Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Test All Things

Bart Larson is a Christian apologist and the author of a booklet called Perfected in Love: A Bible Study for Catholics.

I met Bart several years ago as he served in his role as a hospice minister. My grandpa was dying, and while he slept in another room, Bart and I got acquainted in the living room. He gave me some stories and other writings he often hands out to his hospice patients. These writings, themselves, were rather benign with regard to doctrine - mostly aimed at comforting the very sick with the promise of God's love.

However, when I later visited the website listed at the bottom of his writings, what I found was one of the most offensive anti-Catholic works I had seen before. Since then, the study has gone through major revisions over the years, as Bart and I have discussed it and I've pointed out many errors. In that time it has been pulled from the website. However, he has informed me that he is posting it again, despite the fact that it is still fundamentally flawed and highly offensive.

Once it is posted again, I invite you to read it yourself at Bart's website: www.4seekers.com.

Note that I have no problem with you reading Bart's study or visiting his site. I have that much confidence in the solid truth of Catholicism, which you will see defended in these e-newsletters. I've even invited Bart to write a letter of response to my critiques, and I will publish his letter at the end of my series, allowing Bart time to revise according to the content of my essays.

Bart, however, is apparently not interested in letting visitors to his website hear the arguments that I am presenting. He extends no courtesy of inviting his readers to visit the AFS website through a link in his study and isn't willing to let me write a response to be added to his study. He has also refused several offers to debate some of the core doctrines he brings up.

While Bart insists that I should be focusing on what unites us, rather than what divides us, his study does not follow this guideline. It is systematically set up to attack most of the teachings of the Catholic faith, and I will simply be refuting that.

I will sometimes refer to Bart or his work as anti-Catholic. This is an accurate term. He does not hate Catholic individuals, but he openly attacks the teachings, practices, and leaders of the faith. He is, therefore, anti (against) anything distinctly Catholic.

This would be fair enough - if Bart had solid arguments against these teachings. Instead his study relies on a number of sleight-of-hand tricks to make you think that he has refuted much of Catholicism. We will examine the biggest of these in the next issue. Until then, here are some things to watch for:

• Bart claims his study is letting the Bible speak for itself, but he only gives you the verses he wants you to see and leaves out many that present a problem for him. When I pressed him to explain why he did this regarding verses on eternal security at the beginning, he explained that this was because it was his booklet and he could write his introduction how he wanted. Not much of a defense. In other places, I am convinced that Bart doesn't even know the verses or reasoning that Catholics use, and it is irresponsible for him to dismiss these teachings without researching this.

• Bart claims that his study is just a pure list of Bible verses and that he is reserving editorial comment. However, editorial comment is sprinkled throughout, and at one point he even refers the reader to a Hollywood movie (not a documentary) to make his points. Apparently, deep down, Bart doesn't believe that the Bible is as self-interpretive as he claims in the introduction.

• Bart will often "beg the question" - making a statement based on an unproven assumption. An example would be if he asked, "Does the Bible teach that we should worship anyone except God?" This is begging the question because the assumption is that the Catholic Church teaches that others can be worshipped, which it doesn't. Worship is for God alone.

• Bart will pull verses out of context. While his introduction tells you to study the "context" by reading the verses immediately above and below a certain verse, Bart doesn't mention that context is much larger than a set of five or six verses. Often he pulls verses and interprets them in a way that is contrary to the entire rest of the book in which they appear, as well as other books. He shows you just enough to put doubt in your head.

• Shotgun approach - Bart will throw so many verses and arguments into his writings that he hopes someone can never respond to all of them. He purposely overwhelms his readers.

• Straw man - Bart will attack the weakest argument for a belief, claiming victory. He does this especially in his section on the authority of the Pope.

• Bart admits he is not an expert on Catholicim, and our conversations over the years have shown many, many errors in his understanding of what Catholics believe. These errors are still grossly present, but Bart feels qualified to publish this study anyway and to give talks about Catholicism to Protestant groups.

Finally, as will be seen in next week's issue, Bart reads the Bible in a way contrary to how Christ and the Bible itself says Scripture should be read. He reads it in a way that, according to Scripture, leads to error and rejection of the full truth of Christ. Bart has declined to debate this issue and says his study stands for itself on how the Bible should be read. Therefore, in the next issue, we will see what his study says about reading Scripture, and then we'll see what Scripture has to say about itself by including all the verses and context that Bart left out.