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Is the Reformation Over?

Noll and Nystrom then look at “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (chapter six). They examine the thinking behind a joint project on Evangelical/Catholic dialogue lead by Richard John Neuhaus (Catholic) and popular evangelical statesman, Chuck Colson. However, Noll and Nystrom examine other reactions as well; “Reactions [ranging] from Antagonism to Conversion” (chapter 7). Here they look at responses ranging from the deliberately antagonistic like “Jack Chick” (i.e., “Chick” publications’ illustrated booklets), to more reflective responses like R.C. Sproul. Additionally, they look at some conversions from Evangelicalism to Catholicism. Interestingly however, they make no attempt to examine conversations of Roman Catholics to Evangelicalism.

They focus in more closely on an exclusively “American Assessment” in chapter eight. They set out to sift through the “current situation by analyzing the position of evangelicals and Catholics with respect to main themes in American history” (209). As the reader turns to chapter nine, he or she discovers that they have come full-circle with the chapter title: “Is the Reformation Over?” The authors suggest that there now exists a broad and deep foundation of agreement on the central teachings of Christianity” (230). They argue that both Evangelicals and Catholics share “in the full inspiration and final authority of the Bible” (231), and that ultimately that this might suggest that “asking whether the Reformation is over may not even be the most pertinent question. It may be more to the point to ask other questions: Is God truly going to draw people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation—and major Christian tradition—to worship together the Lamb who was slain?” (251).

This work inspired mixed feelings. On the one hand, the authors examine not only some helpful history of Evangelicalism and Catholicism but also some very insightful observations. Yet on the other hand, they make some observations that appear superficial. For example, when they state that “there now exists a broad and deep foundation of agreement on the central teachings of Christianity” (230), it is difficult not to notice that precisely the same agreement existed in the sixteenth century. Additionally, their conclusion that Evangelicals and Catholics have the “full inspiration and final authority of the Bible” in common (231), seems hasty at best. Vatican II re-affirmed that “both sacred tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence” (Dei Verbum). Sam Storms rightly asks, “In what meaningful sense can Scripture have ‘final authority’ if ‘sacred tradition’ is to be accepted and venerated with equal loyalty and reverence?”1 Additionally, although there is a tremendous amount to be thankful for within Protestant/Catholic dialogues, there also remains much work to be done. Even with the highly publicized Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Lutheran World Federation, there was a blaring silence on the critical question of “imputation.” Roman Catholicism continues to regard justification as a process … rather than the imputation of righteousness.”2

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2008

About the Author: Jeffrey Anderson, D.Min., Ph.D. (ABD), is the former Teaching Pastor at Northlake Christian Church in Bothell, WA. He has been a church planter, lead pastor, and was an adjunct professor at Puget Sound Christian College and Northwest University. LinkedIn.

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