Recently I picked up The Protestant’s Dilemma: How the Reformation’s Shocking Consequences Point to the Truth of Catholicism
(San Diego: Catholic Answers Press, 2014). In the preface of the Kindle edition, an unidentified author states that the primary author, Devin Rose, has put forth a book looking to engage in “dialogue“ specifically”with members of the thousands of Protestant sects.” The book is said to raise issues that a Protestant “has never considered before,” not simply to have dialogue for the sake of mutual understanding, but rather to have “conciliar” dialogue in which the goal is to show the logical inconsistency of Protestantism while leading a reader into “the fullness of truth that Catholic Church alone possesses in fullness.” In response, I offer these reviews of The Protestant’s Dilemma (TPD), to demonstrate that the book does the opposite of its intentions. It presents caricatures of Protestant positions, illogical conclusions, shoddy documentation, assumes the truth of the Roman Catholic worldview without proving it, and demonstrates that the author did not apply his own criteria to his own position.
The Conversion Story
It’s not surprising that TPD begins with the conversion story of the author. Conversion stories like that offered by Mr. Rose typically point to the abilities of a person and the supposed wisdom gained by crossing the Tiber. For instance, Rose begins by showing how as a new convert to Christianity, he was already quick to ask about the problem of multiple denominations: “How had I, a newly minted Christian, come so quickly to a conclusion about which denomination taught the real truth?” He says also,
It was never a question in my mind that God is a reasonable being. I assumed it to be true, because even as an atheist I observed that the world functioned in a logical manner: Scientific laws were provable, mathematics could produce correct answers to problems, and deductive and inductive reasoning were demonstrably useful for understanding reality. The Christian faith, therefore, must also be supported by sound reasons, even if its truths also exceeded the limits of what reason could prove. I brought such an analysis with me into my new found faith, and I discovered that Protestantism’s tenets led to untenable conclusions. It simply was not possible to maintain a reasonable basis for my Christian faith while remaining Protestant.
This is not to say that reason is not important, or that people should not reasonably think about their faith. What irks me about Rome’s converts is that they take their reasoning only so far. Rose’s conversion story displays the same logical inconsistency that most of them do. His story is filled with the traumatic uncertainly felt as a Protestant and then the joys of certainly that a conversion to Roman Catholicism brings. The author states as a Protestant he “prayed that Jesus would guide [him] into the denomination that was the truest.” He was befuddled by Christians “claiming to be ‘led by the Holy Spirit‘” using the “the Bible alone” and having different understandings of the Bible. He asks, “How did I know who was right?” He concluded that the Holy Spirit would lead such a person to the true church, this along with “investigating the Catholic Church in earnest.” What Rome’s converts rarely admit though is that the story they so cling to as an objective reality is a subjective experience, as all personal stories are. There’s not much different between this story and that put forth by a Mormon or an Islamic convert (and particularly a convert to Orthodoxy). It was the fallible decision of Devin Rose to conclude that Rome was the true church.
Elsewhere in TPD the author speaks against “the principle of private judgment.” He states,
At the root of the endemic divisions within Protestantism lies the absence (and by definition, the impossibility) of an interpretive authority for Scripture above that of the individual Christian. Protestants cannot accept that any person or group has this power, because the Bible itself has to be the ultimate authority. Ideally, Protestants would be united in their interpretation of the Bible; but as we have seen, from the beginning of Protestantism this has not been the case. This lack of unity leads inevitably to the principle of private judgment, which makes each believer the final interpreter of Scripture. Just as inevitably, each believer’s interpretation will be at least partly wrong, because no believer is infallible.
But yet, private judgment was the very principle which led him to Rome rather than Orthodoxy or Islam! Why is private judgment acceptable when choosing to become Roman Catholic, and then once becoming a Roman Catholic, it is no longer acceptable?
Mr. Rose claims he investigated those claiming to possess “the fullness of truth“- Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Mormonism (why not Islam?). His research most certainly included interpretations of Scripture. His study led him to conclude that Rome was the true church. But this raises the same problem. The body of literature that Mr. Rose went through is the same body of literature that Rome says is not open for private judgment, nor can it be understood properly without the infallible guidance of the Roman church. Yet, Mr. Rose used the very thing Rome says one is not to rely on, private judgment.
Eric Svendsen pointed all this out years ago:
“The fact is, he had to engage in the very same principle of private judgment that we all must use to decide among the various options; namely, a thinking, objective reasoning process, apart from reliance upon the system to which he would eventually subscribe. But it is that very same principle of private judgment that leads him to Rome and others of us away from Rome. Certainly Rome condemns the decision we reached, but she cannot condemn the principle we used to that decision, since it is the very same principle that all Roman Catholics must use to decide that Rome is the ‘true’ church. The Roman Catholic cannot introduce a double standard at this point and still be consistent.” [Eric Svendsen, Upon This Slippery Rock, (New York: Calvary Press, 2002), p.34].
It is simply gratuitous to suggest that private judgment is sufficient to interpret Scripture and church history to determine whether Rome is the true church, but insufficient to interpret Scripture and church history once we either accept or reject Rome. After all, in order to arrive at the conclusion that Rome is the true church, we must first compare Rome to Scripture and church history; hence we must first engage in private interpretation of these things before choosing Rome. But if our private interpretation of Scripture and church history is sufficient to inform us that Rome is the true church, how is it that that same private judgment is suddenly rendered deficient once we either get to Rome or reject Rome? [Eric Svendsen, Upon This Slippery Rock,(New York: Calvary Press, 2002), pp. 34-35]
An irony about Rome’s conversion stories is that one never knows when they’re finished. Take the ex-poster child for Catholic Answers, Gerry Matatics. He certainly loved to tell his story. Simply go back and listen to his debates with Dr. White. He’d tell that story every chance he could get. He’d even stay late into the night to tell it again and again. Now, go ask Karl Keating why Mr. Matatics is no longer endorsed by Catholic Answers. Gerry likewise used his reason. Similarly, how do I know that Devin Rose isn’t going to keep having a new conversion story? How do I know his intelligence won’t lead him to the positions held by Gerry Matatics, Robert Sungenis or Father Gruner?
This is typical of these conversion stories. They do not point to Christ—they point to a triumphal entry into the Roman Church from one’s own intellectual abilities. Their conversion stories are about what they did. They are about what wisdom and glory they achieved. They are not conversion stories of the broken sinner bowing his knee to the merciful God, given by the Father to Christ and irresistibly drawn (like Paul’s recounting in Galatians 1; cf. Acts 9); rather, these are accounts of people accepting the alleged Roman Catholic “fullness of truth”, and a rejection of Protestant essentials like sola fide and sola scriptura. In other words, the emphasis is not on spiritual rebirth, but rather the acceptance and realization of a “higher knowledge.” The conversion is not to Christ, but to an infallible church.
In a recent blog article, Mr. Rose stated,
Near the end, Dr. Quiggle brought up Martin Luther’s famous words about standing by what he thinks the Bible teaches. “Popes and councils have erred in the past. Unless I’m convinced by Scripture and reason, here I stand. And that’s what it means to be a Protestant.” I gave a final rejoinder that the individual Protestant is the ultimate interpretive authority, and that under Protestantism, not only popes and councils are error-prone, but all people and churches and denominations are, so who are we supposed to follow? Who teaches the truth of God without error?
Here’ it is again. Mr. Rose appears to not have any problem being the “ultimate interpretive authority” in determining that Rome is the “fullness of truth”while Islam or Orthodoxy is not. Then, on the other hand, once becoming a Roman Catholic, “ultimate interpretive authority” is no longer to be trusted.