There's No Such Thing as a Catholic Evangelical

Recently, Francis Beckwith, a respected philospher at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, announced his return to the Roman Catholic Church. That is interesting enough, given that Baylor is the flagship school of Texas Baptists. But Beckwith simultaneously resigned from the presidency of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), and later resigned from the organization entirely.

His reported reason for the latter move was apprehension about the contentious nature of the ETS, which has been roiled by sometimes-vituperative controversies–most recently over so-called open theism (a new form of evangelical theology, promulgated by Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Greg Boyd, and others, that suggests that the future is “open” because even God does not know it for certain).

According, however, to the acting president of the ETS, Hassell Bullock of Wheaton College, Illinois, the main issue was simply that Beckwith, as a Roman Catholic, could no longer subscribe to the ETS’s statement of faith, which includes the following clause: “the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”

Orthodox Roman Catholics certainly should affirm that “the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God written,” and they do. Catholic theologians from Thomas Aquinas to Benedict XVI would agree–and they would probably agree with something approaching inerrancy (the conviction that the Bible is without error), once carefully defined.

But no good Catholic would settle for “the Bible alone” as “the Word of God written.” For at least since the Council of Trent in the 16th century, which formalized Roman Catholic doctrine in the face of Protestant provocation, and again in the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Roman Catholic Church championed Tradition as an equally authoritative revelation from God.

(“Tradition” is understood here as the authoritative pronouncements of church councils, popes, eminent theologians, and others whom the Holy Spirit has directed to provide revelation to the Church beyond that contained in the Bible.)

This distinction is well understood by both sides of the Protestant-Catholic divide. That’s why the Catholic councils say so, and that’s why classical Protestant confessions and contemporary evangelical statements of faith say so.

What’s odd is that Professor Beckwith didn’t seem to think there was a problem here. He seems to have thought he could stay on as president of the ETS even after his move back to Catholicism, and then quietly leave office. He also seems to have thought that he could remain a member of ETS.

Up here in Canada in the mid-1990s, the late historian of Canadian religion, George Rawlyk of Queen’s University, notoriously announced that he and the Angus Reid polling company had found what Rawlyk called “Catho-Evangelicals,” people who held to evangelical beliefs within the Roman Catholic Church. This discovery caused something of a stir in the media, but it was a simple, and important, mistake.

The pollsters had failed to distinguish between belief in the Bible as the Word of God written–which, again, any good Catholic would affirm–and belief in the Bible as uniquely authoritative as a text–which, again, no good Catholic should affirm.

Yes, Catholics can be “evangelical” in the fundamental sense of believing and preaching and living the “evangel”–the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Even though I have many and deep disagreements with it, I gladly recognize Roman Catholicism as genuine Christianity (although I doubt that any Roman Catholics have been nervously waiting for my endorsement).

But if we take “evangelical” as a noun, to denote those Christians who stand in the tradition of the eighteenth-century revivals and who belong today to the international fellowship of evangelical churches, organizations, and individuals, then there is simply no such thing as a Catholic evangelical.

Someone who belongs to the Catholic Church and in fact espouses truly evangelical beliefs therefore is an evangelical, of course, but not a Catholic: The two categories are simply mutually exclusive. The Roman Catholic Church says so, Protestant churches say so, and the ETS says so. It’s odd that anyone would say otherwise, therefore, but apparently some people still do….

0 Responses to “There's No Such Thing as a Catholic Evangelical”

  1. J. Barrett Lee

    I must admit that in my youthful idealism, I had an almost visceral reaction to this post. However, I must also concede that I fail to find fault with your logic. It certainly does seem that the gap is ultimately impassable. I suppose my reaction stems from a sadness of this fact. I say this as an Anglican who rejoices in taking what I perceive to be the best of both the Catholic and Evangelical worlds and holding them together. I still hold hope for seeing the dawn of intercommunion between Evangelicals and Catholics in my lifetime. Faint and naive hope though it may be, it nevertheless causes something to leap within me.
    If I had one question, it would be this:
    How “Catholic” does one have to be to be Catholic? Likewise, how “Evangelical” does one have to be to be Evangelical? Some of the most devout Catholics I know have a great deal of difficulty with certain doctrines of the Church (such as Papal Infallibility). Likewise, some of the most committed Evangelicals have an understanding of Sola Scriptura that would almost ceratinly make Calvin turn in his grave. Let’s also not forget that while the doctrines may remain, varying interpretations can come to light that make a way for more unity. I would point to Vatican II for a Catholic example, where Protestants are now considered “Separated Brethren” rather than “Heretics”. I rejoiced recently to find one of Luther’s hymns in a Roman Catholic Missal. From the Protestant end, I would point to the above post where you, a prominent Evangelical theologian, refer to Roman Catholicism as “genuine Christianity”. We do not have to go far back into Protestant history to find a time when “good Evangelicals” referred to Catholics as “Papists” with their “Romish superstition”. Such developments and re-interpretations on both sides give me hope that there may come a day when many can rightly consider themselves both Catholic and Evangelical.

  2. Mike Swalm

    ‘But if we take “evangelical” as a noun, to denote those Christians who stand in the tradition of the eighteenth-century revivals and who belong today to the international fellowship of evangelical churches, organizations, and individuals, then there is simply no such thing as a Catholic evangelical.’

    But what if we’re wrong in taking it as such? In other words, what if our definition of “evangelical” is incorrect. What if we use different descriptors, as Bebbington has (and i’m sure you’re aware of his writing)…using conversionism, biblicisim, crucicentrism, and activism? Each needs nuancing, of course.

    What i hear, and i may be wrong is that we’re saying “evangelicals must be protestant, and therefore no catholic can be an evangelical.” Is that necessarily the case? Must all evangelicals hold to a strong sense of the solas? I ask not for contention but to sincerely seek the truth in this manner.

    mike

  3. Terry Tiessen

    John,

    The doctrinal statement of ETS is hardly an adequate definition of evangelicalism but precisely because it is so minimal I think that Beckwith is correct; he and other Catholics can sign the ETS statement in good conscience. I reach this conclusion because I discern in the statements of the Catholic Church since Vatican II an intention to assert very clearly that Tradition does not add to Scripture although it does authoritatively interpret Scripture. The single source of authority for Catholics is Scripture as read in the church. Admittedly, as a Protestant of the Baptist sort, I value the “right of private interpretation” so I would not make a good Roman Catholic. Nevertheless, I do not think that the official teaching of the Catholic church makes it impossible for a Catholic to affirm what the ETS statement affirms and I regret that the ETS executive has assumed that it does. I think that Beckwith was right and that they are wrong. Whether that makes it possible to be Catholic and evangelical, when evangelicalism is more fully defined, is a different issue, I think.

    Cheers,
    Terry

  4. David Worley

    John-

    I am not sure that I can endorse your definition of Evangelical. You wrote; “But if we take “evangelical” as a noun, to denote those Christians who stand in the tradition of the eighteenth-century revivals and who belong today to the international fellowship of evangelical churches, organizations, and individuals, then there is simply no such thing as a Catholic evangelical.”

    Think of all the mainline American Protestants that aren’t in the revivalist tradition… there are certainly some there that are Evangelicals. What about Europe? Was Schleiermacher an Evangelical? I think so, and he DEFINITELY would not be happy with the ETS statement and would most certainly not endorse the revivalist movement in America. Thus, on the level of your take on Evangelicalism I say you are too narrow.

    I think Mike and Terry both point to some good questions for you regarding the intention of post-Vatican II Catholics.

    I am interested to hear your response to the push back.

    David

  5. Joshua Neikirk

    John-

    I think you are correct in pointing out the differences in where Catholics and Protestants in general (and Evangelicals more specifically) find their authority. I’m a current student at Regent, and have seen how large a role in its own development that current thinkers such as Tom Wright have been. And in his book “The Last Word” it would seem that Wright has argued for a totally different place of finding ultimate authority than what you have laid out. As Wright is just an example of what I believe to be a larger movement in the modern, western church, could something be said of a type of Post-Evangelical movement that is finding its authority primarily in God and His Spirit within people, instead of just Scripture? If this is the case then would this recognition not be able to hold together Roman Catholicism, and the aims and intentions of Evangelicalism (e.g. social issues or personal piety)?

    It seems to me a fair assessment to start with where people find their authority, but what happens when these authorities are disputed, yet the concerns that stems from each tradition is similar enough to maintain, at least in Beckwith’s mind, a coherent balance?

    Thanks a lot,
    Josh

  6. John Stackhouse

    Thanks, friends, for these various rejoinders. A few remarks in reply:

    1. I am not offering an idiosyncratic definition of evangelicalism when I speak about its origins in the 18C revivals and its commitment to the unique authority of Scripture. George Marsden, David Bebbington (pace Mike Swalm), Mark Noll–name your favourite historian of evangelicalism, and I think you’ll find they agree on these points.

    There are other ways to use the word “evangelical” and its various related words, of course. I use it in several forms myself in the original post. But evangelicalISM is generally regarded in the historical guild and in pretty much any reference work I can think of (thus by “outsiders”) AND in any Protestant and evangelical confessions I can think of (such as the Lausanne Covenant or the World Evangelical Alliance statement of faith–and thus by “insiders”), as I said it is.

    2. This description of evangelicalism is not a complete description–not at all. It just happens to be the part of the customary definition pertinent to the question at hand, namely, whether a Roman Catholic can properly also be called an evangelical. Evangelicals share lots of common ground with Roman Catholics–hence the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” movement, co-belligerence on various ethical issues, and so on. But Catholics and evangelicals remain different, and the status of the Bible and Tradition is a site of difference between them.

    3. Pace Joshua Neikirk, I don’t think Tom Wright would disagree with what I wrote. His “The Last Word” does emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit in our reception of the Bible as God’s Word–but so did Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and everyone else in the evangelical tradition who was theologically careful (granting that many have not been!).

    4. The Bible has indeed sometimes been treated in evangelicalism as a kind of fetish, or book of spells, or mere wisdom literature, or idol, and so on. But evangelical statements of faith generally don’t recommend it that way, and the ETS statement doesn’t.

    5. I think my friend Terry Tiessen is engaging in a form of Protestant wishful thinking about Vatican II and Tradition! I am pretty sure John Paul II and Benedict XVI and most mainstream Catholic theologians see the Bible and Tradition as I have said: as co-equal sources of divine revelation to be gratefully received as authoritative and spiritually interpreted by the Church as such. I myself wish Catholicism saw things the way Terry thinks it does, but I don’t think it does.

    6. David Worley says that Schleiermacher was an evangelical. Well, all I can say is that David’s opinion is in the decided minority among historians of theology–of any stripe. I myself was taught Schleiermacher by B. A. Gerrish at Chicago, one of the world’s leading Schleiermacher scholars, and Mr. Gerrish himself agreed that S. was no evangelical. Indeed, Mr. Gerrish told me that he had once been a British evangelical himself, and later became a Schleiermacherian–a distinct theological move away from one tradition to another.

    But David is quite right that many members of mainline Protestant churches are evangelical–as were the Wesleys themselves! So I don’t think we have any argument here. People in mainline churches who are evangelicals are people who agree with the kinds of concerns that characterized the Wesleys and Whitefield (Anglican) and Jonathan Edwards (Congregationalist).

    I set out those concerns at length in my essay, “Evangelical Theology Should Be Evangelical” in a book I edited: “Evangelical Futures: A Conversation on Theological Method” (Baker Academic, 2000).

    7. I’m not making normative judgments here, folks. I’m not saying that I think evangelicalism OUGHT to forever define itself the way it has. In particular, I’m not crazy about the retention of the language of Old Princeton in the ETS’s statement, especially about “autographs,” since it’s not clear to me what the “autograph” of, say, the Book of Genesis or the Book of Isaiah would be in the history of the Bible’s composition. But that phrase is an addition to the traditional and more basic evangelical confession regarding the unique authority of the Bible, and that’s the point here.

    I’m just saying that we make our way in the world better when we see things clearly, and I think this is a clear distinction that should be kept clear.

    It simply is quite important whether the Bible is uniquely God’s Word written (note that last word–Christ is supremely the Word of God) or whether there is more that shares that status (whether Roman Catholic Tradition, or the Book of Mormon, or the Qur’an, or whatever). Evangelicals do not grant the status of divine revelation to any other documents, including their own confessional symbols.

    That distinction matters, and it matters in the case particularly of Professor Beckwith and the ETS.

  7. Ben Dubow

    I’m not sure where I fall on this (yet)…

    I just wanted to say thanks for having such in intelligent and respectful discussion. I just discovered your blog… very refreshing!

    Thanks and God Bless!

    Ben

  8. Mike Swalm

    thanks Dr. Stackhouse, for your response. It’s something I’ll have to think about more, but I appreciate the thoughtful way you’ve responded so far. it’s great to see so much great thinking by a blogger and his commenters. too often the ‘sphere becomes namecalling, and i appreciate the irenic spirit here. God bless.
    mike

  9. David Worley

    John-

    I am way late to re-post but when you said:
    6. David Worley says that Schleiermacher was an evangelical. Well, all I can say is that David’s opinion is in the decided minority among historians of theology–of any stripe. I myself was taught Schleiermacher by B. A. Gerrish at Chicago, one of the world’s leading Schleiermacher scholars, and Mr. Gerrish himself agreed that S. was no evangelical. Indeed, Mr. Gerrish told me that he had once been a British evangelical himself, and later became a Schleiermacherian–a distinct theological move away from one tradition to another.

    I suggest you read Brian Gerrish’s book “A Prince of the Church,” where he, in searching for the most appropriate label, calls Schleiermacher “A Liberal Evangelical” (p. 31).

    Thoughts?

    David

  10. John Stackhouse

    David, you’ll be glad, but also puzzled, to know that I have indeed read Mr. Gerrish’s book. Indeed, I have both reviewed it and assigned it in courses. So how can I say what I have said?
    I think the ambiguity lies in the word “evangelical” here again. What Mr. Gerrish means, I think, is that Schleiermacher wanted to be seen as retaining his Pietist spiritual experience while thematizing it (as the Germans helpfully put it) in terms he found rationally congenial. Thus he was a liberal Pietist, a “Herrnhuter of a higher order” (as he put it), or, as Mr. Gerrish put it in this book, a “liberal evangelical”–with “evangelical” = “Pietist.”
    But when Mr. Gerrish and I talked about “evangelical” in terms of his own background (Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s Westminster Chapel, London, and the Cambridge InterCollegiate Christian Union) or mine (North American evangelicalism), he readily agreed that we were talking about two different things.
    For no evangelical in the latter sense could deny the Trinity, as Schleiermacher did, or the abiding, divine authority of the Old Testament, as S. did, or the Chalcedonian understanding of the Incarnation, as S. did, and so on.
    “Evangelical” can mean a number of things, of course, including just “Protestant” or “Lutheran” or “Pietist.” But in the way I am using it in this post, S. cannot possibly fit. Nor, for that matter, can Roman Catholics.
    I hope this helps.

  11. David Worley

    John- I agree with you that Schleiermacher was not an evangelical in the sense that you are utilizing the term, which is precisely my disagreement with you in this discussion. Perhaps you should insert “American” into the discussion so as to delineate that you are speaking of a very specific subset of evangelicalism.

    Personally, I think Evangelicalism (understood in the full global and rich history that under girds the term) is a valuable identifier, one that I am willing to utilize for myself. As for the American manifestations of the term, I am most certainly (no longer) an American evangelical (theologically). With all of that being said, I think the Church needs a lot less of American Evangelicalism and a lot more of the historical global type — similar to the Schleiermacherian understanding of evangelical.

    dw

  12. John Stackhouse

    Well, no, Brother David. “American” has nothing to do with the definition I’m using. I’m using the one that historians use about the 18C trans-Atlantic revivals–really, from German Pietism, through British Methodism, to Canadian and American revivals–and downstream historically from there.

    “American” might be helpful, although still likely too brief, to identify the mid-20C “neo-evangelicalism” of Billy Graham et al. But that’s not my own heritage (I’m a Canadian, after all), nor the definition I’m using.

    The World Evangelical Alliance, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, and other such organizations also line up with my definition, and not yours–that is (since you haven’t actually provided one), one that would include Schleiermacher.

    So I’m at a loss as to what else to say!

  13. Lim Teng King

    Dear Prof Stackhouse,
    If you “recognize Roman Catholicism as genuine Christianity”, then you no longer believe justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is a necessary requirement for true Christian faith. Since Roman Catholicism rejects imputed righteousness and teaches instead infused righteousness where a person must depend on his own life and works to achieve “final” righteousness, you must also think justification by both faith and works and having no assuarance of salvation are acceptable doctrines or at least doctrines that are minor enough not to affect true faith.

    It never ceases to puzzle me how today’s evangelicals can see such major doctrinal divides as insignificant.

  14. John Stackhouse

    My dear Lim Teng King,

    Of course I see doctrinal divides as significant. That’s the whole point of this post. But “significance” isn’t only binary: in/out, on/off, one/zero, Christian/unChristian.

    The doctrinal concerns you raise I find to be significant enough to teach them every year in my course on systematic theology, although I don’t see Roman Catholic doctrine as being quite so “works”-oriented as you do.

    But I teach them as differences between two Christian traditions, one of which, to be sure, I think has the better of the argument–which is why I’m an evangelical Protestant, not a Roman Catholic. Still, this is an intra-Christian debate, and I teach it as such.

    You would have these differences amount to a judgment on Roman Catholicism as simply not Christian. I disagree. But not because I think major doctrinal divides are insignificant. It’s because I don’t think they’re enough to consign the largest communion of the Christian church to outer darkness, as I infer you would like to do.

  15. Lim Teng King

    Dear Prof Stackhouse,
    Thanks for the response. I’m surprised you even saw my post since I was writing to a blog entry of yours you posted months ago.

    While I agree with you that not everything that is significant needs to be of a dualistic black-and-white nature, surely there are some that are. And when it comes to soteriological issues that are of central gospel essence, we might want to pause a little before painting different hues of acceptable grey. After all the final destinations of true and false means of salvation are either heaven or hell with no tolerable middle grounds unless if your Roman Catholic “brethren” have got it right all along with their purgatory.

    While I admire (and even secretly envy) your irenic attitude, I think there are certain things which are not only worthy of a battle, but demand it. And I believe the Roman Catholic-Protestant justification conflict is one of them.

    I do not believe that you and I will change our stand. The debates in the evangelical world following Evangelical-Catholics Today and Gospel of Salvation have shown that evangelicals on both sides of the conflict did not at all change their positions (even after the signing of the conciliatory document, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, an Evangelical Celebration).

    Nevertheless, I would really like to understand how a proper grasp of the differences between imputed and infused righteousness can cause evangelicals in the know to continue to affirm the “salvific” faith found in the teachings of Roman Catholicism.

    Roman Catholicism’s infused righteousness teaches that a person is regenerated during baptism (baptismal regeneration) where the Holy Spirit infuses a “kernel” of divine righteousness in that person. Such a person is not yet righteous but has to live his life doing good works and especially, observing the sacraments of the Roman Catholic church. As he progresses, the little shrapnel of righteousness infused in him will grow and hopefully, at the end of his life he will be sufficiently righteous before being sent to purgatory for full cleansing where he is made fit for heaven.

    This is the reason why sola pistis is objectionable to them and it is also why the Roman Catholic church pronounces an anathema on those who affirm they are saved. Nobody can be sure they are truly saved and such an affirmation is tantamount to spiritual pride.

    Contrast this to the Protestants’ imputed righteousness where Christ’s righteousness is credited to us through faith giving us immediate, full justification in the eyes of Christ’s Father, and with that, assurance of salvation.

    Such a major conflict in the most important, most central and most eternity-affecting doctrine can’t possibly be nothing more than mere “differences between two Christian traditions… an intra-Christian debate”. Can it?

  16. Steve Sawdon

    It seams as though there is this issue with pride in that Catholicism says “Nobody can be sure they are truly saved and such an affirmation is tantamount to spiritual pride.” This statement is in direct conflict with God’s promises about the salvation he offers through faith and faith alone. Which one will you pick.

    Remember that the Catholic statement, about what makes a person righteous, is man made.

    However, if a person believes God’s promises and rejoices in them how can he or she be prideful?

    Remember it is God’s promises which release a man from the bondage of sin which has its root in pride. Be careful of man made statements which try to define what makes a man righteous before God.

    Faith is the operative and works of gratitude are the result of the realization of the slendor of God’s grace upon a sinner through faith.

  17. Matt

    Prof. Stackhouse,

    I’m not sure your definition of Tradition is correct. Consider the Vatican II’s constitution on Divine Revelation.

    “10. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort. (7)

    But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, (8) has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, (9) whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.”

    The Magisterial teachings of the Church embodied in papal decrees, Councils, etc. are *distinct* from Sacred Tradition. Sacred Tradition stands alongside Sacred Scripture as the source of the Church’s teachings (as the *one* deposit of faith) since both (supposedly) came from the Apostles. The Apostolic Tradition is specially crystallized in Scripture, but there were (supposedly) other teachings and practices which were handed down orally (hence, Sacred tradition).

    The Magisterium authoritatively *interprets* both sources of Sacred Revelation, which constitute the *one* deposit of faith. But the Magisterium is not in itself revelatory. It is the servant and guardian of Revelation, for the sake of the faithful.

    Furthermore, major Catholic theologians of revelation and ecclesiology (like Yves Congar) have argued that Scripture is materially sufficient for all revelation. There is nothing in sacred tradition which is not at least implicitly in Sacred Scripture. This is in contrast to the dominant post-Tridentine view of partim-partim, that is, the idea that Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition were *two* sources of Apostolic teaching.

    But neither theory intends to confuse this Apostolic tradition (oral teaching) with the Magisterial interpretations of the Church.

    I would love to be disabused of a misunderstanding on my part. But this is what I have come to understand based upon my reading, esp. of Dei Verbum and the Catechism.

    Thanks!

  18. John Stackhouse

    Matt,

    Your post indicates, and you’re quite right, that Roman Catholics themselves disagree as to quite what counts as Tradition. The main point I’m making is the more fundamental one about whether Tradition-however construed or constituted–is to be regarded as a source of revelation equal to the Bible.

    As for Congar’s contention, well, a lot of us Protestants would suggest that the Immaculate Conception and Bodily Assumption of Mary, or the authority of the Pope, or the [fill in your Protestantly-objectionable idea here] are not, in fact, “implicit” in Scripture except in an after-the-fact tendentious reading by Catholics who want to see them there. (I’m not trying to be disrespectful or pugnacious, just plainspoken about this question.)

    So I think the problem at the heart of my post remains.

  19. Matt

    I think you are right. The essential point remains sound. Catholics and Protestants disagree about authority, for sure.

    My point was that neither the material sufficiency people, nor the partim-partim people think that the Magisterium of the Church is a source of revelation. Everyone is agreed, as far as I know, that it is (merely?) the guardian of Revelation.

    The disagreement is on what constitutes Revelation. In fact, it is not even as much as that. There is no disagreement that Sacred Tradition exists, only whether it substantively adds anything to Sacred Scripture.

    As a consequence, I believe my point stands that this statement is seriously problematic:

    (”Tradition” is understood here as the authoritative pronouncements of church councils, popes, eminent theologians, and others whom the Holy Spirit has directed to provide revelation to the Church beyond that contained in the Bible.)

    Therefore, while it may be a *tendentious* reading, I do think that all peculiarly Catholic doctrines are implicit in Scripture and partially corroborated by the oral teachings of the Apostles. While I believe in “development of doctrine,” I do not believe those developments, crystallized by Conciliar statements, papal decrees, etc., are, in any sense, new revelations.

    So in this sense, as an (I hope) orthodox Catholic, I can say that Scripture contains everything formally revealed by God for all Christians to believe. But, while I have a personal responsibility to wrestle with the text of Scripture, I believe that only the Church has been given the special guidance of the Holy Spirit to *authoritatively* interpret that Revelation. But, again, there is no new revelation.

    I think this bears out your fundamental point that evangelicals and Catholics have incompatible views on authority. We also (probably) have incompatible views on the *formal* sufficiency of Scripture. Catholics generally don’t believe the Bible is self-interpreting or perspicuous, etc., though I’m not sure what the general evangelical view on this matter is. Nevertheless, I don’t think there is any real incompatibility in our views that, after the death of the last Apostle, there were no new revelations for the Church.

    It is admittedly a modest disagreement, but I just wanted to clarify that the Catholic definition of Sacred Tradition (as a part of the deposit of faith) does *not* include Councils, eminent theologians, etc.

  20. Raymond Search

    Prof. Stackhouse,

    I want to thank you for your statement, and for posting the intelligent and informative replies you’ve received on this controversial issue. I am a lay member of the Traditional Anglican Communion and therefore this topic is near and dear to my heart. I think we should all bear in mind that our Lord and Saviour founded ONE Church, and stated very clearly that “the gates of hell shall NOT prevail against it”. I think ALL Christians should be praying for this UNITY daily. I agree with you when you state:

    “Yes, Catholics can be “evangelical” in the fundamental sense of believing and preaching and living the “evangel”–the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.”

    For to me, that defines “evangelical” in it’s entirety. No other definition is valid, for I think “official” Evangelicals are sadly mistaken when they claim that “the Bible alone is the Word of God written”.

    First of all, the Bible didn’t just suddenly drop out of the sky into Luther’s lap one day! The Bible is a collection of ancient manuscipts deemed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and officially recognized as such (Canonized) by the early CATHOLIC CHURCH. As we all know, when the early Church defined the books of the Bible, many manuscipts were REJECTED. It was the early fathers of the Church who defined the “Bible” in the first place, and it is therefore the PROPERTY of the CATHOLIC CHURCH.

    Secondly, the “official” Evangelical idea that the Bible “defines itself” is also erroneous. The proof’s in the pudding because, if this were the case, we would only have ONE “Protestant” Church! We don’t, and therfore the statement is blatantly false. Besides, NOWHERE in the Bible does it say that “sola scriptura” is the way to salvation. On the contrary, Christ spends all of His time defining and explaining the TRUE meaning of the scriptures to us. If the written Word was enough, His preaching was in vain! And, after His ascension, the Apostles spend all of their time defining and explaining Christ to us. What little we would understand about Christ were it not for the Apostle Paul! So why didn’t Paul just hand out Old Testament scriptures with a few Gospel accounts attached to them? Because “sola scriptura” is a lie, that’s why! “But” you say “Paul’s letters are part of Holy Scripture!”. EXACTLY MY POINT… and WHO decided that this would be the case? The CATHOLIC church!

    And why did they do this? Because the Apostle Paul tells us to “stand fast, and hold the TRADITIONS which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” – 2 Thess 2:15

    Lastly, my early American forefathers were ultra-protestants who helped establish the “Brethren” church in Pennsylvania. Like most protestants they have slowly, over the past 10 generations, drifted into the hands of secular atheism. This explains why the Catholic Church has endured for 2000 years, whilst protestantism continues to divide and flounder. This will continue to be the case until protestants fully understand what it means to be “evangelical”!

    Can you be Catholic AND Evangelical? Yes, ABSOLUTELY!

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