I went to an interesting Theology on Tap lecture last night, given by Joe Manzari called “Confessions of a Former Calvinist: The Top Five Reasons Your Protestant Friend Isn’t Catholic” (it’ll post here eventually). The summer 6-pack is all about Converts and Reverts, so it’s a bit more personal and narrative than general apologetics. It’s a specific, “here were my issues about the Catholic Church,” and a “here’s what drew me,” and he did a good job saying upfront that even if he says, “Protestants believe…” that he really means “the group of Protestants I knew well believed…” since there isn’t a whole heck of a lot of doctrinal unity on anything within Protestantism.
But one of the things that Joe M. talked about was where Scripture comes from. He was a “hardcore Calvinist” before becoming Catholic (they put pictures of him up in his old church to tell everyone he was excommunicated and should be avoided; they were that hardcore). When he started to question how we know which Bible is correct, he was told that Scripture is self-attesting. And indeed, that’s very Calvinist. He quoted Calvin, from his Institutes:
“Let it therefore be held as fixed that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgment, feel perfectly assured – as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it – that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God.” -Institutes, 1.7.5
So Calvin’s argument is, more or less, “If you’re guided by the Holy Spirit, you’ll know what is and isn’t Scripture.” Then he read from Martin Luther’s introduction to the book of Revelation:
About this book of the Revelation of John, I leave everyone free to hold his own opinions. I would not have anyone bound to my opinion or judgment. I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic.
So by Calvin’s logic, Luther isn’t internally guided by the Spirit, since he doesn’t “feel” that Revelation is inspired. But, says Joe Manzari, this logic would also cast doubt upon the Spirit’s guidance of a huge number of early Christian martyrs, who were willing to die for a Faith whose precise canonical contents they disagreed over. He mentioned, briefly, the controversy of the New Testament Deuterocanon (2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, etc.); lots of devout early Christians thought those books might not be inspired, while other books like the Didache or Shepherd of Hermas might be.
To show the other shortcoming of this approach, Joe introduced this passage with relatively little lead-in:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
This, he says, is the equivalent to what Calvin is asking people to do. Read the text, and if they subjectively get the feeling that the Spirit wants them to believe it, then believe it, no matter what “history” or “the Church” says about it, since the Spirit is above those things. Well, the problem is, this is from Moroni 10:4-5, from the Book of Mormon. And a whole slew of people get that vague “warm spiritual fuzzy” when reading this. So on what basis can a Calvinist who gets a Spirit-feeling when reading the Protestant canon dispute Luther’s early rejection of Revelation, or a Mormon’s acceptance of Moroni, or a Catholic’s acceptance of the Deuterocanon?
Update: the audio has posted.