Bible Conversations: Catholic-Protestant Dialogues Book Summary

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Title: Bible Conversations: Catholic-Protestant Dialogues on the Bible, Tradition, and Salvation
Author: Dave Armstrong

TLDR: A former Protestant turned Catholic apologist engages in dialogues with various evangelical Protestants, challenging Sola Scriptura and its ramifications for doctrinal authority, biblical interpretation, and the nature of the Church.

Chapter 1: The Premises of Sola Scriptura

This chapter lays the groundwork for the book by tackling the foundational Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura, which asserts the Bible as the sole infallible source of religious authority.

Protestant Perspective:

  • The Bible is God’s revelation, hence self-evident and deserving of utmost deference.
  • While not explicitly stating Sola Scriptura, the Bible’s uniqueness implicitly presupposes it.
  • To disprove Sola Scriptura, one must present an alternate authority equal to Scripture.

Catholic Perspective:

  • While acknowledging the Bible’s centrality and material sufficiency for salvation, Catholics argue that Sola Scriptura is unbiblical and logically flawed.
  • The Bible itself references an authoritative apostolic Tradition, distinct from Scripture but harmonious with it (e.g., John 21:25, 2 Thessalonians 2:15).
  • Catholics point to numerous biblical passages supporting the authority of the Church (Matthew 16:18, 1 Timothy 3:15) and Tradition (1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15), as well as condemnations of divisions caused by individual interpretations.
  • The Church, as the custodian of the Apostolic Deposit (Jude 3), played a crucial role in determining the biblical canon. Elevating the Bible over the Church, its source, is illogical.

Chapter 2: Is the Bible the Ultimate Rule of Faith?

This chapter delves deeper into the question of authority, examining whether the Bible indeed stands as the ultimate and final authority for Christian faith and practice.

Protestant Perspective:

  • The Bible sufficiently provides everything needed for salvation and obedience to God.
  • “Word” in the Bible often refers to preaching, which ultimately derives its theology from Scripture.
  • Catholic Tradition and other “scriptures” lack the marks of inspiration present in the Bible.
  • While acknowledging the existence of traditions, Protestants emphasize their non-binding and fallible nature.
  • God will have the final say at judgment, so doctrinal certainty is not achievable in this life.
  • Diversity on secondary points does not undermine the central doctrines of Christianity.

Catholic Perspective:

  • Catholics reaffirm the material sufficiency of Scripture but contest its formal sufficiency.
  • They argue that the Protestant understanding of “word” solely as Scripture is a serious exegetical error, overlooking its frequent usage for preaching and oral proclamation.
  • All Christians rely on traditions; the relevant issue is determining the true one.
  • The absence of an infallible authority leads to doctrinal relativism and theological uncertainty, contradicting the Bible’s teachings on truth (John 8:32; 14:6).
  • The Bible explicitly calls for unity in doctrine (John 17:20-23), which Protestantism, with its inherent divisions, fails to achieve.
  • Catholics emphasize the need for an authoritative Church to ensure doctrinal certainty and unity, arguing that this is both biblically supported and historically demonstrable.

Chapter 3: Does the Bible Clearly Teach That it is Clear?

This chapter addresses the Protestant doctrine of perspicuity, the belief that Scripture is inherently clear in its major themes and understandable by all who sincerely seek God’s guidance.

Protestant Perspective:

  • The Bible is clear and comprehensible in its major themes, though some passages may be obscure due to ancient language and cultural context.
  • Divergences in interpretation can be attributed to factors like varying levels of biblical knowledge, historical accidents leading to denominations, preconceived notions influencing interpretation, ignorance of proper hermeneutics, and insufficient understanding of the cultural background of Scripture.
  • While recognizing the importance of church teaching, Protestants emphasize the Bible’s inherent clarity as the ultimate solution to interpretive differences.

Catholic Perspective:

  • Catholics acknowledge the Bible’s accessibility but argue that its clarity does not negate the need for a binding teaching authority.
  • Protestant explanations for interpretive differences are insufficient, as disagreements persist even among highly knowledgeable and spiritually-minded theologians.
  • Sola Scriptura itself is an unbiblical, man-made tradition.
  • The constant divisions within Protestantism demonstrate the inadequacy of perspicuity in achieving doctrinal unity, despite its being deemed essential to the system.
  • Catholics advocate for a divinely ordained teaching authority (Church and Tradition) to ensure unity and prevent error, in accordance with Scripture’s own warnings against divisions (e.g., Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 1:10-13).

Chapter 4: The Perspicuity (Clarity) of the Bible: Plowboys, Preachers, and Popes

This chapter continues the discussion on perspicuity, focusing on its practical implications and exploring whether the widespread divisions within Protestantism undermine its validity.

Protestant Perspective:

  • The existence of many denominations is irrelevant to the truth of perspicuity.
  • God, as the author of language, ensures the clarity of His message in Scripture.
  • Spiritual clarity is accessible to true followers of Christ, and perfectly realized in heaven.
  • Doctrinal diversity can sometimes be beneficial for the growth and development of the Church, as seen in the early church.
  • The Reformers did not sanction interpretive lawlessness; Christians were to be guided by church teachers.

Catholic Perspective:

  • The persistence of doctrinal disagreements, even on arguably “central” doctrines, directly challenges the Protestant claim of perspicuity.
  • The “sin argument” – blaming disagreements solely on human sinfulness – is simplistic and fails to account for the systemic flaws within Protestantism.
  • Catholics argue that the Church, as a divinely guided and protected institution, ensures the accurate transmission and interpretation of Scripture, avoiding the relativism inherent in Protestant approaches.
  • The Bible explicitly calls for doctrinal unity (John 17:20-23), while Protestantism inadvertently sanctions and rationalizes divisions.
  • The Church’s role as a teaching authority is biblically rooted and historically demonstrable, ensuring the coherence and consistency of Christian teaching.

Chapter 5: The Formal Sufficiency of Holy Scripture

This chapter explores the distinction between material and formal sufficiency of Scripture. While both Catholics and Protestants accept the former, their understanding of the latter leads to significant differences in their approach to authority and interpretation.

Protestant Perspective:

  • The Reformers challenged the Catholic notion that the Church was the sole legitimate interpreter of Scripture, advocating for the accessibility of the Bible to all.
  • Scripture, as the divinely inspired, infallible word of God, stands as the primary and sufficient source of spiritual truth.
  • The Bible is clear and accessible to all who sincerely seek God’s guidance.
  • Doctrinal disagreements primarily stem from misinterpretations and a lack of proper hermeneutics.

Catholic Perspective:

  • Catholics acknowledge the importance of Scripture but argue that its formal sufficiency does not exclude the authority of the Church and Tradition.
  • The Church, entrusted with the Apostolic Deposit, ensures the accurate interpretation and transmission of Scripture, preventing error and maintaining doctrinal unity.
  • The Catholic Church does not dictate interpretations for every single verse but insists on interpreting Scripture within the framework of received Tradition.
  • While the Bible is inspired and inherently authoritative, its proper interpretation requires the guidance of the Church, as demonstrated by its role in determining the canon.

Chapter 6: Tradition in the New Testament

This chapter delves into the biblical basis for Tradition, examining its nature, role, and relationship to Scripture.

Protestant Perspective:

  • While acknowledging the occasional references to “tradition” in the New Testament, Protestants maintain that these do not refer to a separate, binding authority apart from Scripture.
  • Paul’s references to oral teaching likely encompass the same content found in his written letters, now preserved in the Bible.
  • The Bible sufficiently contains the entirety of the apostolic message, rendering oral traditions unnecessary.
  • Catholic traditions, such as Marian doctrines, contradict the teachings of Scripture.

Catholic Perspective:

  • Catholics argue that Paul’s references to “tradition” (2 Thessalonians 2:15) and oral teaching (1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15) indicate an authoritative body of teaching distinct from, but harmonious with, Scripture.
  • John 21:25 (“Jesus did many other things …”) demonstrates that the Bible does not contain the entirety of Jesus’ words and deeds, further suggesting the existence of oral traditions.
  • Catholic Tradition is not a separate entity but a “twin font” of revelation, elaborating and clarifying the teachings of Scripture.
  • The Church, as the guardian of Tradition, ensures its faithful transmission and interpretation, preserving the fullness of apostolic teaching.

Chapter 7: The Nature of “the Church” and Catholicism

This chapter focuses on the nature of the Church and explores the historical development of Catholicism.

Protestant Perspective:

  • While acknowledging the necessity of earthly ecclesiastical authority, Protestants reject the Catholic claims of papal and Roman authority, apostolic succession, and the exclusive nature of the Catholic Church.
  • There was a time in Christian history before Roman Catholicism existed.
  • Protestants, while disagreeing on some interpretations, can still identify unbiblical teachings, such as transubstantiation.

Catholic Perspective:

  • Catholics argue for the biblical and historical basis for Roman primacy, papal authority, and apostolic succession, tracing these back to Peter and the apostles.
  • They emphasize the early Church’s recognition of Roman authority as the arbiter of orthodoxy.
  • Catholics maintain that the Church is a visible, institutional entity, with a hierarchical structure and divinely ordained authority.
  • The Catholic Church possesses the fullness of apostolic teaching, distinguishing it from Protestant denominations that have selectively chosen or rejected certain doctrines.

Chapter 8: On Church Authority and Epistemological “Certainty”

This chapter discusses the nature of authority and certainty in matters of faith, comparing and contrasting the Catholic and Protestant perspectives.

Protestant Perspective:

  • Absolute certainty in matters of faith is unattainable; both Protestants and Catholics ultimately rely on faith, not perfect knowledge.
  • The Holy Spirit, speaking through Scripture, stands as the final authority, above any earthly institution.
  • The Church’s witness to the canon was passive, merely recognizing the inherent authority of Scripture, not actively determining it.

Catholic Perspective:

  • While acknowledging philosophical limitations on certainty, Catholics argue that faith enables a “certainty” in the biblical and spiritual sense.
  • The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit and founded by Christ, possesses a divinely ordained authority to interpret and proclaim Scripture, ensuring doctrinal certainty and unity.
  • The Church’s role in defining the canon demonstrates its authority in other areas as well.
  • Catholics draw a parallel between the Protestant certainty of their salvation and the Catholic certainty of the Church’s infallibility, both grounded in God’s promises and biblical evidences.

Chapter 9: Are Dissident “Catholics” a Disproof of the Catholic Church’s Claims of Ecclesiological and Doctrinal Unity?

This chapter addresses the Protestant argument that the existence of dissenting Catholics undermines the Catholic claim of unity, reflecting the same interpretive diversity present in Protestantism.

Protestant Perspective:

  • Catholic unity is a myth, as many Catholics disagree with various teachings of their Church.
  • The presence of dissent within Catholicism demonstrates that it is not immune to the interpretive differences found in Protestantism.

Catholic Perspective:

  • Catholics acknowledge that not all individuals agree with all Church teachings.
  • However, the Catholic Church’s official teachings are unified and clearly defined through creeds, Councils, catechisms, and a consistent doctrinal history.
  • Dissenters are unfaithful Catholics who choose to disregard or reject the Church’s clear pronouncements, thus their existence does not disprove Catholic unity.
  • The Church, as the divinely appointed custodian of Revelation, possesses a mechanism for resolving disagreements and maintaining doctrinal integrity, which Protestantism lacks.

Chapter 10: “Dialogue” With the Reformed Belgic and Second Helvetic Confessions: On the True Church and Private Judgment

This chapter presents a “dialogue” between Armstrong and statements from the Belgic and Second Helvetic Confessions, two Reformed Protestant confessions. This indirect dialogue explores the nature of the true Church, the role of private judgment, and the authority of Scripture, Tradition, and Church Fathers.

Protestant Perspective (as articulated in the Confessions):

  • The true Church can be recognized by its pure preaching of the gospel, administration of sacraments according to Christ’s institution, practice of church discipline, governance according to God’s Word, and rejection of all things contrary to Scripture.
  • While not despising the interpretations of Church Fathers, Protestants emphasize the supremacy of Scripture and the right to dissent from any teaching contrary to it.
  • Human traditions, even those claiming apostolic origin, are to be rejected if they contradict Scripture.
  • God alone, speaking through Scripture, is the final judge in matters of faith.

Catholic Perspective:

  • Armstrong criticizes the vagueness of the Confessions’ criteria for the true Church, highlighting the inherent difficulty of defining “pure preaching,” “pure administration of sacraments,” and “Word of God” within a context of widespread Protestant disunity.
  • He argues that the Protestant appeal to individual judgment and the supremacy of conscience inevitably leads to the very divisions the Confessions condemn.
  • The Confessions’ rejection of Tradition and Church Fathers while upholding a particular interpretation of Scripture is inherently self-contradictory.
  • Catholics advocate for a divinely ordained, authoritative Church to safeguard doctrinal unity and prevent interpretive chaos, asserting that this is both biblically supported and historically demonstrable.

Chapter 11: The Catholic Understanding of “Grace Alone” and Justification by Faith

This chapter tackles the complex and often debated topic of justification, exploring the Catholic understanding of “grace alone” and the relationship between faith and works in salvation.

Protestant Perspective:

  • Salvation is solely by God’s grace, received through faith alone in Christ.
  • Good works are the fruit of salvation, done in gratitude, but not a requirement for justification.
  • Mixing justification and sanctification detracts from the primacy of grace and leads to a reliance on human merit.

Catholic Perspective:

  • Catholics affirm “justification by grace through faith” but reject the Protestant addition of “alone.”
  • While God’s grace is the ultimate cause of salvation, Catholics believe that human beings can cooperate with God’s grace, performing meritorious works that contribute to their sanctification.
  • Justification and sanctification are not separate entities but intricately intertwined.
  • The Catholic understanding of merit is not Pelagian, as it always originates in God’s grace and recognizes His enabling power in all good works.

Chapter 12: Repentance and Salvation

This chapter examines the nature of repentance and its relationship to salvation, exploring the Catholic understanding of infused justification and the ongoing process of sanctification.

Protestant Perspective:

  • Both the Old and New Testaments teach salvation as a gift received through repentance and faith in God.
  • Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers at the moment of conversion, resulting in immediate justification.
  • Good works are the fruit of repentance and faith, proving their presence, but not contributing to salvation itself.

Catholic Perspective:

  • Catholics agree with the centrality of repentance and faith but emphasize the ongoing nature of justification and the role of works in sanctification.
  • They argue that imputation is an eisegetical concept, not explicitly taught in Scripture.
  • God’s righteousness can become our righteousness in reality, not merely through imputation, enabling meritorious works done in cooperation with God’s grace.
  • Numerous biblical passages (e.g., Matthew 5:20, Luke 18:18ff, Philippians 2:12) support the Catholic view of an ongoing justification and the necessity of good works for salvation.

Chapter 13: Justification, the Law, and Grace

This chapter further explores the concept of justification, focusing on the relationship between the Law, grace, and human effort in the New Covenant.

Protestant Perspective:

  • The Ten Commandments, while good in themselves, cannot justify or save; they highlight human sinfulness and point to the need for grace.
  • Justification comes solely through faith in Christ, apart from any works of the Law.
  • The gospel, not the Law, saves.

Catholic Perspective:

  • Catholics agree that the Law cannot save but emphasize its ongoing relevance and purpose in the Christian life.
  • Paul’s references to “works of the law” primarily concern Jewish ceremonial law, not all human effort.
  • The Law helps Christians grow in righteousness and provides a framework for good works, which are necessary for sanctification and ultimate salvation.
  • Catholics advocate for a nuanced understanding of the Law and grace, rejecting the Protestant tendency to pit them against each other.

Chapter 14: The “Reformed” Definitions of Protestant and Pelagian

This chapter examines the various definitions of “Protestant” and “Pelagian,” addressing the internal diversity within Protestantism and clarifying the Catholic understanding of merit and cooperation with grace.

Protestant Perspective:

  • True Protestantism is primarily about the gospel, which Reformed Christians define as justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
  • Arminian Protestants, with their emphasis on free will, are deemed Semi-Pelagian and compromise the gospel.

Catholic Perspective:

  • Armstrong criticizes the Reformed tendency to define Protestantism narrowly, excluding non-Calvinist groups.
  • He argues that Arminian Protestants, like Wesleyans, are not Semi-Pelagian, as they acknowledge the primacy of grace and God’s initiative in salvation.
  • The Catholic understanding of merit and cooperation with grace is distinct from Semi-Pelagianism, as it always recognizes the origin and enabling power of God’s grace.

Chapter 15: The Biblical Evidence for Infant Baptism and Baptismal Regeneration

This chapter presents the biblical evidence for infant baptism and baptismal regeneration, a doctrine that separates Catholics and some Protestants from other denominations.

Protestant Perspective:

  • Passages referring to “household” baptisms do not necessarily include infants.
  • Infant baptism is unbiblical as it removes individual choice in accepting Christ.
  • Baptismal regeneration contradicts salvation by faith alone.
  • Scriptural references to “washing” can refer to cleansing in Christ’s blood, not water baptism.

Catholic Perspective:

  • Catholics argue that “household” baptisms likely included infants, based on the cultural context and biblical usage of the term “household.”
  • They draw a parallel between infant baptism and Old Testament circumcision, both signs of covenantal inclusion.
  • Scripture passages such as Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21, Titus 3:5, and Colossians 2:11-13 connect baptism to forgiveness of sins, regeneration, and salvation.
  • Catholics point to the early Church’s widespread acceptance of infant baptism and baptismal regeneration as evidence of their apostolic origin.


Throughout these dialogues, Armstrong presents a robust defense of the Catholic position, utilizing Scripture, Tradition, and historical arguments to challenge Protestant claims. He highlights the internal inconsistencies within Protestantism, particularly its struggle with doctrinal unity and its reliance on individual interpretation. He consistently emphasizes the Catholic understanding of the Church as a divinely ordained, authoritative institution, entrusted with preserving and proclaiming the fullness of Christian truth. While acknowledging the importance of Scripture, he argues for its inseparability from Tradition and the Church’s interpretive role. The dialogues, while challenging and at times confrontational, ultimately seek to foster greater understanding and promote constructive dialogue between Catholics and Protestants.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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