Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Jonathan Prejean Should Have Stayed in Retirement

As I said in a previous article, Jonathan Prejean's recent claim to be "retiring" from "proselytizing" was about as credible as the "resolutions" of Dave Armstrong. Prejean has begun responding to Steve Hays again, without addressing many of the issues he ignored in his previous discussions with Hays, and he begins his latest reply with the following comments:

"As someone who just loves teaching, I can't bring myself to abandon any teaching endeavor if there's any chance that I might actually present the lesson more effectively."

Anybody who has read Prejean's previous replies to Hays and Prejean's posts in response to me at Greg Krehbiel's board will know that Prejean's claim about how he "loves teaching" is absurd. Prejean repeatedly refused to defend Roman Catholicism. He repeatedly refused to answer questions about his arbitrariness and double standards. But now, within a few days of "retiring", he's back with more arbitrariness and more double standards. He writes:

"To put it into perspective, the Evangelical use of the GHM is no more convincing to me than an astrologer's use of planetary motion. I have no reason to believe that the application of a proper observational method (such predicting planetary orbits based on gravitational calculations) would have any utility in the area of predicting the future. Essentially, the argument repeated by Hays, Jason Engwer, and Frank Turk is equivalent in my mind to 'my astrological calculations are based on absolutely reliable planetary motion calculations; even you have to use planetary motion calculations, you know!' Well, yeah, but I don't use them to predict the future, so why does that my matter?"

And he summarizes his own approach as follows:

"I have no reason to even *suspect* that there is some independent way to get at divinely revealed meaning apart from the Church; Evangelicals just assume that there is and argue from this perceived necessity to the existence of a method....By contrast, I use grammatical-historical methods where they are reliable (viz., discerning the meaning of a human author trying to communicate directly with another human recipient) to empirically observe what hermeneutical method was actually used and deemed reliable by Christians of the past, which I would argue is exactly the Alexandrian Christological hermeneutic of Ss. Athanasius and Cyril. In identifying who is and isn't a Christian, I am not using any particular vaporous or subjective criterion (which 'correct belief' would be); it is simply based on the records we have of a relatively well-identified population from a sociological perspective....On the contrary, I don't even attempt to rehabilitate Origen's allegorical method; I doubt both its accuracy and its metaphysical premises. Ss. Athanasius and Cyril clearly provided a corrective to Origen's exegetical method, and it is this method that I endorse."

Prejean often acts as if he's representing what Catholics in general believe, then he proceeds to use argumentation that you never see other Catholics using. How often do we see Karl Keating or Patrick Madrid, for example, taking the approach Prejean has taken? When's the last time you saw a Catholic Answers tract argue along the lines of Prejean's claims about phenomenology, the Christology of Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, etc.? Keep in mind that Prejean told me, in our discussion on Greg Krehbiel's board, that I can't claim to agree with other people unless I agree with all of their arguments leading to their conclusion. Yet, Prejean claims to agree with Roman Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox and others) who don't use his argumentation to arrive at their conclusions.

Prejean's astrology analogy is ridiculous. Prejean has acknowledged, in a previous discussion with me, that it's historically probable that Jesus rose from the dead, spoke the words recorded in Luke 24:25, etc. Words have meaning. What Jesus spoke in Luke 24 has meaning. If that meaning includes theology, as it does, then we can arrive at theology by means of the sort of historical method I, Steve Hays, and others have described. Deriving theology from Luke 24:25 is not equivalent to deriving astrological predictions from planetary movements. That's why Prejean's fellow Catholics will often take the same sort of historical approach I, Steve Hays, and others have taken in order to argue for various doctrines. If Prejean thinks that the historical Jesus can be shown to have historically made a comment about God, yet that comment about God can't have theological implications that are ascertainable apart from "the Church", then he's arbitrarily putting a limit on the grammatical-historical method. No historian would claim that we can't historically ascertain the theology of Athanasius or the theology of Martin Luther, for example. So, why can't we arrive at the theology of Jesus or Paul through the historical-grammatical approach? Is Prejean going to argue that we can ascertain their theology through a historical method, but we can't determine that we ought to agree with their theology unless "the Church" tells us so?

If Prejean wants to argue that there might be more meaning to Jesus' words than we can attain through the grammatical-historical approach, then he needs to show us how we get that additional meaning rather than just asserting that it exists. As I told him repeatedly in the discussion at Greg Krehbiel's board, it's not our responsibility to prove a universal negative. If Prejean wants us to think that the historical Jesus was teaching something beyond what we can ascertain through the grammatical-historical approach, where's his evidence?

Prejean repeatedly assumes his definitions of the church, who is a Christian, what the correct Christology is, etc. without giving any specific justification. He asserts such theological conclusions and claims to be getting them from the historical record, yet he turns around and criticizes Evangelicals for thinking they can arrive at theology through the historical record. And he doesn't explain what this correct allegorical method of Athanasius and Cyril is. Did Athanasius and Cyril interpret every passage of scripture in an identical way? Does Prejean agree with every argument of Athanasius and Cyril? (Remember, Prejean told me that I can't claim agreement with somebody unless I agree with every one of his arguments leading to his conclusion.) How does Prejean go about applying the allegorical method of Athanasius and Cyril to arrive at conclusions such as the papacy and the Immaculate Conception? If the method doesn't necessarily lead to such doctrinal conclusions, then where is Prejean getting those doctrines? How does he know that he should be following the scriptures in the first place, which he would need to know before looking for a way to interpret them? If he's going to say that he knows that the Christology of Athanasius and Cyril is correct because it became popular, then he's contradicting what he told me about popularity not being the determinitive factor. So, how does Prejean know what the correct Christology is?

I would expect Steve Hays to write a reply to Prejean as well, and I expect him to make some of the same points I've made. And Prejean will reply with more arbitrariness and double standards. I also expect him to change his standards in the middle of the discussion, as he so often does. Add a qualifier you didn't mention previously, claim that you agreed with your opponents all along on an issue where you actually disagreed with them, etc. He'll continue to try to put forward an image of being confident in his conclusions, even though he has no reason to be confident. With Prejean, it's more about appearances than substance.