Gregg R. Allison. Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 496 pp. $28.00.
A few weeks ago a friend asked me whether there were important theological distinctions between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. After explaining some of the core differences, I recommended Dr. Allison’s latest book, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice. This is the first time I’ve ever had a book to recommend on this issue, for prior to Allison’s volume, there had not been a thorough, book-length evangelical treatment of Roman Catholic theology for decades.
Prior to this book I had known of Allison as a (historical) theologian (I purchased his Historical Theology years ago and highly recommend it as a supplement for those who study Grudem’s Systematic Theology), but I was not aware of his evangelistic passion for Roman Catholics and his ministry experience among them. I love the anecdote he recounts at the beginning of Roman Catholic Theology and Practice, of how he and his wife, shortly before getting married, had felt called to serve with Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ) at Notre Dame; how they had struck out three times in trying to get placed there; and how they still ended up getting assigned there as their first campus. But beyond doing ministry at the most Catholic college campus in this country, the Allisons also served in Rome. One thing their story makes clear is that this book isn’t just a theoretical exercise; it’s not just the product of a theologian synthesizing research. Rather, this book is the product of the diligent research of an excellent theologian who, in addition, actually has direct experience with the subject matter and the people. Allison has two purposes for Roman Catholic Theology and Practice:
One purpose is to highlight the commonalities between Catholic and evangelical theology, agreements or similarities that prompt intrigue. These shared doctrines and practices—e.g., the Trinity; the full deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ; worship and prayer—need to be recognized and appreciated, and they lead to thanksgiving for a limited yet real unity between Catholicism and evangelicalism. The other purpose is to underscore the divergences between Catholic and evangelical theology—disagreements or dissimilarities that require critique. These doctrinal and practical disparities—e.g., apostolic succession, transubstantiation, the immaculate conception of Mary, praying for the dead in purgatory—are serious points of division that must be faced honestly and sorrowfully, yet with a humble conviction that avoids minimizing the substantive distance between Catholicism and evangelicalism.
This book walks through the Catechism of the Catholic Church section by section, first offering a summary and then an assessment from Scripture and evangelical theology. There is a concluding chapter dealing with ministry to Roman Catholics, showing, again, that this isn’t just theoretical; that ultimately, the purpose is the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Roman Catholic Theology and Practice is a valuable resource for the Church and is likely to become the definitive contemporary introductory guide for evangelicals desiring to understand what Roman Catholicism teaches, where key divergences with evangelical theology lie, and why it matters.
I received a free digital copy of the book without obligation for providing a positive assessment.