Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America

Theses on the Article of Justification: A Refutation of the aclc’s Critique: Part Eight

Posted on April 9, 2014 by Rev. Stefanski under Blog, Justification
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Appeal to an Expert or Evidence from Original Sources?

The ACLC response to Thesis 6 demonstrates that its pastors neither understand the purpose of these theses nor the commonly held terminology of Lutheran theology. The reasons that the theses do not approach the topic by simply going passage by passage exegetically should be obvious to anyone who has seen it debated in the past: 1) all contemporary exegesis that goes contrary to the “approved” Synodical Conference position will be rejected out of hand; 2) all historic exegesis that goes contrary to the “approved” Synodical Conference position will be rejected by citing later exegetes; 3) the problem with “Objective Justification” is not primarily exegetical, but hermeneutical—that is, the mindset of those supporting “Objective Justification” has become so disengaged from any objective look at the texts that one must first spend considerable time on the philosophical presuppositions from which their error springs (e.g., the insistence that Justification cannot be given unless Justification already exists). Thus, the bulk of our “Theses” is directed to such prolegomena. We will be supplying exegetical treatment of pertinent passages in upcoming publications; it’s nothing we don’t already know, just something that would have been fruitless to write prior to our “Theses.” We’ve seen enough examples of poor exegesis and off-target explanations written by others who did not first engage these issues.

Next, the ACLC claims this thesis is “nothing more than the fallacy of appeal to an expert.” Apparently, they don’t realize that saying, “The Bible says…” is also an appeal to authority—and one that a Christian rightly makes. Nor do they seem to mind making such an appeal themselves, when they needlessly ask Rolf Preus and Daniel Preus to “defend” what their father, Robert Preus, actually believed regarding “Objective Justification,” when all that is at issue is what he wrote. While they certainly may speak more authoritatively to what their father wished to teach, they are no more valid of authorities on what his words actually say than anyone else is. The fact that they edited the book in which he said it does not make them the authors of it—unless they changed the text, which they clearly have not done. Moreover, when we look at the early 1980s, we see Dr. Preus write the same thing (though in shorter form), even though he was most certainly confessing “Objective Justification” at the time.

The point is, unlike the ACLC’s enlisting of the Preus brothers to tell us what is not written in Justification and Rome, our use of the orthodox Lutheran fathers is not the sort of appeal that says, “This man says this, therefore, this is what the Bible teaches,” but simply, “This is what the orthodox Lutheran fathers taught pertinent to this issue.” While the former type of appeal (which they use with the Preus brothers) is, indeed, a logical fallacy, the latter is no such thing. If quoting authors to establish what those same authors taught is now considered a logical fallacy by the ACLC, there is certainly no point in further discussion with them.

The extension of the above point is this: One does not need to have a working relationship with an author in order to read that author’s clear statements. On the other hand, those who were co-workers and co-authors will tend to understand more of the author’s intent than those who were not. So also, those who studied under a certain professor and read his books are more likely to understand subtleties in his writings than those who only read. We have certainly found this to be the case with our “Theses”: neither we as co-authors, nor the laity of our parishes who are used to hearing us (and generally don’t view us with suspicion and a tendency to put the worst construction on things) have had anywhere near the trouble understanding the “Theses” that the ACLC’s pastors claim to have had.

Evidence of the need to proceed precisely as we have because of those whose presuppositions will lead to an inability to read and discuss in a civil and sensible manner can be seen in their trying to make an issue out of what is and is not a “private writing.” Such nonsense is not worthy of a response.

They object to our statement, “When we hear the testimony of those of the era immediately following the Reformation, we rightly assume that they are more certain of what those writing, compiling, and teaching the Lutheran Symbols were asserting than those of later ages would be,” calling it “truly a logical non-sequitur based on a false premise,” and continuing, “First of all the Lutheran Confessions themselves assert that the Reformation era fathers understood matters of the faith better than anyone since apostolic times, that is, better than the early ‘church fathers,” and “Second, acceptance of the ELDoNA’s assertion is tantamount to accepting the idea that the Lutheran Confessions are obscure writings that are difficult to understand.”

“Better than anyone since apostolic times” means “anyone other than the Apostles.” Thus, we may say that as the Apostles understood both the Word of God and the history of the infant Church, so did Luther understand what Luther meant and Chemnitz understand what Chemnitz meant, and so on. The reason that the Confessions can assert what they do of those in their day is because they could see how the doctrine (and its practice) was being brought back into conformity with that of the Apostles. Such is not the case with those who teach “Objective Justification,” whose theology says what the Confessions do not say and what neither Luther nor Chemnitz said, and what was not said by those immediately after them.

“But…” the ACLC says, “the Wittenberg theologians wanted to fit Lutheran theology into Aristotelian categories!” Thus, after falsely accusing our diocese of having a “blindly uncritical attitude” toward the Wittenberg faculty (which they fail to demonstrate—an emerging pattern from them; accusations without demonstration are rife in their “Critique”), they now attack said faculty. For all of their inane blathering about logical fallacies, the ACLC seems quite fond of trying to poison the well. Were we to follow a similar methodology, we would point out that Hermann Sasse accused Francis Pieper of being Aritstotelian (cf. “Confession and Theology in the Missouri Synod, Scripture and Church” in Selected Essays of Hermann Sasse, p. 216–217), but we will, instead, give him the credit that Robert Preus gives to Johann Gerhard in The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism (vol. 1, p. 115–117), where he makes it clear that though Aristotle’s terms may be used, Gerhard was not subjecting theology thereby to any sort of metaphysical construct. So, also, Pieper does not begin his prolegomena with philosophical theories about God and epistemology, but immediately looks to the revealed Word.

As to the Lutheran Confessions being obscure and difficult to understand: we hold no such thing. However, those who try to force “Objective Justification” into them do obscure them and leave those without such an a priori assumption scratching their heads and wondering what else they will not be able to understand from a plain reading of the text. A plain reading of the Confessions leaves the reader abundantly convinced that the 16th Century Lutherans taught justification by faith as the chief article, as opposed to the chief tenet of “Objective Justification” that God has already justified all people not by faith.

They continue, “Third, the Formula of Concord was necessitated by a failure of the theologians of the day, and immediately following, to understand the doctrine of the Augsburg Confession.” This in no way demonstrates that a similar problem occurred immediately after the Book of Concord’s publication. Here the ACLC is employing an Appeal to Probability—a formal fallacy, which renders their argument invalid.

Moreover, the Formula of Concord was not so much necessitated by a failure to understand the doctrine of the Augustana, but by the rejection of aspects of it by those who claimed they were not doing so. There is absolutely no evidence that such was the case with the Wittenberg faculty at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries.


A Brief Comment about “Logical Fallacies”

Okay, let’s just get this out of the way, as it is certain to be getting as tiring for you as it is for us: we’ve been pointing out some of the ACLC’s logical fallacies as we’ve gone along. The most recent is this matter of an Appeal to Probability: “Error was introduced quickly after this event, therefore we can expect that it was introduced quickly after another event, as well.” No, you don’t get to “expect,” you get to prove; without demonstrating that what you expect actually happened, you cannot assert that it did and think that your argument is valid.

Why have we pointed out their logical fallacies? We have done so chiefly to show how ridiculous the charge they seem so proud of actually is: that our “Theses” are built on three logical fallacies. (“Proud of”: they made the charge of logical fallacies the abstract of their “Critique” and one of their pastors even posted the charge as “his review” of our “Theses” on Amazon.com—without identifying himself as an ACLC pastor, but promoting the ACLC’s web site.) It’s a ridiculous charge to make for three reasons: 1) because we can, have, and will continue to show the charge to be false; 2) even if they were able to show a point or two where our argumentation included such a fallacy, it would not disprove or invalidate our position; 3) their “Critique” is itself overflowing with fallacies (yet, we take the time to answer their complaints), some of which we note to expose their false charge of logical fallacies in our “Theses.”

Their chief problem in this regard (and this speaks to the second point, above) is that the main thing they attempt in their “Critique” is what is referred to as an Appeal to Fallacy—the idea that if any one or two of the fallacies with which they charge us were to turn out to be true, they would have “won the argument.” Appeal to Fallacy, though, is itself a formal fallacy; that is, it is a fallacy so critical that it is automatically considered anon sequitur, an invalidity, something that does not actually prove a point. In order to prosecute their Appeal to Fallacy style of argumentation, they have had to adopt what is known as the “Shotgun Approach”: they keep charging us over and over, just hoping that one charge will kill our argument. The Shotgun Approach, though, is nothing other than a form of ad hominem that takes things to the extreme of “Poisoning the Well”; the cumulative impact of the charges on the reader is the thought that the accusations must be accurate at least in part, so that the argument is, “See how many errors of logic they make! Certainly you’re not stupid enough to believe them!”

Again, we have pointed out some of their logical fallacies and illegitimate tactics up to this point, but it is tiresome to do so and continuing to do it really gains us nothing, so we are going to attempt to refrain from continuing to note them, lest anyone get the wrong impression and think that we agree with their method of argumentation, namely, to attack the way something seems or is presented, rather than to disprove the substance. Indeed, constantly pointing to their faulty argumentation may seem overly polemical—as if we were “making fun” of them—and the fact is that the breach between the ACLC and the ELDoNA is largely the result of the ACLC’s having immediately turned to polemics in response to the presented draft of our “Theses,” rather than to brotherly discussion. (Cf. the initial post in this series.) As much as possible, therefore, we shall refrain from further categorization of their logical errors and continue with our examination and refutation of their “Critique” without practicing what they have so shamelessly done.


Back to the Substance of the Discussion

The ACLC continues:

The defensive move in the second paragraph again obscures the matter. These theses do not treat “Objective Justification” as a clarification, or a better way to say something, but as error to be rejected. It carries the implication that those who teach the objective aspect of Justification set aside what the orthodox fathers taught, an implication not demonstrated by the Theses.

We are relieved to see that the ACLC understands that our “Theses” do not treat “Objective Justification” as a better way to say something; we are not sure why they are upset about our stating the general principle that subsequent generations may improve upon a thing, but that one cannot do so by contradicting it.

They say, “The last paragraph of thesis 6 is the heart of this whole matter, making an assertion that the theses fail to substantiate.” Actually, the theses demonstrate it quite well to those who do not reject a priori the thought that they could do so. Those prone to setting aside the definition of “Objective Justification” to speak of “Justification in both its objective and subjective aspects” in order to falsely make it seem as if those whom they are opposing reject “the objective aspects” instead of the false doctrine of “Objective Justification,” also blind themselves to this. One wonders why the pastors of the ACLC need to be so vehement about defending this false doctrine that they can’t even seem to call by name (as noted in our “Theses,” by the way, as the usual dodge of those holding to this teaching) and are constantly trying to redefine.

The ACLC concludes its evaluation of Thesis 6 with what can only be interpreted as extreme sarcasm or extreme obtuseness: “Moreover, the opening sentence of this thesis, as well as thesis 9 in general, appears to be a capitulation that the Fathers of Lutheran Orthodoxy did in fact know and observe the distinction…even if only in their ‘private writings.’” The ACLC’s tactics are truly disturbing. First, they mislead the reader of their Critique by arbitrarily redefining “Objective Justification” as an “objective distinction,” which is patently inaccurate. Then they note our acknowledgement of an “objective distinction” made by the Lutheran Fathers, and at once pretend that they have both proven the teaching of “Objective Justification” in the Lutheran Fathers, and that we actually disagree with ourselves and capitulate to their assertion that the Lutheran Church has always taught “Objective Justification,” which is the very antithesis of what our “Theses” seek to demonstrate. Their lack of ability to read a contemporary document without trying to force it to say what they want it to say is a good caution against trusting their understanding of documents from other eras.

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