Sunday, April 24, 2005

Benedict XVI and the Evangelicals: evolution and "faith alone"

Evangelical Protestants are going to have very positive relationship with this Pope. You can see it already in Benedict XVI's inaugural message:

"We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him."

Now Benedict here is not denying evolution as a scientific theory, but he is denying that evolution is the final truth about the human soul: the human soul is a direct miracle of God, and as directly created by God our souls are born to know Jesus Christ in the Gospel. This should be music to many evangelical ears.

Perhaps even more important is the new pope's affirmation of justification by faith alone. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he played a key role in writing the Joint Declaration on Justification with the Lutherans in which the Catholic Church affirms: "Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works" (JD 15). "Justification takes place "by grace alone" (JD 15 and 16), by faith alone, the person is justified "apart from works" (Rom 3:28, cf. JD 25)." While North American evangelicals differ on some points of justification with traditional Lutherans, the key thing is that there is a fundamental consensus on justification between evangelicals and Catholics, a consensus that will be powerfully supported by the work of this pope.

The pope is--of course--Catholic, and many of the traditional differences between Catholics and evangelicals remain. But this pope will be powerful testimony to the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ. And that will cheer evangelicals and Catholics alike.


At Sunday, 24 April, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your choice of text and background colors is almost unreadable.

At Sunday, 24 April, 2005, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

Puzzled by your comment. Black on beige is pretty readable for my screen. Or are you thinking of the title?


At Sunday, 24 April, 2005, Blogger J A Greer said...

As much as I admire Wotyla and Ratzinger for their efforts to be co-belliegerents with evangelicals in the culture war; traditional Roman Catholic teaching is still oppossed to the hitoric Protestant confessions in regards to justification. Trent's judgement on the matter has not been changed.

I wish Ratzinger all the greatest blessings in his ministry and hope he stands against secularism in and out of the Roman church for many years to come.

Nice blog, you're bookmarked!

At Sunday, 24 April, 2005, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

Dear JA:

Thanks for dropping by! As you know, Pope Benedict XVI favors ecumenical relations--but not glossing over real differences. That's why he okayed the JD. I would say that there is genuine consensus between the Catholics and the Lutherans on justification, as well as with the Anglicans. I'm less sure with respect to the Reformed traditions, which I don't know as well. If you are interested, do read: "The Condemnations of the Reformation Era--do they still divide?" by K Lehmann & Pannenberg. It's vastly the best thing ever written on the subject.

Are you at Reformed with Professor Charles Hill? I met him at a conference last year, and just sent him a letter--great guy!

Peace in Christ,

At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Blogger said...

Great website. As an evangelical who has recently become a defender of Benedict XVI, I heartily agree with your insights here. You can find my writing on the Pope at:

Peace, Mark

At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Anonymous GenXsurvivor said...

I am Catholic. Thanks for your kind words about our new Pope. I notice that you do not put "faith alone" in quotes as something that the Church or the Pope ever directly or unqualifiedly affirmed. I don't think the Church ever says it that way. Come to think of it, the New Testament never says it that way. But tell me if this is what you mean: that protestants would explain "faith alone" in a way extremely similar to a way that Catholics would explain "grace alone." If that is what you mean, I agree that there is very much common ground. There are still a few substantive issues left, I believe. The Catholic position is explained well in Jimmy Akin's The Salvation Controversy.


At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Blogger John said...

So for everybody postulating common ground: What divisions are left?

And when are we likely to see reunion?

At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

Thanks to everybody for dropping by.

To GenXS: My citations on "faith alone" are taken from official Church documents, the documents associated with the Joint Declaration on Justification (with the Lutherans). There are qualifications on the use of the phrase "faith alone", consistent with both Catholic and Lutheran tradition. I too heartily commend Jimmy Akin, and I don't think the position (briefly) set forth here differs from his. Again, the best book on this is: KLehmann, "The Condemnations of the Reformation era--do they still divide?"

For John: Cardinal Ratzinger sees the fundamental division as over apostolic succession. I agree with this. Although I think Catholics and evangelical Protestants are in basic agreement on the Gospel, there seems to me to be a basic disagreement over the nature of the Church. I don't see union on the horizon, but I do see common work proclaiming the good news and working to protect the family and other issues of social justice.

Peace in Christ,

At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Blogger Ryan M Scott said...

Evangelicals will have no reunion with Catholics as long as their is a pope. The pope has replaced Christ in the Catholic Church, Christ has all power over the Church, not the Bishop of Rome.

Only the Bible offers truth, not "other sources." If the Catholic Church chould reject it's apostate positions, then Evangelicals would be open for reunification.

At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Blogger Shaun said...

As an evangelical I would tend to say that I am more open to a reunification with the Eastern Orthodox church than the Catholic church. Both in terms of their central doctrines, as well as in peripheral issues there is a much closer proximity to evangelicalism.

The idea of a unification is just one that will not happen. Evangelicals agree upon most central tenets of doctrine and yet have created denominations over issues as peripheral as "worship styles". And this is not necessarily the evil that most postmoderns in the church would make it out to be.

As a previous commentator noted, the central difference is now marked by ecclesiology and not soteriology. The autonomy of the local church is the fundamental practical divide beween Catholic and Protestant these days....

At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

Thanks to Ryan and Shaun for dropping by. I'm encouraged to see that there seems to be some support for my thesis that ecclesiology rather than soteriology is the main difference now between Protestants and Catholics. That's substantial progress. If we can preach the gospel effectively, we might win a world for Christ.

At Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, Blogger Jack Rich said...

I too wish Benedict well, and already love the man for his forthright stands on matters of his faith. As for reunification, well, for a Calvinist (me) that's somewhat more remote than for the Lutherans.

One of my issues is in the Roman Church's treatment of sacraments as salvific. Infant baptism comes to mind. The whole notion of infant baptism, vice the Biblically-sound believer's baptism, is anathema.

Then there is the issue of sola scriptura. This is a huge hurdle for the Romans, who have substituted man-made institutions (Magisterium) as the supreme teaching authority.

The conclusion? Love Benedict; love all Roman Catholics as brothers in Christ. Don't, however, let our personal affections allow us to discard what we truly believe.


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