Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Devin Rose and The Protestant's Dilemma

You all know I love a good debate.

My first foray into internet debates (the best kind!) was in '98 or '99, when I first got internet access and found a Catholic apologetics forum. I spent large chunks of my day in dialogue with Protestants, defending Catholicism alongside other amazing Catholics.

For many years, I imagined that I would stay with the Protestant/Catholic debates, as that is how I thought my way into the Church. It was such a passion of mine! But as time went on, it started to bum me out to realize how divided Christians are today, even more than when the Protestant Reformation (really a rebellion) tore Christendom asunder. And since I had neither the time nor the energy to become an expert on each of the 30,000+ Protestant denominations and their contradictory beliefs on a bazillion different topics -- even on essential issues that touch on salvation itself -- I engaged in fewer and fewer of those discussions.

When I started this blog in 2010, I did expect to do a lot more Protestant/Catholic apologetics than I actually have done (though I have done some), but I eventually ended up taking on more of the secular and atheist arguments, which became increasingly fascinating to me.

The shift in my interest and emphasis has not, however, lessened my admiration for those who do charitably engage our separated brethren. Long before he and I became friends, I was an ardent fan of former atheist and former Protestant Devin Rose, blown away by the skill and knowledge he brought to the debate. His was one of the first blogs I ever read regularly -- perhaps the first -- and there are two characteristics of his work that I deeply appreciate: His clarity and and his charity.

Years ago, when Devin told his readers that he was writing a book, I was giddy. The finished product, If Protestantism is True, was so good that I hoped it would be picked up by a big publisher. Sure enough, Catholic Answers saw its potential, revamped it, and gave it a new name. The fine result is The Protestant's Dilemma: How the Reformation's Shocking Consequences Point to the Truth of Catholicism.

Isn't that a cool cover??

If you like how we talk here in the Bubble, you will love the format of The Protestant's Dilemma. The book is divided into four parts: The Church of Christ, The Bible and Tradition, The Sacraments and Salvation, and Christian History and Practice.

The parts are further divided into chapters. Each chapter names a topic, then follows first with the Protestant beliefs and implications, then with the Catholic beliefs and implications regarding that topic.

For example, Chapter 12 is entitled:

 "The Principle of Individual Judgment"

It begins:

"If Protestantism is true, we all decide for ourselves what God's revelation means."  

For a couple of pages, Devin expands upon this proposition with Scripture, Christian history, and logic, and then presents the other side:

"Because Catholicism is true, the Bible was not intended to be studied in isolation from the Apostolic Tradition and apart from the teaching authority of Christ's Church."

Devin follows with more expansion of Scripture, Christian history, and logic.

Finally, each short and readable chapter is capped with an airtight summary of "the Protestant's dilemma" on that particular topic. Chapter 12 sums up:
If Protestantism is true, then difficult parts of Scripture should be understandable through careful study, prayerful consideration, and application of other parts of Scripture that are ostensibly clearer. Yet when faithful members of Protestant communities study hard, prayerfully seek God's illumination, and diligently apply other parts of Scripture, they still arrive at different interpretations -- often leading to the founding of a new community or denomination. For a Protestant, sola scriptura makes him, and not the Bible, the final authority. 

See what I mean? Systematic, reasoned, clear. That's the way I like my own blog, and that's the way I like my books of apologetics. Devin's contribution to the Protestant/Catholic dialogue is invaluable, and I wouldn't be caught in an online debate without The Protestant's Dilemma on my shelf and at the ready!


PS: If you really want to know the kind of man we are dealing with here, please watch Devin's recent interview with Marcus Grodi on EWTN's The Journey Home. His story is quite painful at first (as an atheist, and dealing with crippling anxiety, he came close to suicide), but powerfully redemptive:


  1. There is another aspect to Sola Scriptura that is not discussed often enough (for me anyway). It is "The Cannon"

    The Bible is not self-attesting to its own cannon. Why exactly would a non-Catholic Christian accept the present cannon of biblical books as something other than human tradition? In the words of blogger Mark Shea, without a clear answer to this question a “purely biblical argument for Christianity was a series of neatly fashioned logic links attached to a hook hanging on a nail hammered firmly into…nothing.”

  2. Ben, exactly. I do tend to do some Protestant/Catholic debates and it's a question I bring up often. And Devin's Chapter 10 is called "Identifying the canon", so you will enjoy that. The answers Protestants give? Either "we can't really know, but we are pretty darn sure" (not good enough for a movement that bases everything on the Bible -- and those particular books -- only!) or I've had people admit that the Catholic Church canonized the Bible but that aside from the canon, they can be trusted with nothing else, and no other doctrine! Um…. okay?

    1. Too early in the morning here. Should have said, "I do tend to do some Protestant/Catholic debates on facebook occasionally…"

  3. Devin's book was one of the first I read after my oldest was baptized and I realized I really didn't know as much about the Faith as I pretended to. I'm excited to read this revised edition sometime hopefully soon!

    I really resonate with Devin's conversion story. I found Catholicism after growing up unchurched, and I too struggle with anxiety. In my case I self-medicated (indulged in seriously unhealthy substances and behaviors) believing the lie that my "happiness" was all that mattered. Well, none of that stuff helped me feel better. Temporarily numb, sure, but not better. Once I was willing to accept God's help, I was able to manage so much better. I still suffer from anxiety, but I'm also truly happy for the first time since early childhood. My suffering need not be endured alone.

  4. Found your site at Catholicanswers.com and happy I did. I read your book review and have bookmarked your page. One request. Can you use the same font used on your read first page. Non-serif fonts are easy to read. The font used on this page caused my now 64 yr. old eyes some serous strain.

    May His peace be with you!

  5. Hi David! I am glad you found the Bubble! I think the font may be defaulting to a bad script on your computer? To my eyes, the fonts are the same, although I have heard that sometimes my posts come up on some folks computers as script!! I am horrified by the thought, but I don't know how to control that. Anyone who has any insight, please let me know. So again, my apologies! I wish I knew how to make these fonts load correctly on all systems. :(

    mcbabyadventures, anxiety is a terrible thing. I have had a taste of it. I don't know how one can find any lasting peace without God, honestly.

  6. It's been my observation that my generation engages in a lot of numbing behavior, with varying drugs/behaviors of choice, and we've tried dismantling any stigma associated with them. Even alcohol or hard drugs are only a problem if you're caught by law enforcement or if you seriously injure someone while under the influence. Hookups are evidence of a good time, and isn't it great to not be tied down?

    A couple of years ago, at a Christmas party, I had an acquaintance, who was raised Catholic but is non-practicing now, break down and beg me how to find a wife. I felt so bad. This man is very attractive, brilliant, and had a great job, and all he wanted, apparently, was to find a woman who would love him and that he could raise a family with. But he didn't know how to create intimacy. He knew how to get drunk and hook up, and he kept expecting that somehow this was going to lead him to marriage. I told him I thought he needed to change where and how he was looking, and that baffled him. I don't think he remembers the conversation (he was pretty drunk at the time), or maybe he was too embarrassed afterwards. But I found it pretty revealing. There's no peace in a life like that. There's just numbness. And many of us believe that's the best we can do.

  7. Bingo! I always say that all the "fun" out there (casual sex, drinking, drugs) is self-medication. I get it, but it's sad. I will pray for that acquaintance of yours. So heartbreaking, and yet so common. :(

  8. Ah, with an e-book version available, no less! I plan to tackle this one.

    Leila, in the 1990's, I spent a lot of time on IRC, where I also engaged in a lot of Catholic-Protestant debates. I remember telling one fellow that it was good to see that he at least accepted the Church's authority when it came to the New Testament canon. He responded that he did not accept, he only happened to "agree." WOW! And guess why he agreed? Because God had revealed it to him personally. Talk about infallibility :)

    But you're right: With over 30,000 denominations--many of which refuse to admit even to their recent roots, such as "non-denominational" mega-churches being essentially Baptist--debates sometimes become difficult: For example, I could refute Luther, and find that my dyed-in-the-wool Protestant adversary ALSO discounted Luther.

    What was amazing (and sad) to find in those conversations on IRC was the huge number of not only EX-Catholics, but also those who yet profess to be Catholic, who were abysmally ignorant of the faith. I recall having to point to the Catechism to convince one woman that the eucharist is more than a "symbol" or "representation."

    And then, there was the outright anti-Catholic bigotry. I was observing a conversation where several Protestants were discussing what becomes of a person who dies in friendship with God, but still has imperfections (see where this is going?). They agreed that God must have some way of making that person ready for heaven. As soon as I pointed out that they were describing Purgatory, they immediately decided that they MUST be wrong!

    OK...time to see if I can get this book now, or wait until the end of the month :)

  9. Paul, I can relate to so many of these experiences!! Just last week I had a (very respectful) Baptist lady tell me during the course of our debate that yes, the Holy Spirit leads each Christian personally into the Truth of what the Bible means! Um….? That would make for a massive MESS, since everyone who reads the Bible will come up with their own personal interpretation. And it has proved unworkable (not to mention that no Christian ever dreamed up such a system or would have considered it anything other than laughable -- or heretical -- for the first millennia and a half of Christianity). When I pointed out that even the educated, literate, wealthy Ethiopian eunuch couldn't understand the Scriptures "unless someone explains it to me", she dismissed that with, "Well, he wasn't a believer yet, that's why he didn't understand" (because I guess once one makes his profession of belief in Christ, all the Scriptures stop being cryptic and start being crystal clear to every believer, right?… but if so, why then do Christians take tons of classes, study under teachers and preachers, do Bible studies, church hop when they change their minds about the pastor's view, etc?).

    And when I ask what about the illiterate folks, since they can't read the Bible (and the printing press wasn't invented till over a millennia after Christ), she mentioned that they could "hear" the gospel and believe it. Yes, I said, but which teacher should they trust to tell them the truth of it? Every preacher from different denominations are telling them something different. And, when one is illiterate and is poor and can only think about where his next meal is coming from for his family, then where does that leave him as far as being a good Bible-only Christian? When the comfortable, first world, well-fed Christian with a lot of leisure time can sit and expound on the importance of Bible-only Christianity, when diving further and further into God's Word (remember, they admit to no sacraments!) is the thing that edifies a Christian and advances them in godliness and knowing God's will, where does that leave centuries of illiterate peasants? Did God love them less? Seems a bit elitist to me, and unfair to the countless Christians that never had such luxuries. Wouldn't Christ have known this? Ah, but He did. That's why He founded His teaching and preaching Church, and instituted the Sacraments. For all. The Bible is a gift of the Church. The Church is not Bible-based, the Bible is Church-based.

  10. I heard someone say, Protestant churches were established by men to seek Christ. The Catholic Church was established by Christ to seek men.

    1. I love this. I am so saddened that all of my protestant friends just cannot see it. They are so blinded. It makes me so sad (and angry, at times)....I don't know how far to go in being vocal about my faith.

    2. Wow. What a wonderful way to put it!

      Also, I am really enjoying the Journey Home video.

      Thanks, Leila!


  11. Paul, I hear you about the ex-Catholics and those who profess to be Catholic are are abysmally and/or willfully ignorant of the faith. I've been both of those at times of my life. Now on the other side, I get very frustrated with those in whose shoes I used to be. Ah, the irony.

    I do give those who call themselves former Catholics credit for some integrity over the self-professed "Catholics" who dissent. Dissent = protest = Protestantism, and those protesting "Catholics" undermine the Church from the inside, showing the world by their false witness that it's acceptable or encouraged to dissent from doctrine. It's not. For goodness' sake, the Democratic party doesn't allow dissent on its pro-abortion and pro-anything-goes-marriage stance. Don't believe me? Go ahead and try to run as a pro-life and/or pro-traditional marriage Democratic politician, and see how quickly you are cast out and vilified.

    Here, we are talking about revealed truth and salvation, the very words of Christ, but dissenters insist on their own view of things. Sure, you can attend Mass regularly, pray the Rosary and do the outward signs of the Faith, but your heart, first and foremost, must believe in and uphold the doctrine, to be a Catholic in truth. All else is just show if you don't truly believe. (Though believing does not equal not sinning. Sinning is a failure to live our beliefs. It's like knowing the speed limit is 70 mph, and that it was set with good reason - to prevent accidents and save lives - but deciding we want to hurry and break the speed limit.) Our faith is the doctrine, made to stand all time. Protestant doctrine changes with the wind, it seems.

  12. "For goodness' sake, the Democratic party doesn't allow dissent on its pro-abortion and pro-anything-goes-marriage stance."

    Oh my goodness, what a brilliant observation!

  13. Logic is beauty. Seems like a good book. Thanks for the heads-up.

    Regarding the topics covered in Devin's book: My Protestant friends have not considered these things intellectually. My guess is that's because it is not intellectually intuitive for most people to look at where they are standing and why they are standing there. No real fault of their own. They've just never considered the fundamentals of their stance.

    The conversations IRL have been interesting once these topics are verbally broached. There are usually three elements that make or break this kind of discourse IRL:

    1) Is the friendship real and solid? This kind of discussion could test it. (zing, been there! how do you spell whatthehellareyoutalkingabout? lol)
    2) What is the personality type of the person with whom you are conversing? Is he/she the intellectual type? Emotionally reactive? Unwilling to casually discuss?
    3) the soil prep of his/her heart with actual graces

  14. Nubby, these are excellent points to consider! And you are right, most folks start with a presupposition and go from there. They don't often even think to question the presupposition.

  15. As a poorly catechized Catholic who is finally learning the beauty and depth of our faith, can you please explain the New Testament canon to me and how to defend and explain to my anti-Catholic fundamentalist Baptist bible-only friends? Thanks!

  16. Beth, the gist of it is this: We only have the New Testament on the say-so of the Catholic Church. A pope and bishops canonized the New Testament around 400 years into Christianity, during which time the Church thrived, even without a canonized Bible. The Church authority (pope and bishops) that declared which books were inspired and which were to be considered Sacred Scripture were already thoroughly Catholic in belief and practice (a quick look at history makes this plain). So, why would a Protestant believe the Catholic Church about the authority of the New Testament, and believe that those 27 books and only those were inspired and canonical, but scoff at the rest of what the Church teaches? If God gave the Church the authority to proclaim the canon, then why did He stop there? And why, if Baptists are so anti-Catholic in their theology, would they trust the Catholic Church to declare the canon? And remember, Protestants believe that the Bible is their sole rule of faith, yet they submit to the authority of the Catholic Church that told them what was in their Bible!

    Basically, it's just a question of getting them to research where they got the Bible...

  17. "I am so saddened that all of my protestant friends just cannot see it. They are so blinded. It makes me so sad (and angry, at times)....I don't know how far to go in being vocal about my faith."

    Kristi, this was a comment I got on my facebook from a wonderful convert friend. Sh is also our resident Scripture teacher here in the Bubble, Gayle Somers:

    There is another dilemma Protestants face that is maybe more difficult than the problem of truth. As compelling as our arguments can be (and they are), a devout Protestant asks himself: "How could I be this wrong and feel this good?" His experience of peace, joy, and fruitfulness in his life speaks to him much louder than our arguments. He feels so close to the Lord that he just assumes there must be SOME answer out there to the Catholics, but he just doesn't know it. I remember this as being an extremely strong deterrent to becoming Catholic. I thought accepting the Church's claims meant that my long years of wonderful Protestant life with God had to be invalidated. I wondered if I could ever trust my feelings and convictions again, if I could ever be confident of knowing God. It's a serious issue that an apologist needs to know how to address with love and sensitivity. I really believe that most Protestants who are presented with the Catholic case for the Church don't give it a second thought because of it.

    Gayle is so perceptive and this speaks to so much of the problem!

  18. Leila, Now I'm confused. Aren't there less book in the protestant Bible? Or is it more books.


  19. "His experience of peace, joy, and fruitfulness in his life speaks to him much louder than our arguments. "

    Absolutely. Walking alongside Protestants watered my own walk with Christ even as I was a C&E only, not even yet confirmed in my faith. They taught me an enormous amount about entering into the presence of the Lord and reaching into that realm where spirit touches spirit, through praise and worship, and a rightly ordered life. I understood this better than I understood the Catholic liturgy, and all of its beauty, at that time.
    The Lord used those years to pour His grace into my soul, allowing me to really see Him and experience His movement in my soul for the first time in a long time, both through the witness of my friends' lives, and through His actual graces that came like rapid fire, one after another.

    It eventually brought me back to the sacraments and the treasures of the Church (obviously and praise God). He used those awesome people and their fruitful witness to bring me back to Catholicism via that route. This is why I hope for my Protestant friends to read books like the one Devin authored. My Protestant friends earnestly seek to please the Lord and to find Him where He truly is, and I hope someday, they will end up celebrating Mass next to me because they have found Him in His fullness. I would hope, should they embrace Catholicism, that they never feel their walk has been invalid, but that it instead was a windy narrow way that broke open around the bend into a much wider pasture.

  20. Lena, the Protestants rejected seven of the Old Testament books (they only recognize 66 of the 73), but our New Testament is the same: 27 books. :)

  21. Nubby, that was so beautifully said! Amen!

  22. I love love love If Protestantism Were True. It was one of the books that cinched it for my when I decided to come back to the church after spending 7 years away from it. It just cleared up so many loose ends and doubts (I had minored in religious studies in university and it made it very confusing to find the truth!)

    I have since read The Protestant's Dilemma and I love it just as much. Thanks for sharing this link to the Journey Home. I love reading and listening to conversion stories, they help strengthen my own faith.


  23. "There is another dilemma Protestants face that is maybe more difficult than the problem of truth. As compelling as our arguments can be (and they are), a devout Protestant asks himself: 'How could I be this wrong and feel this good?'"

    This, of course, begs the question, "What happens when the feelings go away?" Feelings are transient; they come and go. A LOT of people would say, "Well, I guess that wasn't it. I'll go shopping for another church"--and THAT'S part of where the 30,000 denominations came from! People "shop" for a church with which they already agree (again, personal infallibility); and if they can't find one, they sometimes start their own.

    Now, when it comes to people who profess to be Catholic, I have a certain sympathy for their ignorance IF they are open to learn. But I have yet to hear an EX-Catholic (who still professes to be Christian) say, "They lied about the Real Presence." I believe that it is an ADULT responsibility to find out WHAT you're leaving BEFORE you leave it--and I find those who shirked that responsibility MUCH more irksome than the Catholics who stay, but haven't yet learned.

  24. @Paul I agree with you. Several people in my husband's family have left the Church, mostly to join non-denominational groups. They talk all the time about all the cool stuff they are learning and doing, and I remember thinking to myself, for example, "Yeah, your pastor didn't come up with that reasoning. That's Aquinas." But they haven't made the connection that the Church they left has been teaching that stuff for centuries, because they're too busy getting excited about the free coffee that they're welcome to sip during the service if they want to (no joke.)

    I feel so blessed that I was moved at my son's baptism to learn more about the faith, because I was on my way out before that, after only being in a few years! I was convinced that the Church needed to get busy making me happy while I sat back and waited. Not so, not so.

    (I've noticed too that in my area that non-denom churches tend to rise and fall, usually based on the charisma of whatever pastor they have. I'm surprised that doesn't bother more people. Then again, the cafeteria mindset is not confined just to people who claim to be Catholic.)

  25. Hey Bubble buddies, this is just too much of a coincidence! Just now I came across this testimonial from a Canadian ex-evangelical now studying at the International Theological Institute near Vienna (the testimonial is on the archdiocese of Vienna's website, but also available on YouTube) in my home country of Austria (have I mentioned how super secular we are here?). I think you'll enjoy and smile - it reflects all of what Leila wrote, plus the joy of having children!


  26. The Holy Father spoke so wonderfully and truthfully and heartwarmingly and deeply when he addressed a conference of Pentecostals earlier this year (I think credit belongs to Leila or another Bubble buddy for initially posting this video):


    It gave me a whole new perspective on Catholic-Protestant relations. He speaks the language of love, without compromising on truth by one inch.

    I also like to remind myself in moments of (just a liiiitttle) smugness about belonging to the one true church, that God has blessed many Protestants with tons more charity, insight, faith and love than me and many of my fellow-Catholics. Think of giants like C.S. Lewis (I know, he was crypto-catholic :-) ) or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They are our brothers, and while we disagree on certain theological issues (surely critical ones like the Real Presence, the question of the Virgin Mary, the saints etc.), we share faith in the One True God. And I for one learn from them.

  27. Thank you, Sebastian!!

    And, for any of you who want Devin's book but can't afford it, check out Brandon Vogt's offer to giveaway free copies:


  28. If you haven't had the chance, you might like to read Making Gay Okay, by Robert Reilly. While the book does focus on the Gay agenda, much time is spent laying the foundation, and the philosophy of Rousseau and its underpinnings of atheism. It laid out the "back of the brain" thinking going on in many liberals today.

  29. Wow! I am loving this thread and the comments! I have read this thread of posts several times already and have taken notes. Nubby, loved your comment on logic and intellectual intuitiveness.

    I'm working hard to understand my faith and Church teaching each and every day, but even as I commit to that I find it a tall task to be able to explain some things to people or debate with misguided Catholics and Protestants. This all helps. I often find people are either Truth seekers or they aren't.

    Really loving the comments.

    Catholic and loving it!

  30. Ty, Tonka.

    And I agree with this: "I often find people are either Truth seekers or they aren't."

    It's a rare person that wants to take it to the next level. Grace is usually pounding away at the intellect, by that point.
    Some people may never be interested in (let alone equipped for) deeper discussion about Church history, doctrine, etc.
    Yet, they might surprise you down the road, and bring up one of those Church topics again. I've experienced both (non-interested people and people who later take an interest in talking about Catholic beliefs).

    I think the key is "knowing the audience" and "meeting them where they're at".
    IOW, I wouldn't saddle the less-intellectual types with a lot of encyclicals or paragraphs from the catechism. That would turn them off and not meet their needs.
    I'd piecemeal it according to their personal Christian beliefs, needs, interests, emotional and intellectual receptivity. Tailor-made witness is the most charitable.
    It's different than combox interaction where people throw in everything, including the kitchen sink.
    IRL, if the non-Catholic likes you (for whatever reason) she will trust that she will be respected should she talk faith, or even challenge Catholicism, with you. There's a lot to be said for eye contact and a general friendliness.

    As long as we stay open and approachable IRL, we might be pleasantly surprised at seeing some fruit mature from what seemed like a previously botched or unsuccessful conversation.

  31. Tonka, what a great comment. And Nubby, exactly! Things in comboxes do tend to be so much different than in real life. Body language, tone, everything. When I talk to folks one-on-one, it's a meeting of persons, not just ideas. The blogs and comboxes sort of lay the foundation for those folks who need to better understand the arguments and have something to read more than once (as Tonka has done). It helps when there is an actual real-life conversation.

  32. As promised, I bought a copy of the e-book edition, and I'm working my way through it.I love the structure! Each chapter covers a topic, beginning with, "If Protestantism is true, then...." and then points out the logical--though unacceptable--conclusion, followed by the Catholic solution to the dilemma. And, each chapter is an easy, one-session read. A great book, filled with substance, easy even for a busy person to read!

    A great companion piece would be "Separated Brethren," by William Whalen--an overview of individual non-Catholic Christian denominations, from a Catholic perspective. Unfortunately, it seems to be a bit pricey at this time.


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