Christianity Today just published an article entitled: Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together (by Collin Hansen) examining among other things the conversion of Evangelicals and other Protestants to Catholicism. I’m quoted and NT Wright responds:
Taylor Marshall went even further. Now a Ph.D. philosophy student at the University of Dallas, he started reading Wright while attending Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He said Wright’s work shifted his assumptions so he could understand the Council of Trent’s position. Marshall does not believe Wright holds to the full Catholic view. But he said Wright’s critique led him to conclude that the Reformers departed from Scripture by teaching “forensic justification through the imputed alien righteousness of Christ.”
Marshall briefly served as an Anglican priest before converting to Catholicism in 2006 and becoming assistant director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. Marshall said he speaks with new Catholic converts every month, about half of whom have been “deeply influenced” by Wright.
“If you buy into Wright’s approach to covenantal theology, then you’ve already taken three steps toward the Catholic Church. Keep following the trail and you’ll be Catholic,” said Marshall, who blogs at PaulIsCatholic.com. “Salvation is sacramental, transformational, communal, and eschatological. Sound good? You’ve just assented to the Catholic Council of Trent.”
Wright himself finds strange the notion that he’s leading people to Rome. “I am sorry to think that there are people out there whose Protestantism has been so barren that they never found out about sacraments, transformation, community, or eschatology. Clearly this person needed a change. But to jump to Rome for that reason is very odd,” he said. The best Reformed, charismatic, Anglican, and even some emerging churches have these emphases, he said.
Let me just say that I am honored to have received a response from Wright. He is a giant and has probably influenced me more than any other living theologian. However, I don’t really see how any of the options that he listed (Reformed, charismatic, Anglican, and emerging) truly incorporate the sacramental, transformational, communal, and eschatological elements that I discuss as being interwoven in the Catholic Church.
The charismatic and Reformed bodies may speak of “sacraments,” but they don’t have a sacramental life. By sacramental I mean all seven sacraments and a belief that the sacraments are the primary way by which we encounter the living and resurrected Christ. The best most Protestant bodies can do is have more frequent communion, but even then that means once a week – hardly coming close to the Catholic practice of daily Masses in nearly every parish of the world.
I don’t deny the transformational, but the magisterial Protestant tradition has tended to downplay the transformational. I’m not saying that they ignore it, but transformation/sanctification is the common key of all Catholic teaching and preaching. Granted, this sort of emphasis is found in charismatic circles, but as a new body it doesn’t possess the rich tradition of sainthood.
Lastly, I’d like to say something about the “communal” aspect that is unique to Catholicism. We would all grant that a small, trendy emergent church might experience “great community” and that they organize dynamic small groups. But that isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about local community rooted in a universal community. When you go to Rome and see priests from all over the world (African, Asian, South American, North American, Europe, Arab) celebrating the Eucharist on any given day at 7am in Saint Peter’s Basilica, you know this is the Church of “every tribe tongue and nation.” It’s a remarkable thing. Moreover, the “community” is truly constituted by “unity” – we all believe the same dogmas. For example, nobody doubts whether there are seven sacraments (as in Anglicanism) or whether a man is justified by faith alone or not. We’re on the same page – we have common unity, that is, we have community.
Wright emphasizes all these elements in his works, but speaking from my own experience, I didn’t find them in the various Protestant traditions that I experienced as either a layman or clergyman.
Wright suggests that these elements may be found outside the Church, but I don’t think that his suggestions (even if taken all together) add up what the Catholic experiences in the Church.
More thoughts later.
Read: Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together (Christianity Today)