Review of So What’s The Difference?

So What's The Difference So What’s The Difference
A Look at 20 Worldviews, Faiths and Religions and How They Compare to Christianity
Author: Fritz Ridenour
Soft Cover, 256 pages
Publisher: Regal Books
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0830718982

I borrowed this volume from a friend. I must admit that I read it with specific interests, and so only focused on Chapters 1, 8, and 10. This gives the reader an overview of evangelical Protestant Christianity in the mind of the author (which all other groups will be compared against), an overview of what makes a “cult” in the terminology of the book, and Mormonism (one of three cults given major review).

The reading is fairly easy. For its intent, illuminating some of the major differences between evangelical protestants (the major audience if the book) and “competing” ideologies, it does a good job. Most of the differences receive only cursory notice, just enough to allow the reader to appreciate the differences, but not enough to say one fully grasps both sides of the spectrum (and all that is between).

I would have liked to see more information on the “whys” of cult growth, especially Mormonism. There is an unfortunate number of people in our culture leaving Protestant communities for Mormonism. Rather than just indicate the differences, which is more a defensive maneuver for the Church, I would have liked to see how we counter/approach the issues that pull people toward these groups. It is not enough to defend ourselves from error,  we must learn how to encounter our world (especially those with competing beliefs) in a way that is loving, compassionate and peace-making.

I’ll briefly cover those chapters I looked at more deeply:

Chapter 1 addresses the beliefs of “Biblical Christianity”. It is clear from the beginning that this will largely be based on view Old and New Testaments as together making up inspired Scripture, and providing full and complete revelation. This is foundational for some of the statements that will be made later. Emphasis is placed on recognition of Jesus as both man and God, dying and rising again as a unique expression of God’s will to address mankind’s sinful condition.

Then, having addressed the Trinity and man’s fallen condition, he covers the validity and importance of scripture. The view lacks nuance, painting inspiration with broad strokes lacking any distinction between Old and New Testament in quotations from the New Testament about scripture’s value. The formation of canon is covered, but without much discussion of canon closure – something I was wishing was addressed more directly having read chapter 10. The accuracy of scripture in comparison to archaeological evidence is expressed in glowing terms, and the unity of Scripture’s worldview is proclaimed.

Of course, this demands one address the many different variations of Christian expression through denominations and major branches. This is the subject of the first part of the book (which I did not have opportunity to read in depth). The information related to this in chapter 1 is a brief non-specific historical explanation of the development of the Catholic church, the Eastern Orthodox church, and Protestant denominations.

Chapter 8 covers the use of “cult” to describe groups that practice or teach in a way differentiated from the orthodox practice. Five major characteristics of cults are given:

  1. Rejection of the Trinity (especially the divinity of Jesus)
  2. Exclusive possession of truth and the vilification of those who hold the orthodox position.
  3. Piecemeal use of Scripture and inclusion of other written works that have equal or greater significance.
  4. Denial of salvation by faith alone
  5. Major redefinition of theological language which obfuscates the differences in worldviews.

Chapter 10 addresses the Mormon church. This begins with a discussion of the historical formation of the movement and major changes that have occurred in its makeup and beliefs/practices. And distinguishing beliefs and practices takes up some bit of time here since there are practices which have been rescinded by Mormon leadership yet have not been disavowed from a teaching standpoint (such as polygamy), leading many Protestants to question the authenticity of the change in practice.

The use of additional texts that are given primacy above scripture is covered and denounced. However the argument used is lacking:

Polytheistic teachings within Mormonism are covered, as is the belief in “progression”, by which men take their place as Gods through following the teachings of the Church concerning marriage, childbirth, membership within the Mormon church and adherence to the teaching’s of Joseph Smith and his successors.

The chapter closes with a summation of Christian beliefs that highlight the divide between Mormonism and Protestant Christianity. Scripture provides the first major point:

Regarding Scripture: The Mormons believe that the canon of Scripture is not closed and that “modern revelation is necessary…(God) continues to speak, because he is unchangeable.” The LDS Church accepts as Scripture the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and the Bible (KJV), with the reservation that the Bible is “the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” Biblical Christians hold that the canon is closed and accept only the Bible as Scripture, believing it is the “God-breathed” (see 2 Tim 3:16) and complete, containing “the faith that was once and for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3; see also Gal. 1:8:2 Pet. 1:3)

p.144-145

Though many would read this uncritically, I found the assertions made about canon to be unsupported (at least within this book). Additionally, Jude 3 is not about scripture at all per se, but about the proclamation of a gospel in line with the teachings of the apostles. Similarly with Galatians 1:8. 2 Peter 1:3 has nothing to do with scripture at all, stating instead that as we know Jesus better, his divine power will help us live godly lives. It says nothing about a closing of the canon or finality to revelation from God.

I think a closed canon is a quick argument, and one easily grasped by the hearer, but it finds little active support in Scripture itself. The closure of canon is pragmatic in my view. The inclusion of New Testament books was based in part on proximity in time or relationship to the apostles themselves. This more nuanced position is harder to use as an attack on cults, understandably, but should be understood by everyone who wants to approach their faith and practice better.

As for an end to revelation, I am left with a ponderance. I am not sure whether the book is written from a viewpoint that would demand cessation of gifts, but that seems to be in mind. I would have to posit that the Holy Spirit speaks to each believer every day guiding and directing them. It may not rise to “inspiration”, but I don’t feel revelation to be inappropriate. Not being a cessationist, I would also place prophecy and spiritual discernment as revelatory acts that counter the claim to an end of revelation within the church.

I would give this book ★★★☆☆. An easy read, best used alongside the Bible and a good systematic theology.

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About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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