Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Review

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Traditions of Men: Understanding the Thinking That Separates Catholic Christianity from Its Protestants
Traditions of Men: Understanding the Thinking That Separates Catholic Christianity from Its Protestants
by Patrick Vandapool
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.96

5.0 out of 5 stars Unapologetic, engaging, energetic and accessibleJuly 16, 2013
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As a blogger, Patrick Vandapool is neither an apologetic about Catholicism or particularly ecumenical. Vandapool blogs at "The Unapologist" where is his area of interest is distinguishing Catholic and Protestant distinctives and defending and promoting the Catholic position. His blogging style is direct, efficient and not without a one-sided humor directed at Protestant positions. If you are a Catholic, you will cheer him on; if you are a Protestant, you will find him mean spirited.

Vandapool's first book keeps the unapologetic, vigorous tone. It is most certainly not an ecumenical book. You will want to read this book if you are a Catholic wondering about the Catholic positions he addresses and/or the current state of the question on Catholic v. Protestant disputations, but you may not want to give this book to your Protestant friends.

Vandapool's focus is principally on two issues. The first issue is based on Vandapool's perception of gnosticism in Protestantism. Thus, according to Vandapool, Protestantism's tendency to spiritualize or "docetize" things that are actually supposed to be real and material, such as the a real, visible church, runs throughout the Protestant worldview. This tendency has been associated with Protestantism's rejection of tradition and history. Thus, baptism - mentioned in the Bible as key to salvation - has been "docetized" into a symbol with no matter, while the "sinner's prayer" - never mentioned in the Bible - has become the key to salvation for many Protestants. (p. 22.) Cut off from a holistic tradition that mediates individual passages into a living tradition, Protestants have resorted to "proof-texting." (p. 43.) Vandapool writes:

>>>"The Catholic position does not require a single proof-text, such as Matthew 16:18 - 20, because the remainder of the Bible surrounds the text, provides a larger context and provides more meaning to individual texts. Therefore, when Catholics read of of Peter being given the keys to the kingdom, they are not required to answer the begging questions with self-interested proclamations. In contrast, Protestantism is self-forced, necessitated by an interest in forming a kind of Christianity structured to elect or from God's clergy into the image of an entrepreneur, to deform, not reform, historical Christian ecclesial structure." (p. 45.)<<<

And there you can see Vandapool's "in your face" style, but it happens to be accurate in that Peter's centrality doesn't appear mostly from a particular text, but from the repetition of Peter's name as coming in first in the list of apostles and acting first in his interactions with Christ and in post-resurrection apostolic actions. (See p. 48.)

Vandapool's main interest in the second part of the book is on the issue of the ecclesial structure of the church. Vandapool scores solid points about the scripture establishing a hierarchical structure. Vandapool rehearses the fairly well-known point - as he points out, generally unknown to Protestants - that the giving of the keys to Peter has an Old Testament precedent in Isaiah 22 with the giving of the keys of authority to Eli'akim to act as the regent of the Davidic king. (p. 54.) As Vandapool points out, the docetized interpretation of Christ's words in Matthew 16 deny any reality in a real-world, here and now, material sense to words spoken by Christ and understood by Christians for at least 1,500 years. (p. 52 - 55.)

Vandapool also addresses the importance of the priesthood. He makes the interesting point that where Catholic view priesthoods and ministries as being bestowed by God (Ephesians 4), Protestants tend to take or seize their ministry by appointing themselves as ministers and pastors, or by being appointed by denominations that have themselves seized or taken their own ministries by their "self-grabbed" authority. (p. 60 - 67.) This makes for an interesting divergence between the psyche of Protestants and Catholics in that Catholics acknowledge that Jesus gave authority to certain men, whereas Protestants are more likely to invoke their own "self-grabbed" appointment to interpret and decree. (p. 69.) (Vandapool also makes a point that I've often seen: "A common characteristic of Protestants who become Catholic is a story that includes seeing verses for the first time. Conversely Catholics who turn Protestant tend to be uncatechized or prefer a more laissez faire lifestyle." (p. 69.)

Vandapool also helped clear up something that had recently stumped me - the notion that priests act "in persona Christi." I had recently explained that concept to a Protestant only to be told that he had never heard of it and couldn't recognize it as a Christian idea (notwithstanding my assurances that this, in fact, had been the way that all Christians had thought up until a comparatively short time ago.) Vandapool points out that the the idea of actin in persona Christi is dervied from 2 Corinthians 2:10. Although many translations have changed the working to undermine its historical meaning so as to read "I [Paul] have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake" instead of the traditional "in the person of Christ." (p. 10, fn. 6.) The original Latin translation of the Greek was "in persona Christi" referring to the Greek idea of using masks - persona - to represent the players in a Greek drama. That was useful. I wish I had the book a week earlier.

Vandapool runs through a diverse number of issues pertaining to the subject of authority, priesthood and ecclesiology. He provides a very useful appendix of the Bible texts he cites in his discussion. The book is engaging, energetic, accessible and neither overly-long nor overly-scholarly. It ought to be read by any Catholic with an interest in learning more about their faith.

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