Sunday, December 14, 2014
Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism by R.C. Sproul (Book Review #117 of 2014)
Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism
Ligonier Ministries gave this book out for free in November, and I was glad to get it. This book sprang out of Sproul and other Presbyterians' concerns over a push toward ecumenicism in the 1990s. The Evangelical and Catholics Together movement produced a series of statements affirming certain common doctrines on both sides. Sproul and others may have agreed with 95% of the statements but found the other 5% to be essential doctrine on which they would not compromise, and felt no one else should either.
Sproul states his personal biases toward the beginning. He grew up a protestant in a Catholic area and witnessed resulting social divisions. His Catholic best friend was not allowed by his priest to participate in his wedding, and Sproul was only allowed to attend his friend's wedding at a distance. He's glad to march in pro-life rallies and defend the sanctity of marriage with Catholics but now refuses to call them "Church." The book does not, however, take on a hostile or insensitive tone. He dispels some common Protestant misconceptions or falsehoods about Catholics, including their official views on Scripture (with which Sproul agrees). There are a few points where Sproul points out some contradictions in doctrine where the reader can sense his frustration, however. Much of this book I already knew from listening to Sproul's lectures on Catholic history earlier this year on his daily podcast.
It's true that Sproul knows more about Catholic history and doctrine and all its contradictions than the average Catholic. But the average Protestant is equally ignorant to his own doctrines and history. But there is much history described in this book, as well as philosophy from Aristotle to Aquinas. As always, Sproul reasons by using logic.
The core of the book is a defense of the doctrine of imputation. Sola fide- faith in Christ alone is a core tenet of the Reformation and Sproul defends it well while pointing out the clear differences that Catholics themselves delineated in response to the Reformation in the Council of Trent. Later doctrines, such as papal infallibility (1870), are problematic and Sproul allows the German Catholics who refuse to acknowledge the doctrine to speak for themselves. Sproul, like many Catholics, believe that Vatican I and Vatican II both left the Catholic church with unfinished business in defining their positions. He does not look much at modern statements by Popes, he sticks purely to official church positions.
There is a good critique of transubstantiation that I would recommend reading. The Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) affirmed that Christ's spirit and body were separate, and the attributes of both remain separate. Christ's physical body did not possess the immortal nature of God's power. Sproul asks how, then, can Christ's body & blood be simultaneously everywhere during masses? Sproul's recounting of the key contentions between early protestants and Catholics are important as well.
If you're a Protestant reading this book, you'll find it very self-affirming. However, if you're a Catholic you'll probably point out that there are plenty of intelligent Catholics who have already dealt with the issues that Sproul raises. I recently listened to an interview with Jim Tonkowich, author of How (Not) to Become a Catholic where he criticized certain protestants (without mentioning Sproul by name) for making it sound like Catholics must not be studious or intelligent since they seemingly hold to so many contradicting positions. Tonkowich argues that determining what is "essential" is problematic and questions who gets to decide. You can listen to that interview at the Research on Religion podcast here.
In all, I give this book 4 stars out of 5. I learned a few things and am glad to have it as a reference. I'm glad to entertain critiques of the book, however, and I'm sure there are plenty.