Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book Review: "Reasons to Believe"

Scott Hahn is a former Presbyterian minister who converted to the Catholic Church and is now Professor of Scripture and Theology at the Franciscan University of Stuebenville. He has written upwards of a dozen books, on topics ranging from his conversion ("Rome Sweet Home") and his experiences in Opus Dei ("Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace"), to his appreciation of the Eucharist ("The Lamb's Supper") and the Sacraments ("Swear to God"), of the liturgy ("Letter and Spirit"), of the family ("First Comes Love"), and of Marian dogma ("Hail, Holy Queen").

Hahn addresses much of his writing for a Protestant audience, so he is perhaps best known as an apologist, a reputation reinforced by the stellar short work, "Reasons to Believe." The book is divided into three part: the first part addressed to non-Christians, the second part addressed to Protestants and non-Catholic Christians, and the third addressed primarily to his fellow Catholics.

The first part is fairly unoriginal, though I can hardly fault it for being so, as it covers most of the historically recognized and developed arguments for the existence of God, the legitimacy of faith, and the foundations of Christian Scripture and revelation. Hahn's prose is thorough and clear without getting bogged down in a philosophical mire, which is a credit to his craftsmanship. However, while most of the arguments are ostensibly geared towards a non-Christian audience, I suspect it was actually written for Catholic audiences trying to understand the philosophical underpinnings of their faith.

The second part is easily the best aspect of the work. Coming from a Protestant background, Hahn instinctively knows the rhetoric of Protestantism, and is able to present Catholic dogma in a way that makes intuitive sense to his audience. His five chapters delve into issues of Scripture and tradition, the communion of the saints, the sacraments, and the papacy. While he covers similar material in greater depth in many of his other works, this is a brilliant summary of the major points of contention.

I found the third part of the book less compelling, if only in comparison to the second. He introduces his own area of expertise -- covenant theology, the subject of his doctoral dissertation -- and examines the Catholic doctrine of the church through that lens: as the kingdom of God. The conclusion, however, is another high point. Hahn directly addresses Catholics and exhorts them to re-examine the dogma promulgated by the Council of Trent, which directly responded to the claims of the Protestant Reformation. Rather than identify justification on legalistic grounds of imputed righteousness (as Luther asserted) or the merit of works (as many Catholic chose to respond), the Council of Trent advocated a more relational understanding, sometimes called "imparted righteousness" or "divine filiation."

By faith and by the grace of God, we become heirs of the kingdom and can call ourselves truly sons of God. It is this righteousness, ours through inheritance, that is the basis of our justification, as well as our sanctification and future glorification.  It's a doctrine that all Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, could stand to understand and put into practice.

If you'd like to purchase this book, check it out at
Reasons to Believe: How to Understand, Explain, and Defend the Catholic Faith

This was cross-posted at my book and film review blog, Worthy of Note.

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