Someone recently asked Scot McKnight why he is still an Evangelical and not Catholic or Orthodox. He posted his reply, titled "Why I am not a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox". He offers seven reasons, which I discuss below. His words are italicized.
Here is his first reason: [UPDATE:: He doesn't intend this first point as a reason not to be Catholic.]
First, I’ve never been tempted to become either Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Never.
Whether or not one should become Catholic does not depend on whether one has been "tempted" to become Catholic, but rather on whether the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded. Scot's first reason for not becoming Catholic seems to suggest a form of ecclesial consumerism that makes the question "Why haven't you become Catholic?" equivalent to "Why haven't you tried Häagen-Dazs ice cream?" Remaining in schism from the Church that Christ founded is not justified by pointing out that one hasn't been "tempted" to be reconciled with her. So his first reason for not becoming Catholic is not a good reason.
His second reason involves four distinct points which I consider individually.
But I think the RCC and EO render authority in the ecclesia instead of in Scripture and in Spirit to make Scripture clear.
One of the ideas implicit in Scot's statement here is that we must choose between Church as authority and Scripture as authority, and between Church as interpreter of Scripture and Spirit as interpreter of Scripture. This suggests a form of monocausalism that presents us with false dilemmas, and an ecclesial docetism that separates the Spirit from the Church. This monocausalism does not seem to conceive the possibility of Scripture and Church as both having authority, in different respects. And this ecclesial docetism does not recognize that the Spirit works *through* the Church's magisterium to make Scripture clear, as the Spirit worked through Philip the deacon to make Scripture clear to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). Implicit in Scot's comment here is the notion that the Spirit 'floats free' of matter, that is, operates apart from matter, and thus does not come to us principally through the Church and through her sacraments. This is the anti-sacramental implication of montanistic gnosticism.
Now here’s my point: both the RCC and the EO have captured the Spirit in the Church so that Church too often has become Authority.
I'm not sure what it means for the Church to "become Authority", since the Church is the Body of Christ, and "Authority" is a quality had by a being, not a thing in its own right. But here too, Scot treats the Catholic Church as somehow restricting the Spirit. (That's what he means, I take it, by "captured the Spirit".) The Catholic Church does not claim to have captured or restricted the Spirit. Catholics recognize that the Spirit does what He pleases, being God. But the Catholic Church believes and teaches that Christ gave His disciples the Spirit as a gift, and promised that His Spirit would work *through the Church*, particularly through her sacraments. Since the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, and since the Church is the Body of Christ, we should therefore expect to find the Spirit in the Church, expect to receive the Spirit through the Church, and expect the Spirit to work through the Church. Nor does the Catholic Church believe that she became authority; the Catholic Church believes that the incarnate Christ Himself gave authority to her when He gave authority to the Apostles (including the keys of the kingdom to Peter -- cf. Matthew 16:19), and the Apostles subsequently transmitted this authority to their episcopal successors in an unbroken sacramental succession.
So far as the church partakes in that Spirit, it has an authoritative message; so far as it doesn’t, it loses its authority.
According to Scot's position, apparently, it is up to each man, woman and child to decide when and if and to what degree the Church is 'partaking in the Spirit', such that if anyone feels that the Church is not sufficiently partaking of the Spirit, he can dismiss her teaching as non-authoritative. Again, this is montanistic gnosticism. This montanistic gnosticism makes schism seem justified, since according to this position the Spirit floats free from matter, and therefore this position presumes that the Spirit is fully available to us apart from the institution and hierarchy of the Church. Every heresy in the history of the Church could have been self-justified in this way, since the heretics could have simply said, "Well, in this case, it seems to us that the Church is not sufficiently partaking of the Spirit, and therefore her condemnation of our position is not authoritative. In fact, we have the fullness of the Spirit, and so we now declare that we are the Church." This notion separates the Spirit of Christ from the Body of Christ, and in this way falls into ecclesial docetism.
RCCs and EOs talk about Church; Protestants talk about Scripture. It is their emphasis that I like ..."
The Catholic Church claims to be the Church that Christ founded. The question "Why are you still an Evangelical and not a Catholic?" is not the sort of question to which 'like' has any place in a reply. Such a reply suggests a failure to understand what the Catholic Church claims about herself, for the same reason that "dislike Him" is not a fourth option in the Lord, Liar, Lunatic trilemma. The question is simply not about us, our likes and dislikes; it is about the identity of this 2000 year-old institution claiming to be the Church that Christ founded. Schism is not justified by likes or dislikes, let alone liking or disliking an "emphasis". Again, this seems to be more evidence of ecclesial consumerism that itself reveals no awareness of the fundamental difference between the Catholic conception of the Church as the institution Christ founded and the Evangelical conception of the Church as a religious activity or phenomenon that can be made-to-order to suit our personal likes and dislikes, itching our ears and gratifying our other senses as well. (Scot is a signer of the Evangelical Manifesto, which I reviewed here.) Scot is treating the Catholic Church as if she is just one more option-of-choice among the denominational smorgasbord our many schisms have now spread before us religious consumers. He is thus viewing the Catholic Church through Evangelical lenses, as if there is no such thing as the Catholic Church. But that's simply to fail to see the Catholic Church. In order to see the Catholic Church, one has to step out [at least mentally] from the Evangelical paradigm. So his second reason is in that respect question-begging; it assumes the truth of Evangelicalism.
His third reason is this:
for each of these communions [RC & EO] the Tradition becomes massively authoritative and, in my view, each of these communions has become un-reformable.
'Massive' in itself is not a flaw. Scot would need to show us the standard by which to measure how authoritative Tradition should be, and then show how in the Catholic Church, Tradition goes beyond that standard. He hasn't done that here; he has simply asserted that Tradition has "massive" authority, and then assumed that this is a fault. His position also implicitly assumes but does not substantiate the notion that schism is justified if the Church is "un-reformable". That the Church needs so much reform as to justify being in schism from her is also something he assumes but does not support.
They read the Bible through Tradition and I believe in reading the Bible with Tradition.
Ironically, part of the Tradition is to read the Bible *through* Tradition. Reading the Bible "with Tradition" is not part of the Tradition.
time proves that some of what we all know today to be interpretive truth can be wrong in a century. Look at the Church’s backpedaling today on Galileo.
Surely Scot knows that the Catholic Church believes and teaches that infallibility does not apply to everything the Catholic Church does, including her handling of the Galileo case. Infallibility has to do with the Church's dogmas, and these dogmas have to do with faith and morals. But again, Scot does not show how the Church's fallibility in other areas justifies being in schism from her.
His fourth reason is this:
Fourth, I believe in the guidance of the Spirit in the Church, both in theological articulation (Nicea, for example) and in revival (the Reformation, for example).
Catholics also believe that the Spirit guides the Church into all truth. But we don't separate Spirit from matter; we treat the Church herself as a sacrament, where matter and Spirit are joined together. Scot apparently does not do that; he seems to treat the Spirit as free-floating apart from matter. He follows the Council of Nicea, but apparently rejects the Council of Trent. When you separate Spirit from matter, "what the Spirit is doing" amounts to whatever the burning in your bosom tells you the Spirit is doing, and then similarly "the Church" amounts to whoever agrees (or mostly agrees) with you and your interpretation of Scripture and with what you think are the minimal essentials of the faith. That is the unavoidable implication of montanistic gnosticism.
The minute, however, one begins to think that a given moment in the Church or its articulation was timeless truth rather than truthful timeliness one falls prey to elevating Tradition too high.
Too high according to what standard? Without a standard, this charge is groundless. I can't help but wonder if he thinks his very claim here is a "timeless truth" or only a "temporary truth" [as if there could be such a thing]. If it is not a timeless truth, then perhaps it is time to put such dogmatic skepticism behind us, so that we can recover the dogmas of the faith.
I check interpretation against these; but that does not mean I don’t think fresh light emerges or that something could be improved or modified.
The Catholic Church agrees. The Catholic Church rejects two opposite errors. One error is the notion that there is no development of doctrine, no increase in understanding, and no leading into greater truth by the Spirit. The other error is the notion that nothing at all has been irrevocably established as true, and that everything is open to future rejection and falsification. Both of those errors involve an implicit rejection of the Holy Spirit's continuing activity in leading the Church into all truth. Both errors are therefore forms of ecclesial deism. Scott wants present openness to the Spirit, but in rejecting "timeless truths" he implies that the Spirit hasn't gotten us any closer to truth than we were 2,000 years ago, since we don't know anything for sure now, not even that we have gotten closer to truth. But if over the last 2,000 years the Spirit hasn't gotten us any closer to the truth, then why should we believe that the Spirit is suddenly going to start doing something now? The two errors are in this way related, because they are both a manifestation of ecclesial deism.
His fifth reason is this:
Fifth, what this means — if you are still with me — is that I believe in ongoing discernment of what the Spirit is saying to the Church, and I believe this discernment is a function of church leaders and churches in communion with one another. Discernment for the day is different than infallible teaching for all time. Therein lies a major difference.
The Catholic Church also believes in discerning what the Spirit is saying to the Church, so that's not a point of disagreement between Scot and the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church also believes that this discernment [of what the Spirit is saying to the Church] is a function of church leaders and churches in communion with one another. So that's not a point of disagreement between Scott and the Catholic Church. And Catholics can agree as well that "discernment for the day" is different than infallible teaching for all time. But Scot has not shown that the two are mutually exclusive. Does he think that "discernment for the day" is incompatible with "infallible teaching for all time"? If so, why? If, for example, we know infallibly for all time that Christ is one Person with two natures, does that prevent "discernment for the day"? If so, then how so? But if not, then Scot has presented us with a false dilemma, namely, that we must choose between "infallible teaching for all time" and "discernment for the day".
His sixth reason is this:
neither communion [Catholic and Orthodox], regardless of what it says in theology or in catechesis, preaches the new birth clearly enough nor does either institutionalize the need for personal decision enough
That may very well be true, but that in itself does not show that remaining in schism from the Church that Christ founded is justified when the Church doesn't preach the new birth clearly enough or institutionalize the need for personal decision enough.
Once a month I get a letter from someone who asks me to talk them out of converting to Rome or to Constantinople (et al), and one thing I say to each of them is this: In three generations it is quite likely that your great grandchildren will be “in” the Church but will not experience the new birth.
What is yet to be shown is that remaining in schism is justified because of what is "quite likely" to happen to one's great-grandchildren. Scot's reason here entails that not being in schism is not part of the faith, because his position treats teaching one's children (performatively at least) that being in schism from the Church Christ founded is perfectly fine, so long as you think the Church isn't sufficiently following the Spirit. Scot's reason here thus performatively removes from the faith the prohibition against schism. It denies the unam [μίαν] in that line of the Creed that reads, "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church". The unity of the Church is part of the faith. Therefore we cannot sacrifice the unity of the Church and at the same time hold on to the faith. If we sacrifice the faith by denying any part of the Creed, then we don't have to wait three generations to see our great-grandchildren deprived of faith; we ourselves have already sacrificed it.
Furthermore, how Scot calculates the likelihood that great-grandchildren of Catholics will not "experience the new birth", and determines that this likelihood is greater than the likelihood that the great-grandchildren of emergentists (a movement which Scott supports) will even know anything about Christianity, he does not say or show. He just asserts. But since Scot is an Anabaptist, I wonder whether he has already denied that line of the Creed that says "one baptism for the forgiveness of sins". If not, then he will recognize that Catholic babies "experience the new birth" when they are baptized. I don't see any reason why we should think that in three generations Catholics won't be baptizing their children, when Catholics have been doing this since the first century. The "Emergent Church" has been around for about ten years. The Catholic Church has been around for 2,000 years; somebody has been keeping the faith.
His seventh reason is this:
Seventh: I’m unapologetically an evangelical Protestant because I think this is a more faithful shaping of the doctrines of the Bible.
Scot is essentially saying here that he is a Protestant because he believes in sola scriptura, and thus that he is his own highest interpretive authority, since his interpretation of Scripture has more authority than that of the magisterium of the Catholic Church. What is missing here is a defense of sola scriptura and a refutation of the Catholic case against sola scriptura. Otherwise, Scot is merely describing his own position, not showing why his position is true and that of the Catholic Church is false.
Finally, he writes this:
Are there other reasons? Of course … like assurance of salvation, the worrisome compulsion to attend mass, women in ministry, like the significance of lay giftedness, less (not more) authority in the local pastor and more authority in the Spirit, justification by faith, hierarchical power structures that create endless red tape, too much Mary, and I could go on.
It sounds like he thinks of Christianity as a made-to-order religion where we get to order it up just exactly to our own liking. Do you want assurance? How much assurance do you want? Ok, here's a denomination that will offer you just what you want, as much assurance as you possibly want. Tired of the obligation to go to mass? Take a look at this attractive alternative. It is a no-guilt Church; you are free to come when you want, and stay home when you feel otherwise. In fact, we'll meet in the evenings in a bar if that's what you'd like. Are you a woman and feeling excluded from pastoral roles? We have just the solution for you. Here's an array of denominations that offer you the full range of ministerial opportunities to fulfill your deepest ministerial aspirations. That ecclesial consumerism, however, turns things exactly upside-down, creating Church in our image, rather than conforming ourselves to the Church that Christ founded, and in doing so conforming to the image of Christ. In that post (on ecclesial consumerism) I examined the worship advertisements in the St. Louis newspaper, and drew the following conclusion:
One thing that clearly stands out is that these religious organizations are trying to fill niches in demand. Through a kind of free market process, they are reflections of what people want. Just as we can get a personalized custom-made teddy bear at the local mall, we can get a religious experience on Sunday morning that is custom-made to fit our particular religious appetites, preferences, interpretations, expectations, beliefs, etc. We can worship in an organization that is made in our own image, and in that way we can worship a god of our own making.
Earlier this year I wrote, "Unity is achieved not when we all make 'Church' in our own image (i.e. in the image of our own interpretation), but when we all conform to her image." And elsewhere, "Unity as one of the four marks of the Church ("one, holy, catholic and apostolic") and as the most intimate expression of the desire of our Savior's sacred heart revealed in St. John 17, requires being incorporated into something greater than a structure made in our own image, or the image of our own interpretation." In order to achieve this unity, we have to break out of ecclesial consumerism, and the montanistic gnosticism and ecclesial docetism that underlie it.