The New Riddle of Roman Catholicism: Riddles, Mysteries, and Enigmas

Darryl Hart and John Muether are at it again. This time they’ve teamed up to produce a series of essays on contemporary Roman CatholicismThis series is especially useful since pressure has been building for a number of years to simply ignore the Reformation. As they point out, fifty years ago the old neo-evangelicals could be counted on to be stoutly Protestant. No longer. The arguments in and for Evangelicals and Catholics Together (especially I, II;  1994-97) were anemic but the very existence of the documents was symbolic of desire of contemporary evangelicals to set aside the old Reformation divisions in favor of cultural cooperation. That desire has been reinforced by the recent book by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom (Is the Reformation Over? 2005).

As a matter of intellectual integrity, the neo-evangelical ecumenism just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The Catechism of the Catholic Church cannot be squared with the historic Protestant faith, not on those matters that were central to the Reformation.

Your Roman neighbors are your friends but they are also a mission field. If you’re going to speak intelligently with them about their faith and about yours, then you should read this series. Thanks to The Outlook for publishing it.

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  1. A little nuance would be appreciated. “Setting aside the old Reformation divisions in favor of cultural cooperation” need not entail setting aside the old theological divisions (though surely we can recognize that Rome has gotten a little better). As inadequate as the ECT documents are, the general goal of cooperation on the cultural front, especially intellectual “markets,” is well worth pursuing.

  2. Kevin,

    If you’ll follow up with the linked essay I do offer a more detailed analysis, but I stand by what I said. If we have to choose between culture and Christ (the gospel), we choose Christ.

    From a confessional Protestant view there’s no question that ECT cashed in the doctrine of justification in favor of cultural cooperation. The tragedy, as I’ve pointed out before, is that it wasn’t necessary. Had the evangelicals had a Protestant doctrine of “two kingdoms” they wouldn’t have needed to sign away justification in order–pun intended–to justify their culture war with Rome.

    That’s why it’s useful to have a doctrine of creation. We can cooperate with lots of folks on the basis of creation and natural law. We don’t have to give away the gospel in order to stand up for creation.

  3. As someone who has studied Roman Catholicism from the inside, I can certainly applaud this sentiment:

    “our aim is to show that no matter how different Roman Catholicism may look at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it has not changed the objections to Rome that informed and continue to shape what it means to protest, that is, to be a Protestant.”

  4. Quick question: Is the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” an official (“infallible) document? Can one study it and have full confidence in that book as representing Rome’s official views?

  5. Durrell,

    I don’t know that the Catechism of the Roman Church is regarded as infallible, but it is the authorized summary of the teaching office (magisterium) of the church. It was published and promulgated by the congregation for sacred doctrine. In other words, if one wants to know what the Roman church teaches, the Catechism is a reliable place to go. There are sources of doctrine and authority, of course, but the Catechism is the summary of most of them.

  6. Kevin said, “As inadequate as the ECT documents are, the general goal of cooperation on the cultural front, especially intellectual ‘markets,’ is well worth pursuing.”

    I am always curious when I hear assertions like yours. To your mind, what stake exactly do Christian religionists of any stripe have in cultural pursuit that justifies something like ECT? (Why is cultural engagement always cast as something of a fight? Participation comes in many shades.) What immediate interest does Christianity have in cultural “markets”?

    It’s almost as if the presumption seems to be that without formal efforts like ECT we have no ground to participate as individuals in the wider world. But, like RSC has pointed out, all your need is a Protestant doctrine of creation. It really is that simple. If Christianity really does have a stake in so-called cultural “markets,” don’t we have a lot of apology letters to write the Liberals?

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