Christianity Today just posted a fascinating article on their website entitled “Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together“. It talks about the resistance in some Protestant circles to growing agreement between Evangelicals and Catholics on issues such as justification. I found the following segment particularly interesting:
The committee’s study of the New Perspective focused largely on N.T. Wright, the Anglican bishop of Durham and a prolific biblical scholar. This year Wright published Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. The book counters his critics, especially John Piper, who published The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright in 2007. (See “The Justification Debate: A Primer,” CT, June 2009.)
Another bombshell hit in May 2007, when Francis Beckwith, then president of the Evangelical Theological Society, reverted to Catholicism. The Baylor University philosopher has since published an account of his journey, titled Return to Rome.
“I have no doubt that the New Perspective and Federal Vision have had an effect on the Protestant-Catholic debate,” Beckwith told Christianity Today. “I have met several former evangelical Protestants who have told me that Wright’s work in particular helped them to better appreciate the Catholic view of grace.”
Taylor Marshall went even further. Now a Ph.D. philosophy student at the University of Dallas, he started reading Wright while attending Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He said Wright’s work shifted his assumptions so he could understand the Council of Trent’s position. Marshall does not believe Wright holds to the full Catholic view. But he said Wright’s critique led him to conclude that the Reformers departed from Scripture by teaching “forensic justification through the imputed alien righteousness of Christ.”
Marshall briefly served as an Anglican priest before converting to Catholicism in 2006 and becoming assistant director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. Marshall said he speaks with new Catholic converts every month, about half of whom have been “deeply influenced” by Wright.
“If you buy into Wright’s approach to covenantal theology, then you’ve already taken three steps toward the Catholic Church. Keep following the trail and you’ll be Catholic,” said Marshall, who blogs at PaulIsCatholic.com. “Salvation is sacramental, transformational, communal, and eschatological. Sound good? You’ve just assented to the Catholic Council of Trent.”
Wright himself finds strange the notion that he’s leading people to Rome. “I am sorry to think that there are people out there whose Protestantism has been so barren that they never found out about sacraments, transformation, community, or eschatology. Clearly this person needed a change. But to jump to Rome for that reason is very odd,” he said. The best Reformed, charismatic, Anglican, and even some emerging churches have these emphases, he said.
I think the resistance of some Protestants to his dialogue should not be surprising, simply due to the fact that there is no such thing as a single, unified “Protestant theology” on anything, including such core items as justification. As the article notes about the internal debate among Protestants: “Again and again, it has caused division among Protestants.” It is simply impossible to have agreement between Protestants and Catholics because you don’t have agreement between Protestants. But I’ve been very encouraged by the progress made in recent years to clarify what exactly Catholics and Protestants believe when it comes to justification and other important issues. At the very least, it can define how far apart individual Protestants are from the Catholic view. As is obvious from this article, some are closer than others.