Navigating the teachings of the Church can be a daunting task. It is made even worse these days with rise of social media and along with it the rise of the armchair church authority. Let’s face it we all know what we THINK the Church teaches. We know what we may have read through the filter of a writers hand on the internet. But do we really know? Thankfully there are a number of resources to address this and one recent one written by Jimmy Akin is a fantastic resource. Teaching with Authority: How to Cut Through Doctrinal Confusion & Understand What the Church Really Says is a handy guide to deepen our understanding on a variety of Church teachings.
Jimmy has divided the book into four main sections:
1 – The Church as Teacher
2 – Where Church Teaching is Found
3 – Understanding Church Teaching
4 – How Doctrine can Develop – And How it Can’t
These sections are each divided into chapters and the entire book is laid out similar to a Catechism with numbered paragraphs making it an excellent reference tool.
Leading off the book Jimmy explains why he wrote it. To serve as a book “to share the the principals that scholars use as they carefully analyze and interpret what the Church says.” A key point made in that sentence is one we need to consider. That is carefully analyze and interpret. Too often we jump to conclusions and make determinations with out properly vetting the source. To properly understand what the Church says we need to study what the Church says. We cannot simply be sideline dwellers when it comes to our faith. We must be actively engaged in our faith and have an authentic understanding of it. As Jimmy states “few people understand their Catholic faith or know how to navigate the complex world of Church documents and teachings.”
So how do we get to the point where we have that understanding? Jimmy does an excellent job in the books 424 pages of helping readers find the path they must follow to get to their destination of understanding. He starts by looking at the structure of the Church, where she gets her authority and the magisterium itself. He explains what a pope can and cannot do which nowadays is always a topic of debate. Along those lines Jimmy also looks at “how the Church’s teachings have developed over time, how to deal with difficulties, and how to cut through the rumors that abound today.”
The part I really liked about the book and one I will return to often is the section on Church Documents where Jimmy gives an overview of a number of them including types, how the Church develops them from popes to Bishops. Another fantastic chapter was Reading Church Documents. “For a person who wants to understand Church teaching, reading Church Documents is a must. Innumerable misunderstandings arise precisely because people don’t consult the documents, because they give them a hasty, inattentive reading, or because they lack the background needed to understand them.”
Avoid this error. Get Teaching with Authority and allow Jimmy Akin to show you how to properly approach the varied teachings and documents of the Church. Avoid the minefield of mistakes and enter discussions on the Church armed with the truth. It’s easier than you think. We sometimes just need to someone to shine a light on the path so we know where to go. Jimmy has done an exceptional job doing so.