About a month ago I received my copy of Devin Rose‘s new book “If Protestantism Is True”. I’ve been a subscriber to Devin’s blog for some time, distributed some of his podcasts at the JP2 Group and occasionally interacted with him over the Internet.
I was therefore looking forward to read his book. Unfortunately, I had Vocation Director prescribed reading this month and that had to be done first! Last week I finally completed my reading assignments and so I finally got started on Devin’s book and, since it’s nice and compact at 162 pages, I read it from cover-to-cover this weekend.
Stairway to Devin
Devin begins his book by telling the reader the story of his own conversion from Atheism to Christianity, and then of his journey into the Catholic Church a year later. He starts to discuss some of the questions which troubled him as a Protestant and which ultimately led him towards the Catholic Church. He returns to some of these questions later in the book and examines them in more detail.
To err is human, to forgive Devin
I think my favourite chapter is actually the second chapter, one of the shortest in the entire book. In this section Devin outlines the difficulty of conversion, saying “Once we as human beings accept something as true, our first inclination when it is challenged is to defend that belief” (Page 21). He looks a little bit at the psychology involved and also at the effect of bias…
He walks through different scenarios where a Christian from one denomination visits another denomination’s church service and instinctively concludes that, because things are different, they are wrong. For example, a Catholic may visit an Evangelical church and be confronted with an auditorium devoid of all the usual accoutrements he associates with church, such as crucifixes, crosses, fonts, candles, stained glass etc. Likewise, a Pentecostal attending Mass for the first time is confronted with incense, processions, vestments, Gregorian Chant, as well as the “Simon Says” experience of sitting, standing and kneeling
The point is made that knee-jerk reactions cannot be immediately trusted as coming from the Holy Spirit. One’s initial reaction will stem, to a large degree, from the faith tradition in which one was raised. Instead, we must move carefully, in prayer, in study and with careful discernment. I think this advice is invaluable for all those who are seeking the truth.
Catholicism’s Rose-y (and not so Rose-y) History
With the foregoing as our background, we move into the main body of the book, with the preliminary chapters looking at the subject of history. The historical claims of the Catholic Church are examined and some time is spent looking at the early ecumenical councils, the Papacy and the four marks of the Church as defined by the Council of Nicea.
Much of this is fairly standard apologetic material drawing from Scripture and the Church Fathers. The twist which is unique to this book is that at the end of each section there is an “If Protestantism is true…” paragraph. This final paragraph attempts to harmonize the evidence that has been presented with the principles of Protestantism. For example, the section addressing Church authority concludes thus:
“If Protestantism is true, then either Christ revoked the authority He had given His Church or She changed in her essentials from being a unified, visible, and hierarchically organized Body to an invisible and purely spiritual one, merely made up of believers who are embodied. In the latter case, it becomes impossible to know to whom God has given the rightful authority to lead the Church. In Protestantism, there is no Church that can be pointed to as “the Church”, but only individual believers, some of whom claim authority because they say that they teach the truth” - “If Protestantism Is True”, Page 35
Some people may not like this polemic device, but personally I rather warmed to it. As an aside, when I first read some of Devin’s arguments on his website, I thought the book was going to approach things the other way around. I thought he was going to look at the founding principles of Protestantism and, using these assumptions, hypothesize as to what we would expect to find in history and then contrast it with what we actually find. For example, if Protestantism is true…
…the Apostles would have immediately set about writing the New Testament after the Ascension, since oral transmission is so unreliable.
…the Council of Jerusalem would not have been called. Instead all believers would have been told to go home and study the Scriptures for themselves to decide whether or not circumcision was required for salvation…
….Clement of Rome would not not have written to the Corinthians rebuking them for ejecting their leaders, since he had no authority to meddle in another church’s affairs…
…Ignatius of Antioch would have told the Ephesians that, to protect them from error, they should cling to Scripture alone, rather than to the Bishop, and he would have described Scripture and not the Eucharist as “the medicine of immortality”.
Maybe in Devin’s next book…
Devin then moves on to specifically look at the Reformation. My favourite thing about this chapter is he concedes ground where it should rightfully be given. The Church was in bad shape in the Sixteenth Century. It was in need of reformation. In fact, the Church is in constant need of reformation! Unfortunately, the reformer that She got in Martin Luther was not one who was willing to be patient or be corrected.
I was delighted to see that Devin uses the same example as I have done as to what a true reformer looks like: St. Francis of Assisi. Francis was born in the Twelfth Century, a time when the Church was also in a rather shoddy state. By the end of his life, Francis had brought about a tremendous renewal in the Church and he achieved all this through seeking personal holiness and obedience to those in authority, those who themselves were in clear need of reform! Devin notes the sad fact that, had Luther been more patient, Catholics today might regularly refer to St. Martin Luther, that great Reformer of the Catholic Church.
Devin then devotes some time to discussing the canon of Scripture, the very subject which brought about my return to the Catholic Faith and I think he does a great job of condensing a very complicated subject into a few pages. He also looks at some of the common arguments in favour of the Protestant canon and points out some of the problems with these positions.
Next he looks at the legacy of Protestantism. This section addresses the gap between the Reformers and modern-day Protestants, particularly in certain areas of morality. The tricky subject of “ecclesial consumerism” is also addressed.
The book then concludes with responses to some common objections to the Catholic Church, as well as chapters on the Sacraments and the subjects of Tradition and Scripture. This material continues to follow a similar kind of structure with well articulated and succinct arguments. Counter-arguments are addressed and each section is concluded with a paragraph looking at “If Protestantism is true…”.
Everything’s coming up Roses
In summary, I really enjoyed “If Protestantism Is True“, even if Devin did choose to use endnotes as opposed to footnotes. Everybody knows that endnotes are evil…
It’s not the most comprehensive apologetics book I’ve read, although there is an impressive amount of material covered in such a short book. Of the more comprehensive books that I’ve read, although superb, they are less accessible and considerably thicker.
Given both its friendly tone and modest size, this book is a candidate for the kind of book that I might give to non-Catholic friends and invite them to read in order to understand better the case for the Catholic Church.