Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Review of "Is Rome the True Church?" part 1.

  Is Rome the True Church? is the new book by evangelical apologist Norman Geisler and fellow apologist Joshua Betancourt published by Crossway 2008. In a slim 232 pages these two Protestant writers promise to unmask the fallacy of Roman Catholic assertions. Is this bold claim then a modern day literary example of David slaying the goliath? Or is it closer to yet another sad diatribe by fringe schismatics re-hashing dead arguments that have effectively been put to rest by Catholic scholars centuries ago? Betancourt I am unfamiliar with but Geisler I have read and I had high hopes of at least a decent philosophical challenge (in contrast to the farce Roman Catholicism which I began reviewing below but was filled with so much inaccuracy, straw man argument and misrepresentation on almost every line that I could not bring myself to waste anymore time on). 

The very fist passages of this book nearly caused me to throw it in the trash, exasperated, fearing another set of rambling chapters misleading readers unaccustomed to the sensitive issues involved,

 "While thousands of Catholics have converted to Protestant evangelicalism, strangely, a "number of evangelical intellectuals have gone the other way, deciding that 'Rome is home.'"...While the trade-off numbers significantly favor evangelicalism, one still wonders why some evangelicals see greener grass on the other side of the ecclesiastical fence." -p. 7

 And so starts the "irenic" evaluation of Roman Catholic claims by this dynamic duo. But surely Geisler would cite some evidence of this solid claim? None is given. Moreover, these what I deem cheap numbers game can be turned on evangelicals which much more force than they give. For surely our Protestant friends are aware that the Roman Catholic Church not only is the oldest organization of Western civilization but also boasts the most adherents (1 billion plus) world-wide far ahead of any other Christian branch of the church. Therefore, it stands to reason based on mathematics alone that even granting a few thousand Catholics falling away into Protestantism this, "number of evangelicals" that are joining Rome is far more crippling to their smaller overall numbers in relation to the whole. But now I digress, let us consider the main points of the book starting with chapter 1, "The Roman Claim to be the True Church."

     It is claimed that the "authoritarian papal hierarchical structure" took a long time (centuries in the making) to develop, in contrast to the simplicity and "self-governing independent New Testament churches." (p.10). Seven points of proof are presented;

 1. They posit the old argument that Diotrephes as mentioned in 3 John 9 represents "the seeds of an episcopal form of government" that was beginning to emerge already in the first century, which was spreading "false tradition" concerning some of Jesus' logia sayings, a type of ecclesial system says Geilser and Betancourt that John quickly refuted. (p.10). The problems with this theory are immense and it is poorly handled by Geisler. To begin with there is an enormous debate raging in critical scholarship on not only what the position of this Diotrephes was in the early Church but how did it relate to the author John? At least seven major camps have been identified all complete with their champions. None of this critical background to the issue is even suggested by Geisler on the poor unsuspecting reader. He simply confidently asserts that his particular view must be correct (with no exegesis given at all). In fact this particular view is at least as old as the liberal scholar Harnack (Uber den dritten Johannesbrief, TU 15 in 1897.) In response to this particular view, it must explain why if the Apostle John clearly refuted this "error" did it basically gain world-wide dominance a few decades after the Apostle penned this letter, a "corrupt system" most impressively defended by Ignatius of Antioch? Did the early Church leaders ignore the Apostles warning? Did they have some deep dark hidden agendas? Such chicanery surely belong in the annals of Hollywood rather than history. Or how about the uniform Church view that even saw the Apostle John as being an episcopal president over his group of Bishops in Asia Minor? (such as The Muratorian Fragment, Jerome, Augustine, to name but a few.)  

     What Geisler conveniently leaves out are the other explanations that have been defended in the scientific literature on Diotrephes and his quarrel with John. Such as the view which holds Diotrephes as representing a charismatic emergence within the leadership at his particular congregation. The Apostle John it is stated actually represents the organized and structured ecclesiastical response to this independent, free and chaotic intrusion. Another position represented by Schnackenburg (Der Streit zwischen dem Verfasser von 3Joh und Diotrephes und verfassungsgeschichtliche Bedeutung, MTZ 4) is that Diotrephes does not represent any kind of ecclesiastical office but rather with money and influence he sways the Johannine community into his large home and tries to buy his way in as official teacher. John then in this view represents the official bearers of Tradition and rebukes Diotrephes. Yet another camp argues that Diotrephes represents the anti-Christian secessionists. There is still Kasemann and his co-horts that argue that Diotrephes is actually in the right, representing the Catholic position and that the author John was a proto-Gnostic excommunicated for heresy! Or what of the view of Hilgenfeld ZWT 41 written just as early as Geisler's Harnack theory that argues that Diotrephes represents an early Jewish Christianity which was rejected by the more gentile inclusive John.  There is still to be considered the view of perhaps the most comprehensive commentary ever written on the Epistles of John that of Raymond Brown in the Anchor Bible series (p. 738). After an exhaustive discussion of the issues he rejects all of the above views as lacking any credibility and argues that Diotrephes did in fact host a large house-church for the Johannine community but he does not reach for any kind of ecclesial position whatsoever. Yet the secessionists by this time are raging throughout Asia Minor and both Diotrephes and John reject them. But while John as he makes clear in 2 John asks his readers to avert giving time to these schismatics in their homes Diotrephes goes to the extreme rejecting all missionaries of any kind in his house church in the hopes of steering any pollution. In making this decision though Diotrephes has effectively bypassed the ecclesiastical leaders of the church and has positioned himself over them, illegally. This is the move that is attacked by John.

     All of this however is missed by the reader of Geisler's diatribe. Instead we are given plain bland assertions that must be taken at face value. 

 Part 1 of a series.


George Weis said...


Welcome back Rick!

I picked this book up about a month ago, and I haven't been able to continue in reading it. I thought their little blunder on one of the first few pages was enough to be embarrassed about. They mention the "N.T. Bible-based churches"... oh dear!

Although, some points are of interest, I think in general that they are just trying to put paper a glue walls in front of a heavy flood that is storming and rolling through their camp. Obviously the flight of one particular Evangelical leader was part of the felt need for this book.

I have to tell you Rick... we have stopped rowing our oars for the time being and have drifted backwards, but this book doesn't encourage me to go back to the shore I once set off of. We are having some real trouble with the idea of Catholicism again. However, G.K. was right... it is hard to shake the Old Church once you give it a chance. I find myself still reading Church History and visiting Catholic Liturgies and listening to Gregorian Chants. I am even considering buying a crucifix for the house.

What am I anymore? Lost. Church history ruined me! I am secure in Christ's love for me and me for Him, but in the realm of all things church... Lost.

Blessings in the One who is worthy to be praised,


R. E. Aguirre. said...

George, take heart my friend. Like I have told you many times the Catholic Church is not perfect but then again no church is perfect. Ultimately both Catholics and Protestants are Christians and children of Christ. The decision as I see it however is an easy one, I'd rather stick to the ancient and historic Church that has remained a bulwark against the waves of doctrinal novelty and cultural influence.

Keep reading and praying for God the Father to open your eyes and heart as far as where He wants you and your family to serve Him. Where ever this is I am confident that you guys will grow in Him.

I-just-be said...

I found out through reliable sources that the co-author of Geisler's "Is Rome the True Church? A Consderation of the Roman Catholic Claim" is now a Catholic convert himself--no joke! Looks like another Protestant thinker found out the truths of the Church in the attempt to counter them.