More than 165 of Germany's top Protestant theologians, including Jurgen Moltmann, are criticizing a new Lutheran-Catholic statement that attempts to resolve historic differences on the doctrine of justification.

The theologians' protest comes in response to the proposed Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) devised by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Vatican.

The LWF, which is made up of 124 member churches and 61 million members, is voting this month on whether to approve or reject the document.

The JDDJ proposal declares that Lutherans and Catholics have a "consensus in the basic truths" of justification, a doctrine that became "the crux" of all ensuing disputes, including mutual condemnations by and against both churches that remain valid today. The statement says there are remaining doctrinal differences but they "are no longer the occasion for doctrinal condemnations."

Germany's debate over the JDDJ has been characterized by cautious elation, serious reservations, partial rejection, and a great deal of confusion about what the document will mean at the practical level.

"The joint declaration shows that since there has been such great agreement [on justification], existing doctrinal differences should no longer warrant church divisions," says Bishop Horst Hirschler of Hannover, president of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church. Luther, he told CT, would have been "filled with joy" over the current debate and the JDDJ's emphasis on faith alone bringing "true freedom for the Christian."

Evangelicals have added their voices to the debate. "Theological discussions between different denominational confessions are helpful and necessary for mutual understanding," says Rolf Hille, chair of the German ...

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