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Is Rome the True Church?: A Consideration of the Roman Catholic Claim Paperback – November 30, 2008
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About the Author
Norman L. Geisler (PhD in philosophy, Loyola University) is cofounder and former dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary and has taught at the university and graduate levels for nearly fifty years. Among his many books are Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences; I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist; and Love Your Neighbor: Thinking Wisely about Right and Wrong.
Joshua M. Betancourt (MA in Christian apologetics, Southern Evangelical Seminary) now serves with Corporate Chaplains of America in Southern California. He is also an ordained minister in the Anglican Mission in the Americas.
Top customer reviews
I have been an orthodox believing Catholic for several years, having returned to the faith after learning about the beautiful teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on marriage and the family. I am grateful to the Roman Catholic Church for it is the only institution in the world still preaching the message that led to my marriage being renewed, and my children being born. Because of my personal experience, knowledge of history, and knowledge of philosophy I know that artificial contraception is immoral, and that the Church's teachings on sexual morality are absolutely correct. Furthermore, it is clear that protestantism has become severely deficient in its defense of marriage and traditional morality and has been weakening in its defense of traditional marriage and morality since the 1930s.
However, I recently observed a scandal in the priesthood up close. Also, I underwent a little (minor) abuse at the hands of a priest recently (not sexual... just an abuse of power). So, I ordered this book wanting to be convinced by it. I know some good evangelicals involved in the quiver-full movement, and they seem to be very solid Christians whose walk I can admire. I was tempted to call them up and say "hi... have I got a story for you. Can I go to Church with you on Sunday?"
After downloading this book to my Kindle I began reading with expectation, thinking that I may well have been taking up the book that would lead to my conversion. I thought perhaps that I would be like a young Scott Hahn discovering Aquinas for the first time, only that I would be leaving the institutional Church that Hahn had come to defend.
Quickly, I lost all illusions, not to mention most of the respect I had for Dr. Geisler.
The book reads like a master's degree level work in apologetics... certainly not what one would expect from a heavy hitter like Geisler. I expected a serious philosophical and biblical work outlining areas of disagreement with Catholic exegesis and new and compelling arguments against the claims of Catholicism. That is not what we get here. The same old tired arguments are trotted out, but they are no more substantiated than usual, and the obvious counter arguments jump out at the reader. It is as if Geisler refuses to take his potential opponents' positions into consideration. I could have listened to a fundamentalist radio apologist with a degree from the "Suthern Scool of Bible" on the radio and saved 10 bucks and gotten the same general arguments.
I hope some of Geisler's errors are not purposeful. For instance, Geisler discusses Clement's epistle, and other fathers of the Church. However, the quotations he uses are often ripped from the context, and the arguments against the Church more often than not are the result of straw-men he has constructed.
The first "Roman Catholic" scholar he cites is Hans Kung, hardly a auspicious beginning for those of us Catholics who believe in Biblical inerrancy and the Church's teachings on morality, all concepts Kung rejects adamantly. Does Geisler want to convince us, or simply insult us?
Next he claims that the Roman Catholic Church views itself as the only true Church and that no one else qualifies. This is demonstrably false, as the author later in the text actually admits. The Orthodox Churches are definitely Churches in the full sense of the word, with valid sacraments and orders.
The citations from the fathers in the section on the development of the authoritarian structure of the Church are myopic and ripped from context. Gesler fails to answer the arguments about why, if the claims of Rome's authority are exaggerated, opposition to them in the early Church was not widespread.
Furthermore, the section on the history of the Church is very strange reading. I couldn't decide if I was reading a Christian, or a pagan author as Geisler trots out ideas that he would clearly reject as heresy (gnosticism etc.) and Rome's response to these ideas. In Geisler's "history" Rome is always portrayed as being heavy handed in these disputes with the various heresies. Yet, the obvious questions this line of criticism raises are NEVER answered. (For instance: What would have occurred if Rome had not exercised its authority in Councils and in Papal proclamations? Would Gnosticism be the accepted form of Christianity today? If not, why not? Are the various heresies positive developments in the Church that should have been left unmolested and unchallenged by the Church?)
If I were an evangelical, I would be very concerned about Geisler. Does he believe in the trinity (a notion many protestants are abandoning)? If the Church's authority was not the answer in fighting these early heresies and in defining doctrines such as the trinity then what is the alternative for preserving and/or professing orthodox doctrine?
The work recognizes no differences between various other streams of Christian exegesis. Greek Orthodoxy is presented essentially as protestantism (which is absolutely false). There is no discussion of moral teaching, barely any discussion of the sacraments, whole areas of wonderfully complex dialectic are completely skipped over and over-simplified. (I thought I was getting a book by a Ph.D!!! If I wanted Kirk Cameron I could have watched TBN!!!)
The arguments are very repetitive, and it is clear the book is poorly edited. The scriptural exegesis is weak and counter arguments are not adequately presented.
The problems go on and on. For instance, as anyone familiar with the fathers knows, the salutation of Clement's letter to the Corinthians begins: "The Church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the church of God sojourning at Corinth." Geisler makes the incredible to claim that Clement assumes no authority in this salutation (written as it is representing the ENTIRE Roman Church) but rather writes "as a fellow 'sojourner' in the faith." Is he kidding? Orthodox (capital O) Christians make a good argument that Clement isn't exercising any sort of papal primacy here, but I have never seen anyone willing to contradict the plain text of the letter to claim that Clement is simply writing as an individual. That is preposterous.
Pope Honorius is attacked as a heretic simply because he was largely silent on the Monothelites controversy but rather tried to prevent schism by not disciplining them. Yet Honorius' Magesterium did not profess this heresy at all.
I became frustrated here because other Popes are criticized for doing too much to fight heresy, and Honorius too little.
The book thus reads like a laundry list. It is as if Geisler simply listed all the arguments against the papacy he could think of and rattled them off willy nilly, with no concern about continuity of argument.... or editing.
Even if Geisler is right about the papacy, that leaves Orthodoxy looming large over the Christian theological landscape. In as much as Geisler offers no cogent defense of anti-sacramental evangelicalism that is cogent or historical, I am forced to conclude that I must stay where I am, or examine the claims of Orthodoxy more closely. Evangelicalism is arguably NOT enough, and this book does little to convince one otherwise.
This is the most confused, disastrous book I have ever read. I am convinced that NO ONE read through the whole book cover to cover before it was published. The same arguments are given over, and over, and over, many times using the same words and in the same order. I realize the authors were trying to argue against both Peter's primacy and the Pope's infallibility, but my goodness! How many times do I need to read that "the other apostles were also given the same power of binding and loosing (Matthew 18:18)" or how many times do we need to read about the schism of 1054? There are even things repeated in the appendix! There is stuff that is in one appendix, and the same stuff word for word in another appendix. This book was slopped together, seemingly in a hurry, without careful thinking or consideration to how the book flowed as a whole. Many times I felt as if I had misplaced my bookmark because I continued to read the exact same arguments and see the exact same scriptures being used.
The EXACT SAME long footnote is produced in this book three times on p. 79-80, 126, 163 discussing Stephen Ray's response to the charge that Peter calls himself a "fellow elder." The authors response to Ray in the footnotes isn't even worthy to be deemed a response. Try pretending you're using it on a Catholic in an actual argument and see if you can't maybe figure out how a Catholic might not be at all, in the least convinced by what you just said.
The authors also make it apparent that they don't understand the doctrine of papal infallibility by REPEATEDLY claiming that the famous "Get behind me Satan!" passage from Matthew 16 and the rebuking from Galatians 2 disproves papal infallibility. Numerous times they quote the exact documents from Vatican I which lays out the exact definition for something to be considered infallible. Anybody can look at the definition, look at those 2 bible passages, and clearly, CLEARLY see that they do not fit the definition for infallibility. But it is obvious the authors are desperate to pile on as much evidence as possible against the concept of the papacy, regardless if it's convincing or even true. The authors also make it clear that they don't understand the purpose or nature of infallibility. They seem to think that it has an epistemic purpose i.e. that it exists so that the faithful can be SURE that a teaching is true, when in reality, infallibility has more to do with levels of dogma (see the last section of the first chapter of Ott).
I am also convinced that the authors think that by putting forward every single Catholic argument they have ever heard or thought of for the papacy, this will convince the reader that "they are right." It's almost as if they're saying "Look at all these Catholic arguments I know. Well, I'm not Catholic and I know these arguments, so they must not be good arguments, so you don't need to worry about them." The reason I say this is because his half-dozen or so "responses" are utter nonsense. Further evidence is given on page 198, where Geisler talks about how educated he is in Catholicism and how the arguments don't add up to him. Again, read them and pretend you are responding to a Catholic by using his responses. Then try and think of what a Catholic might say or if that would convince a semi-competent Catholic. 90% of the time the counter-point is obvious.
There are many instances when the authors seem to imply some sort of "great apostasy" happened. When dismissing text by church Fathers which point to the papacy, the authors note that error is bound to creep in and that that is the case. OK, so why not embrace Mormonism or become a Jehovah's Witness? We're picking and choosing what we want to accept from the Fathers and what we don't want to, why not just not accept it all and claim that the TRUE church wasn't rediscovered until the 1800s by Charles Taze Russell?
The authors go through the history of the development of the modern understanding of the papacy. As they show and admit on pages 33-37, there had already been evolution in the understanding of the papacy during the time of Irenaeus. I find this to be INCREDIBLE evidence for the papacy, as it was only the mid 2nd century and we are already seeing the doctrine of the papacy develop. Much of our understanding of Christology didn't develop this early, and yet,as the authors frankly and candidly admit, the papacy was already beginning to develop. Yet the authors look to explain it all away.
The authors are also quite dramatic when it comes to discussing the Church's teaching "no salvation outside the church." At least twice, they claim that the Catholic church teaches that "the authors of this book will go to hell". I'm sorry, but that is not the teaching of the Church. You only go to hell if you knowingly reject truth. The authors make the exemptions (not exceptions) for the doctrine of "no salvation outside the church" seem to apply to only non-Catholic Christians like Buddhists and Muslims and atheists, then plays the "woe is me" game, "the Catholic Church says I'm going to hell." It was quite childish.
There is a TERRIBLE either/or mentality of interpreting scripture that the authors show. This is most egregiously demonstrated when the authors discuss the Catholic argument for the papacy in terms of the typology of Isiah 22 and Matthew 16. This is one of the strongest arguments for the papacy there is, and unfortunately the authors don't go through much of the Catholic argument. They neglect to point out the obvious parallel when we read in Isiah 22:22 "I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open." with Matthew 16:19 "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." They only give a quote from Steve Ray, but the quote doesn't do any good without looking at the parallels in the scripture text. Yet this argument is blown off in one sentence (in two places, of course) where the authors simply say that the keys in Isaiah 22 are not the keys of Peter, but the keys of the house of David. That's it. This simply an either/or mentality which limits the word of God.
But this is the worst of it all. The following is actually mentioned no less than FOUR TIMES in the book: pages 74, 84, 121, 129-130. On page 74, in an attempt to show that Catholics do not live up to their own criteria spelled out at Trent which says that we must interpret scripture according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers, we read "But even as Catholic authority Ludwig Ott admits, some of the Fathers themselves took 'the rock on which the Lord built the Church as meaning the faith of Peter in the Divinity of Christ.' Hence, by their own infallible standard, the Roman Catholic interpretation of their primacy text on Peter's primacy fails!" The authors then footnote Ott, page 280. The quote is actually found on page 281 and in context, it reads as follows: "In the defensive struggle against Arianism many Fathers take the rock on which the Lord built the Church as meaning the faith of Peter in the divinity of Christ, without, however, excluding the reference to Peter's person, which is clearly indicated in the text." I see this as being dishonest of the authors since Ott clearly indicates in the VERY SAME SENTENCE that the Fathers call the faith of Peter the rock in the context of combating Arianism. This wouldn't even be nearly as bad if the authors had not made that little smug comment at the end about how our own standards disqualify us (they make that smug comment all four times, BTW) So it is very clear that they were intending to use Ott as a Catholic authority who agreed with what they were trying to say, but in fact, the full quote of Ott reveals that the authors tried to dupe the reader.
All in all, I simply can not see how this book made it past the editor's desk. Read "Romans Catholicism: Agreements and Differences" by Geisler if you want a good book critiquing the Catholic church. I have never been so disappointed and disgusted with a book in my entire life. The book could have been condensed into about 50 pages instead of repeating ad nauseum the same arguments. But far worse than that is my sadness at seeing that full Ott quote. Either the authors are dishonest or they took that quote from someone else who was quoting Ott who was dishonest, which is poor scholarship. And I probably would not have checked Ott had they not made that smart-alleck comment after the quote. Shame on Crossway. Shame on the authors.