I believe Tim Staples is one of the best known Catholic apologists in the English speaking world. As with many (most?) Catholic apologists, Staples is a former Protestant (Assemblies of God). I came across the Catholic Answers radio show/podcast recently where Staples is a regular guest. Of the RC apologists I've heard he has been a favorite, despite my many disagreements with his positions. For me, he certainly is the most interesting to listen to.
When I heard of his new 90 minute DVD called "Why Be Catholic?" I wanted to see it. I emailed the Catholic.com people (who put on the radio show) and asked for a review copy. They graciously sent one my way even after I told them I would likely disagree. I want to express my appreciation to them for this opportunity.
At just under 90 minutes, Staples presentation is in two main parts (broken into seven on the DVD). Part 1 (about 65 minutes, first six parts on DVD): Staples gives his case for God and Christianity in general. Part 2 (about 25 minutes, seventh part on DVD): Staples makes a case for Catholicism in particular.
Staples begins sharing his previous anti-Catholic bias and desire to convert Catholics. He would read books by Protestants on Catholicism, such as works by Dr. Walter Martin or Jimmy Swaggert. But he later realized by trying to refute Catholicism that it's the true Church and the instrument of God with the answers for what ails people.
In Part 1 Staples goes on to demonstrate that God exists..."the first step toward Rome." He briefly mentions lots of scientific and theological people and ideas: entropy, thermodynamics, Carl Sagan, Einstein, singularity, relativity, energy, unmoved mover, Thomas Aquinas' 5 proofs for the existence of God, mortal soul, using reason, natural religion, etc.
Staples sounds rather evangelical in first half. You can see his Protestant background at work. His explanation would be mostly acceptable to a widely Christian audience. I'm not thrilled with his presentation of these things and would do it very differently. But there isn't a ton of stuff to disagree with here. And to be honest, this section isn't why I wanted to watch this DVD.
Staples focuses down on the authority of Jesus given to the church. He calls it "the elephant in the room." This is what Protestants are missing. One text he mentions is Matthew 18:15-18, which he says every Catholic should memorize. His emphasis is that it says you "tell it to the church" not "tell it to the Bible" when it comes to discipline.
He mentions the selection of Hebrews for the canon, with its authorship problem. Since there is no divinely inspired table of contents, Jesus left us the Church. Otherwise, why would Hebrews be in the canon?
Peter, as expected, was a central theme. Jesus said to Peter, you are the rock...not you are the pebble. There's a word for pebble and Jesus doesn't use it for Peter. The apostles in union with Peter are the voice of God on the earth.
Acts 15 and The Jerusalem Council is also discussed by Staples, emphasizing the silence of the assembly after Peter speaks as evidence for the authority he holds.
I was disappointed with this DVD and honestly expected it to be much better. I figured it to be a new, helpful resource for someone like me who is studying to understand what Catholics believe. I eagerly watched to deal with Staples' best arguments presented in a compelling way. It didn't happen.
I'm not trying to represent this as inferior as if all Catholic arguments are always inferior and I'm just smugly looking down upon them. I know people do that, and I assume Staples is used to some Protestant apologists dealing with him that way. I think Staples is very enjoyable and compelling on the Catholic Answers Live radio show/podcast. That's why I wanted to see this. He has helped me understand the teachings and practices of Catholicism better than almost anyone. Yet, this just isn't worth recommending.
In Part 2 I was eager to engage his arguments, but they were passed over too quickly or stated too simplistically. I've heard Staples be much more clear on some of these passages. As a thoughtful Protestant who is learning about Catholicism, he did nothing compelling to me in this section. And I wanted that!
The silence after Peter speaks in Acts 15 is anything but a slam dunk. In my reading it seems the silence comes while listening to Paul and Barnabas. Protestants don't argue that Peter wasn't a central leader, or THE central leader. Protestants don't diminish the role of Peter in Scripture, Catholics elevate it out of Scripture. To make "rock" into "Pope" is a leap that Staples runs over rather than convinces adequately. Staples doesn't dig deep in what "take it to the church" means in Matthew 18. I think his biblical arguments here Staples deals with too little and with too many gaping holes.
Let me make a few points to close.
1. Why Be Catholic? was an insider talking to insiders. It was filled with insider jargon and jokes. Though the DVD seems to be marketed toward non-Christians & non-Catholics, I don't think it will work well. I assume it will work best for the almost-convinced who desire to be convinced and hear from a very confident sounding Staples who has a lot of basic knowledge of apologetics to speak from. They get those sorts of callers on the show a lot, so maybe that's what they want.
2. Why Be Catholic? was mostly superficial. I know you can only do so much in 90 minutes. But I'm surprised by how little Staples did in 90 minutes. Specifically I'm surprised by how little he deals with issues of Catholicism on a DVD titled Why Be Catholic? Almost no mention of any common objections & concerns with Catholic teaching (Mary, Saints, church abuses, rosary, apocrypha, etc). I'm sure Staples has reasons for that, but it would have been nice to explain these most recognizable, central barriers to people coming to Catholicism.
As I said before, Why Be Catholic? has plenty that I would agree with. Mostly evidential arguments for basic Christian apologetics. But only scratched the surface of Catholic issues.
3. Why Be Catholic? was annoying. No joke. Not trying to rub it in to those "crazy Catholics." It was Staples' delivery. You know how a preacher will ask for the "Amen?" as they speak in order to keep the attention of the listeners at a point on which they already agree? I counted Staples asking for the "Amen?" 113 times, and I probably missed some. 113 times in less than 90 minutes is annoying. This doesn't diminish his message, but I guarantee it won't help. If he was a young guy with little experience, I would just let it go. Staples is a premiere Catholic apologist, and as an educated Protestant pastor I had to keep rewinding because his overuse of "Amen?" distracted me from the points he was making.
One other annoying thing is Staples' default mode for humor or speaking in the place of others is a twangy, southerner, poor-grasp-of-English guy. Lots of "ain't" and double-negatives. I know we all do annoying things in public speaking, but Staples was surprisingly annoying.
If you want to know more about Catholicism, read Scott Hahn, listen to guys like Staples on Catholic Answers Live where he is far more appealing, or read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Better yet, visit your local Catholic church and get their literature or sit through Mass. Talk to Catholics. Unfortunately, as much as I want to respond to Catholic.com positively after their generosity in giving me this DVD, I don't recommend it at all.