September 11, 2013


The Reformation Comes to Rome? An Evangelical Reviews Evangelical Catholicism (Mark Noll, 9/06/13, Cardus)

In one of the very few serious evangelical Protestant assessments of the Second Vatican Council, David Wells wrote in Revolution in Rome about four possibilities he saw coming out of the seismic changes precipitated by the Council. Three of them, from Wells's point of view, were negative: mass exodus from Catholicism by individuals who exploited the Council's stress on human subjectivity by choosing simply to leave; unification between Catholics and the World Council of Churches on the basis of a watered-down theological liberalism; or capitulation to Latin American leftists who spoke of "liberation" but meant "Marxian class conflict." The fourth possibility was that the Council's positive stance toward Scripture would lead many Catholics to acknowledge that historical Protestant convictions charted the right way to go.

George Weigel has not embraced David Wells's fourth possibility as such, but it is a near-run thing. The book's development is almost entirely free of the criticism directed against Protestant evangelicals of the sort that had once been standard in such works (and that is still common in Catholic rhetoric wherever in the world active Protestant movements take in lapsed or inactive Catholics). There is also frequent enough reference to C. S. Lewis, N. T. Wright, and publishing projects like the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible to show that Weigel has benefited from a broad ecumenicity of Christian instruction. To be sure, he does pause to say that "his notion of a Church always in need of purification and reform is drawn not from the Reformation slogan ecclesia semper reformanda [the Church must always be reformed], but from within the Church's deepest inner dynamics." But, otherwise, Weigel's energy is directed to a positive statement of reform that, when assessed from the angle of classical Protestantism, looks more than vaguely familiar.

The most obvious reason for thinking that Weigel is pursuing something like David Wells's fourth option, though conspicuously without pausing to acknowledge that Luther and Calvin got it right, is his presentation of ten "characteristics" that set an evangelical Catholic "profile . . . of the future" and supply "standards for seeking deep reform in the church." Remarkably, six of these characteristics say almost exactly what a Reformed Protestant like Abraham Kuyper would also advocate for a healthy Christian church, whether Catholic or Protestant.

Posted by at September 11, 2013 4:07 PM

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