Book Review: To Change the Church

Walls that don’t reach Heaven

When Francis Beckwith infamously “poped” while president of ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) Timothy George of Beeson Divinity school wrote a piece about it in First Things that ended like this:

Objective Truth Matters

That being said there is a deep and abiding problem in Douthat’s book that really cuts to the quick of the so called problem of denominational distinctions. And that is the simple fact that the Papacy doesn’t actually matter very much, at least not in terms of theological change, advancement, or even maintenance of doctrinal purity. In the past of course the Bishop of Rome wielded terrible power. Cardinals once led armies into battle. But that has nothing to do with the Catholic faith and everything to do with the elite connectedness the Papacy has occasionally enjoyed. Because the rise of Papal centrality to western Christianity is relatively recent.

Popes have been awful

The point is that yes popes have been awful. Honorious wasn’t all that bad relatively speaking, he probably helped spread one of the most complicated heresies of all time but it’s not exactly clear that he even understood the issues. But he also didn’t commit the church to heterodoxy. The church pushed back on him. The Pope cannot commit the church to heresy because the Pope is not the church. And so the question remains why is the pope important? Why does the Papacy matter?


Douthat brings up some really interesting issues about the modern problems connected to the Papacy. For instance it was the traditionalists who really pushed the Papacy to the fore and now it has backfired on them. This is similar to American leftism under Obama. Supporting executive overreach and expansion sounds great when it’s your guy who is acquiring more power. But when the tables are flipped that power turns to poison. And as we see in Benedict’s quote above Francis’ precursors weren’t interested in expanding the Papacy. They were interested in maintaining the truth of the faith in light of numerous challenges.



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