Book review: Catholics and Protestants–What Can We Learn from Each Other?

I’m reading Peter Kreeft’s book, “Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other?” So many gems and great discussion starters here. I think it will be a great help to both sides. Kreeft is a convert to the Catholic Church, from Presbyterianism. It might be tempting for Protestants to think he is going to be very partisan, and to make a case against Protestantism, but he doesn’t do that. Among other things, he describes what is excellent in Protestantism, and how (some, perhaps many) Catholics need it. He is rather critical of the Catholic Church for not doing a good enough job emphasizing the need for a personal relationship with Christ, but he does not downplay what the Catholic Church brings to the table.

Probably the most important point he makes is to say that the issue of justification has been solved. In other words, Catholics and Protestants don’t believe differently about justification, even though we thought we did going all the way back to beginning of the Reformation. It was, in fact, the impetus for the Reformation. So the central issue that sparked the Reformation has been solved.

People of good will on both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide will benefit from this book. At the very least, it can provide many talking points for people to use as spring boards for open and honest discussion.


Catholic/Protestant Dictionary

There were many steps involved in becoming Catholic. I found that theology was only one of those steps. As I’ve mentioned before, Catholic culture was an unexpected and rather large hurdle.

Catholic art and culture intimidated me at first.

Maybe I already told this story. I’m not sure, but if so, please indulge me for a moment. Catholic culture is a very real thing, and I first discovered this when I attended a Catholic conference several years ago, before I converted. Many vendors were selling all sorts of Catholic artwork that was very ornate and elaborate. Many of them had images of Mary and other saints. All of these things were difficult to get past in my mind. The closest Protestant equivalent is a Christian bookstore that sells gifts and artwork, and even then it’s just different.

I finally realized that this was just the cultural part of Catholicism–it was not dogmatic. In other words, there was no requirement for me to display Catholic art in my home as a step to becoming Catholic. It was a big relief for me to realize that. I wish somebody had explained it to me though. Unfortunately, I had to figure it out on my own. I am not sure why that is.

Even so, there is a cultural transition. Part of it has to do with Catholic words, phrases and ideas. Many Catholic terms sounded very foreign to my ears… but only at first. At some point I realized that the terms only sounded foreign—the ideas behind them were not foreign at all. Here is a chart I made that is sort of like a Catholic to Protestant Dictionary. It is amazing how many Catholic ideas reside in Protestantism. But of course all that makes sense to me now, since Protestantism has its theological and historical origins in Catholicism.


I take credit for some of these, since I genuinely figured them out on my own. But I got a few of them from Mark Shea, and a number of others from the Coming Home Network forum. So I’m not alone in making these kinds of observations. Other converts have as well. And just to be clear: I am not saying that there is 100% equivalence between the every item on this list. In some cases there is, but in other cases there is not. Even when there is not, they are close enough to convey the meaning.

I hope this chart helps Catholics and Protestants understand each other better.

*For elaboration on the confirmation/baptism equivalence, see here. For elaboration on the merit/reward equivalence, see here.

5/19/2017: I thought of another one. Catholics say “divine law,” and Protestants say, “Biblical principles.” Again, not a perfect overlap but they are similar ideas.

Mass readings today had a significant mistranslation at Luke 20:34

The mass reading for the New Testament was Luke 20:27-38. I was disturbed by a word I heard while it was being read last night at mass. The word was “remarry.” It caught my attention because I did not remember ever seeing the word “remarry” in the entire New Testament, which I can honestly say I’ve read at least five times.

Every day I receive an email from the USCCB with the mass readings. So this morning I did some sleuthing. I pulled up the email with the mass readings, and it matched what I heard. Then I looked it up at BibleGateway and BibleHub. There are a lot of translations available including Catholic translations such as the DRA, NABRE, and RSVCE. I could find no English translation that rendered the end of verse 34 as “remarry.” Not even the NABRE on Bible Gateway renders the end of the verse as “remarry.” So the NABRE at Luke 20:34 on BibleGateway is different than what the Lectionary says, which also uses the NABRE. From the Lectionary:

Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry…”

From the NABRE on BibleGateway:

Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage…”

I also looked it up in my NABRE that I have here at home, and it matches the Lectionary, not what appears at BibleGateway. 

I looked up the Greek word on a few different sites (here, here and here), and it’s not “remarry.” I posed the question to any of my Catholic Facebook friends who know Greek. One responded and said that it “is in the passive voice, and means to be given in marriage. That is, the children of this age marry and are given in marriage. It doesn’t mean re-marry.”

The mistranslation is disturbing in its own right, but what is worse is that it wrongly shows Jesus speaking of remarriage as if to equate it with marriage. There are many liberal Catholics who are pushing hard for the Church to change the teachings regarding remarriage, which really means that they want to undermine the literal reading the Church has always had of Matthew 19 and Mark 10 where Jesus put a stop to remarriage. This mistranslation fits very nicely into that goal. Except it’s not what Jesus said.

I wrote to the USCCB about this matter. We’ll see if they respond.

The Unjust Steward is the pope? Luke 16

The Parable of the Unjust Steward appears in Luke 16. It is also referred to as the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. It is part of the mass readings for yesterday. This parable always confused me, but recently I think I might have made some sense of it in light of Catholic teaching. I have not seen this explanation elsewhere. Let me give a shot and see what you think.

Summary: the master hears a bad report about the steward squandering the master’s property. So he demands an accounting and fires the steward. But the steward needs a place to go after he’s fired. So he contacts some of the debtors and reduces their debt. The master commends him for this. Presumably, the debtors then welcome the steward into their homes.

Here’s what I think:

  • The master is God.
  • The steward is the pope.
  • The debtors are souls in Purgatory.
  • The steward reducing the debt represents indulgences that are possible due to the pope’s possession of the keys to the kingdom and the treasury of merit (reward).

When I say, “the pope,” I am referring to the office of the Pope and not any one particular pope.

Catholics believe in two kinds of punishment for sin because there are two kinds of sin. There is mortal sin which leads to eternal punishment if it remains unrepented, and there is venial sin which leads to temporal punishment. Eternal punishment is hell. Temporal punishment happens here on Earth and also in Purgatory.

Because of the keys of the kingdom given to the pope by Jesus, and also the treasury of merit (reward), the pope through the Church can reduce (or even eliminate) the temporal punishment of sin. He can do this even though he himself might be doing bad things or have bad character.

Then, the holy souls in Purgatory will be grateful for receiving a reduction in the amount of temporal punishment they receive that came from the pope’s possession of the keys to the kingdom and the treasury of merit (reward). God is obviously happy with the debt being reduced, since he wants people with him. Once they are out of purgatory, they will pray for the pope, since he will be in Purgatory for being an unjust steward. Once he is out of Purgatory, they will receive him into their dwellings (John 14:3).

Having said that, I’m struggling what appears immediately following the parable. For example, immediately after the parable Jesus says:

..for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. And I say to you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity; that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings.

I’m not sure how that part fits into what I’ve said.

Here is a similar explanation, but it places Jesus himself as the unjust steward. I think it makes more sense to put the Pope as the steward. What do you think?

Here is a video of two Catholic apologists addressing the question of the bad popes. Both are very well known in Catholic circles, and I’ve met them both. The man on the left in the red shirt is Patrick Coffin, and the man on the right is Tim Staples. They don’t address Luke 16; I linked the video as a way of showing that, possibly, bad popes = unjust stewards.

See also:

For Reformation Day: Protestantism hurt and confused me

calvinism-some-lives-matterThe day before Christmas Day is called Christmas Eve. The day before All Saint’s Day is called All Saint’s Eve. All Saint’s Eve is also known as All Hallow’s Eve. Remember in the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus says, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…”? Hallow means holy or it can also mean saintly. So Halloween is short for All Hallow’s Eve or All Saint’s Eve.

In some circles, today is also known as Reformation Day. It is the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation (which is a misnomer but that’s another post that I may or may not write). On this day 499 years ago, a Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenburg, Germany. The year was 1517.

In memory of what Luther started, I thought it would be a good day for me to describe what it was like for me to be raised under Protestantism’s structural faults. Please do not take this an at attack on any individual Protestant except perhaps Luther himself. I mean this sincerely. For one thing, I know that Protestants are sincere in their beliefs and they have Biblical reasons for believing what they believe. While I disagree with their Biblical interpretations, I also know that it is scary to even contemplate becoming Catholic. At least, it was for me when I first started on my journey to the Church and I’ve heard the same from other converts. So what I am about to say is my experience and is, in some respects, unique to me.

I have thought about this for quite a while, and this is what I see:

  • Protestantism created a lack of unity among my family members, more than 50% of whom are devout Protestants of various denominations who disagree with each other and will not go to the same church, even on Christian holy days such as Christmas or Easter. The fact that nobody perceives this to be a symptom of a larger issue troubles me.
  • The “Bible alone” doctrine made it possible for the cult to be formed and sustained
  • The “Bible alone” doctrine was used to justify child abuse and female denigration in the cult
  • I strongly suspect that the restorationist Protestantism practiced by my paternal grandmother alienated my dad from Jesus through its fundamentalism
  • A nearby Presbyterian church had catechism classes for middle schoolers, and when I was in middle school I decided I wanted to attend them. So I did. After I finished and was baptized and confirmed, I wanted to continue going to church there, but my mother and her husband didn’t want to do that. I walked to church alone on Sunday maybe 2-3 times, then stopped going because it was awkward being there by myself as a young person.
  • T.U.L.I.P. frightened me and provoked my tender conscience almost constantly
  • Protestantism’s early and enthusiastic endorsement of remarriage after divorce contributed to me feeling isolated and lonely for my entire childhood. My mother remarried in a Methodist church in the early 1970s. This made me vulnerable to the false promises of the cult

There really does need to be just one Christian authority. Multiple “authorities” have led to confusion. Adults might not perceve this confusion, being ensconsed in their particular silos, but as a child with parents who were only nominally Christian, I was chronically impacted by it. It was only after I became Catholic, and using Catholic concepts and ideas, could I understand my childhood. Prior to that, it was just chaos and confusion and I had no framework through which to view it.

I wish all of my family members had been as devoutly Catholic as they are devoutly Protestant. If that had been the case, I can’t see how these issues would have arisen. If they all had been Catholic, then the “cracks” in my family and family structure simply would not have been there. Of course, other very positive things would probably not have happened, such as the blessing of my three truly wonderful, amazing, and beautiful children. I’m not exaggerating about them–everybody who meets them says the same thing, and always has since they were very young. Thankfully, God writes straight with crooked lines. He turns plan B into plan A.

In case I wasn’t clear earlier: my experiences are unique and I fell through “cracks” that most people don’t fall through. Even so, this is one reason why I cannot get excited about Reformation Day. But I hope everybody has a safe and fun Halloween… a safe and fun All Hallow’s Eve.

What is the difference between baptism and confirmation? Depends on who you ask

The Catholic Church teaches that baptism actually does something to the soul in an objective sense: it removes the punishment for sins committed up to that point in life; it removes the punishment for original sin; it makes the person a new creature; it imparts sanctifying grace.

But I know that a lot of Protestants don’t hold that view. They believe baptism is a symbolic action but not that it does anything objective to the soul.

I’ve thought about this difference a lot, and I’ve come to the conclusion that baptism really isn’t just a symbol to most Protestants. It is that they believe that baptism is a public demonstration that the person has entered into the Christian life. They have freely chosen to follow Christ and baptism is the public act that demonstrates this. So it looks to me like, generally speaking, Protestants baptize while attributing to it what Catholics call confirmation. This difference explains why Protestants will very often rebaptize somebody. They want the person to make a public statement regarding entering into the Christian life. This explains why some Protestants argue that baptism is not necessary for salvation (which is my mother’s position). If it is only a public act regarding the free choice to live as a Christian, then I would have to agree with that argument.

Catholics want everybody to be baptized because it does something objective to the soul. On the other hand, we acknowledge that there are times when somebody could still be saved without being baptized. Catholics recognize Protestant baptisms, but only as baptisms, not as confirmations. This is because when the Protestant was baptized, the objective actions that I mentioned above actually did take place (assuming a few details that I won’t go into here but are usually used). Any baptized Protestant who converts to Catholic is not rebaptized since it is not necessary, but they must make a public act of faith and be confirmed. They do this as part of the sacrament of confirmation.

Here is a table I made to help distinguish the Catholic view from the Protestant view. It doesn’t necessarily apply to all Protestants–they aren’t a monolithic group and it can be difficult to generalize about them, but I think it works pretty well for many of them.

Name of act Catholic view Protestant view (generally)
Baptism Does something objective to the soul (see above); a sacrament that imparts grace; obedience to the scriptures Public confirmation that the person accepts Christ and freely chooses to live as a Christian; obedience to the scriptures
Confirmation Public confirmation that the person accepts Christ and freely chooses to live as a Christian; a sacrament that imparts grace; obedience to the scriptures Not applicable; not acknowledged as a distinct and separate act

Here are a few scripture verses that distinguish baptism from confirmation:


The Screwtape Letters, Letter 1

I have studied and practically memorized the first letter of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. It is brilliant. I found it to be a great consolation after the election of 2012. I was still working in an office at that time, and to console myself I copied and pasted portions of it into a Word document, formatted it nicely, printed it and taped it to the door to my office. I’d stand there and read it from time to time, and have ruminated on it for several years now. Please do read at least Letter 1, several times. It is available here.

I later learned that the actor John Cleese narrated the entire book, and it is available on YouTube. He does a phenomenal job. Start with Letter 1, then go from there. I recommend buying the book too. I used to have a copy of the book but can’t remember the last time I saw it. It might still be at Dad’s house. About three years ago I bought one for my Kindle. You can probably find an older edition very inexpensively on Amazon.

Jesus established a visible Church that He protected all this time

Remember when I told you how I saw the pattern of how things would play out? So much just dropped into place in my mind’s eye. I saw the Church like a tree going back through history. I have struggled to articulate it with any detail. Here’s what I said back in July:

Not long after I left the cult I knew that I had to reject the gnosticism I had been taught there. I wanted to return to my first love of Jesus, son of God, second person of the Trinity, that I had when I was younger. For a couple years I considered returning to some sort of Protestant church but intuited that I would eventually become Catholic anyway. Meandering through Protestantism first, then converting to Catholic later, was a definite possibility, but at some point I realized that it would be inefficient. So I went straight to the Catholic Church. Seeing what I saw about contraception and how it harms the “one flesh” teaching of scripture was the main pivot point, but there were other things as well. For example, I needed a firm historical basis for the church I would join, and I found that in the Catholic understanding of apostolic succession. So again I saw the pattern of how things would play out and made a choice based on that. But articulating that pattern came later, and, in fact, I’m still working on it.

Just today I came across the blog of somebody who articulated much of what I saw. So if you’re curious to understand better why I became Catholic, I recommend this:

Ecclesial Deism

I must warn you: it is long. But it is really good. The comments are good too (although I’ve only read a few of them). Just to be clear: it is not that I had every thought expressed there, but the general structure of his thinking reflects what I saw about the Church. In particular, what the author said about ecclesial gnosticism, I intuited but couldn’t articulate.

The arguments and evidence that Jesus established a visible Church that He protected for 2,000 years are far stronger than arguments and evidence for the opposing view. Ecclesial Deism makes this very clear.


What’s the difference between these?

Just a quick little thought-exercise. What’s the difference between these three groups:

  • orthodox Catholic
  • Orthodox catholic
  • orthodox catholic

Which am I? Which are you?


Miracle in the clouds

It was one of my first times on an airplane. Me and my daddy were flying to Oklahoma to visit his family. I was probably about six years old. I got the window seat, and was so excited as the plane took off. We went up to the clouds, and broke through them. I looked around, totally certain that I would see heaven. I fully expected to see pearly or golden gates, a wall and and maybe a castle. I looked and looked, and even tried to look out the windows on the other side. I couldn’t see it, and was very disappointed. It just didn’t make sense to me. I’d seen drawings in books, and it just resonated with me that I’d see heaven up there.heaven-in-the-clouds

So I told my dad that I didn’t understand why I couldn’t see heaven. He said something about how if people could see it, then we would have photographs of it and everybody would know about it. That made sense to me, but I was still disappointed. As years went by, the disappointment faded and was replaced with a sense of joy and thankfulness at having a very simple, innocent faith.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, on Friday, September 2, 2016. I’m sitting on an airplane, going to Oklahoma to visit family. We have taken off, and are heading up to the clouds. I think back to that memory of when I was a child, remembering how it was on a trip to Oklahoma that I thought I’d see heaven, and it makes me smile.

To pass the time, I brought a book to read. It’s called, “How Can I Get To Heaven,” by Robert Sungenis. I turn to where my bookmark is, page 34, where I read the following. I’ll bold the relevant parts:

“Paul prefaces each of these instances with ‘By faith Abraham…’ and the closes with the following statement in Hebrews 11:10: ‘For he was looking forward to the city whose architect and builder is God.'”

OK so now I’m a bit bewildered about the timing of this sentence and the memory I just had. I look out the window and we’ve broken through the clouds. The sun is shining and it’s a beautiful morning. Continuing to read, it says:

“Unlike the Genesis account which merely provides the rudimentary facts of Abraham’s faith, Paul penetrates into the mind and motivation of Abraham, making us privy to an insight we would never have have gleaned from the Genesis account alone. We learn an astounding truth. We discover that Abraham did not just blindly obey; rather, he had a vivid vision of the future heavenly kingdom and of the whole plan and purpose of God’s dealing with him.

OK, there’s that idea again, a vision of a heavenly kingdom. It occurs to me that maybe God has orchestrated what I’m reading at this moment, and I get a little teary. I keep reading:

Abraham’s vision anticipated not merely owning a piece of land on earth, but also his ultimate entry in heaven in the future, ‘a city whose architect and builder is God.’ What kind of faith is is required to envision one’s entrance into the heavenly kingdom for eternity? Surely more than some crude or rudimentary understanding; rather, it is a faith that comprehends the whole purpose and meaning of existence, and that trusts God implicitly for its eventually fulfillment. According to Paul, Christians possess this same faith, since he says in Hebrews 13:14, ‘for here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.'”

I’ve got some serious tears in my eyes at this point, to the point where I don’t want anybody to notice. I put the book down in my lap with the cover up.


I glance down at it, and notice something that I had not seen before: the sunlight peeking over the clouds. See it?

I was so full of emotion at this point that it was hard to take it all in. God orchestrated this moment to let me know that he remembered my simple faith and he was there with me and my dad. I felt very strongly how much he loves me, how he sees everything and remembers everything, all my pain, sorrow, and prayers. He sees all; nothing escapes his observation, and there will be an accounting, for everything.

The night before, while I was packing, I had intended to pack the book in my underseater bag but ran out of room. So I left it on my nightstand. As I was almost walking out the door the next morning to go to the airport, I felt very strongly a sense that I should bring it, and I almost resisted the feeling since I would have to put the book in my purse and I didn’t want to do that. I was in a cult for 22 years, so I know very well how easy it is to be deceived by promptings and thoughts that seem OK but are not. So unfortunately, my first reaction to such promptings is suspicion. It has been difficult to allow myself to be led by the Holy Spirit. But I decided to listen to the prompting and bring the book. I’m glad I did.