Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rome vs. Geneva: Some Concluding Remarks

As we wrap up our comparison of Catholicism and Protestantism (which is by far the longest series of posts we’ve ever done here at De Regnis Duobus), I’d like to offer some concluding remarks.

First, I hope that we have all learned, disagreements notwithstanding, that we need to treat one another with charity and respect. If I may point the finger at my own tradition, it is often those on my side of the debate that doubt the salvation of those on the other, while our opponents, even in the midst of their lofty claims about the Catholic church, still grant that those outside her communion are separated brethren whom they expect to see in heaven one day.

And make no mistake, the Catholic’s claims are profound and grandiose and, well, downright b@ll$y. Speaking for myself, I had never considered those claims before, but instead assumed that Protestants and Catholics simply came to different exegetical conclusions when reading Scripture. The fact is, I learned, that the real disagreement between us is located only as we peel back a further layer beyond our respective exegesis and systematics.

And this is where the confessional Protestant feels a bit sucker-punched. We have always boasted that, unlike evangelicals, we read the Scripture in conjunction with, rather than in isolation from, those who have gone before us. The Catholic’s question at this point is, “With which group, of all who have gone before you, do you read the Scriptures in conjunction? The Methodists? The Mormons? The Anabaptists? Or, by ‘those who have gone before us’ do you simply mean those with whom you agree?”

I will be the first to admit that this is a very challenging question which I have not heard answered to my satisfaction. More work needs to be done on this point.

Putting aside the authority question and moving on to systematic and exegetical issues, I still maintain that the Reformed carry the day. Despite the fact that, according to Catholicism, we have no business putting forth our interpretations over against Rome’s, I just can’t get around the superiority of the Reformation’s treatment of salvation as a whole, together with its exposition of justification/imputation on the one hand, and sanctification/infusion on the other, weaving both loci together with a common, covenantal thread.

Some areas where I think Catholics need improvement include more exegetical precision, especially with respect to Paul’s courtroom language and his doctrine of the law. Some basic principles also need to be put forward concerning how we read the early fathers, principles that don’t fall into the same circularity with which they charge Protestants when we read the Bible.

Protestants, on the other hand, need to address the charge of individualism leveled at us by our Catholic opponents (and simply claiming that lots of lots of us believe these things won’t cut it. Individualism doesn’t cease to be such merely because lots of people are committing it, and have been doing so for a long time). We also need to wrestle with the issue of how legitimate it is to allow Paul to swallow not only James, but also Jesus, on the matter of the relationship of works to faith in salvation.

At the end of the day, I am both optimistic and pessimistic. Though I am doubtful that visible, institutional unity will be achieved in the near future, and am hopeful that a more grassroots type of unity can be fostered, according to which we recognize one another as worshipers of the same Savior.

In conclusion, I do hope our Catholic readers will stick around and join in whatever subsequent conversations we have here. And though this post will wrap up the Catholic/Protestant debate on this blog, I imagine that I will continue to address the authority question and the charge of individualism in some form or another, at least as long as it is still bugging me.

Please feel free to weigh in with elaborations on or challenges to anything I’ve said. And if you have any ideas for upcoming topics, please don’t hesitate….