In Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor notes, car ownership is a matter of faith. Lutherans drive Fords, bought from Bunsen Motors, the Lutheran car dealer, and Catholics drive Chevys from Main Garage, owned by the Kruegers, except for Hjalmar Ingqvist, who has a Lincoln. Years ago, John Tollerud was tempted by Chevyship until (then) Pastor Tommerdahl took John aside after church and told him it was his (Pastor Tommerdahl’s) responsibility to point out that Fords get better gas mileage and have a better trade-in value. And he knew for a fact that the Kruegers spent a share of the Chevy profits to purchase Asian babies and make them Catholics. So John got a new Ford Falcon. It turned out to be a dud. The transmission went out after ten thousand miles and the car tended to pull to the left. In a town where car ownership is by faith, however, a person doesn’t complain about these things, and John figured there must be a good reason for his car trouble, which perhaps he would understand more fully someday.
The Brethren, being Protestants, also drove Fords, of course, but we distinguished ourselves from Lutherans by carrying small steel Scripture plates bolted to the top of our license plates. The verses were written in small glass beads so they showed up well at night. We ordered these from the Grace & Truth Scripture Depot in Erie, Pennsylvania, and the favorites were ‘The wages of sin is death. Rom.6:23.’ and ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. Jn.10:6.’ The verse from John was made of white beads, the Romans of lurid red, and if your car came up behind a Brethren car on the road at night, that rear verse jumped right out at you. It certainly jumped out at me the night I drove Karen Mueller back from Avon, where we had had two whiskey sours apiece on her fake ID. I was going seventy on the old post road when we flew over a hill and there was a pair of taillights and what looked like a red stripe between them. I hit the brakes, we skidded at an angle so that for one split second, looking out the side window, I saw ‘The wages of sin is death’ like a flashbulb exploding in my face, and then we were halfway in the ditch. I hit the gas and we passed Brother Louie on the low side, and I got Karen home before eleven, and nobody was the wiser except me. ‘You’re a wonderful driver. You saved our lives,’ Karen said, but I knew the truth. Drinking whiskey sours with a Catholic girl and thinking lustful thoughts, I had earned death three times over, and God was reminding me of this at the same time as He took the wheel for those few seconds, probably because He had a purpose for Brother Louie’s life.
One Faith, Three Communities
Except for those living in Lake Wobegon, Christians considering the conflicting claims of Evangelicalism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy have far more at stake than which automobile to own. Consider, for example, the claims asserted in these three statements:
Statement #1. “Evangelicalism is historic Christianity. Its beliefs correspond to the central doctrines of the Christian churches down the ages, including the two most important doctrines of the patristic period: the doctrine of the ‘two natures,’ human and divine, of Jesus Christ, and the doctrine of the Trinity. In its vigorous defense of the biblical foundations, theological legitimacy and spiritual relevance of these doctrines, evangelicalism has shown itself to have every right to claim to be a modern standard-bearer of historic, orthodox Christianity.” [Alister McGrath, theologian at Oxford University and Regent College]
Statement #2. “We Orthodox hold steadfastly to the belief that, by the grace of God, we have preserved unadulterated the truth of the gospel as it was handed down and lived from the days of the apostles. Our Lord Jesus Christ’s great commission to his disciples—Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I commanded (Matthew 28:19-20)—is still our high calling.” [Bartholomew I, Orthodox archbishop of Constantinople and ecumenical patriarch]
Statement #3. “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.” [The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism]
These three claims appear, at least at first glance, to be irreconcilable—if one is true, the other two must be false. And Christians who take their faith seriously will not approach such conflicting claims lightly. At stake is not simply which church we happen to “like,” but whether we are part of the community of God’s people that truly believes, proclaims, and lives out the gospel of Christ. “We cannot become acceptable to God,” John Calvin taught, “without being united in one and the same faith, that is, without being members of the Church.”
Yet there are significant differences that separate Evangelical, Orthodox, and Catholic belief and practice, even though all three share a common commitment to the “mere Christianity” outlined in the Apostles’ Creed. At more than a few points in the past, Christians have chosen death rather than compromise on certain issues, and even if we are unwilling to lend the question that particular level of significance, most serious believers still react strongly when the subject of the “one true church” is raised. At least that’s true for evangelical Protestants: claim that Orthodoxy or Catholicism is the only true church and an argument is virtually guaranteed.
And therein lies a problem.
The problem is not that the claim is taken seriously—every claim concerning the “true church” of Jesus Christ should be examined with care. The problem is that reaction rather than understanding and discernment is usually the order of the day. Sometimes our reaction is based not on fact, but on rumor, or even worse, nontruths (“Catholics don’t accept the Bible.” “The Orthodox worship icons.”); sometimes our own position is less reasonable or biblical than we suppose (“Oh, yeah?”); and sometimes our reaction involves tossing out a few babies with a bit of bathwater (“Catholics and Orthodox aren’t Christians.”). As Christians, we are called to truth, not rumor, to discernment, not gut reaction.
Reasons for Understanding
With that in mind, consider these four reasons why evangelical Protestants need to accurately understand something about Catholicism and Orthodoxy. (The reasons apply in the opposite direction, too, but our readership seems to consist primarily of evangelicals.)
Reason #1: We Can Learn from One Another
Since none of us (individually or corporately) has apprehended the entire truth of God entirely, we can—and should—learn from one another. Even if we were not fallen, we would remain finite, and that means that all we know of God is only a fraction of what could be known. To stand before God as his creature is to bow before the Infinite, and his absolute transcendence relativizes all our knowledge of him. In fellowship as believers, then, we need one another so we can learn from one another. Usually we take this to mean learning from others within the community of which we are a part, and we’re usually happy to do so, but both Scripture and experience would suggest this is too narrow a view. Not only does the apostle Paul warn us about claiming we don’t need one another, he goes on to insist that even those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable (1 Corinthians 12:21-22).
A practical example of learning from one another can be found in Richard Foster’s book, Prayer. A Quaker, Foster draws on the experience and writings of Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical believers to produce a helpful, warmly devotional, and richly nuanced book on prayer. We need not convert to Orthodoxy or Catholicism to learn from those communities, nor do we need to dismiss or take lightly the disagreements which remain unresolved between the three communities.
Reason #2: In Disagreement, Our Position can be Sharpened
Disagreement, when approached properly, can deepen faith and hone our thinking. Nothing has helped me clarify my understanding of the authority of Scripture as much as examining the view proposed by the Orthodox and Catholic traditions. Listening with care to those who differ with us can provide an opportunity to rethink both our position and the reasons we give for holding it. This in itself can be a precious gift, since far too few believers take the time and effort to evaluate their convictions in detail. Such discernment is necessary, for our knowing and doing is never fully free on this side of glory, from our own fallenness and folly.
To be fearful of reevaluation suggests our belief is more tentative than may be necessary, and our hesitation reveals our need to proceed. To not have an immediate answer to a challenge or a new idea does not mean there is no answer, merely that we don’t know it at the moment. To doubt what we believe is not to disbelieve it, nor is doubt—which may be temporary and unnecessary—a sufficient reason in itself to alter our convictions. The idea is to enter a conversation, not a debate, feeling free to take sufficient time to read, to study, to reflect, and to pray. What we should fear is not the discovery that some of our convictions are in some measure incorrect, or imprecise, or incomplete; what we should fear is the discovery that we are unteachable.
Reason #3: Cobelligerency does not Require Full Agreement
The third reason an accurate understanding of Orthodoxy and Catholicism is helpful is that believers from all three traditions stand as cobelligerents on a wide variety of issues. Abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, pop culture, caring for the earth, penal and judicial reform, religious freedom, welfare and tax reform, the family, divorce, and education are simply a few of the concerns over which believers have joined forces for the common good. We do not have to agree with papal infallibility nor with the veneration of icons to appreciate the work of Catholic and Orthodox believers in seeking to increase justice and mercy in this sad world. When we work together as cobelligerents, we set aside our differences for a time, not because they are insignificant, but because they are irrelevant to the particular struggle for justice with which we happen to be engaged.
Reason #4: We Should Speak the Truth about Others
Finally, evangelical Protestants should know something of Orthodoxy and Catholicism so we can speak with accuracy and charity concerning their beliefs and practices. It is never pleasant to hear one’s own position summarized inaccurately, and the truth is never served when lies, exaggerations, or unfair generalizations are attributed to those with whom we happen to disagree. Loving the other person means, at the very least, that we will describe their practices precisely and define their convictions honestly, even when we’ve raised the topic in order to argue another point of view. Our goal must always be to define the other person’s position with such thoughtfulness and care that they would not object to our description, even though they may not share our assessment of their position. Only a few of the Athenians believed in Christ after Paul spoke at the Aereopagus (Acts 17), but none are on record claiming he failed to accurately comprehend and summarize their world view and religious practices.
For these four reasons, then, evangelicals need to understand and discern Catholic and Orthodox belief and practice. We can learn from them; investigating their claims can help us think through and clarify our own position; we are cobelligerents with them in our postmodern culture; and when we speak of their beliefs and practices, Christian charity demands we do so with accuracy.
On the other hand, this does not necessarily imply that each evangelical needs to understand Catholicism and Orthodoxy to the same degree of proficiency. The extent of our need will be determined by our calling before the Lord. To the extent such knowledge is important for us to be faithful before the Lord, to that extent we will held responsible as stewards.
This discernment exercise originally appeared as an article in Critique #3 – 1997. In response to the article, we received the following letter to the editor:
I am amazed that [this article] gave no resources with regard to the teachings of [the Council of] Trent on the distinctives of the Catholic view of the gospel. At this most critical point, Trent anathematized the Reformed definition of the gospel. Those anathemas have never been lifted. Based on Paul’s view of the importance of the gospel (Galatians 1:6-10), and his willingness to attack even Peter (Galatians 2), this is no small difference. Your whole article seems to ignore this. I find evangelicals woefully weak in their knowledge of these matters and all too eager to embrace Rome or Orthodoxy.
I am quite sure Paul was glad that the Judaizers did not sacrifice their children to idols, or any number of other horrible practices that the pagans practiced. Yet, in light of the New Testament, one major threat, if not the major threat to Paul’s ministry came from the Judaizers. The Judaizers were not innocent co-belligerents in a war against child sacrifice (to choose one pagan sin we can all agree is horrific). The premise that we need either Rome or Orthodoxy certainly doesn’t hold in light of Paul’s strategy. Are we in a position more difficult than Paul in Galatia? His passion is to keep the truth of the gospel clear, not to bring in the Judaizers or even Peter as cobelligerents. This is our duty as well.
In the next issue of Critique, editor and author Denis Haack responded:
I’m delighted for the opportunity to clarify my position, especially since you were not the only one to question what I wrote concerning cobelligerency with members of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
First, let me define what I mean by the term cobelligerent. I am using it as Francis Schaeffer did: A cobelligerent 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, such as abortion or physician-assisted suicide. We are not allies (a term I would reserve for those who share my deepest convictions), but we are cobelligerents in the effort to increase justice in the public square.
“If I live in a suburb,” Dr. Schaeffer said, “and suddenly the sewer system begins to back up into the water system and all my neighbors are atheists, it does not mean we cannot sign a petition together or go to the city council or the mayor, to say we want our water system fixed. I do not have to wait for them to become Christians to do that. It is the same in the issues we are discussing. We should be glad for every co-belligerent who will stand beside us. It does not mean we will agree with everything he says or that we think he has a sufficient base, or that, over a cup of coffee, we will not try to show him the truth of Christianity. But it does mean that, in these life-and-death issues, we are glad for those who take the right position and we stand with them in the battles that we are fighting.”
The theme of my article was to give reasons why evangelicals need to understand clearly the beliefs and practices of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and to suggest that one way to gain such understanding is to avail ourselves of resources by Catholic and Orthodox authors (a few of which I listed). I agree that there are significant differences which divide evangelicalism, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism, and made that clear in my article. Given the specific theme of the article, and the clear statement that differences exist, I saw no need to list specific areas of disagreement.
The biblical example you mentioned concerning Paul and the Judaizers in Galatians does not involve cobelligerency. Paul’s concern was what will be preached and believed in the church concerning the gospel, not whether non-Christians and Christians might happen to agree on some issue of social justice. Paul argued for no compromise with the Judaizers’ false gospel (and so would I), but to suggest that this means that he would refuse to join Judaizers as cobelligerents in saving a child from sacrifice, had the opportunity presented itself, is to go beyond the meaning of the text.
The notion of cobelligerency is rooted in the biblical teaching concerning common grace: in a fallen world, truth and justice are not limited only to the people of God. If a biblical case study for cobelligerency is desired, consider Joseph working with the Egyptians to stave off famine (Genesis 41), or Daniel working in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court (Daniel 2).
I wish the gospel to be preached in all its glory, and by gospel I mean the good news that we are justified by faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. As an evangelical I am also called to help save the life of unborn children, and if a secularist, or a Hindu, or a Mormon, or a Catholic is my cobelligerent in that effort, I will gratefully acknowledge their involvement without for one moment compromising what I believe.
[Sources: The quotation from Francis Schaeffer was taken from “Plan for Action: An Action Alternative Handbook for Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell; 1980) p. 68; Dr. Schaeffer also addressed the topic of cobelligerency in chapter 2 of The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century.]
For Further Reading
Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic by David Currie (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press; 1996) 215 pp.
This book is designed with two goals clearly in mind: first, to explain why the author converted to Catholicism (or, as he puts it, was “reconciled” to the Catholic Church), and second, to encourage fundamentalists and evangelicals to follow his example.
Here are some of Currie’s credentials: his parents were married by A. W. Tozer, his dad attended Dallas Theological Seminary, and both parents taught at Moody Bible Institute. He graduated from Trinity International University, attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and was involved in a Baptist church when he decided to become a Catholic.
“What drew us?” Currie asks. “Primarily, it was the study of Scripture. Scripture? Yes, the Bible drew us into Catholicism. There were other books and people and influences, but just as the study of the Bible had earlier moved me from fundamentalism to Evangelicalism, I now found it moving me to Catholicism. We became convinced through Scripture that the Catholic Church really is the Church that Christ founded, and for this reason she deserves our loyalty and support.”
Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic is easy to read, and is written in a style that will appeal to evangelicals—even his vocabulary is evangelical, not Catholic (e.g., “Paul,” not “St. Paul”). After an initial chapter in which he traces the story of his personal pilgrimage, the succeeding chapters deal with topics which arise in the mind of a fundamentalist or evangelical being challenged to consider Roman Catholicism, including: Communion and the Real Presence; authority; the Bible; salvation; premillennialism and eschatology; and Mary.
What Catholics Really Believe—Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith by Karl Keating (San Francisco, CA; Ignatius Press; 1992) 150 pp. + bibliography.
This book, by the director of Catholic Answers (an apologetics and evangelization organization), will be of interest to evangelical Protestants, though it is addressed specifically to lay Catholics. Keating, an enthusiastic author, writes in an easy conversational style, and though the answers he gives may not convince you, they will help you distinguish between official Roman Catholic Church teaching and popular misconceptions concerning that teaching. A few of the 52 misconceptions Keating sets out to correct include:
Infallibility means that everything the pope says is true.
Before modern times, laypeople weren’t allowed to read the Bible.
Catholics don’t believe in the inerrancy of the Bible.
Jesus dies and is sacrificed again at every Mass.We don’t need to go to confession because sins are forgiven by praying directly to God
The Immaculate Conception means that Mary did not need a Savior.
The Church dropped its old belief in indulgences—that you can get time off in purgatory by performing some specified religious acts and prayers. The Catholic Church teaches we earn salvation by good works.
Eastern Orthodoxy. An issue of Christian History magazine (#54, Volume XVI, #2) 51 pp.
Christian History is a sprightly quarterly published by Christianity Today. Each issue is dedicated to giving an overview of a person, idea, event, or period from Christian Church history. Written for the lay Christian, the time-lines, photos, illustrations, and brief but informative articles offer insight without requiring a prior degree in history or theology.
Issue #54 covers Eastern Orthodoxy, and is a helpful and—as with each issue of Christian History—a very readable introduction to Orthodox history, belief, and practice. The articles in this issue include:
“What the Orthodox Believe; Four Key Differences Between the Orthodox and Protestants” by Daniel B. Clendenin (on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Stanford University).
“Kissers and Smashers: Why the Orthodox Killed One Another Over Icons” by Bradley Nassif (director of academic programs, Fuller Theological Seminary).
“A Taste of Glory: For the Orthodox, Worship is Heaven on Earth” by Paul Meyendorff (professor of liturgical theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary).
“The Counsels of Christ: The Orthodox Believe Jesus’ Voice Can Still be Heard in The Seven Ecumenical Councils” by Stanley Harakas (emeritus professor of theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology).
We recommend Christian History to you in general, and this particular issue as a good introduction to Orthodoxy.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective by Daniel B. Clendenin (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books; 1994) 150 pp. + bibliography + index.
A copy of this book was sent to me by good friends who have recently converted to Orthodoxy from evangelicalism. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is “a good overview from a Protestant’s perspective,” they wrote in their note accompanying the book. My friends were correct, and I recommend the book warmly. Daniel Clendenin, a former professor of Christian studies at Moscow State University, who is now on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Stanford University, is an evangelical who is gifted at helping evangelicals understand Orthodoxy.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity begins with a chapter introducing readers to Orthodoxy, and a second chapter which traces the outline of Orthodox history. Clendenin then zeros in on four topics which evangelicals will find distinctive concerning Orthodoxy:
1. Apophaticism. This, more than any other distinctive of Orthodoxy, is perhaps “the fundamental characteristic of the whole theological tradition of the Eastern Church.” The term itself, apophasis, means “denial” and emphasizes the mystery of God which transcends rational analysis and human knowledge. Theology is envisioned as an extension of worship and one’s relationship with God, rather than an intellectual exercise in comprehending the divine. Clendenin defines apophasis this way: “Brilliant light, an infinite chasm—when people encounter the living God, Orthodoxy insists, dizziness, bewilderment, blindness, and ‘shattered assumptions’ are the necessary beginning point. Such is the apophatic way. It acknowledges ‘the breakdown of human thought before the radical transcendence of God… The apophaticism of Orthodox theology is… a prostration before the living God, radically ungraspable, unobjectifiable and unknowable, because He is personal, because He is the free plenitude of personal existence. Apophasis is the inscription in human language, in theological language, of the mystery of faith.”
2. Icons. Orthodox worship and spirituality involves all the senses in a conscious blending of the liturgical with the aesthetic—including the veneration of icons. Eastern Orthodoxy “exults in beauty,” Clendenin says, “and seeks to experience and express spiritual truth in the concrete, tangible forms of color and design and in music rather than in books or discourse.”
3. Authority. In Eastern Orthodoxy, authority rests in Scripture and Holy Tradition.
4. Theosis. Theosis refers to “the deification of humanity,” whereby the believer, by God’s grace is transformed from corruption to immortality, from the image to the very likeness of God. John of Damascus defined theosis as “man becoming deified in the way of participating in the divine glory, and not in that of a change into a divine being.”
Clendenin concludes Eastern Orthodox Christianity by outlining how evangelicals should approach Orthodoxy, particularly at points of disagreement (arguing for “a hermeneutic of love”), and what evangelicals might learn from Orthodoxy.
One further note: Clendenin contributed to the issue of Christian History (noted above), and also published an article in which he spells out “Why I’m Not Orthodox: An Evangelical Explores the Ancient and Alien World of the Eastern Church” in Christianity Today (January 6, 1997) pp. 33-38.
We recommend Daniel Clendenin’s book and articles to you as helpful, well-researched and well-written introductions to Orthodox belief, worship, and practice.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana; 1994) 688 pp. + indices.
Though not every evangelical Protestant needs a personal copy of the Catechism, every evangelical Protestant teacher needs easy access to a copy. Superbly indexed and exhaustive in scope, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the first updated catechism to be published in almost 500 years.
Also note two reviews of the catechism: from an evangelical perspective by Dr. Alister McGrath, who teaches theology at Oxford University and Regent College: “Do We Still Need the Reformation?” in Christianity Today (December 12, 1994) pp. 28-33; and from a Catholic perspective, “The Challenge of the Catechism” by Avery Dulles, who holds the Laurence J. McGinley Chair at Fordham University, in First Things (January 1995) pp. 46-53.
The 20th Anniversary Issue of Again (Volume #20, Number 1; March/April 1997).
In 1974 a group of disenchanted evangelicals, led by Crusade leaders like Peter Gillquist, John Hardenbrook, Jon Braun, and Jack Sparks, formed what they called the New Covenant Apostolic Order. In 1987 they were welcomed into the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Again is a quarterly magazine, published by Gillquist and edited by Hardenbrook, now both Orthodox priests. This issue of Again tells the story of their pilgrimage.
Reclaiming the Great Tradition: Evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox in Dialogue edited by James S. Cutsinger (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 1997) 198 pp. + notes + list of contributors.
In May 1995 several hundred believers representing evangelicalism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy gathered at Rose Hill College for a week of discussion and prayer. The stated goal of the conference was “to test whether an ecumenical orthodoxy, solidly based on the classic Christian faith as expressed in the Scriptures and ecumenical creeds, could become the foundation for a unified and transformative witness to the present age.” The papers collected in Reclaiming the Great Tradition include the six plenary addresses given during that conference, along with six responses, including:
“Ecumenical Jihad” by Peter Kreeft (Catholic professor of philosophy, Boston College); “Reasserting Boundaries: A Response to Peter Kreeft” by Theodore Pulcini (Orthodox priest, professor of religion at Dickinson College).
“A New Thing: Ecumenicism at the Threshold of the Third Millennium” by Richard John Neuhaus (Catholic priest, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, editor of First Things); “A (Somewhat) Protestant Response to Richard John Neuhaus” by S. M. Hutchins (chairman of the Fellowship of St. James, assoc. editor of Touchstone).
“Proclamation and Preservation: The Necessity and Temptations of Church Traditions” by Harold O. J. Brown (professor of theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School); “A Response to Harold O. J. Brown” by Father Andrew (Isaac Melton, Orthodox monk, editor of DOXA).
“Father, Glorify Thy Name!” by Patrick Henry Reardon (Orthodox priest, assoc. editor of Touchstone); “Trinitarian Theology and the Quest for Ecumenical Orthodoxy; A Response to Patrick Henry Reardon” by William J. Abraham (professor of theology at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University).
“The Trinity: Heart of Our Life” by Kallistos Ware (Orthodox bishop of Diokleia); “A Catholic Response to Kallistos Ware” by Robert Fastiggi (Catholic associate professor of theology at St. Edward’s University, Austin, TX).
“On From Orr: Cultural Crisis, Rational Realism, and Incarnational Ontology” by J. I. Packer (Anglican priest and Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver); “An Eastern Orthodox Response to J. I. Packer” by Bradley Nassif (visiting instructor of Eastern Orthodoxy at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School).
Epilogue: “Theology Pro Ecclesia—Evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox” by Carl E. Braaten (Lutheran professor of theology at the Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago).
Reclaiming the Great Tradition is a serious work: the authors are serious scholars who prepared the papers and responses for a conference designed to address issues of theology, Scripture, and church history.
Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War by Peter Kreeft (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press; 1996) 172 pp.
Dr. Kreeft, a convert to Catholicism from evangelicalism, is a philosopher and one of the finest apologists for “mere Christianity” that one can read today. Keen in his thinking, deeply committed to truth, and very creative as a writer, Kreeft is always worth reading—even when we find we don’t totally agree with him.
Ecumenical Jihad issues a ringing call to boldly enter the culture war which is raging in western society. Christians need to wake up to the fact that a great deal is at stake—far more than many believers realize. Further, the war has shifted, Kreeft says, and allies and enemies have shifted. The war is no longer a struggle between religious believers, but between religious believers and relativistic secularists. To win this war, not only do evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox need to be cobelligerents, but Christians need to be willing to be cobelligerents with religious believers we have traditionally steered clear of, including Muslims.
Kreeft summarizes his argument as consisting of nine simple, but controversial, truths:
1. We are at war: a spiritual war, a jihad, not between religions, but between good and evil, between all religions and none.
2. It is not un-Christian to be polemical and belligerent in this war, since our enemies are “not flesh and blood, but… principalities and powers.”
3. It is even right to have “fanaticism,” or infinite passion, in this war.
4. The war is social as well as religious. Security, family, education, and human life itself are threatened.
5. In forging wartime “ecumenical” alliances, we are encouraged by the Church to learn from other religions.
6. Confucius, Buddha, Mohammad, and Moses can all remind us of precious but forgotten treasures in our own religion.
7. Our Protestant “separated brethren” have a different theology but not a different religion. “Mere Christianity” is more than a lowest-common-denominator abstraction.
8. Surprisingly, the distinctive Catholic devotion to the Eucharist (and to Mary) may prove the key to victory in ecumenism and in the “culture war.”
9. Persistent, loving prayer can—will—win the world.
Even those who disagree with Kreeft’s position will find interacting with his ideas stimulating.
Questions1. What was your initial response to Dr. Kreeft’s argument? Why do you think you responded that way?
2. Read “Culture War Casualties: How Warfare Rhetoric is Hurting the Work of the Church” by John D. Woodbridge in Christianity Today (March 6, 1995) pp. 20-26. Compare and contrast Dr. Woodbridge’s argument with Dr. Kreeft’s. Where do they agree? Where do they disagree? Which do you find compelling? Why?
3. Do you find Dr. Kreeft’s call to an “ecumenical jihad” convincing? Why or why not? If you disagree with him, show how you find him uninformed, misinformed, illogical, or incomplete in his analysis. If you disagree with him, what alternative argument would you propose? What reasons would you give?
4. Define the difference between being an “ally” and a “cobelligerent.”
5. Define the limits (if any) within which you would be willing to publicly be a cobelligerent with a Roman Catholic; a Scientologist; a Jehovah’s Witness; a Muslim; an Orthodox. What reasons would you give for each of these limits? Over which issues would you be willing (or unwilling) to act as a cobelligerent with them? Why?
SourceThe resources listed below might prove helpful in gaining a better understanding of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. We have found them useful, and we recommend them to you.
Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor (New York, NY: Viking; 1985) pp. 112-113;
Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity by Alister McGrath (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 1995) p. 94;
“We Do Not Wish to Blur the Faith: An Interview with Bartholomew I” in Christian History (Issue #54) p. 43;
Catechism of the Catholic Church (New Hope, KY: Urbi et Orbi Communications) p. 215;
Calvin’s Wisdom edited by Graham Miller (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust; 1992) p. 52;
Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard J. Foster (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins; 1992).