Edited Version of Kinnaird review of "Not by Faith Alone"

Not by Faith Alone, by Robert A. Sungenis, Published by Queenship Publishing Company. Paperback, 774 pages, list price $24.95. Reviewed by John O. Kinnaird, elder at Bethany OPC, Oxford, PA

This polemic against the Reformed faith is must reading for every pastor, elder, teacher, and evangelist in the OPC. It contains a mixture of truth (including some that we need to hear) and error, presented with conviction and massive documentation, and could be very challenging to our cause. We must be prepared to give an answer.

The author was born and raised Roman Catholic, but converted to the Reformed Faith. After graduating from Westminster in Philadelphia and serving as a minister, he returned to Catholicism. Thus he claims to speak from knowledge and experience.

An example of the good things Sungenis has written is his demonstration from Scripture that Abraham was justified, or declared righteous, by God on at least three occasions. But those three acts hardly constituted a process (as Cathlolics claim justification to be). Even the Westminster Confession teaches that all Christians receive God’s declaration of their righteousness on at least two separate occasions: when we come to faith and on the Day of Judgement [sic](WCF, 11 and 33).

In an attempt to debunk the Reformed position, Sungenis often cites R.C. Sproul (and others), pointing out the weaknesses in his (their) position. However, the definitive statements of the Reformed faith are found in the Reformed confessional documents. Poking holes in Sproul’s work proves nothing.

Sungenis argues that the Roman Catholic Church is one, whereas the Protestant churches are many, and therefore that it is the one true church. But there is almost as much diversity in faith and practice among Catholics as there is among Protestants. Furthermore, unity proves nothing: any particular group could be united in falsehood. To find the true church, one must compare the teaching and practice of each particular church with the Scriptures.

However, one does not obtain salvation by finding the “one true church” and uniting with it, but by finding the Savior, Jesus Christ, and uniting with him. Such a person will be justified before God both now and on the Great Day of Judgement. Unlike Sungenis’s “justification,” the justification of those who are in Christ Jesus can never be lost. Those who repent and believe in Jesus and are baptized “will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” of promise, who keeps them safe until the day of Judgment (Acts 2:38). With that promise, there is no need for all the fears instilled by the Roman Church through its system of doctrine.

Sungenis presents a lengthy and helpful exegesis of James 2. Unfortunately, again, he does not compare his exegesis with our confessional documents (with which much of his exegesis is in agreement). Rather, again, he seeks to discredit our position by citing works of various individuals who tend toward “easy believism.” Again the problem is not so much with his exegesis, but with the conclusions he draws from it.

An interesting footnote appears on page 137, where Sungenis criticizes a number of modern Protestant translations of Scripture for reading James 2:14 as “Can that faith save him?” or “Can such faith save him?” (NIV) He prefers “Is the faith able to save him?” The problem, as he sees it, is that “that” or “such” leads to Protestants believing that “works” only prove the sincerity of saving faith. So how does the New American Bible (an official Catholic version) translate the passage? It reads “such faith” in the original 1970 version, and “that faith” in the revision of 1986!

There are indeed those in the Reformed camp who do hold the view that works only demonstrate the sincerity of saving faith. However, that is not the position of the Reformed confessional documents. So again, Sungenis ought to compare his view with our official confessional position and not with the position of selected individuals before he draws conclusions.

Despite this book’s defects, and because of some very insightful exegesis (which is wrongly applied and therefore could be damaging to the faith of weaker Christians), it is one to know about. We must know how the other party thinks if we are to be effective in talking to them or among ourselves on issues that separate us from them.

Appended to the book are twenty-one articles, covering ninety-three pages, which provide great insight into both historical and contemporary Roman Catholic thought, as well as a number of in-depth analyses of various concepts. This section alone is worth the cost of the book.

By reading this book, you will learn much about Roman Catholic thinking, you might learn some things about the teaching of Scripture that are occasionally overlooked in modern Protestantism (and even in Reformed circles), and you will definitely be better prepared to help those who come under the influence of Roman Catholicism.

 

[Note: This document is reproduced from the original, and retains the spelling and punctuation of the original. Pagination and spacing differ.]

 
 
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