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Gregg Allison: Roman Catholic Theology and Practice

Gregg R. Allison, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 493 pages.

Gregg R. Allison (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is secretary of the Evangelical Theological Society, book review editor for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, an elder at Sojourn Community Church, and a theological strategist for Sojourn Network. He has taught at several colleges and seminaries, including Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. Moreover, he is the author of numerous books, including Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Zondervan, 2011), and Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Crossway, 2012). In this volume, Allison – an evangelical theologian and church historian – helps readers understand the nuances of Roman Catholic teaching. Proceeding through the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, he summarizes and assesses Catholic doctrine from the perspective of both Scripture and evangelical theology. Throughout, he notes prominent similarities with evangelical thought, without glossing over key differences, and this book will therefore enable Christians on both sides of the now ancient ecclesiastical divide to fruitfully engage one another.

The Catholic Church is everywhere one looks, and in terms of sheer size, the Church claims well over a billion adherents. Its members are leaders in government, educational institutions, social programs, and more. The Pope, who is the head of the Church, wields enormous influence on the international stage in politics, ethics, education, and culture building, in addition to his spiritual influence. Recent scandals regarding priests and sexual abuse have unfortunately thrown the Church into the limelight. Whether good or bad, the Church is consistently in the public’s eye. At Vatican II, the Church underwent an agiornamento, or updating, which has launched it into the twenty-first century, the process of which continues even today. One of the most significant results of this journey toward modernization was its refurbishing of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1994, with its systematic presentation of theology, liturgy, and practice.

Gregg R. Allison

Given this reality, Allison seeks to do two things with this title. First, he notes with fascination and appreciation the commonalities between Catholic and evangelical theology, which he describes as the intrigue component. Second, he seeks to examine the differences between the two, demonstrating what he claims are points of divergence within Catholic theology and practice from Scripture, which he calls the critique component. He has significant experience with Catholicism, as he both teaches it and studied it in college. So then, though he does not have a Catholic background per se, he is an evangelical that has more extensive and personal knowledge of Catholicism than most. These doctrinal and practical disparities between the two faiths – including apostolic succession, transubstantiation, the immaculate conception of Mary, and praying for the dead in purgatory – are points of divergence that must be faced honestly with a humble conviction that avoids minimizing the substantive distance between Catholicism and evangelicalism.

The title spends one chapter on an exposition of Catholics’ understanding of Scripture, four chapters on the Profession of Faith, five chapters on the Celebration of the Christian Mystery, and two chapters on the Life of Christ. Although the critique of Catholic theology is sustained and pointed in this book, Allison does not offer an anti-Catholic diatribe. It does not pretend to be a representation of all things Catholic, focusing on Catholic doctrine and practice as unfolded in the Catechism instead. As such, it does not delve into how the Catholic faith is actually lived out by its adherents nor does it seek to engage the many national, ethnic, theological, and liturgical varieties of Catholicism. Allison does not attempt to speak for all evangelicals, nor does he present all forms of evangelical theology. He hopes to stimulate his readers reflection on and assessment of Catholic theology and practice by presenting the Catholic faith and comparing it to Scripture and evangelical theology. He offers this book primarily for evangelicals who want to become conversant with Catholic theology and practice. However, he hopes that some Catholics will read the book also to learn what evangelicals think about Catholic theology and how they assess it.

Reviewed by Bradford McCall


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Category: In Depth, Summer 2016

About the Author: Bradford L. McCall, B.S. in Biology (Georgia Southwestern St. University, 2000), M.Div. (Asbury Theological Seminary, 2005), grew up on a cotton farm in south Georgia. A graduate student at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Bradford has particular interest in teleology, causation and early modern philosophy.

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