Sunday 1 April 2012
By Jennifer NowellCentral Catholic Bookshop
If Protestantism is True: The Reformation Meets RomeBy Devin Rose, Unitatis Books, $19.95, PB
If you find the title of this book a little confusing, well, so did I. The author is a Catholic convert from evangelical Protestantism. He tells the story of how he came to the Catholic Church in the first chapter of his book, but after that it is not really a conversion story. His quest for the truth came as a consequence of his observation of the many divisions among Christians and his instinct that God wants us all to be united in faith.
His book examines the issues that prevent Protestants from being Catholics, and he tries to look at these topics in a way that avoids any knee-jerk reactions that reflect his own background, acknowledging the instinctive nature of defending our own beliefs, and the difficulty of having them challenged.
The title, If Protestantism is True, comes from his technique of following the consequences of a Protestant claim to its logical conclusion, and seeing what results. An example of this is his discussion of the Protestant dismissal of saints, who are not reliable role models because of the errors they believed and their support of a corrupt Church. "If Protestantism is true," he argues, "then all of the saints from the fourth century to the 16th believed in an adulterated Gospel taught by a heretical Church" (p 45). This may sound rather harsh, but the tone throughout the book is one of charity towards his Protestant brethren, and a longing for them to commit to a serious examination of the principles of their beliefs.
The book primarily concentrates on the issue of authority, since the author sees this as the crux of the divisions in Christendom. The Protestant reliance on Sola Scriptura receives a generous amount of attention, and all the arguments, whether about sacraments, Tradition or moral issues, ultimately circle back to the Protestant foundation of Scripture as the final authority. The chapter on the Canon of Scripture provides a deft summary of the issues dividing Catholics and Protestants on this issue, and a useful historical snapshot of the development of the canon, particularly for Catholics confused about why Protestants have a 'different' Bible to us.
He concludes that the Protestant belief that there is no greater authority to interpret Scripture than the individual Christian is flawed, because, like it or not, the Bible can be difficult and obscure in meaning. His evidence for this includes the vast number of Protestant denominations which have different beliefs on important issues such as Baptism, the Eucharist, and marriage. As he says, if Protestantism is right, then any individual Protestant's understanding of one of these things is as valid as any other's.
This book does not only offer a friendly challenge to Protestants willing to put their own beliefs under the microscope, but also a smorgasbord of information for Catholics about the historical validity of their own faith.