A Surprising History of Evangelical-Catholic Dialogue – an excerpt from Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty

The following is an excerpt from R. R. Reno and Kevin Vanhoozer’s epilogue “The Continuing Importance of Evangelical-Catholic Dialogue” in Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty, edited by Timothy George and Thomas Guarino.

————————————————————————————————————

ECT is no novelty. We are not the first to walk the road to Emmaus. There have been previous attempts by Evangelicals and Catholics to come together to discuss “the things about Jesus of Nazareth” (Luke 24:19 NRSV).

Largely forgotten in the annals of religious conflict is one fleeting bright spot: a two-year period in mid-sixteenth-century Germany when Catholics and Protestants engaged in serious dialogue under the watchful eye of Emperor Charles V.

Cover ArtEvangelicals may be surprised to learn that the Protestant Reformers made a sincere yet ultimately unsuccessful effort to preserve communion with the Roman Catholic Church through a series of dialogues from 1536 to 1557. Evangelicals may be even more surprised to learn that Calvin was one of the Protestant participants in a number of these meetings, including the Regensburg Colloquy (1541), where he represented the city of Strasbourg.

Catholics may be surprised to learn that, prior to the Council of Trent (1545–63), a number of Catholic theologians were sympathetic to Protestant understandings of original sin and other doctrines. Protestant and Catholic theologians reached agreement on the doctrine of justification at the Regensburg Colloquy, some 450 years before ECT did it again in 1997 with The Gift of Salvation. Both sides at Regensburg consented to article 5 on “The Justification of Man.”

Calvin did not have high hopes for the colloquy in general, but he was positive about article 5, which he believed preserved “the substance of the true doctrine.” Peter Matheson’s verdict is therefore unnecessarily harsh: “The dialogue between Protestantism and Catholicism at the Diet of Regensburg in 1541 did not fail. It never took place.”

In the end, it was not the doctrine of justification by faith—the doctrine on which Luther said the church stands or falls—that derailed the Regensburg Colloquy. Rather, it was the nature of the authority of the church that proved a hurdle too high to jump. So it remains today, perhaps, in which case we should not tire of theological discussion but rather do as did those at Regensburg.

ECT, far from being a novelty, is another lap in the good race that seeks the prize of Christian unity. We should not disguise or distort the differences that divide us, but we are duty bound to preach in deeds of dialogue the unity Christ promises.

©2015 by Timothy George and Thomas G. Guarino. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

This Just In: Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty

Cover Art

Founded by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus in 1994, Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) has fostered a fruitful conversation on the meaning of the gospel in today’s world. Over the course of twenty years, ECT has issued nine statements addressing contemporary topics.

This one-volume guide, the first collection of the ECT statements, explores the key accomplishments of this groundbreaking, ongoing dialogue. Introductions and notes provide context and discuss history and future prospects. The book also includes prefaces by J. I. Packer and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a foreword by George Weigel, and an epilogue by R. R. Reno and Kevin J. Vanhoozer.

 

Timothy GeorgeTimothy George (ThD, Harvard University) is founding dean and professor of divinity, history, and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Theology of the Reformers, God the Holy Trinity, and J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future. He is a member of the editorial council for Christianity Today and is on the editorial advisory board of Books & Culture.

Thomas G. GuarinoThomas G. Guarino (STD, Catholic University of America) is professor of systematic theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. He is the author of several books, including Vattimo and Theology and Foundations of Systematic Theology.

 

Praise for Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty:

“These statements and their accompanying essays deserve a wide and attentive readership because of both the pertinence of their concerns and the sophistication of their theological argument. This volume reflects ecumenical writing done at a superior level.” – Lawrence S. Cunningham, University of Notre Dame

“Evangelicals and Catholics Together continues to make a very positive contribution to Christian theology, moral action, and ecumenical integrity. While its independent, noninstitutional, and ad hoc way of working is distinctly American, the fruits of its labors offer a great, ongoing gift to the entire Christian world.” – Mark A. Noll, coauthor of Is the Reformation Over?

“It is wonderful to have these ecumenically rich and theologically substantive statements gathered into a single volume, which is further enhanced by helpful and insightful introductions to each of the nine statements as well as a general introduction and epilogue that set the context and foster ongoing discernment. This unique witness to faith-filled dialogue not only enlightens but also inspires and emboldens. Such witness takes on even greater urgency in a contemporary culture increasingly adrift.” – Fr. Robert Imbelli, Boston College

First Things features Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty

Cover ArtAn excerpt from the forthcoming Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty was recently featured at First Things.

This one-volume guide, the first collection of the ECT statements, explores the key accomplishments of this groundbreaking, ongoing dialogue. Introductions and notes provide context and discuss history and future prospects. The book also includes prefaces by J. I. Packer and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a foreword by George Weigel, and an epilogue by R. R. Reno and Kevin J. Vanhoozer.

You can read the excerpt in full here.

“Since the founding of ECT more than twenty years ago, Evangelicals and Catholics have learned much from one another and our joint commitment to biblical and doctrinal truth. We live in an age when the very idea of truth is often called into question. And yet we believe that the Bible teaches God’s truth, a truth that is able to be known and understood, appropriated and lived, under the agency of the Holy Spirit. It is the task of ECT to formulate that truth in a way that assists contemporary men and women to live as committed disciples of Jesus of Nazareth.

Not long before his death in 2009, Richard Neuhaus made clear that he wished to see the important work undertaken by ECT continue. Chuck Colson, too, just months before his own passage to God in 2012, was insistent that ECT was one of the most powerful initiatives in the United States for communicating the truth of the gospel. No matter the obstacles, he said, Evangelicals and Catholics must stand side by side in their public witness to biblical truth. The intention of ECT is to continue the prophetic mission of its founders.

Evangelicals and Catholics do not know how or when Christian unity will come about but look forward to that day when we are fully united in the common witness for which Jesus Christ himself prayed. Our prayer is that God may continue to bless the work of Evangelicals and Catholics Together.”