White gets sidetracked in this book about Catholicism

The Fatal Flaw: Do the Teachings of Roman Catholicism Deny the Gospel?ff
By James R. White
Crowne Publications, 1990, 225 pages

Last month I mentioned that three of apologist James R. White’s early books dealing with Catholicism were available from Amazon as Kindle ebooks for $0.99 each. I downloaded all three and finally got around to reading one of them, “The Fatal Flaw.”

Many of us know that White is a passionate defender of Reformed theology. No problem there. Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle of the Arminius-Calvin, freewill-election debate. Starting out as a baby Christian in a freewill Baptist church with a very heavy emphasis on legalism, I truly appreciate the Reformed movement’s emphasis on God’s grace over sinful man’s efforts. And I’m also grateful that much of the remaining opposition to ecumenism with Rome comes from conservative Reformed pastors. At this point I may even lean a bit more towards Calvinism than Arminianism, but the debate over freewill vs. election won’t be resolved by theologians any time soon. Someday the Lord will tell us exactly how it all took place.

So, in “The Fatal Flaw,” White examines two specific aspects of Roman Catholicism: the doctrines of the mass and purgatory. The Roman hierarchy misinterprets God’s Word so that laypersons are obligated to the clergy for their salvation. At the mass, priests offer the consecrated Jesus hosts to God the Father as a sacrifice for the sins of the congregants. The congregants ingest the hosts and receive grace to abstain from committing sin so as to merit Heaven. If a Catholic slips up and commits mortal sin, they are obligated to confess their sins to a priest. Although the priest forgives the guilt of sin, temporal punishment may remain, which must be satisfied in the fires of purgatory.

As one would expect, White does a very good job of comparing the two doctrines with Scripture and defending the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Unfortunately, he also devotes quite a bit of space in this book to the Reformed doctrine of election. I certainly don’t begrudge White his right to expound on Reformed theology but this book is not the place to do it. One step at a time. After a Roman Catholic accepts Christ as Savior and leaves Catholicism, then he or she may be interested in looking into the finer points of predestination versus freewill but this book was not the place for that. I have a large collection of Christian books that examine Roman Catholicism and I believe this is the only one that takes a secondary issue and makes it a part of its main argument.

I believe White realized his mistake because in his excellent 1996 book on Catholicism, “The Roman Catholic Controversy,” as I recall he avoids the Arminius-Calvin controversy completely.

For the reasons stated above, I can’t recommend “The Fatal Flaw.”


13 thoughts on “White gets sidetracked in this book about Catholicism

    1. Thanks, sister! I hoped I wouldn’t offend any of my more Reformed-minded brethren and sistren with this post. I was really surprised (and disappointed) by White’s approach in this book. A can understand a younger person’s zeal for their viewpoint (White was only 28 at the time this book was published) but someone at the publisher should have said, “Well, James, the manuscript has its good points but you really need to…”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Tom, I truly get and agree with your analysis. Catholics need to hear the Gospel, the basics of salvation. Speaking about the sovereignty of God confuses the issue of the Lord’s free offer of life in Him. The doctrine of His sovereignty is for Christians, I believe.

        Recently I joined Facebook (I realize that is somewhat crazy!) and am careful not to post or like posts focused on His sovereignty in election because like others I have family and friends (and enemies) that don’t believe, particularly that are in the Catholic world.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This was well said, Tom. I think Maria said it very well already.

    We fuzzy up the message people really need to hear with a lot of fancy theology that really isn’t what will save them.

    I fear that sometimes we create and environment where people think that correct theology saves them, and that if they don’t get it exactly correct, they won’t be saved.

    Good review, brother

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks a lot, Wally. Yes, we often get in the way of the amazingly simple Gospel. I got the impression from the book that White was a young guy just a few years out of theological school looking for an argument.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I don’t know if its obvious that I’m a Calvinist myself from my blog. Thank you for this review. I know this is one of his older works and since then he’s written many others and as you pointed out is probably aware of keeping the main thing…the main thing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I’m very aware you’re a Calvinist, Jim, as is at least one other of my blogger friends here at WordPress who already responded. I tried to word my post hoping no one would take offense while still making my point about White getting sidetracked. I didn’t mean to cause hard feelings and I hope you were not offended. My apologies if I came across in a way I didn’t intend. I’ve read quite a bit from Reformed writers and my last two pastors were Reformed but like I said, I’m somewhere in the middle of the debate so I don’t debate.

      Liked by 2 people

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