Posts tagged with: evangelicals and catholics together

Last month, a Christianity Today editorial noted some of the intellectual foundations for ecumenical efforts in the public square, particularly relevant to evangelical and Roman Catholic cooperation against the HHS mandates. The editorial focuses on Chuck Colson, and says “you can credit Colson, who died on April 21, for a major part of evangelicals’ reduced anxiety about relations with Roman Catholics.”

The editorial goes on to describe how Colson’s ecumenism and broader theological foundations were inspired by “key evangelical theologians,” particularly

the words and deeds of the great Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper (died 1920). Kuyper carefully articulated the doctrinal and philosophical differences between Rome and his beloved Geneva. Yet he admired Romanism’s vigor in countries where it became disestablished. Kuyper believed that in the fight against modernism, Protestant Christianity could be effective only if it partnered with Roman Catholics.

In the course of filming the last interview given before his death with the Acton Institute, Colson describes the influence of Abraham Kuyper on his work in his own words:

For more, check out Colson’s concluding plenary address, published as “How Now Shall We Live?” in the proceedings of “A Century of Christian Social Teaching: The Legacy of Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper,” held at Calvin at Calvin College in October of 1998, in which Colson discusses “the remarkable and still controversial idea of Calvinists and Catholics coming together.”

One common thought many people have about conversion is that a  person who has undergone the experience is wholly different before and after. Surely this is true in the order of grace, in that a man goes from darkness into light, from sin into being made cleansed. Yet, the personality remains the same even if it becomes reordered and redirected, sometimes astonishingly so.  Such was the case with Peter, and with Paul, with Augustine and more contemporaneously, with my good friend Chuck Colson who slipped into eternity Saturday, April 21, at 3:12 p.m.

Chuck Colson

I first came to know about Chuck Colson in the same way millions of others did: in the role he played as one of the “Watergate Seven” and described as President Nixon’s  ”hard man,” willing to get done what needed to be done.  Shortly after the events surrounding the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, I heard of his conversion to the Christian faith and read his now classic journey in “Born Again.” Never did I think I would come to meet this man, much less to eventually count him as a colleague and good personal friend.

After Kris Mauren and I founded the Acton Institute 1990, I invited Chuck to come to Grand Rapids. He addressed our second annual dinner (the  first dinner speaker was William F. Buckley, Jr. who died in 2008).  I became instant friends with Chuck and with his lovely wife Patty. In taking the podium that evening in downtown Grand Rapids, Chuck expressed his amazement in words that I would hear him use many times over the years. He said that when he received my invitation he was intrigued by the idea of a Catholic priest starting up an institution in the midst of the Protestant Reformed “Vatican” of West Michigan. Some years later I had the great pleasure of inviting Chuck and Patty to visit the real Vatican and speak at a Church-sponsored conference there and meet Pope John Paul II.

Over the years Chuck and I shared many platforms and press conferences, vacations and dinners, and worked closely in causes near and dear to each of our hearts. One of the most memorable was to help with the launch of the Manhattan Declaration in defense of Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.

Others will write extensive biographies of Chuck Colson delineating his numerous accomplishments, and deservedly so. I simply would like to express my admiration for a man whose witness to the reality of Jesus Christ and his redemptive power was an inspiration for me to be a better priest and a better Christian. The authenticity of Chuck Colson’s conversion and the integrity of his life were evident to any honest observer. One fact stands out, to my mind, namely that notwithstanding the profundity of Chuck’s spiritual transformation, the core of who he was remained and was purified and redirected. Chuck became God’s “hard man,” seeing to it that things got done that needed doing. Prison Fellowship is evidence of that, as is Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and the Manhattan Declaration – and the numerous other activities Chuck initiated, inspired or so generously supported over the years.

At one event Chuck began his remarks with some words he borrowed from the author of Amazing Grace, John Newton: “… I am a great sinner and Christ is a great savior.” And now, may that loving Savior receive into his eternal embrace the soul of that sinner he so cleansed and redeemed with so great a love. The world is a better place, and I am a better person, for the life of Chuck Colson.

For more information, visit Acton Institute’s resource page on Chuck Colson.

This post will introduce what I intend to be an extended series concerned with recovering and reviving the catholicity of Protestant ethics.

Protestant catholicity? Isn’t this an oxymoron? It may come as a surprise in light of a common stereotype of Protestant theology, but the older Protestant understanding of reason, the divine will, and natural law actually provided a bulwark against the notion of a capricious God, unbounded by truth and goodness, as Pope Benedict recently pointed out in relation to Islam’s understanding of God. “In all honesty,” he states,

one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which ultimately led to the claim that we can only know God’s “voluntas ordinata.” Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done.

This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazn [the representative of the Islamic doctrine of God] and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions.

What the pope is saying is that the relationship between God and creation becomes fundamentally distorted when God’s power and will are separated from the covenantal context of revelation. That revelational and redemptive context, in short, is the voluntary limitation that God imposed upon himself and vowed never to rescind. But there is more.

In addition to God’s covenant faithfulness, there is an analogy of sorts between God and us, between, as Benedict writes, “the eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason.” Herman Bavinck, the renowned Dutch Reformed theologian, uses the language of correspondence to describe the analogy: “There just has to be correspondence or kinship between object and subject. The Logos who shines in the world must also let his light shine in our consciousness. That is the light of reason, the intellect, which, itself originating in the Logos, discovers and recognizes the Logos in things. It is the internal foundation of knowledge. Just as knowledge within us is the imprint of things upon our souls, so, in turn, forms do not exist except by a kind of imprint of the divine knowledge in things. So, in the final analysis, it is God alone who from his divine consciousness and by way of his creatures conveys the knowledge of truth to our mind–the Father who by the Son and in the Spirit reveals himself to us” (Reformed Dogmatics, I, p. 233).

It is hard to imagine what Protestants like Bavinck would take issue with in this statement by Benedict: “God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf.”

Yet, many Protestants and Catholics alike, believe that the fundamental postulates of the Reformation severed the correspondence between God and man, the divine intellect and the human intellect, faith and reason. Even the most recent Statement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, “That They May Have Life,” acknowledges “long-standing differences on the capacities of human reason.”

To put it too briefly, Evangelicals (and the Protestant traditions more generally) have accented that human reason has been deeply corrupted by sin. Catholics, on the other hand, while recognizing that human reason has been severely wounded by sin and is in need of healing, have held a higher estimate of reason’s capacity to discern truth, including moral truth. We, as Evangelicals and Catholics together, affirm that the knowledge of God necessary for eternal salvation cannot be attained by human reason alone apart from Divine revelation and the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith’s response to Jesus Christ the only Savior. (These questions are addressed in more detail in our 1998 statement, “The Gift of Salvation.”)

We also affirm together that human reason, despite the consequences of sin, has the capacity for discerning, deliberating, and deciding the questions pertinent to the civil order. Some Evangelicals attribute this capacity of reason to “common grace,” as distinct from “saving grace.” Catholics typically speak of the “natural law,” meaning moral law that is knowable in principle by all human beings, even if it is denied in principle by many (Romans 1 and 2). Thus do we, as Evangelicals and Catholics together, firmly reject the claim that disagreements over the culture of life represent a conflict between faith and reason. Both faith and reason are the gift of the one God. Since all truth has its source in Him, all truth is ultimately one, although our human perception of the fulness of truth is partial and inadequate (1 Corinthians 13:12).

What I hope to accomplish in this blog series is to show that voluntarism and nominalism are not the same thing, that two important Reformed theologians (Peter Martyr Vermigli and Jerome Zanchi) had more than a passing interest in Thomism (or intellectualism as the pope referred to it), and that evangelicals need to revisit their wariness on the capacity of reason to discern moral truth.

This has been cross-posted to my blog, Common Notions.