(... or just about any inquisitive Protestant). An Evangelical professor with whom I am acquainted and who teaches theology at a large Bible college sent me the following question:
It is common for my theology students to want to research Catholic theology, especially the doctrine of salvation, since I engage Catholic theology often and positively. I always insist they read Catholic sources rather than just Protestant sources that critique Roman Catholic theology. So they always want to know what the best Catholic sources are. Traditionally I have had them read the Catechism, of course. Also, McBrien's Catholicism, but I know he is not super conservative. Rahner can be a bit dense for them. I also recommend Catholic and Christian by Alan Schrek and Evangelical Catholics, by Keith Fournier. But I'm sure there are more, and perhaps better sources for evangelical college students to read to get a broad scope of orthodox Roman Catholic theology.
My response, on the fly:
Here are some suggestions, with a note about each that may be helpful in deciding what to recommend. I’ve avoided books that have an obvious “Catholic vs. Protestant" bent to them (such as Ronald Knox’s fine book, The Belief of Catholics).
• Credo for Today (Ignatius Press) by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. These essays explore the Apostles Creed (and is thus a shorter version of Ratzinger’s Introduction To Christianity) and cover a lot of territory in just 200 pages. The added benefit, of course, is that it introduces folks to the theological brilliance of the current pontiff.
• Catholic Christianity (Ignatius Press), by Peter Kreeft. This is a commentary of sorts to the Catechism, and Kreeft is a very deft and helpful guide.
• The Shape of Catholic Theology and Epiphany: A Theological Introduction to Catholicism (both from The Liturgical Press), both by Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P. Both of these are exceptional, written by the wonderful (and incredibly prolific) English Dominican theologian. Highly recommended. The first is shorter (370 pages); the second is longer (500 pages) and more detailed. If I had to choose, I’d go with Epiphany, as it has a very good chapter on salvation.
• The Spirit of Catholicism (originally Image), by Karl Adam. This is an older book, originally published in the 1940s. But it is well written and filled with a number of insights (especially re: ecclesiology) that found expression at Vatican II.
• Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Random House) by Fr. Robert Barron. This is the companion book to the “Catholicism” project, a 10-video series produced by Fr. Barron, who has written several fine books and is the Francis Cardinal George Chair of Faith and Culture at Mundelein Seminary. (I wrote the study guide for the project; see www.catholicismproject.com). A wonderful combination of theology, culture, history, and much more.
• The New World of Faith (Our Sunday Visitor), by Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. A very good introduction to Catholicism that focuses on faith, salvation, mission, ecclesiology, and ecumenism, by one of the finest American theologians of the past fifty years.
• Theology and Sanity (Ignatius) by Frank Sheed. This is one of the most clearly and beautifully written works of popular Catholic theology written in the past seventy years (originally written in the 1940s). Systematic and Thomistic, but without feeling systematic or scholastic, if that makes sense. A much shorter book by Sheed that covers the essentials is A Map of Life (Ignatius Press).
• On Being Catholic by Thomas Howard. This is a secondary sort of suggested text, written by a former Evangelical (then Anglican, now Catholic) professor of literature, the brother of Elizabeth Elliott. Howard’s writing is extremely warm, personal, and literate.
• The Christian Faith (Alba House). This is a compilation (1000+ pages) of conciliar and papal texts, arranged by topic. A valuable resource for those wanting to go deeper into specific texts and topics.
I should have noted, as well, that I avoided multi-volumed works. That said, I'm sure I missed several good candidates. What are some other suggestions for good, semi-systematic introductions to Catholic theology that are (mostly) non-apologetic?