, the Liturgy, and the sacraments are flatly opposed to what the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Church voice in union. It’s like saying “scientists disagree between quantum and Einsteinian physics” to defend geocentrism. While scientists have valid points of contention between the two fields within physics, they agree on the vast majority of things – the very things which a geocentrist tries to deny.
Third, Not RC has managed to underscore the truth of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-26, where he prays for the future Church “that they may be brought to perfection as One, that the world may know that You sent Me, and that you loved them even as You loved Me.” At first brush, this makes no logical sense: why would the unity of the Church reflect on the truth of Christ? But No RC shows exactly how. The mere existence of the Great Schism between East and West is being used to justify the Reformation (however unconvincing an explanation it is, it at least gives him a place to hang his hat to claim the Catholic Church isn’t who She claims to be). Should we be surprised that this exact same line of argumentation causes a number of non-Christians to deny Christianity, on the basis of Catholic/Protestant disputes?
Nota bene: Not RC isn’t saying “the Catholic Church isn’t founded by Christ because She’s mean to Eastern Orthodox.” He’s saying, “the Catholic Church isn’t founded by Christ because the Eastern Orthodox also claims to be founded by Christ.” That’s what I mean by the mere existence of the schism. It doesn’t matter how mutually affirming Catholics and Orthodox are with one another. As long as we remain separate, it allows others to rationalize being even more separated. And that, in turn, allows still others to rationalize not being a member of the Body of Christ at all. If we’re to show Christ to the world, it’s imperative that we strive for authentic and total unity, full communion (and Communion) with one another. Which gets us back to the very place part II of this post began: Julie’s prayer. “I pray that all of my separated brothers and sisters will be led to the Fullness of Truth in the Catholic Church.” Amen.