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Philosopher Robert Koons on Monday's The Journey Home

My friend, Robert C. Koons, and former blog brother of Lydia and me on Right Reason, will be the guest on Monday's episode (March 31) of EWTN's The Journey Home. Rob will be on the show to discuss his conversion to Catholicism from Lutheranism. He has produced a wonderful treatise in which he explains why he became Catholic. Entitled, "A Lutheran's Case for Catholicism," you can find it online here.

A professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, Rob is one of the truly great Christian philosophers of our time. If I just had half his intellect, I would be happy.

Comments (39)

There are, however, grave dangers in cutting oneself off from the Catholic Church. In particular, the guidance of the Holy Spirit is promised to the Church as a whole, not to each individual or to isolated sects. As time passes, Protestant and Lutheran church bodies experience a powerful temptation to conform their teachings to the spirit of the times, to the assumptions and cultural worldview of their own nation and generation. The Roman church has the great advantage of spanning both time and place in a nearly comprehensive fashion. Moreover, Christ Himself commands us to seek and maintain unity.

The Lutheran church "is guided by the Holy Spirit" the same as any other. Unity is good, that's why it may be better to be Lutheran because they are more apt to welcome Catholics and other sects.

Lutherans appear to have been been more successful than most Protestant denominations in discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit on the issue of the sanctity of human life. However, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) issued a statement in 1991 which speaks of the sanctity of human life but which provides three cases for allowing abortions: rape and incest, fetal disability, and threat to the life of the mother. In addition, the ELCA leadership, moreover, opposes laws that "deny access" to abortion. Also, the church's health care plan for pastors and for church workers pays for elective abortions.

Contrast that to the earlies reform tradation on the sanctity of human life:

John Calvin, 16th century Reformation leader, wrote in his commentary on Exodus 21:22:

...the unborn, though enclosed in the womb of his mother, is already a human being, and it is an almost monstrous crime to rob it of life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man's house is his most secure place of refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy the unborn in the womb before it has come to light.

Martin Luther, founder of the Lutheran Church, spoke out several times on behalf of the child in the womb:

Surely at such a time [conception], the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed.

More recently, Protestant theologian Karl Barth wrote during the years of Holocaust in Germany:

The unborn child is from the very first a child. It is still developing and has no independent life. But it is a man and not a thing, nor a mere part of the mother's body.... He who destroys germinating life kills a man.... The fact that a definite NO must be the presupposition of further discussion cannot be contested, least of all today.

Welcome aboard the barque of Peter, to our communion of saints and sinners and the last Western institution remaining from antiquity. It's never boring here and despite our many failings, you'll find one reassuring truth always quietly present within our mist; Love has the word. Buckle in and bring your friends!

typo; Love has the last word.

And if everything goes right, you'll hear it spoken in Latin from time to time.

The Lutheran church "is guided by the Holy Spirit" the same as any other.

Russ, it looks as though Professor Koons arrived at his conclusions after a careful consideration of the evidence. Can the same be said about you?


Russ is right: One can conclude that the Holy Spirit leads the Lutherans just as easily and convincingly as one can conclude He leads other churches. Nobody has cornered the market on the Holy Spirit, though it seems like some have cornered the market on triumphalism. Simply because Russ has reached a conclusion other than the one reached by Koons does indicate that Russ has not carefully considered the evidence.

Moreover, Christ Himself commands us to seek and maintain unity.

Praise God! May the Whole of Christendom be restored and this time anew with all past divisions healed!

Eph 4:5: One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Simply because Russ has reached a conclusion other than the one reached by Koons does [not] indicate that Russ has not carefully considered the evidence

O.K. But where is the evidence that he has?

George wrote (regarding whether or not Russ has examined the evidence:

"But where is the evidence that he has?"

Are you implying, George, that on this board we ought to assume that those with whom we disagree have not examined the evidence until they lay it all out before us? In that case, George, I must assume it about you.

Two questions:

(1) Why do you entertain the insulting suspicion that Russ is insufficiently thoughtful and does not consider a view before he writes?

(2) Do you really want to open an all-out discussion and debate on this board about ecclesiastical supremacy and about who really has the Holy Spirit -- or can we more charitably assume that God is at work in Christians and in churches of other traditions without them having to prove it to us?

Michael Bauman,

Thanks for your opinion and yes, I think of things like this subject a great deal. Your posts are very kind and appreciated. I am a Lutheran but have great respect for the the Catholic church. My in-laws have been trying to convert me for me many years.

Michael Bauman,

First of all, I don't see how asking someone if he has evidence for an assertion he has made constitutes an insult.

Secondly, we can all "assume" that the God is at work in all churches, but true charity requires that we give each its due.

If you have to ask if he has evidence, then you insult him -- as if he'd spout off on important issues without it.

I wonder to what extent we are able to give each church its due. If I were to guess, I'd guess that generally we'd each end up giving to our own church higher marks than others give it, and that we'd adduce what we consider good reasons for doing so. I suppose it could hardly be otherwise. If we thought that the Spirit was more fully active in leading some other church, we'd probably leave ours and follow it, in which case we'd give our new church the highest marks, rightly or wrongly.

You are most welcome.

Like you, I have great respect for the Roman church, though I am not a member.

If you have to ask if he has evidence, then you insult him -- as if he'd spout off on important issues without it.

What a startling position. I cannot for the life of me imagine what could persuade anyone to adopt it, except that he very much desires that he be allowed to maintain his own illusions in peace. As for being incredulous that someone might actually be guilty of spouting off on important issues without evidence, in my experience I have found it to be rather the rule than the exception.

Now let me ask you, what do you suppose engendered my challenging of Russ's opinion in the first place? It is that I myself have studied the issue and have found precisely zero evidence that God is with the Lutheran church. Now if you or Russ have contrary evidence, I suggest you present it. If not, you should admit that your opinion is not based on evidence.

"It is that I myself have studied the issue and have found precisely zero evidence that God is with the Lutheran church."

Unless I'm reading this incorrectly this is just a remarkable statement. Is this the sort of thing you can say with any amount of epistemic certainty?

Have you been to the Lutheran church my wife grew up in? What about the one my former boss attended? Have you examined Lutheran missions? What about a convert who heard the gospel from a Lutheran; was God not involved in that? If that convert now goes to a Lutheran church are they cut off from the Spirit that has saved them? Or will God guide then in spite of their awful church affiliation (because of course He has nothing to do with the Lutheran church)?


Rest assured. You have not read me incorrectly.

However, the examples you have given to demonstrate that God is with the Lutheran church are not persuasive, since they can all be explained by natural and human causes. But only evidence that cannot be explained by purely natural causes can be accepted as valid; for we are looking for clear evidence of supernatural efficacy. Have you any such evidence?*

*no insult intended

No, George.

The reason why I think we ought charitably to assume that God is at work in other Christian churches is not because I wish to maintain my own delusions in peace, as you insultingly surmise, but because when someone holds the position you hold there remains no likely prospect for progress resulting from continued dialog.

To acknowledge the presence, the power, and the movement of God in other Christian churches is not to denigrate those things in one's own.


It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them:

"It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church"
Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 3.4.

As for my evidence regarding competing ecclesiastical claims, and whose claims are most defensible, please be assured that it exists and is not easily dismissed. But I am not at all inclined to do a re-run of the Reformation on this board. Charitable assumptions on all sides are a better choice.

(Midway thru typing I refreshed to see MarkC and Michael Bauman making my points for me - thanks!)

For the most part WWWtW displays the sort of proper ecumenicism that I agree with (ie - not liberal ecumenicism but instead rooted in conviction and orthodoxy) so I hesitate to continue what I deem to be a ridiculous discussion. But...

"However, the examples you have given to demonstrate that God is with the Lutheran church are not persuasive"

I don't really know what you mean when you say that its not case that "God is with the Lutheran church". What does with mean in this context? You might be simply stating that Lutherans can't make the claim to be the true Church. Or you might be making the claim that God's presence can't be found with Lutherans? If its the former - ok we've all been down that road before. See Bauman's comment above. If its the latter you're more exclusive than you need be (or should be since you're obligated to accept Rome's teaching) given Catholic doctrine. See MarcC's comment above or read the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

"But only evidence that cannot be explained by purely natural causes can be accepted as valid; for we are looking for clear evidence of supernatural efficacy."

I just find this absurd. Given that you accept Christianity and the Bible as authoritative in some sense, that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world convicting sinners, how can you make this claim. A person comes to faith by hearing the word (Rom 10:17), repents and trusts in Christ for their salvation. They are baptized in trinitarian form (which you're obligated to accept as efficacious as a Catholic) and begin attending a Lutheran church. They are given the gift of the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness (Rom 8:26). They pray with others and experience the power that can bring (Mat 18:20).

You're claim is that barring "evidence that cannot be explained by purely natural causes" the believer has no warrant for believing that God is working in their life and church. I can give a naturalistic account of faith, repentance, conversion, prayer, the Holy Spirit's action in our lives. But that fact doesn't undermine the warrant that the believer has by those things being in their life (even while they attend the Lutheran church) one little bit.

Given that Rome accepts Lutheran salvation, baptism, and counts them as separated brethren what possible evidence do you (as a faithful Catholic) have to support the claim that God is not with the Lutheran church?


You're arguing with me from the Catholic position. Fine. But if you'll notice, I have not assumed a necessarily Catholic position in my debate with these other guys. I have merely challenged them to provide evidence in support of their non-Catholic positions. Therefore, I am not required to admit statements from Vatican II, which pre-suppose the authority of the Catholic Church, as an objection against my position.

Furthermore, the question of whether or not the non-Catholic churches possess the supernatural to a certain extent is not at issue here. What I'm asking is whether or not there is any evidence of the supernatural in these churches. So far, no one has provided any.

I'm becoming more and more convinced that there isn't any.


If a thief on the cross can go to heaven with these words, then a Lutheran can.

One criminal scoffed Jesus. "But the other criminal protested, 'Don't you fear God even when you are dying?' 'We deserve to die for our evil deeds, but this man hasn't done anything wrong.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.' And Jesus replied, 'I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.'

Changed my mind this discussion isn't worth continuing. Last words:

- I'm not an evidentialist in general nor in matters of religious knowledge. So I reject whatever weird standard you're appealing to. The biblical witness is clear that for a believer to accept that God is with them they don't need the kind evidence you require. What they need is of the sort I quoted from scripture above. So George might require it but God doesn't.

- I still don't know exactly what the problem you're attempting to identify is (God's not with the Lutheran church; whatever that means). Or maybe if God is with the Lutheran church they have no reason to believe it without George styled evidence.

- You're probing for the evidence a Christian has for their non-Catholic stances. You appeal to a standard in doing so. Its not unfair to ask if you can meet that standard yourself. Its not unfair to ask why accept the standard in the first place. If you can't provide an answer to those questions whatever problem you're attempting to raise doesn't get off the ground.

So that'll be my last words on this. Not a Lutheran btw in the interest of disclosure.

"But only evidence that cannot be explained by purely natural causes can be accepted as valid; for we are looking for clear evidence of supernatural efficacy."

Whoa. I think George is asking about miracles that seem to have some special association with the Lutheran denomination. Have I got that right, George? I mean, that's pretty strong. I've watched this quietly and had thought along with Mike D. that you were originally simply asking for evidence in the much broader sense that "God is at work" in the Lutheran denomination. (Presumably you'd ask the same about Baptists, etc.) But to that question evidence of souls brought to the Lord Jesus would be relevant. Of course, souls brought to trust in Christ _are_ in a sense supernatural events. Even the Catholic Church admits that non-Catholics can baptize. But now it seems that you are going to take it (again, I may be misunderstanding you) that conversions to Christianity that take place under the auspices of other denominations--say, Baptist missionary work abroad among animists or whatever, or Christian pagans who become Christians in a Lutheran church--"don't count," because they are not strictly miraculous and for all we can tell might just be natural events. Or even if they are true conversions, and hence evidence of the work of God, it isn't that kind of "work of God" you are looking for but rather more strictly miraculous signs and wonders to validate these denominations. Again, that seems to me an extremely strong request. Surely you don't want to get into a contest of "the miracles that have happened in my church are real, but the ones that have happened in yours are fakes," do you?


As far as what would qualify as evidence, certainly miracles would. Do the Lutherans have any? What are they? Let's have a look at them.

Without wishing at all to interpose myself into the conversation as it has developed, I only wish to point out that perhaps it would have been better to remark that this post by Russ:

The Lutheran church "is guided by the Holy Spirit" the same as any other. Unity is good, that's why it may be better to be Lutheran because they are more apt to welcome Catholics and other sects.

was rather more in the order of provocative while not adding anything substantive to the conversation. It seemed a mere gainsaying of Koons. Furthermore, I can't accept the mere premise "Unity is good", and while I certainly do associate myself with the portions of V2 which affirm that the various Protestant communions "are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation (UR)", I think it could stand to be drawn out a bit, and that before we launch into a sentimental round of ecumenical Kum-Bay-Ya, we might like to know what Russ may mean by "as any other [church]." Just how inclusive would he intend to be with such a statement? This is the sort of question that ought to be in the mind of any Christian who has a tendency to place a high degree of importance on universal orthodoxy. If the Lutherans " are more apt to welcome Catholics and other sects", certainly there would be some grounds under which such Christians would be welcomed. And likewise, in the Catholic or Orthodox Churches. As far as I know, anyone and everyone is quite welcome and invited to become a Roman Catholic or Orthodox. But, you know, there are a few requirements. And those requirements just are what make the RCC the RCC, the Orthodox Churches, Orthodox, and, I would think, the Lutheran Church Lutheran. It may even be easier to become a Unitarian. If so, would that mean, (according to Russ's apparent logic) that it "may be better to be" Unitarian?

Even the Catholic Church admits that non-Catholics can baptize.

We positively revel in it. Indeed, two pagans who decide to become Christian can validly baptize each other when no Christians are around.

Mind you, as a Catholic I believe Lutheran doctrines which conflict with Catholic doctrines are wrong. I have little patience for syncretism or indifferentism. I believe everyone would be objectively better off by formally joining the true Church and receiving valid sacraments: that failing to do so leaves their souls in mortal peril, and that even where the eternal consequences are mitigated there remain temporal consequences, that is to say, a person who does not do so will ultimately come to genuinely regret not doing so.

Like others though I find re-fighting the Protestant Revolt in comboxes generally less than edifying. There just aren't enough shared premeses for this kind of terse argumentation to be terribly productive, most of the time. But don't let that stop anyone who is interested in the discusssion.

Ditto what Zippy said.

I actually agree with what Zippy said about re-fighting. (In other words, prefer not.)

And Russ and I rarely agree on anything, so I hate to sound like I'm leaping to his defense per se. But his "unity is good" phrase, I think, was meant to be an echo of the "call to unity" in the main post, where the reference to Christ's calling us to seek unity was meant as a plug for Protestants to become RC. In other words, he was trying to turn it on its head by saying that if the point is that every Christian has a duty to try to be part of the same church, the Protestants could call for unity by calling everyone else to join their churches instead, etc. That's a provocative thing to say, I agree. But I suppose he was allowing himself to be annoyed by the statement about Christ's calling us to seek and maintain unity, intended as Catholic apologetics. Myself, I usually try not to respond to those statements, because they seem to me to lead to unedifying arguments.

George R., the question is whether _you_ are demanding miracles and will otherwise declare that the H.S. can't be working in the Lutheran denomination. I suspect Lutherans would not agree that there must be distinctively "Lutheran miracles" before we can believe that the H.S. is working in the Lutheran church. Nor would the Baptists grant that, either. Why should they grant that? Why should they have to give any more evidence than the preaching of the gospel, the work of God in people's lives in saving them, etc.? That doesn't mean everybody is right about everything. I entirely agree with Zippy in denying syncretism or feel-good-ism or a denial of real differences of opinion. But I don't see why we can't acknowledge the work of Our Lord in a Christian body that we think is wrong about several things. I, er, acknowledge it in the Catholic Church, despite my not being Catholic. And of course the Protestants are usually going to deny the premise that there is one and only one visible, Spirit-guided true Church that cannot err in its teachings in virtue of the guidance of the H.S. That's not a Protestant doctrine. So they (we, I'm Protestant) have no motive for trying to prove that their denomination is _that_ one, because they deny the existence of a _that_ one.

Believe it or not, I'm trying to pour water rather than oil on the conversation.

I'm reluctant to add further elaboration on my unity sentiment because I'm not as well acquainted with all the theological contentions concerning the differences between Catholics and Lutherans. My point about unity was that, after many years of happily going to Catholic church when visiting several of my in-laws, I was awakened to the real differences one day that made me decide to not go to Catholic services ever again. My wife and I picked my Catholic sister and brother-in law as godparents and sort of thought they would come to the Baptism, but they wouldn't, not even on that special occasion. I suppose now, after reading some of the posters here, I now know why. I still, respect the Catholic faith and I'm fine with their beliefs but I won't go to a Catholic church if they think the Lutheran one is false.

Well, of course they think some aspects of Lutheranism are false. No point in saying otherwise. And nothing wrong with that per se. And Lutherans think some Catholic teachings are false. We don't do anyone any favors by pretending that everyone is right when one is saying A and the other is saying ~A.

But it doesn't follow that the groups cannot acknowledge the workings of God within each other, despite the faults. They are both Christian bodies. It's certainly not the same thing as saying that everyone gets to God in his own way or something fuzzy and meaningless like that.

For my part, consider it oiled.

But I don't see why we can't acknowledge the work of Our Lord in a Christian body that we think is wrong about several things.

Amen. I think. The operations of grace are so inscrutable to me that I would not presume to pronounce upon them. I suppose the argument could divide over whether the Holy Spirit protects Lutheranism as an institution, or operates rather in the lives of its adherents. Of the latter we can be sure, for noone persists in faith without grace, and those - like George - who believe that Mr. Koons' conversion is evidence of it must admit that he was Lutheran when it happened.

I wouldn't wish to discourage George in his triumphalism, but rather in the manner of its expression, which should usually mean not expressing it at all. I have Protestant friends, like Paul Cella (oh yes, and Lydia), whose Christian convictions I value too much to beat them over the head with the errors of the sect to which they subscribe. I've never found it an even mildly effective way of bringing anyone to the fold. When one believes that he has found the fullness of truth Christ wishes all men to come to (in the sense of: Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life), it ought to be a source of peace, not patronization. The danger in trumpeting the fact too loudly is that we risk giving the impression that possession of the truth somehow redounds to our own credit, when most of us know that in fact we are where we are because Someone threw us a lifeline, and we had the good sense to grab on.

As to miracles, every conversion to Christ is one of those. That the lame walk and the blind see is icing on the cake.

To the charge of triumphalism leveled against me I plead not guilty. I defy anyone to point out one place in my posts above where I have declared either Catholicism to be true or Lutheranism to be false. In fact, the implied principle that I have proceeded on is not a religious one at all, but a rational one, i.e., that informed opinion is to be preferred to uninformed opinion; and that the distinction between the two is determined by the presence or lack of supporting evidence. Read my posts and judge for yourselves whether or not this is so.

Of course, adherence to this principle will often result in the ruffling of feathers and occasionally in all hell breaking loose. But hey, that's life. Besides, what's the alternative? Suppressing truth for the sake of peace?

I _am_ an evidentialist, George. I'm very happy to acknowledge the highly general metalevel principle that informed opinion is to be preferred to uninformed. I just disagree with your reasons for rejecting what has been brought up in favor of (e.g.) Lutheranism--i.e., that people are learning the Gospel in that church and coming to Christ. Your explicit statement seemed to be calling for miraculous evidence of God's working in a particular denomination before we could acknowledge the Holy Spirit's work there. I think that's incorrect. For a putative new revelation or new teaching, I'm all in favor of requiring miracles. For the general statement that God is "at work" in a given Christian group, I do not agree with you that "only evidence that cannot be explained by purely natural causes can be accepted as valid," at least where "purely natural causes" are taken to explain ordinary Christian activities like successful Christian formation and evangelism. It seems to me that your rather surprising requirement may arise in part from an ecclesiology that Protestants need not accept. At the risk of ruffling your feathers, George, I will say that the Catholic Church's stronger claims probably do place a greater burden of proof on _that_ church than on others.


My requirement for evidence of the involvement of supernatural efficacy is based on the operating assumption that what can be explained by purely natural causes ought to be. For if something can be explained by purely natural causes, on what rational grounds can we know that the causes were other than natural? This, of course, does not prove that such things were not caused supernaturally. It only precludes certitude of supernatural involvement.

For a putative new revelation or new teaching, I'm all in favor of requiring miracles.

Lutheranism was not a new teaching? (I'm just asking.)

At the risk of ruffling your feathers, George, I will say that the Catholic Church's stronger claims probably do place a greater burden of proof on _that_ church than on others.

Do I look worried?

George, suppose I have good reason--based on an originating miracle (Jesus' resurrection, most particularly)--to believe that the Gospel is true and that God wants it to be preached. Suppose this also gives me, indirectly, good reason to believe that there is such a person as the Holy Ghost and that he works in the world _through_ Jesus' followers, Christians, to spread the Gospel and bring people to God. I then have indirect reason to believe that where I can verify that this is taking place, the Holy Ghost is working. But that doesn't mean every time somebody preaches the Gospel this is a miracle in the ordinary sense of that word. Hence, I can have reason to believe that God is working in a denomination without miracles specific to that denomination, based on my other evidence regarding the way God works and what is true.

You, however, appear to think that, since the teaching of the Gospel and its acceptance is not miraculous in the _strict_ sense, it cannot be evidence that God is working in a given Christian body, as if every Christian body requires its own separate miracles. This requires us to set aside our independent evidence of what God's work is right now and how it operates right now in and through the members of Jesus' body, the blessed company of all faithful people (as the Prayer Book puts it).

George, Mark:
Notice that His language moves from "you" (Peter) and "I" (Jesus) to "it" (rock). They are not the same. The rock upon which the church will be built by Christ is Peter's immediately preceding divinely motivated confession about Christ, which is neither Peter nor Jesus.


I think you meant to post your last comment to the other thread. It is refuted on grammatical, biblical, patristic, logical and historical grounds. Discussion is continued on the "Rob Koons' Journey Home interview audio online" thread ...

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