Friday, September 30, 2005

Leaky Bucket

Martin Luther is a fascinating guy for both Protestants and Romish polemics. In Romish polemics, many charges are hurled against Luther: he was unstable, he was psychotic, he was obsessive, etc.

Now, being a human being, it shouldn't be in the least bit surprising that Luther had faults. I personally don't think he and I would've been buddy-buddy, and he says a few things that make my eyes roll. But, in many other things, I think he nails it. In short, I give Luther the right to be a complex person who can potentially range along the continuum existing between absurdity and Truth.

Somehow though, there is this attitude among your internet Romanists that, if Luther's character can be sufficiently sullied, if Luther can be shown to be a real head case, then that weakens the case for the Protestant position.

Now given that most self-appointed internet Romanists don't seem to be able to exegete with any sense of nuance, nor do they know the difference between eisegesis and exegesis, it shouldn't be too surprising that, once again, they chase a will o' the wisp that really has nothing to do with showing Protestantism to be false. Instead of showing that our exegesis of the scriptural texts upholding Protestantism is faulty, it happens to be the case that Brother Martin, warts and all, is to bear the reproaches of Rome.

Let's grant for argument's sake that Luther was a real s.o.b. [Now, despite his warts and the simple fact that, like the rest of us, he was a sinner, a dung hill covered in snow [to steal his wording], I don't agree that Luther was a head case. But let's assume that the worst things the internet Romanists or others have to say about him are in fact true.] What does this logically or evidentially have to do with Protestant positions, such as justification by faith alone through grace alone, the Protestant view of the priesthood of all believers, the Protestant denial of the distinctly Marian doctrines of Rome, etc?

The correct answer is: absolutely nothing.

Why is this the correct answer? The answer to this in turn is simply that our positions are established exegetically, with grammar, lexicon, syntax, context, etc. The overall good or bad points of Bro. Marty don't enter into the mix. My denial of Mary's sinlessness, assumption, etc have nothing to do with whatever Luther thought --- and indeed he probably even in the later part of his life had a much higher view of Mary than I do --- and everything to do with the fact that such doctrines are only found by reading them into the scriptural texts or by appealing outside of scripture to a tradition that somebody like me would contend is self-selecting.

Where do I get justification by faith alone through grace alone? Not from Luther or Calvin. I would have [so I'd like to think] come to this position from a careful and prayerful study of Romans, say. They agree with my exegesis of Romans, but my exegesis in no way relies on Luther or Calvin's testimony to derive its impetus.

Luther and Calvin are magisterial and historically important men, but they're not authority figures. I'm not bound to what they said if I find their arguments specious or lacking in evidence. Some of the RC's with whom I've spoken over the years seem to functionally operate as if Luther and Calvin are our popes speaking ex cathedra. They're not.

Related to Roman polemics against Luther is the seeming blind spot that the argument against Luther really boomerangs back much more harshly on the Roman polemicist, for various popes and members of the magisterium have hardly been better than the worst Roman claims against Luther. If Luther's bad behavior is some sort of evidence against Protestantism, it is special pleading then to deny that the much more intense and sustained bad behavior by various popes is evidence against the Roman papacy, or even the RCC herself.

Again, I've told my RC friends and compatriots in real life that if they want to argue for Rome, to do so scripturally, for that is the coin in my kingdom. Telling me that Church Father X said Y about Z isn't an argument because I [as stated before] don't have an evidential basis to view X's writing Y as some sort of inspired work. So, show me where I'm wrong on, say, justification. Where have I gone wrong with the Pauline epistles? Telling me that [among other things] Luther was an sob who didn't put the toilet seat down when he was done hardly qualifies as an argument.

In closing, while attacking Luther [or any other Protestant historical figure] may make for an interesting pasttime, the argument that Luther's intrinsic warts [whatever they were] somehow impugn the evidence for Protestantism holds absolutely no water.


Anonymous Ree said...

Obviously the people who say this are operating under different assumptions than you are, but the way I understand the argument is that evil popes have no bearing on the God-ordained hierarchical structure of the episcopacy because the sinfulness of the man doesn't delegitimatize the office, but for a person to be considered a legitimate Reformer, raised up by God, his life must necessarily be marked by an extraordinary level of holiness.

Friday, September 30, 2005 6:15:00 PM  
Blogger The Clinging Vine said...

An apt point, Ree. Very apt.

One thing that always surprises me when people fall back upon "This can't be right because look at the sinful cretin who said it!" is that one of the distinctives of Christianity, both OT and NT, is its willingness to show the warts of its adherents.

Man-made theologies inevitably rely upon a Perfect Person/People, whereas Abraham sent his wife away to another man's harem so as to save his own skin, Jacob was a cheat and a liar, Peter showed himself to be a coward in the gospels and later just flat wrong and requiring rebuke from Paul, etc. etc.

Since one of the proofs of the validity of Scripture is the fact it unabashedly shows what a bunch of sinful people were used by the LORD to further His ends, why should we be surprised when Luther, Calvin, and their like are obviously sinful, flawed people, too?

Hey, at least they didn't ship their wives off with another man.

But as Ree pithily noted, it's ironic how RC popes are allowed (by the RCs) to be sinful lowlifes of the worst sort, but Protestant theologians are held to a completely different standard.

Excellent post and comment, PP and Ree. ;^)

Friday, September 30, 2005 7:17:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

St Paul was an active agent in murder, but we let that slide.

I don't consider the distinction you hold apologists to make to be a particularly meaningful one, btw, Ree. My guess is that you don't either. The distinction might make sense if you hold that Romanism is true, but, of course, somebody on my side of the fence challenges that!

I heard that Luther once took 12 items in a ten-items-or-less express line at the market. That, if anything, disqualifies Protestantism!

Friday, September 30, 2005 7:48:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Oh, and to add another point to TCV's list, the apostles themselves aren't exactly sterling!

Friday, September 30, 2005 7:50:00 PM  
Blogger The Clinging Vine said...

Well, dang. That'll learn me to read 'n' type while trying to get dinner on the table!

I figured Ree was being ironic.

Um, guess not, upon reading PP's comments then rereading Ree.

[sternly] Sorry, Ree, but your pith has been removed.

Friday, September 30, 2005 8:47:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...


It is a safe bet that Ree is a fellow member of the Good Protestant club, having the laminated member's ID card in her wallet as well as receiving her subscription to Protestantism Illustrated in the weekly mail. If I understand her correctly, she's speaking as a Protestant who is speaking on what a RC might possibly say.

At least, I think this is what is meant...unless I too am adding to the confusion, which wouldn't be the first time!

Friday, September 30, 2005 9:00:00 PM  
Blogger centuri0n said...


Friday, September 30, 2005 9:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Ree said...

Yes, I'm speaking as a Protestant who's heard this argument way too many times. I know of at least one woman who insists that she converted to RCism when she found out what awful people the Reformers were (presumably from reading Dave Armstrong's website.)


Friday, September 30, 2005 9:57:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

Oh no, that nefarious troll Centuri0n is here with his divisive slogans! Back, back to your Baptist cave you dunking rebaptizer you, with your communions consisting of grape juice and Wonderbread!

[I believe it is "opere" unless what little Latin I once knew is truly nonexistent.]

On a side note to Ree, these "surprised by truth" books which detailed "why I converted" from X to Y are really propaganda pieces no matter who uses them. The simple fact remains is that I, a sinner, no more falsify my position than your friendly local RC pedophile priest.

Friday, September 30, 2005 11:18:00 PM  
Blogger centuri0n said...


Saturday, October 01, 2005 3:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Ree said...

I've never read the books, but there are people all over the internet using the same arguments to justify their conversions, and I've talked to countless numbers of them.

Clinging vine--I wasn't really trying to be ironic in my first post, except for the obvious irony that anyone who holds to a Protestant paradigm would see. I was actually trying to present the position in a way that a Roman Catholic wouldn't object to, though. But I agree with you, and I've made this point to the people who make the argument, that God consistently uses blatantly and substantially flawed people for some of the most important purposes, and I believe he does it deliberately to glorify His name. But I think Catholics often refuse to see that and it's that tendency that makes them want to exalt Mary above all creation instead of seeing her as the simple, sometimes faithful, sometimes doubting sinner the New Testament portrays her as.

Saturday, October 01, 2005 9:36:00 AM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...


[That should keep a certain rebaptizing yet graphically-skilled troll at bay for a few hours!]

Saturday, October 01, 2005 1:03:00 PM  
Blogger Anne said...

Ah! Gotcha, Ree. ;^)

ISTM it's possible the LORD makes sure His mouthpieces, for lack of a better term, are noticably flawed because we are such idol factories.

Soon as we decide one of our own is as close to perfect as makes no difference, we haul out the crane and stick 'em on the top of the nearest pedestal, then either bow with our nose to our knees or else simply stare.

(BTW, this is really The Clinging Vine only I'm on the Other Computer and it recognizes a different ID, and I'm worried if I log out I won't be able to sign in again.)

Saturday, October 01, 2005 4:04:00 PM  
Blogger centuri0n said...




Saturday, October 01, 2005 9:00:00 PM  

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