Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Is The Reformation Over? (Revisited)

Scot McKnight is discussing Is The Reformation Over? by Mary A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom. The topic has come up on his site before (be sure to read this). The book details the historic ways Catholics and Protestants have come together in recent decades to find common ground. Prior to reading this book, I had no idea how tense things had been between us--even up until the 1970's. For example, in 1945, a Presbyterian preacher named Carl McIntyre said:

"As we enter the post-world war, without any doubt the greatest enemy of freedom and liberty that the world has to face today is the Roman Catholic system. Yes, we have Communism in Russia and all that is involved there, but if one had to choose between the two. . . one would be much better off in a communistic society than in a Roman Catholic Fascist set-up. . . . America has to face the Roman Catholic terror: The sooner the Christian people of America wake up to the danger the safer will be our land." (cited by Noll and Nystrom, 38).

Wow! Contrast that with the state of affairs today. One illustration--Noll and Nystrom state that "in early 2004 a survey of American evangelicals revealed a higher favorability rating for John Paul II (59 percent) than for either Jerry Falwell (44 percent) or Pat Robertson (54 percent)" [28; see footnote for source]. Of course, that's only one example of the remarkable change in tone.

Another example would be that Catholics like me can study at Protestant schools without feeling ostricized. I've even written for the Fuller school paper about being Catholic!

I don't agree with everything Noll and Nystrom say. Certainly, their desire to emphasize common ground between Catholics and Protestants is to be applauded. But little mention is made of, for example, Dominus Iesus--a document that must be seriously factored into the discussion.

Nonetheless, what we are seeing in terms of honesty in dialogue and cooperation between Christians of different traditions is truly unparalleled. My good friend, Brant Pitre, a Catholic scholar, just had his book published by Baker Academic--what a blessing to be working with a non-Catholic publishing house! In fact, Pitre builds on the work of non-Catholic scholars like Dale Allison and N. T. Wright. At the same time, Wright, arguably the most influential Evangelical scholar, has expressed his deep gratitude to the late Catholic scholar Ben Meyer for guiding much of his own thought and work. [If you're a fan of Wright's work on Jesus and you haven't read Meyer's book The Aims of Jesus (1979), you don't know what you're missing! It is, bar none, the most overlooked and underappreciated book on Jesus. Meyer was talking about "restoration eschatology" long before Sanders' Jesus and Judaism (1985). But I digress...]

No one has inspired me more in this regard than my mentor, Scott Hahn. Who would ever have thought that Scott Hahn would be invited to speak at Baylor University on Pope Benedict's critique of biblical scholarship?! Or that a Catholic scholar would be writing books with leading Protestant scholars like Craig Bartholomew, Joel B. Green, and Anthony C. Thiselton?!

There is truly something historic and unprecedented about a book being published by two distinguished Protestant thinkers with the title, Is the Reformation Over? May God continue to bless the discussion...


Anonymous said...

The friendliness is certainly an historic achievement, but the presuppositions are not. Many Protestants involved in the ecumenical movement see Rome as finally admitting that she is doctrinally wrong in some areas too! The thinking behind the recent ecumenical Brazos Theological Commentary Series says as much. It is stated in the Preface of Pelikan's inaugural volume, that all confessional denominations have "the keys" to the various "doors of truth", but none of us are right in our current door selection. We must, therefore, all work together, which involves admitting that we all have some truth and some error.

Anonymous said...

The Reformation was (is?) about both doctrine and authority.

There has been no change in core doctrine (i.e. justification) by Catholics or Evangelicals. Group projects like ECT, ARCIC, and JDDJ promote a false "convergeance" in doctrine. Theologians become "wordsmiths," molding statements that are at best deceptive. IMO, this is a risky game for theologians to participate, as they are called to a higher standard. They will receive a stricter judgment because of their influence. I find the current ecumenical movement dishonest and distasteful. "Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy" - John Trapp.

Concerning authority, the Reformation may indeed be over. Postmodern philosophy kills authority, both Catholic and Evangelical.

JM said...

"...statements that are at best deceptive."

I disagree. ECT, for example, does not deny differences but affirms common affirmations as well. And it speaks for indiviudals versus confessions, by its own admission. The doctrinairre attitude exhibited in both Reformed and Catholic quarters by some is ironically rebuffed by spokesmen from both traditions: J.I. Packer and Datzinger. Decent authorities both, I daresay.

DP said...

Sounds like a really interesting book.

Another example would be that Catholics like me can study at Protestant schools without feeling ostricized. I've even written for the Fuller school paper about being Catholic!

Although I'm not in graduate studies I can understand your sentiment. I study at the largest Christian university in Canada (www.twu.ca) as well as a small Catholic College associated with FUS and faithful to the magisterium of the Catholic Church (www.rpcollege.bc.ca). These two institutions have a unique relationship where students are able to take courses at the Catholic College (mostly philosophy and theology courses) and transfer them directly to the Protestant University as credit towards their degree. I have had many interesting discussions with my Protestant peers, not to mention professors (particularly in courses such as "Post-Reformation Christian History" or "Christianity and Culture").

I'm grateful for the opportunity I've had to study in this unique setting. It has really challenged me to grow in understanding of the Catholic Faith. I had one friend who is a recent grad from Thomas Aquinas College (a college I also considered attending) tell me that she recognizes that in attending an almost entirely Catholic college she missed out on the opportunities to practice apologetics which I have been given. I think that to a certain extent it's true. As a Catholic student studying at a Protestant university I've had many a conversation well into the night on issues such as sanctification, the role of Mary, her immaculate conception, her perpetual virginity, veneration of the saints, original sin, the Real Presence . . . (the list could go on). Likewise, I have also learnt a lot from my Protestant peers.