Dear Dan, should I read or use non-Catholic devotional or bible study materials?
This is a very important question. There are other cousin questions that follow the same line of concern. “Should I attend non-Catholic bible studies?” “Should I read protestant commentaries on scripture?” Before I answer this I must make one thing abundantly clear.
An Important Disclaimer
I am in no way anti-protestant or anti-anyone for that matter. I was a fervent Protestant for more than a decade and it was a protestant pastor that God used to bring me into the first step of my relationship with Him. I am forever grateful for all the gifts that I received during my time in the protestant and evangelical worlds. As well, it is important to note that anyone and everyone that desires to understand Catholic spirituality is absolutely welcome to interact with us here. That said, the purpose of this site is to specifically spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ as defined by the magisterium of the Catholic Church. With that as a backdrop, please allow me to be boldly honest and blunt about this situation from the standpoint of the mission of this site.
The Tale of Two Wells
Let’s envision that we live in a small village with two wells several miles apart. One well is known to be very pure. There are no cow pastures around to pollute it, the water is very cool and crystal clear, and tastes as perfect and satisfying as water can be. About a mile away, and a mile closer to your home, there is another well. The water is also clear, but sometimes people get an upset stomach when they drink it, so most don’t. Rumor has it that some, in distant times when it was used regularly for drinking, became very sick from this well. Many people now use it for animals but for humans, it seems to cause unpredictable problems.
Which well would you chose to use for your drinking water?
Would you regularly walk the extra mile to a source that you know has been in use and tested for thousands of years and that is even officially recognized as the most pure water in the region? Would you take a chance on potentially impure water when you had the best and most pure water available to you?
As a former well-studied evangelical, I can tell you that 100% of the mountain of material I consumed had what we will call “assumptions” built into it. In the vast majority of the material, these assumptions ranged from specifically anti-Catholic assumptions to other basic assumptions (e.g. sola scriptura etc.) that were/are simply antithetical to Catholic teaching. The latter are often hard to detect but, in essence, serve to chip away at the pure Gospel truth that Christ has provided to us. In all cases, from the standpoint of pure Catholic teaching, the well of Protestantism, is tainted with these assumptions. The well is not pure and thus the spiritual and practical results of consumption are unpredictable.
The difficult part is that to the untrained eye or the unseasoned traveler, the protestant well might look just fine and the negative effects might not be immediate or obvious. The water looks clear and tastes good. However, if you have a well that you already know is perfectly pure why take the risk?
An Example of Tainted Water
Just as one example there is one key assumption or belief that you will find in all protestant or evangelical bible studies. It is this, scripture is the only and ultimate source of authority. By definition, this means that the working of the Holy Spirit through the magisterial authority (that assembled the bible in the first place) is held as irrelevant, or worse, hostile to true faith. With this as a foundational assumption, all the important truths of the bible are evaluated and explained apart from the essential elements that Christ Himself established regarding how we are to come to understand truth. Said another way, the bible is ripped from the hands of the very instrument of love that Christ established to lead us to all truth.
Who would knowingly participate in an activity like this?
The reality is that good people often do because of loneliness, the need for friendship and a sincere desire to know the truth. The good news is that the resources to quench the thirsty heart are endless in the Catholic Church.
Is Good Catholic Material Really That Hard to Find?
In the analogy of the wells, I have placed the pure well farther from your home and thus more difficult to access. I guess this might be apt for folks living in the Bible belt or those who live in places where good Catholic material is hard to find. However, with the internet, and online stores, EWTN on Television and Radio, the best of the best and most pure water is available to most people most of the time. In particular, with respect to bible study materials, the following are exemplary sources that rival the best that the protestant and evangelical worlds have assembled (but without the rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit in His Church).
Why Go Anywhere Else?
The Lord established a Church. He guaranteed, by his Holy Spirit, that all the firepower of hell itself could not withstand or in any way subvert the heart and truth of his Church. Now, we all know that with human beings, imperfection reigns; however, the teachings of the Church never depend on any one individual. They stand on the promises of God Himself and the Church provides a bottomless and pure well of spiritual resources that is so deep and so pure that no individual, even if given a lifetime purely devoted to study, could ever fully consume. With this wealth of resources at our disposal, why would we ever look outside of the Church to people (most, but not all) who reject the most fundamental truths of our faith?
Where to Start?
Outside of the links we have already provided, we also have a long list of recommended materials that can provide pure water on nearly any subject you could imagine regarding our relationship with Him and His Church. Beyond these lists, you can look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and then the writings of the thirty-four doctors of the Church (which have been thoroughly vetted by hundreds of years of study and evaluation by the Church). If you want to know where to buy Catholic materials without worrying about their fidelity to Christ’s teachings, EWTN’s Religious Catalogue is a great place to start.
May you seek and find the pure, perfect, and life-giving water that only Christ and His Church can provide.
Still Life with Bible, Vincent Van Gogh, 1885, PD-Art, Wikimedia Commons.