In the last several years, I have found myself reading more about the differences between Protestants and the Roman Church. I have read many official Catholic documents and scholarly books, as well as popular-level apologetics from both Catholic and Protestant perspectives.
Roman but Not Catholic, by Collins and Walls is the best-written book I have read so far in its genre. I gave it a read late last year and then picked it up again recently. Its tone is charitable and it portrays the debate in a way that both sides can actually recognize their positions. It also dismantles the caricatures and straw men that are everywhere present in this debate (especially in popular-level apologetics books). The authors do more arguing than asserting, which is super rare these days. And they footnote extensively throughout the book to show transparency in their source material.
The premise of Roman But Not Catholic is, unsurprisingly, that the Roman church’s claims of catholicity (i.e., that it is the one true universal church) and primacy do not stand up to careful scrutiny. I think they made this case very compellingly.
I especially appreciated three parts of this work. First, I loved the authors’ review of John Henry Newman’s influential work concerning doctrinal development. Newman “solved” the problem of the Roman church concerning late and innovative Catholic doctrines which lack support in the Scriptures or the in the earliest of the patristic sources. He argued that the seeds of every essential doctrine the Roman church believes can be found in those sources because the church believes them now, and so the church always believed those things. The Roman church, in articulating a doctrine, is always merely bringing to maturity what was always there and has always been believed. The authors’ even-handed treatment of Newman’s flawed arguments was worth the price of the book to me. I have yet to read a credible counter-argument (though I have heard lots of brow-beating on it).
Second, I was glad the authors interacted primarily with official Roman Catholic documents and scholarly Catholic sources and avoided the more rhetorically extravagant popular-level ones. This kept the discussion credible, in my opinion. Although this leads to the next thing I appreciated.
Third, I was happy to see these authors interact with two popular popular-level Catholic apologetics books. The books are The Protestants Dilemma and Surprised by Truth. I am not happy that they addressed these books because the arguments in these books are so compelling. Indeed, it is difficult to take these two books seriously, in my opinion. They are little more than echo-chamber books (though these works might cause angst in very new or untaught Christians – which is a serious thing to me, pastorally). Nevertheless, the caricatures, straw men, confusing and fallacious arguments in these books are also everywhere present in Catholic apologetic materials (Catholic radio, apologetic books and sites like Catholic.com, etc.). The authors helpfully make short work of them.
My only major disagreement with the work is the enthusiasm the authors share for a kind of ecumenism that is reticent to call to repentance those who believe and teach false things, especially false things about the gospel. However, I think that issue, serious as it is, is dwarfed by the many positive things about this work.
If you are looking for a very well-written book about the differences between Protestants and followers of the Roman Church, and an excellent defense of Protestant convictions and doctrine, you won’t be disappointed by Roman but Not Catholic. Buy it now on Amazon.com.