Saturday, September 10, 2005

Another Look at Jonathan Prejean's Errors

Jonathan Prejean repeatedly loses his temper and refers to how he's finished arguing with his Evangelical critics, only to go on to continue arguing with them, sometimes later that same day. He doesn't seem to have much concern for being careful with his words or for being consistent. In a thread on Pedantic Protestant's blog earlier today, Prejean wrote to me:

"You asked for it, kid. I was going to spare you since I had already taken down your boss."

Now, the reader should keep the context of these exchanges in mind. Prejean is responding to my mentioning of some of his many errors, such as his false claims about Galatians, Clement of Rome, and Papias. I also discussed his failure to make a case for Roman Catholicism and the unconvincing nature of his appeal to allegorical scripture interpretations, for example. The reader may recall that it was after discussions with Steve Hays and me that Prejean began his off-and-on "retirements" of recent days. Those discussions didn't go well for Prejean, and now we're seeing, once again, how upset he is.

So, when we go to the latest post Prejean links us to, on Greg Krehbiel's board, what do we see? More of Prejean's irrationality, double standards, and short temper. He begins with the title "Lowering the Boom on Boy Engwer", which goes well with the atmosphere in which he's writing. And it gets worse from there. After repeatedly telling us that he would no longer respond to us, and after repeatedly breaking his word, Prejean once again writes:

"You dishonest, conniving lowlives don't deserve any more of my time, and I refuse to give it to you."

He's "retiring" again!

But that's near the end of his post. At the beginning of the post, he starts with his usual arbitrariness and double standards:

"You see, despite some pretty decent familiarity with the basic works out there, I had never heard of any reputable scholar recently holding out Clement as teaching justification by faith alone, nor the Epistle to Diognetus, so I knew you were must just be basing it on your own personal opinion about what the text meant, rather than any reliable scholarship that would actually know about the social context sufficiently to give an informed interpretation."

Let's note a few things:

1.) Last year, on the Catholic Answers boards, Prejean said that he didn't even know whether there are any Evangelical patristic scholars. And just within the last several weeks at Greg Krehbiel's board, he said that he didn't know whether there are any Baptist patristic scholars. Yet, now he claims that he has "some pretty decent familiarity with the basic works out there", and he goes on to cite the Baptist patristic scholar D.H. Williams (more on that later).

2.) Prejean uses the qualifier "recently", probably because he knows that I've cited Philip Schaff on this subject in the past. Is Prejean suggesting that some radical change has occurred in our understanding of Clement of Rome's beliefs about justification within recent decades, so that previous scholars can't be cited on this subject? If so, then why didn't Prejean raise that objection in response to my mentioning of Schaff in prior discussions? Why does this "recently" qualifier appear only now? And what's the logic behind it?

3.) I don't claim that I must consult a patristic scholar before being confident about a conclusion regarding what a church father wrote. Even if I hadn't cited Schaff or anybody else, I would still have significant evidence to go by from the text itself and from my knowledge of the social context from other sources. Consulting scholars is good, but objecting that I haven't cited a scholar (though I have in this case) wouldn't, by itself, refute my argument.

4.) Prejean isn't consistent with his own professed standard. When he and I were discussing Clement of Rome in January of this year, at his blog (he allowed comments at his blog at that point in time), Prejean repeatedly made claims about Clement without citing a single patristic scholar to support his conclusions. At one point, Prejean even argued that the chapter titles were written by Clement, a concept he couldn't have gotten from any patristic scholar, since no patristic scholar agreed with Prejean on that issue. So, if Prejean repeatedly interprets Clement without consulting patristic scholars, why would he demand that I not only cite scholars for my interpretations, but also that I only cite recent scholars? How many times now have we seen Prejean engage in such double standards?

Prejean goes on to discuss the patristic scholar D.H. Williams:

"So I grabbed D.H. Williams, being a Baptist patristics scholar whom you supposedly respect, to see what he had to say. So I'm reading along in Evangelicals and Tradition (2005), get to page 130 in the section on justification and the early tradition, and Williams recaps the sort of standard view that the early church fathers were relatively careless on justification and that they didn't really stick to Pauline theology carefully: 'One is reminded of T.F. Torrance's verdict against Clement and the apostolic fathers, charging them directly with contradicting Paul and teaching a theology of 'works.''"

Before I proceed to interact with something Prejean goes on to say, let me note the contradiction between what these patristic scholars are saying and what Prejean is telling us. Remember, Prejean has argued in the past that my interpretation of the Biblical teaching on justification isn't credible without patristic support for it. Yet, here we see Prejean himself quoting patristic scholars who think it's plausible to conclude that the fathers contradicted the Biblical doctrine. And, of course, many Biblical scholars agree with my view of what the Bible teaches. So, if there's scholarly support for my view of the Bible's teaching and for my view of the plausibility of the church fathers' erring, then will Prejean acknowledge that I hold views on those subjects that are supported by credible scholarship?

But I do think that justification through faith alone is found in some patristic sources, and I gave Prejean examples, including scholars commenting on the subject, in previous discussions with him (at his blog and on Greg Krehbiel's board). I don't own the book by D.H. Williams that Prejean is quoting, but he (Prejean) goes on to write:

"This is YOUR OWN GUY, a BAPTIST whom you supposedly respect who flat out says that your argument isn't accurate, and you didn't even have the good sense to consult him before you published slanderous attacks on people you ought to consider Christians. That is so low, so despicable, that you don't even deserve the honor of me rebuking you."

First of all, let's get the timing straight, since Prejean seems to be too angry to think reasonably about such issues. Judging from the information at, it looks like Williams' book came out in June of this year. When did my original discussion with Prejean (regarding Clement of Rome) occur? This past January. It would be difficult for me to have consulted a book that wasn't out yet.

Besides, Williams isn't the only patristic scholar, nor is he the only baptistic patristic scholar, nor have I argued that I must cite patristic scholars in order for my conclusions to have any credibility. And see my comments above regarding Prejean's failure to be consistent with his own professed standards here.

I don't know whether Prejean is representing Williams accurately. I expect to get to his book eventually, but I haven't yet. Regardless, my view of the Biblical doctrine of justification has been supported by credible Biblical scholars, my view of Clement of Rome and other church fathers has been supported by credible patristic scholars, and even some scholars who allegedly disagree with me on Clement (D.H. Williams, for example) agree with me about the Biblical teaching and the plausibility of the concept that church fathers erred on this subject. And I've discussed the text of First Clement with Prejean at length. I've also discussed other patristic passages on this subject with him.

Regarding Papias and Eusebius, Prejean writes:

"Between that and and you not even realizing that my argument about Papias and Eusebius was actually *right* because you were too dense to follow the argument (and BTW, Nevski is chomping at the bit to excoriate you about that on Crowhill, so if you are so brave, show it there), I figured that you were probably just that dumb."

It doesn't make sense for Prejean to now claim that he was right about Papias and Eusebius, since he previously had argued that his errors were only minor. If the errors were minor, they would still be errors. But now Prejean is saying that he was right. Which is it? He can't reconcile his self-contradiction by saying that he was right on one primary issue while being wrong on lesser details, since I didn't say that I was limiting my comments on his errors to whatever he considered to be his primary point. If Prejean erred, he erred. Saying that it was on less important issues is a qualifier he can make if he wants to, but it doesn't change the fact that he erred. Besides, one of the points on which Prejean erred can't rationally be dismissed as minor. It was central to his argument.

Let's look at what Prejean originally claimed about Papias. Here's what he said this past January:

"In the particular case of Papias, we actually have records from Eusebius of his having been influenced by spurious literature that he believed to be of apostolic origin. IOW, it seems unlikely that his opinions stemmed from John himself, but rather by interpreting what John had written in light of the spurious literature."

Notice what Prejean is trying to do here. He's trying to explain how Papias could have been wrong about premillennialism. According to Prejean, Papias was wrong because he was relying on spurious literature. Prejean uses the term "literature" twice. And if Prejean could prove that Papias did derive his premillennialism from spurious literature, that would indeed be a good explanation of how Papias allegedly erred.

But when we go to what Eusebius wrote about Papias, there's no mention of spurious literature. Prejean was wrong. And, despite his frequent demand that his opponents cite patristic scholars agreeing with their beliefs, Prejean made his original claims about Papias and Eusebius without citing a single patristic scholar.

Prejean later acknowledged that Eusebius doesn't refer to any spurious literature. But once he realized that his original argument was wrong, Prejean replaced it with another wrong argument. In a discussion on Greg Krehbiel's board, Prejean told us that Eusebius refers to the elder John (somebody Papias consulted) "making up" premillennialism. But when you read what Eusebius actually wrote, he says nothing about the elder John making up premillennialism. And, once again, Prejean cited no patristic scholars in support of his assertion.

The reality is that Prejean made a series of false claims about Papias and Eusebius in multiple discussions in multiple forums, spanning several months of time. And his latest argument on the issue, namely saying that he agrees with Eusebius' speculation that Papias misinterpreted the apostle John, does nothing to make a convincing case for Papias' being in error. Eusebius was two centuries removed from Papias, and other early patristic sources agree with Papias' premillennialism. Citing the speculations of a source two centuries removed doesn't explain how Papias would have erred. So, not only did Prejean repeatedly make false claims about Papias and Eusebius, but even after getting the facts right, he's still giving us a weak argument.

In closing, let me comment on what Prejean says near the end of his post:

"You dishonest, conniving lowlives don't deserve any more of my time, and I refuse to give it to you."

Haven't we heard this sort of comment from Prejean many times now? I think we can all see how little concern he has for controlling his temper and for keeping his word.

Prejean continues:

"Keep publishing your own ridiculous 'most natural' reading of primary sources without any regard for historical context, even when the best qualified scholars out there consider your interpretation untenable."

Yes, I believe in following the most natural reading of a text. What does Prejean suggest? Following the least natural reading?

Did I ever suggest that I don't have "any regard for historical context"? No. Have I cited scholars agreeing with my conclusions? Yes. Has Prejean been consistent with his own professed standards? No. Has he given us reason to conclude that something in the historical context of Clement of Rome, for example, would refute my interpretation of that source? No.

Finally, Prejean writes:

"Just gotta finish my formal refutation of their idiotic 'you have to use the GHM too!' argument (which won't require any further interaction with them), and their whole castle in the air will have come tumbling back to the ground."

So, Jonathan, why don't you cite for us some scholars who agree with your approach on these issues? Why not name a scholar who agrees with you that the infallibility of the church is "axiomatic", that we should interpret the Bible allegorically because of the use of allegory by Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, and that allegorical interpretation leads us to Roman Catholicism? I doubt that you can name a single scholar who agrees with you on those three absurd arguments you've put forward, much less all of your other arguments. I, on the other hand, can cite many scholars who agree with my grammatical-historical approach toward scripture and who agree with my conclusions on justification and other significant issues.

While you keep looking for ways to avoid being limited to a grammatical-historical reading of scripture, you still can't give us any coherent and defensible argument for using your allegorical method and thereby arriving at Roman Catholicism. You've written a lot, Jonathan, without saying much.