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A Biblical Defense of Catholicism
by Dave Armstrong
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Reviewed by: John L. Hoh, Jr.

One might wonder why a book with the title A Biblical Defense of Catholicism needs to be written. Catholicism is Christianity, isn't it? So why do we need a book defending it on the basis of the Bible?

The puzzling thing is, the first chapter is devoted to the validity of Tradition. If I were to do a Biblical defense of the faith, I would put Tradition at the back of the book, or some where in the middle. But not at the front.

Mr. Armstrong begins by quoting Luther (really). Luther stated that the Bible is so simple, even a plowboy could understand it. Thus, Mr. Armstrong sets out to be the plowboy reading Scripture. Except that very few plowboys would venture into the realm of Greek words in Scripture.

Here I'll pause while I state a pet peeve. There are too many books that list the meanings of Greek words and where they are found in Scripture. But that isn't all there is to translation. One needs to look at context and the rules of grammar of the language. What unique meanings do words have based on context? Kittel has a very nice set out called Theological Wordbook of the New Testament. Get a set (or the abridged version). Take classes at a local college (many offer Greek classes). But don't throw a Greek word out and cite usage and then tell me there's a stated meaning throughout. One needs to carefully look at context.

To be sure, there are matters of interpretation. Mr. Armstrong cites passages that state sins are taken away. In this Mr. Armstrong seeks to convince us that we need to obey God, that we must do something for our salvation. I read the same passages and see the writers seeking God to release them from sin.

The role of faith and works in a Christian's life has been debated for centuries. Rome believes, as Mr. Armstrong defends, that works are necessary for salvation. Lutherans believe that we are saved by faith and that our good works spring from that faith. As a pastor friend of mine often puts it, it's either performance-based acceptance (our works aid in our salvation) or it's acceptance-based performance (God accepts us and redeems us apart from who or what we are and we respond out of love).

To be sure, Mr. Armstrong has a point about salvation. No, we are not condemned because of lack of faith. We are condemned for violating God's law. But we are not able to attain perfection this side of heaven either. Thus our trust is in Christ alone for salvation. And having this salvation, in love we strive to keep his law. Works are a result of being saved, not a cause of our salvation. We are condemned because of our sin; we are saved by faith.

There is also the division in the author's mind of two camps of Christians-Catholic and Protestant. I beg to differ with this division. Lutheran theology is neither Catholic nor Protestant. Luther continuously stressed that his teachings were not the same as Calvin's and Zwingli's teachings.

And while Mr. Armstrong sought to be a plowboy reading Scripture, he still relies too much on catechisms and opinions of Catholic theologians to interpret that Scripture for him. Thus, I am puzzled with the title of the book-but understand the placement of Tradition in the first chapter.

Dave Armstrong also seems influenced by another Armstrong-Herbert. No, not in theology (Dave's theology is actually more in line with Scripture). Mr. Armstrong uses italics and bold type in excess for emphasis. The emphasis one would normally have for such editorial tricks is lost when the pages are covered with them. In a future printing, the author should decide whether all the italicized words are really necessary.

I did like Mr. Armstrong's section on Tradition, even if I felt it was misplaced in this book. The Church of Christ is an on-going tradition of believers and worshipers praising their God and Savior, sharing the Gospel, and trusting in their Savior for salvation. It does Christians good to observe their traditions as long as they agree with Scripture.

I also like Mr. Armstrong's dialogues on infant baptism and liturgy ("mass"). These are fictitious dialogues between a Catholic and a Protestant (Evangelical). Here Mr. Armstrong sticks to Scripture and doesn't bring in writings of Cardinals or catechisms. (Here is where I point out that Lutherans are not Protestant-Lutherans teach infant baptism and the order of service in a Lutheran church will often be similar to the mass in a Catholic church.)

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