Saturday, December 27, 2014

Gregg Allison on Roman Catholicism: Introduction

I’m a big fan of Gregg Allison. Two of his works, “Historical Theology”, which topically explores all the major doctrines of Christianity from a historical perspective, and “Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church”, are among my favorites.

So I was delighted to see that he was coming out with this over-arching work on Roman Catholicism, “Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment”. This work does not disappoint.

I have to say, from a personal perspective, I’ve not looked forward to a book, nor enjoyed reading one, so much as I’ve enjoyed this one. There are a lot of works on Roman Catholicism, and many of them are bad, or incomplete. As Leonard De Chirico has pointed out, they fail to look at Roman Catholicism from a “systematic” perspective.

That’s De Chirico’s message in his 2003 work, “Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism”. Essentially a minor revision of his doctoral dissertation, De Chirico focuses on his one core lament:

The Evangelical perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism share a vivid concern for historical developments and doctrinal themes related to Roman Catholicism itself, but broadly speaking, 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).

That is, among the different Protestant writers who look at Roman Catholicism (especially in its post-Vatican II iteration), virtually all of them look at it “atomistically” – focusing on one aspect or another – or many of them – but they fail to look at its “core”.

What does this mean? Some authors look at Roman Catholicism from the perspective of its system of justification (having rejected and anathematized the Gospel at Trent). Yes, they’ve done that, but what’s the purpose of it? Where did Rome’s doctrine come from? What caused the difference?

Others look at the system of the papacy, or the sacerdotal priesthood, or transubstantiation, or devotion to Mary and the saints, or transubstantiation, or penance. All of these things are aberrations from New Testament and patristic Christianity. But what caused these aberrations? Where do they come from? Is there one grand theme or idea holding them all together?

De Chirico says, “yes”. In fact, he searches out and identifies what he calls Rome’s two “core doctrines” (very closely related, however), and almost without exception, Reformed and evangelical writers since Trent, and especially since Vatican II, have missed them.

Allison’s work picks up where De Chirico’s work leaves off, and while he does not do a perfect job of it, much of what follows then is Allison’s [quite substantial] attempt to remedy this deficiency.

In a way, Allison’s work is the flip-side of De Chirico’s work, the “other side of the coin” which completes what was lacking, and “filling in the blanks” for De Chirico’s lament. Here’s how I’d break them out:

De Chirico’s work essentially breaks out into three parts:

1. Discuss the problems defining “Evangelical Theology” (since about 1960).
2. Review the “Evangelical responses” to Vatican II and conclude that they don’t show the “core” of Roman Catholicism.
3. Identify the two-fold “core” of Roman Catholicism and suggest how a comprehensive Evangelical treatment might proceed.

Allison begins with those items in mind, and elaborates:

1. He presents an “Evangelical Theology” (which he largely identifies with his own Reformed Baptist beliefs).
2. He discusses the two-fold “core” of Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism in some detail
3. He then works through the first ¾ of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” in light of his discussion of #2 (in his own list).

This is why De Chirico seems to love this book.

Over the next couple of days and weeks, I’m going to provide an occasional series looking at different aspects of the work. I wouldn’t call this a “review” in the technical sense, because I intend to bounce around and show different aspects of it.

Stay tuned.