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

Reviewed by John O. Kinnaird, Elder, Bethany OPC, Oxford, PA

This book is MUST reading for every Elder in the OPC. “Not by Faith Alone” is subtitled “The Biblical Evidence for the Catholic Doctrine of Justification”. This is misleading. “A Polemic against Conservative Protestantism, in General, and the Presbyterian and Reformed Faith, in Particular” would, I think, be more accurate. However, because the book contains a mixture of truth (including some truth that Presbyterian and Reformed people need to hear) and error presented with conviction and massive scholarly documentation it has the potential to be very challenging to the cause we uphold. Thus every Pastor, every Ruler [sic], every Teacher, every Evangelist in the OPC ought to read, understand, and be prepared to give an answer. Acknowledgement [sic] should be given when the author properly presents true and factual positions and rebuttal needs to be given when misunderstandings are presented.

Robert A. Sungenis, the author, and Scott Hahn, Ph.D., who wrote the Forward [sic], both professed to have been born of God by the Holy Spirit and converted at an early age. Sungenis was born and raised Roman Catholic but, following his profession, converted to the Reformed Faith. Hahn was raised in the PCUSA and was converted under a Young Life ministry. Both are graduates of excellent seminaries – Mr. Sungenis from Westminster in Philadelphia (the stronghold of the reformed [sic] Faith in this country; if not in the world) and Dr. Hahn from Gordan-Conwell [sic]; both ministered from the Reformed perspective early in their careers; both recently converted back to the Roman Catholic Church. Thus they claim to speak from experience and knowledge with objectivity and authority. They claim their reconversion to be a result of the study of Scripture and by an act of the grace of God.

An example of the many good things Mr. Sungenis has done in his presentation is to establish from Scripture that Abraham was, in fact, justified, or declared righteous, by God on at least three occasions during the days of his sojourn here on earth. It is my observation that many of us in the OPC have overlooked these facts. Some few, recognizing what Scripture says, may have tried to explain these facts away. Others have created novel definitions of “justification”. Therefore, pointing out to us these truths about Abraham’s experience is a good thing. On the downside is the illogical conclusion by Sungenis that, because it happened more than once, justification is a process rather than an act. Even the Arminians, who have a great deal in common with Roman Catholic theology at this and many other points, don’t misuse language that way. Further, in my judgement [sic], his book does not adequately reflect the knowledge he must have, given his years among us, of the Reformed confessional concepts of justification. For example, [t]he OPC confessional documents clearly teach that all Christians “hear” God’s forensic declaration of their righteousness (i.e., God declares them justified) on at least two separate occasions; [sic] first, upon our coming to faith; and, later, at the Day of Judgement [sic] (WCF XI and XXXIII, LC 70-73 and 89-90). His book does not reflect an awareness of these facts. The fact that this happens at least twice (at least one pre-eschaton act and the act at the eschaton) in the history of each individual who believes God, in no way makes it a process and in no way supports the RCC views of soteriology. True, the three “justifications of Abraham were pre-eschaton. We don’t have knowledge of the counsels of God regarding individuals in this day and age. The cannons [sic] of Scripture now being closed, we have no way of knowing if a currently living individual may have more than one pre-eschaton justification. We cannot say that what happened with regard to Abraham is normative from [sic] us; and we certainly cannot use what happened to Abraham as justification for a concept that justification is a process.

One favorite technique of Sungenis’, in his attempt to debunk the Reformed position, is to cite R.C. Sproul (as well as others), pointing out the many weaknesses in his (their) work. This is grossly unfair to the Reformed position. The definitive statements of the Reformed Faith are those found in the documents created by the Westminster Assembly (current revisions, for us in the OPC) and those known as the Three Forms of Unity (for those in the continental tradition). The work of Sproul is not, by any consideration, definitive of the Reformed Faith. I don’t even find it to be a good representation. Sungenis is quick to defend his position by citing the Canons of the Council of Trent as authoritative statements of the RCC position but slow to look to the documents such as the Westminster Confession or the Canons of Dort as authoritative and definitive statements of our faith. Even a schoolboy could poke holes in Sproul’s work; but that would prove nothing.

Another device used by Mr. Sungenis is the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is one whereas the Protestant churches are many. Therefore, he concludes, the RCC is the one true church. This argument is false both in premise and logic. Any observer can note that the RCC is not one; there is almost as much diversity in faith and practice there as among Protestants. But, even if his claim for unity within the RCC were true, it still would not follow that they are the true church. Any particular group claiming to be the church could be united in falsehood. Unity proves nothing. One must grant that there can be only one true faith. That one true faith, however, might just as easily, from a standpoint of logic, be found in any one or more of the many who claim to have “the truth”. The only possible way to answer the question, “Which of the many claimants is the true church”? [sic], is to compare the teaching and practice of each particular church with the doctrine of Scripture regarding faith and practice. The best way to answer the question can be found in the clear statement of the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter XXV. Mr. Sungenis is right when he says, “not by faith alone”; however, it isn’t by finding the “one true church” and unifying with it that one obtains to [sic] the Kingdom of God. Mr. Sungenis introduces his book with these words, “How can I be saved?” The answer is not union with the one true church. It is union with the one and only true Lord and Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. Such a person will be justified before God both now and on the Great Day of Judgement [sic]. Unlike Mr. Sungenis’ “justification”, the justification of those who are in Christ Jesus can never be lost because the Lord of Glory has so determined it. Mr. Sungenis would do well to look at Peter’s answer to the question at Acts 2:38. Peter says that those who repent and believe in Jesus and are baptized in His name “will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” of promise. That is a clear reference to the promise of Ezekiel 36:25-28. With that promise, there is no need for all the fears instilled by the Roman Catholic Church through their system of doctrine; no need for all the methodology they have worked out for those who try to follow their teachings. Those who have the promise of God given in Ezekiel 36 (the gift of the Holy Spirit) will walk with God and will stand in the Day of Judgement; [sic] without any possibility of failure.

Another interesting aspect of the Sungenis book is his exegetical treatment of James 2. He does this very thoroughly and at great length – a very helpful work. Unfortunately, again, he does not compare his exegesis with our confessional documents (with which much of his exegesis is very well in agreement). Rather, again, he seeks to discredit our position by citing works of various individuals – some of whom are, admittedly, generally in the Reformed camp (although they might be somewhat of the “easy believism” sort or some other varient [sic] ). Again the problem is not so much with the facts he presents (the exegesis of James 2) but rather with the conclusions he draws therefrom in order to force it into the RCC mold.

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, what he calls the “more deliberate…rendering” of the NIV, “can such faith save him?” He prefers what he considers a literal translation, “Is the faith able to save him?” His point is that the definite article should be retained rather than using a demonstrative pronoun. The problem, as he sees it, is that this (the word that or the word such) leads to Protestants [sic] believing, in Sungenis’ view, that “works” only prove the sincerity of saving faith. Here’s why this is so interesting. He has been arguing throughout the book that the RCC is the true church – one evidence being that the RCC has not changed in the course of history and has always spoken (and still does) with one mind. He conveniently overlooks the fact that the official modern RCC translation, the New American Bible (sponsored by the Bishops' Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and bearing all the proper imprimaturs), translates “Such faith” in the original 1970 version (just like the NIV), and “that faith” in the revision of 1986 (like the majority of the Protestant translations). Clearly the RCC is not of one mind with Sungenis when it comes to translating. Now one can’t argue that there are 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, he ought to compare his views on translations with the official view of the RCC and his exegesis with our official confessional position and not with the position of selected individuals before he draws conclusions.

I recently saw an email discussion on the “presbyterians-opc” in which the question was posited, “Perhaps if Scott Hahn had been exposed to this line of reasoning, (the Reformation perspective on canonics as opposed to the Gerstner/Sproul view) he would still be a Presbyterian…”. I came away from this book asking myself a somewhat similar question about Sungenis and soteriology. Never the less [sic] , in spite of defects, and because of some very insightful exegesis (which is wrongly applied and therefore could be potentially damaging to the faith of weaker members of the body of Christ) this book is one to be aware of and versed in. We must know the way the other party thinks if we are to be effective in talking to them or among ourselves on issues that separate us from them.

You OPC Elders will “enjoy” reading what Sungenis has to say about such as Bahnsen, Boice, Clowney, Davis, Ferguson, Gaffin, Godfrey, Kline, Machen, Murray, Noll, North, Shepherd, Silva, Strimple, Wagner, and a host of others. At first, why he doesn’t understand us better seemed a mystery to this reviewer. But as I thought about and looked over his list of personages, it became more clear. One must admit that this group is quite a mixed bag. Maybe we are part of the problem.

Appended to the book are 21 articles, covering 93 pages, which provide great insight into both historical and contemporary Roman Catholic thought as well as a number of in-depth analysis [sic] of various concepts found in the debate between Protestants and Rome. This section alone is worth the cost of the book.

All in all, this is must reading. 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 end up better prepared to protect those under your care and oversight from 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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