A View of Rome: A Guide to Understanding the Beliefs and Practices of Roman Catholics
By John H. Armstrong
Moody Press, 1995, 144 pp.
Chuck Colson (1931-2012) was infamous for being President Richard Nixon’s “hit man” and was sent to prison in 1974 for his efforts to cover-up the Watergate break-in. Prior to his imprisonment, Colson had read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” (see my unfavorable review here) and professed to have trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior. After his release, Colson became involved in several “ministries,” including leading an effort to forge an ecumenical evangelical-Roman Catholic initiative. Colson’s wife was a Roman Catholic and Colson regularly attended mass with her. In the early-1990s, Colson partnered with Catholic priest, Richard John Neuhaus in creating the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) ecumenical initiative that fully embraced Roman Catholicism as a Christian entity. Many prominent evangelicals signed ECT’s first declaration in 1994. However, many other evangelical leaders, including John Armstrong, objected to ECT, citing the irreconcilable doctrinal differences between Gospel Christianity and the RCC.
In this short book published one year after the launch of ECT, former-pastor and professor, Armstrong, delves into church history and deconstructs the rise of Roman Catholicism and its subversion of the Gospel of grace. Armstrong cites the Reformation as a Holy Spirit-led movement to recover the genuine Gospel. The author examines the doctrinal differences between Gospel Christianity and Catholicism, including the prime difference; the opposing views on justification. Roman Catholics believe they are justified by sacramental grace and merit while evangelicals believe they are justified solely by the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to them at the moment they accepted Christ as Savior by faith alone. Armstrong clearly demonstrates that Colson’s and Lewis’ “mere (c)hristianity” ecumenism leapfrogs doctrinal and spiritual realities that cannot be reconciled.
This book is a good primer for evangelicals and Catholics who desire to understand what divides them. However, I do have a qualifier. Armstrong’s approach is irenic in tone, even too irenic in my estimation. Armstrong encourages “dialogue” between Catholics and evangelicals in the quest for “better understanding” and sanctions “co-belligerency” in the culture battles against rising secularism. Such accommodation is a slippery slope that dangerously leads to the type of compromise and betrayal of the Gospel that is at the core of Chuck Colson’s ECT.
- The Holy Catholic Church
- The Dark Ages
- The Great Evangelical Recovery
- A Fallen Church
- The Central Mystery of the Christian Faith?
- Seven Sacraments?
- Who Really Speaks for God?
- Spiritual Life and Devotion
- Death and Life to Come
- The Present Hour
- Is “Evangelical” Really Enough?
- Recovering True Evangelicalism
Postscript: I take no pleasure in saying I told you so in this case, but Armstrong’s slippery slope clearly led to a fall off the cliff. His website states that “in the fall of 2018 (Armstrong’s) ACTS3 Network became The Initiative, an intentional missional and ecumenical community designed for assisting in the healing of the North American church. The Initiative is made up of pastors and lay members from all three major Christian traditions: Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.” There are many other appeals to full-blown ecumenism with Rome scattered throughout the website. Armstrong became the Colson Judas he warned against. Open the door to false gospels, even just a crack, and the wolves will devour you.