Vince garretto: A Critique

Whilst Googling one day I happened upon a liberal/universalist site called "Free Christians" operated by one "Vince Garretto". Ordinarily I'd never give such a site a moment's notice, since decontextualizations are the norm at such places; but it seems that Garretto dislikes apologetics, to the point where he has an item titled "Why Apologetics is the enemy of truth and of faith", which says further:

This essay is an attempt to expose Christian apologetics as a futile enterprise and as a waste of time and valuable resources. Moreover, it is an attempt to expose the whole apologetics business as one of the worse [sic] enemies of Christianity. Being an internal enemy, apologetics does more damage to Christianity than any external enemy.

More damage than the health and wealth gospel, more damage than individualism? More than that, Garretto gives links to several apologetics sites, and he cites ME in particular as exemplary. Why?

So what is so wrong with all these ministries? Dishonesty and Deceit. That's what is wrong with them.
Let me explain why. Their dishonesty lies in that they assume as truth what they set out to prove. By employing a priori assumptions, (ie. "I have the truth") Christian Apologists entrap their unwary readers or listeners to their "truth".

So in other words, this is how ALL apologetics may be disposed with, yes? Just say of (for example) people who argue against Holocaust denial:

So what is so wrong with all these historians [who believe in a Holocaust]? Dishonesty and Deceit. That's what is wrong with them.
Let me explain why. Their dishonesty lies in that they assume as truth what they set out to prove. By employing a priori assumptions, (ie. "I have the truth") Holocaust Apologists entrap their unwary readers or listeners to their "truth".

Of course all of this is little more than the sort of thing that most critics do as a true substitute for, indeed, addressing and answering arguments. Getting down to epistemics and actually demonstrating dishonesty and deceit is not an option, apparently; we might offend someone, as said here:

The Christian arrogance of having exclusive possession of the truth (while other religions are evil and deluded), is reflected in many Apologists.

Of course I never say that "other religions are evil and deluded" -- it is rather impossible to say such of a "religion" as a whole; at best, one may say, certain elements of a religion are "false" but "evil and deluded" are Garretto's value judgments, not mine. But nevertheless, Garretto finds this sort of "arrogance" in my challenges to critics to refute our material.

Indeed? So it can be put this way: "You think 2 +2 = 4, do you? How arrogant to think you have exclusive possession of the truth!" But no doubt we would be told it isn't that simple; Garretto also assumes to know a lot about what I do, to wit:

Apologists like J. P. Holding specialize in the historical debates about Christianity. Their task is both hard and easy due to the scant data available from the first two centuries.

Both hard AND easy? So much for the Law of Non-contradiction. Not that any historian of this period has heard of such a thing ("scant data") either; at least none of them are quitting posts because of "scant data" making their job impossible (much less "hard" to the point where it can't be respected).

Indeed, vagueness like this tells us one thing -- Garretto isn't competent as an answer-giver. To wit:

The interesting part is that neither J. P. Holding nor his critics can be refuted. Both Apologists and their opponents take advantage of the fact that the data from Christianity's first century is almost non-existent. The only surviving information comes to us tainted by forgeries from the third century onwards, after the "Orthodox" branch of Christianity started becoming a political force. In the absence of reliable data, any claim (or counterclaim) can be made without being refuted. This is why even the outrageous claim by some critics that Jesus didn't even exist cannot be refuted. The data is simply not there.

Not there? Garretto has obviously not walked into a seminary library lately. That, and the vague charge of "forgery" and strong-arm politics, tells us that Garretto has accepted uncritically the word of non-scholarly sources. And we shall see that he has, shortly.

Next, Garretto refers his readers to a now-defunct website allegedly "exposing" my arguments -- for that, I relay the reader to my tektoonics.com site; yet don't look for Garretto to critically compare the arguments made therein. Rather, he prefers:

Any arguments? No, just more of the same, thus:

These ministers of division force people to make rush decisions about their spiritual journey, through psychological blackmailing of the worst kind. The weapon they use is a pre-packaged "evidence that demands a verdict", forcing people into becoming Christians out of fear ("God holds you accountable", etc). But this is not how truth is served. Truth, or for that matter, spiritual truth, is supposed to be a lifelong journey for every person, not a forced decision through "full-proof" arguments. The truth of God can never be exhausted. Those who claim to have pre-packaged the truth of God into a neat religious belief system, have reduced God into an idol of their own making. When people come to believe that they have the truth, they stop searching for the truth, and as a result they do not progress in their spiritual journey, as is obvious by the immaturity displayed in Christian Churches.

First of all, "rush decisions" is nowhere encouraged, at least not here. Garretto cannot show otherwise.

Second, Garretto misses the points that the decision is hardly irreversible, and this is no more a problem than that one is required to make a "rush decision" when a secular situation bears down upon them.

In the meantime we still wait for something tangible about this alleged "truth". One wonders if Garretto means by "can never be exhausted" that God can encompass mutually exclusive truth claims. Probably so. The bit about "lifelong journey" and such suggests the perpetual cycle which makes the following song from Alice in Wonderland an appropriate theme:

Forward, backward, inward, outward

Come and join the chase!

Nothing could be drier

Than a jolly caucus-race.

Backward, forward, outward, inward

Bottom to the top,

Never a beginning

There can never be a stop

If this is so, then one wonders why Garretto was able to "decide" that there was "truth" to such claims as, "Apologetics are bad for your spiritual health." If I may rephrase his own words:

After all, the quest for truth is a lifelong journey. With statements like these, Garretto causes division (between those who think apologetics is worth while and those who do not) and thereby forces people to make rush decisions about their apologetics journey, through psychological blackmailing of the worst kind. The weapon he uses is a pre-packaged "evidence that demands a verdict", forcing people into rejecting apologetics out of fear ("apologetics will ruin your spiritual health", etc).

But this is not how truth is served. Truth, or for that matter, spiritual truth, is supposed to be a lifelong journey for every person, not a forced decision through "full-proof" arguments.

And so on. Do we make our point clear? Garretto is patently self-contradictory, and he doesn't even notice.

No facts in sight yet; Garretto refers to one "Wendell Krossa" (apparently, a missionary who decided that truth hurt too much, so it ought to be changed or ignored) to the effect that "authentic spirituality has got nothing to do with being loyal to religious belief systems" though who gave Krossa the leeway to define "spirituality" thusly, and who said into his ear what God "intended," no one seems to know. Apparently it is quite all right for a Krossa to say that he knows for sure that God has "never demanded that anyone leave normal life to become religious" but it is not all right for Krossa's opponents to have a claim on what God has demanded.

Krossa says that he despises the "will of controlling religious authorities" and "the religious bosses" and encourages us rather to make HIM our "authority" and "boss" by accepting what he says as true. Apparently Krossa is no more aware of (or concerned with) his personal inconsistencies in denying absolute truth than either Spong or Garretto are: They've all finally decided that it is absolutely true that truth need not be finally absolute.

Krossa is quoted further to the effect that, "in Jesus we see that God would join the human race and give humanity an example of joining life with all its diversity and freedom from control and coercion. The human God that Jesus would reveal, embraced all of human life and all of humanity equally."

Really now. Perhaps Krossa was missing the portions, though, where Jesus also strongly condemnded the Pharisees for being in error, and also issued condemnations of hell against those who didn't accept his message. Maybe that's what Krossa means when he says that Jesus "consistently sought to inspire human freedom, human relating and existence" -- whatever that means; but it certainly wasn't likely that in a collectivist world, Jesus promoted any such individualistic message.

Perhaps that's why Krossa never seems to actually quote Jesus (at least, not that Garretto shows us). Or maybe it's a Jesus he saw in some apocryphal gospel. At any rate, Jesus' interactions with others who did not accept his truths belies Garretto's claims that "Jesus has nothing to do with Apologetics." His every interaction with the Pharisees, and his every interpretation of Scripture, was an apologetic; to say further, He never sought "to corner people into believing" or separate them into believers and unbelievers is answered simply and by example, "Matthew 25."

But perhaps Garretto, et al. think such passages were conveniently interpolated by the disciples, and all of the textual evidence showing this has conveniently disappeared. Presumably, this line of reasoning can be used at any time, regardless of textual proof, to make Jesus say or not say whatever Garretto or his friends think he did. Thus no doubt, the claim by Krossa that "Jesus treated every person as an absolute equal- both women and men, old and young, both religious and nonreligious" can be substantiated by getting rid of those episodes of dispute and issues of condemnation. Or else, Krossa intentionally left out the oppositional, "right and wrong."

We are next told:

Apologetics is a hostile enterprise, exposing the hostility and violence lying at the heart of the Christian religion. I remember once again Jacques Ellul's words: "Christianity is the exact opposite of what Jesus intended"!

Despite this, Garretto admits he finds the debates "entertaining"; but just as well to say that any debate on any matter "is a hostile enterprise" because it involves "endless debates" and "scoring points" (supposedly) and involves a "simple" procedure of "[c]ollect[ing] a set of supportive data" and "assembl[ing] it together into an air-tight package which can be used as a 'full-proof' argument or counterargument."

In other words, Garretto has just described the normal mode of exchange of ideas and views. He has just described, unwittingly, his very own argument against apologetics. His article is an apologetic against apologetics, and no doubt he too (using again his oen words) "feels like a winner" as he "marshals his fool-proof arguments and counterarguments." No doubt also, like he says of us, he "feel[s] that a lot is at stake" and that is why "there is a lot of animosity generated" in his reply. (Or maybe he was being nice when he called us deceitful?)

Garretto is wrong on this, at least where I am concerned: I am not "certain" that my "opponents are agents of the evil one." They would never be, for as an orthodox preterist, I think the "evil one" is rather tied up just now.

On the other hand, if the evil one were around, he'd disconnect completely from Garretto for this kind of claim:

In the past, when the Church held political power, Christian Apologetics took the form of violent persecutions. The opponents of the truth were deemed worthy of death. It is estimated that over 60 million people lost their lives by the Medieval version of Catholic Apologetics alone. Countless more were slain by overzealous Protestant "defenders of the truth".

60 million! I don't know where Garretto gets this number, but it's patently false. The Spanish Inquisition barely executed 2000 in several hundred years, so Garretto has a while to go to reach 60 million plus "countless". In any event Garretto reads "hatred" into what is really just normal cultural discourse (one wonders what he'd made of an African-American contest of the dozens) and magnifies apologetics to be no different than executing people. You know what that means -- no more discussion about anything, not even what's for dinner, because you could go from one day deciding between beef stroganoff and spaghetti to the next day killing someone with your plate.

More follows about how we all "selectively embrace information that validates our chosen worldview", though presumably Garretto is either exempt, or otherwise doesn't realize he just refuted his own arguments. Much less are any examples proven. There is then a section on which Garretto offers the "meme" thesis, the modern atheist version of "Satan moved my car keys" and a derivation of our material evolution from inorganic matter.

All we need ask is: Is Garretto's point of view a meme? If so, why should we listen? If not, why can't ours not be also? To use his own words, why isn't Garretto's "anti-apologetic apologetics" a case of his "repitlian brain" just seeking to defend it's territory, in this case, the belief system it holds as "truth"? Why not say, with Garretto against apologetics, that his arguments are a "tool of control" that is "designed to defend the authority of Garretto and Wendell Krossa"?

On and on it could go, with the reductio ad absurdum. In the end, we'll never see Garretto actually produce something objective, and it will never come, as being "human" (as Garretto defines it) outstrips all else, including epistemology.

One "Brinsmead" is quoted as saying that Jesus "did not die for some sacred thing or religious idea."

Really now. So he was not executed for sedition, the translated form of the blasphemy before the Sanhedrin in identifying himself as the divine Son of Man of Daniel 7? He was not almost stoned for claiming equality with God? Despite Brinsmead, this is not mutually exclusive to Mark 10:45 or Jesus dying for atonement (or "liberation" as he vaguely calls it, likely again reading modern political and social values into an ancient text).

Further, Ellul is quoted on the meaning of faith (and as it happens, is completely and contextually wrong); "doubt" forms no part of faith whatsoever, and despite Garretto, is hand in glove with, not against, faith. It escaped Ellul, apparently, that apologetics had more than one goal: Not merely convincing the unbeliever (which does happen now and then, despite Ellul; and need not mean, a full conversion, but as much as merely getting an atheist to abandon an idea like the Christ myth), but also, growing the believer in knowledge and discipleship. It is far from just adversarial, despite the publicity.

More vague commentary from Garretto follows; there are no specifics offered for the generalizations ("It is about time [inerrancy] got dropped because the embarrassment caused by it has become unbearable." -- no doubt it would be, for someone like Garretto who looks to Ellul before he looks to real scholars), and once more Price is quoted (to the same effect as Robert Miller in what we write here), in such a way that Price manages to also undermine all discourse on any subject.

It is not until a second article, "The Failure of Bible Apologetics," that Garretto gets even close to a specific, and here, his first target is a standard argument about Old Testament cruelty, and his first "apologist" is -- Pat Robertson. We do not see Garretto consult an actual scholar on the subject; no, Robertson's not the one to go to; Midian is taken care of here. Not that Garretto would answer that either; he declines to answer anything himself (even admitting that there are "better attempts") on the non-logical grounds that "they all fail morally, since they systematically blame the victims." Apparently in Garretto's world, there is no such thing as ever being at fault for anything, much less showing that the accused are innocent.

On the opposite side, the non-expert Thomas Paine is quoted for a non-logical "argument by outrage," and no arguments at all, just more outrage from Garretto. No arguments, but he does link to a set of non-experts such as Louis Cable and Joseph Wheless (!), the latter of whom has an astoundingly bad track record when it comes to source-handling. Garretto though has put himself into thinking that the likes of Cable and Wheless are capable of providing "insurmountable Old Testament problems".

Garretto is next up for the New Testament, and he links to the likes of Wheless and Cable again, as well as such sources as, "The Spuriousness of the Pauline Epistles. Exemplified by the Epistle to the Galatians by G. A. van den Bergh van Eysinga" and Price's attempt to make 1 Cor. 15:3-11 into an interpolation.

Eysinga, by the way, was of a radical school of criticism that is given no credence these days by serious scholars (other than the likes of Price, who are working out certain issues). I found comments on his work by Mark Nanos, a scholar whose work we have reviewed before, and they are worth reporting in full:

This approach is filled with as many questionable historical and rhetorical and sociological and philological presuppositions as the traditional approaches it seeks to challenge. These range from determination of the interests and ideologies of Gnostics, Marcionites, Jewish-Christians, and early Catholics, to name a few. Most important, they begin with a portrait of Paul that is dependent upon later Christian characterization of his language as anti-Jewish and anti-Law, etc.; this they share with the Prot. and Cath. schools of thought they seek to challenge. And here is one of their strengths against the traditional interpreter, for they undermine shared assumptions. In other words, both these radicals and those they seek to challenge share assumptions that are absolutely necessary to the premises from which these radicals work. I believe that these assumptions are mistaken, and that a new historical-critical reading of Paul as a practicing Jew subverts the basis of their critique, but also of those they seek to criticize too. That is a topic to big to begin to engage here.
I note that many (actually, I think all, but this might not be so on a closer reading) of the details which Eysinga takes to be problematic for the traditional reading of Galatians do not carry the weight he supposes; many actually work against his thesis. Yes, there are some good points against the way Galatians was being read at his time in the 19th and early 20th cent., and still among primarily theological rather than historical-critical approaches. Even yes against some points held by modern scholars, but these are where modern scholars perpetuate assumptions of Paul as anti-Jewish, Law-free, etc. Those should be challenged, in my view, where assumed by both these radicals and those their criticisms effectively challenge (i.e., traditionalists).
Let me cite a couple of examples of the problems in Eysinga's argument, in hope of offering you some clarity.
Eysinga makes many challenges on the basis of how this "letter" does not conform with his expectations of a letter. Much work has been done in this century on epistolary theory with the help of many more examples of letters from antiquity than were at his disposal. The result is that the ostensible problems do not represent problems of the nature he supposed. E.g., there are many kinds of letters, including those with introductions much like Paul's, although Eysinga apparently was not aware of this. He was also apparently not aware of the specific style of letters that we have from handbooks like Pseudo-Libanius and Pseudo-Demetrius. Here we have syllogisms for just the kind of ironic and rebuking letter that Galatians represents, and they are written for very specific audiences, not open letters, like Eysinga claims to be necessary. Also, the rebuking letter often begins with an expression of "surprise" that instead means "disappointment," just as does Galatians. This is different from Paul's other letters, just as it is different from the other styles found in these handbooks. But it is not an anomaly; in fact, in the letters we have from Egyptian dumps there are many of just these kinds of letters. A typical example is a letter from a parent to a child who has moved away, and not responded to one or more prior letters from the parent: "I am surprised that you have not responded to my..." His following points depend upon this argument about the nature of this as not an occasional letter, so they begin with a mistaken idea of ancient letters, including the example of Galatians.

Nanos then addresses six of Eysinga's points:

1. "It is now apparent why there is so little objective reality about the actual conditions which are indicated in the course of the letter." What does he mean by objective reality?; letters of ironic rebuke do not communicate any such thing; interpreters need to construct hypotheses of the situations that might make sense of the language. No one knows what the situation was, no later interpreter was there. I think he means that little situational evidence is apparent. But I disagree. Note that he often engages the autobiographical narrative material of chaps. 1 and 2; indeed, little about Galatian can be learned from there. But the situational discourse units (such as 1:1-9; 3:1-5; 4:12-20; 5:1--) contain much information. I have just finished a whole book about it.
But it should also be pointed out that what he offers as actual conditions for the generalized line of argument he finds in the letter, Marcion and then Catholic editing, both for larger ideological reasons, is surely an interpretive construction for the letter, not "objective reality"! So what does his criticism actually amount to anyway? This represents symbolic in-house rhetoric. It seems to me that this argument is full of this kind of nonsense that will only appeal to others who already share his view, but hardly persuade someone who does not.
2. "The presupposed conditions of a general falling-off from the Gospel preached by Paul must have been true of a great number of places." I am unsure what he means; it is not attested in Galatians anyway. They seek a compromise, much like a teenager faced with conflicting signals from peers and parents. But they are not seeking to depart from Paul; that certainty (for Paul) is at the "stasis" of Paul's argument (cf. 5:10). Thus he does not need to tell the Galatians what the gospel is or why it is important, only that they will undermine it if they go further toward having it both ways. He assumes in his rhetoric that this is the point that must be made, and that it will be effective, because subverting the meaning of the death of Christ is the last thing the addressees wish to do. In other words, they are not intentionally departing ("falling-off") from Paul's gospel.
3. "The whole of the contents is rather a dissertation in the form of a letter than a letter." I have already disqualified this point. Galatians is an excellent example of an ancient letter of ironic rebuke. It conforms to the outline of specific syllogisms from the epistolary handbooks mentioned above.
4. "Paul's independence must be defended; Christianity must be proclaimed as the religion of freedom, and return to Judaism must be censured." Here he has a point with the traditionalists; in fact, with most Pauline scholars, who share his assumptions about Paul's view of "Christianity" vs. "Judaism"; certainly with those scholars of his time. But I do not believe the writer of Galatians defends independence, that "Christianity" was an entity and especially as a religion of freedom in contrast to Judaism, or that Galatians has anything to do with censuring a return to Judaism. On the last point, the addressees are not returning to Judaism, they are not and have not been Jews (they were former idolaters; 4:8-10). Interaction with all of these points would be too involved, but at least you should note that they are all expressions of broad assumptions, each of which would have to be demonstrated for his point to carry any weight.
5. "The whole Epistle is a piece of special pleading." Yes, that is what makes it so situational
!
6. "This is why editors in their commentaries and introductions busy themselves so much in tracing the line of thought of the writer, and explaining what positions are being defended. Holtzmann has truly said that the Four Letters are intended to be studied rather than read. But in that case they must be called books, or treatises, rather than letters." Here he has a point, but it is the error of the interpretive tradition that he is criticizing, and has no significance for his argument about the letter itself. Letters like Galatians were both read aloud (even acted out by the deliverer), and studied. But he is right to criticize those who read Galatians as though a medieval court-room case or theological treatise; however, the latter case is just how he in effect proposes that Galatians should be read. The point he makes is thus also against his own proposed interpretive tradition.
It seems to me that virtually every statement in this piece could be criticized at least to this degree. This sample should demonstrate at least a few of the problems in this approach to the letters of Paul, even if they are not the criticism likely to be leveled by his contemporary challengers, or the prevailing interpreters of Paul to this day.

I have offered this extended commentary from Nanos to make a point. Garretto clearly has done absolutely NO serious research or critical evaluation in order to determine whether writers like Eysinga are accorded any validity, or are merely put out of court by the consensus.

Given this careless indifference, what right does Garretto have to accuse anyone of deceit or deception, or to presume to be able to declare what we do to be a worthless enterprise? The answer is, he has NO right to do this, and what we see further makes this even more abundantly clear.

Garretto also accepts the idea that "forgery was so rampant throughout the early Christian establishment that Paul taught his followers to recognize his handwriting in an attempt to insure authenticity" (that is false; in fact, it was customary practice for one who used a scribe to write the end of a letter themselves, in order to stress the authority, not authenticity, of what was written); he links to people who say that the Ignatian epistles are complete forgeries and that even ask whether such persons as Tertullian existed; and if he's that willing to believe, you can imagine what else -- he gives credence, yes, indeed, to Christ mythers. Not to say, anyone of credibility, mind you -- such "luminaries" as Robert Taylor (who accepted the Pope Leo X quote as genuine, and thought a hymn to Christ was actually to Prometheus), Acharya S, Earl Doherty, Hayyim Ben Yehoshua and Frank Zinlder.

The problem in including such persons as these, while ignoring historians and credetialed scholars, is reflected in Garretto's reasons for using all of this: "As outrageous as these claims may sound, the fact that such claims have been made and have persisted throughout the centuries, demonstrates the difficulties faced by the historian in regards to the historical Jesus." And: "Of course, most scholars, Christian or otherwise do not accept the view that Jesus never existed in history. But if a case against the existence of Christ can almost be made, one wonders just how poor the historical record about Jesus must really be."

In other words, Garretto believes that the mere fact that anyone tries to make a case is enough to warrant giving their views the respect accorded to valid or reasonable theories. Yet he also condemns apologists for making THEIR case.

And it does not end with the Christ-myth. Garretto next offers the same condemnation against apologetics for the resurrection; here again, fringe writers (Price) and complete unknowns (Brinsmead with his unsupported declarations, Gilkes with theories of pagan copycatting) are his sources, though Peter Kirby makes an anamolous appearance (knowing what I do of Kirby, he would think Garretto about as much as I do).

Garretto demands:

If Jesus was so hung up on everyone believing in resurrection, he would have personally appeared to every single one of us and said: "see and believe".

There's nothing special about Garretto or anyone else that requires Jesus to do this -- and I will add what I have of others: Garretto's uncritical acceptance of arguments for things like the Christ-myth as deserving any respect show that the real problem is not that the evidence is insufficient, but that the problem lies with Garretto, and a clear combination of patent miseducation and willful disregard (though in what percent combination, I neither know nor care).

Garretto rounds things out with further ado about not being divisive: "...believers and unbelievers have in common the image of God, just by being human, and Paul should have known that."

As if Paul's comment, "What does a believer have to do with an unbeliever?", meant that Paul thought believers and unbelievers had different numbers of eyes, ears, and toes. Garretto I suspect has the same number of toes as Josh McDowell, but if he thinks that means there are no differences in what they are otherwise, then Garretto's entire article is a pretense.

Rather though, it is nothing but a series of open self-contradictions, as Garretto becomes the very thing he most condems: An apologist, and a divider, one who puts things into a "straitjacket" of his own design.

-JPH