I just finished reading Are We Together? by R.C. Sproul (2012). The book’s sub-title: A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism. Of course, R.C. Sproul is not just any Protestant. No one may be more qualified to discuss comparisons between Evangelical Christianity and Roman Catholicism than Sproul. He has already written two books on the issue in Faith Alone (1999) and Getting the Gospel Right (2003) and he gets it absolutely right in both books. This book is a fresh look at the current divide between Protestants and Catholics and answers the question: Are we together? I am excited to recommend this book to anyone who wants to know the reasons why we may not be together after all.
My Catholic Friends
Roman Catholics hold a special place in my heart. I have interacted with many Catholics in my life and their intentions are always sincere. They revere God and respect the church. They love Jesus and call themselves Christians. Yet, I know some Catholics who converted to Evangelical Christianity. I wonder… How does that happen? Why does it happen?
But for every Catholic turned Christian that I’ve met, I know many more still devoted to the Catholic Church and they believe they are honoring God in their own way or a better way. Therefore I always felt a need to learn as much as I can about the Catholic faith. I want to understand why they believe what they believe and be able to engage them in a meaningful way.
The Reformation Is Not Over
This is the book I have been waiting for. What makes this book a stand-out title is that it is brief yet comprehensive and it is fair yet firm. It makes clear why I would never be a Roman Catholic yet helps me understand them better. I appreciate that Sproul makes an effort to point out the caricatures and slanders Christians should avoid in their description of Catholics.
In this book, it is Sproul’s goal to analyze the Roman Catholic Church, often using her own words, to make clear their position in relation to biblical truth and Christian doctrine. In doing so, he proves that Catholic theology has not moved anywhere closer to Christian theology over the years and thus, the Reformation is not over.
Sproul decided to cover six theological articles, chosen for their significance:
I’ll comment on the chapter on justification because if you only read one chapter from this book, it should be this one. Justification is at the heart of what divides Christians and Catholics.
Sproul reveals that an important issue is the difference between infusion of righteousness vs. imputation of righteousness. He writes:
Rome believes in infusion, which is the view that the righteousness of Christ is actually put into the believer, so that the person is actually righteous. The righteousness of Christ is not simply credited to the person’s account; it actually becomes the person’s possession. (p.31)
Also important to understand is that this infusion of righteousness must happen in cooperation with the sacraments, such as baptism, and is not by faith alone. Sproul makes it very clear that Rome condemns the Protestant view that justification happens by faith alone. Justification through infusion is very different from the Christian belief that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer through faith alone (that is, righteousness is credited to his account through faith).
The big problem with infusion is that righteousness ultimately depends on the righteousness in you that you possess, rather than in Christ alone. With the doctrine of infusion, comes the teaching that you can lose some or all of the grace infused into you if you sin, possibly losing your justification. This is exactly what Rome teaches.
The heart of the true gospel is that God always looks to Christ’s righteousness and never what is in you the believer. That’s the real good news and it should never be compromised by embracing the Roman Catholic teaching on justification through infusion.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. -Galations 1:8
Two Imcompatible Faiths
Now it’s important that I mention this book analyzes the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The teachings coming out of local Catholic churches, for example, the ones in Hawaii, are not being analyzed here. Sproul points out that some western churches adhere to a “newer” theology that may be closer to Protestant doctrine. But in my opinion, that only makes their members bad Roman Catholics.
In any case, I believe this book is a good defense of the gospel among people struggling with the two faiths. This book will benefit Christians with questions about Catholics, Catholics with questions about Christians and anyone that has actually made a switch between the two faiths. I have read other good books on the issue (see Holy Ground by Chris Castaldo) but this is probably the last one I’ll have to read for a long time. In conclusion, I think it’s impossible to read this book and still think the two faiths are compatible. Indeed, we are not together but for good reasons.
I love my Roman Catholic friends. I pray that they realize how different their gospel is from the Christian gospel and I pray that they reconsider embracing their gospel.