Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Brief Review of Gregg Allison's Book : Roman Catholic Theology & Practice: An Evangelical Assessment

I don't review books. I am just a layperson who became Catholic in 2008 and who wants to write about my life and, right now, my life is about finishing up this book. 

Therefore, this will not be a scholarly review, just a few thoughts. 

I have a family member who converted into the Reformed Calvinist faith and to have a book that compares and contrasts Catholicism and Calvinism is helpful for me to understand her faith. This person absolutely believes with all her sincere heart that Catholics are lost and they teach a false gospel. I would like to be able to dialogue with her someday about her erroneous understanding of Catholicism. (Anyone reading this: please pray for this situation.) Hence, why I thought this book might be helpful. 

What is the book?

The author, Dr. Allison, pulls passages from the Roman Catholic Catechism and gives a Protestant assessment of it. I applaud his efforts to actually use the catechism because so many Protestants, who speak with great authority about Catholicism, use only anti-catholic propaganda or cite Catholic authors who--intentionally or not--give a false testimony about their faith.

The book is fair. He didn't seem to be looking for that "gotcha" moment many Protestants scan for when reviewing Catholic beliefs in order to expose the "Romanists" for the great whore of Babylon they believe their church is. 

Dr. Allison also attempts to understand the broader worldview of the Catholic and paints a fairly accurate picture of the framework by which the Catholics understand the Bible and their Church.
Most Evangelicals are not aware of the nature-grace connection and the Church-as-the-mystical-Body-of-Christ that Catholics base their interpretation of scripture upon. Most Protestants simply pull individual threads (doctrines and dogmas) out of the tapestry and then don't understand why that thread makes no sense to them. Dr. Allison gives a good introduction to how Catholics think.

And thank you, Dr. Allison, for writing that Catholics do not re-sacrifice Christ at the mass!
However, it is usually the error of the author that impel people to write a review. So, keep in mind that any criticism on my part is about five percent of the book. (That is always hard to get across as one is criticizing.... Sorry, Dr. Allison.) 

I will not be making any reference to where Calvinism is theologically wrong. Obviously, to have embraced Catholicism and rejected my Protestant roots, I think the Reformed movement is absolutely unbiblical. I will only address where I think Dr. Allison got it wrong in his assessment of Catholicism. 

As impressive as his attempt, the author still doesn't quite get Catholicism. Allison still propounds the myth that Catholics believe salvation is synergistic--that it is a work of God and man. It's a tough thing for Protestants to really understand, I know. For Catholic believe in freewill. Christians do make a choice. We do not believe salvation is thrust upon us by a God who predestined us to be saved no matter what we want. But we also believe that God's grace is sufficient. We are justified by our faith. 

Dr. Allison's misunderstanding is forgivable for he sees the world through Calvinist lenses. I freely admit I don't get Calvinism. For, to me, it seems unbiblical, mean-spirited and paints a picture of an arbitrary, unloving God. So I am still attempting to work on this from my side. 

Besides the salvation model, here are a few other points:

On page 48, Allison writes that evangelicals take sin more seriously; then on the next page he quotes another author who claims that Catholics have a "mild concept of sin."

Completely wrong. I can't imagine anyone knowing Catholicism and thinking they don't take sin very seriously. However, we are not obsessed nor oppressive in our beliefs. We are very reconciliation-oriented

He doesn't quite understand the hierarchy of Catholicism. But I don't think it is a big enough deal to comment further here. 

It is in the conclusion of the book where things go off rail into the bizarre. 

In chapter fourteen, "Evangelical Ministry with Catholics," Dr. Allison gives suggestions on how to convince Catholics they are wrong and Protestantism (specifically Calvinism) is right. He claims these things work, but I would suggest that they work with only Catholics who do not know their faith.

He tells evangelicals to really stress to the Catholic the depravity of man. 

If that works, I would not just be surprised but really sorry for the poor person trying to be convinced of such a dreadful thing. 

He suggests that the evangelical should insist that the Catholic Church isn't the original church Christ began. 

That would work. However, I don't know how a Protestant would actually do that. You can't prove it historically or biblically. Just insisting that it is true because that is the Calvinist belief isn't enough.

And if the Catholic Church isn't, then it would be the Orthodox Church--but never, ever could it be the Protestant Church. So I have to ask, what would the point of throwing out that erroneous belief be? If the Catholic Church isn't the Church Christ started then you would have to throw out the Bible because the Catholic Church put it together in the late fourth century. The evangelical would be cutting off his own nose to spite his face. 

Dr. Allison writes that all a Catholic needs to become Protestant is exposure to scripture and to "become familiar with the person and work of Jesus Christ."

Now I understand that this university teacher of theology and Roman Catholicism had literally no idea what he is writing about. Catholicism from front to back, up and down, diagonally, backwards and infused into everything is our Blessed Savior, Jesus Christ. If he claims to have read the Catechism and then wrote those words, I have to assess that Dr. Allison can't see the forest through the trees.

Then on page 456, I just had to stop reading to ponder the strange encounter the author suggests. He says evangelicals need to ask a Catholic a critical question, "Have you ceased to rely on all of your own efforts to earn God's love and forgiveness?"

Did the author actually ever ask such a demeaning, insulting and unnecessary question to a believing Catholic? What was their response? I  hope it was gentle and Christlike because that is how a Catholic is taught to respond and how most Catholics responded to my deeply prideful and elitist questions when I entered RCIA. However, the question shows a strange blindness to Catholic beliefs that should have been healed when he read the catechism.

Then, he tells the evangelical reader to assess how the Catholic answers the above question and if "the person grasps the importance of faith but is still committed to adding something to faith alone for salvation--[it] signifies that the person is not yet ready to embrace Jesus Christ." 

I sat back non-plussed. What tragic judgmentalism! The equipoise of the book just toppled and at that moment I realized the author simply judged Catholics by the people who were raised in it but did not understand it. What if Catholics judged Calvinists by its adherents who didn't understand it? 

If you wish, as a Catholic, to understand how a Calvinist sees your theology, the book is helpful. You might want to say a rosary before you read the conclusion. Calvinists are sincere and they mean well.