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I read Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences by Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie, then I read Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us. The first, being written by a two person team, is more consistent. It follows a pattern of explaining a Roman Catholic doctrine, briefly giving a list of the Roman Catholic arguments in favor of the doctrine, giving a longer evangelical response to each Roman Catholic argument, then giving additional evangelical arguments. It mostly discusses official Roman Catholic theology, based on the Council of Trent and other infallible writings of the Roman Catholic Church.
The second book, Roman Catholicism, is a collection of 13 essays. It is about 100 pages shorter, but some of the essays, especially the first six, are more technical and difficult to read. It is not as structured with lists of arguments, and the writing is less uniform because of the various authors. One idea that came up several times is that Roman Catholics define "justification" differently from evangelicals. For Roman Catholics, it includes both the initial justification of a person, plus the life-long process of becoming more Christ-like - what evangelicals call sanctification. For evangelicals, justification occurs once, at the beginning of a person's Christian life, and it is followed by the life-long process of sanctification. This is a constant source of misunderstanding, and occasionally I thought some of the writers of this book lost track of it. Roman Catholicism describes the theology of the Council of Trent, various creeds, writings of popes and other councils, Vatican I and Vatican II, writings of twentieth century liberal Roman Catholic theologians, and the practices and beliefs of the laity.
Which book is better? If I had read just one of these books, I would have to choose the Geisler book, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, because it is easier to read. But Roman Catholicism has a lot more historical information that is very valuable and some of it is reasonably easy to read. Both books are written from a conservative viewpoint.
The following is a brief review of each of the thirteen chapters. These make the review longer than what is usually acceptable. You should not feel obligated to read all thirteen reviews.
Part 1: The Historical Background
1. One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. Covers the very early church, the early creeds, the church fathers. It requires quite a bit of prior knowledge to understand it. On page 27, it says "Tertullian's traducianism in anthropology virtually demands the monergism of reformation thought, but his soteriology was disorganized and shows little coherent development." I only partially understand this. Not all of the chapter is that intellectual. Some of it would require an advanced degree in theology or ministry to understand it.
2. How did the Church in Rome become Roman Catholicism? The first part of this chapter was difficult for me to understand. It mentions Anselm and Abelard and the way Anselm argued the existence of God. Then come the Mass and Penance, Prevenient Grace, the tension between the Aristotelian view of Thomas Aquinas and the Platonic view, mediated and causal grace, nominalism, "the recurring pattern of return back to moralism and away from Christ" in the Protestant churches (page 59), the difference between regeneration and justification, the role of "means of grace" in spiritual growth (sanctification) versus conversion. I found myself understanding a paragraph or two, then getting pretty lost in the next couple of paragraphs. It does not seem to be a very cohesive chapter.
3. What really caused the great divide? Based on three of Calvin's writings, which deal with worship, salvation, sacraments, and church government.
Part 2. The Theological Issues
4. Roman Catholic theology today. This chapter indicates that there is some difference between the official doctrines of Rome and the theology that is taught in Roman Catholic seminaries and in theological books. Theologians try to harmonize theology with the Enlightenment. (page 86) Roman Catholic theologians display as much diversity as evangelical theologians. (page 90) The most influential Roman Catholic theologian is Karl Rahner. When Rahner writes, he affirms that the traditional teaching of the Roman Catholic church is binding, he states the traditional teaching, then he explains what the teaching can mean to us today. (page 94, 98) In this third step, he can explain away the traditional teaching and present something much different. Rahner coined the phrase "anonymous Christianity", which seems to embrace pluralism and universalism, the belief that someone who has never heard the gospel can be saved. (page 108) Rahner speaks of "the divinization of the world as a whole," which seems to be a form of pantheism and a blurring of the difference between Jesus and the rest of us. (page 109)
5. Mary, the saints, and sacerdotalism. This chapter is more readable than some of the others. It covers doctrines that are secondary, relative to justification. It is pointed out that Roman Catholic doctrine on Mary has grown over time, much of that growth starting during the reformation with the Council of Trent. This growth in doctrine has widened the chasm between Roman Catholics and Protestants. The author vigorously (but politely, and without unnecessary emotion, I think) refutes the Roman Catholic doctrines on Mary, the saints, and sacerdotalism (the power of priests as essential mediators between God and mankind.)
6. Is Spirituality Enough? Spirituality is defined as "the way we live out our vocation under the cross of Christ." So it is what we do. It starts with a survey of different kinds of spirituality - primitive/animistic, rational/philosophical, mysticism, nomism. Then it discusses the influence of Hellenism (Greek philosophers and their language) on Catholicism. In a section titled "Gains and Losses in the Reformation" it says "Worship came to be centered exclusively in the written and proclaimed Word, and the visible Word became an appendage to the service of worship rather than its fulfillment (as in Luther and Calvin)." (page 153) I don't know what the visible Word is, here. The chapter discusses grace, favoring a Calvinist view. The evangelical view of spirituality, and works, is explained, "Spirituality in the evangelical sense is not the precondition for salvation but its fruit and consequence." (page 156) I thought this chapter was difficult to read, and hard to see what was the central point of it.
Part 3, The Common Ground
7. Unhelpful antagonism and unhealthy courtesy. The unhelpful antagonism mentioned here is mostly from the past, some from the very distant past. As when Pope Boniface VIII said, in 1302, "It is absolutely necessary for every human creature for salvation to be subject to the Roman pontiff," and in 1648, when the Westminster Confession said that the pope is "the man of sin and son of perdition." The problem nowadays is that postmodernists don't think there is objective truth, or, if there is objective truth, it is extremely hard to determine truth, so why haggle over doctrines. It mentions that some of the strong Roman Catholic doctrines have "escape clauses." For example, it is necessary to be baptized, except there is an escape clause, and the sacrament of penance (reconciliation) is necessary except there is an escape clause.
8. Evangelical and Catholic cooperation in the public arena. Written by Ronald Nash (now deceased), this chapter has some strong statements that some (not me) would say are outspoken or over-the-top, which are directed toward various liberals. "a member of a Southern Baptist church occupies the White House, and large numbers of evangelicals and Roman Catholics are appalled by what they see as his contribution to the continuing decline of morality in America." (page 181) (And this was written in 1995, before the Lewinsky affair.) "Because evangelical and Catholic political liberals act in such harmony with their allies in the dominant liberal media and the major power structure in the Democratically controlled Congress and White House and the predominantly left-wing faculty on college campuses, they do not worry about such attacks." (page 190) The theme of the chapter is that conservative Roman Catholics and Evangelicals should work together on the social issues that they agree about.
9. What shall we make of ecumenism? Some disagreements between evangelicals and Roman Catholics are caused by misunderstanding - often because they use different definitions of important words. Other disagreements are caused by real differences in doctrine that will probably never be reconciled. Roman Catholics and evangelicals define "justification" differently. For evangelicals, it is the beginning of Christian life, the moment when one believes and is justified by faith. For Roman Catholics, it means this, plus the process of sanctification. The author, Alister McGrath, seems to equate sanctification and regeneration (page 203), a concept that is foreign to me.
Part 4, The Way Ahead
10. No place like Rome? Some well known evangelicals have converted to Roman Catholicism and it looks like the trend will continue. Often, the reason is either the subjective look and feel of Catholicism ("smells and bells"), or doctrinal. When it is doctrinal, the former evangelical person may have had weak understanding of the evangelical creeds and doctrines. Scott Hahn left the Presbyterian Church in America because of sola scriptura. The chapter has a lengthly defense of sola scriptura. Another reason is that many evangelical churches have become doctrinally soft. At least in the Roman Catholic church there is a catechism and a magisterium, which has authority, to tell you what you should believe.
11. What still keeps us apart? By Michael S. Horton. This chapter is more Reformed (Calvinist) that most, and is stronger in its rejection of Roman Catholic doctrines. More Reformed when it says "we cannot even respond to Him of our own free will, corrupted as it is by our sinful affections." (page 254) It rejects the definition of "evangelical" that is mostly based on spirituality (behavior) in favor of a definition that is theological - what is the evangel, the gospel, the good news? "If you are an orthodox Catholic, you are not in the evangelical camp." (page 249) There are vigorous discussions of sola scriptura, justification by grace alone through faith alone and imputed righteousness. It is also strong in its rejection of some modern trends in evangelicalism, such as the belief that all people are basically good - the rejection of original sin and total depravity. There are lots of scathing statements directed at both the Roman Catholic doctrines of the Council of Trent and modern day evangelicals who dilute or even deny the Reformation doctrines of justification by grace alone through faith alone, substitutionary atonement, and others. "We must remember that it is not we [evangelicals] who anathematized Rome, but Rome [the Council of Trent] that anathematized the gospel and thereby anathematized itself." (page 258) "Who can deny that Protestants have led the way in the twentieth century away from a high view of Scripture and God's grace in Christ?" (page 254)
12. Did I really leave the Holy Catholic Church? By William Webster. The author converted from Roman Catholic to evangelical as a young man. After Karl Keating published Catholicism and Fundamentalism, he studied the history of the church. This chapter gives historical information on the most important doctrines where Roman Catholics and evangelicals disagree. In each case, Webster shows that history supports the evangelical view. He uses many quotes from modern Roman Catholics, theologians such as Augustine, and the Church Fathers to support his case. He ends with an appeal Roman Catholic readers to convert to evangelicalism.
13. The Evangelical Moment? John H. Armstrong. This chapter discusses the affects of Vatican II and recent developments in evangelicalism. Vatican II is seen by some as five revolutions: modernity, self-understanding, liturgical, the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to other Christian churches and to non-Christian faiths, and religious freedom with respect to each state government. Six kinds of Roman Catholics are listed: liberal, extreme syncretist, nominal, conservative/moderate, archconservative, and charismatic. Armstrong expresses concern over evangelical trends: "Modern evangelicalism is, in reality, more Catholic than Protestant" because they see works as an essential precondition for justification. They do not see justification as something that God sovereignly accomplishes without help from the sinner. "As Protestantism has moved further and further into mysticism and subjectivism since the nineteenth century, it has proportionately moved away from its evangelical foundation." Armstrong calls for a new Biblical reformation.