Monday, October 23, 2017

“Roman but Not Catholic”: Authors Jerry Walls and Ken Collins

Jerry Walls and Ken Collins
Jerry Walls (l) and Ken Collins
This is part of a review series I’m going to be doing on the Jerry Walls and Ken Collins work “Roman but Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years after the Reformation” (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Academic, 2017). The work is unique in that it explores very many of the historical developments that led to the post-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church that we see today.

I want to first briefly talk about the authors of this work. They are not the kind of traditional authors that one might find mentioned on this blog.

For example, in an earlier comment, a good Reformed friend wrote, “Never thought I would buy a book authored by Jerry Walls”. Jerry certainly has a reputation here at Triablogue, most notably for a work and a sentiment entitled “Why I’m Not a Calvinist”.

Triablogue, of course, is strongly Reformed in its leanings. Steve Hays is closely linked with John Frame, and Frame is a leading Reformed thinker in our day – perhaps not much appreciated by the WSCal crowd, but they are kind of off on their own anyway – somewhat insular in their ways. I see Frame as more of a mainstream Reformed thinker – that is, if the Calvinist, Reformed branch of Christianity is to have an influence on our broader world in favor of Christianity today, it will be Frame’s thinking rather than the WSCal kind of thinking that will move the needle.

Why Jerry Walls?

Jerry Walls seems to me to fit into the same cloth as is Frame – a serious academic streak, along with a somewhat eclectic bent. He is a Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University, and he has made the rounds of some leading universities, with degrees from Princeton Seminary, Yale Divinity School, and a PhD in philosophy from Notre Dame. He is far more prolific than his focus on Calvinism would suggest. His faculty page at HBU notes that:

He has authored, co-authored, edited or co-edited a dozen books and over eighty articles and reviews. Among these is a trilogy on the afterlife, namely: Hell: The Logic of Damnation (University of Notre Dame Press, 1992); Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy (Oxford University Press, 2002); Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation (Oxford University Press, 2011).

It was that “Purgatory” title and also his Notre Dame credentials that first put him on the radar screen in the Roman Catholic world. Here is the slightly edited account from the book on why he chose to take part in this project:

I knew very little about Roman Catholicism while growing up, and I don’t recall having any particular opinions about it. Looking back, I have no distinct memories of interacting with Catholics until I went to Princeton Theological Seminary from 1977 to 1980— during which time, by the way, I first met Collins, who was a fellow student at Princeton.

My first serious engagement with Roman Catholicism came when I enrolled as a graduate student in the philosophy department at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 1984. During this period Notre Dame was in the process of building a great Christian philosophy department with an ecumenical composition, and the excitement was palpable. In addition to a number of serious Catholics, Notre Dame had attracted some noted Protestants, including the great Alvin Plantinga and Tom Morris, who had recently completed graduate school at Yale and was already off to a roaring start in his academic career by the time I arrived.

While I was getting a great philosophical education at Notre Dame, I was also acquiring an informal education of another sort, namely, about Roman Catholicism, at least of the American variety. In addition to faculty members, several of my fellow graduate students were committed Roman Catholics, and my conversations with them were the first I can recall in which I ever discussed at length the differences that divide Protestants from Catholics; they not only took those issues seriously but also were eager to defend their side of the matter. Indeed, I came to realize that many conservative Roman Catholics view evangelicals as Catholics just waiting to happen, and they would love to help push us over the edge.

Several years later I had the good fortune to meet Richard John Neuhaus and to get to know him a bit. We hit it off, and he was intrigued to learn that I was a Protestant who was defending a version of the doctrine of purgatory in the book I was then writing about heaven. Shortly thereafter he invited me to join the Dulles Colloquium, an ecumenical theology discussion group hosted by him and [Cardinal] Avery Dulles, after whom it was named. The Dulles Colloquium met once or twice a year in New York, usually at the Union League Club, and the official business of the day was to discuss a paper that had been sent to us several weeks earlier.

Through the years when I was involved in the colloquium, I got to discuss matters of vital importance with some remarkable people: Gary Anderson, Jody Bottum, Shalom Carmy, Chuck Colson, Robert George, Timothy George, Paul Griffiths, Thomas Guarino, David Hart, Stanley Hauerwas, Russ Hittinger, Robert Jensen, George Lindbeck, Bruce Marshall, Gilbert Meilaender, David Novak, Michael Novak, James Nuechterlein, Tom Oden, Rusty Reno, Steve Webb, George Weigel, Robert Wilken, and many others.

After the formal session(s), conversation(s) continued more casually over dinner. Then we usually retired to the table of the Lord. The welcome that was extended to those of us who did not regard Rome as the one true church only went so far: we watched from a distance when our Roman Catholic brothers shared the sacrament of Communion. These sorts of experiences have generated my interest in the issues of this book and led me to think that it needed to be written.

I should frankly say that I have never been seriously tempted to convert to Rome, although I have obviously pondered it, as indicated by the experiences described above. Somewhat ironically, that is part of why I wanted to write this book with Collins. In recent years we have heard from lots of evangelicals who have converted to Rome. (Most of them, it seems, feel they need to write a book or at least contribute an essay to one of those collections of conversion narratives that are so popular among Catholic apologists.) I thought it might be helpful for the many persons who are struggling with these issues to hear from persons who have thought about them carefully but have not converted to Rome. We have heard from lots of people who have read John Henry Newman’s famous essay on doctrinal development and found his arguments compelling. I thought it might be helpful to hear from persons who have read Newman but found his arguments deeply confused and his conclusions badly overstated.

I also want to reiterate that this book aims to be ecumenical in the best sense of the word.

His complete rationale for writing this book appears on pages xix–xxiii of the Introduction.

Ken Collins

Dr. Kenneth J. Collinsis a bit of a different story. Professor of Historical Theology and Wesley Studies at Asbury Seminary, Ken Collins has authored or co-authored a number of works on John Wesley and more broadly on “religion in America”, including “The Sermons of John Wesley: A Collection for the Christian Journey”, “The Works of John Wesley: Doctrinal and Controversial Treatises”, and also “Power Politics and the Fragmentation of Evangelicalism: From the Scopes Trial to the Obama Administration”.

While he now has a passion for Wesley studies, as a Seminary professor he says “I have witnessed countless testimonies of genuine salvation and radical transformation of persons who now both know and love God as revealed in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit”. He is “the product of years of Roman Catholic education” – during the 1950’s, when he “had often been physically abused by Roman Catholic brothers” (meaning men living in Religious Orders, not necessarily priests – the male counterparts to “Sisters”). It was because of the physical abuse (which seems to have reflected itself in a severe form of knuckle whacking) that he “fled” the Roman Catholic Church (“fled” is “the right word”), he also claims “Today I have not the slightest twinge of resentment toward Roman Catholicism or its clergy”. “How can that be?” he asks?

The answer here has much to do with grace. That is, it was no one less than the Holy Spirit, orchestrating providential grace, who not only changed my heart but also used my early, negative experiences in Roman Catholicism to bring great good out of them. In particular, the Spirit of the living Christ ultimately led me into the church that is known as the Wesleyan theological tradition, in which I have flourished for more than four decades now. If I live to be a thousand years old, I would still not have enough time to express all the gratitude in my heart for this wonderful, life-transforming journey. The riches of the Wesleyan tradition are so very considerable. In the end, I must energetically confess, it’s all good, for God’s grace is sufficient, and God’s love is over all!

It was Jerry Walls’s persistence that persuaded him away from his relatively calm existence as a Seminary Professor and immersed him into the world of Roman Catholic apologetics.

Jerry had convinced me that I could help a large population of Christians who are currently struggling with the issues we discuss in this book. Many of these folk are evangelicals— though some are not— who have begun to look at their own communions of faith in greatly diminished ways precisely due to errors in historiography (how they read the history of the church and their own place within it) as well as in ecclesiology, that is, with respect to a proper understanding of what constitutes the church, the body of Christ. Properly motivated now to take up the cause by love for my brothers and sisters, some of whom are suffering, I came to view this whole enterprise much differently and very positively. I had this change of heart even though I realized that writing such a book would open up both Jerry and me to much criticism, even to personal attack (did I really want a round 2?). However, that also comes with the lay of the land here and reveals, once again, precisely why such a book must be written.

His complete rationale for writing this book appears on pages xiii–xvii of the Introduction.

The Distinct Claims of Roman Catholicism … For Protestants

Ultimately, in the words of both men, this book was conceived and written for those Protestants who feel they must consider Rome, with all of its accretions and aberrations. I have already cited Collins’s comment to the effect that “to point out repeatedly the weaknesses of Protestantism in the face of serious reflection on Roman Catholicism, … is in our judgment just another way of changing the conversation, even shutting it down, so that the very real problems of the Roman Catholic tradition are never actually faced. … Roman Catholicism (and its many claims) is after all the topic of this book, and we unswervingly pursue this throughout. … It constitutes much of why neither of us is a Roman Catholic even today.”

The book is about “the distinct claims of the Roman Catholic Church, especially those that set it apart from other theological traditions such as Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism.”

Some time ago, Carl Trueman noted the need for a Confessionally Reformed book about Roman Catholicism. So far, that book has not been forthcoming. This work is written from a broadly evangelical tradition, and I believe that Reformed believers will benefit greatly from it.


  1. Good job John!

    Dave Armstrong banned me from commenting at his new Patheos blog.

    What is Dave afraid of?

    So, here is my first response to his # 1 of his new series trying to refute the Walls and Collins book.

    1. Hey Ken -- he's banned me too, so don't feel special! I still maintain that dealing with him is like stepping in dog poop.

      How are you doing?

    2. I am doing Ok. Thanks for your encouragement and notes. Email me for more. I will be very busy soon, preaching and teaching at a conference until Nov. 1, so won't be able to comment much for the next few days.

    3. Nothing, Ken. It's quality control. Many of our old runaround / futile dialogues are still posted on my site. But enough of stupid controversies is enough. St. Paul commands us to avoid them.

      The funniest part of this is that this site has banned me for many years now or soon deleted my comments, if they allow them at all. I'm also banned at James Swan's Beggar's All, where you post (Swan won't even mention my name), and I used to be banned on Eric Svendsen's discussion forum; also James White's chat room. So banning is pretty widespread. one has to look at reasons WHY it occurs. They can be sensible or unfair and unjust, and done out of fear.

    4. After trying to read your 30 + page snail mail letter to Dr. White ( I gave up it was so awful and ponderous and full of insults, etc.), I can see why Dr. White criticized you the way he did; (you were like stalking), and why others banned you, including James Swan. To them you were like an internet stalker.

      But you are welcome to comment at my site, apologetics and agape. Your arguments have already been fully refuted a long time ago. You could not handle my comments, especially the last ones I made at your Patheos web-site (what an awful web-site, awful for the eyes, too busy, too many advertisements, yuk! and with Hindus and atheists and "liberal Christians", very few halfway doctrinal evangelicals.

    5. The one thing I could count on in you, Ken (if nothing else, and like virtually no other anti-Catholic I've met), was being a nice guy. Now even that is a casualty of your anti-Catholic mentality, as you become increasingly acid and caustic. How sad.

    6. They engaged you for years and just got tired of dealing with you.
      I don't mind however, if I have the time.

  2. Dave Armstrong’s method (and Roman Catholic centuries later method of stringing texts together to try and make Mary into the “new ark of the covenant” is just exactly like what Irenaeus rebuked the heretics and Gnostics for in his day:

    They Connect different passages together without following the context or argument of either passage.

    “. . .
    In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. Their manner of acting is just as if one, when a beautiful image of a king has been constructed by some skillful artist out of precious jewels, should then take this likeness of the man all to pieces, should rearrange the gems, and so fit them together as to make them into the form of a dog or of a fox, and even that but poorly executed; and should then maintain and declare that this was the beautiful image of the king which the skillful artist constructed, pointing to the jewels which had been admirably fitted together by the first artist to form the image of the king, but have been with bad effect transferred by the latter one to the shape of a dog, and by thus exhibiting the jewels, should deceive the ignorant who had no conception what a king’s form was like, and persuade them that that miserable likeness of the fox was, in fact, the beautiful image of the king. In like manner do these persons patch together old wives’ fables, and then endeavor, by violently drawing away from their proper connection, words, expressions, and parables whenever found, to adapt the oracles of God to their baseless fictions. We have already stated how far they proceed in this way with respect to the interior of the Pleroma.”

    Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1:8:1

  3. I've been banned here for many years now. LOL Unless something has now changed and they let this one through . . .

    1. Irenaeus fully demolishes all your arguments in all the extra man-made traditions that the RC Church has added to the Christian faith for centuries, there in Against Heresies, 1:8:1.

  4. "Odd Trio: Jerry Walls, Ken Collins, & Anti-Catholic John Bugay"