A Response to Jeremiah Bannister (paleocrat)

I will be responding to this post  – http://jeremiahbannister.com/?p=154 – which is written in response to my post here – http://www.choosinghats.org/2012/11/canon-and-roman-catholicism.

Justin Scheiber of Reasonable Doubts recently linked to one of my posts on the canon of Scripture. I do not really have a way of following Justin, although I did notice an announcement that he is available for speaking engagements and debates. Perhaps one day he will debate me, but I am not holding my breath. In any event, Justin linked to me, and Jeremiah Bannister followed that link. Bannister is better known as “paleocrat.”

Some of you will remember paleocrat. Years ago he billed himself on Youtube as an ex-Reformed Roman Catholic presuppositionalist. Today he is a self-professing apostate skeptic. His arguments are not much better than they were when he was a Roman Catholic, and his arrogance remains about the same. That which he once dogmatically argued against he now dogmatically affirms. How long before he trades his newfound dogmatic skepticism in on another position? Only time will tell.

Bannister cites, but does not give any examples of “contradictions in the bible and the ethically repugnant narratives and statutes within the text” before giving excuses about why he is writing a response to me. He notes in passing that most of his family and friends believe in Sola Scriptura. Perhaps that should tell him something about the ineffectiveness of his arguments, I don’t know, but what he considers much more important is that, “this debate has ramifications for society at large.” After falsely assuming that “bible-onlyism” is a good synonym for Sola Scriptura Bannister makes the claim that, “It serves to inform many people’s views on matters foreign and domestic. For a [sic] extraordinary number of citizens, the bible is believed the primary authority when dealing with political controversies, economic policies and cultural norms and expectations.” Perhaps, but as I have pointed out elsewhere, there are significant differences between Christians on matters of politics, economics, and even cultural norms. Bannister appears to be falling for the oversimplified understanding of Christians and politics which paints all Christians as Republicans and all non-Christians and especially atheists as Democrats. In the past I have seen such a view propagated by a number of those who follow Reasonable Doubts. Hopefully Bannister can at the very least see that Christianity stretches across cultures, even if he is not aware, for whatever reason, that there are plenty of self-professing Christians who vote Democrat and vice versa. Again, a more complex understanding of the relationship between Christianity and various political, economical, and cultural matters would be helpful here.

A more complex understanding of illustrations would go a long way as well. Bannister writes that, “Skeptics wishing to stop the apologetic tap dance would be well-advised to move beyond criticizing dance moves to pulling the dance floor out from beneath the apologist’s feet.” Of course, you can’t tap dance on a rug, and you can’t pull a dance floor out from underneath of someone either. Bannister goes on to spend a paragraph focusing on his supposed expertise in the areas of canon, ecclesiology, hermeneutics, dogma, morality, and apologetic methodology as a Calvinist and a Roman Catholic. I really have my doubts as to how well he ever understood Reformed Christianity or presuppositionalism. But let’s move on. For now.

Bannister’s question, “to those who insist their worldview or interpretation of any given issue is the true and, consequently, binding interpretation of the text or tradition” is, “By what standard?” Given his alleged expertise, Bannister should already know the answer. Scripture. That is an easy enough response as far as it goes, but Bannister’s brain is still baked from the Romanist apologetics he imbibed in recent years. Instead of arguing like most other “skeptics” do, Bannister defaults back to purely papist arguments against Sola Scriptura.

Thus Bannister begins, “Let’s ignore the lamer arguments attributed to the Roman Catholic by Bolt.” The implication, if I am reading him correctly, is that Bannister finds the Roman Catholic’s arguments in the conversation I posted downright deplorable. Those arguments are so bad that there may be doubts as to whether or not I just made the conversation up. However, I did not, and moreover, Bannister’s arguments from here on out are qualitative equivalents to the arguments set forth by my Roman Catholic friend in the discussion I posted. He wants to take me, “at face value” focusing solely upon my remarks and, “pointing out flaws in what [he] believe[s] to be the core statements in this back-and-forth.”

Bannister quotes me as follows:

“Canon is a function of Scripture,” Bolt assures the reader. “Those things which I have written are in the canon of my works. Similarly those things which God has breathed out constitute the canon of Scripture.” He later insists, “The Word of God is self-attesting and since God is the highest authority, self-authenticating. People have been recognizing the Word of God as such from the beginning.”

Bannister’s objection is that, “God didn’t ‘write’ sacred text in the same way Bolt has written his works.” Perhaps Bannister is unaware of how analogies function. There is not a one-to-one relationship in the case of an analogy. Bannister missed this even though I wrote, “Similarly” in the portion quoted above. But it gets worse:

God is said to have inspired people to write. At times, people wrote of themselves, their experiences and beliefs. At other times, scribes wrote of the experiences, dreams, personal dispositions, private conversations, beliefs and practices of others–and these often occurring hundreds or even thousands of years predating the existence of the author. In short, a pretty heft [sic] claim made on a mind-boggling number of optimistic assumptions.

Unless I am misunderstanding him, Bannister takes my view to be that the people who wrote down the Scripture were inspired, and not their words. If that is what he is saying, then he is wrong to attribute that view to me. Not only that, but he should know better, given that he was, in his own words, once Reformed. More than that, Bannister speaks of, “a mind-boggling number of optimistic assumptions.” Let’s see here…what one assumption is it that Bannister might be missing here? Could it be the one which claims that God exists? That God is sovereign? The derivative claims that God, in short, is capable of creating an inspired text through the means of men and subsequently preserving that text throughout history? What good is Bannister’s alleged expertise in Christian theology when he can’t get something as simple as the assumption of the existence of God correct? Of course there are problems with the claims of Scripture if God does not exist. But who cares? For someone who claimed to utilize presuppositional apologetics for years, Bannister is not very gifted at internal critique. An external critique is all that sits behind the incredulity he displays here. And that is not relevant to my case.

Bannister launches into another external critique when he begins questioning the ability of early Christians to discern the authenticity of Scripture. I have already made my case, from within the Christian worldview and against the Roman Catholic, that early Christians did know the Word of God. Not only that, but early Jews did as well! Now if Bannister were asking the right question, which is, “How do we know that the Bible is the Word of God?” then I might be inclined to give him an answer. But let’s be clear. That is not what he is asking. In fact he is not asking anything at all. He is begging the question by assuming that, “authenticity was often difficult to confirm,” when that is the very same thing he is trying to prove in the form of an objection to what I have written. Of course I am working off of context and implication here, because taken strictly and out of context, Bannister’s concern that, “authenticity was often difficult to confirm” does not mean that it was impossible to “confirm” authenticity. It is difficult to be a good tap dancer, but it is not impossible, unless you are trying to do it on carpet. That might be impossible. And before someone raises it as an objection, let me be clear that I know discerning the authenticity of books is not the same thing as tap dancing.

Now Bannister says all of this “leaves us with a predicament, and a predicament understood full-well by early Christians.” He asks, “By what standard are Christians to decide upon which books were inspired and which ones weren’t?” Well with all due respect, if Bannister had been paying closer attention to my conversation with the Roman Catholic then he would already know my initial answer to the question. The Word of God is self-attesting. I say “initial” because there are many other means by which we know that the Bible is the Word of God, but the ultimate reason is that God, who is the final authority, declares it to be such. Again, this does not preclude the role of the Holy Spirit in confirming the Word of God to us as He has the church throughout the ages. This also does not preclude considerations of authorship, content, acceptance within the church, and other more evidentiary aspects to the process of recognizing the Word of God. Finally, this response does not preclude arguments – like the transcendental argument – which contend that if the self-attesting claims of Scripture are false, then human experience is unintelligible foolishness.

Bannister continues as he has above, making, for example, the claim that there was a “diversity of canons.” Again, I have already stated my view of canon in the original post that spawned Bannister’s response, and it is not the view that Bannister assumes here. There cannot be a “diversity of canons” when people do not make a book of the Bible part of the canon. Remember? Canon is a function of Scripture. Those things which I have written are in the canon of my works. Similarly those things which God has breathed out constitute the canon of Scripture. Bannister is arguing in virtue of an external critique again, this time by assuming that there can be multiple canons when in fact my view explicitly denies that this is the case. Now Bannister is free to say that my view is wrong, he just needs to explain why without begging the question as he has done.

Bannister continues his lengthy whiff when he writes about his aforementioned concerns posing a, “problem for his belief that everyone knew it from the beginning; it poses a serious problem to the issue of self-attestation.” Now self-attestation is something I affirm without any hesitation. The Bible states that it is the Word of God. That much is crystal clear. But where did I ever claim that “everyone” recognized the Word of God “from the beginning”? I don’t recall making that statement anywhere. If Bannister is going to engage with my view from what I wrote then great, but that is not what he has done. Rather, he attempts to inject his own leftover Roman Catholic confusions about canon into my position in an effort to generate problems, much like the Roman Catholic in the original conversation attempted to do. Not only that, but as can be seen above, he attributes things to me that I never actually said!

Bannister ends his “argument” with a typical Romanist shotgun blast of questions about standards of interpretation and the like. Perhaps he does not believe that texts are determinate in meaning. I do not know. If that is the case, then so much the worse for his post. In any event, until he is ready to argue against the actual position I presented, rather than easily refuted fabricated ideas propagated by the Roman Catholic “Church,”  I see no need to heed his wish to me for, “better luck next time, C.L. Bolt.” After all, I don’t believe in luck either.

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