Book Plunge: Roman, But Not Catholic

What do I think of Jerry Walls and Kenneth Collins’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For the most part, I have never got into the debate between Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox. As a good Protestant, I have my reasons, but it has never been a focus. Still, as a podcast host, I have been a fan of the work of Jerry Walls and when I heard about this book coming out, I thought it would be a good one to have a discussion over.

The thesis behind the book is that the Roman Catholic Church is indeed Roman, but it’s not Catholic, as it is not what is universally believed. While that is a charge, there is not anger in the book. It’s not an attempt to destroy Roman Catholicism. The writers have a great love for Catholics. Collins grew up with a Catholic education and Walls did some of his studies at the Catholic school of Notre Dame.

Despite that, they do think there is something at stake. There is a reason the Reformation matters. The writers then take us on a trip through church history and various theological issues such as questions of authority, looking at the Papacy, Marian devotion, etc.

They did point out that it looks like for many converts to Rome from Protestantism, it is an all-or-nothing game. As someone who loves history, this is of great interest to me. I meet many people who have the attitude that if there is one contradiction in the Bible, how can we know that any of it is true? This is a position I find frankly, ridiculous. I may not know how it is that Judas died for betraying Jesus exactly, but that would be a far cry from saying I can’t even know that Jesus existed.

It ultimately comes down to a question of authority. Suppose the Roman Catholic claims that I do not have an authoritative magisterium to interpret the text. Am I to really think that I have no reason whatsoever to think I don’t know what some particular texts mean unless someone else tells me? Sure, there are difficult passages, but there are passages that are not difficult. Even while simple passages have great underlying nuances to them many times that can amplify their meaning all the more, the basic context is the same.

Consider John 3:16. I can get the basic message. God loved the world and then gave His Son for that world so that none could perish but that all could have eternal life. Of course, a deeper understanding of Christianity will bring out more for me from that passage. I could ask questions about what it means to perish or whether in a Calvinistic context the world refers to everyone or just the elect? The basic message though of God loving and wanting to redeem humanity is still there.

What has to be asked is even if one thinks one has to have an authority, why this authority? Why should I think this one is right on everything in fact, including Marian positions I see zero support for in Scripture or church history? There are many groups that take the same approach with a ruling authority who says what the Scriptures mean. Why should I think the RCC has it all right?

The history of the Papacy I have found as a problem as well. There were no doubt many wicked Popes in the history of the church. This has to be taken seriously. If it is true then how can we say that God was guiding the church when wicked Popes were elected?

I should say in all of these concerns, I am pleased to see that many things I do not remember being brought up. For instance, there was no political gain made about the claims of pedophile priests, something I think is not really as accurate as it is made out to be and there are even worse cases in the public school system. Let’s be sure. One can disagree with Catholics without being anti-Catholic. I happen to have a great delight in my Catholic brothers and sisters and happily work with them in defending Christianity.

The book ends with a cry for unity. It would be great to see it happen, but we are not there yet. Pope Francis certainly is being a different Pope and rocking the boat a bit. Only time will tell what will happen to the RCC in the future.

Still, those who are considering crossing the Tiber and going to Rome should really consider the material in this book first. It does give a lot of food for thought. I also think many Catholics reading this book would not think they were being attacked, which is good. We need to be able to discuss our differences and discuss them in true words but loving words as well. We may not like what the other side has to say, but we should all hear what others have to say and be willing to consider their position. If we have to change ours, we change it. If we don’t yet, we at least have a better understanding of one another.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Unchanging Witness

What do I think of S. Donald Forston and Rollin G. Grams’s book published by B&H Publishing Group? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

With the Supreme Court voting to redefine marriage and the rise of writers like Justin Lee, Matthew Vines, and John Boswell, the church faces a new challenge. Historically, the church has always held to a consistent sexual ethic when it comes to issues relating to homosexuality, but now the claim is rising up that an active homosexual lifestyle and Christianity can coincide. This is also causing splits across the church as new denominations are formed when Christians are convinced the one that they had has fallen away.

Forston and Grams have written in this situation to help Christians through this time by first off, giving an overview of history from ancient Judaism up to the present time to see that the new move is indeed something new and without any Biblical warrant at all. Some might want to claim that Christians have held to different stances throughout history, but it is up to the critic now to substantiate that in light of this research. This was a highly thorough part of the book constantly looking at primary resources and citing them.

After that, we get into the Biblical data, which while I enjoyed the history was the much more intriguing part to me as we get to see interactions with the arguments of the homosexual revisionists today. It’s not a surprise that the change of interpretation has come to coincide with what Western culture wants to embrace. Of course, there can be grounds for changing a long held viewpoint on how a passage should be interpreted, but we need to make sure that those grounds are valid grounds. It can be too easy to begin with the conclusion that we want and then go on from there.

You might think that if you’ve read Gagnon’s work on the topic, you need go no further, but I disagree. Gagnon’s work is indeed excellent and he makes the most thorough exegetical case that there is, but I think in some ways these writers build on the foundation and add in a few extra pieces along with the historical data. If you have read both of these books, you will be equipped to deal with those who wish to say that Christianity and an actively homosexual lifestyle can coincide.

In the end, the writers say it will come down to a question of authority. There are a number of people who are now saying “Well yeah, the Bible does condemn this, but we just realize that was the opinion of the writers in the time of the Bible.” If someone wants to say “We’ve changed our view on slavery and women”, the writers have a section at the end dealing with that kind of objection.

If there were some downsides, I wish more of the quotes from the church fathers had focused on homosexual behavior instead of pederasty. Also, if you want more of a Natural Law approach, you won’t find it here. I think it’s important that Christians have both Natural Law and Scriptural approaches, but I understand the writers could not give us everything.

Ultimately, if you want to know what’s going on in the church with this issue, this is a book you need to get your hands on.

In Christ,
Nick Peters