first team

marmsky devotions pics November 2017 (16)devotional post # 2201

2 Corinthians 10:12-14

2Co 10:12  Because we do not dare categorize or compare ourselves with some of those who are promoting themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves to one another, they are without understanding.
2Co 10:13  But we will not brag beyond limits, but will brag only with regard to the boundary God assigned to us, to reach even to you.
2Co 10:14  Because we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. Because we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ.

first team

Paul defends his team from the accusations of the Corinthian super apostles. He does not choose to lay out all their accomplishments. It is enough to know one thing. Paul’s team was the first to reach the Corinthians with the gospel. God assigned them a task,and a boundary, and they acheived the task.

LORD, give us the wisdom to know that we do not have to do everything, but the courage to do what you have assigned us to do.


Daily Meditation

Dependence Produces Fruit

The branch cannot bear fruit of itself.  John 15:4

Charles H. Spurgeon

How did you begin to bear fruit? It was when you came to Jesus and cast yourselves on his great atonement, and rested on his finished righteousness. Ah! what fruit you had then! Do you remember those early days? Then indeed the vine flourished, the tender grape appeared, the pomegranates budded forth, and the beds of spices gave forth their smell. Have you declined since then? If you have, we charge you to remember that time of love, and repent, and do thy first works.

Be most in those engagements which you have experimentally proved to draw you nearest to Christ, because it is from him that all your fruits proceed. Any holy exercise which will bring you to him will help you to bear fruit. The sun is, no doubt, a great worker in fruit-creating among the trees of the orchard: and Jesus is still more so among the trees of his garden of grace. When have you been the most fruitless? Has not it been when you have lived farthest from the Lord Jesus Christ, when you have slackened in prayer, when you have departed from the simplicity of your faith, when your graces have engrossed your attention instead of your Lord, when you have said, “My mountain standeth firm, I shall never be moved”; and have forgotten where your strength dwells–has not it been then that your fruit has ceased?

Some of us have been taught that we have nothing out of Christ, by terrible abasements of heart before the Lord; and when we have seen the utter barrenness and death of all creature power, we have cried in anguish, “From him all my fruit must be found, for no fruit can ever come from me.” We are taught, by past experience, that the more simply we depend upon the grace of God in Christ, and wait upon the Holy Spirit, the more we shall bring forth fruit unto God. Oh! to trust Jesus for fruit as well as for life.
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Loose Lips Launch Ships

Ardern’s Moral Posturing Has Consequences
During the Second World War, in Britain the warning was, “Loose Lips Sink Ships”.  As the U-boats hunted for convoys of merchant vessels, sinking hundreds as they made their way to Britain carrying vital supplies, people were made conscious of the need for secrecy.  Given German intelligence operatives were active on radio listening posts, information often deemed to be harmless might have been sufficient for security leaks, leading to focused U-boat efforts on expected convoys. 

Now circumstances have changed.  We need to update the slogan from “Loose Lips Sink Ships” to “Loose Lips Launch Ships”.  Several years ago Australian waters were invaded by boats launched out of Indonesia, carrying “refugees”.  The Labour government of the day welcomed them into Australia.  At its height, one boat a week was arriving on Australian shores.  Most of these “boat people” were not genuine refugees: they were economic migrants who had paid money for passage to Australia.  They arrived, as the scam requires, with all their documentation mysteriously missing.  No passports, no documents proving provenance.  No UN refugee certification.  Nothing. 

Then Labour lost an election, and the Liberal administration stopped the boats virtually overnight.  They simply deployed the Australian navy to detect the ships and turn them back to Indonesia.  They continue to patrol in this fashion, and they continue to turn boats back.

But those in the business of people-running on the seas are smart, well-informed, cunning, and business savvy.
  They can make plenty of money charging exorbitant rates for passage via sea from Indonesia to Australia.  But their business can only work if they are able to transport and offload successfully those who have paid for passage.  So they watch the Australian government and naval activities like a hawk.  They look for any weakness, any opportunity, any hint of a change of policy that would enable them to spin a yarn for cash, even if their customers ended up being lost at sea.

Into this zoo has stepped some of the loosest lips in this part of the world–newly minted, self-righteous NZ Prime Minister Ardern.  She has positioned herself within a couple of weeks as being migrant friendly.  She has lectured the Australian Prime Minister upon the need to be more loving towards some of the intercepted migrants who are now cooling their heels in Vanuatu.  She has offered New Zealand as a destination for up to 150 of them.  She has pledged $3m to help support them.

But Loose Lips Launch Ships.  Almost immediately, it seems, the people smugglers have put boats in the water in Indonesia, full of economic migrants, reported to be heading for New Zealand!  Ardern’s loose, flappy lips have indeed launched ships.

People smugglers are moving to cash-in on a left-leaning New Zealand, according to Australia’s Courier Mail.  Operation Sovereign Borders [“OSB”] has turned back four boats trying to get across the ditch.  The paper reveals that crime syndicates have tried to bypass Australia’s tough immigration measures and attempted to send four boats, carrying 164 asylum seekers, to New Zealand.  [Emphasis, ours.]

It comes as there are fears within intelligence communities that the direction of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has been highly-critical of Australia’s policy, may be used by people smugglers to encourage desperate people to risk their lives at sea.  The Courier-Mail understands that “chatter” has resumed among people smugglers who have pointed to the stand-off between Australia and NZ.

It is not known when the boats were intercepted or what country they started from but it is believed they told OSB they were headed to NZ. They were turned or towed back to near Indonesian waters.  In a recent interview with the Courier-Mail, the man in charge of OSB, Air Vice-Marshal Stephen Osborn said people smugglers leapt on changes of governments or ministers to get back into business.

“And it will be spun, whether it is (true) or not, because you’ll have people smugglers who will go, ‘Right, here’s something that has a grain of truth, there’s been a change in minister for example, we can spin this that he’s a really nice guy, he’s left-leaning, like the Greens or whatever, and he’ll invite us’,” he said earlier this year.

While it has never before been revealed that four boats were turned back, last week Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said New Zealand had been a destination for people smugglers.  “New Zealand is seen, as we know from our own intelligence, as effectively part of Australia by the people smugglers,” Turnbull told ABC Radio.  “Do you know, we have intercepted and turned back boats which were heading to New Zealand?  I mean the people smugglers, the only reason New Zealand does not have thousands of people arriving in an unauthorised way on their shores is because of our border protection policies.  New Zealand is a prime beneficiary from our strong border protection policies.”  [NZ Herald]

Now, when it comes to people-smuggling ships attempting to sail to New Zealand there is a slight nautical problem.  It’s called the Tasman Sea which is a treacherous bit of water.  People smuggling ships will need to cross the Tasman.  In fact the acting New Zealand Prime Minister, Kelvin Davis actually offered the Tasman Sea in a TV interview as a reason why we in New Zealand shouldn’t be too worried about people smugglers making it to this country.

But this myopic gentleman is apparently unable to see what will actually happen.  All it will take is for one “refugee” boat to get caught up in Tasman weather to radio for help.  People are in danger of drowning, etc.  What will New Zealand do?  Emotionally blackmailed–an effective weapon in the case of our current Prime Minister–New Zealand will do its best to save the wretched, pitiable cargo.  And then it will all be on.  “Sail to New Zealand.  Even if you get into trouble, the NZ navy will come out an rescue you.” 

Our only defence and protection is the vigilance of the Australian OSB.  But Australia believes that it will be as a result of Ardern’s loose lips  that they themselves will be confronted with a substantial increase in people smuggling activity in general.  Why?  Because Australia and New Zealand tend to be seen as the same country in the minds of the smugglers and their human cargo.

What a mess of pottage our ignorant Prime Minister has chewed upon by flapping her lips before putting her brain in gear.  It will not take too much for bad blood to spill over all this.  The NZ Labour Party has already been caught recently interfering in Australian politics.  And now the Australian Labour and Green Parties have come out in support of Ardern’s position.

Turnbull’s Government has a very small majority.  Ardern might be the catalyst to bring the Australian government down.  Not good for long term sisterly affection.

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The Diminishing Reservoir of Credibility

Not A Good Sign
What is it about the Left and lies and propaganda working together like a Three Ring Circus?  It defies fundamental standards of a duty of care.  Here is Heather Du Plessis Allan’s take on Labour’s start in government in New Zealand.  The thing that stands out is the baldness of the propaganda and the lies.  It is inexplicable.  

Well that didn’t take long. Two weeks and the paint has started to chip off the new Government. After a couple of moments of questionable truthfulness over the last week, the new mob are starting to look a lot more like the last lot, where truthfulness wasn’t a high priority.

The most audacious bout of Labour’s truth-bending came on the first day of Parliament this week when the king of all logistical cock-ups played out. The drama probably generated flurries of “WTF” texts between political nerds, but it’s pretty esoteric to the rest of us, so I’ll just give you bullet points.

Labour and National started the day fighting the world’s dullest battle over Select Committee numbers. Labour had the swagger of power, telling National exactly how things were going to be. By mid-afternoon, National had won. Labour struck a deal giving in to National because it had ballsed up the vote to get Trevor Mallard into the Speaker’s job.

That was a pretty big embarrassment on the very first day of Parliament. It was maybe predictable and probably forgivable given the massive group of MPs Labour’s whips are trying to corral. But what wasn’t forgivable was then telling us the whole thing went swimmingly and, actually, the deal was struck just to be decent.


Anyone who has gone through the torture of buying a house, negotiating a pay increase or grudgingly telling the dairy owner he can keep the change knows you never give up more than you have to.  It’s not a surprise Labour tried to paint the schoolboy error in a better light. The alternative is looking unprepared for the basics of government. But what is surprising is that instead of opting for a plausible half truth, they threw themselves headfirst into a story no one would believe. That’s either amateur or arrogant.

And that PR fail came only one day after another case of spinning. When announcing paid parental leave would extend from 18 to 22 weeks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a point of rubbing in how stingy we Kiwis are. When it comes to maternity leave, she told us we have “one of the lowest in the OECD where the average is 48 weeks”.

Wait, what? Forty eight weeks is nearly three times what ours was! How did we get to be such mum-haters?  We’re not. The OECD average is really 17.7 weeks, which means we’re doing okay internationally. Labour had to jump through several statistical hoops and lump all sorts of lesser forms of maternal care into one basket to concoct that unfair comparison.

Spin from a Government is no new thing. We’d be naive to expect anything less. But sometimes we are naive when we see bright new shiny things, especially when those bight new shiny things are trying so darned hard to show how different they are to the last lot.

But when you see spin in one place, you start to see it everywhere.

For example, it’s an interesting exercise to compare this left-wing Government with Justin Trudeau’s left-wing Canadian Government. Where Ardern is “relentlessly positive”, Trudeau talks of his “sunny ways”.   Ardern says “we can do better”. Trudeau says “we can do better”. Ardern’s Cabinet arrived at the Government swearing in a humble bus. Trudeau’s Cabinet got dropped off by bus too.

All those things look hollow when you realise there’s a playbook.  When you lift the bonnet, it’s all the same underneath. Politicians will be politicians will be politicians. They’re not always going to be up front with us. They are going to spin.

The trouble for this lot is that two weeks into a three-year term is very early to have us questioning their honesty.  [NZ Herald]

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square in the face

marmsky devotions pics November 2017 (15)devotional post # 2201

2 Corinthians 10:7-11

2Co 10:7  Look at us square in the face. If anyone is confident that his ministry comes from Christ, let him remind himself that just as he is from Christ, so also are we.
2Co 10:8  Because even if I were to brag a bit more of what we have the right to do, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I would not be ashamed to do so.
2Co 10:9  I do not want you to think that I am just using my letters to frighten you.
2Co 10:10  Because they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his actual presence is weak, and his word is not worth listening to.”
2Co 10:11  Let a person like that understand that what we say by word when absent, we intend to put in practice when present.

square in the face

Ever since Paul and his team left Corinth to plant churches elsewhere, some of the members of the churches have been accusing him of being inauthentic. They want to gain prominence among the others in the group, and seek to do so by criticizing Paul. Their cheif criticism is that Paul is not the person he appears to be in his letters. In this section, Paul is addressing those critics. He tells them to stop the gossip. If they have  a complaint, say it to their face.

LORD, rid us of our baseless criticism.


Hogging the resources: Questions for you

The following is a scenario in an imaginary world: A seller is selling all the diamond rings in the world, and the world consists of him and ten other people. All ten potential buyers would like diamond rings, but every time a diamond ring is offered for sale and everyone makes an offer to buy […]
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The “Intrinsic Probability” of Theism

Before coming to the evidence for the existence of God, a preliminary question needs to be asked: How plausible is it, a priori, that God exists?

Consider the case of John and Jane. John assumes that the existence of God is profoundly unlikely and therefore views theistic proofs with deep suspicion and finds them unpersuasive. Jane, on the other hand, assumes that the existence and nonexistence of God are about equiprobable and therefore views those same proofs with an open mind and finds them persuasive.

The point is that our presuppositions about the “intrinsic probability” of theism (where the “intrinsic probability” of a hypothesis is a measure of its simplicity prior to the evidence) are crucial to the outcome of any discussion of evidence for the existence of God and so need to be taken into account. [1]

It is at first tempting to think that John is correct. The existence of God seems about as improbable as anything can be. God, if he exists, is unlimited: infinite in power, knowledge and love. The principle of parsimony, which recommends the simpler of any two competing explanations, would seem to recommend an atheistic explanation in every possible case: Whenever there are two possible explanations for the evidence, one which appeals to the existence of God and one which does not, the explanation which does not appeal to the existence of God is simpler and therefore has greater intrinsic probability. Prejudice against theistic claims is, it seems, justified.

However, in The Existence of God, Oxford professor of philosophy Richard Swinburne presents a strong counterargument to this view. He first notes that to postulate a limited force is to postulate two things: The force and whatever constrains it; while to postulate an unlimited force is to postulate one thing: The force, which, being unlimited, is not constrained by anything. “For this reason,” he continues, “scientists have always favoured a hypothesis ascribing zero or infinite value to some entity over a hypothesis ascribing a finite value when both hypotheses are compatible with the data.” Thus, “the hypothesis that some particle has zero or infinite mass is simpler than the hypothesis that it has a mass of 0.3412 or a velocity of 301,000 kilometres per second.”

Theism is the proposition that the ultimate explanation of the universe is a single immaterial person that is of the simplest kind imaginable because it is unlimited: Since a person is, “a conscious entity that has rational thoughts, moral awareness, intentions, continuity of identity and who is able to perform basic actions,” a person having zero powers would not be a person at all. [2] And so it follows that in postulating a person with infinite powers the theist is postulating the simplest person logically possible.

The intrinsic probability of theism is therefore high and prejudice against theistic claim unwarranted.


[1] Some philosophers do not recognise the concept of “intrinsic probability.” Plantinga, for example, thinks it is doubtful that there is such thing as intrinsic logical probability but concedes that, “we certainly do favour simplicity and we are inclined to think that simple explanations and hypotheses are more likely to be true than complicated epicyclic ones.” The reader who shares this view can simply equate “intrinsic probability” with the notion that, all things being equal, simpler hypotheses commend themselves over complex ones.

[2] As Dallas Willard notes in The Divine Conspiracy, “Any being that has say over nothing at all is no person. We only have to imagine what that would be like to see that this is so. Such ‘persons’ would not even be able to command their own thoughts. They would be reduced to completely passive observers who count for nothing, who make no difference.”


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Daily Meditation

Do Not Harden Your Heart

So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:19)

John Piper

Even though the people of Israel saw the waters of the Red Sea divide and they walked over on dry ground, the moment they got thirsty, their hearts were hard against God and they did not trust him to take care of them. They cried out against him and said that life in Egypt was better.

That is what this verse is written to prevent. O how many professing Christians make a start with God. They hear that their sins can be forgiven and that they can escape hell and go to heaven. And they say: “What have I got to lose? I’ll believe.”

But then in a week or a month or a year or ten years, the test comes — a season of no water in the wilderness. A weariness with manna, and subtly a growing craving for the fleeting pleasures of Egypt, as Numbers 11:5–6 says, “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”

This is a terrifying condition to be in — to find yourself no longer interested in Christ and his Word and prayer and worship and missions and living for the glory of God. And to find all fleeting pleasures of this world more attractive than the things of the Spirit.

If that is your situation, I plead with you to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking in this text. Give heed to the Word of God. Do not harden your heart. Wake up to the deceitfulness of sin. Consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our great confession, and hold fast to your confidence and hope in him.

And if you have never even made a start with God, then put your hope in him. Turn from sin and from self-reliance and put your confidence in a great Savior. These things are written that you might believe and endure, and have life.
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Reflections on The Another, Yet-to-Come Reformation

Another Demi-Millennium

We have been in the midst of the demi-millennial celebrations and remembrances of the Reformation.  It has certainly been a time of reflection.  One factor, often not given due weight in discussions about the topic is the influence of new technology upon the Reformation.  Without that technology it is unlikely that the Reformation would have taken place–at least in the form in which it occurred.

That technology was the printing press.  The reason this was so significant is that the Reformation was critically involved with the recovery of the authority of the Word of God, over men, the Church, and society generally.  Rapid reproduction and publishing of the text of the Bible for the common man was hugely important.

Printing (from the 1430’s) and cheaper paper meant that copies of ancient texts and modern translations could be made available outside the clerical and aristocratic elite, even to ordinary literate people–the gentry, merchants, yeomen, artisans.   Printed Bibles appeared in German in 1466, and in Italian, Dutch, French, Spanish and Czech in the 1470’s.  Lay readers ceased to be dependent on the clergy to transmit the world of God.  Instead of asking what God meant (which required experts to explain) they began to ask simply what God said, and decide on its meaning themselves. [Robert Tombs, The English and Their History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), p.160.]

The significance of this technology ought not be overlooked.
  Some observers have drawn parallels with the modern development of computing and the Internet.  For the first time ever all who can read or hear in the world are able to access the Scriptures in their own language over the Internet–provided the necessary hardware and electricity is accessible.

While such technology does not “guarantee” the equivalent of a global Reformation in our day, it does provide one necessary component for such a movement to occur.  Necessary, but–of course–not sufficient.

Tombs goes on to provide a helpful, summary overview of what the Reformation was about.

Late-medieval Christianity, like most religions, invested enormously in mechanisms of salvation: ceremonies, rituals, chapels, chantries, shrines, relics, statues, pilgrimages and indulgences.  This familiar, beautiful, mysterious and yet accessible form of worship provided comfort and hope.  Most people clung to it.  Most of the cultural glories of Europe derived from it, as did the power and wealth of the Church.  But it could become a squalid transaction between man and God by which favour, forgiveness and salvation were bought by performing a quasi-magical act, paying a fee, making a material gift to God or a saint, or bequeathing money for posthumous prayers.  Intellectual scepticism could draw on rational resentment of the clergy’s wealth, as in the early example of Lollardy.  “Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs’, nor ‘Shear my sheep’,” joked English reformers.

Luther’s open challenge in 1517 was a denunciation of the “sale” of indulgences, by which punishment for sin could be remitted by a cash donation to the Church–currently, to build the magnificent basilica of St. Peter in Rome.  Luther rejected the whole system of belief on which this kind of piety was based.  Drawing on ideas of the fifth-century St. Augustine, he denied that merit or forgiveness could be gained by anything that sinful man could do: salvation depended solely on the mercy of God.  Human beings could do nothing to deserve this mercy: God chose them to receive it.  Though this idea had always been present in Western Christian teaching, the conclusions that Luther began to draw were that many of the activities of the Church, including most of its sacraments, were at best useless and at worst blasphemous, and that its ruling authorities were corrupt and oppressive, in effect perpetuating a huge confidence trick on Christians.  [Ibid.]

The truths rediscovered by the Reformers–and their implications–did not stay within the cloister.  They rapidly moved through pre-modern Europe.

Luther’s message appealed to many educated people, first of all in the German and Swiss cities, who were already emancipating themselves intellectually from the clergy by reading the Bible, which seemed to be the way to true faith, godliness and salvation.  Luther also appealed, as Wyclif had done more than a century earlier, to nobles and princes for whom bishops, abbots and the Pope were powerful and wealthy rivals.  Luther and his followers believed that religion and society needed authority, but that Christian princes, not the Pope, should wield it.

It turned out that the authority and order were not so easily preserved amid the moral and intellectual revolution Luther had ignited.  Over much of northern Europe, crowds smashed statues in churches.  In 1524, popular revolts, the so-called Peasants’ War began to sweep across central Europe from the Rhine to Poland.  Ancient social tensions were inflamed by religious radicalism, despite Luther’s furious denunciation of “thieving murdering peasants.”  Many thousands were eventually slaughtered, tortured and executed in the biggest ideological upheaval in Europe before the French Revolution.  No one could doubt that religious dissension affected everything.  [Ibid., p.161]

Modern Europe (and the West in general) has now turned its back on the Reformation, the Gospel, and the Christian faith.  It’s apostasy is virtually comprehensive, touching every area of life.  The West will fall, unless it repents.  It no longer has the belief system that will allow it to withstand the challenge of Islam.  That much is becoming clearer by the day.

But the Word of God is not bound.  Revival and reformation can come from the strangest quarters.  Eventually, we believe, Europe will be re-converted to the faith she now despises.  In the Scriptures such an event is called repentance.  The steps are usually apostasy, judgement, repentance, and restoration.  It may take another demi-millennium, but in such matters we are in God’s time, not our own.
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A Significant Book For Our Times

Who Is Truly Catholic?

Fred Sanders
The Gospel Coalition

I keep a shelf of conversionist and church-proselytizing literature in my office library, but I don’t look at it very often, or like it very much.

Most of the books in that genre contain rather poor writing and weak editing, since they’re often churned out from tiny presses to serve a niche market. What is that niche market? It’s people who for various reasons have come to view differences among churches as an urgently vital thing to read books about.

There are times and places where that’s entirely valid, because the theological and spiritual differences are real, which is why I dutifully keep the books around. But even if you avoid the nasty and bellicose entries, the whole genre suffers from a downward tug, a gravitational pull toward low standards of argument, appeals to base motives, and cloying self-congratulation. Few books in the genre avoid palpable tackiness. More importantly, they usually radiate heat without light; when you read them you risk your mind getting softer as your heart gets harder.

But Ken Collins (professor of historical theology and Wesley studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky) and Jerry Walls (professor of philosophy and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University in Houston, Texas) have somehow broken the spell. They have teamed up, as a church historian and a philosopher, to write a well-reasoned, informative, and truly helpful book about Roman Catholicism. Roman but Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years after the Reformation is a serious and substantive account of what Protestants can’t accept about Roman Catholic theology.

What they can’t accept is simple: they object to the exclusive claims of the Church of Rome to be the one true church, and the only ecclesial entity deserving the title of catholic.
With this focus, Collins and Walls work through the various doctrines and traditions that are distinctively Roman Catholic (in the areas of sacraments, priesthood, papacy, Mariology, and justification), citing the church’s own authoritative texts and respected spokesmen (the 1994 Catechism shows up a lot, and John Henry Newman is a recurring voice). They call in support from the Eastern churches to illustrate the areas in which Rome is peculiarly isolated in her truth claims. And throughout, Collins and Walls go deeper into the argument than any book I know of.


To get a feeling for the depth of the analysis in Roman but Not Catholic, consider the decisions the authors make in just one chapter, “Revelation, Biblical Authority, and Creed” (chapter 5 out of 20). Collins and Walls set out to show that

there are perfectly good Protestant reasons to accept the authority of the Nicene Creed and indeed that biblical and creedal authority stand together but do not require us to accept the claim that the Roman magisterium is the exclusively authorized interpreter of Scripture.

The first step is to establish a case for Scripture’s canon, which they do in dialogue with the best recent work on the subject. They especially draw on Michael Kruger’s “epistemological account of how Christians can be rationally justified in believing” that the New Testament canon is authoritative, rightly noting the way Kruger’s work is a kind of historical-biblical application of Alvin Plantinga’s work on warranted belief.

All Christians are grateful for the early church’s recognition of the canon of Scripture, but Collins and Walls show it’d be putting the cart before the horse to think of the church’s authority preceding or grounding Scripture’s. Rather, “the church’s reception of these books is a natural and inevitable outworking of the self-authenticating nature of Scripture.”

This book offers a clearly written, informative, and fair critique of Roman Catholicism in defense of the catholic faith. Two leading evangelical thinkers in church history and philosophy summarize the major points of contention between Protestants and Catholics, honestly acknowledging real differences while conveying mutual respect and charity. The authors address key historical, theological, and philosophical issues as they consider what remains at stake five hundred years after the Reformation. They also present a hopeful way forward for future ecumenical relations, showing how Protestants and Catholics can participate in a common witness to the world.

Several times in this chapter, as throughout the entire book, I felt as if the authors were reading my mind. For instance, as they began to sharpen the notion of sola scriptura, I found myself thinking, Too bad they can’t incorporate Mike Allen and Scott Swain’s account of the way sola scriptura serves to relate Protestant thought to pre-modern Bible interpretation.” Then I turned the page and found that them doing so!

Similarly, I was glad to see Collins and Walls working with William Abraham’s argument that “to reveal” is an achievement verb (that is, a thing that only takes place at all if it succeeds in taking place, or has its intended result: in this case, to be revelation that is received). But I found myself thinking, Too bad they won’t interact with the strongest recent Roman Catholic use of this argument, Matthew Levering’s book on the nature of revelation. But on the next page they took up a lively and sustained dialogue with Levering, which was clarifying.

Finally, once the doctrine of sola scriptura became explicit in the argument, they immediately showed how it applied to a Protestant approach to doctrinal development that is distinctively different from Newman’s. The caliber of the arguments and interlocutors in this chapter is impressive. This is no defensively short-sighted attempt to fend off Rome’s claims, but a real wrestling with the underlying issues, with considerable depth and refinement.

In fact, Roman but Not Catholic is written at such a high level that it may not be immediately useful for Christians eager to resolve a case of “Roman fever.” The writing is clear and elegant, but the arguments are often more refined than the popular market will bear. It’s more than 400 pages long, and its physical weight is not the only thing that gives it the heft of an academic work. Collins and Walls are scrupulous about providing the right kind of evidence for their claims; sometimes this entails considerable historical detail, and other times it requires some epistemological coaching in what counts as a valid argument.

Most people won’t want to give it to a friend conflicted about Roman Catholic claims; it will be more useful for pastors and teachers to read for themselves so they can replicate, mobilize, and contextualize the arguments in it. The book bears a family resemblance to recent academic projects like Kevin Vanhoozer’s “Mere Protestant Catholicity” or Swain and Allen’s “Reformed Catholicity,” though stopping short of some of the disorienting rhetoric of Peter Leithart’s “Reformational Catholicism.”


Roman but Not Catholic is likely to earn a wide readership and long lifespan, because while it is definitely a pointed, polemical, Protestant argument, it also treats Roman Catholics as fellow believers rather than as pagans. “We have no interest in converting you to our church,” they assure their Roman Catholic readers. This may seem like an odd posture for a book that is targeted at refuting Roman Catholic claims and that doesn’t shrink from naming and itemizing the serious soteriological errors of Roman Catholic theology.

The key is that the authors do have a definite interest in convincing Roman Catholics to cease and desist immediately from their groundless boasting that the only way to be part of the universal church is to pledge allegiance to the Roman church. In other words, the authors have in mind a definite reform of Rome they would like to see.

As they explain in the introduction, Collins and Walls were moved to write the book because of the significant number of Protestant friends who were troubled by Roman Catholic claims. Protestants, they argue, have a theology that allows them to be more ecumenically receptive and generous. The book’s distinctive tone of voice probably comes from the authors’ decades of experience with friends and family who are Roman Catholic. Collins and Walls are never writing about some religious other out there, but about friends and loved ones, some of their own teachers and students.

Yet they never descend into bland ecumenical-ese. In some places it’s pretty obvious that they re punching the buttons of their Roman Catholic friends, indulging in a bit of “trolla scriptura.” They know where to strike! It may also be helpful that this book of anti-Roman polemics is written by Wesleyans rather than by Reformed theologians. Too often the rest of the evangelical world leaves polemical tasks up to the Calvinists, so it’s good to see two Wesleyans of a rather generous temperament taking the lead here. Their own theological commitments also give Collins and Walls a unique vantage point on the Roman way of describing regeneration; in chapter 19 they pick up on a soteriological problem with the Roman Catholic theology of regeneration that most Reformed analysts might have missed.


Collins and Walls move up and down the scale from popular arguments to more academic arguments. In chapter 14 they address “popular Roman Catholic apologetics;” they seem to have pooled a lot of toxic assets into this chapter that engages the “rhetorical overkill” of popular arguments, but they have earned the right to do so by spending most of the book interacting with the best representatives of Roman Catholic claims.

When they devote attention to kind of thing we hear on Roman Catholic radio, Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), or from recent converts, they’re doing so in an attempt to break the hypnotic effects of “Roman fever.” In these interactions, you can hear the echoes of that low tone of mere wrangling that resounds in so many of the clashes between Protestants and Roman Catholics. But in context, it’s not so much a lapse in this book’s rhetoric, as a reminder of how most people talk about these things.

As I re-shelve Roman but Not Catholic, I find I can’t put it on the same shelf as most of the “Why You Should/Shouldn’t Convert to X” books. It simply won’t keep company with the mendacity and hype that cling to  the genre. It’s that good. In fact, this book is good enough—thorough, careful, and up to date—that this week I can purge about a half-shelf of inferior and obsolete books. There’s a real need for clear and honest polemical literature about serious Christian differences, and Collins and Walls have raised the standard for how they should be written.

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