07 November 2009

Weekend Bonus: a response to John Mark Reynolds

by Frank Turk

Welcome readers from First Things: Evangel. This may look like a ploy to draw readers from there over here in order to troll for hits, but since we don't do any advertising here I think that's not a very charitable thing to say.

Full-blown, full-contact, full-body Catholic apologetics have broken out in the comments of one of my posts (it was inevitable, I am sure), and what I have to say in response to John Mark Reynolds' defense of Indulgentiarum Doctrina as not a deal-breaker toward true faith in Christ will, frankly, not be suitable for a Catholic-run web site. This is the real thing in terms of exploring the Gospel, and in terms of why to reject Catholicism not only as a "choice" or "denomination" but as an actually-false church. So I have posted the response here where Dan and Phil and I are all in agreement on this matter.

Also of note: we commonly decorate the blog to keep it from being a massive and impenetrable wall of text. No offense is meant by any of the graphics you'll see below -- they are merely visual aids. This is the internet after all and not a meager newsgroup list.

For those of you who read here but not over there, here's the post which has spawned this extra-long response. All I ask from the regular readers here is that we refrain from the high-decibel thunder-clap of sound-byte apologetics which this discussion usually brings out. Avoid saying things you cannot cite from its original source. And do not engage people who want to call you bigots or other morally-biting remarks -- those are not arguments but insults, and there's no reason to do anything but to let them speak for themselves.

Welcome. Nice to see you. Pack a lunch.
JMR gave a hero's effort to responding so far, so big credit to him. And for the record, I mean that sincerely -- because I think his goal, which I read to be "including all who are rightly called brothers in Christ at the round-table of our faith" a wholly-commendable objective, especially regarding the question of whether any Catholics are in that number.

So before we follow his defense here, let me say it plainly again: I think that the problem is with what Roman Catholicism formally teaches, and that many Catholics rightly do not believe this stuff; many believe their own reinterpretation of this stuff to guard their own faith from superstition and folly. If they believed what JMR has expounded here, there would be no reason to object. But the places where Catholicism deviates from Scripture and from the historical proclamation of the faith (which I would contend is not the same as the "unanimous declaration of the fathers") are fatal errors.

That said, Quoth he:
It is a big cosmos and there are many jobs in it.

Only Jesus can do the saving job from hell-fire and nothing, nothing, nothing can add to the great work He has done. However, humans have problem other than the fact they are going to hell and there are consequences I have called “b-problems” that are not directly against His Majesty, but He allows others to cooperate with Him in doing other jobs (like saving babies from burning buildings or taking down the Taliban).

Why not allow that there are spiritual problems of this sort as well?
I'd put the brakes on there -- because I think you're mixing up your own metaphor for the document we are referencing. The fact of the declaration regarding Indulgences is that man has two problems: judicial-eternal and judicial-temporal. The judicial-eternal ('a' problems) are resolved by Christ -- as Jugulum and others have noted, it can be interpreted as the only "serious" problem as anyone on the other side of Christ is headed toward the Father, no matter how long it thereafter takes. It's sort of a statistical game -- even if you spend a billion years in Purgatory, 1000000000/eternity is still infinitesimal. It's only a temporal consequence.

The strange thing is that this argument really overlooks the fact that it is in fact due punishment for sin, and that somehow we ought to want to escape it.

You know: as we read the New Testament, we find a couple of signposts that are really helpful in understanding the problematic nature of this proposition. The first is that it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Heb 9). That is, the writer of Hebrews thinks that Christ doesn't have to suffer over and over again for man's sinning over and over again because there is only one judgment, not a temporal and then an eternal judgment. And it is John the Baptist who tells us that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 2). The sin is not taken away if there is still some sort of purgation due to those who made it, is there? And in the resurrection when we are given our bodies back, it's odd that the state of those who are dead in Christ is seen throughout that book as not is a state of purgation or temporal payment for their own misdeeds but before the throne of God, speaking to Him and in worship before Him.

I appreciate the generousity JMR is presenting toward the doctrines and views in this matter. However, if we have an obligation to let the promulgators of this doctrinal statement speak for themselves, we also have an obligation to read them as they present themselves and not to reinterpret them so that we find what they are saying more or less acceptable. It's just as erroneous to read excessively-generous interpretations into this stuff as it is to simply reduce it to some stupid idea that salvation is like a paycheck at the end of life.
Restoring my relationship with God does not (the way He has designed things) restore my relationship to the state, the community, the church, the individual, or the cosmos.
Unquestionably true. However, the problem being addressed is the problem of Purgatory and not the problem of prison time or tort compensation.

Listen: it's a foundational fact of the faith that someone who is guilty of theft (for example, the thief on the cross -- which is a great example for this matter) may be forgiven in full of his sin against God, but may and in fact ought to serve his full sentence in this world regarding the civil/political consequences of his actions. No one is denying that on either side.

But to equivocate on this point and say that there is temporal punishment still due the magistrate in the next life is to overlook the problem that the magistrate has no authority there. We shouldn't fear the one who can only destroy the body, but rather the one who can destroy both body and soul, yes? The implication there is that the (God-established) power of the Magistrate doesn't reach into the next life.

So as we consider the question of problems 'a' and 'b', we have to see the 'b' problem for what it is, and what it cannot be is some sort of carry-over from secular, temporal justice.
He gives humans and their institutions a great gift: the right to be offended! (Remarkable really how awesome the gift of personhood to mankind was!)

The saving problem is our offense against the King of Kings, but the Great King allows us to also offend against His minister our local king. If I read the document correctly, the Blessed Virgin can add nothing in dealing with our attempted Regicide, but she might be part of the comfort God allows as we face hanging for attempted regicide.
I would agree that the document says, effectively, that Christ's merit has an infinite value in solving the problem of man's sin against God, but it is of limited value in resolving the problem of man's sin against his fellow man.

That's another way of saying what you have said here, and I wonder how that affects your defense of this document. You see: the farther we detail this doctrine out, the more like a works added to Christ's work it is going to look.
One consequence of my sin has been continued personal pain, but God has used wise ministers to help bring wholeness to that pain. They did not “forgive my sin” against God, but they did help me process the vestiges and the OTHER consequences of my sin.
See: I don't find any therapeutic language in the document. A sin of the contemporary "evangelical" church is to replace the judicial and sovereign language of our faith with the language of diagnosis and recovery. One good attribute of the document we have in front of us is that it avoids this sin.

The problem, as you rightly stated above, is the problem of "offense" and not of "wellness". If we stick to that category, the problems of this doctrine become transparently clear.
Let me try a simple example. When I call you a name (say “Regicide Puritan”), I have sinned against God and against you. God may forgive me, but I still should ask for your forgiveness. When you forgive me, something good happens. Yes?
Yeah, hang on a second. Be careful that you don't confuse my right-minded forgiveness of your error in the light of your repentance for the blood of the martyrs and the prayers of the saints -- which are specifically the activities this document mentions as part of the "treasury of the church".

Yes: that is a good thing -- both your repentance and my forgiveness of you. That's not really what this document is talking about.
I have not added to God’s forgiveness, which is so awesome that next to it your forgiveness is trivial, but God has set up the cosmos such that I still have to ask for it.

He allows for you to have a real offense requiring relational healing between us.

There are hurts He has chosen to allow to be healed in no other way. God is sovereign!
What I find ironic here is that the example -- a person offending another person -- is exactly the kind of offense that your type 'b' offenses should be, but that you don't see that the remedy for type 'b' offenses (as promulgated in Indulgentiarum Doctrina -- which, I have to note, is a 20th century document and not an old form of a doctrine which has since developed into something more therapeutic and conciliatory) is instead Purgatory, and not "healing between us".

Here's what the document says:
In purgatory, in fact, the souls of those "who died in the charity of God and truly repentant, but before satisfying with worthy fruits of penance for sins committed and for omissions are cleansed after death with purgatorial punishments." This is also clearly evidenced in the liturgical prayers with which the Christian community admitted to Holy Communion has addressed God since most ancient times: "that we, who are justly subjected to afflictions because of our sins, may be mercifully set free from them for the glory of thy name."
The problem is not whether it's right or wrong to do unto others as you would have them do unto you: it is whether or not Christ covers these things for us before God and whether or not we must paid for them in full before we are justified before God.
Having lived a long and icky life, I have (at times) sinned against the Church. I did not just ask God’s pardon, but my community. I got it.

We are guilty of many things and all that guilt is (of course) before God, but it does not seem to me that the document (to which you refer) adds another ground to the salvation from damnation to which the gospel refers. It tries (however successfully) to deal with other guilt where the immediate offense is against cosmic order or the Church.
I wouldn't say otherwise. The problem is that this document is transparently clear that unless those temporal punishments are all completed, you cannot stand before God, except as one being punished.

I go back to my example of the guy who needs a billion years in Purgatory. That is truly an infinitesimal period of time on the scale of all eternity. But here's the thing: the document says this --
... there certainly exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth a perennial link of charity and an abundant exchange of all the goods by which, with the expiation of all the sins of the entire Mystical Body, divine justice is placated. God's mercy is thus led to forgiveness, so that sincerely repentant sinners may participate as soon as possible in the full enjoyment of the benefits of the family of God.
So in the first place, let's dispose of the idea that the document does not refer to the "Mystical Body" of Christ -- here the Church is called that explicitly. But second, note it clearly: it is an act of charity to placate God's wrath against those who still have temporal consequences for their sins, and we do it (through the Church, of course) by the exchange of some virtue overlaid on the penal consequences, mitigating the consequences.

It's the idea that this is an "act of charity" that intrigues me here and which I want to point you to. What is happening (allegedly) in Purgatory is an act of temporal punishment which those there deserve, and while it is for their own good, it is also a penal requirement. (see Chap. 1 part 2)

It may be good for them, but it is not good to them -- it is punishment on the scale of the wrath of God. So let's please dispense with the idea that what is being described and what it being mitigated is not something which the church has always believed is the work of Christ. Making it a short-term sentence rather than an eternal sentence doesn't make the problem go away: it makes it more glaring.
Here is how I read it:

The Blessed Virgin and Lady Theotokos cannot add a single thing to my salvation from the second death. Her merits are of no use there. However, like any mother (if I am reading the document correctly) correctly she can comfort me in the first death, which I will still face and in any post-death schooling in sanctification I still face.

That may not be right, but it is not a “different gospel.”
When you say it that way, it just sounds so much nicer. I'd almost be willing to go through it myself. The problem is that the document doesn't say that at all.

What it says instead is that there is punishment due to sinners who have either omitted penance or have incomplete penance. And as punishment goes, this is necessary payment for what one has done wrong as a recompense to those who were wronged. However, some have done a good job (through Christ, of course) of being fully sanctified, and they have something of value which can help those who are under this punishment in Purgatory. This "treasury of the church" is thereby able to be dispensed by the Church (specifically, the bishops) not to make the time in Purgatory more comforting, but to reduce or remove it entirely.

That's not hardly anything like Mary comforting you when you struggle through your sanctification. It is pretty clear that this is a power of the Church "by an authoritative intervention [to dispense] to the faithful suitably disposed the treasury of satisfaction which Christ and the saints won for the remission of temporal punishment."
The document accepts that though the Christian is no longer guilty and will not pay the price of sin (the death of damnation) there are still secondary consequences to that sin.

Being declared not guilty, does not make the shame (for example) vanish just the guilt.
Yes, I am sure that's true. The problem is that this document is not either about "daily life" as you will reference below. This is about something which stands in the gaps between the moment of death and the moment of glorification and welcome into the presence of God.

Good news: you're not in Hell. Bad news: you still have something which you personally must pay out before you can see God. You have work (in the form of punishment) to do.

The other good news, though, is that the Church can take the credits some have gathered up by prayer and personal holiness and apply them to you so your sentence is reduced.

And before anyone gets distracted by this, it's not about money or any other such thing -- anyone who makes this about the Catholic Church being a shill for phony forgiveness for the sake of a few bucks like some kind of prosperity gospel fakir is an ignoramous. This is about the teaching that your penalty for sin is not paid in full in Christ.

There is no question that this document asserts and requires that this is the case -- and that is an offense to the Gospel, a deal-breaker in the same vein as having to be circumcised in order to be a true follower of Christ or that there is no resurrection from the dead.
This happens all the time in daily life. Let me try another example. I am forgiven by you for calling you a Regicide Puritan, but the boo-boo I put on Russell Moore’s heart will have to heal as he witnessed my unfair attacks on his pal.

Our relationship (Moore and Reynolds) will be strained and to help restore community I will have to do acts befitting my repentance. (For example, I might put a picture of Al Mohler up in my office.) In this way, the secondary results of my sin in calling you a sin, the scandal caused to Moore ( the primary offense was against Turk by Reynolds) are healed. It is possible that Al Mohler, chock full of earned respect in the Reformed community, could intervene and speed up the process by telling Moore that really I am sorry and that he, Dr. Mohler, will vouch for me.
First of all, putting me in the company of Mohler and Moore is extraordinarily humbling, so thank you for that -- even in an example of people who ought to know each other and have a relational bond.

But your example simply doesn't take into account the basis for the doctrine explicitly spelled out in Chapter 1 of this document. The matter is the question of purgation of and reparations for sin and punishment in the life after death.
Though this is a bit tongue in cheek, it gets to the issue.

As for the “body of Christ,” I really think contextually it is an image. We are Christ’s body in one mystical sense (which is “real” though not material!), but not in the sense that I am literally an arm of Christ (material sense of body).
You have missed the point of the statement in context entirely, Dr. Reynolds. Here's the passage where it comes up:
Following in the footsteps of Christ, the Christian faithful have always endeavored to help one another on the path leading to the heavenly Father through prayer, the exchange of spiritual goods and penitential expiation. The more they have been immersed in the fervor of charity, the more they have imitated Christ in his sufferings, carrying their crosses in expiation for their own sins and those of others, certain that they could help their brothers to obtain salvation from God the Father of mercies. This is the very ancient dogma of the Communion of the Saints, whereby the life of each individual son of God in Christ and through Christ is joined by a wonderful link to the life of all his other Christian brothers in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ till, as it were, a single mystical person is formed.

Thus is explained the "treasury of the Church" which should certainly not be imagined as the sum total of material goods accumulated in the course of the centuries, but the infinite and inexhaustible value the expiation and the merits of Christ Our Lord have before God, offered as they were so that all of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. It is Christ the Redeemer himself in whom the satisfactions and merits of his redemption exist and find their force. This treasury also includes the truly immense, unfathomable and ever pristine value before God of the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, who following in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have sanctified their lives and fulfilled the mission entrusted to them by the Father. Thus while attaining their own salvation, they have also cooperated in the salvation of their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body..
The point of saying that the Church is "one mystical body" is so that one can say in some sensible (!) way that the spiritual goods of one can be transferred to another in order to save them from purgatorial punishment. It is to find a way to call the merits of the saints necessarily the merits of Christ, except in a way that makes them more or of another type.
I just think that you have misread the Papal piece which has problems (from my point of view), but not the one you suggest. I really wish a local Catholic would take up this argument and let us know if we are both misreading this complex and interesting piece!
I welcome anyone to link us to an authoritative document which decodes Indulgentiarum Doctrina to say either what you have said, or that says something else which would contradict what I have here exposited.

You're simply mistaken, Dr. Reynolds, in your reading. You have interposed a clinical/therapeutic grid where the document has plainly laid our a judicial/penal system in which there are kinds of remittence to be paid.

This is where I usually grand-stand for the Gospel, but let it be enough to say this: while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, so much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, so much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

It's a done deal -- and to say otherwise overturns the true goodness of the Good News.


FX Turk said...

And I am not kidding: if the standard glib and thoughtless name-calling over the Protestant/Catholic divide breaks out, the comments will be closed immediately.

Be serious, not merely angry.

Meds for your IMAGINATION said...

Good post Mr.Turk.

I really think you got to the heart of the issue ,and I can't commit much more than that.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Centuri0n: "Full-blown, full-contact, full-body Catholic apologetics have broken out in the comments of one of my posts (it was inevitable, I am sure) ... This is the real thing in terms of exploring the Gospel, and in terms of why to reject Catholicism not only as a "choice" or "denomination" but as an actually-false church."

Centuri0n, I defended you in Dr. Francis Beckwith's blog post where he accused you of being a "rabid" anti-Catholic.

I think he might use this recent post of yours as confirming evidence of his assertion.

FWIW, I found the main point of your "Concession Speech" post far more interesting than your detour into Indulgentiarum Doctrina with Professor John Mark Reynolds.


LanternBright said...

cent, I've followed the discussion on the other post as well, and I'm grateful for the contribution and serious thought that both you and Dr. Reynolds are putting into this.

Anonymous said...


I appreciated the admonition to take a breather on a previous thread related to this. Thank you.

I also appreciate the work you've done here. It's important. And I've been educated a little more.


Coram Deo said...

Outstanding Frank, kudos sir...well done!

Soli Deo Gloria!


Anonymous said...


This is a very good post. Words have meaning, especially, in context.

What saddens me and at the same time is hard to believe is that someone highly learned theologically (Dr. Reynolds here) can reinterpret Roman Catholic doctrines as such.

It seems we do not necessarily attempt for a "charitable" reading first, but for a reading of original intent. What did the documents mean when written? Why were they written? This is not uncharitable.

It is so odd that people today act as if 16th and 17th century (and beyond) disagreements did not exist. Many or most Protestants and, especially, Roman Catholics are using the same theological documents today as used back then. The differences remain.

Thanks, brother.

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts can be easily lost in wordiness. But man's good thoughts are easy to be lost and forgotten anyway. The Word of God would have done a much better and concise job.

FX Turk said...


The problem is not Scripture -- it is another document. Understanding that document lies at the heart of either accepting it or rejecting it.

That is what this post set out to do.

Francis Beckwith said...

Okay, I'll remove "rabid." :-)

I'm married to a "Frankie," and I'm "Frank." So, when it comes to "Franks," I'm a push-over.

(For good measure, my maternal grandmother was "Frances" and my paternal grandfather was "Francis").

CR said...

The issue with Reynolds and many other Roman Catholics is simple: the merit of Jesus Christ is not enough. For Roman Catholics, you must have something else. To them, the merits of Christ(if they even believe in His merit at all)must be supplemented.

Purgatory and Mary is just a couple of their ways (they have more) where their system and institution comes in between the believer and Jesus Christ.

This is sort of the cunning thing you have to be careful. I'm sure that Reynolds attributes to Christ full deity and believes in the virgin birth and the hypostatic union. They may be saying a lot of things that are right,(e.g. he says in one his comments that oh, yeah, as far as saving from Hell, it's all Christ), but..when you add all this other stuff (which they add to the merits of Jesus) which is wrong, you begin to wonder what is left of that which is right.

Reynolds tries to say that oh yeah, as far as saving from Hell,it's Jesus, but he says that God uses other people for the "other" problems.

This is notthe teaching of the Bible. The blood of Jesus doesn't only cleanse us from the sin of ungodliness (the sin that condemns men to Hell), but His blood cleans us of all sin including unrighteousness. What Christ did, covers all sins not just some. That one act is not enough for Rome nor is it enough for Reynolds.

You see, Roman Catholicism say, ah yes, we believe the apostle Paul, Reynolds says that he trusts God with his life, that he trusts Jesus alone for him becoming a Christian. But Rome says, yes, that is all good well, but that doesn't go farther enough. You see, God gave firemen, and Mary and the saints and purgatory for all that other stuff.

Anyway, it's all pretty blatant what they're doing.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Francis J. Beckwith: Okay, I'll remove "rabid." :-)

Heh. A rather short "concession speech."


Anonymous said...


Shouldn't we be pointing others to the Word of God and not other documents as the source for our beliefs? Or at least provide the Bible verses to either confirm or deny the various positions found in other documents?

David Regier said...


Right near the beginning of the post, Frank references a couple of scriptures (with links even!) from Scripture that do a pretty fair job of explaining God's ideas on this matter. He does it by chapter, not verse.

The Bible is not a collection of verses to be referenced (Matt. 4:4, cf. Deut. 8:3). This response assumes that the reader has read the whole thing a time or three (Psalm 119:11). And the document Frank is referencing, he's debunking. According to God's word, no less (Titus 1:9)

So if you don't pepper your paragraphs with parentheses, you're doing it wrong?

Got a verse for that?

tickletext said...

The issue with Reynolds and many other Roman Catholics...

Reynolds is an Evangelical.

FX Turk said...

Dr. Beckwith --

No wonder you're so grumpy. :-)

FX Turk said...

round --

I think it depends whether or not you want to talk to people or at them, and what you count as "using Scripture". I think I used a lot of Scripture in this post -- I just didn't pepper the text with verse references.

tell me: is there a stronger defense for the Protestant view that my last long paragraph? Where does that text come from?

So what is your point again?

FX Turk said...

CR --

As tickletext points out, Dr. Reynolds is not a Catholic -- he just thinks there's nothing in Indulgentiarum Doctrina from calling Catholics who believe that infallible statement "not Christians".

My counter would be (as I said already) that because most Catholics don't believe all that anyway, it isn't an impediment to their faith -- but that because the Magisterium teaches this, and therefore must believe it, we can't be as charitable to them.

FX Turk said...

Also for other readers --

I think CR's comment is as far south as I'm willing to let the counter-catholic polemics go in this thread. Don't try to one-up him in team spirit -- it'll get your post removed.

Anonymous said...


I do not intend to come across harshly, we are on the same team. I read through the original post and comments. I am aware of references to Scripture, and those where Scripture was referenced but not named. Perhaps this post is beyond my comprehension, but I think not. It can be a bit difficult to take Frank's post serious at times (reference to Albert Mohler), and I do have problems when I sense man's wisdom and pride trying to win out. Roman Catholicism is the background of my family and ancestors - with myself being the lone black sheep. I vividly remember as a child lighting candles for my deceased father and praying that his soul be accepted into heaven - it didn't make sense to me then or now.

I'll state again, we ought to be clear that the Word of God is the source of our beliefs. And is it not possible to be a bit less wordy, and a bit more concise in our positions?

CR said...


My mistake.

FX Turk said...


In a word? No. (Mat 5:37)

Rick Frueh said...

Post mortum works are just as redemptively useless as living works. The work has been done.

No one can judge someone's regenerate status, however, Paul in Galations makes works mixing sound eternally serious. It remains something to aggressively avoid.

Spike said...

"I think that the problem is with what Roman Catholicism formally teaches, and that many Catholics rightly do not believe this stuff;"

How right you are, Frank. I raised my first (of 5) kids in a Catholic Church, and never met a Catholic who thought works saved, or one who planned on spending any time in purgatory, etc.

Indeed the problem arises when someone wants to marry or remarry, or actually get involved with the bureaucracy for some reason that one realizes there is something wrong with this church. When you are forced to take a closer look at things it becomes clear that there are some things you need to think and pray about, and either leave (as I did) or submit. The majority ride it out. One priest told me, "We have a big tent." It wasn't big enough for me, but there are a lot of true believers still there. It's only speculation, but possibly "most" are true believers. Is that too inflamatory?

Anonymous said...


Sadly, it has been my experience that there are many who believe that they can live as they please in this life with the (false) hope of heaven - e.g. by being prayed in by others (which as a child I was encouraged to do for my deceased father). Or while dying of cancer a former boss of mine (with political clout) put his all into trying to get a priest raised to sainthood, with the (false) hope of a miracle cure from his cancer.

Unknown said...

In the final breaths of His penal substitutionary work, the Lamb Himself who previously said "I am The Door" declared "Tetelestai!".
By faith in Him alone we are forever and completely delivered from all the penalty of sin. No RCC, no purgatory, no Mary? No problem; we have Jesus. Bless His Name.