“If Protestantism Is True” Review

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… 😉

Revolting Roses

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.

Devine Truth

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.

You can always trust a man with a pipe…

11 comments

  • Hahaha! Love it. My editor and I debated endnotes vs. footnotes, going with endnotes since she thought they were “a bit less academic.”

    Thanks for the fun review!

  • Pingback: The Restless Pilgrim Reviews If Protestantism is True | St. Joseph's Vanguard

  • DB, may I borrow the book?
    I’m technically not allowed to buy any more books for a while, until…well, you know.
    So, if no one else has claim to it, may I borrow?? PLEEEZZZZZ, with a cherry on top??

      • Well, if you like burnt cookies…
        Or I make my Rice Krispy Treats really gooey and chewy…that is if I don’t burn the marshmellows.
        Oooohh, I can make smores!! oh, if you like it with burnt marshmellows.
        How about an English Triffle? “First there’s a layer of ladyfingers, then a layer of jam, then custard, which I made from scratch, then raspberries, more ladyfingers, then beef sauteed with peas and onions, then a little more custard, and then bananas, and then I just put some whipped cream on top!”
        (Come on, I know you know where that’s from!!)

  • loved your review.

    I just finished Devin’s book about a month ago.
    He raises some very good points, and it’s hard to argue against them, though i’m sure there are protestant apologists who have tried. i myself am (currently) a reformed protestant. Sometimes I’ll read through protestant apologist blogs, but they usually devolve anti-Catholic ravings. What’s more, I’m known to be somewhat thick-skulled.

    That said: i love reading about the Catholic Church, and I’ve been visiting a local parish, but i haven’t quite reached the point where i’m ready to sign the dotted line, so to speak. i wonder if i should take up and and read more protestant apologists, to give them a fair hearing. but that is painstaking work and could get confusing. one can spend his whole life getting lost in the details.

    • Hey JP, thanks for visiting 🙂

      Speaking as a revert to the Catholic Faith, I found a couple of problems when reading Protestant apologetic material. These mostly stemmed from the fact that Protestantism doesn’t speak with a unified voice…in fact, Protestantism has never *really* been able to speak with a unified voice ever since Luther and Zwingli met and couldn’t agree what “This is my body” meant…

      The first problem I found was this: whose apologetics material do you read? If you read Lutheran stuff, you won’t find them arguing against infant baptismal regeneration or Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. However, if you read more Evangelical material, such things will come under fire. With such a large spectrum of possible belief systems, to whose system do you turn?

      The second problem I found was that, in the areas where different apologists agree, their reasons and explanations differed widely. For example, over the issue of Church authority all will agree that true authority isn’t found in Rome. However, explanations as to when and how the Church lost this authority, or whether it even had it to begin with, will vary widely. When somebody questions me about the Catholic faith I usually ask my questioner at what date the Church fell into corruption. I’ve had answers ranging from 70 AD through to around the Fifth or Sixth Century…

      “Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” – 1 Cor 14:8

      However, in order to do “due diligence” I tried to give non-Catholic apologists an opportunity to present their case. However, like you, I got a little tired of the rants. Ultimately, I simply found more beauty in the case for the Catholic Church.

      As someone who has gone done this path before, for whatever my advice is worth, I would suggest that you make your prayer life a priority. Perhaps set aside an hour each week to pray specifically about this issue and to ask the Lord to show the way. You could maybe even see if your parish has a Holy Hour… 😉

      Read the Bible, preferably with a good commentary (http://www.amazon.com/Ignatius-Catholic-Study-Bible-Testament/dp/1586172506/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1280510134&sr=8-1). By all means read non-Catholic apologetics material, but if it raises a question you can’t answer, go find a Catholic that can – there is a good community over at http://forums.catholic.com. Also, if you don’t read it, I would thoroughly suggest “Shameless Popery” at http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/ and “Called to Communion” at http://www.calledtocommunion.com/ (they specialize in Reformed Theology).

      Lastly, if you haven’t read any of the Early Church Fathers yet, I would suggest you do so. I personally found the witness of the Early Church invaluable in my journey http://restlesspilgrim.net/blog/notes/patristics/

      Comment again soon!

      God bless,

      David

      • David,
        Thank you for taking the time to reply! and thank you for those recommendations 🙂 truth be told, I’ve been a lurker at all of these sites..including Restless Pilgrim.

        The protestant church i sometimes attend illustrates one of your points in this: though the church, in its statement of faith, claims to be ‘essentially Reformed,’ they take a credobaptist position on baptism, which from my understanding, was definitely not Martin Luther’s position on baptism. So they have to maintain that Martin Luther’s interpretation of baptism was wrong, and they reach this conclusion based on their interpretation of the same canon Martin Luther read and interpreted.
        But truthfully, I don’t think I’d engage my pastors on this point. I don’t want to seem combative or argumentative. Anyway, I tried talking to one of my pastors about why protestants have a different canon than that of someone like St. Augustine but that conversation ended by him telling me, basically, that I should think twice before I start worshipping Mary and the saints. He was well-meaning, and sincere. He was just unaware that Catholics worship neither Mary nor the saints, and condemn idolatry just as strongly as protestants.

        Anyhow, I really look forward to reading your posts. For what it’s worth, I also look forward to pictures of the outstanding food you sometimes share 🙂

        • Glad I can help a bit. It is a tricky situation to be sure. Awkward conversations like the one you describe are never fun. You’re in my prayers.

          In the next month or so I’ve got a few apologetic topics planned. I’ve been saying ever since I started this blog that I’m going to do a few posts examining Sola Scriptura – I’m going to finally get around to doing it. I also had someone post a comment about Mary that I’d like to address briefly.

          …and I’m glad you like the food photos – it’s part of my overall plan to become a bit of a better “grown-up” 🙂

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