Come home! Rome calls out to her daughters

Catholics and Protestants: What We Can Learn From Each Other
By Peter Kreeft
Ignatius Press, 2017, 204 pages

Peter Kreeft is one of Roman Catholicism’s most prolific apologists. When the new, young pastor of the Southern Baptist church we used to attend cited Kreeft as one of his favorite philosophers from the pulpit a couple of years ago, I knew it was time for us to leave.

In this new book, Kreeft makes an appeal in simple, everyday language to non-academic evangelicals to unite with Rome. In Catholic parlance, “unity” always means returning to the authority of the Vatican and to the Catholic sacraments and liturgical worship.

Right off the bat, Kreeft contends that the Reformation’s main debate over the issue of justification was resolved with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between Rome and Lutherans in 1999 so therefore evangelicals have no good reason for remaining outside of Catholicism. Not so fast, Professor! Mainline liberal Lutherans and Methodists may have signed this vague accord, but Catholicism still teaches the same false gospel of sacramental grace and merit that it taught in 1517. Nothing has changed. Catholicism teaches good works/sanctification merit justification/salvation. In contrast, Bible Christianity teaches good works/sanctification are the fruit of genuine justification/salvation through faith in Christ alone. The two approaches are diametrically opposed. For an excellent evangelical response to the Joint Declaration, see here.

After quickly dismissing the rhubarb over justification as yesterday’s news, Kreeft then looks at a few other Protestant objections to Catholicism including the “real presence” of Jesus in the eucharist and Mary’s role in salvation. Regarding the former, he simply advises Protestants to visit the nearest Catholic church and pray to the Jesus wafer in the tabernacle and ask if it’s really Him or not. For the latter, he uses the typical Catholic sophistry that all that veneration/worship of Mary is, at the bottom line, actually devotion to Jesus.

Kreeft strongly compliments evangelicals for their passion for Christ and roundly criticizes cultural Catholics for their apathy and begs evangelicals to return to Rome because the only proper place for the “flame” is the “authentic fireplace.” Kreeft drops the names of ecumenist C.S. Lewis and Mother Teresa throughout the text because he’s certainly aware these two religious celebrities are highly recognizable to doctrine-lite evangelicals and are possible bridges to interest in Rome.

Kreeft gently chides Protestants for basing their identity on a negative, i.e., “protesting” Catholicism, rather than joining Catholics and positively proclaiming the (g)ospel. He also defends Rome’s unscriptural interfaith approach to non-Christian religions, repeating the Vatican line that goodness and truth can be found in all faiths and can be Christ-sanctioned roads to redemption.

There’s no logical flow to this book; each short chapter encompasses an individual thought about Catholic-Protestant reunion so you can put it down and pick it up two days later without missing a lie…er…I mean, a beat. This book would appeal to Protestants who have scanty knowledge of Catholic theology and church history and are eager to embrace every person as a fellow Christian who says they “love Jesus, too” (a la Rick Warren). Please note that prominent evangelicals, Timothy George (always a Judas cheerleader for Catholicism) and Eric Metaxas, contribute glowing recommendations on the back cover. There’s already plenty of accommodation, cooperation, compromise, and betrayal within evangelicalism. With this book Kreeft is hoping many will take the next “logical” step.

Postscript: To read how Bible Christians came to be called “Protestants,” see here.

Postscript II: Imagine Spurgeon’s or Lloyd-Jones’s response if someone asked them what they could learn from Catholicism?

Chasing after “hip spirituality”

I’ve always loved to read. Even before I was a teenager, I used to like to hop on a bus into downtown Rochester N.Y. and stop at all the bookstores and news/magazine stores. There were a quite a few of them. Well things have changed quite a bit since the 1960s. There are no longer any bookstores downtown, in fact there’s hardly anything downtown except for some government buildings, lawyers’ offices, and many, many empty buildings. There aren’t any bookstores in the suburbs either except for a couple of Barnes and Nobles. With all the information on the internet and Amazon corralling the remaining hardcopy readers, bookstores and magazine racks are almost a thing of the past.

I still like to peruse the small magazine rack at our local supermarket. Yesterday, I saw a special edition from Newsweek titled “Spirituality Now.” Curious, I picked it up and leafed through it quickly just to see how Newsweek defines “spirituality.” Well, the entire magazine was about Eastern religions and New Age mysticism. A few of the names I recognized were Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, and Ram Dass; the usual suspects. Was there any mention of Christianity in this “Spirituality Now” special edition? No, not a mention. Eastern religions and New Age mysticism are seen as “hip” and “cutting edge.” Christianity? It’s viewed by many as “yesterday’s news” but how wrong they are.

Most Americans are chasing after some kind of meaning to their life but won’t consider Jesus Christ. They surely won’t find any fulfillment in the words of Chopra, Tolle, or Dass.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10

“For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” –  Acts 17:23

A terrific little summary of the differences between Roman Catholicism and Biblical Christianity

Catholic Doctrine In The Bible
By Samuel Benedict
Faith Baptist Church Publications, (no date provided), 93 pages

In this booklet, Samuel Benedict compares Roman Catholic doctrine with God’s Word. The chapter headings are as follows:

  • The Church and St. Peter
  • Infallibility of the Pope
  • Transubstantiation
  • Sacrifice in the Mass
  • Purgatory
  • Prayers for the Dead
  • The Blessed Mary
  • The Crucifix and Other Images
  • Confession
  • Salvation
  • The Bible and Tradition
  • Catholic or Roman?

Benedict, who ministered for Christ in the early 20th-century, does an excellent job of succinctly presenting Catholic doctrine in comparison to the Bible. This short work would be a fantastic resource for Catholics who are seeking Christ and for evangelicals who wish to know about the main differences between Roman Catholicism and Biblical Christianity without wading thorough much lengthier examinations. Copies of “Catholic Doctrine In The Bible” can be obtained by contacting The Conversion Center. See here.

Resources on the differences between Catholicism and Christianity were once widely available but in this era of growing ecumenical compromise and apostasy, they’re becoming harder to find unless you know where to look. See my Books and Links lists here and here for resources.

Replacing structure with chaos

Pagan Christianity
By Frank Viola and George Barna
Barna Publishing, 2008, 302 pages

The history of Christianity varies widely depending on who is telling the story, but there’s little argument that as the early church became increasingly institutionalized, it gradually formulated doctrines and practices that were entirely unknown to the New Testament saints. Many of those traditions were adopted from Roman paganism and “christianized.” The corruption became so widespread and so severe that the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone became buried under deep layers of impersonal ritualism and legalism. While the 16th-century Reformers sought to return the church to the pure Gospel of grace, some unscriptural traditions remained. The Reformers who followed removed some of the other vestiges of Roman tradition and the church should always be reforming according to the standard of God’s Word.

But in this book, Viola and Barna argue that even later Reformers didn’t go far enough and that the church must jettison all man-made traditions and go back to gathering in homes with leader-less, spontaneous meetings where everyone participates. These “organic” home-churches are initially organized by mysterious “church planters” who periodically check in to assess the health of the fellowship.

This was an interesting book in some regards but I do have many criticisms. I think Viola and Barna got it VERY right regarding the gradual institutionalization of Christianity. Few books these days are willing to tell it like it was regarding Catholic synchretism. However, the authors are occasionally guilty of manipulating the historical narrative to suit their purposes. For example, the early churches met in homes not out of choice, as the authors infer, but because Christianity was illegal. Yes, perhaps some of the Protestant Reformers didn’t go far enough in removing ritual and traditions. But to argue that ALL organization, structure, and tradition are bad reminds me a bit of the Quakers and radical Anabaptists. Viola is advocating the elimination of structure, which then becomes a bizarre kind of anti-structure structure. And who are these mysterious church planters? Who trains them? Who do they report to? Something tells me that Frank Viola has a deep, personal stake in the growth of this “organic,” house-church movement. In essence, Viola is replacing church leadership with himself. Viola is also decidedly not in favor of direct evangelization (altar calls, personal witnessing) but that is exactly how many/most unbelievers encounter the Gospel.

Now, I certainly don’t advocate hanging onto tradition and structure just for tradition’s and structure’s sakes. The church we worship at on Sundays is quite different in many regards from the first Christian church we attended thirty-four years ago. And yes, “traditional” churches often give far too much importance and priority to the brick and mortar. But the Bible also says God is not the author of confusion and I believe this “organic,” spontaneous, leaderless house-church model would engender quite a bit of chaos. We’ve been seeing the church move farther and farther away from emphasizing doctrine and conducting itself “decently and in order” towards experientialism and emotionalism and this “organic” home-church movement is just another outgrowth of that.

My wife and I have been members of one of our church’s small groups for the last six months and we enjoy it quite a bit. It’s a chance to fellowship with brothers and sisters, apply the weekly sermon personally, and lift each other up to the Lord. It’s nothing like the “organic” house-church described by Viola and Barna.

Full disclosure: I’m a cessationist with regards to the apostolic spiritual gifts so I would definitely not be comfortable in a house-church meeting with several “a word from the lord” proclamations as the authors decribe.


Below is a short review of “Pagan Christianity” from Lighthouse Trails Research:
http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=7029

Something better than fame and fortune

Pickin’ Up the Pieces: The Heart and Soul of Country Rock Pioneer Richie Furay
By Richie Furay with Michael Roberts
WaterBrook, 2012, 274 pages

Despite a sterling musical pedigree, Richie Furay (few-RAY) never made it to “superstar” status. As a talented member of the short-lived Buffalo Springfield band, he was overshadowed by Stephen Stills and Neil Young. After Springfield imploded in 1968, Furay formed Poco, a pioneering country-rock band that was too country for rock-and-roll radio and too rock-and-roll for country audiences. But then Furay watched in jealous amazement when the upstart country-rock band, The Eagles, rose to the very top of the rock charts in 1972. With Furay’s next group, David Geffen’s CS&N knockoff, the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, Richie was hoping to finally catch the elusive golden ring but then an unusual thing happened; Richie accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and his life took a completely different turn. Furay has been pastoring a Christian congregation in Colorado since 1983.

In this book, Furay traces his journey from his childhood in Yellow Springs, Ohio to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Fans of Buffalo Springfield and Poco will enjoy his many detailed memories and insights. But Furay makes it clear he found something much more meaningful and enduring than fame and fortune when he accepted Jesus Christ. There were still many heartaches and disappointments in his life but Richie now had an anchor, a Friend, who sticks closer than a brother. Some Buffalo Springfield and Poco fans will resent Furay’s Christian witness, which is prevalent throughout the book, but others will benefit from it. I’ll always fondly remember this book as one of the gentle nudges from the Lord leading to my return to Him in 2014.

Tainted by association

NJR

Night Journey From Rome
By Clark Butterfield
Chick Publications, 1982, 207 pages

Clark Butterfield was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1965 and “served” in that capacity in California, Kansas, and Michigan until 1973. After losing confidence in various Catholic dogmas, he left the priesthood without scandal and obtained a job working in the offices of the Detroit Police Department, although he still practiced his Catholic religion. He was led to the Lord by a fellow member of the police department in 1978 and subsequently wrote this book, which includes his personal testimony and comparisons of God’s Word with Catholicism in regards to Mary, church authority, confession, the eucharist, the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and end times eschatology.

In attempting to get this book published, Butterfield relates that several of the main Christian book publishers rejected his finished manuscript because it was anti-ecumenical. Butterfield then sent the manuscript to Chick Publications where the controversial Alberto Rivera championed its publication. Butterfield died in 1981 and this book was published the following year.

This is a strange book in more than a few regards. At the beginning of the book Jack Chick inserts a publisher’s note and Rivera adds an introduction. A preface attributed to Butterfield is highly complimentary of Rivera although Butterfield’s core original manuscript includes absolutely no hints of Rivera-like claims of Jesuit world-wide conspiracies. A postscript written by Jim MacKinnon, the man who led Butterfield to the Lord, which is also mildly complimentary of Rivera, closes the book. It’s suggested that Butterfield’s death was suspicious in nature but such an insinuation is par for the course in any Chick publication.

Jack Chick was already publishing hard-hitting, comic tracts that were very popular in fundamentalist circles when he hooked up with Rivera, who claimed to be an ex-Jesuit bishop, in 1979 and the two would proceed to write and publish a boatload of comic books, tracts, and books, which purported that every calamity in the history of Western civilization could be traced to the Jesuits and the Vatican. Rivera stoked the Chick conspiracy engine until his death in 1997. Those outlandish attacks on Catholicism did much to undermine the witness of responsible Gospel outreach ministries to Roman Catholics. I believe Satan was the inspiration behind Alberto Rivera and Chick Publications. It’s a shame “Night Journey From Rome” was published by Chick because, excluding the favorable extraneous references to Rivera and Chick that I mentioned, it’s an informative testimony from an ex-Catholic priest.

“Sola Scriptura”? What does that mean?

GWA

God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture
By Matthew Barrett
Zondervan, 2016, 402 pages

When it comes to theology, I like to keep things simple. Very simple. I often like to say I’m definitely a Theology 101 kind of guy. Thankfully, the Gospel is so simple even a child can understand it, although the Holy Spirit must first remove the spiritual blinders from our eyes and illuminate the truths of God’s saving Word to us.

Over the space of twenty months, Zondervan has released five books in its “The Five Solas Series” commemorating the Reformation solas in this, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. The first book, “Faith Alone” (2015) – sola Fida – by Thomas R. Schreiner, was very good. The second, “God’s Glory Alone” (2015) – soli Deo gloria – by David VanDrunen was unfortunately a big disappointment. VanDrunnen removed that sola almost entirely from its Reformation context; no comparisons to Catholicism are made.

I just finished the third book in the series, “God’s Word Alone” (2016), – sola Scriptura – by Matthew Barrett. One of the foundations of the Reformation and subsequently, evangelical orthodoxy, is that all of our spiritual beliefs come from God’s Word. We neither take away from the Bible or add to it. That’s not to say that we turn a blind eye to all tradition (that would be “nuda Scriptura”) but tradition must ALWAYS stand in absolute subjection to God’s Word. Catholicism in contrast decrees that its traditions and magisterium (teaching authority) are on equal par with Scripture. As a consequence, unbiblical and even anti-biblical teaching can (and do) become dogma in Catholicism.

Why did the Reformers stand in opposition to Rome with sola Scriptura? Was sola Scriptura a 16th-century novelty or did God’s Word always affirm this principle? What does Scripture teach about itself regarding its authority in relation to the church and tradition? Barrett tackles all of these question and does a nice job.

This is NOT a breezy book for the beach. “God’s Word Alone” has some heavy lifting but not too much to dissuade a Theology 101 guy like myself. I love God’s Word and I’m so thankful the Lord speaks to me through His Word every day. This book increased my love and appreciation for God’s Word even more. We sometimes take our Bibles for granted but multitudes of believers were put to death because of their stand for sola Scriptura and the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Attacks against God’s Word and the Gospel of grace have been unceasing right up into the present day, currently under the guises of scientific enlightenment, post-modern relativism, experientialism (see TBN), and ecumenism.

Contents

Part 1: God’s Word under Fire, Yesterday and Today
1. The Road to Reformation: Biblical Authority in the Sixteenth Century
2. The Modern Shift in Authority: The Enlightenment, Liberalism, and Liberalism’s Nemesis
3. Today’s Crisis over Biblical Authority: Evangelicalism’s Apologetic and the Postmodern Turn

Part 2: God’s Word in Redemptive History
4. God’s Word in the Economy of the Gospel: Covenant, Trinity, and the Necessity of a Saving Word
5. God Speaks Covenantal Words: Creation, Fall, and the Longing for a Better World
6. God’s Covenantal Word Proves True: Christ, the Word Made Flesh

Part 3: The Character of God’s Word and Contemporary Challenges
7. God Speaks with Authority: The Inspiration of Scripture
8. God Speaks Truthfully: The Inerrancy of Scripture
9. God Speaks to Be Heard: The Clarity of Scripture
10. God’s Speech is Enough: The Sufficiency of Scripture

Conclusion: Always Reforming According to the Word of God

Down the road I’ll probably be reading the remaining two books in the series, “Grace Alone: Salvation as a Gift of God” (April 18, 2017) by Carl R. Trueman and “Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior” (April 18, 2017) by Stephen Wellum.