If you read only the literature of
Roman Catholic apologetics organizations, you'd swear there
wasn't a Protestant on the earth who had ever cracked the binding
of a Bible, or had ever even known someone named Cyprian even existed,
let alone had a battle royal with Stephen back in the third
century. Over the past few years I have had the opportunity of
examining the means Roman apologists use of deprecating their
opposition first-hand, since, by their own admission, I'm one of
their chief opponents. I will not take the reader's time to go
back over some of the comments made by Patrick Madrid touching on
this topic, for the reader can examine my comments on that by
reading the article, Catholic Answers: Myth or Reality. Instead, I will limit this brief response
to the attempted "We win by default" ploy by Catholic
Answers and Robert Sungenis in the June, 1996 This Rock
magazine. The article is titled, "Where Have All the
Mr. Sungenis begins by painting an
altogether inaccurate picture of the situation. He notes that
there is an ecumenical movement, prompted by such items as the Evangelicals
and Catholics Together document, but on the other side we
have only the "raw" side of things:
On the other hand, some
diehard Evangelicals still refuse to relinquish the labels
given in the Reformation: the Catholic Church as the
"whore of Babylon" and the pope as "the
antichrist." Most current Catholic bashing literature
has come from the Reformed camps, and thus the old war
between Rome and Geneva is alive and well.
While Mr. Sungenis is right in
saying Reformed writers, such as myself, provide a great deal of
the response to Rome today, I continue to wonder why he, and
others, are so intent upon making us look as "mean and
nasty" as possible. Surely there are lots of folks throwing
about phrases like "whore of Babylon" and
"antichrist," but those who are famous for using such
phrases today are about as Reformed as Jacob Arminius.
I also note the common tactic of
many Roman Catholic apologists today. "Most current Catholic
bashing. . . ." What is "Catholic bashing"? Is
it similar to "gay bashing"? It seems that Mr. Sungenis
is wishing to paint in the mind of the reader some picture of
mere attack, rather than thoughtful refutation and response.
Would he agree that This Rock magazine, or Envoy
magazine, are publications that engage in "Protestant
bashing"? Or is this just a one-way street? A quick scan of
Mr. Sungenis' article reveals that he likes to call the
opposition "anti-Catholics." Note the following
"many making a living off
"these men are happy to
make a fortune from anti-Catholic books and tapes but don't
have the guts to face us in person."
"If you think I am being
too hard on anti-Catholic Protestants, read on."
"Mind you, this is a man
who boasts that he has been to almost every country in the
world spreading the news of anti-Catholicism-but he can't
find the nerve nor the time to have someone examine the
veracity of what he is preaching."
"In March 1995 the mainly
anti-Catholic organization Christians United for Reformation (CURE)"
"he continues to dish out
anti-Catholic remarks on his weekly radio program."
housewives in Ohio run a vicious anti-Catholic organization
called Former Catholics for Christ."
Yet, when we search for the phrase
"anti-Protestant," we don't find it appearing once in
this article. I wonder why? Could it be that Mr. Sungenis, as
well as others at Catholic Answers, operate on a
double-standard? Could it be that they don't mind calling their
opponents "anti-Catholics" yet reject the moniker
"anti-Protestants"? Of course. And it is not by
accident, either, I assure you. There is a purposeful attempt
being made by nearly all the leading Roman Catholic
apologists to foster and maintain the false impression that they
are merely defending their beliefs against the irrational attacks
of "anti-Catholics." They wish to define their
opposition as fanatics in terms of their own faith, rather
than honestly admitting that they are opposing Protestant
apologists, who, like them, are intent upon defending their
own faith against the claims of others. I have recently had Roman
Catholic apologists such as James Akin (Catholic Answers)
and Dave Armstrong defend their use of "anti-Catholic"
while refusing to accept the name "anti-Protestant."
Such an attitude tells us much about what drives the current
movement in the realm of Roman apologetics.
Throughout the article, Sungenis
tries to make it sound as if there is "big money" in
"anti-Catholicism." He says that many are "making
a living off anti-Catholic theology" and that many are
"happy to make a fortune from anti-Catholic books and
tapes." Yet, I know personally many of those that Sungenis
attacks in his article, and if they are getting rich, I've
somehow missed it. I have written three books specifically on
Roman Catholicism, and have produced many tapes on the subject
(most of which are the very formal debates that Sungenis says no
one except me will engage in!). Yet I'm not only not a rich man,
but I can assure him of one thing: I'd be better off financially
if I didn't touch Roman Catholicism at all. There
are many people who would support my work amongst the
Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses who won't simply because I
speak out on the issue of Catholicism. It is very
politically incorrect to address that issue, I assure you. What's
more, it doesn't help your "public persona" either.
While I did dozens of radio interviews on my book, Letters to
a Mormon Elder, and an equal number on The King James Only
Controversy, to date I have done a grand total of three
radio interviews on the topic of The Roman Catholic
Controversy (not including The Bible Answer Man Show).
While Sungenis tries to make it sound as if every book on Roman
Catholicism is "gobbled up by an adoring Protestant
public," that simply is not the case. In many ways you brand
yourself a radical and an outcast to even touch upon the subject.
So why does Robert Sungenis try to
make it sound as if the Protestants who are engaged in defending
their faith against the claims of Rome are simply in it for the
money? It seems that this is just more of the effort to
de-humanize those who dare to take such a stand. Impute to them
the worst possible motives, and you've gotten a long way toward
your goal, that of keeping your audience safe inside the bosom of
Rome. Could we not point out the ready-made audience for Roman
Catholic apologetics works and make similar arguments ourselves?
Of course, but such is not the way of truth or honesty.
Sungenis presents nine
"cases" to back up his claim that no one is willing to
take on the leading Roman Catholic apologists. Seemingly, the
Protestants are in flight! The rout is on, and I, Robert Sungenis, am riding alongside Scott Hahn and Karl Keating as we
lead the victorious troops across the landscape! Well, that's
what it sounds like as you read the article, anyway. The
nasty Protestants, while still getting rich, are in retreat, and
we who uphold the banner of truth will lead you on to victory!
Such would be somewhat humorous if it were not for the fact that
the very words of our author often convey that very idea.
The first target to be taken out
by our author is R.C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries. I was struck
by the fact that it is quite doubtful that many in the audience
of This Rock would have any idea who Sproul is. In fact,
if it were not for the fact that Sungenis once claimed to be
Reformed in his beliefs (he actually went through a whole range
of different denominational views before joining Rome), I doubt
he'd be overly concerned about Sproul. But since many of the new
group of Roman apologists were once Reformed (Hahn, Matatics, Sungenis), they seem to have somewhat of a fixation upon taking
on the likes of Sproul or, before his death, John Gerstner.
Indeed, I have personal experience with this phenomenon. Allow me
Back around 1991 I had a chance to
speak with Dr. Gerstner. I had listened to some comments made by
another convert to Rome, Steve Wood, regarding what he asserted
Gerstner had said in a conversation with him prior to his
conversion. I contacted Dr. Gerstner simply to determine if, in
fact, he had said the things that were attributed to him. In the
process we talked about Gerry Matatics and Scott Hahn as well
(Gerstner knew both). I had sent him copies of my first books on
Catholicism, The Fatal Flaw and Answers to Catholic
Claims, and I may have included some tapes of my first
debates with Catholic Answers as well, I'm not certain. In
any case, it was a difficult conversation, because Dr. Gerstner
could not hear very well. I had to repeat things often to get
In a very short time (within three
days), I received a very angry call from Scott Butler. Mr.
Butler is a real estate agent in California who has been active
in Roman Catholic apologetics for years. [Butler is co-author of
a newly released book, Jesus, Peter & the Keys, which
is reviewed elsewhere on
this page]. At first Mr. Butler's activities were limited
primarily to arranging debates and funding them. In recent years
he's started to engage in them himself. In any case, Scott had
said many times that he wanted to arrange a "big"
debate between Scott Hahn and a "big name" like
Gerstner or Sproul. When he called me that day, he was very angry
with me. It seems that after I spoke with Gerstner, Butler had
contacted him, and, since Gerstner was a bit angry about some of
the things being attributed to him, he had agreed to do a debate,
as I recall, with Scott Hahn. Then, a few days later, Gerstner
reconsidered, recognizing that he simply was not physically able
to participate in such a debate, especially with his hearing
loss. So, when Butler called him back, Dr. Gerstner said to him
(at least this is what Butler told me on the phone), "I
can't do a debate with you. But there's a young fellow in
Phoenix, James White, who would do just fine." Butler was
incensed, for he had already done debates with me (Scott helped
put together the debates in San Diego with Dr. Mitchell Pacwa of
Loyola University in January of 1991), and was interested only in
getting a "big name" like Gerstner. He was certain I
had scuttled his plans. I informed him that I had nothing to do
with the matter at all, and was not even aware that he had
contacted Gerstner. What makes this story even more significant
for our purposes here is that Bob Sungenis is now closely related
with Scott Butler, and even teamed up with Butler to debate
Robert Zins and myself at Boston College in 1995.
Going back to Dr. Sproul, I am
well aware that he does not desire to debate Roman Catholic
apologists. In fact, just this year, in chatting with him at the
Christian Bookseller's Convention in Anaheim, I mentioned that I
would be debating Gerry Matatics on the Marian doctrines the next
month on Long Island. "That's a mistake" he said
strongly. "Why?" I asked. "You are giving them
credibility they don't deserve" he replied.
Now, I happen to disagree with Dr.
Sproul on the wisdom and even the necessity of engaging in public
debates, but he is right in one sense. One cannot approach this
issue without proper discrimination. You don't want to grant
credibility to those who do not deserve it. Yet, at the same
time, an answer must be given for the sake of those who are being
deceived by the smooth-sounding talk and arguments of Rome's
modern defenders. It may well be that, given Dr. Sproul's
prominence, he is wiser to not grant such notoriety. I am in a
better position, since I'm hardly known by anyone.
What strikes me as most
interesting is that Sungenis does not take the high road here.
There are two ways you can respond to being declined when you
offer a debate challenge. You can either attack the person and
impugn his motives, or you can refute their position fairly and
thoroughly, provide them with that refutation, and then
point to their silence. There's one problem for Bob Sungenis
here: he's not up to refuting R.C. Sproul. Oh, he certainly
claims to be able to do so, but I remind the readers that this is
the same gentleman who proudly proclaimed in the CURE debate that
there is no forensic (legal) language used in the New Testament
of justification! I believe Mr. Sungenis to be a deeply deceived
man who, while firmly convinced of his ability to refute the
Protestant position, is just as surely incapable of doing so on a
truly biblical level.
Next Sungenis trains his guns upon
John MacArthur. Again accusing MacArthur of growing rich on
anti-Catholicism, Sungenis claims that MacArthur has declined
challenge after challenge to debate. Yet, when this claim was
made publically in the Internet, Phil Johnson, Executive Director
of Grace to You, disputed the claim, and said that he
personally had no knowledge of such challenges. But let's say,
for the sake of argument, that Sungenis is right and that Dr.
MacArthur won't debate. Does he therefore have a basis for making
the comments he does? Let's review Sungenis' words:
MacArthur knows we're out
here; he just chooses to ignore us. He writes in the above
book: "A new generation of Roman Catholic apologists
have taken up arms against sola fide. According to
them, Scripture doesn't teach the doctrine-it is an invention
of Luther and the Reformers." Almost in the same breath
he then says: "Too few are able or willing to defend
evangelical truths against contradictory views. It is
easier-and, it seems, so much more polite-simply not to
argue. Therefore attacks on crucial evangelical doctrines
often go unanswered" (4-5).
In psychology they call it
"projection," accusing someone else of the very
thing one is doing. In apologetic circles we call it,
"not putting your money where your mouth is." If
MacArthur is so up in arms about those in his own camp who
don't stand up to "defend evangelical truths," then
why has he consistently denied Catholic apologists a formal
Seemingly Sungenis confuses
"defend evangelical truths" with "engage me in a
debate on justification." Perhaps there is a way to defend
these truths without debating Bob Sungenis? It seems that Dr.
MacArthur has decided that the best way to defend these truths is
to present them (most evangelical Protestants, I have often said,
are nigh unto clueless about the fundamental issues at stake on
the nature of justification in the first place, so someone
has to explain it to them), both in written and spoken form, on
the radio, in classrooms, in books, in pamphlets. If writing and
lecturing is not a part of apologetics, why does Sungenis engage
in these very things himself? But of course, that's applying the
same rule to both sides.
Does It Go Both Ways?
Now, I have often challenged Karl
Keating to debate me on just about every issue under the sun that
is relevant to Roman Catholicism, and for going on seven years
now, he's declined. Would it be fair, I ask, for me to say that
Karl Keating is busy making a mint off of anti-Protestantism
while ducking meaningful challenges to his position? How would
Sungenis respond to such an assertion, if it were to be made? Could
he even respond meaningfully?
What if I were to challenge the
local parish priest to a formal debate? Many would consider this
utterly unfair. I've engaged in such debates all over the nation.
The priest may not be equipped to engage in that kind of
activity. It takes special preparation, and there are many, many
good men who simply cannot engage in debate and hope to do well.
Should this be taken as an indication that I'm "right"
and the priest is automatically "wrong"? Of course not.
Even if that priest decried my work, if he was honest enough to
say that debating something he has been gifted to do, I would
have to admit that his refusal to engage in such a battle is not
relevant to the truthfulness, or error, of his position. In the
same way, if Karl Keating would say, "I'm simply not
equipped to engage in public debate," I'd accept that.
Problem is, Karl does engage in public debate, only, he
chooses his opponents very carefully.
But I said I would be brief, so
let's move on to just a few other examples. Sungenis then
discusses James G. McCarthy. I have never met Mr. McCarthy, nor
had any contact with him at all, so I cannot comment on his
interaction with Sungenis. I only note the childish conclusion to Sungenis' comments: "I guess he figured it had some Catholic
cooties in it." Next he goes after someone I had never heard
of, a former Jesuit priest named Bob Bush. It seems Sungenis
decided to use this piece to vent his spleen at everyone who had
ever turned him down on a debate. Anyway, I'm not sure exactly
who the target of the next "example" is, but there is
one interesting twist, for Sungenis takes a swipe at Jim Toungate
of Christian Answers (he again identifies the organization
as "anti-Catholic"). He implies that while Toungate had
invited Bob to debate on their program, they later backed out,
ignoring a single letter Sungenis wrote to them. Bob should have
discussed his article with James Akin of Catholic Answers,
since it was Christian Answers who sponsored the radio
debate between myself and Akin on the subject of predestination
and the perseverance of the saints. I have not checked into it,
but it has been my understanding that Christian Answers
went off the air shortly after the conference that Sungenis
references, which would, of course, explain the situation. I
guess Bob didn't bother to check into that, however.
Next Sungenis goes after Bart
Brewer. Bart honestly tells Sungenis that he's not a debater, and
he's not. Does Sungenis believe that if you honestly recognize
that you can't debate you should automatically convert to the
viewpoint of whoever challenges you? Let's hope not.
Let's skip the seventh case for
the moment and go to the last ones, CURE (who debated Sungenis,
Madrid, and Marshner) and a group of Ohio housewives. Sungenis
claims CURE cut out crucial parts of the debate in their airing
of it, and in their presentation of the videos. If this is true,
its reprehensible. One of the ground rules of all debates I've
been in has been this: both sides get equal and full access to a
master copy of the debate for distribution, and neither side
edits out any of the debate. As to the Ohio housewives, I've
never heard of their group, and have no comments on Sungenis'
interaction with them.
That Nasty James White
So let's wrap things up by looking
at Mr. Sungenis' seventh "case": me. Now why I'd be
listed as an example of "where have all the opponents
gone," I don't know. I guess Bob realizes I'm the living
contradiction to his entire thesis, so he had to try something
to marginalize me. So he did. He couldn't make reference to
anything I've written, nor could he pull, from well over a dozen
public debates available to him, anything to use to show my
unworthiness of further debate. Instead, he takes a private
conversation in the Internet, twists it around, and uses it as an
excuse to dismiss me as well. Here is the scenario.
The debate at Boston College went very
poorly for the Roman Catholic side. Indeed, priests who
were in attendance admitted that it was a veritable slaughter.
All the Protestants in attendance were unanimous in their view,
and the vast majority of the Roman Catholics had to admit
that this one didn't go well for the Vatican. But time seems to
heal all wounds, and today we find both Sungenis and Scott Butler
claiming victory (the reader is simply invited to obtain the
audio, or video, tapes, and judge for themselves). Indeed, Butler
has now personally claimed, "I wiped you out." I'm not
sure how he would know that, since he wasn't in the room for much
of the time I was speaking (Sungenis, likewise, claims to have
been having bladder problems that night, and was often gone while
our side was speaking). In any case, toward the end of the
debate, it becomes painfully obvious that Mr. Butler is
getting a bit frustrated and irritated. Finally he explodes,
turning toward Mr. Zins and myself, his eyes bulging, veins
popping, spitting and sputtering, screaming that we must find
anyone prior to the year 400 who believed that Jesus was the rock
of Matthew 16. Now, I had no more opportunities to talk-only Rob
had a closing remark. I invite the reader to jot down the number
of challenges I provided in the debate that went
completely unanswered by Butler and Sungenis. I invite the reader
to note how completely the Roman Catholics fell into the
description I provided of the "Peter Syndrome," and how
they never once even attempted to extricate themselves from it.
But they don't remember any of those things. Instead, ignoring
the piles of information that refuted their position, they have
chosen to cling to one thing: the challenge to provide four
(I'm not sure they gave that specific number at first, but it
eventually developed into the conversation) Fathers who
interpreted Matthew 16 as referring to Jesus. Now Sungenis adds,
"to the exclusion of Peter," whatever that means.
As I explained to Sungenis by
e-mail, this is the classic red herring. It's smoke,
mirrors-whatever other term you wish to use to describe the
desperate attempt to win a lost battle. Since when did the Roman
Papacy stand upon such thin ground as finding four Fathers who
interpreted one verse in one particular way? Why A.D. 400?
Why not A.D. 500, or 600? Since Sungenis and Butler
ignored my challenge to find me anyone in the first 1000
years of Church history who interpreted Isaiah 22 in the way they
do, should I then use their failure as a means of avoiding any
debates with them in the future?
The fact is that Sungenis and
Butler lost that debate, and badly, and the only way to save face
is to point to a single challenge and hope that no one
stops long enough to say, "Hey, and the significance of this
is?" The question of the debate was not "there were at
least four Fathers who interpreted Matthew 16:18 as referring to
Jesus" but is the Papacy biblically, and historically, true?
I'll gladly give them the four Fathers battle-they lost on the
Papacy, and I think that's a fair trade.
Hence, my refusal to allow
Sungenis to hi-jack the debate was the primary reason I didn't
let him determine the course of conversation. I wanted him to
stick to the many issues he had either ignored, skipped, or given
shallow answers to (note one example elsewhere). But there was a second reason: he
already had the names of Fathers prior to A.D. 400 who
interpreted the passage that way. He had had that information for
quite some time, and I knew it. It wasn't my fault that he didn't
read the materials provided to him, and I'm under no obligation
to do his homework for him. Anyone who owns William Webster's Peter
and the Rock has the same information Sungenis had even
before the debate at Boston College. I find it rather funny
that just this week Robert e-mailed me to ask me what my
understanding of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 really is. I have an entire
section on the passage in a book that he's already informed me
he's purchased: The Roman Catholic Controversy (pp.
95-98). So much for in-depth study of your opponent's writings
and materials. Sungenis ended his entire article, after
challenging everyone but me to debate, with, "P. S.
Sorry, but that doesn't include you, James White, until you
finally produce the citations of the four Fathers prior to 400
who identified Jesus, to the exclusion of Peter, as the Rock of
Matthew 16:18." Yet, within a few weeks of the publication
of this article, Scott Butler was asking friends of mine in New
York if I would be willing to debate Sungenis on justification by
faith. Go figure.
Bob Sungenis asks, "Where
have all the debaters gone?" I frankly confess that I wish
there were more who where willing to do the work (and it is
work!) to engage in meaningful public debates. I'll gladly admit
this: there are more Roman Catholic apologists out speaking and
debating than Protestant ones providing a response, that is true.
However, Bob has completely missed the point with his
triumphalistic article. The issue is not how many debates are
taking place, but who is speaking the truth and carrying those
debates. It's far more important to discover if the answers being
given are truthful, consistent, and well-researched, or if they
are half-baked, self-contradictory, and shallow. That is