Is James White BFFs With Martin Luther?

Update: After reflecting on the way I came across in the video, I have decided to remove it. If I expect James White to show respect and consideration toward me, I need to do the same to him. I will make another blog post sometime in the next few days discussing the situation, the response, and what transpired with regard to the radio discussion.

And immediately a Protestant Christian jumped in criticizing something I pointed out; namely, that James White hypocritically quotes Martin Luther on the back cover of the book. The Protestant Christian argued, with some merit, that just because a person disagrees with another on various issues, does not mean they can’t quote them when they do agree.

True enough, if that were the whole story, though one should be careful quoting people whose views in general are suspect. But White’s quote of Luther is as follows:

The Word comes first, and with the Word the Spirit breathes upon my heart so that I believe.
— Martin Luther

An okay quote, as far as it goes. But the problem with it for White is that Luther is talking about his own faith and beliefs, how the Word and the Spirit combine to bless him with his (implicitly great) faith.

Yet James White utterly rejects many of Luther’s beliefs: sacramental union (consubstantiation), the dismissal of four New Testament books, Marian veneration and her perpetual virginity, infant baptism, and especially Luther’s beliefs on justification and baptism.

bab1The quote then, where Luther describes how God has enlightened him with such faith, is a bizarre one to use by White, as their two faiths contradict one another on important doctrines. This is what I criticized in my video.

Of course, the solution to this puzzle is simple: White wants to connect himself with the founder of Protestantism and so add a patina of historical credibility to his own thoroughly innovative beliefs. In fact White likes the quote because he applies it to himself, and not to Luther. The irony of such a reappropriation is palpable, but in truth White is doing what Luther set the stage for: everyone their own ultimate interpretive authority. In spite of the hypocrisy, White truly is the spiritual descendant of Luther, just in a way that neither of them would want or own up to.

But How Could White’s Book Respond to Mine?

James White was informed about my video and argued that I said something silly: namely, I explained that his book didn’t rebut any of my book’s arguments. He pointed out that his book was written years prior to my book, so how could it rebut my arguments?

Seems reasonable, but what if I told you that White’s book was rebutted 400 years earlier by two Catholics? Their names are St. Edmund Campion and St. Francis de Sales. They lived in the 1500s and 1600s and already saw the root flaws of Protestantism. Their arguments get to the heart of the differences and completely undermine White’s book.

If White’s arguments were true, they would be timeless, and so his book would be speaking to timeless truths, like St. Edmund’s and St. Francis’ did. It could then answer a book such as mine, no matter when it was written. But his arguments are not true, and so they are not timeless at all. So my criticism of his book on this matter stands as well.

My book faces the toughest issues and gets to the heart of the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. White’s skirts the edges and studiously avoids the heart of the issues.

Catholic Saints vs. Protestant Reformers

A problem for Protestants, especially those who call themselves Reformed Protestants and attempt to closely associate themselves with the magisterial Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin, is the need to defend these two men at any cost.

martin-luther-bibleIn particular, Martin Luther said some really ugly things during his life, especially about Jews.  His views on Jewish people seemed to have changed over his life from tolerance and a desire for them to come to know Christ, to all-out hatred and a desire for them to be murdered.

You then have to defend his derogatory remarks about the the book of James, Revelation, and the other New Testament books whose canonicity he doubted.  Read all of his attacks on these books here in his preface to the these books, which he relegated to the end of his Bible.  Excerpt on Revelation:

About this book of the Revelation of John, I leave everyone free to hold his own opinions. I would not have anyone bound to my opinion or judgment. I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic.

For myself, I think it approximates the Fourth Book of Esdras; 8 I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.

Moreover he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly — indeed, more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important — and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will take away from him, etc. Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep.

For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it. But to teach Christ, this is the thing which an apostle is bound above all else to do; as Christ says in Acts 1, “You shall be my witnesses.” Therefore I stick to the books which present Christ to me clearly and purely. (emphasis mine)

It is argued that Luther eventually removed this preface and so (presumably) changed his mind about these books’ canonicity, but that does not mean we should ignore his words here; rather, they give us a better understanding at this time of Luther’s disposition toward the Church and the Bible (would you dare to pass judgment on one of St. John the Beloved Disciple’s inspired works?)

After that, his statements about the sacraments (more Catholic than you think! (these are written by an Anglican professor)) have to be ignored or explained away, as do his (dangerously Catholic) beliefs on Mary’s perpetual virginity and other Marian doctrines (can anyone say, “Mother of God”?), and finally his support of polygamy.

If you are a Protestant who reveres Luther, these facts (especially on Jews) present a difficult problem, and the best solution seems to be to ignore this particular dark side of his heart, but that is a hard to do when you hold him up to be the brilliant reformer of the corrupt Church, a man allegedly extremely faithful to Christ, but Christ taught us to love our neighbors (including Jews).

Why should we look to him and his teachings as being those of Christ when he himself spewed such hateful venom at the Jewish people?

This is the problem with putting so much stock into one person (other than Jesus Christ).  Catholics would apparently have the same problem with their Saints, but in actuality we do not because, though a saint might have exhibited heroic virtue in his or her life, all of our important doctrines and teachings and practice of the faith do not depend upon any one or two people, as Protestants have to depend on Luther and Calvin.

So it might be that St. Augustine had some inaccurate ideas at one time on some issues, but what St. Augustine says is not necessarily what Christ’s Church discerned to be truth.  The same for St. Jerome, St. Thomas Aquinas, and so on.  All of our key doctrines are not pinned on any one of these saints, even though they all contributed important ideas to the truth of God discerned within the Church.

But Luther and Calvin, in schisming from the Church, pitted themselves against the Church and all of her Fathers, Doctors, and great saints, male and female.  Luther’s judgments, condemnations, and corrections of the great Fathers of the Church are well-documented (see here and here for some of his statements).

The Saints were declared saints because they humbled themselves within Christ’s Church and persevered to the end of their lives in submitting their own insights, thoughts, and teachings to Her, whom Christ promised to defend against all enemies.

Martin Luther was not a demon from Hell sent to ruin us all.  He was a man.  Like me, like you, with faults and virtues, sometimes a weak faith and sometimes a strong one, with doubts and hopes and dreams and disappointments.  I think the truth of him is somewhere between the hagiographies and the demonizations.  The Catholic Encyclopedia has what seems to me to be a fairly objective description of the important events of his life and the actions he took.  Also, I have heard good things from my friend Phil about Alister McGrath’s book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution, so I recommend that (though it covers much more than just Luther).  McGrath is an Anglican.

I end by encouraging you, whether Protestant or Catholic (or other), to learn for yourself about Luther and Calvin and consider the weight that they must bear under Protestantism.