‘Given the attraction that Roman Catholicism is exerting on some Protestants, it is essential that its errors be exposed’. So writes Sproul in the closing pages of this book, explaining his aim in writing this short volume.
It is striking how many Protestants are clamouring for greater closeness with Rome. Yet, as Sproul carefully points out, the gulf between Protestantism and Catholicism is no narrower than during the Reformation. Though the Roman Church has changed, ‘the differences are greater now’, because such tenets as papal infallibility and Mariology are post-Reformation developments.
Sproul brings several strengths to this important work. Firstly, his own extensive knowledge of the subject and his impressive grasp of church history. Secondly, he draws from original sources, quoting from Roman Catholic documents and pronouncements, as well as from Reformed creeds and statements of faith. He also brings his personal skills as a master teacher and communicator.
In the introduction Sproul makes clear what is at stake: nothing less than the gospel itself. He refers to some recent statements by those who seek a closer relationship with the Roman Church, such as the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together initiative and the 2009 Manhattan Declaration, both of which, in his view, ‘gave the same blanket endorsement of Rome as a Christian body’.
Sproul addresses six key areas where Catholicism opposes biblical teaching: Scripture, justification, the church, the sacraments, the papacy and Mary. Several times he defends Rome against unfair caricatures of her beliefs. He is quite willing to give credit where it’s due, in areas where a biblical position is preserved.
However, and referring to history and formal church statements, Sproul cogently highlights Catholic teachings contrary to Scripture. He also shows why it is vital to maintain a clearly biblical position. Each section helpfully closes with what he calls ‘Roman Catholic and Protestant affirmations’, in which he provides numerous quotations from Roman and Reformed catechisms and confessions.
Sproul closes with a short but warm-hearted chapter, in which he addresses the question, ‘How then should we proceed?’ Unswerving in his conclusion that ‘Rome has compromised the gospel with her unbiblical doctrines,’ he nonetheless desires that we should reach out to Roman Catholics in love. Identification with Roman Catholics in areas of social concern, for example, is not a problem, ‘but we must not assume that we are brothers and sisters with them in the gospel’.
Sproul’s tone is irenic and marked by a genuine sadness that the Roman Church is so at odds with Scripture. This is a helpful and important volume, arming believers with facts rather than hearsay. An endorsement of the book reads, ‘This is a book that Protestants should give to their Roman Catholic neighbours and that Protestant pastors (after reading it) should give to their members’.
John D. Brand