Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment
by Gregg R. Allison
Crossway, 2014, 496 pages
At a time when some Evangelical leaders are ignoring doctrinal distinctives in the interest of “Christian” unity, noted Evangelical theologian, Gregg R. Allison, gives us “Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment,” a clinical examination of the differences between Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism.
Allison begins by outlining Rome’s two major theological constructs: the nature-grace interconnection which posits the concrete conferring of grace through nature (priests, sacraments, sacramentals, shrines, relics, etc.) and the Christ-Church interconnection whereby the Catholic church presents itself as the prolongation of the incarnation of Christ. Allison then examines Rome’s catechism, reviewing each major doctrine in light of the aforementioned constructs and how they compare to God’s Word and Evangelical theology. The author notes that Catholicism and Evangelicalism agree on many doctrinal issues but disagree on a myriad of others. Most importantly, Catholicism teaches salvation by sacramental grace and merit while Evangelicals profess salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. There is no bridge over this theological chasm despite the best efforts of some accommodating, doctrine-light Evangelicals.
This new book is a VERY welcome addition to the Evangelical-Catholic debate. Every Evangelical pastor who works with Catholics and ex-Catholics should own a copy. Many of the Protestant books about Catholicism written in the past were uncharitable and did not present Rome’s doctrines accurately. Allison’s tone leans toward the irenic almost to a fault but he’s also firm in his critique of Catholicism’s unbiblical and anti-biblical doctrines.
Unfortunately, Allison ends this book on a bit of a disappointing note. After spending the first 450 pages carefully analyzing Rome’s errors he avoids drawing any overall conclusions. Does he believe Rome is at its foundation a Christian church that happens to teach many doctrines not found in the Bible (see Norman Geisler) or does he believe Catholicism is an apostate church that turned from the Gospel of Jesus Christ to legalism and ritualism and that no person can be saved by adhering to its standard theology? After reading the first 450 pages the reader will definitely assume Allison’s position is the latter but, unfortunately, for reasons only he knows, he’s not willing to commit himself in a forthright summation and conclusion. Instead, the six-page final chapter offers Evangelicals advice on how to share the Gospel with Catholics. That criticism aside, this book is a timely and intelligent clarification of Catholic teaching for Evangelicals, some of whom are disturbingly too eager to embrace a “church” they actually know very little about.
Please note: This book is definitely on the academic side and wouldn’t appeal to a number of readers.