Saturday, January 10, 2015

Gregg Allison on Roman Catholicism: The Heart of the Matter

After the brief introductory materials that I described, Gregg Allison starts right into the meat of his work,“Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment”.

“Chapter 2” is the largest and most important chapter; it’s here where he picks up responding to Leonard De Chirico’s lament that Evangelical perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism “must be judged to be deficient in theological insight, especially as far as the recognition of the systemic nature of Roman Catholicism and the theological core of the problem between Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism are concerned”. (De Chirico, 303).
My assessment of Roman Catholic theology and practice will be on the basis of both Scripture and evangelical theology, so this chapter will begin with a brief explanation of Scripture and its interpretation and will then concentrate on a presentation of evangelical doctrine (pg. 31.)
There may be a number of objections to this approach.

With this assessment being “on the basis of both Scripture and evangelical theology”, someone like Bryan Cross (who has already begun yipping at Allison) will immediately say “that’s begging the question in the dialectical sense”. But that objection fails because Allison clearly defines his primary audience as “evangelicals who desire to become familiar with Catholic theology” and “evangelicals who wish to know better their own evangelical theology as compared to and contrasted with Catholic theology”. So for his two primary audiences, this is a legitimate comparison. It is educational, not polemical.

I’ll go further, and say that Allison’s stated purpose is not to dissuade erstwhile evangelicals from becoming Roman Catholic. The final chapter of his book is devoted to “Evangelical Ministry with Catholics”. That is, “the clear and pointed critique of the doctrines and practices on which Catholic theology disagrees with evangelical theology has not given me any joy. However, this criticism of such divergences, as burdensome as it has been, is necessary for several reasons”:
Evangelical readers of this book know many Catholics and want to understand what they believe and why. Additionally, Catholic readers of this book know many evangelicals and want to understand what they believe and why, and also what their assessment of Catholic theology is. Moreover, dialogue between Catholics and evangelicals will move ahead constructively only if both theological perspectives thoroughly understand each other, both their commonalities and divergences. Finally, Catholics who are journeying toward evangelicalism, and evangelicals who are journeying toward Catholicism, need to know what they are getting themselves into.
He notes rightly that while most people make the journey from one place to another because of “the counsel of a spiritual guide or mentor from the faith toward which the person is traveling”, such journeys frequently are such that “the doctrinal and practical issues that are the focus of this book may not play the key role in the decision-making process”.

As well, Roman Catholics may object because the notion of a unified “evangelical theology”. But Allison paints in broad strokes – he paints “evangelical theology” with a broad brush, and as well, he talks about Roman Catholic “theology and practice”. He does not dive into “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma”.

What Allison seeks to do, rather, is to recognize the “systematic nature” of Roman Catholicism, its “theological core”, in such a way that evangelicals today can recognize the differences that exist between Protestants and Catholics, and trace them to these differences. These differences have been profound differences since Rome anathematized the Gospel at Trent. And, in my opinion, Rome, while trying to put a pretty face on things at Vatican II, has only worked to solidify and exacerbate the differences.

A friend of mine has said, “the older we become, the more like ourselves we become”. That statement is true of the Roman Catholic religion. It is becoming less and less Christian, as the truly Christian elements within it become hidden further and further in the Roman morass.

So Allison focuses not on “fundamentals” and the minute differences, say, between the de fide definitia and the fides ecclesiastica. He approaches, again with a broad brush, what Roman Catholics believe and practice, specifically as it has been outlined in the most recent “symbol” or “official pronouncement”, the 1992/4 “Catechism of the Catholic Church”.

In doing so, as I’ve said, he picks up where De Chirico has left off:
Additionally, it will propose for the purpose of understanding and assessment an approach that considers Catholic theology as a coherent, all-encompassing system with two major features: the nature-grace interdependence, that is, a strong continuity between nature and grace; and the Christ-Church interconnection, that is, an ecclesiology (a doctrine of the church) that views the Catholic Church as the ongoing incarnation of Jesus Christ. These axioms will also be assessed.
Allison again provides “broad brush” treatments of these two “core” elements: “the nature-grace interdependence” and “the Christ-Church” interconnection.

My hope over the course of the next several blog posts on this topic will be to look at what Allison says about these two items (which he has condensed from the writings of De Chirico), and I’ll expand upon them in the context of some of the larger historical discussions and theologies.

The next several elements in order will include:

·        Scripture and Its Interpretation
·        An Evangelical Vision of Life with God and Human Flourishing
·        Catholic Theology as an All-Encompassing System
o   The Nature-Grace Interdependence
o   An Evangelical Assessment of the Nature-Grace Interdependence
o   The Christ-Church Interconnection

o   An Evangelical Assessment of the Christ-Church Interconnection

Throughout the book, I’ve found that Allison’s presentations of Roman Catholicism are honest, in that he works with great diligence to describe what Roman Catholicism actually teaches (although, as we have seen, on the “Catholics-in-the-pews” side, there is a great deal of unwillingness to actually believe all of that**), and his “Evangelical Assessments” are very thorough (within the “broad brush” method that he uses), and they go very far to explain why I am not, cannot be, and refuse to be, Roman Catholic.

** Maggie Gallagher, writing in National Review, notes, “When large chunks of Mass-going traditional Catholics don’t believe in basic doctrines of the Church, something is going very wrong at the most basic level.” She suggests that “My guess from 30 years of Mass-going is that they seldom or never hear what the Church teaches”, but in that case, what good is the “infallible Church” if “the infallible Church” hierarchy doesn’t actually teach “what the Church teaches”? It’s completely useless. But Roman Catholics want to maintain that there is some form of “pristine Church doctrine”, even though the hierarchy, which is supposed to define, protect, and proclaim that “doctrine”, and it is, in fact, the only source in the world from which we can receive it.

No comments:

Post a Comment