Author Archives: Leonardo De Chirico

126. What Does It Mean to be Catholic? A Book Review

July 1st, 2016

Jack Mulder Jr., What Does it Mean to be Catholic? (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2015) 226 pp.

What does it mean to be Catholic? The question is simple but the answer is fraught with complexities. Is there a recognizable core, a pervasive blueprint, a distinct pattern of what Roman Catholicism is all about? The issue is worth tackling, especially in times like ours where confessional identities are often blurred and flattened. The merit of this book is to present a comprehensive, albeit short and readable, introduction to what is constitutive of the Roman Catholic identity. The intention of the Author, an associate professor of philosophy at Hope College (Michigan, USA), is to show “a small glimpse of the internal coherence, the beauty, and the depth of the Catholic faith” (p. 9). Rather than testing Roman Catholicism in terms of biblical truth or gospel faithfulness, the primary interest is to underline the coherent nature of Roman Catholicism in terms of its aesthetical attraction and profound structure of thought. In itself this is already an indication of what it means to be Catholic: looking for coherence, beauty and depth, not necessarily according to and under God’s revealed Word. The Author was raised in the Protestant faith and converted to Roman Catholicism in his adulthood. So he knows the evangelical subculture quite well. In presenting his newly found faith he often and interestingly interacts with concerns and questions that are normally asked by evangelical protestants.

Catholic Distinctiveness

The opening sentence of chapter 1 well captures the essence of what Roman Catholicism is all about in its practical outworking. “In my wallet I carry a little card with a picture of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and a tiny piece of cloth laminated to it. Next to the cloth it reads: This piece of cloth has been touched by his relics” (p. 11). What used to be thought of as being the quintessence of idolatry, i.e. the reliance on pictures, relics and saints, is now seen as expressing the genuine longing of the Catholic faith: the blessed presence of divine grace accessed through tangible objects and human holy mediators. The Author readily acknowledges that in order to make sense of this practice one needs to have a wider concept of Divine Revelation than Scripture alone. According to Roman Catholicism, Scripture and tradition are streams of the same wellspring of Revelation that the Church is given the task to rightly interpret and duly apply, thus governing the “development” of doctrine and practice. From the religious point of view, carrying the card with St. Thomas Aquinas makes sense given the fact that the “formal principle” of the Roman faith is not Scripture alone, but Scripture as interpreted as part of a bigger Tradition ultimately received and spelt out by the teaching office of the Church. As it was the case in the XVI century, the evangelical “Scripture alone” is utterly incompatible with Roman Catholicism.

Having clarified this foundational epistemological point, the rest of the book aptly presents the Roman Catholic faith, introducing topics as central and diverse as The Church and her Magisterium, God and Humanity, The Person and Work of Christ, Mary and the Communion of the Saints, The Seven Sacraments, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, The Human Person. All in all, the Author well manages to navigate the complexities of Catholic doctrine and practice, always trying to trace their doctrinal development and pointing to the coherence of the whole in terms of the present-day teaching of Roman Catholicism. He does a great job in expounding the coherence of the system given its wide foundations which go well beyond the Bible. The problem is: is it what the biblical Gospel is all about? Once established that the normative reference point is not Scripture alone, every point he deals with raises serious concerns from a biblical perspective.

A Gradualist View of Salvation

A test-case of the deviant direction of Roman Catholicism has to do with the view of salvation as having a universal scope and a hopeful end for all. The Author sides with the post-Vatican II account whereby there are circles of salvation which ultimately embrace the whole of humanity. Quoting Paul VI and John Paul II, but evoking standard Vatican II teaching, “There are four concentric circles of people: first, all humanity; second, the worshipers of the one God; third, all Christians; and fourth, Catholics themselves” (p. 9). Salvation is seen as a gift that people receive in different degrees depending on the circle they chose to identify with or find themselves in. Roman Catholics receive God’s grace in the fullest measure through the sacraments administered by the (Roman) Church under the Pope and the bishops who are the successors of the apostles; other Christians receive God’s grace to a lesser extent because they retain true elements of the faith but lack the fullness of it in not being in full fellowship with the Church of Rome. Religious people receive it because they have a sense of the divine, although they miss important aspects of the faith. Finally, the whole of humanity receives it because they are human and therefore existentially open to God’s grace which works in mysterious ways. Ultimately, “the only real way to get outside of God’s grace is to expel oneself from it” (p. 190). The conditions for such self-expulsion are so remote and limited that practically there is hope that all will be saved. This is quite different from clear biblical teaching that turns the picture upside down. According to Scripture we are all by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), all sinners (Romans 3:23), all under his judgment (John 3:18). It is not us who exclude ourselves from God’s grace. Because of sin we are all born into this condition. Roman Catholicism turns the argument around and believes the contrary, i.e. we are all born into God’s grace albeit at various levels of depth and at different degrees.

As an aside comment, the Author interestingly says that “when evangelical leader Rob Bell came out with a book called Love Wins, which only raises the possibility of everyone ending up in heaven, and never definitively claims that this will happen, controversy erupted in evangelical circles, but Catholics took very little notice” (p. 187). This is no surprise given the hopeful scope of the Roman Catholic gradualist view of salvation for all.

The book is very honest in presenting the Roman Catholic faith and not hiding points of controversy with other Christian traditions. Contrary to some attempts to blur the lines, this volume does a good job in highlighting what is distinctive of Roman Catholicism and therefore in showing how it is different from the evangelical faith. Even in its post-Vatican II outlook, Roman Catholicism is still idiosyncratic to Scripture alone, Christ alone and faith alone.


    125. What Happened to Justification by Faith?

    June 1st, 2016

    A talk given to the Resolved! Conference of Acts29 Europe (Rome, April 4th, 2016). The video can be watched here:

    The evangelical understanding of the gospel stands on two pillars: the authority of Scripture as God’s word written (the formal principle) and justification by grace alone through faith alone (the material principle). Scripture is the norm of the Christian life; justification is the ground of it. Without the norm of Scripture, our lives are shaped by false standards and deceived by false narratives. Without the ground of justification, our lives are built on sinking sand and will ultimately collapse under the righteous judgment of God.

    In J.I. Packer’s lucid way of condensing Biblical teaching, justification is “God’s act of remitting the sins of, and reckoning righteousness to, ungodly sinners freely, by his grace, through faith in Christ, on the ground not of their own works, but of the representative righteousness and substitutionary blood-shedding of Jesus Christ on their behalf”[1].

    Historically, justification has been the landmark of the evangelical faith since the times of the Apostles. The Church Fathers maintained it, and while it was not their main concern, they fully endorsed it. The Reformation did not invent it. Simply it restated it in more biblical and coherent terms, in times in which it had been obscured by medieval opacity. Reformed and Lutheran orthodoxies embraced it wholeheartedly. Giants like Jonathan Edwards and the British Puritans preached it with full conviction. German Pietism shaped its spirituality around it. Great preachers like C.H. Spurgeon made justification by faith central to their preaching and that pattern continued up to the times of John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Even Billy Graham’s message fully stands within the parameters set by justification by faith. The sinner is saved by grace alone through faith alone, apart from good works without any merit on our part. This has been a fundamental mark of the biblical faith throughout the centuries because it lies at the heart of the biblical gospel.

    Reactions Against Justification

    However, there have been two strong reactions against justification. One the one hand, the Roman Catholic Church violently rejected it at the Council of Trent (1545-1562). Trent continued to use the word justification but filled it with a completely different meaning. For Trent, justification was a process rather than an act of God; a process initiated by the sacrament of baptism where the righteousness of God was thought to be infused; a process nurtured by the religious works of the faithful and sustained by the sacramental system of the church; a process needing to go through a time of purification in purgatory, before perhaps being enacted on judgment day. Rome reframed and reconstructed justification in terms of a combination of God’s initiative and man’s efforts, grace and works joined together resulting in an on-going journey of justification, ultimately dependent on the “clay and iron” of human works and ecclesiastical sacraments. What was missing was the declarative, forensic act of justification, the exclusive grounding in divine grace, the full assurance of being justified because of what God the Father has declared, God the Son has achieved, and God the Spirit has worked out. Trent came up with a confused and confusing teaching on justification that has been misleading people since.

    The other objection to the evangelical doctrine of justification by faith alone came from theological liberalism since the XIX century. In this case, too, the word justification was maintained but the meaning of it was totally undermined and eventually redefined. By rejecting the biblical doctrine of sin as a tragic separation from God and rebellion against God, liberalism objected to the need for justification. According to liberalism, our problem is not so much us being sinner in the hands of a righteous God, but our call to be righteous people as human beings. Christ is the perfect righteous man whom we need to imitate if we want to become righteous. No atonement is needed, no sin is to be forgiven, no judgment is previewed. The liberal vision is to create a world where self-defined righteous people attempt to build a would-be righteous society marked by universal human brotherhood. This culture of self-righteousness has been damaging Western churches and society to the point of making them implode under the weight of unrealistic and false illusions.

    While Evangelical Protestants have always advocated for justification, making it central in their preaching, pastoral practices and missionary endeavors for centuries, there have been contrary accounts of justification that have offered alternative accounts of it. Despite their differences, both the Catholic and liberal versions of justification significantly converge in presenting an inflated view of man’s abilities to do something for one’s own salvation (whatever salvation means for them), a defective view of sin, a rejection of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, and an uneasiness towards everything related to God’s justice and judgment.

    It is no surprise that in 1999 these Catholic and Protestant liberal accounts of justification merged together into the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. They were already close enough to finally come to the point of drafting a joint statement. The non-tragic view of sin is shared by both Catholic and liberal views; the necessity of the sacramental system of the church is what the Catholic part insists on while the liberal emphasis is on the universalist scope of justification. All are and will be justified because in the end God will have mercy on all. This is the present-day common understanding of justification shared by both the RC Church and the liberal churches. Next year (2017), these two bodies will celebrate the fact that the Reformation is over! And if justification is what they say it is, they are right! It is over indeed.

    Church Planting and Justification by Faith

    How are we then to plant churches in such a context? The church will continue to be founded on the authority of Scripture and justification by faith. There is no other recipe available for a healthy gospel church. There is no other gospel than the biblically attested message of Jesus Christ that saves unworthy sinners like us on the ground of his one-and-for-all work on the cross. We may and should be creative to find new and better ways to convey justification, to preach it, to apply it, to witness its living reality, but the Bible is crystal clear that we are either justified by God’s grace or we fall into a kind a self-justification that is a tragic deception. This is a false gospel. Any accommodation to the idea that we are ultimately capable of saving ourselves, any accommodation to the fact that salvation is not God’s gift from beginning to end is a slippery slope towards a false gospel. Do not think that justification is a theological relic of a distant past. It is indeed key to grasping the good news of Christ. May all church planters wholeheartedly embrace what the apostle Paul wrote: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:8-9). Let us plant churches in Europe that faithfully and passionately reflect and embody this gospel!


    [1] J.I. Packer, God’s Words. Studies in Key Bible Themes, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1988, p. 139.

      124. Evangelicals and Catholics: A New Era?

      May 1st, 2016

      A talk given to the Annual General Assembly of the Italian Evangelical Alliance (Rome, April 8th 2016)

      Is this a new era for Evangelicals and Catholics?

      To give an answer we need to place this question in a wider historical and theological context, because otherwise we risk reducing everything to the here and now. This preliminary observation about method is always valid, but even more so when analyzing Catholicism, which is an institution that boasts two thousand years of history with its doctrinal, institutional and cultural heritage. Roman Catholicism has to be assessed using macro-categories able to hold together the largest possible number of elements. Failing to do this will lead to a collection of fragments, just pieces of Catholicism, which will not allow a real understanding of its dimensions, depth, connections and projects. A “spiritual” assessment cannot ignore the fact that while we are dealing with a system made up of people, they are in fact people within a framework that has a history, a doctrine, a bond to the sacraments, a political commitment, a financial system, popular piety, a plurality of spiritual expressions, etc., all of which are nonetheless connected to an institutional centre and a theological heart. To speak of a “new era” it is important to remember that along the course of its history Catholicism has known some particularly significant eras. Here is a brief summary:

      The Era of Imperial Catholicism

      After the Constantinian turning point Catholicism quickly transformed into a religious empire, forged in the institutional mold of the empire and animated by an imperial ideology. From the ashes of the Roman Empire rose the imperial church that assumed a pyramidal institutional structure clothing it with Christian language and symbols. The imperial hubris of Roman Catholicism (that is, its desire to be both church and state) is its original sin which has never been seriously questioned, let alone refuted. The orthodoxy of primitive Christianity has been gradually broadened in the attempt to assimilate new beliefs and new practices, causing the Christian faith to become contradictory. The desire to represent all of humanity has moved the point of entry into the church from conversion to Christ to the baptism administered by the church, leading to the establishing of a church composed of baptised people and not of believers. Biblical revelation has in fact been relativised due to the growing role of the church’s tradition. The church has become a nominal church made up of baptised people who are not necessarily believers. The grace of God has become the property of a religious institution that claims it can administer and dispense it through its sacramental system. The imperial era has given rise to an imperial DNA that Catholicism has never laid aside. In this era all Biblical renewal movements were either fought against or assimilated through a policy of domestication to the imperial ideology. Niches of different forms of spirituality were carved out so as to be inoffensive and lifeless and thus maintain the status quo.

      The Era of Oppositional Catholicism

      The second great age was that of the Counter-Reformation, structured around two central moments: the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and the Vatican (1869-1870). The Roman Catholic Church’s long trajectory is characterised by a doctrinal trend which is at the same time abrasive, dulling, and interested in affirming the centrality and superiority of the church. It is the age in which the modern Catholic doctrine based on the prerogative of the church as alter Christus is formed; it is the age in which the doctrine of the two sources of Revelation is expressed: Scripture and tradition; it is the age in which the church elevates itself to the point of thinking that its imperial structure is the divine will of God. Confronted with the Protestant Reformation that invited the church to rid itself of its self-referentiality and rediscover the gospel of God’s grace, Rome strengthened a sacramental system that made the church mediator of divine grace. Confronted with modernity that pushed for a review of the prerogatives of the church over people’s consciences and society, Rome elevated its main institution (the papacy) to an even more accentuated role, as well as dogmatizing some Marian beliefs without any Biblical support whatsoever. This recovery of a robust identity also led to a missionary expansion of Catholicism and the development of mystical and Marian forms of spirituality.

      The Era of a Compliant and Captivating Catholicism

      The oppositional method led to isolation and a marginalised role for Catholicism. The change took place with Vatican II (1962-1965). The new era began there, when instead of siding against the modern world, Rome changed strategy, choosing to assimilate it, to penetrate it from within without changing in its own essence. Now it adopted the method of “updating”: adjustment without structural reform, incorporation without loss or cost, expansion of the system without purification, development without renunciation of tradition, a continuous adding without subtracting anything. Vittorio Subilia has rightly spoken of the “new catholicity of Catholicism:” a different posture, a new style, a new language. In every direction, however: in the direction of theological liberalism, making room for a critical reading of the Bible and universalism of salvation; in the Evangelical direction, learning the linguistic code of Evangelical spirituality (personal relationship with Christ, etc.); in the direction of Marian theology, traditionalism, ecumenism, etc.  A 360-degree expansionary catholicity, that still maintains the sacramental, hierarchical, devotional and imperial structures (certainly made more discreet but definitely still present), and all of which revolve around an abnormal and dilated ecclesiology, and around the fundamental pillars of traditional doctrine.

      The Question for Us

      Without quoting it often, Pope Francis incarnates the catholicity of Vatican II: open to dialogue, merciful, pleasing, but without paying any dogmatic, theological or spiritual price. The imperial and Counter-Reformation framework of the former ages remains, only “updated” to the new requirements of the contemporary global world. He speaks all languages, Evangelical, ecumenical, interreligious, secular, traditional. He seems to draw close to everyone without actually moving.  He seems to reach out to everyone without going very far. And then, the fact that everyone (from secularists to Muslims, and including liberal Protestants and Evangelicals) considers him close to them must make us ask: Is he really near to anyone? In other words, the strategy of the “polyhedron” seems to be the instrument of catholicity that has its roots in Vatican II and that fulfills it: all have to relate to a Roman church that has axes of various lengths in order to reach everyone, but without shifting its centre of gravity. Rome has already reached such a well-oiled homeostatic balance that it can play on more than one table at the same time without altering the overall framework.

      In this climate, some people claim that the Reformation has practically finished because there no longer exists the oppositional Catholicism that rejected it. Catholicism has widened its synthesis and has also made room for the concerns of the Reformation, though trimmed of their groundbreaking character and bent to enable them to co-exist, to cohabit, to live side by side with other demands opposed to the gospel within a Catholic system which is even more eclectic and plural but still Roman and papal. Catholicism continues to add places to the table and extend the menu; it variegates more and more the codes, to fulfill its vocation to unite the world inside the net of catholicity and under the effective or honorary jurisdiction of a head.

      In the new era of captivating catholicity there will be a niche for the Evangelicals who have made peace with the imperial structures of the church of Rome and its abnormal theology, and who are no longer concerned about a comprehensive reform in accordance with the gospel. These Evangelicals instead are content to be able to integrate their own spirituality into a system that is more fluid but still vertebrate, that is programmatically open to everything and yet opposed to everything. The criterion of the system is not the gospel of Christ, but a version of the gospel that guarantees the universalist and Rome-centred strategy of Catholicism.

      The new era between Evangelicals and Catholics requires us to ask the question which is both old but also relevant for every generation of believers: can the church of Rome  be renewed in accordance with the gospel from within, or do we have to envisage moving past it and leaving it behind in the name of the gospel? With its encumbrance of unreformable dogmas, imperial institutions, projects of omnivorous catholicity, can the church of Rome be impacted by the gospel in its propulsive heart? In other words: is the gospel just one option amongst many possibilities, or is it the radical “yes” to the Word of God that says “no” to all forms of idolatry? Can a church, whichever one it is, be programmatically open to a multitude of offers, or, if it wants to be a church, must it be founded exclusively on the Biblical gospel?

      Thus, Evangelical theology has the necessary instruments to focus consistently on the gospel without degenerating into sectarian and spiritually autistic attitudes. As is stated in the document An Evangelical Approach Towards Understanding Roman Catholicism (1999):*

      12. What refers to the Catholic Church in its doctrinal and institutional configuration cannot necessarily be extended to all Catholics as individuals. The grace of God is at work in men and women who, though considering themselves Catholics, entrust themselves exclusively to the Lord, cultivate a personal relationship with Him, read the Bible and live as Christians. These people, however, must be encouraged to reflect on whether their faith is compatible or not with belonging to the Catholic Church. Moreover, they must be helped to critically think over what remains of their Catholic background in the light of Biblical teaching.

      Criticism of the Catholic system must not indiscriminately group together all people on their spiritual journeys. Furthermore, it is possible, and even necessary, to create opportunities for cobelligerence in areas of common commitment:

      13. In fulfilling the cultural mandate there can be agreement, collaboration and communal action between Evangelicals and people of other religious and ideological leanings. Wherever shared values in the ethical, social, cultural and ideological fields are at stake initiatives of cobelligerence are desirable. These forms of necessary and inevitable cooperation must not be mistaken for ecumenical initiatives, neither must they be considered expressions of a new-found doctrinal consensus.

      A new era between Evangelicals and Catholics? A long look at history, the spiritual discernment of the gospel, the overall view the Spirit leads us to answer “yes” and “no”. Certainly, with Vatican II a different period began that needs to be understood. It is wrong to have a flattened or static view of Catholicism. On the other hand, Vatican II and Pope Francis, who is its most successful incarnation, are only the latest evolutionary step in a system that was born and developed with an “original sin” from which it has not yet been redeemed, but which instead has been consolidated. No ecumenical diplomacy will be able to change it and not even the addition of a new Evangelical offer to the traditional menu. The invitation of the Lord Jesus applies to everyone: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14). The real new time, God willing, will be when Roman Catholicism breaks the imperial ecclesiological pattern and reforms its own catholicity, basing it no longer on its assimilation project, but on the basis of faithfulness to the gospel.


      * “Orientamenti evangelici per pensare il cattolicesimo”, Ideaitalia III:5 (1999) 7-8 [trad.: “Le catholicisme romain: une approche évangélique”, Vivre, 8-9 (2000) 10-14 e Fac-Réflexion 51-52 (2000/2-3) 44-49; “Ein Evangelikaler Ansatz zum Verständnis des Römischen Katholizismus”, Freie Theologische Akademie, 2000 and Bibel Info 59/3 (2001) 10-13; “An Evangelical Approach Towards Understanding Roman Catholicism”, Evangelicals Now, Dec 2000, 12-13; European Journal of Theology X (2001/1) 32-35].

        123. The Blurring of Time Distinctions in Roman Catholicism

        April 18th, 2016

        The following is a condensed and modified version of an article published in Themelios 29/2 (2004). The full article can be accessed here:

        A consideration of the question of time offers a useful perspective from which to view the contours of the Christian faith. In a recent work John Stott proposed the idea that the message of the gospel may be summed up adequately by two biblical adverbs which are linked to the concept of time: hapax (once and for all) and mallon (for evermore).[1] It is around these two words that both the uniqueness and the definitive character of the incarnation are asserted, and the dynamic, progressive nature of the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit articulated. The terms refer to two important aspects of the work of the Trinitarian God in the world. The first (hapax) is circumscribed by time and is definitive in regards to the completion of the work of salvation. The other (mallon) proceeds throughout time and develops the outworking of salvation in history. The gospel is a message that is based on what God has done (hapax), and on what he is doing (mallon). The demarcation that differentiates the two terms may be subtle but it must be maintained in order to avoid any distortion of the fundamental structure of the Christian faith. Even the tiniest of violations could become devastating, producing effects of enormous consequence.

        The way in which Catholicism perceives time – the sense of definitiveness as well as that of a progression – is a solid indicator of its basic theological framework. The argument suggested here is that Roman Catholicism performed a crucial breach of the boundary between hapax and mallon with its understanding of the Church as a prolongation of the incarnation. This breach subsequently caused a series of further incursions, most plainly noted in the doctrines of the Eucharist and revelation.

        The Prolongation of Time with Respect to the Incarnation

        Roman Catholic ecclesiology is built on the idea of the continuation of the incarnation of the Son of God in his mystical body, that is, the Church. Adam Mohler’s classic definition is helpful here; “The visible Church…is the Son of God himself, everlastingly manifesting himself among men in a human form, perpetually renovated, and eternally young – the permanent incarnation of the same.”[2] This “incarnational” understanding of the Church, rooted in the Counter Reformation tradition and renewed in recent authoritative teaching[3] and theological reflection,[4] is the key to understanding the basic framework of Roman Catholic ecclesiology.

        However it must be remembered that the incarnation of Christ is a hapax (once and for all event) in the work of God which is uniquely related to the person and mission of the Son so that it does not require any supplement or continuation, nor integration or representation. The very fact that Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father is the supreme culmination of his earthly mission. It is done. In Roman Catholic thought, however, while the virgin birth is rightly considered to be the beginning of the incarnation, the ascension does not represent a definitive end of Christ’s work in salvation which confirms its uniqueness and completeness. Instead it is considered as part of a process which, although changing the mode of Christ’s presence (from a physical to a mystical presence), carries out the continuation of his incarnation in the nature and mission of the Church. A substantial continuity remains between the incarnation of the Son and the work of the Church, and that carries with it serious consequences.

        The act of having destroyed the unique and definitive nature of the incarnation with its glorious conclusion at the ascension implies the transferral of the mission of the Son from Christ to the Church. By overthrowing the hapax (once and for all) of the incarnation in favor of its continuation through the Church, Christ’s prerogatives are aligned with those of the Church.[5] The unique mediation of Christ yields to the mediation of the Church. The regal authority of Christ is absorbed into the jurisdictional power of the Church. The final revelation of Christ is subsequently administered by the magisterial office of the Church and, given that is also embraces oral tradition, at times results in the emergence of other truths that are not attested in biblical revelation. The choice of the apostles by Christ, instead of being a once and for all event, evolves into the succession of bishops which is established by the ecclesiastical institution. The prerogatives of salvation that belong solely to Christ are indirectly (but really) attributed to Mary, who shares with the Son an assumption into heaven. The worship that is attributed to God exclusively is also deflected to other figures, even if this is only in the form of veneration. In short, the hapax of Christ continues in the mallon of the Church. The time period of Christ becomes identified with, and actualized in, the time of the Church, just as the time of the Church is always thought of as a direct continuation of the time of Christ. Therefore the Protestant teaching of Solus Christus (Christ alone) is the vindication of the integrity of the hapax of the incarnation against any attempt to infringe on its time delimitation and to extend his unique nature and mission to another agent.

        The Re-presentation of Time in the Eucharist

        One of the inevitable results of the Roman Catholic understanding of the church as a continuation of the incarnation is the expansion of the categories through which Roman Catholicism understands the work of redemption, in particular the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Because the Church is involved in the time of the incarnation of the Son, it is also active in His redemption which is accomplished on the cross. Both the incarnation and redemption are understood as mallon (for evermore) instead of hapax (once and for all). This transition is seen most clearly in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is based on a twofold, co-existing assumption: On the one hand there is the acceptance of the unique, historical event of the cross. On the other is the necessity of the re-presentation of the same sacrifice by the Church. In other words there is both the recognition of the exclusive role of Christ in His sacrifice, and the simultaneous insistence on the role of the Church in the act of re-presenting that same sacrifice.

        The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms the uniqueness (614, 618) and perfection (529) of Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary. The uniqueness of salvation-history intersects, however, with the eucharistic developments in such a way that what is affirmed about the sacrifice of Christ becomes integrated with the language of re-presentation (1366), perpetuation (611, 1323) and making present (1362). The Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ re-enacted, perpetuated and made present. Among other things, this means that as the cross is a sacrifice, so too the Eucharist is a sacrifice (1330, 1365), to the point that together they are “one single sacrifice” (1367). The uniqueness of the cross is explained in loose terms in order to include the Eucharist so that the hapax of Calvary is dissolved into the mallon of the Mass. The work of the cross, therefore, is considered definitive, but not final. Above all it is unable to actualize its own efficacy without the active participation of the Church in making it present. Given the fact that the enactment of the Eucharist is a supplement necessary in making the cross effective, it is in the Mass that the real work of redemption is carried out (1364).

        It must also be noted that the fluid nature of the time periods of redemption also have repercussions for the doctrine of justification. Roman Catholicism sees it as a gradual and progressive process through which the righteousness of Christ is increasingly infused into man and is therefore not seen as a declarative act of God through which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner.

        Inseparably connected to these crucial elements of the doctrine of the Eucharist is the centrality and agency of the Church. If the Eucharist is the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ, then the subject (the Church) that offers the sacrifice assumes a decisive role in the workings of it. That is, it not only receives its benefits, but it also actualizes them and carries out its memorial. The theology of re-presentation can be explained in terms of the violation of the uniqueness of the soteriological completeness of the sacrifice of Christ by an enlarged view of the sacrifice which includes both the unique event of the cross and the on-going events of the Mass. The Roman Catholic theology of the Eucharist, “the fount and apex of the whole Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11), is a consequence of a prior intrusion of “church time” into the time of Christ that in turn establishes a continuity between them in terms of the prolongation of the incarnation of the Son within the mission of the church.

        The Dynamic Time of Revelation

        A third area of vital theological importance in which it is possible to clearly discern the Roman Catholic understanding of hapax and mallon is that of revelation. On this point the yardstick of biblical data sees the faith as being given to the saints once and for all time (Jude 3). Divine revelation has been made known in Christ hapax in the sense of its completeness (Heb. 1:1-2). It has certainly undergone an historical progression in the unfolding of salvation history, but in the fullness of time has reached its final apex in the mission of the Son of God (Gal. 4:4). After Christ, the culmination of revelation, no further revelation must be expected until his return. As definitive revelation, the canonical Scriptures are the divinely inspired testimony by which, through the Holy Spirit, the mission of the church is made possible together with the transmission of the gospel from generation to generation (2 Tim. 3:16). If Jesus Christ is the definitive divine revelation, then the canonical, inspired Scriptures are the complete revelation of the Son in the books of the Bible. The closure of the canon is the attestation that the revelation of Jesus Christ is complete until he returns. Both events, the revelation of the Son of God and the final acceptance of the canonical Scriptures, are organically linked and are deeply permeated with a sense of hapax: revelation is complete and definitive. After the revelation of the Christ of the Bible, there can no longer be revelations but only interpretations of the already given revelation. The work of interpretation of the revelation is a mallon type of divine intervention. It is the Holy Spirit who continually guides into all truth (John 16:13). While revelation belongs to hapax time, the hermeneutic of revelation belongs to the mallon time. From the evangelical perspective, the Bible is the canonical authority revealing the hapax event of Christ and it needs to be known mallon through the Spirit.

        The Roman Catholic perspective, however, while attributing a conclusive character to the revelation of Christ and to the Bible, has a wider understanding of the Word of God than simply the canonical Scriptures. Revelation is one “divine wellspring” (Dei Verbum 9) from which the Bible and tradition flow. The two means of transmission refer to the unique revelation that is interpreted authentically and authoritatively by the Magisterium.[6] What needs to be stressed here is that the stream of revelation by tradition is neither independent nor necessarily anti-biblical, but it can certainly be extra-biblical in the sense that it is now given the status of a fully legitimate stream of revelation in itself. In the words of the encyclical Fides et Ratio (1998), the Scriptures are not “the only point of reference of truth” for the Roman Catholic Church. Scripture and tradition together bring revelation. The hapax sense of biblical revelation is opened up to being integrated with tradition that is mediated by the Magisterium, thus creating a dialectic between the biblical message and the process of tradition. The example of the promulgation of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary (1950), explicitly lacking any biblical warrant but well attested in tradition, indicates that such an idea is not just hypothetical. For Roman Catholicism, revelation can be seen as a mallon action of God that is administered by the church. Given that both the interpretation of Scripture and the discernment of tradition are the roles of the Magisterium, it finds itself invested with enormous powers.

        The Protestant Reformation identified the core of the problem with Roman Catholicism in its mingling of what ought to remain distinct. Solus Christus and Sola Scriptura are none other than an urgent call to rigorously respect the hapax of the gospel in order to benefit from it more and more. In fact, enjoying the mallon of the gospel is only possible after respecting its hapax. Looking at Roman Catholicism today, it is hard to believe that that call has been superseded.


        [1] John Stott, Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea for Unity (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1999).

        [2] Johann Adam Mohler, Symbolism or Exposition of the Doctrinal Differences Between Catholics and Protestants as Evidenced by their Symbolic Writings (London: Gibbings & Co. 1906), 259.

        [3] E.g. Lumen Gentium 8; 10-12; Catechism of the Catholic Church 737; 766; 787-88; 795.

        [4] E.g. Romano Guardini, Henri De Lubac, Yves Congar, Karl Rahner.

        [5] On the transposition of the threefold office of Christ (king, prophet and priest) to the Roman Church, cf. the stimulating critique by Vittorio Subilia, The Problem of Catholicism (London: SCM, 1964). On the same subject, cf. also Mark Sacuy’s “Evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox Together: Is the Church the Extension of the Incarnation?”, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43/2 (2000), 193-212.

        [6] Cf. Dei Verbum 7-10; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 50-141.

          122. Cooperating with the Roman Catholic Church? A Lesson from Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984)

          April 1st, 2016

          In our global world, a cluster of questions are before evangelicals: Should we collaborate with Catholics? On which topics or areas? How far should we go? Is it possible to do mission together?

          Of course, much depends on the various contexts and those who are involved. For example, is it one thing to work with individual Catholics or lay groups; it is something else to join hands with the institutional Church of Rome. It is one thing is to work together on areas of common concern in society, e.g. the promotion of Judeo-Christian values in society; it is an altogether different issue to engage in common mission and evangelism.

          Alliance and Co-belligerence

          To start unpacking the issues involved, it may be useful to remember the lesson of 20th century Evangelical apologist Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). Schaeffer was a Christian leader who introduced the expression co-belligerence to the present-day Christian vocabulary. In the midst of the cultural transitions of the Seventies, he encouraged Evangelicals to side with people of other religious persuasions for the sake of promoting specific issues that were shared by a cross-section of society and that were under threat by secular tendencies, especially in the realm of basic moral values. Schaeffer’s call to engage in the public square, working together with non-Christians, has been one of the motivating factors of recent Evangelical involvement in society.

          In suggesting a rationale for co-belligerence, Schaeffer made a distinction between forming alliances and engaging in co-belligerence. On the one hand, an alliance is a kind of unity based on truth, and therefore has to do with born-again Christians only who receive Scripture as the standard of their lives. On the other, co-belligerence focuses on a specific issue and is open to all those who share it, whatever their backgrounds and the goals that motivate them. Here is how Schaffer defines it: “Co-belligerent is a person with whom I do not agree on all sorts of vital issues, but who, for whatever reasons of their own, is on the same side in a fight for some specific issue of public justice”.[1] For Schaeffer this distinction reflects Scriptural principles about unity among believers and cooperation among people of different faiths. Co-belligerence is not another way of talking about ecumenism. The latter has to do with unity of believers according to the Bible; the former is related to possible cooperative efforts among different people and beyond agreement on central truths of the Gospel.

          Biblical Foundations

          The distinction between alliance and co-belligerence reflects the teaching of Scripture. Unity exists deep within the people of God on the basis of a common faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:1-16). This unity allows alliances in terms of worship, prayer, evangelism and Gospel witness. This unity allows the church to work out the Great Commission that Jesus gave to go all over the world and disciple the nations (Matthew 28:16-20). This type of alliance shows the power of the Gospel to reconcile different people around the same Lord Jesus who sends His people forth to take the message of reconciliation to the world (2 Corinthians 5:17-20). This unity is not what co-belligerence is all about.

          The Scripture clearly distinguishes the unity of believers in Christ from other types of relationships without separating them. The Bible commands all men and women (Christians included) to inhabit the earth responsibly, taking care of the world and living peacefully as much as possible. Then, the Word of God encourages the church to develop and maintain good relationships with their neighbours and to be committed to the good of others (Genesis 1:27-31; Jeremiah 29:5-7; Titus 3:1-2). In doing what the Bible requires, we will be always in contact with different people who hold a plurality of worldviews and lifestyles. Our family members, co-workers, roommates, and friends may not be believers, yet we are called to live with them for the good of the community.

          In this sense, co-belligerence is necessary, useful and … inevitable. It is a task of our God-given humanity. It is part of our common calling to live in this world without being of the world (John 17:14-18). For the Christian, neither total retreat nor self-imposed exclusion from the world is a viable option. The Christian life requires one to develop and nurture multiple networks of social relations. A mature faith is able to maintain different relationships with different people, without losing its Christian identity and Gospel commitments. The important thing is to practice the distinction between alliance and co-belligerence.

          Alliance or Co-belligerence?

          Back to the question we asked at the beginning. As far as our relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, should evangelicals engage in alliances or acts of co-belligerence? Schaeffer encouraged co-belligerence with people of all persuasions, but would limit alliances to Bible-believing, born again Christians, therefore excluding the Church of Rome as an institution. The basic issue to address is whether or not the Catholic gospel held by the Church of Rome is the biblical gospel in its basic contours. The answer to this question leads to answering the previous one. If the answer is “yes”, i.e. the Roman Catholic gospel is the biblical gospel, then it follows that no theological restriction needs to be put in place. If the answer is “no”, i.e. the Roman Catholic gospel is not the biblical gospel in significant ways, then there needs to be a careful discernment not to blur the distinction between collaborating on social issues and engaging in common mission. The former is possible, the latter isn’t.

          [1] Plan for Action (Old Tappan, NJ: Flemming H. Revell, 1980, p. 68). Schaeffer spoke about co-belligerence in the second chapter of his book The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century (1970) various editions.

            121. Karl Barth and Vatican II

            March 8th, 2016

            The interpretation of Roman Catholicism by Karl Barth went through a major change, if not a turning point, with Vatican II (1962-1965). The Council, to which the Swiss theologian did not take part but which he closely followed during and after the conclusion of the sessions, represented for him a testimony of how Roman Catholicism had taken a substantially new direction, away from the mere reiteration of the inherited legacy of XVI century anti-Protestantism, XIX century anti-revolutionary conservatism and the absolutist rigidity of Vatican I (1870).

            The opportunity to meditate on this change is provided in the book by Donald W. Norwood, Reforming Rome: Karl Barth and Vatican II (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015). In this study, based on a doctoral thesis, the English theologian of the United Reformed Church Donald Norwood, examines the understanding of Vatican II by Barth. Norwood is aware that Barth had taken a polemical stance before Vatican II, whereas after Vatican II he emerges as a more “catholic” theologian, that is wanting to address the church in its entirety and totality beyond well-entrenched confessional boundaries. Thinking of Karl Barth’s trajectory, Reinhard Hütter speaks of it as a theological vision marked by “dialectical catholicity” (p. 80) whereby Barth is a catholic theologian, still maintaining his dialectical approach towards the Bible, tradition and the ecclesiastical outlook of the church.

            A Change of Approach

            In reading Vatican II, Barth was struck by the recovery of the Word of God especially reflected in Dei Verbum, the dogmatic constitution on divine revelation. He saw Catholic theology embracing a more “dynamic” view of the Word of God that in some ways resembled his theology of the Word. According to this shared dynamic understanding of the Word of God, the Bible is the Word only in a relative and secondary sense. The point is that the non-identity view of the Bible and the Word of God was shared both by Barth and Vatican II and gave both theologies their “dynamic” flavor.

            Barth was also impressed by a Christocentic emphasis of the Council (especially in Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic constitution on the Church) that may be compared to the Christological concentration of his own theology. Finally, he was further impressed by the desire for unity that he read in the conciliar texts. Bringing all of these elements together, Barth became convinced that the remaining differences between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism were no longer matters of theological substance but needed only to be perceived as multiple emphases within the one and only Church. If before Vatican II Barth had charged Rome of being trapped in the philosophical prison of analogia entis (analogy of being), after Vatican II he endorsed the view according to which the two traditions were ecumenically complementary.

            After Vatican II Barth underlined the more “catholic” elements of the Roman Church focusing on commonalities, rather than criticizing the “roman” aspects of the Catholic Church which might have been controversial. This does not mean that Barth stopped asking deep questions and suggesting issues for discussion; rather his attitude as a whole changed, becoming more ecumenically minded. Norwood mainly focuses on the ecclesiological issues with which Barth continued to critically engage Roman Catholicism, as well as the Catholic readings of Barth by Yves Congar, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and others who did not stop arguing with him. In fact, after Vatican II ecclesiology remains for Barth the decisive difference, while the rest (even Mariology, that for the pre-Vatican II  Barth was the quintessential Catholic error!) is in some way subsumed into the compatible diversity of a plural Christianity. Having said that, for Barth acknowledging ecclesiological diversity no longer means taking a divisive posture with regards to the Roman Catholic Church (p. 188).

            Standing Issues

            Norwood offers a detailed and sympathetic reading of Barth’s interpretation of Vatican II. From the 1960s onwards, the compatibilist and complementary understanding of the relationship between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism became the common denominator of the ecumenical movement to which Barth belonged with conviction.

            The gigantic stature of Karl Barth is undeniable, but these are some of his limits: despite having called attention to the Word of God, his theology of the Word has not actually prevented the long wave of theological liberalism, marked by severe skepticism towards the trustworthiness of the Bible, to become the framework of mainstream Protestantism. In terms of the Protestant evaluation of Roman Catholicism, Barth’s theology of the Word has weakened the evangelical ability to assess Rome having the Bible as supreme standard and has encouraged a dialectical approach which has moved away from Sola Scriptura. Moreover, his seemingly Christocentric theology has been unable to discern the idiosyncratic nature of the Roman Catholic sacramental system, its Mariology and hierarchical structure, thus making all these fundamental elements apparently compatible with a biblical Christology.

            These criticisms are not shared by Norwood, but the question of whether or not Karl Barth’s reading of Vatican II has been beneficial to the Church is worth asking.


            You may be interested in this webinar



            Date & Time:
            17 Mar 2016, 18:00 (London Time)


            The Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965, also known as ‘Vatican II’, is widely regarded as one of the most significant events of the twentieth century. Beside the immense influence exerted on Catholic theology and life, the Council has brought aggiornamento to the Roman Church.

            Aggiornamento, or a bringing up to date, does not denote reformation in the evangelical sense but neither is it a merely political and linguistic device aimed at concealing an unchanging reality. It is instead the Catholic way of responding to the need for some form of renewal without altering the fundamental structure inherited from the past.

            This webinar will examine the historical significance of Vatican II and its theological outcomes that continue to shape Roman Catholic identity today.

            Sign up here:


              120. An Atonement-Free Mercy?

              March 1st, 2016

              Mercy is by far the most used word by Pope Francis. Actually, it is the interpretative key of his whole pontificate. A book on mercy by Cardinal Kasper was on Bergoglio’s bedside table when he was elected Pope, thus shaping his own personal reflections as he prepared to become pontiff. Mercy was the main rubric of the Synod of the Family when the Pope urged his church to apply less rigorously the “letter” of the teachings on sexuality and to listen more to the “spirit” of inclusion for those who live in various forms of irregular relationships. Mercy is the over-arching theme of the Jubilee Year which Francis indicted in order to offer a year-long display of mercy through the system of indulgences. It is not surprising, therefore, that mercy is also the main theme of his recent speeches where he expounds it and unfolds it. The last instance was the general audience given on February 3rd in Saint Peter’s square.[1]

              Mercy and Justice

              The vexed question of the relationship between mercy and justice is central to the Pope’s meditation. Here is how he sets the tone of it: “Sacred Scripture presents God to us as infinite mercy and as perfect justice. How do we reconcile the two?” There seems to be a contradiction between God’s mercy and God’s justice. One way of connecting mercy and justice is through “retributive justice” which “inflicts a penalty on the guilty party, according to the principle that each person must be given his or her due”. Justice is done when one receives what is owed to him. Francis makes reference to a couple of Bible verses that show retributive justice at work but he wants to challenge it. “This path does not lead to true justice because in reality it does not conquer evil, it merely checks it. Only by responding to it with good can evil be truly overcome”. The unnecessary implication here is that retributive justice never produces any good. Does it not?

              There is a far better way of doing justice according to Francis. “It is a process that avoids recourse to the tribunal and allows the victim to face the culprit directly and invite him or her to conversion, helping the person to understand that they are doing evil, thus appealing to their conscience. And this is beautiful: after being persuaded that what was done was wrong, the heart opens to the forgiveness being offered to it. This is the way to resolve conflicts in the family, in the relationship between spouses or between parents and children, where the offended party loves the guilty one and wishes to save the bond that unites them”. According to the Pope, mercy achieves justice by avoiding tribunals, sentences, and prices to be paid. A whole chunk of what the Bible teaches on justice is chopped out and replaced by a merciful and atonement-less justice. Is it God’s justice though?

              This is God’s paradigm of mercy, says Francis. “This is how God acts towards us sinners. The Lord continually offers us his pardon and helps us to accept it and to be aware of our wrong-doing so as to free us of it”. What is happening here? No reference is made to the cross, the penalty of sin that was paid there, the wonder of Jesus Christ being punished on our behalf, the need for repentance and conversion for those who believe. Mercy seems to relinquish the cross. The point is that biblical atonement is totally missing here and the resulting view of mercy and justice is severely flawed.

              What About Atonement?

              Unfortunately, this is a seriously faulty teaching. Atonement-free justice is one of the popular ways to re-imagine God’s dealings with sin which is practiced by significant trends in contemporary theology. All that sounds connected to punishment, in execution of a lawful sentence, objectively imparted, etc. is seen as belonging to an out-fashioned, patriarchal, legalistic understanding of justice that needs to be overcome by a merciful, restorative, loving extension of pardon. In other words, what contemporary theology seems to reject are the basics of covenant justice instituted by the covenant God of Scripture. This justice presents a righteous Father who is also love, who sent his Son, the God-man Jesus, to pay for sin in order to bring salvation. Fulfilling the Old Testament, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Through His sacrifice, He is God’s provision for the forgiveness of sin.

              Biblical justice has the cross of Christ at the center (1 Corinthians 1:23): Jesus Christ bore our sin on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). Mercy is possible not because tribunals and sentences are left out and made redundant by an all-embracing love. Mercy is accomplished and displayed exactly because justice was satisfied: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22). Not by us, but by our Substitute, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for us (Romans 5:8). When Pope Francis speaks of mercy, is he missing this fundamental biblical truth?

                119. Unity … on Which Foundation?

                February 1st, 2016

                Unity is one of the most used and perhaps abused words in the present-day Christian vocabulary. The problem is that while the word is the same, its meaning may differ significantly according to who is talking about it. Those who speak about unity may have the impression that they are talking about the same thing because they use the word “unity”, but the reality is that more careful attention is needed in order to avoid unpleasant pitfalls in understanding and communication. The Ecumenical Week of Prayer which takes place in the second half of January is always an opportunity to focus on the different views of Christian unity that are promoted on a global scale. The general message of the Week (which is endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches) is that unity is key for the present and future of Christian witness. Emotionally, this message is very powerful and attractive given the various forms of persecution that Christians suffer in many parts of the world and given the rampant attacks of secularism against Christian values. In the audience on January 20th Pope Francis also made reference to unity, urging Christians of all confessions “to grow in that unity which is greater than what divides us”.[1] Fair enough, but what kind of unity is he talking about?

                Unity Based on Baptism

                Commenting on First Peter, the Pope gave a telling insight of the foundation of this unity. Here are his words: “In his Letter, Saint Peter encourages the first Christians to acknowledge the great gift received in Baptism and to live in a way worthy of it. He tells them: ‘You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’. This Week of Prayer invites us to reflect on, and bear witness to, our unity in Christ as God’s People. All the baptized, reborn to new life in Christ, are brothers and sisters, despite our divisions. Through Baptism we have been charged, as Saint Peter tells us, ‘to proclaim the mighty works of the one who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light’”.

                This rather complex sentence about the foundation of the Christian life needs unpacking. The Pope makes several interesting points about unity here: 1. It is baptism that makes Christians one in Christ; 2. It is baptism that regenerates us; 3. It is baptism that makes us brothers and sisters; 4. It is baptism that commissions us to be witnesses of the mighty works of God. This is the standard Roman Catholic doctrine whereby the most significant turning point in human life happens at baptism, ordinarily administered to infants. Whatever one thinks about this theology of baptism, the implications for Christian unity can be readily outlined: all those who have been baptized are one in Christ. Therefore unity must be sought, lived out and celebrated with all those who have received the sacrament or ordinance of baptism.

                Building Christian unity on baptism, however, brings several challenges at various levels. In my corner of the world (Italy), for example, a vast majority of people have been baptized and yet very few show any sign of regeneration or even appreciation of basic gospel truths. Many baptized people are as secular or pagan or indifferent or even against any reference to the gospel as their non-baptized, non-Christian fellow citizens. How can Christian unity and brotherhood be based on baptism, then, when in most cases the people who received it consider it a meaningless act and totally removed from their lives?

                Unity Among Believers

                More importantly, theologically speaking, unity needs a more biblical foundation than baptism in itself. Rather than being granted through baptism, unity is a gift given to believers in Jesus Christ. According to First Peter, unity is a privilege of those who, having being elected by the Father and sanctified by the Spirit, obey the Son Jesus Christ (1:1-2). They are born again (1:3) and saved (1:5), waiting for their heavenly inheritance (1:4). These are people to whom faith has been granted and is now tested (1:7). This people who responded in faith to God’s initiative are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people”. In other words, unity is a corollary of the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ which is granted to those who believe in Him.

                When the Pope speaks about unity as based on baptism, he stands on the ecumenical mainstream consensus about unity. The ecumenical view of unity posits the foundation of unity in the sacrament of baptism. But this view is practically faltering and biblically wrong. There is a far better way to appreciate and to celebrate Christian unity. As the World Evangelical Alliance’s statement of faith argues, we believe “The unity of the Spirit of all true believers[2]. Unity is among believers in Christ. The Lausanne Covenant speaks of unity as it relates to those “who share the same biblical faith” (par. 7)[3], i.e. people who have made a public profession of their faith in the Jesus of the Bible. It is with fellow believers only that Christians can join in prayer asking God to help them “to maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3).


                  Aggiornamento or What Happened at Vatican II (1962-1965)? A Webinar with Leonardo De Chirico

                  Aggiornamento or What Happened at Vatican II (1962-1965)?

                  The Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965, also known as ‘Vatican II’, is widely regarded as one of the most significant events of the twentieth century. Beside the immense influence exerted on Catholic theology and life, the Council has brought aggiornamento to the Roman Church. Aggiornamento, or a bringing up to date, does not denote reformation in the evangelical sense but neither is it a merely political and linguistic device aimed at concealing an unchanging reality. It is instead the Catholic way of responding to the need for some form of renewal without altering the fundamental structure inherited from the past. This webinar  will examine the historical significance of Vatican II and its theological outcomes that continue to shape Roman Catholic identity today

                  A Webinar led by Leonardo De Chirico

                  Thursday, March 17, 2016

                  6:00 PM – 7:30 PM London

                  Register here:


                    118. Salvation Belongs to the Lord. Evangelical Consensus in Dialogue with Roman Catholicism

                    December 31st, 2015

                    Published on “Evangelical Review of Theology” 39:4 (2015) pp. 292-310.

                    The cry of the prophet Jonah in the big fish is an affirmation that expresses the biblical Gospel in a nutshell (Jonah 2:9). In the midst of despair and powerlessness, the rebellious prophet cries to the Lord in repentance and faith, and acknowledges that he finds himself in a deadly “pit” and that God is the only Savior to call for rescue. “Salvation belongs to the Lord” is Jonah’s final word of his prayer and is also the summary of the biblical message. At least, this is how Evangelicals perceive it, articulate it and experience it. Jonah’s statement touches the heart of the Evangelical faith: the need for a lost man to be saved and the prerogatives of God in granting salvation. This twofold emphasis on man’s need and God’s gift is worked out in Evangelical theology and life in such a way that it becomes a distinctive element of the Evangelical faith itself and also a meaningful point of conversation with other Christian traditions.

                    This paper will seek to explore the Evangelical doctrinal emphasis on salvation by showing its long historical trajectory and theological significance, allowing respected Evangelical voices to lead the argument.[1] The Evangelical consensus, which is reflected in the corpus of present-day Evangelical statements (mainly from the Lausanne Movement), will be used as exemplar of the general agreement that exists amongst Evangelicalism. Then, the paper will turn to make reference to three recent Evangelical – Roman Catholic dialogues that have touched on the doctrine of salvation and will try to highlight some of the key questions that come to the fore that, in turn, will hopefully serve as points for further discussion.

                    I. Salvation as a Broad, Yet Defining Evangelical Identity-Marker

                    What is salvation and how to receive it is a central concern of the Evangelical faith. Dealing with salvation, in all its theological, experiential, evangelistic and symbolic connotations, leads to the very heart of what Evangelicalism is all about. In Packer’s words, “Evangelicals have always seen the question of salvation as one of supreme importance, and their witness to the way of salvation as the most precious gift they bring to the rest of the church. This conviction rests not on the memory of the conversion of Paul or Augustine or Luther or Wesley or Whitefield or any other evangelical hero, but on the emphasis with which the Bible itself highlights salvation as its central theme”.[2]

                    In Packer’s view, both the Evangelical understanding of the thrust of the biblical message and the main feature of its historical development as a movement are the focus of salvation. More than anything else, Evangelicalism is a “redemptive” religion. All the different ways to describe Evangelicalism, no matter how many different angles and emphases they may cover, recognize in one form or another the centrality of salvation as a major, defining concern of the “evangel” from which Evangelicalism derives. “Eternal salvation through personal trust in Christ” captures the gist of the Evangelical faith.[3] According to Carl Henry, the “evangel” itself can be evangelically defined as “the momentous Biblically-attested good news that God justifies sinners who for spiritual and moral salvation rely on the substitutionary person and work of Jesus Christ”.[4] This definition of the Gospel needs some theological unpacking because it is framed with Evangelically distinctive language, but nonetheless shows the organic relationship between the Gospel itself and the Evangelical insistence on salvation. So, a certain understanding and experience of salvation lies at the heart of what Evangelicals have been standing for throughout the centuries.

                    I.1 The Biblical scope

                    Salvation is one of the key-terms of the Bible’s soteriological vocabulary and Evangelicals are prone to emphasize this fact. Furthermore, salvation represents a wide semantic field that denotes the multifaceted, yet unitary redemptive purpose of the Triune God in history.

                    The Biblical terms of jāshaʿ (hiphil) and mālat (piel) in the Hebrew Bible and sôzō and sōtēría in the New Testament form the soteriological perimeter which describes God’s saving action for his people and for the world as a whole.[5] While the Old Testament words stress God’s intervention to rescue from oppression, fear, sin and guilt, the New Testament terms refer to the person and work of Jesus Christ who, as the Incarnate Son of God, crucified and risen from the dead, saves from God’s judgment and delivers from evil. In the whole Bible, the accent of salvation is placed on God and his saving initiative centered on the once-and-for-all death and resurrection of Jesus, whereas man is considered lost and is the recipient of God’s salvation. Salvation is a broad category which is organically connected to other terms which enrich the soteriological vocabulary of the Bible. A whole cluster of related terms of the Christian life (e.g. grace, redemption, justification, rescue, being washed, healing) revolve around the terms and concepts and experiences of salvation.

                    The specific purpose of this paper is to touch on the Evangelical understanding of God’s salvation. In his usual neat and profound language, John Stott provides a useful summary of how Evangelicals perceive and articulate the rich Biblical account of salvation:

                    “What then is salvation? It is a great word. It urgently needs to be set free from those narrow concepts to which it has often been reduced. Salvation is not a synonym for forgiveness. It is bigger and broader than that. It denotes God’s total plan for man, and it includes at least three phases. Phase one is our deliverance from the guilt and judgment of our sins, our free and full forgiveness, together with our reconciliation to God and our adoption as His children. Phase two is our progressive liberation from the downdrag of evil, beginning with our new birth into the family of God and continuing with our transformation by the Spirit of Christ into the image of Christ. Phase three is our final deliverance from the sin which lingers both in our fallen nature and in our social environment, when on the last day we shall be invested with new and glorious bodies and transferred to a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Further, these three phases, or tenses, of salvation (past, present and future) are associated in the New Testament with the three major events in the saving career of Jesus, His death, His resurrection and subsequent gift of the Spirit, and His return in power and glory. Paul calls them justification, sanctification and glorification”.[6]

                    From Stott’s summary salvation appears to have a threefold significance: a legal dimension whereby the person is freed from the guilt of sin and justified by grace, a transformative dimension whereby the person experiences conversion into the new life and becomes part of the people of God, and an eschatological dimension whereby the effects of sin will be eventually wiped out and the shalom of God will reign forever. Here the Evangelical mainstream appreciation of salvation begins to take shape and is the background of many Evangelical accounts of what it means to be saved by God.

                    I.2 The “Grace Alone, Faith Alone” Trajectory

                    One of the claims of Evangelicalism is that, while being conscious of being historically and spiritually situated, it does not represent a new religious Christian movement, but stands within the orthodox historical tradition of the Christian church. Again Stott is helpful here when he argues that Evangelicalism is not “a new-fangled ‘ism’, a modern brand of Christianity, but an ancient form, indeed the original one”.[7]

                    This claim can also be applied to the account of salvation that has been briefly sketched out. While certainly being influenced by the theological debates at the time of the Protestant Reformation and by the spiritual ethos of various subsequent Revivals, the Evangelical theology of salvation can be traced first and foremost to the Bible, and secondly to the long trajectory of Christian thought. In describing the theological roots of the Evangelical view of salvation, Gerald Bray argues that it is especially dependent on Augustine’s doctrine of sin and grace as well as his own paramount experience of conversion as narrated in his Confessions, and on Anselm’s satisfaction theory of Christ’s atonement as argued for in the book Cur Deus Homo?[8] From the former (Augustine), later Evangelical theology draws from the insistence on God’s gracious initiative and man’s total inability, due to his sin, to cooperate in salvation. Because salvation is a free gift of God from beginning to end, our boast lies in God alone. From the latter (Anselm), it further elaborated the doctrine of penal substitution in accounting for Christ taking the place of sinners on the cross. By his death Jesus atones for our sin and restores us to God. He died in our place, bearing the penalty for our sin.

                    While it can be argued that this is a selective appropriation of the Christian tradition, it must nonetheless be recognized that it is not simply a new post-Reformation development in Christian theology. There is an “evangelical” thread running throughout all of Church history of which Evangelicals are legitimate interpreters. Reflecting on the “evangelical consensus” of the doctrine of salvation, Packer and Oden argue that it is “the Christ-centered story of redemption that earlier creeds and confessions also told”.[9] In this respect, Evangelicalism is nothing but “a version of catholic Christianity, to be acknowledged and assessed as such”.

                    While acknowledging the organic Evangelical relationship with earlier accounts of salvation, it is valid to say that the Protestant Reformation was a pivotal phase in shaping subsequent and present-day Evangelical soteriology. Evangelical theology is rooted both in the “formal principle” of the authority of Scripture and in the “material principle” of justification by faith alone interpreted extensively to include the broader historic Protestant soteriology.[10] Salvation plays a defining role in the fabric of Evangelical theology. More specifically, Evangelical theology of salvation is an offspring of the four solus, sola (sola gratia, sola fide, sola Scriptura, solus Christus) which were defended by Luther and by the Protestant Reformation as a whole.[11]

                    All these sola, solus have a driving soteriological concern. The Holy Scripture is the final authority by which the Gospel of salvation can be known, not in isolation from tradition but above all traditions. Christ is the only mediator between God and man and the only Savior. Divine grace is the only grounds of salvation, thus nullifying human merit. In order to be saved and have the assurance of salvation, faith alone is the only sufficient response. Human contribution can therefore play no part. The sola, solus of the Reformation sketch a distinctive soteriological framework that is decisive for Evangelical theology.[12] The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which are the capstones of our salvation, take center stage. Post-Reformation Evangelical theology as a whole can be thought of as being an outworking of the message of “the cross of Christ”.[13]

                    Within this soteriological framework there have been and can be variations – even significant ones – on how to relate the sovereignty of God and man’s responsibility (predestination and free will), or the proclamation of the Gospel and the role of the sacraments, or the various components of the ordo salutis and their mutual connections, or the position of the individual saved and the involvement of the Christian community. These and other issues have been and continue to be hotly debated between different traditions in Evangelical theology. But the soteriological scheme of the Reformation with its focus on God’s grace and the sufficiency of the once-and-for-all saving work of Jesus Christ is the common ground for all Evangelical accounts of salvation.

                    I.3 The Evangelical Message and Experience of Salvation

                    “Saved from sin; saved by grace; saved through faith, saved for God’s glory” is a way to reaffirm the Reformation heritage of the message of salvation.[14] Yet, the Evangelical theology of salvation is further enriched by the insistence on the personal need for salvation and the personal responsibility to respond to God’s grace in repentance and faith. The Gospel is both an announcement of God’s intervention to save and a summons to respond with faith. In David Bebbington’s terms, “conversionism” (together with Biblicism, crucicentrism, and activism) captures the heart of Evangelicalism in that it recognizes the centrality of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ resulting in forgiveness of sin and a changed life.[15] The Reformation doctrine of salvation based on Solus Christus is matched with the Revivalist emphasis on the reality of personal conversion.

                    Jesus’ injunction to Nicodemus “You must be born again” (John 3:7) becomes paramount for each and every man. Regeneration through conversion is the necessary threshold for salvation and is achieved by the Holy Spirit through the preaching and witness of the Gospel to which men respond in repentance and faith.[16] Salvation does not come by simply being born into a Christian family, nor from being part of a Christian environment. Not even being a formal member of a Christian church, nor having received a sacrament of Christian initiation, earns salvation. It is not by merit, it is not by works, it is not by tradition, it is not by sacraments: it is by grace alone through conversion to Jesus Christ.

                    The personal experience of salvation marks the Evangelical approach to salvation and to the Christian life. “Evangelicals are those who preach the same gospel, of punctilliar conversion and immediate assurance available through faith alone”.[17] This is not to suggest, however, that Evangelicals are prone to look for a single pattern and timing of conversion. In this respect, Runia correctly says that, “When it comes to the ‘form’ of conversion, there are some differences of opinion among Evangelicals (is conversion instantaneous, so that one can mention time and place, or is it more in the nature of a process?), but generally Evangelicals do not prescribe a particular method or a particular manifestation. The emphasis is on the fact of conversion, not on its particular form”.[18] Most Evangelicals can identify with the words of John Newton (1725-1807) who in his world famous hymn Amazing Grace could write: “I once was lost, but now am found / Was blind but now I see”. Personal stories may vary considerably, but they are all characterized by a personal conversion which can be recounted in a personal biography. Evangelicalism is a conversionist Christian tradition and every Evangelical Christian is taught to be always ready to give her/his personal “testimony”, i.e. an account of her/his conversion.

                    The objective message of the cross is the legacy of the sola, solus principles of the Reformation. Together with the personal experience of salvation, they form the foundation of much Evangelical preaching of the Gospel, especially of those sermons that came out of the different revivals of post-Reformation history. Again Packer and Oden are helpful here when they write that “Evangelicalism characteristically emphasizes the penal-substitutionary view of the cross and the radical reality of the Bible-taught, Spirit-wrought inward change, relational and directional, that makes a person a Christian (new birth, regeneration, conversion, faith, repentance, forgiveness, new creation, all in and through Jesus Christ)”.[19] John 3:16 is the single Bible verse where the Gospel of God’s salvation and man’s responsibility to believe are masterfully condensed. Evangelicals champion, memorize and extensively use John 3:16 in their spiritual pilgrimage and personal evangelism.

                    In the long trajectory of Evangelical history, modern revivals have put an emphasis on personal conversion as the necessary step towards salvation. The stress on conversion has also strongly influenced the Evangelical preaching of the Gospel that invites people to repent from sin, believe in Jesus as personal Savior and Lord, and be saved, urging people to respond and to go through a conversion experience. The “sinner’s prayer” – “Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be” – captures an important feature of contemporary Evangelical accounts of the presentation of the Gospel of salvation and the expectations it produces.[20]

                    In the 20th century, the global evangelistic ministry of Billy Graham well epitomized a variant of this inherent combination between the objective (the cross of Christ) and the subjective (personal conversion) sides of salvation. The basic threefold structure of Graham’s message (i.e. the human problem; God’s solution; the way forward), as it is exemplified in his widely circulated book Peace With God, reflects shared patterns of the Evangelical way of understanding and presenting the message of salvation.[21] The sheer fact that in his 60 year-long career Billy Graham has preached the Gospel live to more than 210 million people in 185 different countries of the world, and that it is estimated that nearly 3 million people have responded to Jesus Christ by faith, are in themselves remarkable markers of his Evangelical zeal for spreading the message of salvation. This is also recognized and respected by critical voices that advance more or less legitimate criticism of various aspects of his ministry.[22]


                    II. Salvation as Affirmed in the Consensus of Present-Day Evangelicalism

                    The broad picture that has been painted regarding the basics of the Evangelical account of salvation shows that, in spite of the significant historical, doctrinal, denominational and sociological differences that the movement reflects within itself, it is indeed possible to grasp a sufficiently unitary and coherent theological map of Evangelical soteriology, at least in its essential theological contours. The “evangel” of God’s salvation in Christ to a lost world is the common ground of Evangelicalism.

                    This theological assessment is further corroborated by the reference to various statements and documents that stem from present-day Evangelicalism. In fact, for the past fifty years different Evangelical networks and circles (from the 1966 Berlin Congress on Evangelism[23] to the 2010 Lausanne III Congress on World Evangelization held in Cape Town) have been producing a manifold corpus of declarations, covenants, manifestos, commitments, etc. that together constitute an important reference point for our purposes. This material shows a significant and comprehensive degree of “transdenominational evangelical consensus” across the whole spectrum of the Christian faith, written mainly in a declaratory way and with an unmistakable Evangelical missional tone.[24]

                    Within this broader set of documentation, the Lausanne Movement has played a leading role in helping post World War II Evangelicalism learn to appreciate its own Gospel-centered unity and to speak with one voice on the missionary nature of the church and the missionary task for the whole world by the whole of God’s people.[25]

                    The analysis of this vast material could push the paper beyond its proper limits. Let us suffice it to select some of the most significant statements on salvation and point to some of their underlining concerns. One preliminary remark is that the accounts of salvation offered by these documents are given in the context of the wider rubric of evangelism and world mission. Their primary focus is missiological.

                    II.1 The Lausanne Covenant (1974)

                    The Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization in 1974 is perhaps the most significant event of 20th century Evangelicalism. Under the joint leadership of Billy Graham and John Stott, it was the first Evangelical conference that reflected the global nature of Evangelicalism and the growing importance of the Global South, together with re-launching the missionary task of the church in terms of evangelism and social responsibility. As far as the relationship with the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, the Lausanne Covenant should be read together with the 1975 Apostolic Exhortation of Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi, which expresses similar missiological concerns.

                    Here are some significant Lausanne texts on salvation:

                    “To proclaim Jesus as ‘the Saviour of the world’ is not to affirm that all people are either automatically or ultimately saved, still less to affirm that all religions offer salvation in Christ. Rather it is to proclaim God’s love for a world of sinners and to invite everyone to respond to him as Saviour and Lord in the wholehearted personal commitment of repentance and faith” (n. 3)


                    “To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gifts of the Spirit to all who repent and believe. Our Christian presence in the world is indispensable to evangelism, and so is that kind of dialogue whose purpose is to listen sensitively in order to understand. But evangelism itself is the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God. In issuing the gospel invitation we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship. Jesus still calls all who would follow him to deny themselves, take up their cross, and identify themselves with his new community. The results of evangelism include obedience to Christ, incorporation into his Church and responsible service in the world” (n. 4)

                    “The goal should be, by all available means and at the earliest possible time, that every person will have the opportunity to hear, understand, and to receive the good news” (n. 9).

                    The mainstream Evangelical position is affirmed by Lausanne. Both the proclamation of the historic message of the cross of Christ and the urgency to invite everyone to respond to it is a pressing concern. The “cost” of conversion is mentioned (against the option of easy-believism) and the incorporation into the Church is referred to as a natural result of conversion, yet without any indication of the Church’s sacraments.

                    II.2 The Manila Manifesto (1989)

                    The Second Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization took place in Manila in 1989. The outcome of the conference was a longer text than that of the Lausanne Covenant and has been given the name The Manila Manifesto. It should be read in cross-reference with the 1990 Encyclical Redemptoris Missio by John Paul II.

                    Here are some significant texts:

                    “We affirm that on the cross Jesus Christ took our place, bore our sins and died our death; and that for this reason alone God freely forgives those who are brought to repentance and faith” (n. 6).

                    “We affirm that the Holy Spirit’s witness to Christ is indispensable to evangelism, and that without this supernatural work neither new birth nor new life is possible” (n. 10).

                    (5. God the Evangelist) “The Scriptures declare that God himself is the chief evangelist. For the Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth, love, holiness and power, and evangelism is impossible without him. It is he who anoints the messenger, confirms the word, prepares the hearer, convicts the sinful, enlightens the blind, gives life to the dead, enables us to repent and believe, unites us to the Body of Christ, assures us that we are God’s children, leads us into Christ-like character and service, and sends us out in our turn to be Christ’s witnesses. In all this the Holy Spirit’s main preoccupation is to glorify Jesus Christ by showing him to us and forming him in us… Every true conversion involves a power encounter, in which the superior authority of Jesus Christ is demonstrated. There is no greater miracle than this, in which the believer is set free from the bondage of Satan and sin, fear and futility, darkness and death”.

                    At Manila the Reformation “material principle” was clearly reaffirmed with a stress on the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. The other emphasis was on the role of the Holy Spirit in the salvation process, from the preaching of the Gospel to its acceptance in conversion and the resulting Christian life. In this way, Manila welcomes the Pentecostal insistence on the work of the Spirit, but places it in the context of classical Reformation theology of salvation.


                    II.3 The Amsterdam Declaration (2010)


                    Born as the result of an International Conference of Preaching Evangelists (sponsored and lead by Billy Graham), the Amsterdam Declaration is an affirmation of Evangelical convictions for the New Millennium aimed at nurturing the vision for world mission and personal evangelism.[26]


                    “Salvation. The word means rescue from guilt, defilement, spiritual blindness and deadness, alienation from God, and certainty of eternal punishment in hell, that is everyone’s condition while under sin’s dominion. This deliverance involves present justification, reconciliation to God and adoption into his family, with regeneration and the sanctifying gift of the Holy Spirit leading to works of righteousness and service here and now, and a promise of full glorification in fellowship with God in the future. This involves in the present life joy, peace, freedom and the transformation of character and relationships and the guarantee of complete healing at the future resurrection of the body. We are justified by faith alone and the salvation faith brings is by grace alone, through Christ alone, for the glory of God alone” (Definition 7)


                    Amsterdam stresses the sinfulness of man and therefore echoes the anthropological pessimism of much of the Evangelical tradition. Hell is also cited as the “condition” for unsaved sinners to be in. The twofold temporal dimension of salvation – i.e. present: justification, reconciliation, adoption, regeneration, sanctification, transformation and future: full glorification – is referred to. The statement ends with a strong affirmation of the sola, solus of the Reformation.


                    II.4 The Cape Town Commitment (2010)

                    The last Evangelical global statement is the result of the third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization that took place in Cape Town in 2010. For the first time, a congress of this size and scope happened without the direct participation of the two main Evangelical leaders of the post-World War II period, namely Billy Graham and John Stott (who died the following year), both aged and no longer capable of public commitments. The Commitment was a further elaboration of the 1974 Covenant and the 1989 Manifesto, with an even more “missional” emphasis on the over-arching theme of love. Mission is considered as God’s mission that empowers the Church’s holistic mission in word and deed. Note the 2010 coincidence between Lausanne III and Benedict XVI’s creation of the new Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. After Lausanne I and Evangelii Nuntiandi (1974), then after Lausanne II and Redemptoris Missio (1989), one sees yet another missiological parallel between the Evangelical movement and the Roman Catholic Church.

                    Concerning the account of salvation, here is a significant text of the Cape Town Commitment:

                    “We love the assurance the gospel brings. Solely through trusting in Christ alone, we are united with Christ through the Holy Spirit and are counted righteous in Christ before God. Being justified by faith we have peace with God and no longer face condemnation. We receive the forgiveness of our sins. We are born again into a living hope by sharing Christ’s risen life. We are adopted as fellow heirs with Christ. We become citizens of God’s covenant people, members of God’s family and the place of God’s dwelling. So by trusting in Christ, we have full assurance of salvation and eternal life, for our salvation ultimately depends, not on ourselves, but on the work of Christ and the promise of God. ‘Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ How we love the gospel’s promise! God commands us to make known to all nations the truth of God’s revelation and the gospel of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, calling all people to repentance, faith, baptism and obedient discipleship” (8.C)

                    The standard Evangelical view of salvation is rehearsed with its traditional emphasis on the “Christ alone” grounds of salvation and the calling to make the Gospel known to the whole world. The theme of Christian assurance is also evoked as stemming from salvation. The Church is contemplated as the “covenant people”, “God’s family”, and “the place of God’s dwelling”, so to convey the message of salvation as not an overtly individualistic bent, but as an ecclesiological thrust. Quite remarkably for an Evangelical document of this kind, “baptism” is also referred to as part of the calling to be extended to all nations. There is no hint of sacramental language, though. Even the position of baptism in the fourfold sequence is interesting in that it places baptism after repentance and faith, so as to allow an understanding of baptism as an ordinance that does not sacramentally cause repentance and faith, but rather follows them. The reference to baptism is nonetheless interesting with regards to the next section that deals with recent dialogues between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics on salvation.

                    III. Case Studies in the Evangelical – Roman Catholic Dialogue

                    The topic of salvation has been central in recent dialogues between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. Given its Biblical pervasiveness, its historical and doctrinal significance in the Christian tradition, and its paramount importance in defining both the Evangelical and the Roman Catholic identities after the Reformation, it should not be surprising that this is the case. Several Protestant denominations and traditions have been dialoguing with the Roman Catholic Church on the doctrine of salvation at different levels and with different focuses. What will be taken into consideration here is the dialogues that have taken place between self-defined Evangelical bodies or self-defined Evangelical groups and Roman Catholic representatives, both officially nominated and informally convened. The theme of salvation runs through the wider conversation and it is not often the main focus of it. Nonetheless, for the future of the dialogue it is necessary to take into account previous attempts of discussing various aspects of the doctrine of salvation.

                    III.1 The Evangelical Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission (1977-1984)

                    Between 1977 and 1984 representative groups of Evangelicals and Roman Catholics met on three occasions for intensive dialogue on mission under the leadership of John Stott and Basil Meeking.[27] ERCDOM was the outcome of this particular historical phase which both Roman Catholic and Evangelical constituencies experienced. On the one hand, the Second Vatican Council with the decree Ad Gentes was integrated by Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi in 1975, and put mission back on the Roman Catholic agenda. On the other, the Evangelical International Congress on World Evangelization which took place in Lausanne in 1974 fully confirmed the traditional Evangelical emphasis on mission in the Lausanne Covenant.

                    Recognizing this parallel interest in mission, ERCDOM resolved to be “a faithful record of the ideas shared” (11) in which the brief exposition of both positions was followed by the honest indication of areas of disagreement as well as points of agreement. Our interest here has to do with the section on “The Gospel of Salvation”.

                    Participants found areas of consensus on the inseparability of “repentance and faith, conversion and baptism, regeneration and incorporation into the Christian community” (57-60) as well as on “certain convictions about the Church” (65-69). On the whole, ERCDOM testifies to the reality that “deep truths unite” Evangelicals and Roman Catholics (82-83), and that on certain fundamental doctrines their understanding is “identical or very similar” (88). This, however, is only one side of the coin. ERCDOM also clearly shows that “divisions continue” (82) and that they are rooted in “real and important convictions” (83) that the two counterparts wholeheartedly hold as essential elements of their doctrinal identity. Beside other areas of disagreement, the Report refers to the understanding of the soteriological significance of the work of Christ.

                    In this respect, Evangelicals stress the word “substitution”, whereas Catholics prefer the word “solidarity” (43). On the basis of this divergence, the meaning of the word “gospel” can change considerably (ibidem). Moreover, there is the recognition that profound divergences are apparent in the doctrine of sin whereby Evangelicals are more pessimistic stressing the concept of “total depravity” while Roman Catholics are more optimistic speaking of sin in terms of “injury” and “disorder” (40). Somewhat analogously, Evangelicals are referred to as underlining “discontinuity” whereas Catholics focus on “continuity” between man redeemed and man unredeemed (73). Consequently, the meaning of the term grace is articulated “somewhat differently” (60). Finally, an appendix to the proceedings is dedicated to Mariology giving Evangelicals an occasion to express all their “uneasiness” with a “certainly ambiguous and probably misleading” vocabulary with soteriological implications used by Roman Catholics in relation to Mary (52).[28]

                    On the whole, ERCDOM reflects a responsible ethos of dialogue on salvation. On the one hand it tries to allow both traditions to speak in their own terms and to compare the respective languages, thought-forms and expressions of what they believe. Common features are appreciated and differences are not hidden nor squeezed. On the other, though, it makes the effort to show awareness of wider theological issues that undergird the accounts of salvation. Salvation is not an isolated theological topic but has multiple connections with the whole of one’s own “system” of beliefs.

                    III.2 The Venice Consultation on “Justification, Scripture and Tradition” (1993) and the “Church, Evangelization and the Bonds of Koinonia” (2003)

                    After the publication of the 1986 “An Evangelical Perspective on Roman Catholicism” by the World Evangelical Fellowship,[29] conversations began between WEF and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. The first official event between the delegations was held in October 1993 in Venice with “Justification, Scripture and Tradition” as the general theme. The choice of such a triangular topic was the result of a compromise. The Pontifical Council’s proposal to focus on a fundamental issue like Scripture and tradition was fully endorsed. Yet, Evangelicals felt that the doctrine of justification by faith could not be ignored and pressed for it to be included in the course of the discussion.[30] The outcome of the agreement was thus “Justification, Scripture and Tradition”.

                    In his paper,[31] George Vandervelde surveys the US Lutheran-Catholic dialogue on justification pointing out the “convergences” as well as the persisting “contrasting perspectives” that emerged as a result of the bilateral dialogue. The whole discussion is presented against the background of the Reformation versus Trent controversy. One aspect which deserves mentioning is that both parties now agree that justification by faith is only “a criterion, not the criterion for the authenticity of the Church” as the Lutheran tradition used to maintain with the famous saying articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae. On this point, Vandervelde introduces a distinction between a “necessary and sufficient criteria” for guiding the Church (146). Justification belongs to the former, not to the latter, in that “salvation in Christ is too rich, too deep and broad, to be captured by the soteriological cutting edge” of this doctrine (147). On the whole, this dialogue touches on salvation only through a historical overview of the controversy over justification by faith, but does not really grapple with the issue.[32]

                    More substantial is the contribution on the topic of salvation by the 2003 study document “Church, Evangelization and the Bonds of Koinonia” which stemmed out of the dialogue between the World Evangelical Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. [33] According to the drafters “a common reflection on the biblical notion of koinonia would help us to clarify some convergences and differences between us on the church”. The relevant passages of the document are the following:


                    (5) For both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics communion with Christ involves a transformative union whereby believers are “koinonoi of the divine nature and escape the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Pt 1:4). Catholics tend to interpret koinonia in this passage to mean a participation in the divine life and “nature,” while Evangelicals tend to interpret koinonia as covenant companionship, as it entails escaping moral corruption and the way of the world.


                    Here an important point is rightly highlighted. The word koinonia has obvious links with salvation and because of that it is interpreted differently by Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. A participatory meaning is preferred in Catholic theology (based on a less radical view of sin, a more optimistic anthropology, a highly sacramental framework and a de iure divino hierarchical ecclesiology) whereas a covenantal significance is given priority by Evangelicals (such as referring to covenant-breaking and covenant-renewal, condemnation and acquittal, enmity and reconciliation, as it is stated in n. 58). The word “fellowship” is the same, yet its meaning is different. Words do not stand in isolation but are part of theological frameworks that inform what they mean. In dialogue we can use the same words, yet we have to be sure that we understand what it is meant by those who use them.


                    III.3 The Gift of Salvation (1997)

                    The year 1994 marked the release of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) statement in the USA, which was the outcome of an informal dialogue that emerged out of the “culture wars” that North America was experiencing between secularizing tendencies and more religious approaches to public life.[34] The first result of this initiative was a shorter document released in November 1997 under the title of The Gift of Salvation (GOS).[35] Sponsored and led by the same authors as ECT, namely Charles Colson and Richard Neuhaus, GOS can be thought of as being an elucidation of the “We Affirm Together” of the previous document. The filial connection is also evoked when GOS is sometimes referred to as ECT II.

                    Granting the decisive importance of sola fide in historic Protestantism and noting the “noisy silence” in ECT over it, Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul defined it “the missing doctrine” of the statement.[36] Taking these reservations seriously into account, ECT drafters eventually decided to engage in the debate precisely over the crucial issue of sola fide. In this way they wished to demonstrate that the kind of ecumenism favoured by the participants was an “ecumenism of conviction”, not one of “accommodation”[37] as was charged against the vagueness of ECT on various matters. GOS strives to deepen the theological quality of the professed unity after addressing the core soteriological issue of the Reformation. If ECT confessed unity on the basis of the Apostles’ Creed, GOS claims that it is also possible to envisage “a common understanding of salvation”, including an agreed upon version of sola fide. With this development, the ECT process has gained some theological merit in its supporters’ opinion, in that the unity expressed in GOS is “not indeed unity in every aspect of the gospel, but unity in its basic dimension”.[38]

                    Rather boldly and with a hint of triumphalism, after outlining the content of the accord over salvation, GOS states that what has been affirmed “is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide)”. In view of such a statement, it should not be a surprise to read that, according to the signatories “for the first time in 450 years Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics have publicly agreed to a common understanding of salvation”.[39] Without making any reference to the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue nor to any other relevant ecumenical documents on the same doctrine, these claims sound rather curious because they give the impression of a major breakthrough of historical importance achieved through an informal, unofficial and relatively short dialogue culminating in the release of a concise text. The problem of ambiguity is evoked by Sproul, for whom GOS was drawn up with a “studied ambiguity by which agreement is reached in words but not in substance, leaving each side the opportunity to maintain its original position”.[40] GOS only affirms “ingredients” of sola fide, not sola fide itself.

                    It is fair to say that the newly discovered possibility of confessing together “fundamental truths about the gift of salvation” goes hand in hand with the awareness of “some serious and persistent differences” between the Evangelical and Catholic signatories on specific details or broad frameworks related to the doctrine itself which require “further and urgent exploration”. Among these “necessarily interrelated questions” there are “the meaning of baptismal regeneration, the Eucharist and sacramental grace, the historic uses of the language of justification as it relates to imputed and transformative righteousness” and “the normative status of justification in relation to all Christian doctrine”.

                    On the whole, then, while testifying to a further advancement along the path of an “ecumenism of conviction” than ECT was able to express, GOS is somewhat wanting. In Sproul’s telling words, “the ECT initiative … proclaims too much way too soon”.[41] Another point underlined by some GOS Evangelical signatories is that the professed unity testified to in the statement is a bond between “some Roman Catholics and some evangelicals”, thus by no means implying “a unity of faith with the church of Rome”.[42] The level of brotherly recognition concerns individual believers involved in the process, while no recognition of that kind is extended to Catholicism as an ecclesial institution. As Gerald Bray puts it, “one of the most painful parts of the ECT dialogue has been the need for Evangelicals to explain to the Catholics involved that we cannot regard the Roman Church in the way that a Baptist might look at Presbyterians. There is a qualitative difference between us”.[43]

                    GOS is therefore a further exercise in the on-going Evangelical – Roman Catholic dialogue on salvation which shows some merits as well some weaknesses. Its primary merit is that it rightly addresses the core issue of the historical and theological division that has existed since the time of the Reformation in a fresh way and with an open-minded attitude. The major weakness is that the conversation needs to be more historically conscious, theologically careful and ecumenically alert than previous contributions to both ECT or GOS have been.

                    IV. Concluding Remarks in View of Future Conversations

                    The doctrine, experience, message and symbolic significance of salvation represent the core of the Evangelical faith. The same could be argued as far as the Roman Catholic faith is concerned. Yet differences remain because salvation is received, lived out, and accounted for in different ways. Building on past experiences of dialogue between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics and given the fact that this dialogue will continue, it is important to learn the art of dialogue in a theologically informed, historically conscious, and pastorally alert way. The following are some broad perspectives which can be helpful in pushing the conversation further without losing sight of wider issues and concerns.

                    Christian doctrines are part of a more or less coherent theological system. The doctrine of salvation is no exception. It is rooted in the Triune life of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; it is based on His grace alone that saves sinners and renews the world; it is anchored in the unique person and the once-and-for-all work of Jesus Christ and His mediatorship; it is grounded in the on-going work of the Holy Spirit; it presupposes man’s sinful condition and total inability to be reconciled to God; it is attested to in the written and inspired Word of God; it is related to the whole of the Christian life that is changed by salvation; it is linked to the life of the Church and its ordinances; and it is connected to the eschatological hope of the resurrection and eternal life. The list could go on in spelling out all the doctrinal dimensions of the Christian faith and in appreciating their multiple relationships. What matters here is that salvation stands in the middle of a theological web, and is an organic part of the whole Christian vision.

                    The Evangelical doctrine of salvation, in its essential yet coherent account, is not isolated from other Biblical doctrines that define the Evangelical faith. The same is true as far as Roman Catholicism is concerned. When Evangelicals and Roman Catholics discuss their respective soteriologies they do so with a specific focus on the topic itself, but also in its being part of their comprehensive theological meta-narrative. With many theological issues that are organically related to salvation, there are different degrees of consensus or dissent between Evangelicals and Catholics that come to the fore as dialogue proceeds. Instead of stifling mutual understanding, the awareness of the respective theological “system” helps to clarify the merits of one specific topic and allows one to grasp it responsibly. How is salvation related to the whole of the theological system? How does it impact the system and how is impacted by it? How does it translate into spiritual practices?

                    Evangelicals tend to view salvation in relational categories whereby God saves lost sinners in reconciling them to Himself by the work of Christ alone. The whole theological vocabulary of salvation is relational in focus and intent: regeneration (life language), justification (juridical language), adoption (familial language), and conversion (language of change). These are all pictures that depict the re-enacted relationship between God and man in different ways. Evangelicals find it difficult to think of salvation in sacramental terms. In the Evangelical understanding and experience of salvation, the sacraments are important, but not prominent. They are in the background, of course, as part of the God-given and Scripture-attested life of the church, but are not essential to salvation and the theological account of salvation.[44] To put it simply: no Evangelical would say that she is saved because she has been baptized or because she is a regular participant at Communion services. The basic view of salvation is that it is God’s free gift, in spite of ourselves, through the work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection. John Stott is again helpful here: “If there is no saving merit either in our good works or in our faith, there is no saving merit in the mere reception of the sacraments either… It is not by the mere outward administration of water in baptism that we are cleansed and receive the Spirit, nor by the mere gift of bread and wine in Communion that we feed on Christ crucified, but by faith in the promises of God thus visibly expressed, a faith which is itself meant to be illustrated in our humble, believing acceptance of these signs. But we must not confuse the signs with the promises which they signify. It is possible to receive the sign without receiving the promise, and also to receive the promise apart from receiving the sign”.[45]

                    The cross, not the Eucharist, has center-stage in the Evangelical horizon.[46] The hapax (once-and-for-all) significance of the cross is emphasized much more than the mallon (more and more) aspect of the Eucharist.[47] Each Evangelical tradition has its own sacramentology, but it does not lie at the “center” of the Evangelical faith. Nor does sacramental language define the grammar and vocabulary of the Evangelical understanding of salvation. When Evangelicals and Catholics converse about salvation, a relational theological mindset is exposed to a sacramental theological mindset and vice versa. Many words and expressions are the same, but their theological meanings are different because of the distance between their underlying, fundamental frameworks.

                    Linked to the Evangelical uneasiness towards sacramental language is the place of the Church in the account of salvation. Salvation is a personal salvation through the unique mediation of Christ. The emphasis is put on the direct relationship between the person saved and Christ, rather than on the Church as a corporate agent that administers grace.

                    Stemming from the once-and-for-all work of Christ and the firm promises of the Gospel, Evangelicals also experience a high degree of the assurance of salvation. Salvation is certain because of the juridical significance of justification and the eschatological trustworthiness of God’s covenant promises. “If I die today, I will go to heaven” is the standard Evangelical language. Sometime this attitude is perceived as arrogant and misplaced, yet it reflects the “grace alone”, “faith alone” and “Christ alone” emphases of the Evangelical account of salvation. Indeed, salvation belongs to the Lord and those who receive it can be assured of it, despite their failures. Generally speaking, Roman Catholics find it difficult to appropriate this assurance, and this reluctance derives from a different way of approaching salvation.

                    We could also touch on the different anthropological views that form the basis of the different accounts of salvation. How much, for example, does the homo capax dei tradition affect Roman Catholic soteriology and the Evangelical puzzlement over it because of its apparently overt optimism? How deep is the respective doctrine of man’s sin as the natural condition that prevents any contribution on his part for his salvation?

                    Dialogue is a means of elucidating all of these dimensions. They are all inter-related because of the comprehensive and articulated nature of Christian theology. Staying on the surface could allow a faster dialogue but its quality and usefulness would suffer.[48]

                    [1] Popular Evangelical, yet theologically serious treatments of salvation are Ernest F. Kevan, Salvation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House 1963) and David F. Wells, The Search of Salvation (Leicester: IVP 1978). The bibliography of this paper will focus on resources in English.

                    [2] J.I. Packer, “Evangelicals and the Way of Salvation” in K.S. Kantzer – C.F.H. Henry (edd.), Evangelical Affirmations (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990) pp. 111-112.

                    [3] This is one of the five characteristics of Evangelicalism according to George Marsden (ed.), Evangelicalism and Modern America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994) pp. ix-x. The other four are: “the final authority of Scripture”, “the real, historical character of God’s saving work recorded in Scripture”, “the importance of evangelism and missions”, and “the reality of a spiritually transformed life”. The literature on the complex nature of Evangelicalism is vast, but the reference to a certain understanding and experience of salvation is central in many accounts of Evangelicalism. See Derek Tidball, Who Are the Evangelicals? Tracing the Roots of Today’s Movement (London: Marshall Pickering, 1994) and Alister McGrath, A Passion for Truth. The Intellectual Coherence of Evangelicalism (Leicester: Apollos, 1996).

                    [4] Carl Henry, “Who are the Evangelicals” in K.S. Kantzer – C.F.H. Henry (edd.), Evangelical Affirmations, cit., p. 75. See also Donald A. Carson, “The Biblical Gospel” in Steve Brady – Harold Rowdon (edd.), For Such a Time as This. Perspectives on Evangelicalism, Past, Present and Future (London: Scripture Union, 1996) pp. 75-85.

                    [5]sōtēría” in G. Kittel – G. Friedrich (edd.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. VII (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971) pp. 965-1003. Here is a summary by J. Packer: “Salvation is a picture-word of wide application that expresses the idea of rescue from jeopardy and misery into a state of safety. The gospel proclaims that the God who saved Israel from Egypt … saves all who trust Christ from sin and sin’s consequences”: J.I. Packer,  Concise Theology. A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publ., 1993) p. 146. The same theologian provides helpful word studies on salvation in J.I. Packer, God’s Words. Studies in Key Bible Themes (Leicester: IVP 1981).

                    [6] John Stott, Christ the Controversialist. The Basics of Belief (Leicester: IVP, 1970, 21996) pp. 109-110.

                    [7] John Stott, Christ the Controversialist, cit., p. 33. In the same book, Stott argues that Evangelical Christianity is “theological”, “biblical”, “original” and “fundamental, pp. 27-46.

                    [8] Gerald Bray, “Evangelicals, Salvation and Church History” in Thomas P. Rausch (ed.), Catholics and Evangelicals. Do They Share a Common Future? (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2000) pp. 77-100.

                    [9] James I. Packer – Thomas C. Oden, One Faith. The Evangelical Consensus (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004) pp. 163-164.

                    [10] This is argued by Donald A. Carson, “Evangelicals, Ecumenism and the Church” in K.S. Kantzer – C.F.H. Henry (edd.), Evangelical Affirmations, cit., pp. 349-354.

                    [11] Robert Webber, Common Roots. A Call to Evangelical Maturity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1978) p. 26.

                    [12] See Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought. An Introduction (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988) ch. 5 on “The doctrine of grace”.

                    [13] This is the title of one of John Stott’s classics: The Cross of Christ (Leicester: IVP, 1986).

                    [14] These are the titles of the four parts of the book by Philip G. Ryken, The Message of Salvation (Leicester: IVP, 2001) and well reflect the gist of Evangelical soteriology.

                    [15] David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain. A History from 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989). On Bebbington’s overall understanding of Evangelicalism, see the recent and helpful critical discussion in Michael A.G Haykin – Kenneth J. Stewart (edd.), The Emergence of Evangelicalism. Exploring Historical Continuities (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008).

                    [16] There is a recent study on being “born again” by John Piper, Finally Alive. What Happens When We Are Born Again (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2010).

                    [17] Stephen R. Holmes, Evangelical Doctrine: Basis for Unity or Cause of Division?, “Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology” 30:1 (2012) p. 64. Holmes then goes on to stress the foundational importance of soteriology for the formation of Evangelical theology as a whole: “For this gospel to be true, God must be triune, and Christ must be fully divine and truly human, so we take our stand on classical Trinity and Christology. The basis of this gospel is in the Scriptures, so Biblical authority, sufficiently strong to establish truth, is central to our belief”. Classical Trinitarian theology and Christology are maintained in so far as they explain the soteriological scheme of Scripture. Evangelical theology is therefore an outworking of soteriology.

                    [18] Klaas Runia, What is Evangelical Theology?, “Evangelical Review of Theology” 21:4 (1997) p. 299.

                    [19] James I. Packer – Thomas C. Oden, One Faith. The Evangelical Consensus, cit., p. 160.

                    [20] It should be noted that the worldview of the “sinner’s prayer” is a topic of growing uneasiness in Evangelical circles. It is deemed to be too simplistic, too individualistic, too modernistic, too superficial, too close to Western cultural patterns of individual decision-making processes and far from other cultural patterns, etc. Having said all this and being aware of its weaknesses (see “Christianity Today”’s 2012 September editorial, the “sinner’s prayer” is a “monument” of present-day Evangelical spirituality that needs to be grappled with.

                    [21] Billy Graham, Peace with God, 1953 and dozens of subsequent editions and reprints. Here is the structure of the book:

                    Part One: Assessing the situation

                    The Great Quest; The Indestructible Bible; What is God Like?; The Terrible Fact of Sin; Dealing with the Devil; The Despair of Loneliness; After Death-What?

                    Part Two: Advancing the Solution

                    Why Jesus Came; How and Where to Begin; What is Repentance?; What is Faith?; The Old and the New; How to Be Sure.

                    Part Three: Applying the Antidote

                    Enemies of the Christian; Guidelines for Christian Living; The Christian and the Church; Am I my Brother’s Keeper?; Hope for the Future; Peace at Last; The Day After.

                    [22] Some of the criticism from “liberal” voices are found in Michael G. Long (ed.), The Legacy of Billy Graham. Critical Reflections on America’s Greatest Evangelist (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008).

                    [23] The proceedings of the Berlin Congress are published by Carl F.H. Henry – W. Stanley Mooneyham (edd.), One Race, One Gospel, One Task, vol. 1 (Minneapolis, MN: World Wide Publ., 1967).

                    [24] James I. Packer – Thomas C. Oden, One Faith. The Evangelical Consensus, cit., p. 24. The authors explain the meaning of the word “consensus”: it has mainly to do with the drafting procedures (by international and interdenominational bodies, rather than individuals), and with the fairly extended reception of the documents by the grassroots Evangelical movement. See also pp. 162-173.

                    [25] The main Lausanne documents up to 1989 have been collected by John Stott (ed.), Making Christ Known. Historic Mission Documents from the Lausanne Movement (1974-1989) (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1996). Later documents, especially the 2012 Cape Town Commitment, can be found at

                    [26] The proceedings of the conference and the Amsterdam Declaration can be found in The Mission of an Evangelist (Minneapolis, MN: World Wide Publ., 2001).

                    [27]  John Stott – Basil Meeking (edd.), The Evangelical – Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission 1977-1984 (Grand Rapids, MI – Exeter: Eerdmans – Paternoster, 1986). The Evangelical participants were not “official representatives of any international body” while the Roman Catholic ones were named by the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, pp. 7-8. Page numbers will be written in the main text.

                    [28] A more detailed examination of ERCDOM can be found in my book Evangelical Theological Perspectives on Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism (Bern: Peter Lang, 2003) pp. 113-118.

                    [29] Paul Schrotenboer (ed.), Roman Catholicism. A Contemporary Evangelical Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987).

                    [30] Paul Schrotenboer, Introduction, “Evangelical Review of Theology” 21:2 (1997) pp. 101-102. WEF had previously sponsored an international symposium on justification by faith: Donald A. Carson (ed.), Justification in the Bible and the World (Exeter – Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster – Baker, 1992).

                    [31] George Vandervelde, Justification between Scripture and Tradition, “Evangelical Review of Theology” 21:2 (1997) pp. 128-148.

                    [32] More details on this Venice consultation can be found in my Evangelical Theological Perspectives, cit.,  pp. 131-135.

                    [34] Charles Colson – Richard J. Neuhaus (edd.), Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Toward a Common Mission (Dallas, TX: Word Publ., 1995). In this section I use parts of my article published as Christian Unity vis-à-vis Roman Catholicism: a Critique of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together Dialogue, “Evangelical Review of Theology” 27:4 (2003) pp. 337-352.

                    [35] The GOS text was originally published in “Christianity Today” (Dec 8, 1997) p. 34.

                    [36] R.C. Sproul, By Faith Alone. The Doctrine that Divides (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995) pp. 22-24.

                    [37] These expressions are employed by T. George – T. Oden – J. Packer, An Open Letter about The Gift of Salvation, “Christianity Today” (April 27, 1998) p. 9.

                    [38] Ibidem.

                    [39] As reported by R. Frame, “Christianity Today” (Jan 12, 1998) p. 61.

                    [40] R.C. Sproul, What ECTII Ignores. The inseparable link between imputation and the gospel, “Modern Reformation” (Sept/Oct 1998). Other criticism by Sproul to the whole ECT initiative are echoed in his book Getting the Gospel Right. The Tie that Binds Evangelicals Together (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999).

                    [41] R.C. Sproul, What ECTII Ignores, cit. In the same respect, Neuhaus writes that “the Lutheran formula of simul iustus et peccator, which was Rome’s chief objection to JD (Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration), is no part of «The Gift of Salvation»”, “First Things” 86 (Oct 1998) p. 82. Neuhaus too recognises that the central issue of the Protestant-Catholic divergence on the doctrine was untouched by GOS.

                    [42] T. George – T. Oden – J. Packer, cit., italics in the original.

                    [43] Gerald Bray, Editorial, “Churchman” 113 (1999) p. 197.

                    [44] This aspect is well presented in the 1996 WEF document on Roman Catholicism: Paul Schrotenboer (ed.), Roman Catholicism. A Contemporary Evangelical Perspective, cit., par. 8.

                    [45] John Stott, Christ the Controversialist, cit., pp. 120-121.

                    [46] See my The Cross and the Eucharist: the Doctrine of the Atonement According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “European Journal of Theology” VIII (1999/1) pp. 49-59.

                    [47] On the hapax and mallon as defining categories for Evangelical theology, see John Stott, Evangelical Truth. A Personal Plea for Unity, Integrity and Faithfulness (Leicester: IVP, 1999) pp. 34-38. I have applied this distinction in assessing the Roman Catholic language of “prolongation” of the Incarnation, “re-presentation” of the Eucharist and the “dynamic” time of Revelation: see The Blurring of Time Distinctions in Roman Catholicism, “Themelios” 29:2 (2004) pp. 40-46.

                    [48] As it is rightly argued by Pietro Bolognesi, Catholicisme romain et protestantisme évangélique : réconciliation, mais sous quelles conditions ?, “La Revue Réformée”  N° 263 (2012/4).