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The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Conclusion

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IX. Concluding Thoughts

I originally wrote a review of Peter Lampe’s book measuring roughly 20 pages. I then wrote 40 more pages. BOH is the length of a book at 180+ pages in a PDF reader. I’ve added nearly 80 more pages to the conversation. That’s over 300 pages exchanged in the period of less than 24 months. It’s so much data that it can be difficult to make heads or tails out of it. As a matter of fact, it can cause people that want answers to throw their hands up in despair. BOH seems to acknowledge this in addressing its first objection. The objection is stated that given the length of the argument, it would seem that both options are plausible (BOH’s position and mine) so we ultimately need to use our private judgment. Consequently, the Catholic is in the same epistemic position as the Protestant.

By way of response BOH reasserts the Tu Quoque argument is not appropriate because the Catholic places their faith in an infallible Magisterium while the Protestant only finds his own opinion. This leaves the Protestant with uncertainty regarding his interpretation of Divine revelation, but places the Catholic in a position of certainty regarding the content of Divine revelation. BOH then claims,

Nevertheless, if true, any tu quoque objection simply proves that we Christians are the most miserable of men. For we claim to have a sure faith in what God has revealed, and yet we have no means by which we can distinguish our own opinions about faith from what faith itself holds with definitive and irrevocable strength. Such a despairing situation does not fit with what we know concerning God’s existence and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, a despairing situation should seem absurd to us, and the insouciance of the tu quoque objection toward discovering a divinely-established and divinely-protected teaching office should also strike us as absurd.

This statement is loaded with highly contestable assumptions. For BOH, if God has not provided us with an infallible Magisterium this would make us “the most miserable of men” because we would not be able to know doctrine without “definitive and irrevocable strength.” This assumes Scripture cannot provide us with definitive doctrinal statements—or at least that those doctrinal statements are insufficient.  Yet, it assumes the very point in question—did Jesus establish such a Church? Given OT structures and the role of the Torah in the life of Israel, the position that encounters more prima facie problems is the one advocated by BOH. God can and does work through written texts to communicate who he is and how we are to live—even though BOH’s appropriation of OT structures would render the OT saints as “the most miserable of men.”[1]

This tact, of allowing assumptions to bear the burden of an argument, is evident throughout BOH. In fact, BOH makes a curious methodological assumption in its concluding remarks,

Earlier ambiguous or underdetermined data does not undermine these witnesses, given the historiographical principle that all other things being equal, one should interpret earlier data in continuity with later testimony. Therefore, the ILD principle does not make the Catholic view only equally plausible in comparison with a “presbyterial” view. In fact, following a sound historical method and a complete data set makes it clear that the Catholic position is morally certain.

The principle offered is itself far from a historiographical principle, but even conceding it, BOH simply assumes that the interpretation of the data is equivalent when interpreted in continuity or in discontinuity. If that is not the case then everything that follows is uncertain—far from being morally certain. Assertions take the place of arguments.

At multiple points BOH says that the data is “inscrutable,” meaning that the data I’ve selected is no better than the Catholic alternative. This accusation is leveled at *every* section of my article. Sometimes this is combined with other arguments regarding the proper conditions for silence to carry evidential weight, but the claim of BOH is that in every single piece of evidence I have violated the ILD principle. In other words, at every single point episcopal argument is *at least* equal with the presbyterian thesis. At *no point* does the presbyterian thesis have *any* evidence in its favor. At its best, the evidence is equal to the Catholic paradigm.

For example, Bryan states,

And in our article we showed both that your argument is unsound, and that none of the data to which you appealed is evidence for the truth of your thesis. [Source]

The prima facie problem with this is the existence of different interpretations. Why do people believe that the evidence points in another direction? They could be committing a logical fallacy or deriving false conclusions—at least one group in this conversation is deriving false conclusions—but how do we know the ILD principle is being violated? What standards are there? The truth of the matter is, that it is a subjective assessment of the evidence. When BOH argues that I’ve violated the ILD principle, they are arguing that based on their subjective evaluation of the evidence the ILD principle has been violated. Yet, the very thing under dispute is the meaning of the evidence and here we clearly disagree.

Since Bryan does not believe that BOH has presented *any* evidence, it is unremarkable that he accuses my article of violating the ILD. Such an accusation, however, demonstrates remarkable hubris wherein the majority opinion of academia is held where “none of the data is evidence.” Even though most agree OJ committed the crime, the reason Johnny Cochran could argue, “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” is because the fact that the glove did not fit was a favorable piece of evidence for the defense. It doesn’t mean that the defense was ultimately right or that it explained every piece of evidence, but it *was* a piece of evidence. Likewise, one may disagree with my conclusions, but denying that anything presented was evidence is to deny the obvious.

This is why good historical scholarship allows the totality of evidence to shape and form conclusions about the evidence. Thus, Peter Lampe’s study commences with the following approach to evidence,

We face a tour through a variety of material: literary materials, above all, but also epigraphical and archaeological ones are at hand, which often only become illuminating in combination

Historical scholarship is predicated upon this type of practice: examining evidence, reaching conclusions, moving along to more evidence, allowing that evidence to chasten previous conclusions and inform additional research.  A myopic approach (“This violates ILD. This violates ILD. This violates ILD.”)  isolates evidence, insulating interpretations from legitimate challenges and missing the larger picture. As the methodology section highlights, constructing a narrative requires an attention to detail as well as the broader story being told in the organization of that data. BOH’s approach stalls this sharpening discussion by asserting superiority in every single section without providing substantive engagement.

In conclusion, I do thank CtC for providing an outlet for my initial article and for taking the time to write such a lengthy response. I must admit that at times frustration has crept in and I have been truly dismayed about what I perceive to be very mischaracterization of my position. At times, that frustration may have clouded my judgment or prevented me from responding with the charity that God requires of me. I pray that the Spirit of God continues to teach me humility as I mature and grow in the Lord and I appreciate the grace of those whom I may have dealt with in anything short of a spirit of love.

I do believe that much of my article has been left unexplored, however. My hope for the contributors to BOH is that they revise and strengthen their arguments and my hope for readers and followers would be that they carefully examine what each side has actually presented. I have taken great care to read BOH thoroughly and respond to the arguments accordingly. If there is anything I have misrepresented, however, I sincerely hope that someone will point that out to me. Thus brings the conclusion for my interaction on this topic with CtC. May God open our hearts to see clearly and love him and one another.

[1] Another prima facie problem with this argument is that billions of people do not see the tension that BOH claims is necessarily true.  Muslims, Jews, Hindu’s, Buddhists, etc., all have sacred texts that govern their communities, not a sole infallible “successor.”

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