The election of Pope Francis I has the world’s attention. It is fascinating to read the array of perspectives. Political pundits and cultural exegetes, with more or less knowledge of Catholicism, have expressed their opinions concerning the meaning and future prospects of this pope. But what about former Catholics, those of us who were raised Catholic and now identify with evangelical Protestantism? What are we saying? I can’t speak for others, but I’ll tell you what is on my mind.
My Upbringing in Catholicism
Hardly a week goes by in which I don’t receive an email from a Catholic reader of my blog expressing that he or she is praying for me to “come home” to the Catholic Church. On the whole, I find them to be incredibly genuine and therefore it is easy for me to give a sincere “thank you.” Over the last week, as I have participated in several interviews about the conclave and papal selection, my inbox has seen many such appeals. In what follows I would like to share with my Catholic friends the fundamental reason why I am an evangelical Protestant.
To start with, I should say that my experience growing up Catholic was exceedingly positive. Owing largely to the ministry of our parish priest, Monsignor Tom, I grew to love the Catholic tradition. I loved the grandeur of the sanctuary with its carved wood, arched windows, and stained glass. I loved the deep, resonate amalgam of voices confessing the Nicene Creed and the honesty and humility expressed in the kyrie: “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.” I loved simple things, like braiding cruciform-shaped palm leaves for Easter.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give for one more Knights of Columbus dinner, with trays of pasta fra diavolo, risotto parmigiano, and pignoli nut cookies prepared by my uncles. These were the occasions in which boys became men, learning how to eat for God’s glory.
I vividly recall our confirmation retreat at the nearby Cenacle. In the tranquil surrounding of a Marian grotto we learned stories of heroic saints like Perpetua and Felicity, martyrs who stared down lions in the name of Christ. Dominick, my best friend, suggested that I choose Saint Jude as my personal saint since Jude was the Saint of “lost causes.” Despite our juvenile banter, we were challenged to be courageous for God.
I enjoyed watching reruns of Archbishop Fulton Sheen with his long flowing cape and clever quips, marveled during Lent at the seemingly endless number of recipes we had for preparing tuna fish, and took great pleasure in walking to the altar with my family during Mass to present the gifts of wine and bread. This was my identity—a member of the Catholic Church—and I loved it.
But I had to leave.
Why an Evangelical Protestant?
Having written an entire volume on the reasons why I (and other Catholics) have decided to leave the Catholic Church for Protestant pastures—my book Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic—I will not retell my story here. Instead, I would like to put my finger on the fundamental reason why Rome is not my religious home. The leading edge of this reason is perhaps best expressed by John Bunyan in chapter three of his Pilgrim’s Progress. It is the climactic point when the faithful protagonist of his story, “Christian,” comes to the cross of Jesus and has his burden of guilt removed once and for all.
Christian ran till he came to a hill; upon it stood a cross, and a little below was a tomb. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the tomb, where it fell in, and I saw it no more. Then said Christian with a happy heart, “He hath given me rest by His sorrow, and life by His death.” Then he stood still awhile to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked, therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the water down his cheeks.
In my humble opinion, the above vision is the centerpiece of evangelical Protestantism. Through the preaching of the gospel, God removes the burden of guilt and shame from our shoulders and sends it into the grave, where it disappears, never to be seen again. As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our sins from us. And moving toward the Celestial City from one’s initial encounter of the cross, Christian and all who share his name do so as children of God whose identities are permanently marked by this salvation. Precisely because we have died to self and now live anew in our resurrected Lord, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Such assurance is God’s gift to his children and serves as the driving force of our lives.
This lesson came into focus for me last month. A buddy invited me to his home to talk with his Catholic colleague who is struggling with religious guilt, feeling that he is never quite acceptable to the Father. This colleague described his experience in his Catholic parish as “salvation on probation,” a relationship with God that depended upon his ability to observe the precepts of the church (i.e., abstaining from meat on Lenten Fridays, holy days of obligation, auricular confession). Therefore, despite his best efforts, our friend bemoaned the fact that it was only a matter of time before he fell short of the church’s expectations and thus lost his eternal hope.
In response to our friend, I asked whether he had children. With great enthusiasm he proceeded to explain how much he enjoys his kids, attending all of their basketball games, going on vacations, and delighting in conversation about their future hopes and dreams. “Do they ever disappoint you,” I asked. “Of course; they are sinners like their mother,” he said with a smile. I then asked, “And when that happens, does it potentially terminate your relationship? Are they in jeopardy of losing their status as your children and being rejected from your family?” “You mean like a ‘mortal’ sin,” he responded? I could see he was starting to get my point. A long pause followed and finally our friend looked up with eyes full of tears and confessed, “I guess I’m secure as a child of God.”
My Current Relationship to Catholicism
I light of such evangelical Protestant commitments, is there any sense in which I appreciate Catholicism today? Let me answer the question like this. Most people who come from a Catholic background will probably identify with my sentiment, while those who weren’t raised Catholic probably won’t. It’s the kind of affection you have for that eccentric cousin whom you see once a year at Christmas. Despite your common upbringing, the two of you are now entirely different. He runs marathons, TiVo’s professional wrestling, enjoys dancing the polka, and somehow always manages to perform his Bob Dylan impersonation when the family is assembled. However, as first cousins, you have a deep, abiding affection for one another. Despite your differences, you share a common history that reaches back to your earliest memories, on the basis of which you possess a relationship that is deeper and richer than words can express. So it is for many of us who were raised Catholic. We disagree with much of Catholic faith, but these differences can’t erase the positive, Christ-honoring memories which we continue to cherish.
This is where my pursuit of Christ has led. I identify with the evangelical Protestant tradition because I believe that its approach to biblical authority and the gospel best reflects the will of God as revealed in Scripture. Insofar as the term “evangelical” describes such a person, despite its negative connotations and flaws, I hope to live accordingly, comporting myself and relating to others—including my Catholic family and friends—with the character of Christ. And I hope that what you read from this blog will serve you toward that end.
Chris. What do you think of people who understand the evangelical position on justification but think it wrong and choose to stay catholic. Do you recon a rejection of the protestant understanding of salvation damns them?
Thanks, Richard. It seems to me that one must believe *with* faith alone to be saved, but he need not necessarily believe *in* faith alone as a body of doctrine. It is in this light that I understand my Catholic brothers whose lives bear witness to Christ’s new creation.
Chris. Yes that’s a good distinction. I guess my real question then is when you are talking with Catholics about faith what is your attitude to formal outward conversion to a church that agrees with our understanding of JbF. If we hold that one can be saved by faith apart from a proper understanding of what is happening should our attitude be to convince people to join a church that agrees with that? For example after counselling the man you mentioned what did you say to him about his church of choice?
Thanks, Richard. Good question. I don’t equate fidelity to Christ with departure from one’s Catholic parish. On the other hand, I do want to see such people moving into an evangelical Protestant Church, since (among other reasons) I believe that sanctification is best served by expository preaching, and not through the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Chris. So if an evangelical protestant commits murder and adultery, and never repents of it, he can still be in the family of God?
Thanks, Erick. Real faith perseveres. To the extent that one doesn’t persevere, there is an absence of assurance (Col. 1:23; 2 Cor 13:5).
This is a common misconception, in my opinion. James and Paul do not speak in terms of ”kinds” of faith, real, true, false, and fake. James does not speak of kinds of faith. Rather he speaks of faith alive and well or dead. A dead cat is not a certain kind of cat. A living cat is not a kind of cat either. It can be the same cat, the difference is that it is either dead or alive. What give life to faith? Good works. What gives death to faith? No good works, and sin. Therefore salvation will only happen if one has a living faith, which means that it is alive, which means that works are accompanied together with faith, which means faith and works are necessary for salvation. On the other hand faith without works is true faith, but it is a truly dead faith, meaning it is like Satan who has full assurance of Gods revelation but in the life of sin, no good works. Therefore it is not a certain kind of faith that saves, it is faith that works with works
Therefore when James says that Abraham was justified by works, he means that Abraham was just in the eyes of God by what he did right there in his willingness to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. This was neither a kind of faith working in Abraham, nor was it a justification before men, for only God and Isaac were there to view what was going on, and it would hardly been viewed as Isaac justifying Abraham or seeing Abraham as just.
Abraham’s faith was working together with works, and therefore faith was made perfect, and therefore Abraham was saved.
Thanks, Erick. The question isn’t whether justification requires works. They certainly do, as you point out from James. Informed students of the Reformation will acknowledge this. The debate turns on the formal cause of justification, whether it is predicated upon an internal renewal (Catholicism) or an imputation of righteousness (Protestantism). The latter gives you a doctrine of assurance, the former does not.
Imputation does not give that kind of assurance essentially, as many who have experienced doubt can testify. And I absolutely am not going to buy the “never saved in the first place” line.
The word of faith that Paul proclaimed said that if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. The “work” that Abraham did was “reason that God could raise the dead” … his faith work was belief in the One True God who could raise his son from the dead…and God in His Perfect Grace credited that as righteous and instead raised His Own Son from the dead for us to look upon and believe…or not.
What works can we possibly argue over to define faith? We are called to test ourselves to see whether we are in the faith. We are called to aim for perfection…but our work will not get us saved. Because if it did, we would be apt to boast.
Thanks for your responses,
The formal cause of our justification is the “righteousness of God”. This is clear because St. Paul understood the “righteousness of God” to be the “righteousness” which is endowed upon the believing human being, when he/she believes in Jesus Christ. This “righteousness” continues to be the theme of Romans from Romans 3, and it does not end at Romans 5:21, but goes on into Romans 6-8. The “righteousness of God” is also that which live out by faith because of the power of the resurrection in our lives. St. Paul contrasts the righteousness of the Law which is based on his works in Judaism versus the righteousness of God which comes by faith working together with the power of the resurrection (Phil 3:9-10). Most protestants cannot tolerate the “righteousness of God” being anything other than the external imputation of a “righteousness” that is in Christ Jesus, and that remains outside in the act of justification. But rather St. Paul sees the righteousness of God to be the new saving power in the ministry of reconciliation. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul contrasts the letter and the Spirit, the former brings death, the latter gives life. Well, how does the Spirit give life? By an external imputation of righteousness? No. By bringing resurrection life to a crucified person. This is why in the same chapter 2 Corinthians 3, Paul contrasts the ministry of condemnation and the ministry of righteousness, because the ministry of the Spirit gives life because of internally poured out righteousness from God (Rom 8:11).
This is not about the work of man. The Law pronounces the divine will of God, and the fallen creature comes into conflict with the Law because of the internal passion of sin, which is in operation under the Adamic mode of human life. When, however, one comes into life in Christ, the resurrection of life, the righteous requirements of the Law are fulfilled in the human being because they walk in the Spirit, and this is life because of righteousness (Rom 8:11). This is the righteousness of God which is manifested, coming out of faith in Jesus Christ, for all who believe.
The Protestant also does not have assurance, in the certain sense, because there is always the threat of punishment to those who do not persevere in holiness and righteousness and faith (Colossians 1:11-18). If we suffer with Christ, then we shall be glorified (Rom 8:17). What happens to the Protestant who enters into a life of mortal sin for a couple years, and then comes back? Was his relationship with God destroyed by the sin? For some protestants, the answer is no, because he ultimately repented and proved his once-for-all calling (in the past) was genuine. Other would say he was never saved to begin with, and so never knew Christ (1 John). Nevertheless, the Protestant can never end questioning the genuine of his/her repentance and faith.
I remember as a protestant never having assurance of salvation, at certain long periods of time, because of the intense description of people who have the Spirit of God in the NT. Every once in a while, you would get some gospel teacher that would come around and explain something about the gospel which brings comfort and hope, but then you hear something from Leonard Ravenhill or Al Martin or Paul Washer, and you are again in this spiral down doubting if your every day thoughts are glorifying to Christ. Then you appease yourself by knowing that deep inside your heart, you love God and detest sin. But then you realize after some time, that detesting sin does not automatically mean you are saved. And then you pick up the book “The Almost Christ” by Matthew Meade, and you realize that your motives could be all false.
But then, you can always go back to Pilgrim’s Progress and find some comfort in Bunyan’s explanations of the sweetness and the freedom of the gospel. And then you identify your struggles with assurance as attacks from the Enemy of our Souls (which could be true of course). And then, you are driving in the car and you put in a CD on repentance and faith by Richard Owen Roberts, only to hear how much wailing, and crying, and brokeness, and radicallness is in true conversion, from one example such as the Ninevites after the next, and you are again in this confusion over whether you are really in the faith or not.
This is not just the testimony of a few protestants here and there, this is very widespread, especially amongst the reformed baptists and the more holiness movement churches. It could even happen in evangelical churches. It is not wise to make it seem like the experience of protestant assurance is somehow different than Catholic just because of one little story in Pilgrim’s Progress, or a person ridden with guilt in the Catholic Church. What about the protestant who is ridden with guilt in the protestant church and finds relief in the fact that Christ actual wants Him to be saved, whereas he had been told by the Calvinistic minister that Christ may wish him to be damned for His own glory.
Also it might be helpful to recognize that James does not speak about a true persevering faith or a genuine faith as opposed to a false apostatizing faith or a false faith. As true as the dichotomy between genuine faith and false faith, this is not the point in James. If you go through slowly, you will see that faith only has life to it if it has works. Faith without works is a dead faith, and is incapable of bringing salvation for that person.
The protestant dichotomy of grace versus works sometimes insists too much of a parallel between God’s saving activity and man’s absolute non-working. Sometimes these two overlap, and it is still God’s grace. Therefore, if we are justified by works which God gives us to do with the power of the Holy Spirit, then we cannot boast and say that we worked our way to heaven. Catholic believe, as Protestants do, that by our initial conversion into the Church we are acquitted from divine wrath and are heirs of heaven and eternal life. However, the protestant wants to affirm an eternal deposit so that such a gift can never be lost. Of course, this means that the will of man is controlled by God to never choose a never-ending lifestyle of sin, which destroys free-will. This is all in an attempt to not rob God of his glory in Salvation, because if we can isolate God as the single worker in salvation, then we have not stained his glory with our participation. As soon as we add a little “will” of man, God’s glorious grace is no longer grace.
The problem with this is that the NT authors really did understand that Christians make genuine decisions when they do good works, they actually freely choose to work out their own salvation, but it is of grace because it is God who is working in them to will and to do good. The human being is never merely passive, which means that the will is involved in salvation. It is not that Grace means God only works and the human being stays completely inactive. Rather grace entails that the will of man has now been freed to live under righteousness. But if God controls the will to never choose evil, ultimately, then how is the decision for righteousness a valid decision? It is more like a computer program working itself out.
In addition, if it is true that the will of man is not free, then those who have chosen to live in sin are living in sin, not because of their own choosing, but because of God’s effective plan behind their choosing. So we have the parallel, God works alone to instill the choosing of righteousness for the elect, and God works alone to instill the choosing of sin for the non-elect. But immediately comes the refutation that there is not a symmetrical working of God for both these 2 groups. For the Elect, it is said, God is controlling the will to never choose the life of sin, ultimately. However, for the non-elect, he “leaves” them be to roam freely in their sin.
However, this small pocket of “leaving” them would mean that God is a mere audience in the lives of these people. He is simply watching what they do, without having any participation in what actually happens. The problem is, all human beings are naturally enslaved to the life of sin, so is God simply responding to the evil works of man which he had no control over when he chose therefore to save them?
To say that God works alone to preserve the elect, and that they do not have a will in the matter, is ultimately to say that evil reprobate also do not have a will in the matter of their lifestyle and destiny, since it is God all in all.
This is the distortion of biblical teaching that comes with some of the Calvinistic interpretations of Scripture.
Thanks, Erick. I find the biblical metaphor of adoption to be helpful here. When one is a child of God, his fellowship with God may be damaged, but he is never kicked out of the family. There is security in our status as children, but there is also the need to grow in godliness into spiritual maturity.
I understand the need for the security of God’s grace. I think that it is very important for one to know they are loved by God, so that they can serve Him. I do not believe that one can serve God unless one knows that God loves them. This is proven by the woman who loved much because she was forgiven and loved much. But we need to understand that God will not be mocked. One cannot say “I’m a brother!” or “I’m God’s child” or “I’m in the family of God!”, and yet live a lifestyle unashamedly in the life of sin. Whatever a man sows, that he will reap, whether claiming to be a child of God or not.
The protestant has to balance this out by saying that adopted children of God cannot sin this much. They may sin grievously, but their will is kept from going into the life of sin in the way Scripture details those who go to hell. The will of man is under the control of God, and these decisions are not free decisions, they are enforced, in the guise of freedom of man.
In the protestant world of theology, I think assurance can be just as much lost as the Catholic, sometimes even more so. Since Calvinists wish to never rob God of control of the human world, both heaven-bound and hell-bound are not bound for that destiny, respectively, because they wished it to be so. Rather, in the first place, before all men are born and before all man have done evil or good, God has already set in his immutable determination to both create and sustain certain men in the life of sin so that they can go to hell. Likewise, God creates and sustains those who will live righteously in the Spirit and go to heaven. It is almost as if there is a salvation apart from works, and a damnation apart from works. Just as it is a grace for election, it is a pre-determined and unchangeable certainty that the non-elect will be damned, even before they have done any evil. This is all in the pursuit to not rob God of his control of the world.
And so it follows, how do I know which category I am in? I know that I’m justified by Christ’s righteousness….but only a repentant life can assure one even has this robe of righteousness. Then a subjective standard for whether you are repentant enough begins to move into motion, and if you maintain passing this standard, you are ok. But if you slip up, either you lose assurance or you lower your standard for the bare minimum of repentance or the bare minimum on how far a Christian can go and still be saved.
As much as evangelicals wish to secure themselves into the saving grace of God, there are still warnings to those who believe. And warnings which warn from eternal destruction.
I apologize if this seems a bit blunt but I don’t understand why you paint a picture that you were a faithful Catholic. I read Holy Ground and you went mass twice a year (Christmas, Easter) after confirmation until you were 19 then got into new age spirituality. I just don’t get it!
Thanks, Jim. I would describe myself as “faithful” until Confirmation, shortly after which we stopped attending Mass regularly. I make no pretense to being a devout Catholic beyond that point. Some have questioned whether such an experience really qualifies me to address the subject of Catholicism. On the few occasions when this question has been raised, I’ve pointed out that I worked professionally in the Catholic Church as a young adult. It was during those years that I was working full time with priests in local parishes. This is where most of the personal exposure and learning happened.
Thanks for the feedback Chris. I tend to think your catholic experience was mostly cultural and it doesnt surprise me your employment didn’t have a positive impact. So in my humble opinion that doesn’t qualify you.
The years that I spent working with Catholic priests, Bishops, and Sisters provided insight into the Catholic Church that a lifetime of attending Mass on Sunday could never afford. My years up to Confirmation (age 14) were full and earnest. Msgr. Tom was at our house often as a family friend. These two experiences, coupled with the deeply Catholic community and extended family in which I was raised, made Catholicism a central part of our lives. Add to it over a decade of formal theological study with particular interest in Catholic history and thought (including my current Ph.D. studies on John Henry Newman) and now a ministry aimed at counseling Catholics and former Catholics. I don’t pretend to be an expert in all things Catholic, but this much experience allows me to address the subject with a certain measure of familiarity. Thanks, Jim.
//The years that I spent working with Catholic priests, Bishops, and Sisters provided insight into the Catholic Church that a lifetime of attending Mass on Sunday could never afford//
Chris- I’m a pretty simple guy. Definitely, not an intellectual like you. I have no formal theological training but by the grace of God I am what I am. Nor do I have the extensive Catholic connections you had or have today. I think the difference is I had an inward change of heart when confronted with the truth of the Catholic Faith where you see mainly from an intellectual perspective. Yes, you can appreciate some of the beauty of the Catholic Faith, but theologically your heart was never changed. This is pretty obvious to me and many Catholics b/c from our perspective you don’t get this close to Jesus and turn your back on him. Meaning you don’t believe the Mass is what it is, the Eucharist is what it is, etc and leave the Faith. BUT if you think a lifetime of spending time with the Lord at Mass or in adoration provides less insight than talking to or working for Priests, Nuns, etc then I can understand where you are coming.
The Catholic Faith is often described as a family. So here’s my silly anecdote. A biographer can spend a lifetime meeting and interviewing with family both immediate and extended. He may even know things of such detail many in the family are unaware of. The biography does an excellent job explaining to the world thru the book what this family is all about, both the good and bad. Unfortunately, the family thinks the book is a dud b/c the biographer was unable to communicate the essence of the family, Love.
This may sound ridiculous to some, but in some respects I consider myself to be more Catholic than individuals like our friend Scott Hahn, who converted to Catholicism after growing up Protestant. My operating system is Catholic. My most formative years were spent in the Catholic Church so that my instincts are Catholic. My view of God and myself is born out of those fundamental lessons given to me by my priest, forged in our parish. They were reinforced by relatives who were equally shaped by the Catholic tradition.
To your point, if I were someone who grew up Protestant and simply found Catholicism a topic of interest, then I would be quite vulnerable to the accusation that I only have a head knowledge of the Catholic Church that fails to penetrate to the substance. However, I have attended far too many Masses, prayers before the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, wearing the Miraculous Medal, braiding cruciform palm branches and placing them under my bed, praying through Saint Christopher, walks through the Stations of the Cross, Knights of Columbus dinners, Feasts of San Gennaro on Mulberry Street and the like. These are the Catholic activities in which I lived, moved, and had my being.
I get it Chris. I still think you a very vulnerable to the accusation just as a liberal Catholic is. Exterior practices mean nothing without interior renewal and gift of self.
What kind of insight are you gaining from your studies on Cardinal John Newman? I speak with protestants often and many of them dislike the conclusions of John Newman. His famous line “To be deep in history is to cease being protestant” is reverberated from many catholic apologists, almost to the point that it is annoying. However, I think he has a point.
For instance, you mention the stations of the cross. Have you read the section on PRAYER by Tertullian?
I, too, was raised Catholic, in a hispanic catholic culture….and this is important to specify this because Catholicism varies depending on where you are in the world. The superstitions run high in some areas, especially south and central america.
However, my experience in protestantism has not been something from which I miss. I am curious as to what else, besides internal conversion, keeps you away from being a Catholic ?
Even though I was raised Catholic, when I reached the age of reason, I did not walk the walk. However, when I had a radical conversion into protestantism, I was a radical calvinist for years, but then looking at the Catholic faith with the eyes of radical conversion has been a totally different perspective then when I was growing up.
Thanks, Erick. My study of Newman focuses on his Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification. As for Newman’s classic statement concerning the disagreement between history and Protestantism, it all depends on what you mean by history. For Newman it was primarily the fourth century fathers whom he (eventually) found to be more consonant with Catholicism. However, the same accusation about running rough shot over history could be made against Newman. Catholic and Protestant scholars alike recognize that he misunderstood Luther’s Reformation. He also lets the side down on how he treats the history of Israel, particularly the patriarchal period. Yes, unlike most Protestants, Newman was “deep in [a certain part of] history,” but he was a far cry from going deep in history in general.
I think Protestants take Paul out of context. Yes Paul says we are justified by faith and not by works. However in other places Paul mentions the importance of works. For example “If I have faith to move mountains and have not love”.
In fact Paul says “nothing else matters but faith working in love”.
The Catholic position is we are justified by faith, hope and love. And I feel Biblically this position actually perfectly puts Paul, James AND JESUS words together. The Catholic position from what I understand is God pours his love into our hearts.
I guess my point would be to you Chris is that in the Catholic position if there’s honesty, there’s plenty of Biblical support for it.
In the end there must be some free will some response from us. Because if we have no free will, than it becomes God’s fault if we are not saved.
At the end of the day it is God’s grace that initiates absolutely. But we must have some free will to respond
Thanks, Becca. This happens to be the topic of my doctoral dissertation… the doctrine of justification in the writing of John Henry Newman (an Anglican turned Catholic) and Peter Martyr Vermigli (a Catholic turned Protestant). You are correct to point out that the New Testament puts equal emphasis on the gracious nature of justification along with the need for one to persevere in a life of works. The million dollar question, of course, is how we relate the two. At the end of the day, it comes down to the formal cause, that is, what is the ultimate reason or ground of our acceptance. Protestants (at least in the Reformed tradition) assert that the formal cause is the imputation of Christ. It is outside of us (extra nos) and forensic. The Catholic tradition understands the basis of justification to be an infusion of righteousness (CCC para 1987-1995). I (with most of Protestantism) believe that the concept of infusion is valid with reference to sanctification (how we manifest obedience by the Holy Spirit) but not in justification proper. In other words, we are saved by faith alone, but such faith can never remain alone.
I just learned of you today while perusing Francis Beckwith’s site and saw that you served on a panel with him at ETS’ Conference in Milwaukee last fall.
In hopes to gain a greater understanding of your own journey, I have come across some information you perhaps can clarify:
“A former Catholic himself, Allison appreciated Castaldo’s conscious balance of theological substance and warm-hearted, pastoral sensitivity.”
From Lon Allison’s Bio at Wheaton page:
“Lon has a heart for the unchurched person. Converted at age 17 and not involved in a church until age 20, he remembers what it is to be outside of Christ and the Church. “
Sorry, I’m confused, which is it? I wonder if along with the clarification there might be a greater understanding concerning the discussion on this thread. Thanks!
Thanks, Jenny. You are perceptive. Well done. Here is the answer… Lon was baptized Catholic and remained nominal through his childhood. Because his family was less than active in his local parish for most of his upbringing, it doesn’t factor into his conversion story.
Can you please elaborate? The link Jenny provided doesn’t work and her comment is confusing without it.
Thanks, Jim. Lon Allison, BGC’s exec director (and my boss) has a bio page which describes himself as unchurched until his teenage conversion. However, on our Gospel Renewal page (the broken link) I describe Lon as having been Catholic. My answer above it intended to explain the apparent discrepancy.
Thanks Chris. I guess I’m still confused on how Jenny’s comment adds any clarity to the discussion on this thread.
I’m not sure that it does. But hey, these are postmodern times. I’m happy to respond to whatever comment should arise. Warm regards, Jim.
Blast from the past, alerted there was a new comment on this aged post and saw a query questioning my comment’s purpose.
“In hopes to gain a greater understanding of your own journey, I have come across some information you perhaps can clarify”.
A baptized Catholic historically has been considered “Christian” opposed to being defined as “unchurched”. I believe, the reformulation of vernacular such as this has had an effect upon Evangelicals seeking to reach out to their Catholic brothers and sisters. That said, I read through your work concerning Catholics and evangelization and appreciated your generosity. Peace.
I notice, too, that when I was a reformed Protestant, I use to differentiate between the reformed view of justification and the catholic view of justification in terms of the former being a work of God alone whereas the latter is a work of man in co-operation with God, stealing his glory, in a sense.
But think of this for just a moment. What if God chose to predestine certain people to salvation by simply “believing” in Jesus Christ, and by “believing” I mean the most non-working non-meritorious act of acceptance (which boiled down is no different than Satan’s belief in God- since his belief does not merit anything either), and by “believing” in Jesus they are immediatey brought into all of the graces of salvation (minus the need for sanctification and holy living) and that no number of sins can cancel out the “love” and “surety” of this salvation.
Just imagine this. You would have thousands upon millions of Christians rightfully claiming to be “saved” who live outright immoral lives to the fullest. Of course, you would have some who would “desire” to live holy lives, but not out of necessity, for the love of God is too strong to lose against man’s sin.
Ok just consider this mode.
Here’s my point, such a perposterous thing is logically “consistent” (however much distasting) to the reformed doctrine of sola-fide. This in and of itself just be a cause for pondering. How could such a doctrine, as beautiful and important as the reformed claim it to be, actually be consistent with a demonic mode of salvation?
Now, consider how the reformed do not actually end up in this mode. They say that inclusive in the grace of salvation is the renewal of the heart and mind which necessarily has an effect on this life of the individual, and so the conitnue to live in sin is an impossibility. This is how the reformed avoid this. And I grant it much honor, because it does have support from a variety of texts in Scripture.
But again, consider what is happening here. We human beings do not have to obey God in order to be saved, althought we will be obedient to God if we are saved. What this does is remove the freedom of man’s will and it provides no reason other than “evidenciary” for the obedience we perform as christians.
In this view, man’s will is not even free after coming into salvation! For he cannot choose to remove himself from the grace of salvation. God is actively preventing him from losing this grace, and it comes very close to controlling the will. I know the reformed view it as God pouring out so much of his love into the heart of man that he cannot but help to never leave him, but it really does boil down to the fact that God controls the will. It is as a 3 year old child holding one bad guy in his left hand and a good guy in his right hand, and the 3 year old chooses the bad guy to be bad and the good guy to be good, and no other way.
Since both catholics and protestants (reformed) can affirm predestination (see Augustine), we can agree that salvation is totally determined by the predetermined council of God in eternity past. So really that cause that reaches farthest back is God and his saving grace, for both the reformed and catholic. The difference comes when we speak of the “formal cause”. If “believing” is a formal cause and believing is something the human being does, then you have already involved the human being in the formal cause (actively). If you subscribe to a total monergistic regeneration prior to faith, then you have no synergism, and the human being is removed from participating (actively) in the act of believing. But as I said before, this boils down to a robotic control of the will, and it is difficult to see how the reformed (the monergistic form) can avoid this.
It seems to me that it is not a salvation dependent wholly on man if he has to believe and obey GOd. In fact, the invitation to believe and obey in and of itself is grace.
So for me, the reformed view offers me a vision of God who not only saves man apart from works (obedience) but also damns man apart from works (sin). For we are back to the creative 3 year old who takes 2 morally neautral toys and before they offer a moral ground, GIVES THEM their moral status and thus their destinies. This vision of God will never provide assurance, for who is to say that your present state of obedience and belief will always stick?
As you said earlier, God will not be mocked.
But how is it not mocking God when you believe it steals all of his glory if our works play a role in our entrance into the kingdom of God? You are taking the place of God’s mind and attributing to it thievery from his glory.
The illustration I gave simply puts Calvinism to it’s theological extent. It boils down to God writing the script with characters who do not choose what it is they freely desire. It is the desire of the author alone.
But many of the reformed will stop immediately at this point and say “But God changes the desires of the man and this is how he then subsequently freely chooses good”. But this balance statement doesn’t escape the very same description of God, for even if God changes the desires so much that we choose only good, we do not have the freedom to choose evil after our desires have been changed for the good, do you see? So it is the same exact thing as if God were controlling every decision.
Do not get me wrong. Catholicism has long recognized the mystery of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility (See Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas) and I’ve seen some protestants come close to the catholic position (See D.A. Carson “God’s sovereigny man’s responsibility”).
But what 5 point calvinism and sola fide do is boil the relationship of the Church to God in terms of an author who writes a book with characters who have no will to really do what is right, just, holy, and good. I believe that in salvation, it is precisely the new Adam we are infused into, and this causes the power to live out the resurrection-stage of obedience in the here and now, and this is practically what Catholics call the supernatural charity, it is more broadly termed by St. Paul as the fruits of the Spirit. It is these which merit eternal life. However, the first cause to our placement in this supernatural sphere of the new Adaam is the supernatural and miraculous resurrection-giving power of baptismal regeneration. So Catholics do not give all the glory to man, that is a straw man.
Im Catholic and agree with you!
I am sorry. I thought you were saying the analogy of the 3 year old is mocking God. My apologies.
At the end of the day here, we are trying to seek reunion. Of course this must be done in dialogue which is filled with love and peace.
I was once as zealous as Mr. Castaldo concerning the topic of justification, and I understand why they read the New Testament as teaching what they believe. But, having come from such a position, I now know the errors that are so easily overlooked in this kind of discussion.
As I have fold my kids being a Protestant is like using a rock to pound a nail and being a catholic is like using a hammer sure you can drive the nail but wouldn’t it be safer and easier to be catholic and get to heaven that way.
when I was an evangelical Protestant my life was a mess because I didn’t have the sacraments and now as a catholic wow life is great
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