Jessica Willis Fisher – Digging out from unspeakable abuse

As some of you know, my wife and I attended an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church in the 1980s. There were blessings and also many problems. I subsequently walked away from the Lord for 23 years because I was so soured on IFB authoritarianism. A couple of new books with material related to the IFB movement recently caught my eye. There’s also a 2013 book about the topic that I’ve been meaning to discuss. So today, and for the next two Sundays, I will be reviewing the three books.

⚠️ Caution: The book reviewed below deals with the difficult topic of child sexual abuse.


Unspeakable: Surviving My Childhood and Finding My Voice
By Jessica Willis Fisher
Thomas Nelson, 2022, 352 pp.

4 Stars

The Willis Family burst onto the national scene in May 2015 with their TLC reality television show. The Willises replaced the Duggars, whose TLC show was cancelled after it was revealed eldest son, Josh Duggar, had molested four of his sisters when he was younger.

Like the Duggars, the Willises were a large (eight girls, four boys) fundamentalist Christian family. Unlike the Duggars, the Nashville-based Willises had a very polished entertainment act, which included playing musical instruments, singing, and dancing on stage. The large brood practiced under the scrutinizing eye of their father, Toby, and performed at venues all across the country.

Coming from an independent fundamental Baptist background myself, I watched both the Duggars and the Willises with great interest. The strict family discipline, legalism, and regimentation were characteristics I was familiar with and happy I left behind. But it was especially amazing to watch the Willises. The older children were very talented, and it was obvious the family routine didn’t include much leisure time.

In September 2016, I read the news that Toby Willis had been arrested on charges of child rape. I was saddened, but not altogether surprised because his dour, Svengali-like dominance over his family was apparent even on screen. Toby was subsequently sentenced to forty years in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of child rape. His wife divorced him and the family was in turmoil, but eventually released their 2018 album, “Speak My Mind,” along with the requisite whirlwind of talk show appearances.* However, eldest daughter, Jessica Willis, did not rejoin her siblings as part of the group. She was not able to process the years of abuse that quickly or easily. She forged ahead on her own, eventually marrying, recording her solo album, “Brand New Day,” released in September 2022, and writing this memoir that was published in November 2022.

This is a painful book to read. Jessica recounts, sometimes in explicit detail, multiple episodes of being sexually abused by Toby. The abuse began at age 3 and continued until 2008 when she was 16. When police investigators later asked Jessia the total number of times she had been sexually abused by her father, she estimated it to have been around one-hundred times. But Jessica wasn’t the only victim. Her father also preyed on her younger sisters. Toby’s wife became aware of some of the abuse over the years and “intervened” (to a minor degree), but was physically and emotionally victimized by her husband as well. In addition to the sexual abuse of the girls, all of the children suffered physical and emotional trauma from their temperamental and psychologically sick father.

Toby had pontificated over his family’s home-church Sunday worship service and the Willises were eventually joined by a few other area families.** Toby’s home-church teachings were based upon the tenets he learned at an IFB church as a younger man in Chicago. It was all about legalism, regulations, and end-times prophecy, with a little (c)hristianity mixed in. Toby repeatedly warned his children the family compound would someday be invaded by federal agents à la Ruby Ridge. There was no genuine love of Christ being taught in the Willis home. It would certainly be unfair to paint the entire IFB movement with a broad brush because of Toby Willis, however, IFB-ism is fertile ground for crackpot conspiracy theology and megalomaniacal patriarchal (and pastoral) abuse (see Steven Anderson).

Jessica recounts that she prayed the sinner’s prayer when she was a young girl, but admits she is now uncertain about her spiritual condition. She states that she’s sorting through her beliefs about God in light of her experiences.*** She writes that she’s disappointed in passages of the Bible that she thinks present an unloving and arbitrarily spiteful God. One of the several passages she cites as being especially hurtful is Genesis 19:30-38 where Lot’s daughters had incest with their inebriated father. It would appear Jessica doesn’t have a solid understanding of the Bible. God’s Word certainly does not condone the actions of Lot’s daughters. Perhaps Toby did?

I cannot comprehend the pain and betrayal Jessica endured and continues to deal with. It’s difficult to get frustrated with her lack of spiritual knowledge. In her case, the Bible was used as a bludgeon. I pray that at some point Jessica comes to the loving Father God through faith in Jesus Christ the Savior, His loving Son.

*The Willis Clan disbanded as a performing musical act at the end of 2018.
**One of the home-church neighbor participants was the first one to notify police of suspected abuse.
***It’s bizarre that supposedly (c)hristian publisher, Thomas Nelson, would present a memoir from someone who is self-admittedly unsure about her spiritual beliefs.

Toby Willis on September 9, 2016, the day he was arrested.

Lausanne’s compromise

Ecumenism: Another Gospel: Lausanne’s Road to Rome
By E.S. Williams
Belmont House Publishing, 2014, 158 pp.

4 Stars

Have you ever heard of the Lausanne Movement? If you’ve been around long enough, you may have read at least some references to it here and there. I’d been meaning to read this book for quite a while and finally squeezed it into my queue. Author, E.S. Williams, a UK fundamentalist layman, takes aim at the Lausanne Movement, which was initiated by Billy Graham and John Stott* with the stated purpose of promoting active worldwide evangelism. Lausanne Movement meetings (“congresses”) have been held in Lausanne, Switzerland (1974), Manila, Philippines (1989), and Cape Town, South Africa (2010). Lausanne IV is scheduled to be held in Seoul, South Korea in September 2024. As Williams ably points out, the theological bent of the Lausanne Movement mirrors (and influences) the declining spirituality of “big tent” evangelicalism, with its growing interest in ecumenism with Rome, its disintegrating understanding of the Bible as God’s Holy and infallible Word, and its syncretic mixing of the Gospel with socio-political ideologies (socialism, feminism, environmentalism, etc.). This book is decidedly polemical in tone, but the facts Williams presents are incontrovertible.

*Billy Graham (d. 2018) and John Stott (d. 2011) are widely revered as “the greatest Christians of the 20th century.” However, no evangelicals did more to advance ecumenism with Rome. Stalwart pastor and preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, broke fellowship with both men over the issue of ecumenism.

Chapters

  1. The Cause of World Evangelization
  2. Billy Graham – the ecumenical evangelist
  3. John Stott – the political theologian
  4. The Cape Town Congress 2010
  5. Promoting the arts and the emerging church
  6. The orality movement
  7. Downgrading the written Word
  8. Ecumenical Alpha
  9. Lausanne’s love for the poor
  10. Lausanne’s feminist agenda
  11. Lausanne’s environmental agenda
  12. Lausanne’s socio-political agenda

Exodus from Rome

Exodus from Rome, Volume 1: A Biblical and Historical Critique of Roman Catholicism
By Todd Baker
iUniverse, 2014, 408 pp.

4 Stars

In this very lengthy, self-published book, ex-Catholic, Dr. Todd Baker, President of B’rit Hadashah Ministries and Pastor of Shalom Shalom Messianic Congregation in Dallas, Texas compares Roman Catholic theology with its false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit with God’s Word and the genuine Good News! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. In this first volume, Baker focuses primarily on the papacy as well as aspects of the Roman Catholic priesthood and the RC sacraments. There are plenty of excerpts from official Catholic sources as well as from the writings of evangelical apologists.

This is a commendable effort for an independently-published book. There’s a lot of good information within and Baker makes point after excellent point. However, the book’s length makes it overly-formidable for most readers. There is quite a bit of redundancy. The reader interested in a shorter yet more effective critique of RC-ism should consider “Same Words, Different Worlds: Do Roman Catholics and Evangelicals Believe the Same Gospel?” by Leonardo De Chirico, available from Amazon here.

Chapters

  1. Exodus from Rome (Baker’s personal testimony)
  2. The Doctrine of the Papacy
  3. The Papacy of Peter in Rome and New Testament Chronology
  4. The Ecumenical Church Councils and the Papacy
  5. The Papacy and Temporal Power
  6. The Pagan Origin of the Papacy
  7. The Infallibility of the Pope
  8. The Pope and the Magisterium
  9. The Roman Catholic Priesthood
  10. The Mass and the Sacraments, Part 1
  11. The Mass and the Sacraments, Part 2
  12. Purgatory, Papal Indulgences, and Prayers for the Dead

Baker followed this edition with Vol. 2 (620 pp.) in 2018.

Hitler’s infamous Beer Hall Putsch

The Trial of Adolf Hitler: The Beer Hall Putsch and the Rise of Nazi Germany
By David King
W.W. Norton & Co., 2017, 455 pp.

5 Stars

There’s been a lot in the news this past year about the attempted insurrection in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021. There was another foiled insurrection, in interwar Europe, ninety-nine years ago.

During one of our trips to Germany to visit our grandson, his other Oma and Opa took us on a car trip to Munich (about 250 miles from their village). As we were walking the streets of the city we entered into a plaza/square with a large, foreboding-looking memorial structure at one end. I asked Opa what the significance of the place was and he had no clue. After we returned to the States, I did some research and discovered the plaza in question was the Odeonsplatz and the memorial was the Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshals’ Hall, completed in 1844). I learned that Adolf Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch on November 8-9, 1923 (an attempt to overthrow the Weimar German government) was crushed by Bavarian state police at the Odeonsplatz immediately next to the Feldherrnhalle. After Hitler was appointed chancellor in 1933, he transformed the Feldherrnhalle into a shrine to his 16 followers killed by police in the quelling of the putsch. The Odeonsplatz and Feldherrnhalle were subsequently used by Hitler and the Nazis in their rites, rituals, and ceremonies (e.g., Schutzstaffel-SS recruits were regularly sworn-in at a midnight ceremony at the site). Anyway, my curiosity was piqued regarding the Beer Hall Putsch and I finally got around to reading this excellent book about the aborted insurrection.

David King does an excellent job documenting the events leading up to the putsch (Swiss-German: “push, thrust, blow”) and describing the two-day rebellion and the subsequent arrest and trial of Hitler.

This was a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to history buffs and general readers. Some interesting information I picked up from the book:

  • Foreign news correspondents at the time derided Hitler for his seemingly clownish and laughable “beer hall putsch,” which commenced at the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall, two miles from the Odeonsplatz. Actually, Munich had several large beer halls, which were very acceptable venues in München (“home of the monks”) society for all types of gatherings. The Bürgerbräukeller was one of the largest beer halls in the city, seating 3000.
  • Some of the most infamous members of the subsequent Nazi regime participated in the 1923 putsch including Hermann Göring, Martin Bormann, Rudolph Hess, and Heinrich Himmler.
  • Hitler led 2000 of his followers on the two-mile march from the Bürgerbräukeller to the Odeonsplatz where they were met by only 130 state police. The narrowness of the Residenzstrasse leading into the plaza rendered the Nazi marchers sitting ducks.
  • The politically-conservative judges at the trial of the putsch insurrectionists were sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Hitler was sentenced to only five years in Landsberg prison (in the soft-time, celebrity section), but was released after only eight months. During that period he wrote Mein Kampf.
  • Although Hitler was initially depressed by the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch, his resolve was steeled by the enthusiastic support of his followers and admirers.

Postscript: Hitler exploited the anguish of the German people. The Weimar Republic was collapsing economically under the heavy restrictions imposed by the victorious Entente/Allied powers. The German people were desperate and turned to political extremists on the Right and on the Left for deliverance. Adolf Hitler and his willing followers exemplify the sinful depravity of mankind. Hitler was raised Catholic by his “devoutly Catholic” German-Austrian mother, but was later influenced by his atheist father. Biographer, Fritz Redich, wrote, “In his childhood, Hitler was enthralled by the pomp and ritual of the Catholic Church. Allegedly, for a while he even considered becoming a priest.” Hitler lost interest in Catholicism in his teen years and had no involvement with the RCC as an adult (although he did sign a secret treaty with pope Pius XII in 1939, see here).

Above: The imposing Feldherrnhalle monument sits at the southern end of the Odeonsplatz plaza. Hitler and his 2000 followers marched up the narrow Residenzstrasse street, to the left of the Feldherrnhalle, where they were met by a small phalanx of state police. The Feldherrnhalle was stripped of all of its Nazi regalia by the occupying American forces.
Above: Twenty-years after the Beer Hall Putsch, Schutzstaffel-SS recruits stand at attention while swearing absolute allegiance to Adolf Hitler in a midnight ceremony in front of the Feldherrnhalle.
Above: A painting showing Adolf Hitler leading his 2000 followers towards the Odeonsplatz where they were fired upon by the state police. The Feldherrnhalle is to the right.

Unity with Rome & Revolution in Rome?

I recently read the two short and very unrelated books below on RC-ism and thought I’d “kill two birds with one stone” with one post rather than publish two separate post reviews.

Unity with Rome? Addressing if the Roman Church and Evangelical Church Preach the Same Gospel
By Justin Miller
Savoring the Savior, 2022, 59 pp.

4 Stars

In this booklet, Pastor Justin Miller (First Baptist Church, Puxico, Missouri) compares Roman Catholicism’s gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit with the genuine Good News! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Miller mainly focuses on the opposing doctrines of justification, how a person is justified, made righteous before God. Catholicism teaches that sacramental graces are infused into the partaker’s soul, allegedly enabling them to avoid sin and become increasingly intrinsically/subjectively sanctified/righteous in their impossible quest to merit salvation at the moment of death.

“In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the [sacramental – Tom] grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the [sacramental – Tom] grace of Christ.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1821.

In contrast, Gospel Christianity teaches a person is extrinsically/objectively justified solely by the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ that is imputed to them at the moment they accept Christ as Savior by faith alone.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Cor. 5:21

The two views on justification are diametrically opposed and irreconcilable. One is right and one is wrong. They cannot both be right.

Miller does a somewhat decent job of comparing Biblical justification with Roman Catholicism’s faux justification in this booklet. My peeve is that he draws upon Reformer John Calvin’s views on justification rather than presenting it as the Biblical view and even goes so far as to frame it as “Calvin’s Gospel.”


Revolution in Rome
By David F. Wells
InterVarsity Press, 1972, 149 pp.

2 Stars

I’ve been aware of this 50YO book for quite awhile, but never desired to read it because the title struck me as naive. Was the Second Vatican Council (1963-1965) really a “revolution” or was it just a rearrangement of the deck chairs on the doomed religious Titanic? However, I heard the Reformanda Initiative guys refer to the book favorably in one of their podcasts and checked it out of our library. This book is a general appraisement of the VC2 from an “evangelical” perspective seven years post-council. Author, David Wells, concludes that RC progressives hijacked the council from conservatives and traditionalists, and continued to steer the church. Most notable of the RCC’s changes at the council was regarding its attitude towards Protestants and other religions, from militant confrontation to ecumenical dialogue and interreligious cooperation.

I could not decipher from the book whether Wells viewed the RCC as a legitimate Christian entity or as an apostate church. Many Protestant theologians naively viewed Vatican II as a very positive event; a shake-up of the church that might possibly lead to a jettisoning of some of the old superstitions towards a more Biblically-focused theology. We know from our sixty-year perspective that did not happen. The RCC retained all of its core doctrines, although the split between progressives and conservatives continues, with pope Francis embodying the progressive/pastoral aspirations of VC2. Criticism of the council grows bolder among today’s conservative Catholics.

It’s puzzling why the Reformanda Initiative guys hold this book in high esteem. Sometimes evangelical intellectuals get caught up in academic “group think” rather than using Biblically-guided discernment. John Stott’s endorsement of this book (he wrote the forward) is revealing. Stott (1921-2011) was a very influential evangelical-Anglican and a pioneering arch-ecumenist, advocating full acceptance of the RCC with its false gospel. Martyn Lloyd-Jones split with Stott over his undiscerning ecumenism, which is all that needs to be said. I definitely do not recommend this book with its neutral ambiguity.

Wading through waist-deep theological acadamese

Evangelical Theological Perspectives on Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism
By Leonardo De Chirico
King’s College London, 2002, 312 pp.

3 Stars

Leonardo De Chirico is director of the Reformanda Initiative, a ministry whose purpose is to inform and equip evangelicals regarding Roman Catholicism and its false gospel. Dr. De Chirico has written several excellent books on RC-ism (see links to my reviews below). His 2002 doctoral dissertation, “Evangelical Theological Perspectives on Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism,” is also available from Amazon, but at a prohibitive price. I eventually discovered the dissertation was available as a free PDF download and gave it whirl.

The first half of De Chirico’s dissertation examines the views of six prominent evangelical theologians regarding post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism, the men being Gerrit Berkouwer, Cornelius Van Til, David Wells, Donald Bloesch, Herbert Carson, and John Stott. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was an attempt at aggiornamento, bringing the RCC “up to date” with modern society. One of the most significant changes wrought by the council was the RCC’s altered approach to Protestantism and other world religions, from that of militant confrontation to rapprochement, cooperation, and limited a degree of collegiality. Many evangelical theologians naively viewed Vatican II as the RCC jettisoning its Tridentine anathemas and “sacred traditions” and steering towards a more Biblical theology. While the RCC has become the leader in the ecumenical/interreligious movement, it has changed none of its core doctrinal tenets.

It’s interesting to read De Chirico’s assessments of the six theologians. He credits Berkouwer and Van Til with developing the systemic approach in examining RC-ism in contrast to the traditional atomistic approach. He cites Abraham Kuyper (d. 1920) as the model for the systemic approach. De Chirico criticizes Carson for being a bit too old-school Protestant with his polemical approach (I need to read me some Carson!) and presents Stott’s ecumenical approach somewhat flatteringly, a surprise.

In the second half of the dissertation, De Chirico posits his hypotheses regarding the RCC’s two major theological constructs, the Nature-Grace Interdependence and the artificial prolongation of the incarnation of Christ (which he will later label as the Christ-Church Interconnection). No need to review those concepts here because we’ve been discussing them incessantly in our current reviews of the Reformanda Initiative podcasts. I had thought evangelical theologian, Gregg Allison, had introduced these constructs in his 2014 book, “Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment” (see my review here), but I now see Allison was indebted to De Chirico. I “enjoyed” the second half of this discourse much more than the first half.

This dissertation was extremely hard to read because of the stilted acadamese throughout. I had to continuously fight the urge to allow my eyes to glaze-over the numbifying verbosity. I felt like I needed a week lying on the beach in the Bahamas after wading through the theological gobbledygook (I opted for reading a couple of LSH comics instead). In this 2002 dissertation, De Chirico appears to have been more open to dialogue and ecumenism than he does now. Was this in deference to his professors at King’s College? John Stott, one of the prime instigators of evangelical ecumenism with Rome, is presented quite favorably in this dissertation.

I definitely would NOT recommend this dissertation to anyone desiring basic, readable information about Roman Catholicism, but I do recommend De Chirico’s books below which are geared towards a general audience:

Same Words, Different Worlds: Do Roman Catholics and Evangelicals Believe the Same Gospel? (2021). An excellent exposé of RC-ism. See my review here.

A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Mary: Mother of God? (2017). See my review here.

A Christian’s Pocket Guide To The Papacy: Its origin and role in the 21st century (2015). See my review here.

If you must, a free PDF of “Evangelical Theological Perspectives on Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism” is available here.

Throwback Thursday: Critique of Mariolatry quickly turns into ecumenical hug fest

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on October 1, 2016 and has been revised.

capture30

The Cult of the Virgin: Catholic Mariology and the Apparitions of Mary
By Elliot Miller and Kenneth B. Samples
Baker Book House, 1992, 188 pages

1 Star

“The Cult of the Virgin” is a semi-interesting examination of Roman Catholic Mariolatry. Catholicism’s elevation of Mary to semi-deity as Mediatrix and (unofficially) Co-Redemptrix has absolutely no scriptural foundation and seriously detracts from the work of Jesus Christ. I especially found interesting the chapters on Medjugorje and the other alleged Marian apparitions.

However, a serious problem with this book is that the authors, Elliot Miller and Kenneth Samples, approach Roman Catholicism as a legitimate branch of Christianity. Both authors are connected with the Christian Research Institute (CRI), an evangelical apologetics ministry that researches cults and non-Christian religions. The founder of CRI, Walter Martin, stated in 1980 that “if any Catholics are saved they are saved not because of the Roman Catholic Church, but in spite of it.” Since the death of Martin in 1989, CRI has progressively softened its stance toward Catholicism. Despite Rome’s many unscriptural doctrines, CRI declines to categorize Catholicism as a heretical church. Hank Hanegraaff,* Martin’s successor, believes that while Rome teaches several doctrinal errors, it is, at its core, a Christian church. There’s a recording of Elliot Miller, co-author of this book, on YouTube stating it’s possible for Catholics to be saved by following official Catholic doctrine (see here).

But for many evangelicals who remember the reasons for the Reformation, it’s still quite clear that the gospel of Rome is fundamentally different from the Gospel of Jesus Christ of the New Testament. For Rome, salvation comes by receiving its clergy-administered sacraments and by obeying the Ten Commandments (impossible!). In contrast, evangelical Christians believe the Biblical message of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Is justification by faith or by works? It can’t be both (Romans 11:6). Yes, Rome does espouse a few orthodox doctrines, but its position is wrong on so many others, most importantly regarding justification and salvation, that it doesn’t warrant the respect and legitimacy offered by Miller and Samples.

The accommodating authors even go so far as to include a short rebuttal from popular Jesuit priest, Mitch Pacwa! They introduce Pacwa by asserting that his “manner of life evidences a strong personal relationship with Christ” (p.161). Hmm. As a Catholic priest, Pacwa teaches the Catholic faithful that they must merit their salvation by receiving the sacraments and by refraining from mortal sin. Even one unconfessed “mortal” sin dooms a Catholic to an eternal hell. How does that square with having a “personal relationship with Christ” who came to save sinners, not self-righteous, works-religionists? Pacwa is a fiercely conservative Catholic apologist who has frequently debated evangelical Christians and appears regularly on the conservative Catholic EWTN cable network. I have personally witnessed Pacwa on EWTN promoting the Catholic doctrine of salvation by sacramental grace and merit. Search Amazon for books authored by Pacwa and you’ll find he has written many, many titles which promote Catholicism’s standard, unbiblical doctrines, unchanged since the Reformation. By embracing Pacwa as a “brother in Christ,” Elliot and Miller are burying their heads in the sand since Pacwa and his church clearly teach a “different gospel” of sacramental grace and merit. Speaking as an ex-Catholic who left religious ritualism and legalism for the GOOD NEWS! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, I am perplexed by Elliot’s and Miller’s blindness.

Rome has changed none of its core doctrines since the Reformation, so why do some evangelicals now embrace it? Co-author Samples has pointed elsewhere to theologian Peter Kreeft** as an example of a Catholic who allegedly “holds the Reformation in high regard” and supposedly believes the Gospel of grace. As a Catholic, Kreeft is obliged to believe God’s salvific grace is dispensed through the sacraments like water from a tap. Search Amazon for books authored by Kreeft and you’ll find an amazing number of titles written by him which all promote Catholicism’s false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and works-righteousness.

The authors openly confess that “The Cult of the Virgin” is an effort to promote “ecumenical dialogue.” Miller, Samples, Norman Geisler (who wrote the forward to this book), and other compromising evangelicals can quibble with Catholics over issues like Mariolatry, but the bottom-line issue for evangelicals is Catholicism’s works-based justification, which is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Of course, Catholic apologists object to accusations that their religion teaches works-righteousness. They claim their teachings on salvation are also based on faith and God’s grace. But the truth of the matter is Catholics believe God’s grace, supposedly infused into their souls via the sacraments, enables them to perform meritorious works and avoid sin in order to merit their way to heaven. Despite the sophistry it all boils down to works and merit.

Hanegraaff and CRI have devoted a large amount of energy and resources to confronting the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and smaller groups, but the number of souls led astray by these cults are but a tiny fraction compared to the billions of souls deceived by the legalism of Rome.***

Notes from 2022:

*In 2017, supposed “evangelical” Hanegraaf “converted” to the Greek Orthodox church.

**I reviewed Catholic apologist, Peter Kreeft’s book, “Forty Reasons I Am a Catholic” in a series of posts from 2021 to 2022. You can find the index here. Throughout that book, Kreeft disparaged the “easy believism” of the genuine Gospel.

***This book is a blatant example of approaching the RCC “atomistically,” as Dr. Leonardo De Chirico and his associates at Reformanda Initiative have discussed in their podcasts that we’ve been reviewing recently. Adherents to the atomistic approach, such as Elliot, Miller, and Geisler, will often criticize aspects of RC-ism, but embrace it as a whole. In contrast, a “systemic” examination of RC-ism reveals that the institution is heretical at its core (propagating a false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit) and that these secondary doctrines/practices, e.g., Mariolatry, are but dead branches extending from a dead trunk.

When evangelicals compromised the Gospel for the sake of “Christian unity”

Evangelical Compromise: Evangelicals and Catholics Together
By Richard Bennett
Chapel Library, 2020, 54 pp.

5 Stars

For 1500 years, the Roman Catholic church has propagated a false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit. The Reformation reclaimed the New Testament Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone and for 450 years, Protestants were resolute regarding the two irreconcilable, opposing gospels, that “Ne’er the twain shall meet.” However, beginning with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the RCC sought dialogue and ecumenical relations with the “separated brethren” and some evangelical Protestants were undiscerningly eager to comply.

Chuck Colson gained notoriety and a prison sentence as President Richard Nixon’s political “hatchet man.” He claimed to have had a born-again experience prior to imprisonment and eventually became a leading voice in American evangelicalism. Colson had divorced his first wife in 1964 and married his second wife, Patricia Ann Hughes, that same year. Hughes was a committed Roman Catholic and after Colson became an evangelical Christian, he made it his life’s work to wed the two opposing gospels.

In 1994, Colson (d. 2012) teamed with Catholic priest, Richard John Neuhaus, and a bevy of other evangelicals (including J.I. Packer, Bill Bright, Os Guinness, Mark Noll, and Pat Robertson) and assorted Catholics in releasing the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT) declaration, which claimed that the two gospels were essentially the same and that both groups should unite in opposing encroaching secularism. Many evangelicals were rightly appalled at the compromise and betrayal of the genuine Gospel and took the signatories to task, but undiscerning ecumenism has advanced unrelentingly in the 28 years since the publication of ECT.

In this booklet, Richard Bennett (d. 2019), an ex-Catholic priest and former director of Berean Beacon Ministries, examines ECT and the compromise of God’s Word in the effort to forge a false “Christian unity.” This booklet serves as a good introduction to ECT for those who are not familiar with it. The booklet is available as a pdf, ebook, or hardcopy via Chapel Library here.

Chapters

  1. Introduction
    • Background
    • Recent Events
  2. Doctrinal Errors
    • Justification by Faith Alone
    • Imputed Righteousness
    • Baptismal Regeneration
    • Mary and the Saints
    • “Soul freedom” of the Individual Christian
  3. Bogus Defenses of Compromise
    • “Domestic differences”
    • “Notional soundness”
  4. Devastating Effects of Compromise
    • Evangelism
    • Separation
  5. Warnings
    • Attack on the Gospel
    • Ecumenical Compromise
    • False Teachers
    • Conclusion

Polska Dotty 2

Polska Dotty 2: Polski Sklep, Polish Plumbers, and Other Tales of Poles in the UK
By Jonathan Lipman
CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2016, 152 pp.

4 Stars

Immigrants and refugees are frequently in the news these days, but a rather large immigration took place almost twenty-years ago in Europe without much U.S. press coverage.

After Poland joined the European Union in 2004, its citizens were immediately able to migrate to other EU nations. Thus began an exodus of 1 million Poles to the UK. Britain offered much better employment opportunities than what was available in Poland at the time, which was still recovering from 44 years of Soviet-communist domination and economic debilitation. The influx of Polish immigrants greatly concerned a large segment of UK citizens, which eventually contributed to “Brexit,” the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union in 2020.

In this book, published in 2016, Jonathan Lipman, examines how the Polish immigrants fared in Britain. I thoroughly enjoyed Lipman’s previous book about his 1997-1999 sojourn in Poland with his Polish wife (see here for my review). Lipman subsequently returned to the UK and in this flip-flop sequel, recorded his observations of Polish emigres in his homeland. There was a clash of cultures as would be expected.

Lipman’s insights are interesting and often humorous. The Polish immigrants struggled a bit with the English language and culture as might be expected, but did surprisingly well in general. They set up their Polish enclaves with their skleps, delis/stores selling foods and dry goods imported from Poland. Many of the immigrants sent money back to their families back in Poland. With Brexit and Poland’s steady economic advances, the population of Polish nationals in the UK has dropped from 1 million to 700,000.

As Lipman notes, Poles are very hard-working (a quality shaped by the previous harsh economic conditions in Poland), but will often speak their minds with very little filter in contrast to the polite Brits. From my own experience, there was a group of Polish women working in my department at Kodak – Bronis, Ewa, and Anna – who constantly aggravated their co-workers with their blunt and forthright comments. At one point, Kodak management even discussed sending the Polish gals to an interpersonal communication skills training class. Can anyone spell “lawsuit”? I know from my experiences with my ex-daughter-in-law and her family that Germans can also speak quite bluntly compared to Anglos.

Polska Dotty 2 was an entertaining book that I enjoyed. There’s lots of wry-dry British humor throughout. Lipman dwells on some personal experiences with Polish contractors in order to typify the Polish worker (industrious, but not always attentive to details), that becomes a bit tedious at times. However, like its predecessor, Polska Dotty 1, this book is of surprisingly good quality (including a very good transcription to Kindle) in light of the fact that it’s independently published.

The Byrds’ Photo Opus: Strictly for the Byrds Nyrds

Today, we’re taking a break from theological discussions with some 1960’s frivolity.

The Byrds: 1964-1967
By Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, David Crosby, and Scott Bomar
BMG Books, 2022, 396 pp.

5 Stars

When most people think of the Byrds, they generally think about those two great #1 hit singles from 1965, “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” but the band had a nine-year, twelve-album run in which they pioneered folk-rock, jazz-rock, raga-rock, psychedelic-rock, and country-rock. Fifty-seven years later, rock ‘n’ roll historians and musicologists are still discussing the Byrds and their influential legacy.

BMG Publishing had amassed a large collection of Byrds photographs for ex-Byrd, Chris Hillman’s 2020 autobiography (see my review here). Someone at BMG got the bright idea of compiling the unused photos for this much-anticipated, massive, nine-pound, 13″x11,” 400-page, coffee table, photo-history, primarily of the band’s early years, 1964-1967.

Jim (later Roger) McGuinn (lead guitar), Gene Clark, and David Crosby (rhythm guitar) were folk singers and musicians who enviably observed the meteoric rise of the Beatles in 1964 and banded together to form their own rock ‘n’ roll band, also adding Chris Hillman (bass) and Michael Clarke (drums). But their folk sensibilities couldn’t be entirely suppressed and a syncretization of folk and rock ‘n’ roll was born. Both the Beatles and Dylan took notice and changed their styles (see “Rubber Soul” and “Like a Rolling Stone”) and a multitude of copy-cat bands jumped on the folk-rock bandwagon.

There’s 500 photos in this behemoth publication, mostly taken during the band’s early years, 1964-1967, as the title indicates, along with some pics at the end documenting the ill-fated 1973 reunion album sessions, the 1990 Roy Orbison Tribute and recording sessions for the first Byrds box set, and the band’s induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. Interspersed among all of the photos is limited commentary from surviving members McGuinn, Hillman, and Crosby.*

I’ve been a Byrds fan for fifty years and most of the photos were new to me. As I journeyed through this photo-tribute, I noticed how the members’ demeanors noticeably changed from initial happiness and exuberance to frustration, drudgery, and weariness. As the years passed, these guys liked each other less and less. Clark quit in early-1966. Crosby was fired in October of 1967, with Clarke departing a few weeks after him. Hillman quit in 1968, leaving McGuinn as the only founding member until he folded the band in 1973.

Some photos are great, others are “meh” (including a few that are out-of-focus), but this monster is a must-have for Byrds nyrds. Casual fans, save your money. You’ll be bored after a few pages.

Some observations:

  • I would have included the band’s pivotal “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (1968) period as part of this photo collection, with the introduction of Gram Parsons and the band’s total immersion into country-rock. That said, the publisher did well by avoiding the 1969-1973 McGuinn-White ersatz Byrds altogether.
  • Chris Hillman repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly complains about having to straighten his naturally kinky hair to emulate the Beatles’ Prince Valiant mop-top look. One comment would have been more than enough. Where was the editor???
  • I would have liked to have seen a few photos acknowledging the ill-fated 1979-1980 McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman project.
  • The boys generally avoid taking cheap shots at each other, although there are a few slights tucked in here and there.
  • There are no photographs of the members with their former-girlfriends or ex-wives, no doubt a pragmatic concession to current marital practicalities (McGuinn, Hillman, and Crosby collectively selected/curated which photos would be included).
  • It would have been nice if BMG had used the Byrds’ paisley logo from their “Fifth Dimension” and “Younger Than Yesterday” albums for the book’s cover instead of the non-descript, “THE BYRDS.”
  • On page 327, Hillman states the band fired their manager, Jim Dickson, following their appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 17, 1967. That had me confused because McGuinn has repeatedly claimed the band fired Dickson shortly before or during the “Younger Than Yesterday” sessions in late-1966. See here. McGuinn alleges he was driving along La Cienaga Boulevard in Los Angeles and, while stopped at a traffic light, ex-manager Dickson pulled up alongside and suggested the band cover Dylan’s “My Back Pages.” The band actually did record that song in studio on December 5–8, 1966. I did some googling and subsequently found an article in which Dickson confirmed he was in fact fired following Monterey in June of 1967.

*The Byrds’ surviving founding members, Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, and David Crosby, did not reunite in 2015 for the band’s 50th anniversary as many fans had hoped for. McGuinn and Hillman could not be persuaded to perform again with the irascible Crosby.

L to R: Jim McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, David Crosby, and Michael Clarke posing for a photographer in 1965.
Above: That’s me doing some very heavy lifting. Byrds Nyrds Unite!