James White describes the “Infallible Fuzzies”

Published the same year I graduated from high school, James White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy is still a most up-to-date read.  It has excellent breadth, covering issues from sola Scriptura to the mass to purgatory to justification.  But I especially appreciate that his critique of the epistemological claims made by modern RCC apologists is still so timely.

Here are some quotes from chapter 4, “Who defines the gospel?”:

Over the past years I’ve encountered many people whose journey to Rome was sparked by the desire for what I call the “infallible fuzzies,” that comforting feeling of being “in” with the ancient, unchanging, all-powerful, and infallible church…. The picture of certainty based upon the ancient and unchanging Roman Church is, however, and illusion.

(pg. 49)

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[T]he argument breaks down most fundamentally at its very beginning.  We are told that Protestants cannot have any kind of certainty because we only have ourselves to trust.  Since we reject Rome’s authority, we are left with the Bible, the Spirit, and ourselves, and look at what that results in: disputes – with all sides saying they base their beliefs upon the Bible and are guided by the Spirit.  That first step of trust, we are told, is misplaced.  In fact, the very idea of making such a private, personal decision is derided as being contrary to Scripture, for we are told this amounts to “private interpretation.”

The Roman Catholic has no more certainty than the Protestant at this point.  The Roman Catholic makes a decision to follow a particular guide.  That decision is fallible.  He could make other decisions.  Many religious groups offer to act as religious guides today, all claiming divine authority for their mission.  The Mormon Prophet in Salt Lake City claims divine authority, replete with clarifying Scriptures, a restored priesthood, and accompanying miracles and signs.  A mere century and a half after the founding of the Mormon Church, nearly ten million people follow that prophet’s authority.  So, too, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, functions as a divinely appointed and attested guide in religious life for millions of Witnesses around the globe.  A Roman Catholic born into the faith may not have consciously chosen among these options.  But the person contemplating conversion to Rome with the goal of finding infallible certainty outside of personal responsibility before God cannot avoid the simple fact that the first step along that path is an obviously fallible step.  Rome’s voice is just one among many, and it is up to the individual to choose to follow it or not.  Therefore, the offer of certainty is illusory: you have to make a fallible decision to buy into the plan, and any certainty offered thereafter rests solely on the first – fallible – choice that was made.”

(pg. 50; bold emphasis added)

To see some some good sample pages, check out the book on christianbook.com.  Also, used copies are available on Amazon starting at around $3.  The Roman Catholic Controversy, like other apologetic books, has received magnanimous praise and strident critique.  Those who agreed with the book reviewed it wholly positively whereas those who disagreed accused it of not answering the right questions or providing shoddy exegesis.

I personally think it is a great read and recommend it to anyone wanting to hear a solid Protestant critique of the RCC.  I’ll try to blog some more quotes in coming days.

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Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (Anaheim, CA)

2 thoughts on “James White describes the “Infallible Fuzzies””

  1. You can’t beat Rome over the head with the “you’re just one voice among many” stick. Rome does a pretty good job of undermining that one when it rests it’s putative authority on an unbroken chain of “popes” going back to Peter.

    Of course, Christianity ultimately goes back behind and beyond Scripture and Church/churches and Authority to “What do you do with this person of Jesus Christ?”. It is at this point that “personal responsibility before God” begins and also true Christian faith.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Celal. Although I think one needs to give a pretty optimistic read of the history of the papacy to view it as an unbroken chain. There seem to be several broken links in that chain, but then again, that’s nothing a little “implicit faith” can’t fix!

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