Book Review: “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back” by Phil Cooke and Jonathan Bock

I recently heard the authors on the radio discussing the Church and Christianity in America.  After hearing the show, I purchased “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back”.  Certainly, this issue is one of the most important facing the modern church.  Of course, their analysis that we must reject “That Other God” – all the false gods of day to day life and radically recommit ourselves to Christ.  It is obviously the correct answer to restore the church.

However, something particular in your book caught my attention.  On page 85, they sight the church fathers.  Specifically stating:

By contrast, the church fathers (men like Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, and Barnabas) vigorously spent time in the Scriptures.  … And in their work, their single source of authority was Scripture. (emphasis is original)

For this premise they specifically quote Origen, Jerome, and John Chrysostom:

Origen (AD 185-254): The Word or God is in your heart.  The Word digs in this soil so that spring may gush out.

Jerome (AD 342-420): You are reading?  No.  Your betrothed is talking to you! It is your betrothed, that is, Christ, who is united with you.  He tears you away from the solitude of the desert and bring you into his home, saying to you, “Enter into the joy of your Master.”

John Chrysostom (AD 347-407): Listen carefully to me: procure books [of the Bible] that will be medicines for the soul.  At least get a copy of the New Testament, ….

However, men as learned as they, who are advocating a new radical commitment to Christ, must know that these quotes are misleading.  First, none of them expressly establish scripture as the author’s single source of authority.  Second, even a cursory search shows both Origen and Jerome also relied on the teaching of the Church, apostolic succession and tradition as sources of authority:

Origen (c. AD 225): [T]here are many who think they hold the opinions of Christ, and yet some of these think differently from their predecessors, yet, as the teaching of the Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the apostles, and remaining in the churches to the present day, is still preserved, that alone is be accepted as truth that differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and apostolic Tradition. Fundamental Doctrines, Preface 2.

What is Origen saying here?  He is saying some people hold what they think are Christian beliefs but that differ from the traditional teaching of the Church.  He says those beliefs are not to be accepted.  And John Chrysostom:

John Chrysostom (c. AD 402): “So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold to the traditions that you have were taught, whether by word, or by letter of ours.”  From this it is manifest that they did not deliver all things by letter, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit.  Therefore, let us think the TRADITION OF THE CHURCH also worthy of credit.  It is a Tradition, seek no farther.  Homilies on Second Thessalonians. 4:15

And Jerome, on Apostolic Succession:

Jerome (c. AD 376): Far be it from me to censure the successors or the apostles, who with holy words consecrate the body of Christ, and who make us Christians.  Letters 14:8.

Jerome (c. AD 376): Since the East, shattered as it is by the longstanding feuds, subsisting between its peoples, is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless vest of the Lord … I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a Church [Rome] whose faith has been praised by Paul.  I appeal for spiritual food to the Church where I have received the garb of Christ … Evil children have squandered their patrimony; you alone keep your heritage intact.  Letters 15:1

And Jerome, on the Church:

Jerome (c. AD 376):  As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is, with the chair of Peter.  For this, I know, is the rock on which the Church is built!  This is the house where alone the Paschal Lamb can rightly be eaten.  This is the Ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. Letters 15:2

These are just some other verses from the fathers they chose to quote.  But what of the other fathers they mentioned but did not quote?  What of Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, and Barnabas?  The quote from Ignatius is most famous:

Ignatius of Antioch (c. AD 110): Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.  Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it.  Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.  Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp acknowledges that the church was Catholic:

(c. AD 156): He was not merely an illustrious teacher, but also a preeminent martyr, whose martyrdom all desire to imitate, as it was completely consistent with the gospel of Christ.  Having through patience overcome the unjust governor, and thus acquired the crown of immortality, he now, with the apostles and all the righteous [in heaven], rejoicingly glorifies God, even the Father and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls, the governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church through out the world.

Note, that the above quotes show the Church is called Catholic by the second century.  Clement also specifically acknowledges Apostolic Succession was begun by the apostles based on what they learned from the Lord:

Clement (AD 70): Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate.  For this reason, therefore, since they had obtained perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed those already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.  Letter to the Corinthians 441-2

In fact, Clement, who became Pope, and the other bishops were asked to address problems, in AD 70, even while the Apostle John was still alive:

Clement (AD 70): Owing, dear brethren, to the sudden and successive calamitous events that have happened to us, we feel that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the points about which you consulted us: and especially to that shameful and detestable sedition, utterly abhorrent to the elect of God…. Letter to the Corinthians I, 14, 63

Of course, all this are but a few quotes from the fathers that were named. There are dozens more from them and other fathers that show that the first Christians did not rely on scripture alone but rather placed authority in Scripture, the Church, and Tradition.

Thus, we come to the crux of the matter.  Their advice is to reject, “That Other God” and to make a radical recommitment to Christ with the S7 mysteries (Surrender, Scripture, Submission, Service, Sacrifice, Simplicity, and Suffering).  Have they done so?

Jesus Christ is, “the way, the TRUTH, and the life”.  Have you SURRENDERED to Truth if you use three quotes out of context to justify a premise you must know is false?

Have you accepted the teaching of SCRIPTURE, if you reject the Bible’s clear references to tradition and a Church founded by the Lord with authority?

Have you truly SUBMITTED if you reject authority of the Catholic Church in favor of a protestant church that by their own doctrines don’t claim authority?

What SERVICE are you giving to the Lord if you don’t participate in the works of the Church He founded?

Was it a SACRIFICE to write this book or take this stand?  Wouldn’t a true sacrifice be to set the example and join the Church founded by Jesus Christ?

Are the multiple protestant denominations an example of SIMPLICITY?  Isn’t it more likely that the Lord founded one Church, with “one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism”?

Finally, has taking this position caused you to suffer?  Wouldn’t taking the bold stance that there really is only one true Church cause you suffering among friends, family and collogues?  Isn’t that fact that conversion would cause you to suffer an indication of truth?

In the final analysis, that is why I found the book heartbreakingly disappointing.  How can this advice be accepted by the faithful if it is being offered by men who failed to heed their own advice?  I am not their conscience.  I hope they have success with their book.  I imagine that they will, but I also think that the success will be muted on the grand scale of things.  My guess is that this book probably won’t achieve the blockbuster real-world change that all Christians hope it would.  I don’t think the book will achieve real change because it doesn’t have the supernatural power it could have.  It cannot have this power as it does not do what it calls on the faithful to do.  It does not reject, “That Other God”.  Rather, it embraces “That Other God”.  It follows the easy path.  That path of Protestantism and “my church home”, where doctrine is easy and fits with what you want it to be.  Worse yet, it does by being disingenuous – by being untruthful – with quotes from the church fathers.  How can a book calling for a radical recommitment to truth include such a glaring disregard for truth and expect to be empowered by the incarnation of truth itself?

 

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