Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Review: "Evangelicals Adrift"

Matthew E. Ferris' Evangelicals Adrift:  Supplanting Scripture with Sacramentalism is an interesting, expansive, and very readable book.  Besides a thorough discussion of history and Scripture, there are plentiful footnotes, an index of modern authors, a select bibliography (eleven pages long!), and a subject index.

In the light of Evangelicals converting to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, Ferris argues that they have erred in living biblical churches for "sacramentalism" -- that is, seeing Christendom and Church proclamation to be of greater importance and authority than the Scripture.

Ferris divides the bulk of his critique in showing that the ecclesiology of the Roman and Eastern churches are not biblical with their hierarchical systems and the meaning of baptism and the Lord's Supper have been completely changed by the hierarchy.

He begins by showing the diversity of evangelicalism. Though I laughed at his assertion that evangelicals don't believe in infant baptism! (10).

He then argues that the Scripture teaches a parity of elders, not a hierarchical system.

In the third chapter, he argues for biblical authority over church authority.

In the fourth, he argues that we are to be informed by church history, but Scripture has the final word (84).  He gives an interesting history of how the canon was established (97).

Continuing, he shows, as J. N. D. Kelly argues:  the Fathers "defense of orthodoxy was founded on Scripture" (121).

He compares the Roman and Eastern view that the authority of the Scripture is found in the church and argues that it is rather found in the Scriptures themselves as the very Word of God (137).  then he explains the difference between the Alexandrian (allegorical) school of hermeneutics and the Antiochene (literal) school (141-147), arguing the Roman and Eastern churches are largely of the Alexandrian school.

In the seventh chapter, he tackles the question of the sacraments of vehicles of grace -- and by this, he means saving grace.  The Roman and Eastern church claim that the sacraments are salvific in and of themselves, while evangelicals point to the Scripture and argue that the sacraments do not save the person who receives them.

In the eighth chapter, he argues against the worship of Mary.

In the ninth, he argues the unity must be found in doctrine, not church decree.

He concludes in the tenth chapter with the recommendation of restoring baptismal catechesis as a major means of helping believers to look to the Scripture and not church decree for truth and true Christianity (225).

To the extent that Ferris sought to show that turning to Roman and Eastern ecclesiology and soteriology (with the respect to the sacraments in particular), he has done an excellent job of presenting a convincing argument that these positions are not Scriptural.

I am guessing that the author is from a Baptist tradition, given his presentation of the biblical understanding of the sacraments.  In this, I hope he would acknowledge that there are different views of what is happening in the Sacraments, even among evangelicals.

Also, he does not comment one way or another, but I wonder whether the author believes there are Christians in the Roman and Eastern churches?  Is it possible to be as wrong about the Scripture, as he argues, and still be a true believer?  I would say, "yes."  I'm not sure the author would.

This is a very useful book in showing why the views of the Roman and Eastern churches are unbiblical and how the Scripture is better understood on these issues.  This book would prove useful in talking to others in these churches or those thinking about joining these churches.


[I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This review appears on my blog and]


M. Ferris said...

Dr. Butler:

Thank you very much for reading and reviewing my book. I appreciate it. A couple of things I would note. I believe it's not quite accurate to state that I say evangelicals don't believe in infant baptism. On page 10, which you reference, I say that "the evidence shows that infant baptism was not a practice of the apostolic church." I say nothing about contemporary evangelicals there. Later on, (p. 167), I acknowledge that some Protestants practice infant baptism, but they assign a very different meaning to it from the sacramental churches.
Your other question, as to whether I believe there are Christians in the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches - I answer that on page 26: "Nor am I making statements about who is or is not a Christian because of the church they are part of."

Rev. Dr. Peter A. Butler, Jr. said...

Thank you very much for your correction; I did not portray your views clearly here. you, indeed, say what you explain in your comment above.

I guess the one thing I would say in response, besides, "thank you for the explanation and correction," is that I find it detracting from the whole of your book to state on page 167, "Yet this is a misunderstanding of the New Testament teaching on baptism." Dropping that sentence would be helpful to me in reading your book -- but that may be because I belong to a tradition that practices infant baptism!

Thank you for allowing me to read and review your book -- it is a valuable work -- and thank you for helping me to better understand the issues you are presenting.

In His Service,