Books:Betraying the Reformation?
Convinced as he is that the document "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" too readily assumes that evangelicals and Catholics share a common perception of the gospel, R. C. Sproul presents a cogent case that substantial disagreement remains on the doctrine of justification. Whereas both Scripture and the Reformation affirm justification as a divine imputation of righteousness to those who believe, the Roman position enunciated at the Council of Trent maintains that we are justified to the extent that we are morally renewed through human cooperation with God's prevenient and sanctifying grace. Sproul claims with some validity that while Rome asserts justification by grace, it actually teaches righteousness by works, since we are justified according to our response to grace. In the Reformation position, grace is the free, undeserved favor of God to sinful humanity; in the Roman position, grace is the infusion of righteousness that qualitatively alters our being and behavior, thereby making us acceptable to God.
Sproul rightly reminds us that for the Reformers, justification in its wider sense includes inward moral change as well, but only because God sanctifies those whom he justifies. The ground of our acceptance before God is outside us in the alien righteousness of Jesus Christ. Yet the fruits of our justification are worked within us by the Spirit of God, and here the believer has an active role in demonstrating and manifesting God's grace.
Sproul is on firm ground in his insistence that the Reformation position must not be confused with any form of easy believism or cheap grace. Yet it would have been helpful if he had discussed how this position itself could lead to cheap grace by underplaying the need to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, by seeing the Christian life as only an outward sign of salvation rather than the arena in which our salvation is fought for and recovered.
My principal problem with this book is that the author does not appear to have kept abreast of the noteworthy attempts in the ongoing ecumenical discussion to bridge the chasm between Trent and evangelical Protestantism. He might have considered the important document "Justification by Faith" (1983), in which respected Lutheran and Catholic scholars rethink this divisive issue and suggest new ways of stating the doctrine of justification without compromising the tenets of either Reformation or Catholic faith. He might also have given a serious treatment of Hans K?Justification(1964) and his later Great Christian Thinkers (1994), where K?s a Catholic theologian, concludes that Luther was basically right in his understanding of justification. The fact is that an increasing number of Roman Catholic scholars, especially in biblical studies, are coming to acknowledge the forensic or legal thrust of the New Testament concept of justification while Protestant scholars are now recognizing that justification also has a mystical dimension and is therefore more than bare imputation.
Such efforts do not warrant the conclusion that we are simply saying the same thing in different ways, for fundamental differences remain. Because Roman Catholicism tends to call into question the all-sufficiency of the one sacrifice of Christ through both its official teaching and its devotional practice, evangelicals must continue to view it as a partly heterodox communion or one that has a heterodox side. Yet, as evangelicals we should be willing to confess, however painfully, that our churches too are heterodox in the light of both the infallible standard of Scripture and the creeds of the Reformers. Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, both of which make divine grace contingent on what we can do through our own power, are probably more rife today among Protestants than Catholics. We should also be ready to acknowledge that it is possible to affirm justification by faith alone (sola fide), as do some existentialist theologians, and still fail to grasp the full import of the gospel. Scripture not only teaches salvation by free grace received through faith, but it also sounds the call to personal holiness, and our Catholic friends remind us that our gospel is truncated unless it is united with the imperatives that accompany it.