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Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences Paperback – September 1, 1995
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About the Author
Norman L. Geisler (PhD, Loyola University of Chicago) has taught at top evangelical schools for over fifty years and is distinguished professor of apologetics and theology at Veritas Evangelical Seminary in Murrieta, California. He is the author of more than seventy books, including the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics.
Top customer reviews
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This is a really good source to know more in-depth about the points of Christianity that both sides agree on... and that both sides do not agree on. I highly recommend this book to readers who are curious to know more, understand more about the two as well as to readers who are thinking about being Catholic or Protestant in some form.
Section 2 covers many of the doctrines where Roman Catholics and evangelicals disagree. Here, it is clear that the authors are on the side of evangelicals. The typical pattern for each topic is to state the Roman Catholic belief and the arguments supporting it. The arguments are often categorized as Scripture, tradition, and logical. The authors then present evangelical arguments to oppose each one of the Roman Catholic arguments, plus additional arguments. The arguments on the evangelical side are much longer and detailed and it is clear that the authors believe that the evangelical arguments are the correct ones. At times, when introducing the Roman Catholic doctrine, the authors say that the doctrine is repugnant to evangelicals. Evangelicals would agree with them. I can imagine that Roman Catholics would be offended by that, but it is the honest truth about how evangelicals feel about some doctrines. The authors try to be polite (and generally succeed), but not at the expense of watering down the evangelical point of view. Sometimes it seems, even to me, that the authors' arguments are too lengthy, bringing up some points that just will not impress a Roman Catholic who doesn't hold to sola scriptura. I recommend that you should read the first two arguments in favor of each evangelical doctrine, then skim the rest. Throughout this section, there are quotations from Roman Catholic councils, stating infallible Roman Catholic doctrine, in the form of "if anyone says ... let them be anathema," where they are usually referring to important evangelical doctrines. Sadly, since these statements are infallible, they are also irreversible.
I expected to see a detailed discussion of infused righteousness (held by Roman Catholics) vs. imputed righteousness (held by evangelicals). Imputed righteousness is mentioned in passing several times: page 229, 447, 495, and 500. Most of these are actually quotes of someone else speaking of imputed righteousness, and the doctrine is not explained in detail or contrasted with infused righteousness. The book gives more attention to "extrinsic justification" and "forensic justification", which mean either the same thing, or something similar to, imputed righteousness.
Speaking of the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification, it mentions "works" quite a bit. It does not specify exactly what these works are, give examples of such works, or say how many works are needed for justification.
The book does not explain all seven of the Roman Catholic sacraments. It discusses baptism and Eucharist quite a bit, and penance some, but most of the others are not explained.
One bone to pick with Section 2 is that the book introduction, and the promotional material on the back cover do not mention that book is includes arguments to refute Roman Catholic doctrines.
Section 3 is about cooperation and joint action between Roman Catholics and evangelicals. Some of the material is about activities that were current at the time the book was written, 1995, so this information is out of date. I enjoyed Chapter 19, Spiritual Heritage, which gives a short summary of many Roman Catholic books, starting with The Life of Antony, by Athanasius, A.D. 357, through Pensees, by Blaise Pascal, 1670. It also mentions hymns and other art forms. Much of this section is about events that were current when the book was published, 1995, but are no longer current.
The appendices are very good - don't skip over them just because they are formatted as appendices. They could just as well have been formatted as chapters, but they don't neatly fit into one of the three sections of the book.
This book does not define "evangelical." For the purposes of this book, the word probably should be defined in a wide sense, to include anyone who identifies himself as an evangelical or protestant. One who affirms sola scriptura - the doctrine that all faith is based on the Bible, not on church tradition. Evangelicals are not a monolith. That is, various evangelical denominations and various evangelical individuals agree on some doctrines but disagree on other doctrines. The book mostly deals with doctrines that are shared by all evangelicals to a considerable degree. Sometimes it deals with doctrines which are disputed among evangelicals, and it mentions the various evangelical views, along with the Roman Catholic view. It is written from a conservative to moderate Baptist position, affirming beliefs such as the virgin birth of Jesus, the deity of Jesus, and Biblical infallibility. Norman Geisler describes himself as a "moderate Calvinist." I read somewhere that he is a two-point Calvinist, accepting total depravity and perseverance of the saints, and rejecting unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace. I also watched his video on Youtube, "Why I am not a five point Calvinist", where he rejects and refutes all five points, making him what - a 0 point Calvinist?
One of the reviews says that the book is poor because it is written by two evangelicals. The first section of the book is about doctrines where Roman Catholics and evangelicals agree. These doctrines are explained using many quotes from early Roman Catholic theologians (Augustine, Aquinas, and Anselm), more contemporary Roman Catholic theologians (Ludwig Ott, Cardinal Ratzinger), Roman Catholic councils (Nicea, Chalcedon, Trent, Vatican II). Considering the many quotes of Roman Catholic sources, it is hard to see how the Roman Catholic doctrines could be inadequately or improperly presented. Some Roman Catholic reviewers of the book affirm that this is well done. It is true that if you only want to learn about Roman Catholicism, you would want a book written by Roman Catholics. But this book is about comparing and contrasting Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. One reviewer complained that too much is based on Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. This was first published in 1957, so it may be a bit dated. It has a five-star rating on Amazon, based on 28 reviews.
I recommend this book to evangelicals and Roman Catholics who want to know more about the doctrines of both groups. If you are Roman Catholic who believes and loves all of your doctrines, exercise some tolerance as you read the arguments against your doctrines. You are learning what those arguments are, even though you do not agree with them.
Addendum, Sept 7, 2010
I read Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences by Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie, then I read Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us. The first, being written by a two person team, is more consistent. It follows a pattern of explaining a Roman Catholic doctrine, briefly giving a list of the Roman Catholic arguments in favor of the doctrine, giving a longer evangelical response to each Roman Catholic argument, then giving additional evangelical arguments. It mostly discusses official Roman Catholic theology, based on the Council of Trent and other infallible writings of the Roman Catholic Church.
The second book, Roman Catholicism, is a collection of 13 essays. It is about 100 pages shorter, but some of the essays, especially the first six, are more technical and difficult to read. It is not as structured with lists of arguments, and the writing is less uniform because of the various authors. Roman Catholicism describes the theology of the Council of Trent, various creeds, writings of popes and other councils, Vatican I and Vatican II, writings of twentieth century liberal Roman Catholic theologians, and the practices and beliefs of the laity.
Which book is better? If I had read just one of these books, I would have to choose the Geisler book, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, because it is easier to read. But Roman Catholicism has a lot more historical information that is very valuable and some of it is reasonably easy to read. Both books are written from a conservative viewpoint.
The format increases the superiority of this book. The first section addresses the "agreements" between the two bodies. This is important, because there are many things in common between the two. Section two speaks about the differences. This is well done, and easy for the lay reader to understand. This is not a debate and it is not written as an evangelistic tool to sway individuals from one side to another (even though both would prefer if you were in their camp). The third section is on areas where we can cooperate together when going into the world. Part two and three clearly demonstrates that we have more unity among each other than most want to admit.
The differences are still great, but they should be discussed in a manner of love and honesty. These authors do their best to do just that. The book is great and I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn the other side and encounter them with a more pure heart. Not all the issues are discussed in fullness, however, this book is trying to speak to laity, not scholars and therefore, a more in-depth book would be self-defeating. This work is just right.
Scott Chandler, author
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