Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The humanly unspannable chasm

The Southern Cross, newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, interviews Mark Brumley of Ignatius Press, about dialogue between Catholic and Evangelical Christians. It appears to be honest dialogue, neither exaggerating nor minimizing the differences - in other words, honest ecumenism.
SC: What is the current topic of dialogue between the Catholics and Evangelicals?

MB: There are a variety of topics under consideration. The unofficial dialogue known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together has looked at such things as justification/salvation, the nature of the Church and the authority of the Bible. ....

There has also been a lively discussion, especially on the Evangelical side, of the nature of Tradition, as a norm for belief and practice, and the place of liturgical worship in the Christian life. Catholics are learning from contemporary Evangelical biblical scholarship, which is coming into its own in the era of post-liberal theology. Some Evangelicals have even come out in support of a renewed Evangelical appreciation of Mary - with some notable caveats in place. Perhaps the most significant area of discussion is how Catholics and Evangelicals can collaborate in evangelization and other forms of cultural engagement.

SC: Has the election of Pope Benedict XVI had any significant impact on the dialogue, or do you expect some impact in the future?

MB: I think it has. A number of Evangelicals have told me that they see Joseph Ratzinger as “one of their own,” in a number of respects. Not least among those respects is Benedict XVI’s appreciation for what Catholic theologian and convert Louis Bouyer called “the positive principles of the Reformation,” as distinct from what he regarded as the negative aspects of it. For Benedict, I think this is underscoring Catholicism’s agreement with classical Protestantism on justification by grace and the divine inspiration of the Bible.

Of course many Evangelicals also appreciate Benedict’s forceful critique of moral and religious relativism. Many are thrilled with his thoughtful engagement of critical issues in biblical scholarship, as expressed in his recent book, Jesus of Nazareth.

I have heard some concerns about the recent CDF document on the nature of the Church, but usually when the document is explained to Evangelicals, they see that it is nothing new. They don’t agree with it, but they understand that it simply restates the Catholic understanding of what a “Church” is.

SC: People speak on the need to focus on what we have in common, on how we can act as partners on certain topics of life, but isn’t there still at least one chasm that cannot be spanned? What, in your view, are the unspannable chasms?

MB: I think one humanly “unspannable” chasm is the difference in our understanding of the nature of the Church of Christ. Evangelicals hold many different views of the Church, but one thing they agree on is that the Catholic view is incorrect in its fundamental premise. Catholicism sees the Church of Christ as subsisting in history as a specific, visible, concrete community of disciples with an externally manifest unity of faith, of sacraments, and hierarchical, pastoral authority, as well as an interior, spiritual unity. We can debate the finer points of different “models of the Church,” but the core of the Catholic view of the Church remains and its not going to change. And of course the Catholic Church sees herself as that historically subsisting Church, although elements of the Church are regard[ed] as existing outside her visible structure. This would include within Evangelical church communities.

Some other differences between Catholics and Evangelicals are related to disagreement about the nature of the Church - e.g., the Petrine ministry (papacy), certain Marian beliefs (Immaculate Conception, the Bodily Assumption), the ex opera operato aspect of the Sacraments. And so on.

Interestingly enough, I do not regard the differences on justification as “unspannable”, although I do not think finding agreement with most Evangelicals on that subject is easy. .... [read it all]
Thanks to Ignatius Insight for the reference.

The Southern Cross

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