Catholic theology, to the average outsider, is a mysterium tremendum. Being an evangelical and somewhat of a theology geek myself, I’ve always been curious to know what Catholics really believe—to cut through the layers of misinformation, Protestant biases, and sheer hearsay. Such a curiosity is only sated by a comprehensive, systematic overview: it wouldn’t do to simply learn about the immaculate conception of Mary, for example, without understanding the overarching framework in which it makes sense. As luck would have it, that is precisely the project that Theologian Gregg Allison has recently accomplished.
In his work Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment, he walks through the Catholic Catechism offering a brief summary of each doctrine without comment. After each summary he then presents an Evangelical response wherein he weighs both points of agreement and departure between the two theological perspectives. Though Allison himself comes from a Reformed perspective, he strives to speak for the entire Evangelical ecosystem, giving every side of a doctrine where intramural disagreement exists.
What is the value of such a book? Perhaps those who would be most inclined to pick up a reference like this are not simply those who have an academic curiosity like myself, but those who live on the social border to Catholicism. Whether it’s a friend or a relative or a coworker, we all likely know someone who is Catholic. This book aims to help you engage in more fruitful dialog with them by having an accurate portrayal of their belief system. Though one could read straight through the whole thing, I envisage a reader picking it up and flipping to a specific section to read up either before or after a conversation with a Catholic.
The book’s strength lies in Allison’s Evangelical response sections: he strikes me as being fair-handed with both sides (of course, I’m biased to agree with him) yet he offers concise, exegetically specific reasons why a certain Catholic doctrine is wanting. If there is substantial agreement, he says so. I especially appreciate that he maintains a charitable tone throughout, as Evangelicals can tend to become rather vitriolic and unnecessarily offensive when dealing with those Papists.
One potential weakness of the book is its highly intricate structure. Given the complexity of the task at hand, Allison does an admirable job of keeping the book as simple as possible, but a brief perusal of the table of contents can be a bit daunting. Nonetheless, I would heartily recommend this work to anyone who has a reason to know what Catholics believe in contrast to Evangelical Orthodoxy. Secondarily, a Catholic who wonders what Evangelical Protestants are all about might benefit from it as well.
DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.