Book Review: 40 Questions About Roman Catholicism by Gregg Allison

40 Questions About Roman Catholicism by Gregg Allison, 2021, 336 pp.

Being that I have been involved in campus apologetic ministry work for several years on a large college campus, I have talked to hundreds of Catholic students. Some of them are not committed to their faith while others are still going forward and trying to live out their convictions. In most cases, the ones we encounter have never heard a clear presentation of the Gospel.

Anyways, this past year, I had one of the leaders from a local Catholic church on campus ask me why I am not Catholic. I laid out some reasons why I can’t be Catholic. But I always felt I wanted to do a deeper study on the topic. I had done some research in the past, but this book turned into being a great resource for further study. Allison’s book lays out each question in a systematic fashion and discusses areas of agreement and disagreement. I think Allison is charitable in each chapter. He is not out to “bash” Catholicism.  

As I read each chapter and looked at areas of Catholic theology that I disagree with (i.e, their view of Mary, the sacraments, the Eucharist, the authority of the Pope, the need for a Magistrate, apostolic succession, etc….), I found myself asking “Where is that in Scripture?” Allison confirmed that there is so little if any biblical basis for these things. Even the biblical warrant for  the immaculate conception, sinlessness, perpetual virginity, and bodily assumption of Mary is based on pure eisegesis. As Allison notes, “ Mary’s preparation for her role through the immaculate conception  is without biblical support. So too is the alleged parallelism between Eve and her disobedience and Mary—the second Eve—and her obedience without biblical support. Mary’s cooperation with the divine plan has a tendency to overlook God’s unmerited favor in her life. And it exaggerates her role by elevating her obedience of faith to a level of decisiveness: without her believing response to the divine plan, it would have failed. Fourth, while the Catholic biblical theology of Mary interprets texts that narrate her interaction with Jesus in a positive way, Protestant interpretations note not her blessing but her misunderstanding of her son and his mission. Also, Mary’s motherly mediation—her intercession for others, her intervention between Jesus and others—is seen by Protestants to be grounded on a misunderstanding of biblical passages. This misinterpretation is particularly keen and tragic when it comes to the Catholic view of her motherly suffering and sacrifice. As much as the Catholic position insists that the central role that it ascribes to her in Jesus’s saving death does not detract from his redemptive work, many people are perplexed and unconvinced. This elevation of her is seen, seventh, in the Catholic view of Mary as Mother of the Church. Again, without biblical support, it exalts Mary to an undeserved role in the work and application of salvation.”- pgs, 259-260.

I appreciated Chapter 35 which dealt with the current challenges the Catholic church faces. This chapter discussed the sex abuse scandals. As Allison notes, “It has soured many of the Catholic faithful on the Church and resulted in hundreds of lawsuits and payments of billions of dollars for damages caused. The scandal of clerical homosexuality means that a significant number of seminarians and clergy, despite their vows of celibacy and the Church’s traditional condemnation of homosexuality, engage in homosexual activity and live a gay lifestyle.”- pgs. 285.

The chapter that really peaked my curiosity was Chapter 37 which dealt with why some Protestants have left Protestantism and joined the Catholic church. I have seen this happen in my own life and have tried my best to understand it. As Allison notes, there seems to be four overarching issues: the desire for authority, the desire for certainty, the desire for history and the desire for unity.  I have been around a while and seen many churches and observed the evangelical landscape. I do agree that there are problems with Protestantism.  The disagreement over interpretations, the subjective aspect of small Bible studies (i.e., ”What does this passage mean to you?”),  the lack of interest in history and having a deep intellectual connection to faith can lead to much frustration. However, the move to be Catholic isn’t the answer. It would seem being under one authority and a Magisterium might fix the issue, but it doesn’t. Magisterial authority over Scripture has not led to proper interpretations. If anything, it can be shown many of the positions n Catholic theology have  little biblical support. As far as the desire for unity, as Allison notes “Is true unity possible when the Roman Catholic Church continues to insist that it alone is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church? Does its ongoing claim that the only true church “subsists in the Catholic Church” actually promote unity among Christians and all non-Catholic churches?”- pg. 302.  So yes, I agree that Protestant Evangelicalism has its shortcomings. But there are ways to correct this. There are more than enough resources to assist in proper Bible study and education. Leadership must emphasize these issues.

Allison’s book is comprehensive in nature and it is written on a lay level. It is a great asset for anyone who wants to learn more about what Roman Catholics believe and why there are differences between Protestant and Catholics.

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