CATHOLICISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM:
The Attack on Romanism by 'Bible Christians'
by Karl Keating
(Ignatius Press, 1988, 360pp, $29.95. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Karl Keating is the director of Catholic Answers in the US, a lay organisation which explains and defends the beliefs, history and practices of the Catholic Church. He engages in public debates with leading anti- Catholics and edits a monthly journal of apologetics.
In Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Keating defends the Catholic Church from fundamentalist attacks and explains why fundamentalism has been so successful in converting 'Romanists'. After showing the origins of fundamentalism, he examines representative anti-Catholic groups and presents their arguments in their own words. His rebuttals are clear, detailed and charitable. Special emphasis is given to the scriptural basis for Catholic doctrines and beliefs.
I found when reading this book that I could identify with and vouch for almost all that the author was saying, because of my own personal history.
When I was in my early teens I was 'converted' in a fundamentalist church. The experience was overwhelming and I felt the real and healing presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. After the euphoria had passed away I continued to attend this church seeking ongoing guidance on how to live my life. I eventually began to experience an emptiness and started to look elsewhere for fulfilment.
Karl Keating quotes the words of a fundamentalist, Benjamin Warfield, 'The supreme proof to every Christian of the deity of the Lord is in his own inner experience of the transforming power of the Lord upon his heart and life.'
However, as Keating points out, 'One consequence of this has become painfully clear to fundamentalists. When one falls into sin, or when the ardor that was present at conversion fades, the transforming power of Christ seems to go and so might one's belief in His deity. It is one thing to say that belief should so manifest itself in Christians that people will say, 'See how they love one another.'
'It is something else to posit the truth of Christ's divinity on the constancy of human holiness and spiritual consolations. This accounts for many defections from fundamentalism. The dark night of the soul, which visits many, results in jettisoning the fundamentalist position and often what is embraced is not another brand of Christianity, but a vague agnosticism.'
This was indeed what I had experienced.
After many years of searching, and some time spent in the Anglican Church, I became convinced that the Catholic Church had the answers I sought. It not only had strong moral and social teaching but the gospel was also being preached in the church I attended. I found there was an emphasis on marriage and family life, the sanctity of human life and works of charity, all of which are essential, along with a personal commitment to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
My first Eucharist in the Catholic Church was accompanied by the revealing thought that this at last was the real thing.
Keating discusses numerous aspects of Catholicism including the baptism of infants, the Eucharist, the infallibility of the Pope, the Inquisition, Marian beliefs, etc.
While much of the book explains what Catholics believe and why, Keating also draws attention to the deep hostility among some fundamentalist churches towards the Catholic Church.
He quotes a former TV Evangelist, who said, 'As I close I want to say ... that the Catholic organisation is not a Christian organisation; it is a false religion. It is not the Christian plan of salvation, nor the Christian way. Whoever follows its errant doctrines will be deceived and end up eternally lost.'
Keating further notes, 'One problem with fundamentalists is that they think that the points they bring up have never been considered by the Church. It does not occur to them to find out what informed Catholics understand by a particular passage of Scripture. They find it incomprehensible that someone could have a conclusion that differs from theirs. In this regard their minds lack subtlety.'
One aspect of the book which I found to be a real challenge was the chapter on 'Salvation.'
Since my 'conversion' in a fundamentalist church I have always believed that I have the assurance of salvation, while recognising that this can be negated if I were to deny Christ and continue to sin, e.g., 'If we go on sinning wilfully, when once the full knowledge of truth has been granted to us, we have no further sacrifice for sin to look forward to ...' (Hebrews 10:26).
As Keating explains, 'For Catholics, salvation depends on the state of the soul at death. Christ has already redeemed us, unlocked the gates of heaven as it were. Redemption is not the same as salvation but is a necessary prelude. Christ did His part and now we have to cooperate by doing ours.'
While this Catholic concept is still unresolved in my mind, I do believe that conversion is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the faithful.
Keating uses many references in the book with suggestions for further study. For those contemplating crossing to the Catholic Church, for new Catholics and indeed for those needing a refresher course on the Faith this book is an essential reference.
Valerie Renkema works with the Thomas More Centre.