Making it clearer | Reformation21 Blog | Jeremy Walker


Bruce Baugus has responded carefully to what I had written in reaction to the proposed series on the twentieth anniversary of the founding of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). I thought it might be helpful to expand my initial response, not least lest “brief and rapid” be misconstrued as “shallow and thoughtless,” a mere kneejerk.

Mark McDowell’s introductory piece was reasonably clear as to the intentions of the series. For what it is worth, Mark and I have no personal animus against one another, despite what appears to be our disagreement about the wisdom of this approach. With regard to what Mark wrote, I am entirely content that – with the cheerful but clear-eyed confidence that comes from a firm doctrinal basis – we can speak openly and frankly with those who disagree with us. However, the nature of the disagreement is going to make a difference to the way in which that conversation or dialogue proceeds. This is where I take issue.

One matter in which I think danger lurks is in the presentation of the participants. We were generously introduced to “our writers”: “a Baptist (George), a Presbyterian (Trueman) and a Roman Catholic (Guarino).” That overarching designation is not the most helpful, at least suggesting a measure of cooperation if not complicity. However, there is something of greater significance to consider. I should perhaps say that, on one level, I should be willing to hear a Catholic speak as a Catholic, in certain contexts and for good reasons. I think it is important to understand those with whom we disagree, and to do so fairly and intelligently. But what is also important is that Mr George may be a Baptist in some senses, but there should be no implication that he is a thoroughgoing Protestant when he is clearly not entirely that. I do not wish carelessly to employ excessively pejorative language, but it is disingenuous at best to afford him the platform implied by the label Baptist when he is going to use that platform to pull down much of what ought to be implied in that label. To identify the three intended authors as a Baptist, a Presbyterian and a Catholic seems to suggest that we are comparing two different kinds of outwardly-Protestant apple with a Catholic orange. That is very different from the reality, for Mr George’s words show that he is clearly not a Protestant in the way that most (many?) genuine Protestants would recognise. That should at least have been made very clear. One might be tempted to ask, why not throw a couple of Federal Visionistas into the mix and call them Presbyterians? What about some Romanising Anglicans and simply call them Episcopalians? Or would that need to be qualified?

Furthermore, with the waters already well-muddied, readers were then treated to a fairly (stylistically) compelling encomium upon ECT. With academic urbanity, all our nasty disagreements were explained away (“We’re grown-ups, don’t you know!”), this being a gentle move toward a more mature ecumenism. After all, we all want unity, don’t we? And none of this happened without prayer and fellowship with our brothers. Besides which, a lot of the people involved were very clever. So, let’s all be gospel people together, and march together after that “unity-in-truth” which we all want.

Really?

That was not a review, not even an academic overview. It was not even a defence. It was a promotion. Taking into account that more was to follow in the series, Mr George was given a platform not to explain or defend his view but to advance it. As so often, all the right words were used, but few of the notions were explained. We need to listen to the gaps and mine the meanings of words, for what really matters is often left out, introduced by way of qualification, changed by way of interpretation, or mentally suspended in making a certain declaration. All this was left to be swallowed entire, a neat little packet of compromise.

Surely these are not mere notions to be pondered, but spiritual truths to be depended on and defended as if life hung in the balance … which, as it happens, it does. I am not accusing others of being careless in these matters, but neither am I persuaded that this approach reckons with the seriousness of what is at stake. I acknowledge readily that I am an ‘Old World’ Christian; I know that this has an impact on the way in which I view things. By this I do not mean that I am the stereotypical ‘hot Prot’ who has Foxe’s Book of Martyrs as his favourite bedtime reading. I even think that my confessional language of the Pope of Rome being “that Antichrist” is quite probably an overstatement, though I readily confess that he is an antichrist. Even so, when I drive and walk around my country, I often find myself not far from the scenes of martyrdom of men and women – brothers and sisters in the true faith – who shed their blood for the sake of the gospel that Roman Catholics then denied and at whose hands they suffered, a gospel that is still denied by Rome. In saying that, I am not buying guilelessly into Rome’s semper eadem claims. Rome does change in many things. That is part of the genius of the system, adaptable and responsive, morphing and shifting to take account of circumstances and challenges. But that adaptability is actually one of the constants. The common core beneath the shifting surface remains pernicious. To say that Rome has changed is not to say that she has improved.

Please read the remainder here.

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