Tag Archives: Roman Catholicism

What should Protestants think about the Catholic sacrament of penance (confession)?


“The Confession,” by Giuseppe Molteni (19th c.)

Despite my attempts to clarify (what I understand of) Roman Catholic doctrine and practice in my lectures, I always get papers and exam essays from students at my Baptist seminary showing that they are impervious to correction of Protestant stereotypes.

In a paper on the sacrament of reconciliation (penance), a student wrote, “Being founded on a works-based righteousness . . .”

My response:

You haven’t demonstrated this. It is the typical Protestant stereotype. RC theology is officially Augustinian (grace-based), with the allowance that humans participate with God’s grace in that dimension of salvation that we call sanctification. Protestants agree with this point (except for some Lutherans). What we disagree on is the inclusion of sanctification in our understanding of salvation. In other words, RC theology is certainly not “works-based.” In practice, it sometimes leans that way, granted. But we need to be careful that we are dealing with a real (and I agree, flawed) theological stance, not a straw man. Continue reading

Too catholic to be Catholic – Peter Leithart


As one who has heard, read, and appreciated Peter Leithart over the past few years, and who has recognize that Leithart values tradition and values a strong ecclesiology, I was particularly fascinated to read his account of why, in light of those values, he will  not become Roman Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox). I find this, on the face of it at least, a valid objection to a Protestant joining one of these older, closed communions. It seems a reason to pause, however much a Protestant (especially of the frustratingly amnesiac, hyper-pragmatic “evangelical” variety) may wish to affirm the greatness and integrity of much historic catholic theology and practice.

The executive summary of what Leithart argues here is this: true ecumenism is incompatible with joining either Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

Here’s a sampling of his thought on this score:

“Here’s the question I would ask to any Protestant considering a move: What are you saying about your past Christian experience by moving to Rome or Constantinople?  Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome? Continue reading

Behold: an evangelical theologian who wishes to medievalize evangelicalism–as I do!


A fascinating evangelical proposal to return to a medieval "sacramental ontology"

A week or so ago, I stumbled fortuitously on a book review in the pages of Books and Culture. Or to be more precise, on the glowing screen of B&C‘s website. This was a review by a Wheaton art historian of a book by the J. I. Packer Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, BC. This is an exciting book for me, as it handles with great historical and theological sophistication the themes of earthiness and embodiment, Creation and Incarnation, that have floated to the surface of my own attempt to write about a “usable medieval past.”

The book is Hans Boersma’s Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (2011). I find it rich enough that I would like to blog on it here in the coming weeks. What did Wheaton art prof Matthew Milliner say about it? Here’s a sample: Continue reading

On pulling evangelicals back from the brink of Catholicism – Mark Galli’s wise words


Holy Spirit

Image by Barking Tigs via Flickr

Mark Galli, I love you as a brother in Christ. As managing editor in the flagship evangelical Protestant publication, Christianity Today, you have presented an impassioned and powerful case for why evangelical Protestants tempted to cross the Tiber and join with the Roman Catholic Church should think twice . . . and then remain in the evangelical fold. While I balk at some of your historical characterizations, I affirm your central point.

A word on those historical characterizations. Mark assert confidently: “Huge segments of the church were bound to the chains of works righteousness before the Holy Spirit ignited the Reformation.”

Really? “Huge segments”? While at Duke University (fountain of all wisdom, funded by tobacco money . . . and surprisingly loyal, in at least many parts of the Divinity School, to the Great Tradition), I learned different from David Steinmetz, the (Protestant) historian of the Reformation at Duke . . . unless, David, I interpreted your lectures wrongly:

Continue reading

Foxes have holes, birds have their nests, but you can stay in this “Jesus hotel” for a year’s wages of a first-century fisherman


Piety and high finance. Christian ecumenism and Middle Eastern tension. The Vatican and a Kentucky businessman meeting to fund a Holy-land venture. A ruined 1st-century Jerusalem synagogue excavated while laying the foundation of a 21st-century hundred-million dollar hotel complex. (Then its old coins and other relics captured, one imagines, under plexiglass cases in the behemoth’s gleaming lobby).

All of this and more surfaces in yesterday’s news story about the “Magdala Center,” coming soon to the Sea of Galilee.

I’m sorry, I just find the powerful gospel associations of the Holy Land creepily incongruous with accommodations that will undoubtedly prove both luxurious and unattainable to 99.99% of the world population–not to mention the crew of fishermen who once hung around the Messiah. Continue reading

Protestants need a positive reason not to be Catholic: Reflections from Carl Trueman


H/t to friend and former student Matt Crutchmer for this:

I have had occasion to appreciate Westminster Seminary’s Carl Trueman before (to be precise: here and here). Now I find myself nodding in appreciation as I read Trueman’s side of a thoughtful conversation with a Roman Catholic, Bryan Cross.

Though this appears on the website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals–a group that gives me the willies–I find Trueman’s even-handed discussion of the links between the two great confessions a breath of fresh air, if a bit too focused on the importance to the church of confessional theology for my taste. Continue reading

Thrift Store Saints: A no-guilt, practical storybook about helping the poor


Friend LaVonne Neff recently blogged her review of a nifty new book. Here’s a sample:

Thrift Store Saints . . . is one book about helping the poor that won’t make you feel bad about yourself and won’t put you to sleep. In fact, it may make you chuckle, if you’re the chuckling sort. And if you’d like to get involved with serving the poor but don’t have a clue where to start, this is the book for you. . . .

Most books about poverty present a lot of facts, data, theory, and theology, interspersing the sober exposition with occasional anecdotes in hopes of keeping the reader’s attention. This book turns that approach inside out. Knuth tells story after story, only occasionally supplementing her tales with commentary, as she gently and with self-deprecating humor leads readers into a new way of seeing.

The full review is here.

The supposed warfare between science and religion: A historian of science speaks out


The interview with eminent historian of science Dr. David Lindberg excerpted here first appeared in issue #76 of Christian History.

The Christian Face of the Scientific Revolution: Christian History Interview – Natural Adversaries?
Historian David Lindberg shows that Christianity and science are not at war – and may never have been.
David Lindberg

Has Christianity always warred with science? Or, conversely, did Christianity create science? CH asked David Lindberg, Hilldale Professor Emeritus of the History of Science and currently director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin.

And he should know. Lindberg specializes in the history of medieval and early modern science, especially the interaction between science and religion. His Beginnings of Western Science (University of Chicago Press, 1992) is an oft-translated standard in the field. He is also currently the general editor, jointly with Ronald Numbers, of the forthcoming eight-volume. Cambridge History of Science

Many people today have a sense that the church has always tried to quash science. Is this, indeed, the case?

This view is known as the “warfare thesis.” It originated in the seventeenth century, but it came into its own with certain radical thinkers of the French Enlightenment. These people were eager to condemn the Catholic Church and went on the attack against it. So, for example, the Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794), a mathematician and philosopher, assured his readers that Christianity’s ascension during the Middle Ages resulted in “the complete decadence of philosophy and the sciences.” Continue reading

Roger Olson follows C S Lewis in proposing a “Protestant purgatory” . . . heated discussion ensues


H/t to scientia et sapientia for alerting me to Baylor prof Roger Olson’s suggestion that perhaps Protestants today should take C S Lewis’s cue and consider the possibility of a purgatory-like intermediate state between death and heaven. You’ll see a variety of responses, some quite heated, at Roger’s blog. Also, scientia links a thoughtful critical response from Dallas Seminary grad and theological educator Michael Patton.

Roger’s proposal emerges from his understanding that there are “saints” in the history of Christianity–he singles out Augustine and Calvin, among others–who did terrible, hate-filled things. Do those people (or anyone else with such extreme “baggage”) get to leap straight from their deathbeds to the presence of the Holy God? Here are a few brief excerpts from Roger’s reflection: Continue reading

Saints and Mary: What Lutherans and Roman Catholics agree on about them


If you’re wondering what Lutherans AND Roman Catholics can affirm about saints, here’s what the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dia­logue’s joint document, The One Medi­a­tor, the Saints, and Mary, has to say about it. Again, h/t to the folks at “Here I Walk.”

The document states some “church-uniting con­ver­gences” :

“1. We reit­er­ate the basic affir­ma­tion that ‘our entire hope of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and sal­va­tion rests on Christ Jesus and the gospel whereby the good news of God’s mer­ci­ful action in Christ is made known; we do not place our trust in any­thing other than God’s promise and sav­ing work in Christ.’ (§103)

“2. We now fur­ther assert together that Jesus Christ is the sole Medi­a­tor in God’s plan of sal­va­tion (I Tim. 2:5). Christ’s sav­ing work and role in God’s design thus deter­mine not only the con­tent of the gospel and its com­mu­ni­ca­tion but also all Chris­t­ian life, includ­ing our own and that of Mary and the saints who are now in heaven… Continue reading