What Richard John Neuhaus Means to Me

A number of evangelical and socially conservative blogs and publications are marking the death (not “passing” but that’s another post) yesterday of Richard John Neuhaus at age 72. It is not remarkable that social conservatives are weeping today. After a career as a social liberal, Neuhaus began to move to the right, after Roe v. Wade, and became one of the leading lights of American conservatism. It is or should be remarkable, however, how attached evangelicals became to RJN.

Trained as a Missouri Synod Lutheran minister at Concordia Theological Seminary, in 1990 Neuhaus converted to Roman Catholicism and was ordained to the Roman priesthood in 1991 by John Cardinal O’ Connor. I realize that, in an age of utter ecclesiastical and theological latitudinarianism what I am about to say may sound (even though it is not) narrow and even bigoted, but the fact, however, that RJN apostatized from the Protestant confession, especially from the doctrine that,

Accordingly, we believe, teach, and confess that our righteousness before God is [this very thing], that God forgives us our sins out of pure grace, without any work, merit, or worthiness of ours preceding, present, or following, that He presents and imputes to us the righteousness of Christ’s obedience, on account of which righteousness we are received into grace by God, and regarded as righteous (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Art. III; emphasis added)

should temper evangelical celebrations of his life and work. After all, from RJN’s own testimony, he heartily embraced the official Roman dogma that, when we appear before God, in will not be on the basis of Christ’s work for us and imputed to us and received by faith (trust, resting, receiving) alone, but on the basis of the Spirit’s work in us and our cooperation with that grace. According to the Reformation confession, the Roman doctrine of justification through grace and cooperation with grace was tantamount to the anti-Pauline doctrine of justification by works.

These are categorically two different doctrines concerning the single most important thing in the world and, unlike the evangelicals, RJN understood that. In seminary RJN was taught the gospel and, by confessional Protestant lights, he abandoned it. According to the Word of God as confessed by the  Reformation churches, upon his conversion to Rome, RJN embraced what Paul called “another gospel.” RJN swapped Luther’s Small Catechism for Rome’s very large catechism and the latter is quite clear about the doctrine of justification.

Before you get “all up in my business” (that’s “in high dudgeon” in the UK) about my “bigotry,” I hasten to remind our evangelical mourners that, as a Roman priest, RJN also embraced the anathemas promulgated at Trent (1547) against the very doctrine of justification that is the proper definition of “evangelical.”

One might, however, say to oneself, “Listen one, okay, RJN poped. He identified with the social program of the Romanist social neo-cons, but he was confused and he kept his theology to himself and worked with the poor and oppressed. Leave him alone.” Some of this is certainly true but some of it is not. He did not keep his newfound theology to himself. Just as he became a celebrated Roman convert he not only engaged socially conservative evangelicals, he hornswaggled them of their most important treasure: the gospel of justification by the free, unmerited, undeserved, unconditional divine favor alone, on the basis of Christ’s active and passive obedience imputed to sinners alone and received through resting and trusting in Christ and his finished work for sinners alone.

Maybe it wasn’t really hornswaggling? After all he did it with willing collaborators such as Chuck Colson and J. I. Packer in the negotiations to produce the first two “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” statements. I think hornswaggling involves the pointy end of a sword and Colson and Packer brought their evangelical booty to Black John’s pirate ship and handed it over without so much as an “avast ye maties.” Call me a “neo-Reformed zealot” (I’m all that baby!) but as odd as it might seem in 2009, back in 1994 there was a little bit of shock and even outrage and counter-statements and agreements over Colson’s and Packer’s equivocation and  capitulation on justification.

What does RJN mean to me?  If the evangelicals actually valued the confession of the gospel that used to make one a proper evangelical, then RJN’s death would be noted as a significant event, a personal loss to those who knew him, and a loss to soc-con movements but it’s more than that to “the evangelicals.” The evangelical reaction to RJN’s death signals that what matters to “the evangelicals” is not “the evangel” but social-cultural influence and power.

Finally, according to the Reformation, in distinction from Rome, creation (nature) and the visible church (grace) are distinct spheres. Thomas was wrong. Grace does not “perfect” nature. It renews it. Nature doesn’t become grace and grace doesn’t become nature. The two natures of Jesus are and remain inseparably united but distinct. He has two natures. The corollary to the Protestant axiom on nature and grace is that there are two kingdoms in this world. True, confessional Protestants, i.e.  the true evangelicals, understand that because there are two kingdoms, an ecclesiastical kingdom (the kingdom of God) and a civil kingdom, we  don’t need to cut theological deals to cooperate with Father Neuhaus or an imam or the president of the Mormon Church in civil (social) matters. In social, civil matters we need only to relate to one another on the basis of creational (natural) law and as creatures made in the divine image.

Since the early 1990s the evangelicals have demonstrated that they neither love nor understand fundamental Protestant and genuinely evangelical doctrine. What they love is religious experience and social influence. For these reasons the process of theological erosion, which came to the surface 15 years ago, has continued apace and today the evangelicals seem less aware of it today than they were then.

Part 2

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Dr. Clark,

    Right on. I fully agree that the connection we may have with heretics on social issues is based on the moral law and light of nature, nothing further.

    Also, I’m reminded of the theological downgrade in the 1920s. A moral, social consensus by and large remained after classic orthodoxy was eviscerated. But once it was removed, it was only a matter of time before the moral and social consensus went too. I can’t help but think that the counter-culture of the 60s was more an effect of theological liberalism in the 20s, itself the effect of doctrinal latitudinarianism.

    And what shall it profit a man to gain the world and yet lose his soul?

  2. I remember hearing Don Matzat on the Issues, Etc. radio program years ago talking about how both he and Dr. Robert Preus at Concordia had each separately really worked at trying to explain justification by grace through faith alone to R.J. Neuhaus. Matzat said Neuhaus just couldn’t understand it, much less accept and acknowledge that biblical truth.

  3. RSC,

    You’re such a Lutheran. (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”)


    I can’t help but think that the counter-culture of the 60s was more an effect of theological liberalism in the 20s, itself the effect of doctrinal latitudinarianism.

    I think Jerry Falwell said something similar. But insofar as the 60s are understood as primarily a problem, and the solution to the problem is the Moral Majority and the Religious Right, the suggestion seems to be that the two kingdoms are as reciprocal as the Liberals presumed in the 20s and not as antithetical as Jesus and Paul thought.

    I’d say that it’s fun to watch evangelicals fight, but when Reformed pick up the cadence of one over the other it sucks all the fun out.

  4. Wayne,

    I used to listen to Matzat as well. It is comforting to assume that when others disagree with us, it must be because they don’t understand us. But for the sake of humility, we should be open to the possibility that it is because we don’t understand them. Perhaps they understand us and our reasons all too well, and, for reasons *we* don’t yet see or understand, think our position is wrong. I’m not saying you think this about Neuhaus. I’m simply pointing out that when someone says that another person just couldn’t understood or accept something, it is important to keep in mind that there are two ways of explaining that phenomenon: either Neuhaus couldn’t understand “justification by grace alone through faith alone”, or Matzat couldn’t understand Neuhaus’s reasons for qualifying that statement. In this particular case, the latter is at least equally likely, given Neuhaus’s capacious intellect and his ability to see outside the box and from other points of view. Methodologically, it is dangerous to assume that whoever disagrees with ‘us’ must ipso facto be less capable of understanding than we are. Such an assumption prevents us from discovering our errors and seeing outside our box.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. Dr. Clark,

    I appreciate your willingness to say what so many are unwilling to say openly.

    Richard John Neuhaus, in his book “Catholic Matters” said this

    ‘In becoming Catholic [which he did], one vows obedience to the Church’s teaching authority; one promises to listen responsively.’

  6. Bryan,

    It is comforting. I should rather think that, when it came to the Reformation, that RJN was thick rather than what I used to think, that he was a wolf seducing a naive Baptist layman (Colson) into signing away the Reformation. I can’t explain Packer and so far he hasn’t been able to explain himself. The only rational explanation I can find for the “evangelical” behavior in the ECT episodes (see the linked essay) is that it’s a perfect example of the point I made in this post: culture trumped cult (doctrine and worship and piety). Faced with the rise of an increasingly post-Christian culture and faced with Idris Cardinal Cassidy who could testify to having had a born-again experience the evangelicals we’re done. I saw the stars in the eyes of at least one participant. Having attended Concordia and having been ordained in the LCMS it’s hard to think that RJN didn’t know what he was doing, but Preus — who was one of the great Lutheran scholars of the 20th century and a hero of the modern Reformation — says he didn’t and that’s a small grace. We can plead ignorance for RJN.

    My point however, is not about RJN. My point is what the evangelical interactions with RJN in life and reactions to his death say about them. The subject of the piece is only nominally RJN.

  7. Bryan,

    And sometimes the legitmimate quest for humility leads us to illegitimately make complicated and obscure that which really isn’t.

    In my own more ungodly moments, I admit, I think it would have been a good idea in the drawing boards of my own creation to have made the lights brighter. But contrary to what you seem to imply, the gospel is not a project in relative levels of intellectual acumen or abilities to “think outside the box.” It’s about the reconciliation of sinners to God on his terms that even the dullest bulb can grasp. If to grasp the profundity of the counter-intution of the gospel is to be boxed in then give to me the dullest, most boring piece of cardboard you can find.

  8. I am a new reader of your blog. I am currently reading through Calvin’s Institutes using the program developed by Princeton Seminary. I chose the Princeton path, as I can dialog on their website, they have a nice, albeit, slightly “Americanized” (the word man changed to person, gotta keep the feminists happy…right?) version, and audio to involve more of my senses.

    Anyway, I wanted to leave you with my first impression of your blog.

    I can’t say as though I have found anything doctrinally that gives me pause. I read your piece about the Catholic/Evangelical love fest, and for the most part understand, and agree with your position.

    I can certainly understand VanTil’s concern with religious experience. I can further see that you have decided to abandon the evangelical label, with that of reformed. Ok…no problem.

    Here is my question. Understand, I beg of you, I am a layman. Just a guy, thankfully elected by God, justified by his grace, with absolutely no merit on my part, a free gift of God, for which I am eternally grateful.

    Oh….my question….are you madly in love with the beauty of Christ? I understand and seem to agree with your doctrine. But your doctrine, so far, is all I see on your blog. Is it possible that you love your doctrine, just a bit more than you love Christ? Is your doctrine becoming an idol?

    Please, lower your hackles. Pat down the hair on the back of your neck. I am just asking the question. You owe me no answer. Furthermore, please understand that I am, in no way, making this an accusation.

    I am simply putting forth my first impression of your blog. I understand that you teach theology. I understand that you have to defend right thinking, and theology.

    But shouldn’t I see, above all, Christ from you?

    I just finished reading Jonathan Edwards, and I loved this about him. Above all, the man was deeply in love with Jesus Christ. He possessed a common, and fiery doctrine with us, but when I read Edwards, I see Christ.

    From your blog: “My point is what the evangelical interactions with RJN in life and reactions to his death say about them.”

    Let’s not point at each other, let’s point to Christ.

    Hmmm…wondering…was Edwards a “revivalist”?

    I am praying VERY hard, that you read this in the spirit in which it is intended. Please, I am one lump of clay, talking to another.

  9. Scott,

    I know your point was about evangelicals, not RJN per se. And I grant you that Preus was a scholar that Matzat is not. My point was simply that quite often (I think in most cases), I see the trilemma treated as if it is merely a dilemma: either he [who left us] is evil or he is ignorant/unintelligent/incapable, etc. (I have experienced this trilemma-treated-as-dilemma numerous times now in the past two and half years.) I suspect that this phenomenon is a psychological security mechanism. We just can’t even consider the third alternative; it rattles our world. And I’m sure it works both ways (i.e. when Catholics become Protestant). But we should all try to avoid it, because it is irrational.

    Zrim, having grown up fundamentalist, I can testify that when someone would ‘get educated’ and leave, it was always because ‘their intellect got in the way’, “making obscure and complicated that which really isn’t”. In other words, all these groups use this same intellectual protective formula: “What we believe is as plainly taught in Scripture as the nose on your face — anyone who sees it differently is illegitimately making things complicated.” They say the same about your position. At some point you realize that the formula itself is flawed, because it protects false positions, possibly even one’s own.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  10. Hi David,

    There are about 1, 330 posts on this site. Have you read all of them? Have you read most of them?

    I’m not surprised by your first impression. My first impression of your response is that it’s a typical pietist-revivalist response.

    “Madly in love with the beauty of Christ”? Well, I can only point you to Heidelberg Catechism Q. 1, that Jesus is my only comfort in life and in death, to Q. 21, that I have true faith, to and HC Question 60, that the righteousness of Jesus is imputed to me. Does that count?

    You’re asking a question the premise of which I don’t accept. Your question is deeply embedded in the framework of Edwardsean pietism.

    Now that we have first impressions based on scanty evidence out of the way perhaps we can move on to more substantive questions.

    You can start by reading Recovering the Reformed Confession. Give it a try and see if it doesn’t at least explain why I saw what I do?

  11. Bryan,

    Having been reared in secularism (Liberalism-by-proxy), converted and married into Fundamentalism, I know what you mean. The Romanist and Fundamentalist have an amazing similarity in their concerted opposition to “my position” (which I take to mean confessional Reformed orthodoxy). My simple point you was that very smart people can get things very wrong; it happens every day in the wide world over various and sundry matters secular and sacred, and the gospel is no exception. I would think you’d know that as you argue for Catholicism against plenty of false religionists (and as you inveigh against what you call “the culture of death.”).

    Even so, what you seem to be implying is that we can agree to disagree over the gospel. But if that’s true, why don’t you just come over here instead of insisting we admit we are Catholics?

  12. Wow! Slice up the heretic with the sword of the Heidelberg Catechism.

    You reinforce my point. Why would you point me to the Heidelberg Catechism? Why wouldn’t you point me to Christ?

    “deeply embedded in the framework of Edwardsean pietism”?

    Dude, lay down your sword. I am your brother, in Christ, asking you an honest question.

    I don’t have a more substantive question than the one I proposed. Are your eyes on Christ, first and foremost, or on the Heidelberg Catechism and your doctrine?

  13. David,

    I didn’t call you a heretic. I said you asked a question from a revivalist-pietist framework. I’m not a rev-pie. I’m a confessionalist. I’m trying to help you understand whence I come and why I write as I do. Is your point to criticize (which is fine) or is to to understand?

    I pointed you to the HC so that you could see how I understand what it means to be a Christian. You invoke romantic-revivalist (neo-Platonic) categories and I invoke historic Reformed categories. We’re in different paradigms. If you’ll read the HC you’ll see that it is chock-full of the language of the Bible. In the Reformed Churches we confess what we do because we believe it to be biblical. Most reasonable people regard the HC as a warm, heartfelt statement of Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

    I’m giving you an honest answer. Why is that a “sword”? You’re assuming that we should all read the bible as Edwards did and that we should assume the piety that he promoted. I don’t.

    Your question is of the “when did you stop beating your wife” variety and, for the purposes of the question, I’m denying that I have “a wife,” as it were.

    In order for me to assure you that I really love Jesus (and implicitly that I’m really regenerate) I have to talk like an Edwardsean. I’m not going to do it. I probably can’t pass your test.

    I love the Lord, and more importantly, I trust that he loves me, that his promises are true. He testifies of his love for me in the preaching of the gospel and in the administration of the holy sacraments.

    You ask me to lay down my “sword” and I ask you to pick up a book where I’ve tried to explain all this in great detail. I’m not saying that you’ll agree with it but at least you’ll understand the confessionalist theology, piety, and practice more fully.

  14. R. Scott,

    I thought I asked a question of one human being to another. More specifically, I thought I asked a question from one of the elect, to another of the elect.

    Rev-pie, confessionalist, romantic-revivalist, neo-Platonic, Edwarsean pietism…for heavens sake.

    There are two classes of people: Elect & Reprobate. Right?

    I walk away now, scratching my head.

    For my part, if I came across as combative, please forgive me. Sometimes the Peter in me, gets the best of me.

    I can assure you that my intentions were honorable, however.

    I hope to spend eternity with you talking about, and enjoying the glory of God. I suspect none of these labels, will be necessary there.


  15. David,

    You go to the doctor. Imagine this dialogue:

    “David, you’re ill.”

    “Ill, how?”

    “Oh that doesn’t really matter much does it? Doesn’t it just matter that you’re ill. In fact I have the same disease.”

    “Oh my, what disease do you have?”

    “I don’t think it’s necessary for us to split hairs about this malady or that. Shouldn’t we just relate to each other on the basis that we have a common illness?”

    “Actually, I was hoping that you might be able to classify my illness so that you could treat it.”

    “But that’s so impersonal. Let’s just be ill together and we’ll see each other in glory.”


    if you expect your doctor to diagnose an illness based on classification (virus, infection, broken bone) why shouldn’t we also classify ideas, movements, and doctrines? Don’t we classify things constantly in life? “What kind of car hit you?”

    “I don’t know, one with four wheels I guess.”

    That’s not very helpful is it?

  16. Zrim,

    I agree that very smart people can get things wrong. My objection was to the common pattern of thought that responds to disagreement with oneself with an automatic assumption that one’s disagreeing interlocutor must be failing to understand one’s own position. That pattern of thought prevents true listening.

    Also, just to clarify, I’ve never advocated “agreeing to disagree over the gospel”. On the contrary, I’ve been calling the disagreeing parties to the dialogue table. The false dilemma that I have been decrying is the schism-perpetuating “agreeing to disagree” on the one hand and violence (e.g. Thirty Years War) on the other. Nor have I ever insisted that you admit you are Catholic. I don’t claim (nor do I believe) that Protestants are Catholics.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  17. Well, I wouldn’t necessarily call this “narrow” or “bigoted,” but I think I am inclined to say it’s kind of a jerky thing to write on the day (day after?) the poor guy died.

  18. R. Scott,

    I was thinking about you while I was working out this afternoon. Let me ask you this – Who do you say that Jesus is.

    I don’t want a quote from the Heidelberg Catechism, I would like to hear it from your lips.

  19. David,

    What do you have against the HC?

    I believe the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, Belgic Confession Art. 10, 11, HC 29-52 (and the parallel chapters in the WCF and the WLC and WSC).

    There are theological propositions here: http://www.wscal.edu/clark/thesestheologicae.php

    Christology begins with #4.

    Why is it necessary for us to re-write the faith?

  20. David,

    I hate to shatter your bubble but you aren’t the Savior and I’m not the rock on which he built his church.

    I’m just a wretched sinner saved by grace confessing God’s Word with his people. I’m not gifted to re-write the faith from scratch.

  21. You are quite right. I am certainly not the Savior.

    But I can certainly confess with my lips that he is the Messiah, Lord, and King.

    You confuse me.

    I will move on. Thank you for the interesting dialog.

  22. David,

    Don’t the churchly documents I cited confess that very thing?

    Aren’t you willing to confess Jesus with the churches? Does the fact that these confessions of Jesus’ two natures are churchly and corporate somehow diminish their authenticity or spirituality?

  23. No. I confess Jesus Christ with my heart and with my soul. The church is a living organism of those who are elect of Jesus Christ, not a collection of creeds, buildings, dogma, and doctrine.

    I pray that someday, you find the same.

    Thank you for your gracious conversation, and have a great weekend.

  24. David,

    When Jesus gave the “keys” of the kingdom to the Apostles, where did he expect them to be used?

    When he instituted church discipline and commanded that they should “tell it to the church” how did he expect they or we would do that, absent a visible church?

    How does the invisible church baptize anyone or administer holy communion. As far as I can tell Jesus instituted that too.

    Have you read the series on “churchless evangelicals“? I recommend that you do.

  25. Bryan,

    Perhaps linguistic device gets in the way. We commonly interchange “understand” for “agree.” When it is said that someone doesn’t understand/get it that can mean he doesn’t understand, or it can mean he does indeed understand but doesn’t agree. When it is said the RJN “didn’t get the gospel” I think what is meant is the latter.

    So your quest isn’t so much to “agree to disagree” as it is to “keep talking.” It’s a nice idea, I suppose, but it sure seems to me that Trent and the Protestants understand one another pretty well. The dialogue table posture seems an awful lot like a scorned spouse being told by his/her betrayer, “You aren’t understanding me. I think what we need to do is keep meeting to talk about whether my behavior is permissible.” Maybe the light is too dim in my box, but that just sounds like a project in futility.

  26. David,

    The brutal irony is that each time you speak you are doing exactly what the confessions attempt to do: confess the faith. Your cavalier dismissal of a churchly way of confessing is its own tradition.

  27. Zrim,

    Well, I read the interchange above between Scott and David, and I’m on Scott’s side on that one. And I just read Scott’s ecclesiology paper (its in the link he gave above on churchless evangelicals), and again, I agree with just about everything in it, and especially with his main point about the *visibility* of the Church. What’s rather interesting to me is that it is quite possible that as a Catholic, I have more in common with Scott than I do with your average evangelical. I recently read Scott’s post on Pope Benedict’s comments on justification, and I understand why Scott is raising the red flag [to fellow confessional Protestants] but, at the same time, I was pleasantly surprised by the way he handled Pope Benedict’s piece. In the more distant past, these various traditions hardly talked with each other. But the more we talk with each other, and interact with each other (even critically, but always charitably), I believe that the Holy Spirit will lead us to the truth together. The only other alternative (besides violence, which must never turn to again), is one that goes against the notion that the Church is visible; turning a blind eye to the schisms (i.e. agreeing to disagree), for generation after generation, is an implicit denial of the visibility of the Church. It implicitly teaches that the Church is only invisible.

    I’m interested in how Scott understands what principally individuates the visible Church from schisms *from* her. I’m thinking about this line from RJN’s article “How I became the Catholic I was”. There RJN writes, “I have never found it in his writings, but a St. Louis professor who had been his student told me that the great confessional Lutheran theologian Peter Brunner regularly said that a Lutheran who does not daily ask himself why he is not a Roman Catholic cannot know why he is a Lutheran.” Implicit in Brunner’s statement is, among other things, an awareness of the visibility of the Church, and hence, a constant awareness of the underlying need [*given the meeting of certain conditions*] to be reconciled with that from which she had come. RJN contrasts that with a Lutheranism that “had settled for being a permanently separated Protestant denomination; or, as the case may be, several Protestant denominations.” This was, he seems to be saying, an implicit abandonment of the *visibility* of the Church. Similarly, in my opinion, a situation in which the Reformed are (somewhat like Higgins does in his “Plausible Ecumenicism” piece in Touchstone) seeking reconciliation with that from which they came, even if holding out a lengthy list of conditions for reunion, is more true to the visibility of the Church than a settling for being permanently separated Protestant denominations.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  28. Bryan,

    I would be happy to hold serious discussions with Rome but I doubt that’s possible. That’s why Idris Cassidy cherry picked evangelicals who, frankly, were, in some cases, unprepared for the sort of dialogue that occurred as part of the ECT discussions.

    Second, in order for discussions to mean anything Rome would have to be prepared to repent of fundamental dogma and that seems unlikely. Among the dogmas of which she would have to repent would be:

    1. Her anathema against justification sola fide (and she would have to embrace the gospel unqualifiedly!)
    2. Her rejection of sola Scriptura
    3. Episcopacy (or at least the supremacy of the Roman bishop)
    4. The assumption of the BVM (and the immaculate conception)
    5. The addition of 5 false sacraments to those two instituted by our Lord
    6. Purgatory (and everything connected to it including the continued sale and granting of indulgences of all kinds; it’s remarkable that Rome is still selling and granting indulgences almost 500 years after the 95 Theses)

    And from there we should have discuss Rome’s compromise with modernity at Vatican II and a great lot of errors in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These are just off the top of my head.

    Could you imagine that the Congregation for Sacred Doctrine, the Pontiff, or any of the major Bps (in Mexico? So America? Impossible) could even entertain such a thing seriously in the face of the repeated affirmations of Trent?

    Genuine reunion, as distinct from a borg-like assimilation, is a two way street and so far it’s only been a one-way street with Protestants going soft on essential biblical and Protestant doctrine. Dogmatically, constitutionally, canonically, Rome hasn’t moved an inch toward Geneva or Wittenberg in 500 years. What is there to give a confessional Protestant hope?

  29. I think an early version of FV probably helped Father Neuhaus into Romanism. He was quite familiar with theonomy and reconstructionism, and quotes Jim Jordan favorably over against Rushdoony, North, et al. Here is a short clip from the essay that appeared in First Things, May, 1990. His official RC conversion was September, 1990, four months later:

    “Jordan and others are more emphatic about the newness of the New Testament, stressing the Church as the “New Israel” and the ecclesial nature of reconstructionism’s mandate for social transformation. “The strict theonomists,” Jordan writes, “say that [we] must implement the Mosaic law as it stands. The more moderate Christian Reconstructionists have said that the Bible as a whole, including the Mosaic law wisely applied in line with New Covenant principles, should be the guide.” Jordan is sensitive to the charge of sectarianism and clearly wishes to identify as a catholic Christian in the Reformed tradition.”

    Probably there were other influences — social issue cooperation with Catholics, ecumenical impulses, desire for authority and unity, etc. — but when weak Protestants come into contact with Jordan and FV, their chances of remaining Protestant go down drastically.


  30. Dr. Clark,

    Do you have issues with Jonathan Ewwards theology. When you say “Your question is deeply embedded in the framework of Edwardsean pietism.”, is that a good thing or a bad thing in your way of thinking.

    I presume you are not a big fan of John Piper’s theology if you are not a fan of Jonathan Edwards.

  31. Shane,

    I want to be balanced about Edwards. When he was orthodox, he was fine, sometimes brilliant, but he was, as Charles Hodge noted, not always orthodox. His theology was infused or affected by Cambridge Platonism, pietism, and other movements that pushed him away from the earlier orthodoxy in important ways in his doctrine of God and in his view of conversion, possibly justification (there are unresolved questions about his orthodoxy on justification that have lingered since the 1950s) and on the nature of the Christian life.

    Yes, I see the connection between Piper (and others) and Edwards. I think they should be careful. From the late 18th century there is a long history of Edwardseans going astray. As much of Edwards’ theological family tree is heterodox as it is orthodox.

    Have you read Marsden’s bio of Edwards?

    I spend most of a chapter trying to sort through this in RRC.

  32. Dr. Clark,

    I found these “First words from the Metropolitan Tabernacle” seemingly appropriate given the dialogue between yourself and David.

    I would propose that the subject of the ministry as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshipers, shall be the person of JESUS CHRIST. I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply: “IT IS JESUS CHRIST.” My venerated processor, Dr. Gill, has left a Body of Divinity, admirable and excellent in its way; but the Body of Divinity to which I would pin and bind myself for ever, God helping me, is not his system or any other human treatise, but Christ Jesus, Who is the sum and substance of the gospel, Who is in Himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious embodiment of the way, the truth and the life. — Delivered on Monday Afternoon, March 25th, 1861 by the Rev. C. H. SPURGEON

  33. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for your clarification on your thoughts of Edwards, his theology and those who have followed him.

    I have Marsden’s book but it is a big read and I have not finished it yet. I hope to finish it some time soon. Maybe I will get to read your book, RRC, some time soon.


  34. Scott,

    Thanks for your reply. As for hope for reconciliation, we can at least agree that we can take hope in Christ, even if, with our own eyes and mind, we can see no clear path forward toward this goal of reconciliation and reunion. That goal, being able to share the Eucharist together again as brothers and sisters in full communion, is something we should cling to and strive for, no matter how far out of reach it now seems. I pray daily for the reconciliation of Protestants and Catholics, and in my prayer, I am continually drawn to 1 Kings 7:1-2, where the condition Elisha promises for the following day seems impossible from the point of view of the present day. Likewise, you and I both know that God is able to do what seems impossible to man. He can take our little acts of faith, as He took the five loaves and two fishes, and multiply them far beyond what we could possibly have imagined.

    I read your six conditions. (To the best of my knowledge, Rome is not “still selling indulgences”, and if some cleric were trying to do so, it would be contrary to the teaching and law of the Catholic Church.) It seems to me that those six conditions are based on more fundamental points of disagreement, such as sola scriptura. So, in order to avoid begging the question, we would need to back up a bit, and find our most fundamental points of divergence, and then examine and compare our reasons for diverging at those fundamental points. In my opinion, that is crucial for fruitful and genuine ecumenical dialogue. We would need to come to an agreement, for example, about the basis for interpretive and magisterial authority. Otherwise anyone with a Bible could make a list of demands, according to his own interpretation of Scripture, for what the Catholic Church would need to do, before he would be willing to be united to her. There could be no such thing as a visible Church, in that case.

    If my daughters (ages 14 and 9), were to someday be in full communion with your children, receiving the Eucharist together at the Lord’s table, because we took seriously the challenge of resolving this nearly 500 year old schism, that would bring me a great deal of joy. Not only that, but in our visible unity the world would see Christ in the Church, and know that Christ is loved by the Father, by witnessing how the Father loves the visible Body of Christ. (St. John 17:23)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  35. Bryan,

    On indulgences see this post.

    The six points I offered are bog-standard confessional Protestant points. They are the sticking points of the Reformation that, so far as I know, not a single ecumenical dialogue has addressed in good faith. They’ve been wished away and they’ve been ignored but they’ve not been faced.

    They are so fundamental, I doubt that can be faced. If we moved on them, we would cease to be what we are and if Rome moved, she would cease to be what she has been at least since Trent.

    So far as I know, the solas are our fundamental point of divergence, are they not?

  36. David, (hmm, this could start to get confusing…)

    I believe one of Dr. Clark’s points is that you assumed, right from the start, that “loving doctrine” and “loving Christ” are at odds. Could you explain what you mean? How exactly does that work? If I’m “in love” with the doctrine that Christ imputed his righteousness to me and that I can do nothing to cooperate with the Spirit in my salvation, am I therefore not in “in love” with Christ? If you could explain what you mean when you pit doctrine and Christ against one another, that would be helpful.

    This assumption continued when you scoffed at Dr. Clark for pointing you to the Heidelberg Catechism rather than “pointing you to Christ.” But, again, what do you mean? If Dr. Clark believes that the HC is the best and clearest expression of what the Bible teaches about Christ and His work for our salvation, why would he NOT point to the HC in order to point you to Christ as he understands Him?

    Considering that the purpose of this particular post was to make a particular criticism of a particular group of evangelicals for what Dr. Clark sees as a particular problem, how was Christ “missing”? Do you feel that Dr. Clark is required to add a paragraph at the end of each blog post reminding his readers just how much he loves Jesus? If not, then what exactly IS your criticism?

    Again, you seem to pit doctrine against Christ in the way that so many evangelicals used to pit “head knowledge” against “heart knowledge.” But such dichotomies don’t really make sense. Sure, you can have a lot of head knowledge and not really love Jesus. But let me ask you this: Can you really love Jesus if you don’t have any head knowledge about Him?

    If I knew the color of my wife’s eyes, that alone would not be enough to convince you that I love her. But if I DIDN’T know the color of her eyes, wouldn’t you doubt that I really loved her?

  37. Bryan,

    (If you’re still around.) I, too, am no fan of religious bigotry. There is a better way to understand one another without what you seem to refer to as “war.”

    But, at the same time, it seems to me your ecumenical quest is really one borne of modernity. First, it seems preoccupied with bigotry and schism. Second, it is almost as if a complicated church history either never really took place (but “just happened”) or everyone else, on both sides of the table, has missed what you haven’t. Third, it seems to quest after a state of things in the present evil age which just can’t be realized. I’d like to see our daughters commune together as well, but a better doctrine of the in/visible church isn’t so much a pessimistic one so much as one that seems to have a better, more realistc bead on how things go east of Eden.

  38. Zrim,

    I have written little or nothing here or elsewhere about bigotry. So I don’t think it is true that I’m “preoccupied with bigotry”. But if I seem “preoccupied with schism” it is only because in my opinion, we cannot understand our need to be united as one visible body until we come to understand together what schism is, and that we are in schism from each other. We all (I’m not speaking of you personally, but of the Christian communities) seem to have lost a sense of the sinfulness of schism, and an awareness of what schism is, let alone that *schism* now separates us. It is that “complicated church history” that I’m calling us to remember and re-examine, because, in my opinion, in order to be reconciled and reunited, we need to rediscover our history, whence we came to be. That point of separation is precisely what we need to examine together, in humility, to determine how to be reconciled.

    Regarding whether such a reconciliation can be realized, I agree that, from a natural point of view, it looks bleak. But I believe that with God always things are possible, and that the unity of Christ’s body is the prayer and passion of our Lord’s sacred heart. Moreover, treating any schism as permanent in this age is, in my opinion, like treating a besetting sin as permanent in this age. The fact that in this age we are not yet perfectly disposed to righteousness is no excuse to accept a besetting sin as permanent in this age. Besetting sins and schisms are things we should, by the grace of God, seek to overcome. It seems to me that forty years ago, someone could have said the very same sort of “East of Eden” thing to Martin Luther King. And yet, it is a good thing that he pressed on anyway.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  39. Dr. Clark,

    With all due respect, the Catholic Church has never sold a single indulgence and to say She has further perpetuates the schism between Catholics and protestants.

    If an indulgence was ever sold, be it in 1515 or 2009, it was sold against the will and in contradiction with the teaching of the Catholic Church.

    It’s akin to taking a PCA community with an embezzling elder and saying that on account of him the PCA approves of embezzlement. It simply does not follow.

  40. Bryan,

    Wasn’t denominating a particular see as the defining aspect of the “catholic” church, i.e. the Roman see schismatic? How can a “catholic” church be “Roman”? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

    More importantly, isn’t it schismatic to eternally condemn those who hold and preach the gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone?

    If you want the source of schism, it’s Trent. Every year I describe to my Med-Ref students the great and sorrowful tragedy of Trent. Until ’47 everything was still, more or less, on the table. Regensburg failed but there was no conciliar, constitutional, canonical dogma yet on justification. Nothing on reprobation (Trent anathematized Thomas’ view of reprobation) until Trent and then bang – Rome slams the door shut, despite the fact that there were folk who weren’t ready. It was pure politics. It was a very dark time and place that has done incalculable harm to the unity and peace of the church.

  41. Matt,

    Facts are facts. I gave proof above. Tetzel was selling plenary indulgences. No reputable Roman Catholic historian denies that fact. There are records of income generated by the sale of indulgences. Let’s see, an exchange of a plenary indulgence for cash is, um, a sale.

    There were advertisements in the papers in the 1960s selling indulgences in to raise funds (for Seton Hall? for the chapel of the immaculate conception?) and I think I’ve seen them in my lifetime in the classified ads in the Kansas City paper.

    Indulgences were on offer (not necessarily for sale as far as I know) in 2008 as I documented here:


    Rome sold indulgences and she still offers indulgences. That’s a fact.

  42. Scott,

    If Christ gave something additional to Peter that He did not give to the other Apostles, then someone could claim that such an action was schismatic, in the sense of provoking discord. For example, if I gave a gift to my younger daughter, and gave nothing to my older daughter, my action would most likely cause discord. We know that some of the things Christ did and said *did* cause discord, in the sense of provoking a manifestation of a discord that was already latent; we can see this represented in the contrary responses of the two thieves on either side of Him on the cross. But if what Christ uniquely gave to Peter was for the sake of preserving unity and preventing a discord and disunity of much greater magnitude, then we should expect to find two seemingly contradictory things to be simultaneously true: Peter is both a rock upon which Christ builds His Church, and Peter is, at the same time, but in a different sense, a stone of stumbling. (In this way Peter would mirror Christ, who is both the Chief Cornerstone *and* simultaneously the Stone whom the builders rejected.) From the Catholic point of view, the unique authority of the Roman see derives from the unique gift given to Peter, for (we believe) this is where Peter’s seat was established. So, yes, in one sense, the seat of Peter is a cause (in the sense of occasioning) of schism. Here is a point of visibility in the Church wherein one must likewise respond to the “Who do you say that I am?” question. Otherwise there is no touchstone of the visible Church that Christ founded. But this is not a sinful cause of schism, for it is the same form of causation of schism that the sinless Christ Himself provoked. (Undoubtedly, however, popes of the past have by their sinfulness also been causes of stumbling in a culpable sense.)

    As for it whether it is schismatic to condemn eternally those who preach justification by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone, the Catholic Church doesn’t do that. Jimmy Akin has a helpful article explaining this.

    As for Trent, what you say sounds very similar to what a number of FV folks said in 2007 in response to the PCA’s decision at the GA. The worry, as I’m sure you understand, is that we can just pick and choose from the Ecumenical Councils (or ‘Synods’, if you will) whose decisions agree with our own interpretation of Scripture. If that is the case, then there really is no point to councils and synods. Nor is there any visible Church. In August of 2007, in discussing the FV controversy, you wrote, “All heretics quote Scripture. The question in this controversy is not the normativity of the Bible but who gets to interpret it.” How do you reconcile your affirmation of a visible Church and the authority of councils with your support for the Protestant rejection of Trent? In other words, what is the *principled* difference between a mid-sixteenth century Catholic rejecting the Council of Trent, and a PCA member in 2007 rejecting the decision of the PCA’s GA, leaving, and joining CREC?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  43. Bryan,

    Re religous bigotry, I am inferring that part of what underlies your quest is a sense religious bigotry. Maybe you don’t want to call Protestants out for it, but I will. Even so, even when bigotry is wiped away we still have plenty of problems.

    re schism, if Jesus said he came not to unite but divide I am not so sure division is the four-letter word you are assuming here. Nobody likes it, but it seems a necessary trait of this age. And I know you may not see it this way, but when I peer out of my box it sure sounds like what you mean to say is, “Until everyone is united to the Holy See, schism abides.” Can you at least acknowledge how this appears to us, even if you think we’re wrong?

    It does look bleak. But I think that is part of the point. It seems like the quest to remove schism is to put a hand to that which only God himself can accomplish. I know, that frustrates sensibilities which want to bring heaven to earth. What ails your quest is what ailed John the Baptizer when he questioned the Lord as to whether Jesus was the one or whether another should be anticipated: things sure don’t look like they should if the Messiah has indeed come.

    I am not clear on what MLK has to do with any of this. But, like the post proper itself suggests, I presume that the two kingdoms are more antithetical than reciprocal; social gospels only serve to obscure these points than clear them up.

  44. Zrim,

    There are two different kinds of schism, and they shouldn’t be conflated. One sort of schism is the kind that prefigures here (in this age) the eternal separation of the citizens of heaven from the inhabitants of hell. Christ’s coming to bring a sword is of this sort; as He is lifted up, all men divide into those on His right, or those on His left. The other sort of schism is a schism within or from Christ’s Body, and such schism is sinful for those willfully engaged in it. Think of 1 Corinthian 1:10, 12:25, or the injunction in the Didache, “You shall not make a schism. Rather, you shall make peace among those who are contending.” Or think of St. Augustine’s statement, “There is nothing more grievous than the sacrilege of schism….there can be no just necessity for destroying the unity of the Church.” Separating (in faith, worship, and ultimate allegiance) from the world is not wrong, but separating from the visible Church is wrong.

    I agree that until all Christians are united to the Holy See, schism remains. But I also believe that until all Christians are united to the NAPARC communities, schism remains. This is a necessary implication, given the *visibility* of the Church.

    As for whether “the quest to remove schism is to put a hand to that which only God Himself can accomplish”, Catholics have a *sacramental* theology, and thus believe that God can work *through* matter, thus through us, even through our hands. This is why we can say things like “How shall they hear without a preacher?” And this is how we can acknowledge as a command to us something like “first be reconciled to your brother”.

    My point in referring to MLK is that if he had concluded from the pessimism of those who said “Racism you will always have with you this side of heaven”, that we should not strive to eliminate racial injustice, we’d still be drinking out of separate drinking fountains, and we wouldn’t have a black president. Likewise, we too should not allow the fact that sin and disorder will never be eliminated from this present age to lead us to turn a blind eye to the present schisms and disunity of believers. We *can* make a difference, with God’s help, but not as long as we believe that fate or sin makes such efforts futile.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  45. Bryan Cross: If Christ gave something additional to Peter that He did not give to the other Apostles, then …

    Rome puts a tremendous amount of weight on just a couple of questionable verses to assert jurisdiction and infallibility in Christianity. That is a travesty that is the source of much of the schism that seems to pain you.

    Aside from this, the earliest history does not bear out that Peter could in any way have “passed along” what he had in a succession of Roman bishops. First of all, there WERE NO Roman “bishops” for a hundred fifty years. Second, early commentators like Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian denied that any gift that Peter had got passed along through Roman Bishops. Third, the Roman Bishops who “discovered” that they had this “something additional,” did so in a context that they “argued amongst themselves who was greatest.” Totally unChristlike.

    You need to do something more than come here and get all weepy-eyed and make such assertions. Some real investigation is required.

    For example, if I gave a gift to my younger daughter, and gave nothing to my older daughter, my action would most likely cause discord. We know that some of the things Christ did and said *did* cause discord, in the sense of provoking a manifestation of a discord that was already latent;… So, yes, in one sense, the seat of Peter is a cause (in the sense of occasioning) of schism.

    This is an incredibly insulting explanation to describe what happened. The first recorded instance of a Roman bishop “exercising the power” was when Victor tried to excommunicate the Quartodecimans. Victor was in the wrong — he sought to overturn what was CLEARLY an “apostolic tradition”. The next big dust-up over this occurred between Stephen and Cyprian. Whether or not Stephen was correct, you can’t attribute to a bishop and martyr like Cyprian the kind of jealousy your 10 year old daughter feels for not getting a dolly. For you to be studying for a PhD and to throw out childish examples like this is … You ought to be ashamed of yourself. I would call it a joke, but that would be too tragic of an irony.

    this is not a sinful cause of schism, for it is the same form of causation of schism that the sinless Christ Himself provoked.

    Victor’s WAS a sinful cause of schism. The Tome of Leo at Chalcedon was not a “Christ-like” cause of schism — though the Christological controversies of that centurie caused massive schisms. (Moffet likened it to the Protestant Reformation, with multiple groups branching off in their own directions.”

    Pelikan regarding Chalcedon and the Tome of Leo: “The really difficult problems were either ignored or disposed of by equivocation.” (Development, p. 265.)

    You don’t need to come here and tell us about your daughters. You need to do some genuine historical investigation.

  46. By the way, from the Tome of Leo to today, (note the Lutheran “Joint Declaration” on justification, and the ECT statements), “really difficult problems” are still either “ignored or disposed of by equivocation” from Rome’s point of view.

  47. Dr. Clark,

    Indulgences are most certainly alive and well in the Church today, but, as has always been the case, they are not for sale.

    Tetzel and others twisted the teaching of the Church for their own worldly gain as wicked men do in every age. This is not the same thing as the Church condoning that abuse as part of it’s teaching.

    As a confessionalist, I would expect you to have a clearer understanding of the problem. Just because a pastor in the PCA teaches something does not make it “The Teaching of the PCA.” Just so, Tetzel selling indulgences does not make the selling of indulgences part of “The Teaching of the Catholic Church.”

    As for indulgences today, sure there are indulgences offered where part of the penance performed is almsgiving. Almsgiving is an ancient practice of the Church, recommended highly by Our Lord and recognized by all world religions and even most pagans as righteous. What exactly is the problem with encouraging it?

    Finally, whatever indulgences are offered that involve almsgiving, a plenary indulgence may always be obtained by prayer of the Rosary, prayer of the Way of the Cross, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, or reading Sacred Scripture. Anyone seeking an indulgence need go to no pecuniary means to obtain one.

  48. Matt Yonke: This has been discussed before, but my father died 10+ years ago, and my mother is still forking over money to have masses said for him, for the purpose of getting him out of purgatory.

    My mother lives on a fixed income and cannot afford to pay for those masses. And yet, she does, and the priest accepts it. Money changes hands, as it has for centuries, and there is a whole economy built up around these types of “indulgences.” You may say “they are not sold,” but money changes hands, and it’s not just the Tetzel’s of the RCC.

  49. Bryan Cross: Regarding the political machinations behind the council of Chalcedon: “An alliance between Pulcheria (the emperor’s wife) and Leo was sufficient to make it certain that the decisions of [the council of] Ephesus in 449 would not stand.”

  50. Bryan,

    From my pov, the appeal to MLK (as Zrim suggested) is a non-starter because it confuses the two kingdoms. It was a civll matter. One may say it had spiritual roots and I’m sure it did, but getting Greeks and Trojans to get along (or Turks and Armenians) is one thing but true unity in the Kingdom of God is quite another.

  51. Bryan,

    Re the different kinds of schisms and their conflations, fair enough. But as regards the second kind with which you find fault, think of 1 Cor. 11: “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you.” While a more sober caution is due it, I’m still not convinced division is a four-letter word even when it comes to the second kind of division as you define it.

    As what some might deem a “high-church Calvinist,” I certainly agree that a higher ecclesiology demands a serious posture when it comes to both the nature of mother Kirk and our relationship to her. If “there is no hope of salvation outside her,” and I don’t think there is, the question is what defines her. And if Paul is right, and I think he is even to his own anathema and any angel that preaches another one, what defines her is the unfettered gospel (and you know what I mean by that).

    Confessional Protestants also have a “sacramental theology.” And so far as I understand it, we also believe that God works through matter. But we would rather define said matter as spoken word, water, bread and wine instead of the traditions of men.

    I got your point about MLK. Saying I didn’t was more a turn of phrase to make another. But Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.” In the same way, and insofar as racial discord and poverty are particular traits of this present evil age, efforts like MLK’s have not eradicated racism (as any African-American will tell you, separate drinking fountains and black presidents are nice, but there’s a long way to go) and activist religion won’t bring utopian harmony. Either Jesus needed some modern schooling about how poverty (and by extension, racial discord) can actually be eradicated, or you are over-realizing what is possible east of Eden and before the last trumpet.

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