November 30, 2020

Bryan Cross Interview (Part 3): Anglicans, Evangelicals, Convert Apologetics and Books

gensym-43-m5. What is your assessment of Pope Benedict’s opening the doors of the church to disaffected Anglicans? Will this speed up the path into the priesthood for men in the Anglican ministry?

For a number of years now, thousands of Anglicans have been asking the Holy See to allow them to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving unique aspects of the Anglican tradition. One factor that held up that request was the possibility that the Anglican communion would move in a more traditional direction (and hence toward greater agreement with the Catholic Church). But when the vote at last year’s Lambeth Conference showed that Anglicans had chosen to accept female bishops, the Anglican communion showed itself to have chosen to move further toward Protestantism, and depart further from apostolic succession. Pope Benedict apparently decided that the present prospects for the reunion of Canterbury with Rome are such that they will not be significantly worsened by opening the doors to Anglicans who wish to preserve elements of their Anglican patrimony in full communion with the Holy See. Pope Benedict’s fundamental motivation here is just what he said in his first address as pope, “The current Successor [to John Paul II] assumes as his primary commitment that of working tirelessly towards the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers.” He is seeking to be a minister of Christ’s peace in the fulfilling of Christ’s prayer in John 17.

6. You do not impress me as being someone particularly impressed with all of the “convert apologetics” movement in the RCC. What’s your assessment of ministries like Catholic Answers?

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there is some kind of “convert apologetics” movement in the Catholic Church. There are many converts to Catholicism, like myself, and understandably, we wish to share with others what we have discovered. We wish to see all Christians in full communion with the Church and with each other, and the present schisms resolved. Of course among some new converts there is zeal without sufficient knowledge. The solution to that problem, however, is not to reduce the zeal, but for such persons to develop a more thorough understanding of the faith, and a genuine sensitivity to the positions and personal situations of those who do not agree. Not everyone is called to be a professional theologian or historian or philosopher, but that shouldn’t prevent anyone from sharing his or her faith. In my opinion ministries like Catholic Answers have their proper place, because they are helping a great many people (Catholics and Protestants) find answers to questions about what the Church teaches and why she teaches it. That does not nullify the importance of academic work in these areas; over-simplification is a context-dependent term. In some ways, ministries like Catholic Answers can help serve as a bridge between lay persons and scholars.

7. Imagine that a large evangelical church brought you in to speak to the entire church on Protestant-Catholic relations/unity. What would be the main points you would cover?

I would first talk about the importance of unity as a constitutive element of the gospel itself, as I did to your earlier question. Then I would talk about the tragedy of the separation of Protestants and Catholics at the Reformation, and why love for Christ requires that Protestants and Catholics should be striving with all our effort to be reconciled in true unity and unity in the truth. Then I would talk about what I see as the fundamental reasons for the present division, first by laying out the two paradigms with respect to ecclesiology, ecclesial authority, ecclesial unity, and soteriology. These things cannot rightly be compared piecemeal; they have to be compared within their respective paradigms, and especially in view of the writings of the early Church Fathers. That’s why I think Protestants and Catholics need to understand both paradigms, in order effectively to reason together about them.

Here’s an example. In the Catholic paradigm, apostolic succession is a crucial component, because it is the basis for ecclesial authority, and thus for determining how other questions should be answered. Protestants do not accept apostolic succession, primarily because they do not find it in Scripture. So when Protestants find apostolic succession in the early Church Fathers, Protestants tend to view that as an accretion of some sort, not as an essential part of the deposit of faith. But from the Catholic point of view, the very stance of the Protestant who requires that something be clearly taught in Scripture in order to believe it, is already a departure from what has been the Church’s belief and practice since the beginning, that is, the practice of understanding Scripture as informed by those shepherds having apostolic succession. For this reason we can see that each side appears, from the point of view of the other side, to be begging the question, i.e. assuming precisely what is in question. In that sort of situation, cannot simply throw verses at each other; we have to step back and compare paradigms. I recently did something similar to that regarding the subject of justification, in my reply to “All the Romery People.”

8. What are some books or authors you would recommend to Protestants in the audience?

The following books may be helpful in clarifying the Catholic faith more fully for Protestants.

Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church, by Henry Graham.
The Early Church Fathers (Three Volumes), by William Jurgens.
A History of Christendom (Five Volumes), by Warren Carroll.
Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, by Louis Bouyer.
The Catholic Church and Conversion, by G.K. Chesterton
Evangelical is Not Enough, by Thomas Howard.
Upon This Rock, by Stephen Ray.
The Russian Church and the Papacy, by Vladimir Soloviev.
Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, by Henri de Lubac.
The Life of Faith, by Romano Guardini.
Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition, by Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering.
Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI, by Scott Hahn.


  1. “We wish to see all Christians in full communion with the Church and with each other, and the present schisms resolved.”

    Ouch. That’s not a particularly encouraging statement for someone wanting Christian unity. If Catholics want to bridge the divide they’re going to have to come to an understanding what the Reformation was truly all about – and the biggest is that, for us, Rome isn’t home.

    • “If Catholics want to bridge the divide they’re going to have to come to an understanding what the Reformation was truly all about”

      I think the thing that all converts accept in coming to the Catholic faith about the Protestant narrative of ‘what the Reformation was truly about’ is its final inadequacy – in all respects, leaving the universal, original instituted church is simply not the Good that not leaving it is, no matter the philosophical rationale or exigetical justifications on offer.

      All the ages of Catholic faith and its expressions don’t sink or swim according to the criticism of one school of ‘reformers’ – but inasmuch as the influence of the reformers were medicinal, the Catholic Church (but especially all of us as individual Catholic Christians) must not deny ourselves the best Protestant ‘cures’ for our dis-eases, be they private or corporate – good preaching, simple prayers, a love of Scripture, a de-emphasis of our institutionalism in favor of unpretentious community.

  2. Thanks for posting the link to your reply to “All The Romery People.” I think I finally understand at least some of the subtle differences (and similarities) between the traditional Catholic and Protestant theologies on salvation, grace, and faith.
    I actually like and tend to agree with the Catholic view that agape love needs to be present in order for faith to be effectual in regards to salvation — which lines up with Paul’s assertion that even great faith is rendered void without the presence of love. However, I’m not sure all the elaborate rationalizations are necessary for a believer to receive and grow in both love and faith.
    As far as the Catholic theology on believers participating in their own salvation, I would be more prone to say that God has invited us to participate in the increase and spread of His kingdom, of which agape is the primarily component — that we can demonstrate the reality and character of God by acting on the supernatural love that has been planted inside us and thereby provide visible proof of our salvation. That way, there’s not even room for misunderstanding that there was something lacking in the works of Christ in regards to salvation.
    I also like the Catholic equation between grace and being in a state of agape relationship with the Father — though, from what I see in Scripture, I think that Christ both payed our debt of sin and reopened the door for us to have a loving relationship with the Father. I think they’re both legitimate and scripturally-supported ways of looking at it.
    In regards to the sacraments, there definitely seems to be a link between baptism and salvation in scripture. However, I don’t really see such a link in regards to the Lord’s Supper — and I have a hard time believing that if it were necessary for salvation, that the NT writers would have failed to make that perfectly clear. Considering that they took such care to instruct the church on all the other essentials, that, in my mind, would be an extremely uncharacteristic blunder.
    And I certainly stand with my Protestant brethren in denying that these sacraments can only be legitimately administered under the umbrella of the RCC — or any other religious institution for that matter. I don’t even think they have to be supervised by a professional clergy member. I believe completely and utterly in the actual and effectual priesthood of all believers. In that sense, I would have stood a fairly equal chance of being persecuted or killed by both Catholics and Protestants during those bloody, war-torn years that followed the Reformation.

    • …”In regards to the sacraments, there definitely seems to be a link between baptism and salvation in scripture. However, I don’t really see such a link in regards to the Lord’s Supper”….

      What about John 6?

      53 Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
      54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
      55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
      56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.
      57 Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
      58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

      • “What about John 6?”

        Well, what about it?

        It’s not about having to really eat Jesus’ real flesh and really drink Jesus’ real blood.

      • Correction/clarification to what I wrote above: I should have written that while I can concur that John 6 is about salvation ,such salvation is not connected with eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood as understood/taught by the Catholic Church – and there are reasons to question if John 6 is even Eucharistic or is “John’s version of the Lord’s Supper” – but is related to coming to Jesus and believing in Jesus, as becomes more apparent if one reads all of John 6 and in fact all of John’s Gospel, and not just the nine verses in John 6 about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood.


      • Correction/clarification to what I wrote above: (my previous attempt had too many “links” and is in “awaiting moderation” limbo) I should have written that while I can concur that John 6 is about salvation ,such salvation is not connected with eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood as understood/taught by the Catholic Church – and there are reasons to question if the chapter is even Eucharistic or is “John’s version of the Lord’s Supper” – but is related to coming to Jesus and believing in Jesus, as becomes more apparent if one reads all of the chapter and in fact all of John’s Gospel, and not just the nine verses in here about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood.


        • Ah, this is the part I love.

          “Show me where that’s in the Bible!” cries the earnest Protestant about some Catholic tradition.

          When the Catholic does that, the Protestant then says “Oh, that’s not what that means at all!”

          So we are bound by God’s law to tithe our incomes because it says so right there in black-and-white from Leviticus to Corinthians.

          But that’s not a Eucharistic chapter because come on, what does eating and drinking have to do with the Eucharist in this context?

        • David Pell says

          What Jesus says in John 6 was so repulsive to many of the hearers that they left. Surely Jesus would not have wanted them to depart from him merely because of a misunderstanding, and would have quickly explained his true, less offensive, meaning.

          The disciples admit that they, too, would have left, if they weren’t sure that Jesus had the words of life.

        • I’m with you there, Eric. Read in context, it seems clear to me that Jesus is talking about looking to Him and His teachings for spiritual sustenance and for the hope of eternal life. I certainly would never discourage anyone from participating in the Lord’s Supper — I just don’t believe that it is a vehicle through which salvation is dispensed from God to mankind in weekly doses.

        • What About John 6?

          Many Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians point to John 6 as clinching the argument for their belief that we are in fact to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood, and that therefore partaking of the Eucharist at the Mass (Catholic) or Divine Liturgy (Orthodox), where the bread and wine by the power of the priest’s words (Catholic) or by the power of the Holy Spirit through the priest’s invocation (Orthodox) become Jesus’ actual body and blood (and soul and divinity, according to Roman Catholic teaching), is an essential aspect and practice of one’s Christian life and salvation.

          But is that what Jesus is actually saying and teaching in John 6?

          There are nine verses in John 6 that have to do with eating Jesus’ flesh and/or drinking his blood, i.e., John 6:50-58. That’s all. And for reasons I’ll explain, it’s not at all clear that in these verses Jesus is talking about actually eating his flesh or actually drinking his blood.

          For example, when his disciples say that “This is an intolerable saying” (6:60), Jesus doesn’t respond as if his talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood is what offended them. Rather, he responds as if his claim to have come down from heaven is the “intolerable saying” they’re grumbling about (6:62). He then goes on to say that it’s his words that are spirit and life, not his flesh and blood, and Peter then says that they will continue to follow him because Jesus has words of eternal life, not because he is going to give them his flesh and blood to eat and drink.

          Those who believe in the bread and wine of the Mass or Eucharist necessarily becoming Jesus’ flesh and blood also argue that this is supported by Jesus switching from “eat” (Greek ἐσθίω/ἔφαγον (present/aorist tense)) to “chew/munch” (Greek τρώγω) at John 6:54, thus showing by his graphic language that he really was talking about really eating his real flesh. But this argument fails at multiple points, among them being:

          1. The Gospel author’s penchant for switching between semantically-similar words.
          2. τρώγω and ἐσθίω/ἔφαγον being interchangeable in Greek usage.
          3. The Gospel author always using τρώγω for present tense forms of “eat” (and a present participle works best for the meaning “he who eats”; an aorist participle would mean “he who ate”) and always using ἔφαγον for non-present tense forms of “eat.” In fact, whereas Psalm 40:10 (41:10 Hebrew; 41:9 English) in the LXX reads ὁ ἐσθίων, John 13:18 has Jesus, when quoting this Psalm, saying ὁ τρώγων instead.

          I.e., the author’s switch from ἔφαγον to τρώγω can be explained without resorting to claims that this means that Jesus is really saying that we must really eat his real flesh and really drink his real blood.

          Also, per John 6:57 (“Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, likewise that person who eats me will also live because of me.”), does Jesus actually eat his Father’s flesh in order to live? That would be the implied correspondence between how Jesus lives and how his followers are to live if they actually have to eat his flesh in order to live. But if Jesus doesn’t here mean that he actually eats his Father’s flesh in order to live, how can it be argued that he means that his followers are actually to eat his flesh?

          Jesus earlier said that his nourishment was to do his Father’s will and accomplish his Father’s work (ἔργον) (John 4:34), not to eat his Father’s flesh or drink his Father’s blood. And when the ones in John 6 who followed Jesus asked him what they should do to do God’s work (ἔργον), Jesus replied that God’s work (ἔργον) was that they believe in him whom God had sent – i.e., believe in Jesus (John 6:29).

          As I said, there are only nine verses in the entirety of John’s Gospel about “eating” Jesus’ flesh and “drinking” his blood, and they’re all in one small part of one chapter of the Gospel, and they are in verses that could be omitted without changing the meaning or impact of what Jesus says in all that comes before or after them in the chapter. (Try it and see for yourself.)

          Compare this to how many verses there are in the Gospel of John about coming to Jesus and believing in him in order to have eternal life. Count how many such verses or phrases there are in just John 6, and then count how many such verses or phrases there are in the rest of the Gospel of John.

          “But as many as received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave them the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

          “These signs have been written about so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

          • Your arguments are all fine and well, and I am in no position to judge your scholarship, but being a realist, I would just like to give a gentle reminder to all that arguments concerning the sacraments – on either side – are almost of necessity post-hoc justifications of positions already held. Also, as far as I know, none of the sacramental Traditions believe in the salvific nature of the sacraments to the exclusion of faith in Christ – they are part of the same package.

            Much love,


    • RonP,

      I would mention in regard to the sacraments that baptism and marriage are validly administered sacraments in Protestant churches as well (providing the right words and form e.g. baptism with a Trintarian formula and with water) and do not required an ordained Catholic priest.

      • Devin,
        Are you saying that the RCC recognizes baptism in Protestant churches as being fully effectual (by which I mean just as effectual as Catholic baptism) in regards to salvation? Is so, thanks, I was not aware of that.

        • Yes. In general, Catholics accept other baptisms as long as they use the proper form and water. I say in general because there are a few cases (such as the LDS) where the Catholic Church has ruled that the theology is so different that while they say the same words, they do not intend to do anything remotely like what we intend. Sometimes it appears that Catholics rebaptize Protestants, but usually this is because the priest feels it necessary to do a conditional baptism “just in case”, either because there is no record of the baptism or because there is no way of knowing whether the trinitarian formula was used.

  3. Bryan,

    Steve Ray? C’mon 🙂

    • Michael,

      My original list included Dom John Chapman’s book Studies on the Early Papacy, but then I realized that since it is now out of print, it would be inaccessible to many of your readers, so I replaced it with Steve’s book. I think that for what Steve sets out to do, he does well, and deserves more credit than he gets. The book isn’t the end of the story, but it provides a good deal of evidence for the primacy of Peter and his successors both in Scripture and in the early Church Fathers. And that’s a good jumping off point for discussion about the subject, in my opinion.

      In the peace of Christ,

      – Bryan

  4. Michael, what it is about Steve Ray that you question? I don’t know anything about him, but read the reviews on Amazon of his book Upon This Rock and I see he was Baptist who converted to Catholicism. In reading the reviews, I see that most people liked the book though many thought there were WAY too many footnotes. I also came upon one review that said, “This is an extraordinarily one-sided work. Here is some helpful advice for those upcoming Catholic apologists[and he quoted Dorothy Parker here]: ‘This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.’ ” That’s kind of funny!

    • He’s not a scholar. Embarrassing popular level apologetics. Really shouldn’t be on the same page with other names on that list.

      • Agree. Actually much of what counts as popular apologetics among Catholics IS just embarrassing. Of course this remark could be made of a lot of apologetic literature; it’s perhaps an inherently dishonest genre unless done very very carefully. Even big chunks of the work of Scott Hahn and his disciples are just plain wrong–and they really should know better.

  5. (Darn, sorry about all the italicized words in my post above. Obviously, I wrote the HTML for italicizing the book title wrong AGAIN. I will be more careful. I actually DO know how to do some basic HTML code.)

  6. No evaluation of contempory Catholicism is complete without listing Garry Wills’ books, Papal Sins and Why I am a Catholic. Superb books. Willis, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian, is a life long Catholic who intends to stay put, but he’s a critic of the papacy.

  7. I find it troubling to read “But when the vote at last year’s Lambeth Conference showed that Anglicans had chosen to accept female bishops, the Anglican communion showed itself to have chosen to move further toward Protestantism, and depart further from apostolic succession.”

    I know the whole issue of women in church leadership is a vastly debated topic, but considering the number of women in leadership positions in the early church, which reduced because of social pressures and not because of theological reservations… I guess my perspective is that any movement towards re-integration of women on all levels of ministry is a step towards the early church and ‘apostolic succession’ and not a step away from it. Ah well.