Christian Apologetics Journal Book Review: A Response

I was informed recently that Ralph MacKenzie, co-author of Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences along with Norman Geisler, wrote a book review of The Roman Catholic Controversy in the “Christian Apologetics Journal” published by Geisler’s organization. I found that somewhat odd, given that my book is nearly a decade old now. In any case, I would like to respond to some of the comments made by MacKenzie.

White is articulate and a vigorous (although often quite strident) debater.

Some of you may recall the encounter I had with Mr. MacKenzie in the pages of the CRI Journal back in 2000 when we wrote a point/counter-point article on the Catholic/Lutheran accord, the one that sought to foster agreement by in essence ignoring the key issues of the Reformation itself. You can guess which side I took. MacKenzie has often referred to me as a “hard-nose,” and that is because, in essence, we approach the issue of Roman Catholicism (and, I would imagine, all “boundary issues” regarding the gospel) from different perspectives. As he indicated in an article he wrote for This Rock magazine in 2003 (http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2003/0311fea2.asp):

There was no latent anti-Catholicism in the Protestant faith of my youth, and so I read Catholic as well as Protestant sources. I was Evangelical in my theology (and still am) but I soon realized that—as distasteful as the notion is to some Protestants—prior to the Reformation, if we were Christians, we were members of the Catholic Church (unless of course we lived in the East and were Orthodox).


The sound you hear in the background there comes from the combined spinning of the faithful who died at Rome’s hands in the Piedmont Valley, for example (whose sacrifice is constantly demeaned by modern “evangelicals” who forget them and Rome’s brutality to them in those pre-Reformation centuries) together with the sighing of history itself in recognizing the vast difference in theology between the de fide definitions of Rome today and that of pre-Reformation Rome. But that issue aside, obviously, MacKenzie’s ecumenical stance is easily seen. And to anyone with a desire for rapproachment with Rome I can not be seen as anything but “hard-nosed.” Then again, I doubt the Judaizers in Galatia found Paul fuzzy. I’m sure they found his epistle most “strident” as well.
   
You do not often read about who endorsed a book or who wrote the foreword in a summary review of said book, but such is not the case here. My book was written in 1996, and the intervening decade has seen quite the change in the views of John Armstrong, who wrote the foreword. Note MacKenzie’s words:

John H. Armstrong, who is director of Reformation & Revival Ministries and has spoken at a number of conferences, including Promise Keepers, writes the foreword. Armstrong has informed me that his opinion of the Catholic Church has changed and that he would not write now what he did then. Due to interaction with evangelical scholars, incluiding Harold O.J. Brown, Timothy George, Thomas Oden, and John Woodbridge, he now views the Catholic Church as a true church albeit one with serious errors.

I find this paragraph terribly sad for a number of reasons, but the one that leaves me truly dejected is the fact that MacKenzie said it was exposure to “evangelical scholars” that caused Armstrong to change his views. I think that may be a bit simplistic (since Armstrong’s theology en toto has moved, and his views of Rome are a function of that paradigm shift), but even at face value, such a statement should make any believer mourn for the state of “evangelicalism.” Then again, did we not see that evangelicalism, as a historical term with historical meaning, has passed anyway? We live in a post-evangelical age wherein scholars (not churchmen) are busily convincing folks that the Rome of history, the Rome of Trent, the Rome of the Bodily Assumption, is a “true church” just with “serious errors” (but then again, who doesn’t have a few errors right?).
   
I am sorry John Armstrong has “changed his views.” But Rome didn’t change during that time, and I have yet to see the slightest bit of meaningful argumentation from anyone indicating that we somehow missed the boat all along and only now as we start abandoning the foundations of our faith and embracing postmodernity and the like have we come to a point of being able to “see” more clearly. If what Armstrong said then was true (and it was), then anything less than that is simply no longer the truth, is it?
   
Next we read,

Concerning justification, White states that Christ’s “perfect righteousness is imputed (credited) to the believer on the basis of faith” (42). Evangelicals do understand justification to be “imputed—put to our account.” However, as Alister McGrath points out, this concept was a Protestant one and unknown by Augustine and the church fathers prior to the Reformation.

No, you are not reading a Catholic Answers article here. You might as well be, functionally, but this is Norman Geisler’s co-author writing in a journal published by Geisler’s school. You should not be surprised here: remember a few years ago when Geisler commented on the Bible Answer Man broadcast that if justification and imputed righteousness is definitional of the gospel then no one was saved until the Reformation? Think about the mind-set that produces off-handed comments like this. Aside from demonstrating that these folks are very rarely involved in protecting the sheep from the wolves that would seek to drag them away, we can also discern very quickly why ECT and its progeny are attractive to them: whether it is “grace alone, faith alone” or just “by grace alone through faith” is pure semantics and quibbling over trifles. The very heart of the Reformation, and, I would argue, the heart of grace itself, has been lost to these folks. That’s why they can speak as they speak, and join hands with those who have no place for free grace.
   
Of course, we have addressed the issue of justification in history numerous times. Oddly, my presentation on justification (found elsewhere in the book) is strictly biblical, but though MacKenzie will disagree with my conclusions, he will not touch the biblical argumentation. Then again, one might point out, this is a book review. Quite true; however, why include the Armstrong comment or this type of crypto-Roman Catholic apologetic quip? This is more than a review; hence, it would be best to try to interact with the substance of the argumentation, i.e., its biblical presentation.
[Continued in Part II, to be posted later this week]