ECT After Neuhaus: Colson Still Doesn’t Get It

Colson2There’s an interview in CT today with Chuck Colson reflecting on Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Two things are striking about the Colson’s comments.First, it is notable that the entire interview assumes that ECT is entirely uncontroversial. Is it true that, 15 years after the first ECT document, that the evangelicals have given up on the Reformation doctrine of justification so completely that Colson and the reporter can simply assume that ECT is the status quo evangelical position on justification? Perhaps. Who knows? What matters to evangelicals, and this became clear in ECT 1, is the quality of one’s religious experience.  As I noted several years ago, (you can also see it here) Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy testified to a “born again” experience and that was enough for most of the evangelicals.

Second and most importantly, Colson thinks its a good thing that Pope Benedict XVI agrees with ECT 2! You see, to most Protestants, that would be a warning sign, like the little flashing light on your cell phone that tells you that the battery is getting low. It signals a problem. Yes, of course Benedict XVI agrees with ECT 2! There’s nothing distinctively Protestant in it. This is been demonstrated and manifestly obvious for years for anyone with the slightest bit of sense about that the Protestants held in the 16th century and for what Rome declared at Trent in 1547. It’s not that difficult. Rome declared then and confesses today, as I’ve demonstrated many times in this space, that God justifies the sanctified, i.e. he recognizes their sanctification. One is justified to the degree one is sanctified and one is sanctified by grace and cooperation with grace (i.e. faith). Protestants confess that God justifies the ungodly, i.e., he declares them to be righteous and he does so on the basis of the imputation of the extrinsic righteousness of Jesus accomplished for them (pro nobis) and that righteousness is received through faith alone, which is defined as confidence in, trust in, resting in, and receiving Christ and his finished work for his elect. These are two irreconcilable definitions of justification, of faith in the act of justification and of the nature of grace. For Rome, grace is a substance with which we are infused. For Protestants grace is nothing more or less than the unmerited favor of God.

Finally, Colson repeats the fact that there are individual Roman Catholic theologians who agree with him and with ECT 1 and 2. I repeat: So What? Rome isn’t the Evangelical Theological Society. The Roman Church is not your local bible college or megachurch. Rome has a magisterium, it has official, binding documents and declarations. One can find Roman theologians saying any number of things. If they say things that are at sufficient variance from the Holy See, they shall find themselves out of favor and possibly out of a job but that doesn’t mean that the several Roman theologians who agree with Colson, ECT 1 and 2 speak authoritatively for Rome. They don’t. If you want to know what Rome believes read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Go to the Vatican Website. It’s not a secret.

Colson claims that Rome views have changed since Trent. Nonsense. That’s just false. It’s been shown to be false repeatedly. Look at the Roman Catechism in justification. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly teaches justification through sanctification. That’s not the Protestant doctrine. That’s the Tridentine doctrine. Look at the footnotes of the Catholic Catechism on justification. What does one see cited as the authority? The Council of Trent, Session Six, 1547. Colson thinks things are changing in Rome, but as is typically the case for American evangelicals. They’re so desperate for influence that they see influence where it isn’t. They see “change” where it isn’t.  Bill Bright used to see revivals all the time. He wanted to see them. They validated his program and organization. So it is with Colson and ECT. Evangelicals had better wake up. Seems to me that if one is to be  “evangelical” (as distinct from the social entity “an evangelical”) then the “evangel” is of the essence and justification by grace (an infused substance) and cooperation with grace (faith) is not the “evangel.” According to 1 Cor 15, the good news is Christ for us. According to Rom 6 and 8, the results of that good news is the Spirit’s work in us but let us not confuse the two. There’s too much at stake.

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  1. Just yesterday evening I heard Chuck speaking about this very thing over the local radio station. I was pretty blown away when he ended his spot by stating that the one thing Evangelicals and Catholics can agree upon is that faith working through love is important, so we should just shoulder up together on getting social good done (my summary).

    There it is, the old “fides formata caritate”, and I don’t even know if Colson really understood what he was talking about when threw it in there. It struck me as being either a very naive, or a very duplicitous, thing to say depending upon his level of understanding.

  2. I think I once read Neuhaus say on Modern Reformation’s website that Rome doesn’t need to change and will not change from what it declared in Trent. I think he even mentioned something about infallibilty.

  3. In the “Foreword” to Keith Fornier’s Evangelical Catholics, Colson writes:

    … It’s high time that all of us who are Christians come together regardless of the differences in our confessions and our traditions and make common cause to bring Christian values to bear in our society. When the barbarians are scaling the walls, there is no time for petty quarreling in the camp.

    To the extent that Colson seems to want to push into the corner the theological precisions that better confessional Protestants and Catholics know make all the difference in the world, he seems to have a lot in common with Gene Robinson. Robinson, “horrified” and how “specifically and aggressively Christian” past presidential inaugeral prayers were said:

    I am very clear that this will not be a Christian prayer, and I won’t be quoting Scripture or anything like that. The texts that I hold as sacred are not sacred texts for all Americans, and I want all people to feel that this is their prayer.

    At least Robinson could be understood to have recognized the blantant Constantinianism (but I doubt that). More likely, Colson and Robinson esteem ideological care over theological devotion. It’s fun watching culture warriors fight.

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