Commonality, differences with Protestants

By  Maria Di Paolo, Catholic Register Special
  • December 3, 2007

{mosimage}Hope in Troubled Times: A New Vision for Confronting World Crises by Bob Goudzwaard, Mark Vander Vennen and Van Heemst David (Baker Book House, softcover, 256 pages, $24.99).

Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor
by Robert D. Lupton, (Gospel Light and Regal Books, softcover, 139 pages, $12.50).

Theology for Non-Theologians: An Engaging
, Accessible and Relevant Guide, by James Cantelon (Wiley, softcover, 336 pages, $26.99).

As Roman Catholics we are aware of the unity and, at the same time, the separation that exists among Christians. We all follow Jesus, the one Lord, yet the different Christian communities have different outlooks and interpretations about how to go about this. It is interesting, therefore, to have a look every once in a while at what authors from other Christian denominations are writing about.

{amazon id='0801032482' align='right'}The three books reviewed here are a sample of work by some Protestant and evangelical authors and cover quite a range of topics, from a Christian-centred analysis of the global crises we face today through a discussion on rethinking how we minister to the poor in Jesus’ name and an introductory book on theology. I highly recommend the first two books, Hope in Troubled Times and Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life. They are both excellent and thought provoking. However, there are a number of problems with the third book, Theology for Non-Theologians.

It is important for Christians to have a good understanding about what their faith means and good books on theology are an excellent starting point. James Cantelon’s book, Theology for Non-Theologians, is not one of them.
Hope in Troubled Times, on the other hand, is a profound and thoughtful book. Its authors argue convincingly that modern society has replaced religion with four basic ideologies that are the ultimate causes of the global crises that we face today. The four ideologies of revolution, identity, material progress and prosperity, and guaranteed freedom are rooted in basic human needs and desires. These include:

  • a desire to change an untenable economic or political situation;
  • the need for a minority group to preserve its identity when it feels threatened;
  • the desire for people to become happier and wealthier; and
  • the desire to protect one’s borders from a perceived threat.

{amazon id='0830743790' align='right'} Our problems start when the end becomes much more important than the means. If, for example, the need to preserve a group’s cultural identity becomes more important than life itself, terrorism takes root and ideology then becomes a spiritual force.

Hope in Troubled Times does indeed provide us with hope, but salvation can only be realized when we face up to our idolatries. Only when we become aware of our own complicity with these ideologies can we begin to reclaim the true God. Only when we become less focused on our desire for prosperity and security, and more focused on the care and stewardship of others, will the world become a safer place.

Robert Lupton’s book, Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor, is a challenging and engaging book that contains excellent material for anyone involved in ministry to the poor. Lupton is a businessman based in inner-city Atlanta whose Christian faith has profoundly influenced his work and life. He challenges readers to think about what it means to follow Jesus’ command to “love one’s neighbour.” He questions whether the familiar model of “doing for others” that underpins many charitable programs (soup kitchens, food and clothing banks, etc.) really accomplishes this. He argues that while giving allows the giver to retain control it relegates those being helped to the passive role of permanent recipients. We need to rethink what “loving one’s neighbour” really means, and Lupton concludes it is better to encourage people to develop themselves and their communities rather than fostering dependency.

Lupton learned his lessons the hard way, through his own involvement and experiences in community development. In the early years he made mistakes and learned from them. He found that the important thing was to foster community growth and development, rather than try to continually bring services and subsidies to needy communities.

{amazon id='0470840676' align='right'}Although Lupton’s experience is firmly based in the context of a large American inner city, his insights are pertinent to Canadians and this book is well worth reading.

The third book, Theology for Non-Theologians, is by James Cantelon, a Canadian author and broadcaster. From the title a reader may think this book would be a good starting point for learning about Christianity and God. But caveat lector — reader beware. All is not as straightforward as it seems.

The problem is that, much as we would like to think there is only one way of understanding theology, there are more Christian theologies than Christian denominations. Reality is that Cantelon’s own faith context (he is a messianic Christian) strongly colours his theology. Furthermore, his unequivocal approach leads the reader to think his explanation of a concept is the only and generally accepted interpretation. It is not, nor is this sound theology.

Cantelon’s style is also troublesome. He claims that he wanted to write a book that both children and adults would be able to understand. Frankly, he would have done better to choose one audience and remain faithful to it. He also has an irritating habit of making anonymous references to scholarly sources. Although I would not necessarily expect to find detailed notes and an extensive bibliography in a book of this type, I would expect proper attribution of ideas. Cantelon’s insistence on treating theological ideas with such anonymity means he can too easily dismiss what some of the greatest theologians in history have written about a particular topic.

Interested readers need to be aware of the subtext when they choose material to read. There are other excellent introductions to Christian theology. I would recommend readers look for these if they are interested in learning more about their faith.

From this relatively small sample, we can see that Catholics and Protestants have a lot in common. Indeed, what we see in Hope in Troubled Times and Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life is a strong, shared appreciation and understanding of Christian ministry and world-view. However, as one might expect, Catholics and Protestants are much less comfortable with each other’s perspectives when it comes to discussing God and theology. Theology for Non-Theologians is an uncomfortable read because, by not openly acknowledging his own background and how his interpretations might differ from those of other Christian thinkers, Cantelon leaves the reader feeling as though he or she is being coerced into accepting what are, essentially, Cantelon’s personal views.

(Di Paolo is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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