Update: ‘If Protestantism is True’ has been edited and re-released by Catholic Answers as The Protestant’s Dilemma. It’s the same book just even better!
I eyed the book suspiciously.
It was If Protestantism is True by Devin Rose.
It was a book of Catholic apologetics. I’d never read one before. I thought I at least Catholicism the courtesy of reading one lousy book. Plus, it was about history, was only three bucks, and (most importantly) had my favourite painting, Raphael’s Disputation of the Blessed Sacrament on the front cover. No fan of Raphael could be all that bad, right?
As soon as I started reading, I was fuming. I remember pacing around the living room, informing my bewildered parents that some people were soooo stupid. To this day, my copy is still peppered with angry comments and passive-aggressive highlighting.
But If Protestantism is True really got me thinking. I highlighted a lot of passages that it turned out were the seeds for later realizations. Passages…
About authority in the Church:
“At what point did the councils stop being authoritative?”
About the visible Church, schisms, and sacramentality:
“A body is both visible and alive.”
And about the limits of sola Scriptura:
“It might also come as a shock to Protestants that Luther, claiming sola Scriptura, believed a Christian man could marry multiple women (polygamy)”
But I also made a fair few critical/snarky notes on the notes:
About the statement that the fact of the papacy acts as evidence for Christ’s intentions:
“No it doesn’t!”
“Why is the Bible seen as so mysterious?? Ugh!!!”
About the errors and personal failings of the Reformers:
“So? 1) completely ok with this, 2) misunderstands Protestantism”
And about more criticisms of Luther:
“So hypocritical! Like priests are faultless!”
At one point, when Devin was making a point about priestly celibacy. On my kindle, I’ve typed “wow…” For the life of me, I can’t remember if that was a “wow…” or derision or a “wow…” of realisation. That was how life-changing this book was, my beliefs were actually beginning to change as I was reading.
And I didn’t like it at all.
The problem was that Devin dealt with history and I knew this history. That meant I knew that while it was skewed to a Catholic perspective, it was fundamentally correct. But I’d never seen anyone piece it together like that. Once you see something like that, it’s not easy to unsee.
In retrospect, it’s amusing to see me slowly being squeezed between a rock and hard place.
On the one hand, I couldn’t write off 1,000 — 1,500 years of Christian history. I definitely wasn’t comfortable with a narrative of Great Apostacy.
Theologically, I believed the Holy Spirit guarded His temple, the Church, although I was very vague on the details.
Historically, I knew from my own studies that these patristic and medieval guys were Christian. No one can read St Anselm of Canterbury, St Bernard of Clairvaux, or the late medieval mystics and still believe the myth of the Great Apostasy.
On the other hand, if these early and medieval Christians were definitely Christians then the Reformation — and by Reformation I mean revolutionary schism-esque splitting off — was suddenly a whole lot less necessary.
If this was the way things had been for centuries, why couldn’t we stick together and work it out together? If a Reformation/Revolution was necessary in 1517, it would also have been necessary in 1017 — or 517. Was everyone so blind to Christian truth for over a millennium?
Either the Protestant Reformation was truly necessary — and thus Christendom had been apostate for centuries, or it wasn’t and the central tenets of Protestantism were false.
That’s not a pretty choice.
But Devin presents it again and again, with example after example, pushing you to think through the logical implications of your Protestant beliefs.
There are lots of thorny dilemmas in this fantastic book. My favourite, though, is this one:
If Protestantism is true, then the Catholic Church has continually invented false, man-made doctrines, in which no Christian should have to believe, and has done so for centuries. Yet Protestants agree with the Church’s decisions on the fundamental doctrines about the nature of God and the New Testament canon of Scripture. On these matters—settled centuries after Christ died and rose—Protestants accede willingly and make no claim that they were novelties. So what criteria do Protestants use to determine which decisions of the Church had divine origin and which were man-made.
When I first read If Protestantism is True, I hated it with all the fiery passion and elitist lit-hist snobbery I could muster. Six months later I was Catholic.
I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from that.
As I mentioned at the beginning, Devin Rose’s book ‘If Protestantism is True‘ is now titled The Protestant’s Dilemma: How the Reformation’s Shocking Consequences Point to the Truth of Catholicism. All links above are to the updated version and are affiliate links, just so you know.