A Discussion on Anti-Catholic Fundamentalist Dave Hunt's Research

From an Email Exchange with Jason Engwer (Emails dated April 1999)


For a full debate on the Catholic Church between Jason and myself click here.

This was a short polite exchange of Emails with Jason Engwer, a fan of Dave Hunt who links to him at his site. We discuss Hunt's research, sources and methods, which includes a short debate on the Roman Catholic Church, development of doctrine, the Bible and the early Fathers, and I comment on the anti-Catholic Evangelical/Fundamentalist Protestant critics we both have read, like James White and William Webster, along with the popular Catholic converts and apologists of today. Jason is a young Christian apologist (around 25 or so), an Evangelical/Fundamentalist Dispensational Premillennialist (at the moment, not sure of his future), and his words are quoted as JE>. A couple of related links are the following:

A Challenge to James White and Jason Engwer by Mark Bonocore

Dave Hunt and the Spanish Inquisition by P

Who Were the Waldenses? Early Evangelicals? by P

A Look at Dave Hunt, Leading Anti-Catholic Fundamentalist by Robert Aufill

Dave Hunt's The Berean Call


Thanks for the response, Jason. Here are my comments.

JE> Phil, As you should have noticed, I have a note on my links page saying, "I don't necessarily agree with everything contained in these web sites." While I don't agree with all of the arguments of Dave Hunt and others, I do agree with a lot of them. >>

Yes, I noticed the caveat that you mention and thanks at least for that much.

But Dave Hunt in my opinion has no concern for truth when it comes to Roman Catholicism. He is clearly incompetent as a theologian or serious student of Church history. Hunt is the complete opposite of James White or Norm Geisler who are more serious in engaging Catholics in debate and at least try to be fair.

I intend to work on an article for my web site documenting in detail the "top 100 errors" of Hunt's A Woman Rides the Beast. I wrote an 88-page paper in 1992 when I first got started in apologetics documenting his many errors on the Catholic faith (concerning salvation, the Mass, and many topics) in his past books and newsletters (where he calls Catholicism "the largest and most dangerous cult" June 1991 CIB Bulletin). Hunt has since become even more radical with his A Woman Rides the Beast published late 1994. He hasn't changed much since that time -- I've been reading his newsletters (CIB Bulletin, The Berean Call) for about 10 years now.

In short, Hunt should be avoided at all costs if you want devout and informed Catholics to take your web site seriously as representing the truth about the Roman Catholic faith.

JE> For example, would you post a link to Irenaeus' Against Heresies, even though you disagree with him about his "stages of life" view of the atonement, his view of the millennium, his canon of scripture, etc.? >>

There is simply no logical comparison between you linking to Hunt's nonsense and me quoting someone like St. Irenaeus. Hunt is a 20th century anti-Catholic whose books are filled with errors on the Catholic faith. No one doubts this, not even James White or Christian apologetics groups such as CRI, and no one considers Dave Hunt a Church Father, much less a careful scholar or theologian.

Ask James White himself if he would recommend that Roman Catholics read Hunt's A Woman Rides the Beast for an accurate critique of the Catholic faith or Church history. James Akin of Catholic Answers has called the book "a joke" when specifically asked by Hank Hanegraaff about it on the Bible Answer Man (1995) with James White. There was no argument from either Hank or White on the point.

Now St. Irenaeus, on the other hand, you and I seem to agree is one of the greatest theologians and Fathers of the early Church. He is a primary witness to the Christian faith of the 2nd century. We could get into some of the details later, but I doubt you can show his views on the atonement, the millennium, or the canon of Scripture contradict the Roman Catholic faith, especially since such issues were not defined at that early point by any Pope or Council of the Catholic Church.

Do you deny that St. Irenaeus has a Catholic view of church government (three fold hierarchy and ministry of Bishop, Presbyter/Priest, Deacon), a Catholic view of apostolic succession (that the Bishops are successors to the apostles and have that "certain gift of truth" because of this succession), a Catholic view of the Eucharist (Real Presence and Sacrifice), a Catholic view of Baptism (baptismal regeneration) ?

There are other issues I could mention, but these are some major ones. One distinction you may be missing is that a doctrine does not become Catholic dogma until it is explicitly defined by an Ecumenical Council or Pope of the Catholic Church. Christian doctrine is not defined and has never been defined by anyone's private interpretation of the Bible, whether yours or mine or St. Irenaeus (as great a saint as he was).

From there we get into Sola Scriptura which has been thoroughly demolished in my opinion from the Bible and the Fathers in the recent 600+ page book on the subject: Not By Scripture Alone (Queenship Publishing, 1997) edited by Robert Sungenis with many contributors.

JE> Do you consider Augustine a Catholic Saint, even though he contradicted Catholic teaching on the Immaculate Conception, salvation, and other issues? >>

I consider St. Augustine a Catholic Saint since he has been declared so by the Church. No one who knows anything would disagree he was one of the greatest Saints and Fathers of the entire patristic period.

You also seem to not be making proper distinctions as I mentioned earlier. A doctrine does not become Catholic dogma until it is explicitly defined as such. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was not defined until 1854. So unless you believe St. Augustine lived after that date, you cannot claim he "contradicted the Immaculate Conception." An equivalent to this might be to say St. Ignatius of Antioch or Tertullian "denied the Trinity" or "contradicted the deity of Christ" since they did not use the exact technical language of later Councils (such as Nicaea, Chalcedon). Such early Fathers and writers indeed called Jesus "God" and such but so also did Arius. The question for Christian orthodoxy and truth is what do these terms mean?

If you have evidence or statements that you think you can bring up where St. Augustine denied the sinlessness of Mary (let's not use the term "Immaculate Conception") or denied Catholic teaching on salvation/justification, please bring them forward. St. Augustine was nothing but a full-blown Catholic in belief and practice. Many dozens of examples could be given.

On the Papacy, consider my article from Dom John Chapman titled St. Augustine, Pelagianism, and the Holy See for starters.

P

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Jason, here are my comments on the rest of your note.

JE> Not only do I cite Dave Hunt at my web site, but I also cite Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox historians, who I obviously disagree with on a lot of issues. I think you understand the concept of citing people you agree with on one issue, even if you disagree with them on others. >>

Yes, I understand that concept and appreciate you mentioning this. I quote opposing views myself and try to read all sides of an issue. I can appreciate true scholars such as John Meyendorff (Orthodox priest and theologian) and J.N.D. Kelly (Anglican patristic scholar).

But my point is that Dave Hunt has proven to be so unreliable that he should be avoided at all costs (at least regards his writings on Roman Catholicism). I hope you can see my point that linking to such a person on your web site will only drive away serious Roman Catholics who are concerned for truth (like myself).

JE> Even if you disagree with some of the sources Hunt cites, and you disagree with some of his arguments, there's a lot of what he argues that you can't reasonably deny. His comments about the papacy being absent from the New Testament, for example, are accurate. And his argument that the church fathers denied the Catholic interpretations of Matthew 16, Luke 22, etc. is accurate also. >>

I disagree on these points concerning the Papacy, the Bible and the Fathers, and accept neither James White nor William Webster's research on the matter. But this will have to wait until I can present my detailed reviews of White and Webster's books. For now, you can read quite devastating replies from Evangelical converts such as Robert Sungenis and David Palm (available at various Catholic apologetics sites on the web) on Matthew 16, and the evidence from the Church Fathers. A new book on the Papacy by Evangelical convert Stephen Ray titled Upon This Rock (Ignatius Press) is another source I hope to order. It deals with common objections from folks like White and Webster.

While it is true that Dave Hunt also denies the Papacy, he does so by using primarily three grossly anti-Catholic sources: Peter DeRosa (an ex-priest whose book on the "dark side" of the Papacy contains no documentation or footnotes), August Bernhard Hasler (Hunt's anti-Catholic source for Vatican Council I), and J.H. Ignaz "Janus" von Dollinger (a schismatic who was excommunicated). None of these dissidents are worthy of consideration if one is writing a serious book on Roman Catholicism and Church history (which Hunt claims to do in his introduction), and yet these three are Hunt's primary sources. I have checked Hunt's endnotes and sources myself.

Hunt ignores such primary Catholic sources as the old (1913) and New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) which are readily available in any university or public library (and now online). The many articles contained in these well-researched volumes alone would have corrected many errors found in Hunt's chapters dealing with the Papacy. He also ignores the primary documents of the Councils (such as Vatican I, and early Councils such as Ephesus and Chalcedon which give clear evidence for the Papacy) and yet claims to offer a valid history of the Papacy and papal infallibility. He does quote from Vatican II and Trent a bit, but misunderstands the theology contained therein.

JE> His assessment of immorality in the RCC's past, and his assessment of Popes and councils erring and contradicting one another, are accurate as well. >>

Says who? Once again, Hunt's sources for this "immorality" and "errors" of the Popes and Councils are the authors I mentioned: DeRosa, Hasler, and Dollinger. If there are other sources Hunt is using for his charges, I want the authors, titles, and publishers. Hunt fails to interact with any Catholic rebuttals of such "errors" of the Popes that he lists, and fails to understand papal infallibility throughout his book. Hunt makes a lot of claims but fails to back himself up with solid sources. Again, this shall be documented in my article on the "top 100 errors" of Hunt's book.

JE> Saying "De Rosa is an ex-Jesuit" or "Von Dollinger is a schismatic" doesn't refute a lot of truth that's in Hunt's book, much of which is devastating to the claims of the RCC. >>

All right. I ask you then: What chapters or sections in Hunt's A Woman Rides the Beast do you think in particular are accurate or truthful and contain solid evidence backing up Hunt's charges? Have you checked any of Hunt's sources? I have and find them almost completely unreliable and untrustworthy.

JE> You asked if I'm an ex-Catholic. No, I'm not. I used to believe in a form of salvation through works, however, so I have empathy for Catholics who are deceived by their denomination's teachings on salvation. >>

I have read the Catechism of the Catholic Church on salvation, and see nothing there that is deception. BTW, the Catholic Church is not another "denomination" and does not claim to be simply another Christian denomination. You can read the section in the Catechism on the true nature of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church for more on that.

I hope to continue to study these issues, and maybe we can discuss some of them in detail in the future. I'm open to any recommendations you may have.

If you don't mind, I might post our correspondence on my web site for others to read.

JE> These claims of the Roman Catholic Church leave no room for "development". Jason >>

I strongly disagree since all Christian doctrine is a matter of development. What your post shows here is the necessity for an authority outside the Bible itself to RULE on what is true and orthodox Christian doctrine and what is not. That authority has always been historically the Ecumenical Councils (with the Pope) of the Catholic Church.

I too have Catholic scholars like Robert Eno, William Jurgens, etc. and books by ex-Catholic Evangelicals like William Webster, etc. and we need to look carefully at what they are claiming and the evidence they bring forward.

The statements you bring up from Trent, etc do not rule out the necessary refining of Christian doctrine through the centuries since this occured with all Christian beliefs, including the canon of the Bible, the Trinity, the Sacraments, the Papacy, etc. The question is whether these are true developments or "corruptions." The historic Catholic position is that the Church cannot officially and finally err on matters of faith and doctrine since this would be an undermining of the very promises of Christ for His Church (Matt 16:18; 28:20; John 16:13; 1 Tim 3:15; etc).

You have brought up a number of issues: the teachings of St. Irenaeus, the teachings of St. Augustine, the Papacy, indulgences, sacramental confession, the OT canon, transubstantiation, etc. These all require careful examination if we are to delve into them and we should not make the kind of sweeping statements that are found in works by folks such as William Webster. BTW, Webster debated the traditional Catholic and Evangelical convert Gerry Matatics back in 1992 and because of that debate vowed never to debate formally again. I have the tapes of that debate if you are interested (hint: Webster did not do very well).

You claim St. Augustine's "rule of faith" did not include the Papacy. Well, what do you call the evidence you have there in my article on St. Augustine, Pelagianism, and the Holy See if not evidence for belief in a Papacy -- that the Bishop of Rome, as successor to St. Peter had the final say on matters of doctrine (for example, on the Pelagian heresy). Granted we are talking the fourth/early fifth century Catholic Church and not the refined definition of papal infallibility that is found at Vatican Councils I and II, but we need to look carefully at what was actually believed by such giants of the faith as St. Augustine. Again, as you point out some of his teachings had to be corrected by the Church, but that only shows the necessity for such an authority in the Church. Sola Scriptura was not believed by Augustine himself.

You need to pick one topic and we'll go with that.

BTW, are you going to remove the references and links to Dave Hunt in your web site as I suggested?

P

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JE> How do you know what those passages mean, that those passages are authoritative, that they're referring to the RCC, etc. if the RCC must identify those documents as Divinely inspired scripture for you? In other words, do you believe Rome because Rome tells you that the New Testament supports Rome? (That's circular reasoning, obviously.) Or do you interpret those passages of the New Testament yourself, which would be personal interpretation? >>

Good questions. I shall make a response to this when I get on my computer at home. Typing from my brother's computer at the moment. I have read many of your articles on Roman Catholicism on your web site, and find you quite intelligent and interesting to read. You are better than your average critic of the Roman Catholic Church. I see you have spent a lot of time digesting the arguments of James White, William Webster, Rob Zins, etc and would like to get into some of the problems with their arguments. I just hope you would read more from the Catholic side to find out if there are decent Catholic rebuttals to some of their arguments. I also have many free tapes/debates and books I could send you.

Just a short note until I get home.

P

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JE> It seems to me that a lot of the popular Catholic apologists who have converted from Protestantism didn't know as much as they should have known about why Protestants believe what they believe. It seems that a lot of them converted from a Protestantism they didn't understand, or at least misunderstood in some important areas. Have you been impressed with the conversion stories of people like Scott Hahn, Steve Ray, etc.? Jason >>

Hello again! Yes, I understand and am familiar with some of the problems you bring up here. On the Papacy itself, the question is whether the clear and unmistakable evidence of the fourth and fifth century for the Papacy is sufficient to explain the seeming lack of evidence in the first, second, and third. I won't deny that such early Fathers as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Cyprian, etc. can be argued in any number of ways. I've read much of the various interpretations of those Fathers from Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and evangelicals (like Webster). A good book that presents most of the Catholic vs. Anglican views is Documents Illustrating Papal Authority AD 96-454 edited by the Anglican Edward Giles (1952).

And also whether an individual finds the "biblical arguments" compelling (from Matt 16 with Isa 22, John 21, etc) -- most Evangelicals do not, and those Evangelicals who eventually become Catholic do see a "primacy of Peter" in the NT that is compatible with the later full-blown Papacy.

I'm sure folks such as Scott Hahn, Steve Ray, Gerry Matatics, Dave Palm, Dave Currie, Kenneth Howell, Mark Shea, Kristine Franklin (Bob Sungenis, Jeff Cavins, and Curtin Martin are re-verts so I won't count them) and hundreds more in Marcus Grodi's The Coming Home Network who have appeared on EWTN "The Journey Home" program understood some of the problems you bring up (i.e. seeming lack of evidence for full-blown Catholic doctrines in the earliest centuries, which became explicit in the fourth, fifth and later centuries) but they don't see this as decisive against becoming a Catholic (and neither do I). BTW, I disagree that the statements you have quoted from the Council of Trent or Vatican Council I denies development of doctrine, since it is undeniable that development occurred, even with regard to such "essentials" as the Holy Trinity. The idea of development of doctrine is early and shows up in such Fathers as St. Vincent of Lerins (I could look up his quote for you).

As I said before, all Christian doctrine is a matter of development, whether the Trinity, the canon of the Bible, the Sacraments, the Papacy, the Marian beliefs. Evangelicals contend these "developments" are corruptions (except for the Trinity and the NT canon and here they are inconsistent), while Catholics (and Orthodox) see them as true developments from the apostolic deposit. There are some differences how Catholics and Orthodox (who both claim apostolic succession) see the Papacy and some of the Marian beliefs, for example, but those differences are very slight compared to the major differences that separate Catholics and most Evangelical Christians like yourself.

The main question is whether the Church has the right and authority to determine what is true and orthodox Christian doctrine. Historically, Christian doctrine is determined and binding on the individual because it has been defined as such by an Ecumenical Council (with the Pope) of the Catholic Church. Christian doctrine has never been defined and binding on the individual because you or I say it is. Sure, we both can bring forth our respective "evidence" from the Bible and the Fathers, but none of this was how Christian doctrine became dogma (i.e. binding on the individual).

In other words, Sola Scriptura has never been the sole rule for the Christian faith and the chapter and appendix by Joe Gallegos in Not By Scripture Alone is sufficient to demonstrate this clearly. BTW, I don't say there are some areas in the Sungenis books that cannot be answered by Evangelicals, but overall the case against Sola Scriptura is quite overwhelming. On Sola Fide, I find the discussion more complex, and have heard the Scripture passages (Romans 3-4 and James 2 and others) slung back and forth in debate, and consider Bob Sungenis' work Not By Faith Alone very well done for the Catholic side. However, I see the differences on Justification between Catholics and Evangelicals much closer and much less important than the overall disagreement on authority (Sola Scriptura, Papacy, etc).

That is all for now! Sorry for writing so much.

P


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