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Rome’s Seduction of Evangelical Christianity?
There is certainly legitimate room for disagreement among evangelicals as to just how Catholicism should be viewed (though, as previously noted, most scholars would concur in large part with our discussion above). But the approach to Catholicism taken by some Protestant fundamentalists is simply unacceptable. This approach not only condemns Catholicism as a non-Christian religion or cult, but also suggests that anyone who disagrees with that condemnation is somehow being seduced by the allegedly all-powerful Vatican. If one dares defend Catholicism from the unfair charge of being called a cult, then one is either knowingly or unknowingly aiding and abetting the enemy, and betraying the Protestant Reformation.
Rome’s Seduction of Evangelical Christianity- David HuntWhile this writer derives no pleasure from singling out other Christians for criticism, in this case it is both necessary and appropriate. There are many who take this unfortunate approach to Catholicism, but one fundamentalist writer in particular consistently makes very serious charges: the popular and controversial discernment ministry author, Dave Hunt. Hunt, in an article entitled “A Cult Is a Cult,” states that Catholicism is “the most seductive, dangerous and largest cult….”18 He also states that major evangelical leaders, apologists, and cult experts are cooperating with, and therefore being seduced by, Catholicism as never before.19
Hunt does at points raise some legitimate doctrinal concerns regarding Catholicism. However, his overall approach in evaluating and classifying Catholicism is both logically and theologically flawed. As our previous discussion demonstrated, Catholicism simply does not fit the category of a non-Christian cult. Further, Hunt seems unwilling to take into account the vast areas of doctrinal agreement between classical Catholicism and historic Protestantism. While he rightly points to many unbiblical elements and false teachings within Catholicism (issues which, by the way, have been pointed out by the very apologists he criticizes20), he fails repeatedly to identify and draw carefully nuanced theological distinctions. Instead he erroneously asserts that Catholics embrace a “different God, a different Jesus Christ….”21 Certainly no one has been more critical of the excesses of Catholic theology than were the Reformers. However, even they affirmed that Catholicism embraced the triune nature of God and the two natures of Jesus Christ as expressed in the creedal statements of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon.
What is worse than Hunt’s assertion that Catholicism is a cult is his insistence that anyone who arrives at a different position is simply deceived — and thus at risk of compromising their gospel witness. Consequently, Hunt impugns the character of all of those individuals and ministries simply because they disagree with his theological assessment of Catholicism.22
The fact is that all of the cult experts and apologists Hunt has criticized have very strong criticisms of Catholicism at numerous points (this writer knows most of them personally). They simply do not classify the Catholic church as a non-Christian cult. They are not being seduced, nor are they compromising — they merely disagree with many of Hunt’s conclusions! Cannot evangelicals have honest areas of disagreement without being labeled compromisers?
The last of Hunt’s charges which should be addressed is his claim that “to deny that Roman Catholicism is a cult is to repudiate the Reformation and mock the more than 1 million martyrs who died at Rome’s hands as though they gave their lives for no good reason!”23 I find this charge to be personally unsettling. As a Reformed (Calvinist) Christian and apologist, I have great admiration for the sixteenth century Reformers. In fact, as a conservative Presbyterian, I adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith (a Reformed confession of 1647). However, while I am not willing to repudiate the Reformation, neither am I willing to classify Catholicism as a non-Christian cult (though I remain staunchly critical of Catholic theology overall).
Let us examine Hunt’s reasoning on this point. His argument seems to follow this pattern: Either one classifies Catholicism as a non-Christian cult, or one is guilty of repudiating the Protestant Reformation. As a Protestant, one could not possibly want to repudiate the Reformation. Catholicism must therefore be classified as a cult. This argument is a classic example of the informal logical fallacy known as the “false bifurcation” (also known as the “black-and-white,” “either-or,” or “false alternatives”) fallacy.24
Romes Seduction of Evangelical Christianity- A ConclusionThe error in Hunt’s reasoning is twofold. First, he assumes too few alternatives. There are other possible alternative classifications for Catholicism that would not repudiate the Reformation, including other critical classifications such as the one we discussed earlier. By erroneously reducing the number of alternatives, he has oversimplified the problem and is clearly thinking in extremes. Second he assumes (illegitimately) that one of his jointly exhaustive alternatives must be true (ergo — Catholicism is a cult). Hunt’s disjunctive (either-or) premise is false, and his argument is unsound.
While some individuals unfortunately exaggerate the theological faults of Catholicism, there remain in reality some central doctrinal differences between Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants. It is to these areas of difference that we now turn.