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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty" (Timothy George and Thomas G. Guarino)

TITLE: Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty: Vital Statements on Contested Topics
AUTHOR: Timothy George and Thomas G. Guarino
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015, (188 pages).

Over twenty years ago, a group of Evangelicals and Catholics have come together to dialogue on the common matters of faith. Founded by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus in 1994, the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) produced nine statements of faith. The key aim is to affirm that while they do have serious differences in belief, they too have lots of common ground. Together, they believe that:
  • They have more in common than differences
  • They desire a deepening understanding of each other
  • They want to demonstrate what it means to tolerate differences
  • They want to re-examine at why certain issues are so difficult to resolve
  • They want to champion religious freedom through mature dialogue
  • They can encourage deeper theological discussions so that both parties can learn from one another.
  • They can engage the culture, society, political, and social strata.
In this book, three themes form the basis of dialogue:
  1. The content of the Christian faith
  2. The place of Scripture and Tradition
  3. Ecclesial Reform

Each of the nine statements of faith are accompanied by an essay written by a respected theologian. On "Unity," Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School writes about the project as an initiative that represents a group of individuals rather than the institutions they represent. On "Justification," Thomas Oden compares and contrasts the two sides' interpretations of justification by faith alone. Rather than getting stuck on the nitty gritty of faith and works, the common motivation is to preach the gospel to all who have not heard about the grace of God. On "Scripture," Thomas Guarino, Professor of Systematic Theology at Seton Hall University, expand on the points of agreement with regard to how Scripture and Tradition inform each other. On "Saints," Robert Louis Wilken looks at the people of God, the communion of saints, and calls this a "treasured inheritance" of both Evangelicals and Catholics. On "Holiness," Cheryl Bridges Johns sees the common interests in God; in being the image of God; in discipleship; and a call to holy living. On "Pro-Life," RR Reno emphasizes the sanctity of life. On "Mary," Dale Coulter highlights some misconceptions while at the same time brings out the concerns of the Marian dogma. On "Freedom," George Weigel agrees that religious freedom is increasingly being threatened. On "Marriage," Timothy George and Thomas Guarino tackle the difficult issue of same-sex marriage and together agree on a common definition of what marriage is and what it is not.

Since the beginning of the ECT initiative, there has been lots of suspicion with regard to the potential of ecumenism. Suspicions range from theological compromise to the fear of one bloc dominating or controlling the other. There are valid reasons to protest against the ECT. Yet, there are also equally valid reasons to expand on the common grounds of understanding. If there are areas that can be agreed upon and cooperated with, why not? In general, there are two ways in which to adopt such theological discussions. The first is to major on the differences and minor on the similarities. This first way will keep both parties entrenched in their own views. This way, it is very hard to even begin a proper discussion. The second way is to major on the commonalities and be mindful of the differences. This is the way of the ECT.

I remember evangelical missionaries in poorer countries telling me about them being forced to work with Roman Catholics simply because the authorities of the land had lumped them together under the Christianity umbrella. Usually, the atheistic and secular governments do not understand the differences between the two anyway. Being forced to speak as one voice, they had to do whatever is necessary to survive together. Otherwise, everyone will be put to various forms of persecutions and difficulties. When the going gets rough, a united front is the way to go. Maybe, theologians and religious scholars who argue without compromise may have taken their freedom of expression and religious practice for granted. In the real world, sometimes we do not really have a choice whether to work together or not. Circumstances can make strange bedfellows. Maybe, the ECT is a precursor of the need to prepare for persecutions that are to come. When those times arrive, we have ready documents to immediately begin cooperation based on our common beliefs first. For the sake of the gospel.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Brazos Press and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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