Lexham Survey of Theology - feedback

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Nov 18 2018 4:39 PM

Mike Pettit:
You cannot impose a definition of objectivity that seeks to prevent people disagreeing with you because you do not identify with the challenge. 

No, but you can impose a definition of objectivity that when it claims to be discussing catholicity, discusses catholicity and recognizes that catholicity is recognized by all who use the Nicene Creed and that when it claims to be discussing apostolic succession, discusses apostolic succession and gives a reasonably accurate description of groups affirming apostolic succession.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Sean | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Nov 18 2018 5:46 PM

MJ. Smith:
But there is no reason to waste our time on how Logos got here this particular time. We can do two things (a) enter error reports for all cases where we find the LST to be factually inaccurate and (b) press for a review by a broader spectrum of scholars.

Don't forget (c) press FaithLife to prioritize including all of Logos's systematic theologies in the Theology Guide so people can more easily get into the sources themselves and make up their own minds. Also, related, (d) improving the recommended reading lists within the LST, which at this point are extremely hit or miss (IMO: mostly miss).

Revising the LST would be good, but tweaking it too frequently and too much could render it unusable for citation (acknowledging that the circumstances where it would be advisable to do so are rather limited, to say the least). It's also a situation where it will be difficult to please everyone, which is why I prefer my point (c) as a priority.

On the bright side, at least it's a step up from the first edition of the [CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADJECTIVE] Moody Handbook of Theology that they stuck in early base packages. Wink

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abondservant | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Nov 18 2018 6:29 PM

MJ. Smith:

abondservant:
Short of also having had a catholic edition made, I'm not sure how they could have done differently.

This underestimates the issue - the Anglo-Catholics/Catholics/Eastern Orthodox/Lutherans/Oriental Orthodox - do not need a separate "catholic" edition. Logos needs to learn that Christianity has been around for two millennia not two centuries and that Christianity is not a European phenomena. At times, Logos looks as if their view of Christianity is limited to England/America of the last three centuries.

I say this as one whose grandparents covered Congregationalist, Mennonite, Catholic, Pietist Lutheran, and Stone-Campbell traditions - with a bit of Unitarian flavor sprinkled on top.

Strikes me that their customer base is largely a reflection of western Christianity of the last 200 years :P

Glad they are expanding though. I have orthodox, catholic, lutheran, and wesleyan base packages. People from other traditions approach questions from a different place, and that can deepen ones understanding of an issue. Even though I might well disagree with their conclusions.

Non-western cultures seem to be ones that will grow in the future, but aren't necessarily paying the bills today.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Nov 18 2018 8:05 PM

As for Bellingham ... between my house and Bellingham I can find:

3 Coptic churches - one Catholic, two Orthodox

5 Ethiopian/Eritrean Churches

8 Orthodox Churches - Greek, Russian, Romanian, American

1 Armenian Apostolic Church

1 Nestorian Church, assuming it still exists

1 Jacobite Church (only a bit too far south to count)

seemingly innumerable churches with Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese in their name. Seems as if there is a market literally at their doorstep if they are smart enough to beat the competition to it.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Fr Devin Roza | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 12:17 AM

Mike Pettit:

You cannot impose a definition of objectivity that seeks to prevent people disagreeing with you because you do not identify with the challenge. 

Challenge? That sounds like a word appropriate for a work of apologetics. This is a "survey" of theology. It presents what different sides believe. The first step in any dialogue is to make sure you can explain what the person you are dialoguing with in terms they agree represent what they believe. Then begins the challenge.

This idea isn't mine - it's just standard practice in academia, and in very recommendable for marriage counseling!

And thankfully it is practiced by many, many scholars and authors of all faith traditions. It is very commonplace nowadays to read Protestants who can explain Catholicism very well, and vice-versa, and who speak in ways that are understandable by both sides. I speak from experience - I'm a theology professor, and more than half the readings I personally read are by Protestant authors, and more than half the readings I assign my students (who are mainly Catholic seminarians) are by Protestant authors! And I don't assign them to critique them, I assign them because they happen to be the best presentation I've found of a certain topic. I don't care who wrote it, or what branch of Christianity they came from, I care about the truth, because I trust that following the truth will lead me and my students to Jesus Christ, who is the truth.

The Lexham Survey, however, falls short in many of its paragraphs on the first step, that of being a "survey." Surveys aren't meant to argue for one side or another, to "challenge" the other side. Challenging one you think is wrong is very important, and has its place. Just not in a "survey." Surveys prepare the ground for that.

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Michael S. | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 3:22 AM

MJ. Smith:
Actually by the measure of it's treatment of the New Testament canon, I don't consider the LST as trustworthy on any topic.

Wow.  That is a strong statement. So its treatment of the doctrine of God is not trustworthy?  Surely that is a topic that all historical Christians agree on- right?

Reactionary pendulum swing here?

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Mark Barnes | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 3:54 AM

Fr Devin Roza:
I think this is actually an interesting example, because the explanation that is given of what a Catholic thinks of "universal" has almost nothing to do with how a Catholic actually understands "universal" or "catholic". It would be simple enough (and arguably far more formative for all) to explain briefly how Catholic theology understands "catholic" or "universal".

That's a very interesting example. Thank you. It's difficult to respond within the constraints of the forum's prohibitions on discussing theology, but I'll do my best to tread the line.

I'm sympathetic with the authors here. I think the main issue in discussing the topic in the survey is that we can't get away from the problem that many within both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism haven't recognised their opposite numbers as part of the universal church. (That's more true historically than it is now, but it can't be ignored.)

The problem with "Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church", as it could be read that those outside the Catholic Church are also outside Christ. Given the history (especially after Trent), even such as simple statement is charged with extra baggage which may mean that the statement would not be understand in the way that it was meant.

So I read the extract from the LST as trying to acknowledge this, albeit very briefly, when (in theory) both protestants and Roman Catholics would agree that “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the catholic Church” (I've modified the 'c' to lower case to secure the agreement!). Catholics have tended to see Protestants outside the catholic Church if they consider the Protestants have failed to recognise apostolic succession/authority, where as protestants have tended to see Catholics outside the catholic church if they consider the Catholics have failed to adhere to biblical teaching. (I'm over-simplifying, I know, as is the article. But that's what I think it's trying to do – successfully or otherwise.)

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Fr Devin Roza | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 5:27 AM

Mark Barnes:

Fr Devin Roza:
I think this is actually an interesting example, because the explanation that is given of what a Catholic thinks of "universal" has almost nothing to do with how a Catholic actually understands "universal" or "catholic". It would be simple enough (and arguably far more formative for all) to explain briefly how Catholic theology understands "catholic" or "universal".

That's a very interesting example. Thank you. It's difficult to respond within the constraints of the forum's prohibitions on discussing theology, but I'll do my best to tread the line.

I'm sympathetic with the authors here. I think the main issue in discussing the topic in the survey is that we can't get away from the problem that many within both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism haven't recognised their opposite numbers as part of the universal church. (That's more true historically than it is now, but it can't be ignored.)

The problem with "Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church", as it could be read that those outside the Catholic Church are also outside Christ. Given the history (especially after Trent), even such as simple statement is charged with extra baggage which may mean that the statement would not be understand in the way that it was meant.

So I read the extract from the LST as trying to acknowledge this, albeit very briefly, when (in theory) both protestants and Roman Catholics would agree that “Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the catholic Church” (I've modified the 'c' to lower case to secure the agreement!). Catholics have tended to see Protestants outside the catholic Church if they consider the Protestants have failed to recognise apostolic succession/authority, where as protestants have tended to see Catholics outside the catholic church if they consider the Catholics have failed to adhere to biblical teaching. (I'm over-simplifying, I know, as is the article. But that's what I think it's trying to do – successfully or otherwise.)

Thank you for these thoughtful considerations. This is precisely the type of conversation the commission that writes this document should have had, but couldn't because there wasn't a Catholic on the commission!

With considerations like this, it doesn't have to be an either / or. It can be a both / and. And here I refer to finding formulas that work for everyone. That is, they type of considerations you make should be taken into account. But that takes nothing away from the desirability of simply explaining what "catholic" means to a Catholic. They are absolutely compatible, and possible in the space needed for an article like this.

Consider the definition offered by the U.S. edition of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church of "catholic":

Glossary to the US Edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

One of the four marks or notes of the Church, taken from the Nicene Creed. The Church is catholic or universal both because she possesses the fullness of Christ’s presence and the means of salvation, and because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race (750, 830).

At least a far as I remember, I didn't consult this definition when writing my response to Sean. And yet, precisely the same 2 points I explained of what "catholic" means to a Catholic are what are offered here... in one brief sentence. If one wants to do a "survey" of how "catholic" is understood by Christians, actually discussing how it is understood is essential!

Then, there are related points, such as who is a member of the church and who isn't. But this isn't an article about who is a member and who isn't! It's an article about what "catholic" means. They are related, so if it is seen as important to discuss it, great! But first say what it means and start from there.

Notice the contrast with what follows in the Lexham Survey of Theology, when, after speaking about apostolic succession in Catholicism, it discusses catholicity in Protestantism:

Lexham Survey of Theology:

"for the vast majority of Protestants the universality and continuity of the church comes from God’s preservation of his people through the preaching of the word and the sanctifying power of the Spirit. Wherever people adhere to biblical teaching, the work of the Spirit is manifest, and the catholicity of the church is preserved."

The number is centered on the Word of God and on the Holy Spirit. Great! Those are understood as sources of catholicity in Protestant theology. If the presentation just before this of Catholic theology and been written in a way that corresponds to the Catholic understanding of "catholic", it would have said how for Catholics the source of Catholicity is the "fullness of Christ's presence and the means of salvation" which are entrusted to the Church who is sent out on "the mission to the whole human race."

At that point you would actually have two different theological opinions (possibly compatible) and could actually start a dialogue. You could even then add the point about relating it to "apostolic succession" and how that works out. But by presenting how each side actually thinks about this issue, you provide a "survey" of theology that can serve to educate and inform, and can be a basis for deeper understanding and dialogue.

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SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 11:41 AM

MJ. Smith:

SineNomine:
that LST (probably) isn't trustworthy when it's talking about people and things that aren't Protestant.

Actually by the measure of it's treatment of the New Testament canon, I don't consider the LST as trustworthy on any topic.

There is that, and I must admit that I had the same reaction when I looked at that the first time. When I was writing the post you replied to, I think I had forgotten about that, but I may have filed that as a non-Protestant topic. I should have clearly indicated, rather than writing "people and things that aren't Protestant", that I included not only 'contemporary' non-Protestant matters, but also everything before c.1500.

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SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 11:46 AM

Hamilton Ramos:
Sine Nomine, what you describe here is serious, so LST is tied up to guides in Verbum and persons are not aware that the descriptions related to Catholic topics are not representative of the actual dogma?

In the Catholic Products forum, concerns were raised about LST, and Verbum staff indicated that they had intentionally not advertised it because of the concerns given.

Hamilton Ramos:
Do you know if Verbum's staff is Catholic? how did they allow the above situation to happen if they are? were they not allowed to check?

I imagine that they were left out of the process.

Hamilton Ramos:

This is strange, looks like some quality controls were missing.

Could it be that the project was under time constraints or budget limitations?

I expect so.

Hamilton Ramos:
From the experience I have with FL, I would not think that there was malicious intent in this, but obviously something was not right if quality check for content was not done properly on an important work like LST.

I don't believe that there was malicious intent either. I'm still waiting for my request to be acknowledged by FL, though.

Hamilton Ramos:
I do hope Verbum comes up with the Catholic version of the survey, so comparative studies can be done.

Others have said this already and better, but I'm not convinced that such a work is necessary. I am convinced that it shouldn't be necessary.

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SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 12:03 PM

Mike Pettit:

quote]

This is a serious discussion with serious points being made but at it best Protestantism really believes it is being objective, and tries to be so, but the fact that those it is interpreting do not think that they are being dealt with fairly does not necessarily mean that they are not.     

The Reformation was led by serious people who understood Roman Catholic theology but thought that this theology meant that what they believed was not what they said they believed. 

You cannot impose a definition of objectivity that seeks to prevent people disagreeing with you because you do not identify with the challenge. 

Consider the following three statements, which a Catholic might write:

1. "Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura, which in practice results in every Protestant being his/her own pope."

2. "Protestants believe that every Protestant is his/her own pope."

3. "Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura."

The first statement is one that most Protestants would probably disagree with--a Catholic could, however, say it, and make a case for it in a work of theology/apologetics. This is an example of a Catholic seeing something in a Protestant belief that the Protestant doesn't. It may or may not be accurate, but whether it is or it isn't is not something dependent on whether a particular Protestant believes that it is fair. It would not be appropriate, however, even were it true, for it to be placed by a Catholic scholar in an "objective" survey of theology. The statement, "Some Catholics have argued that..." could be appropriate, however.

The second statement is simply (and objectively) wrong. Protestants, as a whole, don't actually believe that (even if some somewhere do). That's simply an objective fact. There are lots of things in the LST about non-Protestants and about pre-Reformation church history (e.g., the settling of the canon of the NT) that are simply wrong. I, personally, would be much less bothered by these errors if LST stopped advertising itself as objective.

The third statement is simply (and objectively) right. It is of a kind that belongs in an objective summary of theology, like LST. Happily, LST includes statements of this kind... but not only statements of this kind.

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SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 12:07 PM

Michael S.:

MJ. Smith:
Actually by the measure of it's treatment of the New Testament canon, I don't consider the LST as trustworthy on any topic.

Wow.  That is a strong statement. So its treatment of the doctrine of God is not trustworthy?  Surely that is a topic that all historical Christians agree on- right?

Reactionary pendulum swing here?

Well, if I can't trust what the LST says about the Bible, from which we learn about God, how can I trust what the LST says about God?

I haven't personally gone through and read all of what LST has to say about God, and I don't have time to at the moment, but I think the principle stands--especially since, in discussing the doctrine of God, one must at least eventually talk about the history of the doctrine of God, and the history of the Bible LST has already messed up.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 1:04 PM

SineNomine:
discussing the doctrine of God, one must at least eventually talk about the history of the doctrine of God,

You may amuse yourself but trying to figure out where the discussion of energies/essences falls. Insomuch as  Palamas is the "Aquinas" of the Orthodox, it must fit somewhere Wink

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Mike Pettit | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 2:49 PM

SineNomine:

Mike Pettit:

quote]

This is a serious discussion with serious points being made but at it best Protestantism really believes it is being objective, and tries to be so, but the fact that those it is interpreting do not think that they are being dealt with fairly does not necessarily mean that they are not.     

The Reformation was led by serious people who understood Roman Catholic theology but thought that this theology meant that what they believed was not what they said they believed. 

You cannot impose a definition of objectivity that seeks to prevent people disagreeing with you because you do not identify with the challenge. 

Consider the following three statements, which a Catholic might write:

1. "Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura, which in practice results in every Protestant being his/her own pope."

2. "Protestants believe that every Protestant is his/her own pope."

3. "Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura."

The first statement is one that most Protestants would probably disagree with--a Catholic could, however, say it, and make a case for it in a work of theology/apologetics. This is an example of a Catholic seeing something in a Protestant belief that the Protestant doesn't. It may or may not be accurate, but whether it is or it isn't is not something dependent on whether a particular Protestant believes that it is fair. It would not be appropriate, however, even were it true, for it to be placed by a Catholic scholar in an "objective" survey of theology. The statement, "Some Catholics have argued that..." could be appropriate, however.

The second statement is simply (and objectively) wrong. Protestants, as a whole, don't actually believe that (even if some somewhere do). That's simply an objective fact. There are lots of things in the LST about non-Protestants and about pre-Reformation church history (e.g., the settling of the canon of the NT) that are simply wrong. I, personally, would be much less bothered by these errors if LST stopped advertising itself as objective.

The third statement is simply (and objectively) right. It is of a kind that belongs in an objective summary of theology, like LST. Happily, LST includes statements of this kind... but not only statements of this kind.

But you are equating a statement about the consequences of a belief with an actual belief.

For instance a Roman Catholic may say that a Protestant believes that you can have salvation  without the necessity of good works, which is not something most Protestants would say (as they believe that good works flow from salvation) but then again it is a legitimate statement that highlights an "issue". This kind of statement has got to be fine and to be prevented from making it would be preventing a position being objectively described.

If the Roman Catholic goes on to say that this position means that Protestants are antinomian then you are moving beyond objectivity.

Just because someone describes something in a way you would not does not mean that they are not being objective, perhaps they are identifying your own lack of objectivity.     

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 4:05 PM

Mike Pettit:
Just because someone describes something in a way you would not does not mean that they are not being objective, perhaps they are identifying your own lack of objectivity.  

Mike, you keep coming back to this point although no one is arguing otherwise. Can you explain what you are objecting too? No one is insisting that something be described as they would describe it. They are insisting that its meaning be consistent with how they would describe it when they are the group being described. When I look at it through Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox lens, that simply is not the case.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Mike Pettit | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 4:20 PM

MJ. Smith:

No one is insisting that something be described as they would describe it.

They are insisting that its meaning be consistent with how they would describe it when they are the group being described. 

Surely objectivity requires that you are not bound by someone else's analysis of meaning 

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EastTN | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 4:24 PM

 M.J., might another way to describe the issue be to say that, in an ideal world, the tool should be equally useful to Christians from all traditions?  That might have two pieces:

  • A reliable reference for the beliefs of their own tradition; and
  • A reliable guide to the beliefs of other traditions.

Of course, we're not in an ideal world, so instead of "reliable" perhaps we should say "reasonably reliable" or at least "reliable enough to prove useful".  But I think what I'm hearing you say is that someone from a Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox church wouldn't recognize their own faith tradition in the current version - so for them, at a minimum it's not a useful reference for the beliefs of their tradition.  Is that right?

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Mark Ward | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 4:40 PM

The overall concern some forum participants have voiced, particularly SineNomine and Devin Roza, that the LST describes Roman Catholic theology in terms it would not use for itself is one we at Lexham/Faithlife take very seriously. So let me reiterate that I am very open to specific feedback on objectionable statements. I’ve read back through all seven pages of posts just now looking for those concrete, actionable (editable!) items. These are all the actual quotations from the LST that I found:

  1. Ken McGuire mostly liked the definition in the baptism article (Jonathan Warren) but felt that it “seems to hide the key part of my Lutheran understanding of Baptism—namely that it is God who is the actor who actually Baptizes us in his powerful Word which clings to the Baptismal water.”
  2. M.J. objected to “the placement of the Adamic Covenant apart from other covenants.”
  3. Damian McGrath objected to a paragraph in the purgatory article (Jack Kilcrease) for being “unrecognizable as Catholic.”
  4. M.J. felt that the immaculate conception article (Jack Kilcrease) failed to count early celebration of the “special purity of Mary” as a significant precursor to the immaculate conception.
  5. M.J. felt the canon article (John Frame) omitted the testimony of canon lists that should have been included. (I was a little fuzzy on your argument here, M.J.—did I understand you correctly?)
  6. Devin Roza felt that the article on “The Church as Universal” (Jack Kilcrease) gave an inaccurate presentation of the Catholic definition of “catholic.”

Points 3 and 6 are those which are most concerning to me, because they involve alleged misrepresentation. If Catholic or Orthodox readers in particular find any other specific statements which they do not feel represent their viewpoints accurately, please contact me at mark DOT ward AT —well, you know. =) I and my team will diligently consider feedback for future planned revisions. I'm setting the forum to email me replies to this post.

(And as for concerns about incomplete Recommended Resources lists, I’d send readers back to my previous post.)

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 4:47 PM

Mike Pettit:
Surely objectivity requires that you are not bound by someone else's analysis of meaning 

Isn't the sole purpose of language to convey meaning? If it is not the medium of transferring information from person 1 to person 2, why bother?

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Nov 19 2018 6:23 PM

Mike Pettit:
For instance a Roman Catholic may say that a Protestant believes that you can have salvation  without the necessity of good works, which is not something most Protestants would say (as they believe that good works flow from salvation) but then again it is a legitimate statement that highlights an "issue". This kind of statement has got to be fine and to be prevented from making it would be preventing a position being objectively described.

Yes and no. The statement, "Some Catholics hold that Protestants believe that you can have salvation without the necessity of good works" is an objective statement, and could be made in a survey text (if deemed true). The statement, "Protestants believe that you can have salvation without the necessity of good works" is simply wrong, because many (most) Protestants don't believe that. As you correctly wrote, (many/most) Protestants would say that good works (necessarily) flow from salvation. As such, I--a Catholic--would deem it unacceptable to write "Protestants believe that you can have salvation without the necessity of good works" without further qualifiers/clarification, not only in a general survey of theology like LST, but also in a confessionally Catholic survey of theology, in a book of Catholic apologetics, in a Catholic church bulletin, etc. I deem it unacceptable because it's false.

Mike Pettit:
If the Roman Catholic goes on to say that this position means that Protestants are antinomian then you are moving beyond objectivity.

Just because someone describes something in a way you would not does not mean that they are not being objective, perhaps they are identifying your own lack of objectivity.   

If you can say that the hypothetical accusation of anti-nomianism leveled at Protestantism would move beyond objectivity, then it follows that I can say that certain statements in LST move beyond objectivity with regard to Catholicism.

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